The Old Catalyst in Santa Cruz

The old Catalyst

The Fountain Room in the back of the old Catalyst

It was as close to “home” as I ever am anywhere at any time in my life. Back in the early 1970s I lived in Santa Cruz when the old Catalyst was a coffeehouse and deli, not a nightclub. I loved to go there. It was a meeting place, a center of life for tons of hippies. Apparently no one took photos of the place back then. It lives on only in the minds of the people who loved it. I did manage to find a small scrap of memories from other people, so I know I’m not just imagining this place existed.

The Early Catalyst

Some thoughts on the early Catalyst, with help from Patti…..

For several years the early Catalyst was a second home to me. I started working there a couple of months after it opened, lunch time only, and soon took on a split shift for the lunch and night crowd. This wasn’t a job just to get by. At the minimum wage of $2.35 an hour it barely provided that. But it was exactly at the center of where I wanted to be. The Sticky Wicket and Mannie’s were in Aptos; the Barn in Scotts Valley, and none of these places came alive until the sun went down. On Pacific Avenue, the Hip Pocket had folded and Bookshop Santa Cruz was trying to figure out how to get up and running. When Al & Patti DiLudovico opened the Catalyst they breathed life into the downtown, a place that was basically dead. The original Catalyst was one of the hubs of all that went on around here in the 60s. But its success was more than being in the right place at the right time—It was because of Al & Patti’s vision for the place, run by his powerful, larger-than-life energy and tempered by her sweetness and warmth.
The Catalyst started out in the Redwood Room, so called because of the split redwood bark on the walls. This stuff, aesthetic as it may have been, was immediately removed, probably because of the health dept., but also because if you inadvertently brushed up against it your skin would break out in welts. The deli counter was in this room along with a few tables. More seating was in the back, the Fountain Room, with its mirrored walls, tile floor and beautiful fountain set right in the center of the room. Off to the side was a small pub-like bar with an amber glass-paneled ceiling. Out of both love for the place and necessity, Patti & Al were involved with every aspect of the Catalyst, which is how she ended up also being its first bartender.
Except for its name and another fountain, the current Catalyst on Pacific Ave bears no resemblance to the early one. For starters, the original Catalyst wasn’t a club, it was a coffeehouse, in the style of some of the great bohemian spots in Berkeley, Sausalito and San Francisco. Its focus was on high quality deli food, pickles that could sear the skin off your hands, incredible pastries, and coffee and tea from around the world. A 10 oz cup of coffee was twenty five cents, with unlimited free refills. Equally important was the atmosphere—the feeling was Beat, then gradually morphed with the influx of hippies. This ambience was intense, vital and laid back at the same time. For those who couldn’t handle it, there was always the Bubble Bakery up the street with Farmers Bros. coffee.
Much later, the deli counter was moved to the huge Colonial Room. This was the St. George’s former ballroom; for years it had been just a storage space for County Bank records, and its hardwood floors, murals of nymphs dancing among flowers and enormous glass and wood doors that swung open to Front St. were still intact. In fact, the architecture of the St. George was spectacular, and the Catalyst occupied some of its best. A stage was in place for poetry and book readings, folk singers, chamber music and occasional bands. Up till then, performances had usually been pretty spontaneous, with one or two people showing up with a guitar and asking Al if they could play in the Fountain Room.
But with the move to the Colonial Room, table service began and waitresses were brought on. I was now working there most of the day on into the night, just like Al & Patti, but notably without the responsibility. There had never been any question in my mind about where I wanted to work; as far as I was concerned the Catalyst was the center of the universe. With the huge wood and glass doors open onto Front Street, I would stand behind the counter in the late morning, waiting for the unique cast of characters that made up the lunch crowd, knowing I had the best job in the best place in the world.

Posted by judyxx


peter d said…
Santa Cruz sixties were psychedelic
Those who psychedeliciized Santa Cruz
have become forgotten as such and overlooked in favor of those notables
that were not really psychedelicizers or agents of change, who, like old
soldiers, have faded away by this time. You might say there are the notables and then there are thevenerables…

