April 25, 2009

Café Frankenstein

A legendary Beat era hangout in Laguna Beach, California, Café Frankenstein opened in 1958 under the stewardship of folk singer Doug Myres, writer George Clayton Johnson (of Twilight Zone fame) and artist Burt Shonberg. The building housed a “European” coffee shop, a bookstore and a leather goods and sandal shop.

Shonberg contributed an interior mural and a fabulous stained glass front window featuring the Frankenstein Monster. You can glimpse the window art in color, as seen from inside the club, in the picture here, if you can peel your eyes away from model Barbara Kellogg.

The nude photo session, in fact, brought charges of “lewd and obscene conduct” against the Café’s owners, just one of the many attacks by a very conservative community against the alternative club and its bohemian clientele of beatniks, surfers and folksies. It is said that two of the Café’s regular clients were undercover cops on the lookout for illegal activities and that both men eventually became supporters of the club.

Squaresville opposition to the hep establishment reached its hysterical apex when a local Church group protested against the window art on the grounds that stained glass was an art form exclusive to churches. Shonberg greeted them with a threat to erect a crucified Frankenstein.

Café Frankenstein was sold in 1960 and operated as Club 480 until 1962 when it was demolished, along with the Shonberg art, to make room for a parking lot.

The images here are from a wonderful article on early Pop Surf Culture posted on Dumb Angel. Click through to read the Café Frankenstein story in greater detail along with more pictures, including one of the building itself.

Burt Shonberg painted murals for coffee shops, bars, restaurants and Beat clubs up and down the coast. He contributed covers and illustrations to science fiction magazines. His art was also used on an album by Arthur Lee and Love and a commissioned set of paintings was famously featured in Roger Corman’s Fall of the House of Usher (1960).

Here’s Shonberg's website, with a gallery of paintings that includes the House of Usher art.


Christopher said...

.oh Cafe Frankenstein is it now!!?lol
Thats interesting..I can't believe I've never heard of this !!

rob! said...


when it was demolished, along with the Shonberg art, to make room for a parking lot.

Paging Joni Mitchell!

Tenebrous Kate said...

Everything about this post is grin-inducing (except, perhaps, the fact that I never got to enjoy this AMAZING venue for myself). And might I just say, Pierre, that you've made my day by pointing me to additional paintings by Schonberg, whose work in "House of Usher" I have loved since I first saw it as a kid! Wonderful stuff, sir.

Snade said...

Let's set the record straight: BURT SHONBERG never spelled his name "Schonberg". There was another artist by the name of Schoenberg. These are two different artists. The credits on the House of Usher film: paintings by "Burt Shonberg".

Pierre Fournier said...

Thank you, Marshall. I was going back and forth betwen Shon— and Schon—. Sorry for the typo and all corrected now.

Anonymous said...

Correction...in the film credits, they credited "Burt Schoenberg" when in fact, it was Burt Shonberg who created the paintings. This has been verified by George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson (writer of the film and owner of a Shonberg painting), and Roger Corman. How the mistake was made is unknown.

Reverend Jean said...

99% of this article right down to whom they say owned the cafe frankenstien is all lies. Pat Tracy owned and ran the cafe frankinstien. i should know i was there.

Brian Chidester said...

The place went through several owners, Reverend Jean. I researched Cafe Frankenstein for a number of years and interviewed many of its owners, from George Clayton Johnson, the original owner (with Shonberg and Doug Myres), to Side Soffer, who ran it from 1960-61, to Michael Schley, who ran it from 1961-62 with his wife Connie Vining. Never heard the name Pat Tracy before, but I have paperwork going back to its opening day in 1958 that says the Frankenstein was started by Johnson, Shonberg, and Myres. Would be curious to hear about this Tracy, though.