Edited and updated April 2021
The earliest mention of Keaton’s Shack in the Index Tribune is in 1949, which was a busy year for the Springs. The Boyes Bath House recorded it’s largest ever Sunday crowd, so said an article on June 10, 1949. An adjacent article told of the Boyes Hot Springs Booster Club’s folk dance class being held at Keaton’s shack (Monday night, 7:30). In 1951 the North Bay Portuguese Holy Ghost Society Barbecue, with 1500 guests, was held at Keaton’s, which featured Carmen Miranda headlining the entertainment! On June 3, 1952, the IT announced a “three day confab” of the California Embalmers Association, which finished up with a “gala barbecue” at the Shack. In September of 1955 the valley Chamber of Commerce held its barbecue at Keaton’s. In that year the IT published a tribute to Keaton’s on the editorial page. They mention that the concrete driveway was built by the Sonoma Carpenter’s Union, and that the street lights came from Oakland. They also say, “There are no restrictions at all for any group. Last year several hundred members of a Negro Masonic organization from the east bay held a picnic at the park.”
The post card with nine images is unusual. Real Picture Post Cards, as they are known, usually have only one. At right center we can see “Ray and Frank’s Stumble Inn,” the red building that still stands (see below), and the barbecue shed at top right, which also is still there. The crumbling structure in front of the Stumble Inn (below) is the dance floor. The old gate and house seen in the top center photo are still standing (2015). (Thanks To Bernice Thorstenson for the post card.)
Entrance to Keaton’s Shack. Driveway by the Carpenter’s Union, street lights from the streets of Oakland.
I couldn’t resist adding the old swing set with Sonoma Mountain in the background. It bespeaks the ephemeral and the eternal.
Exciting news from archeologist Breck Parkman. He writes,
“My son and I live on Keaton Avenue in Fetters. We live next door to what was once Keatons Shack and part of our yard was part of the old resort. Since moving here four years ago, we’ve run across all kinds of archaeological evidence of the old resort. In fact, we’ve been working on a research project during the pandemic, something my son has been able to help me with while we’ve sheltered here in place. One of the main dumps associated with Keaton’s Shack is behind our house and over the past year we’ve been studying it.”
“I know (Ray and Frank) purchased it c. 1945 but I’m assuming the dance floor and Stumble In were already here as I don’t believe the Keatons built either. I could be wrong, though. But in the dump we see artifacts that seem to suggest extensive use of the site as a possible resort beginning in the 1920s. I’m wondering if the Stumble In and dance floor were associated with one of the resorts or hotels just down the hill (Fetters Hotel or perhaps the Clementi Inn). Jon and I will write up a report when we are done and probably present a paper about it at an archaeological conference, too. It’s been a great pandemic project for us.”
Needless to say, we will look forward the their paper with great anticipation. Some of their finds are interesting but ordinary (cutlery, for instance).
One of them is kind of astounding. It is, as Breck writes, “ …a Marin County Deputy Coroner badge. When Frank Keaton returned home from the war, he became Deputy Coroner for Marin Co. His dad, Ray, was Coroner. In 1950, Ray retired and Frank ran and was elected Coroner. All I can figure is that he threw his old assistant badge away, although I suppose it could have become lost instead. But it was found in a dump, so I do wonder.”
There is still a Keaton’s mortuary in Novato.
We can now call this the Ongoing History of Keaton’s Shack. Stay tuned.
Archeological finds and clipping courtesy of Breck Parkman.