May 5, 2007 1:45 PM

Kathy G said…
I worked as a waitress in the night time when the Catalyst began table service. Before that I did what a lot of people around here did. I worked in the summer and collected unemployment in the winter. The tips were really crappy but that wasn’t really the point. The point was to see and be seen. It was the place you’d want to be even if you weren’t working there. I remember sometimes having to work extra when a co-worker came in tripping and too spaced to function well. But I don’t think anyone ever got fired for that.
The food was great! Part of our paycheck was that we got a free meal with every shift—coffee, dessert, all of it. Seems like there was some kind of dress code, but I just remember all the women, including me, wearing incredibly short skirts. This blog is a great idea; thanks to whoever started it.
May 7, 2007 3:04 PM
Anonymous said…
I remember running around the Catalyst as a barefoot little kid with my younger sister, mom, and her boyfriend. I was a kid who was connected to the Stone Hill Commune up Old San Jose Road, because that is where my mom’s boyfriend,Francois,lived. Does anyone remember or have connections to Stone Hill?- Mike
June 18, 2007 12:29 AM
Dan C. said…
Working at the Hip Pocket Bookstore for $25 a week and sometimes not even that was an adventure in survival but Red Mountain Rose was $2.99 a gallon at Albertsons and a baloney sandwich at the Catalyst was I think $1.25 maybe less between those two and very sharing and caring friends starvation was avoided and the learning curve continued. Peter,Hassler,Lee,Leon,Kesey,Babs, Gretchin,Neal and numerous others and a chemical or two
helped change Santa Cruz from a diehard Republican Stronghold to “radical leftest university town” in only a couple of years by helping put forth the world shattering idea that it was not only all right but advisable to THINK FOR YOURSELF, what a concept!
Free thought tends to have interesting offspring and sometimes we are not happy with what comes from them but it is necessary for the intellectual model to get kicked in the butt once in a while if only to make sure it’s still functioning.
Of all the places I have called home over the years, Santa Cruz in the Sixtes is the spot in my memory
that always makes me smile.
July 5, 2007 9:19 PM
Anonymous said…
Those beautiful wood and glass doors that once opened to front street are hanging on my home now. They swing open to the trees and fresh air of Southern Oregon and are happy. I am amazed that people come here and know where they came from…which is how I know. A friend once came here shortly after the doors were hung, she grabed the wooden handle and said…”I know this door”…and as she walked into the house she turned and said “I have passed through these doors many times before”. She did not know from where they came…untill weeks later. Then she came to tell me many great times had at the Catalyst behind those magnificent doors. I am honored. Truly.
January 20, 2009 2:18 AM
Anonymous said…
Those were wonderful times. I was there, I had been a prison guard at Folsom Prison before I turned on. My former Navy buddy Chuck Garner who was also my intellectual midwife was one of the first to work the Catalyst back when it had the butcher market counters. He lived at certain times with the communes that produced “The Free Spaghetti Dinner” and later “The Buzzsaw” hip newspapers. He and Rick Gladstone are two of the most penetrating thinkers I have known in my life. No, they weren’t famous, but they were remarkable people that occupied Santa Cruz during that very remarkable (truly groovy, hip, and psychedelic) time. Some of my other friends were John Cunningham, an original local, and ‘Kalubathak’ Bob Verick, who had a little shop with piles of electric gadgetry, remnants, of a previous phase in his life as an electronics wizard somewhere over in San Jose. He would set in his shop playing his guitar, not any certain tunes, just making it sound any way he wanted it to. His hair was already to long to get a straight job. He made you coffee by boiling water in a coffee can with the grounds in it, and the straining it into a cup. That was a jangly place to come onto your acid!
August 13, 2010 6:47 PM
Ron said…
I was the first music at the Catalyst when Al and Patti were at the helm. I did a jazz guitar set and Patti would occasionally join me in a folk number, she a very good singer. I also played and Mannie’s, Sticky Wicket, The Barn, Hootenanny, and The Brass Knocker in Saratoga.
October 5, 2010 9:11 PM
Tuco said…
One day in 1976 I was in Santa Cruz. I had come from the Netherlands(Holland, Amsterdam) on a bicycle. I went from Williamsburg Virginia all the way to San Francisco. Hippie-time in Amsterdam was over, but still I found in San Francisco a bunch of guys who took me out for a ride. Blowing and drinking they cruised to Santa Cruz. In a haze of marihuana and alcohol we stopped for a concert of The Band. It was in the end of august. I still don’t know where it took place, but from what I have seen it could have been The Catalyst. Can anyone after all these years tell me more about it?
March 6, 2011 2:15 AM
Tim said…
I played at the original Catalyst backing people up, 68-69… Byron Kenney was one singer/guitarist I remember playing with.The article doesn’t mention it but the Original Catalyst was actually a part of the Hotel Rex. The men’s bathroom had the best and most memorable grafitti I have ever seen. I still remember someone had written on the wall “sometimes a good bowel movement is better than an orgasm.” Not bad for a memory check, huh?
December 12, 2011 1:51 PM
Anonymous said…
how many people remember the Hootenanny,that place was a shoe factory,a slotcar track,who knows what else ,I remember when they built it.the thing I remember the most about the original catalyst was the salami sandwhiches must have used a whole stick of salami.
I remember when they put the statues in front of the “Hip pocket” and then modified them
June 27, 2012 8:56 PM

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