Sunday, January 9, 2011

Joni Mitchell and the East Side




Believe it or not, Joni Mitchell performed at a place called the Sippin' Lizzard Coffee House in the heart of what is now arson territory at the corner of Lewis and Bennett Sts. There's a nice history of the place by Jim McTiernan on the Flint Folk Music Society webpage:

It grew out of the gatherings that Don and Jackie Bowles hosted in the basement of their home where their son, Paul, and his friends gathered to play guitar and sing. When attendance became too large for the basement, Jackie, with Don's support, rented the old building on Lewis St. and established a coffeehouse in 1965.
The name for the coffeehouse came from an incident at Paul's high school. Paul and his friends were constantly being harassed by school officials for their hair and dress. One day Jackie was called to school and found Paul in the counselor's office. In the course of the discussion that followed the counselor referred to Paul and his friends as nothing but a bunch of "no good, long-haired, guitar-playing, coffee-sipping lizards." And the "Sippin' Lizzard" was born.
The building that housed the Sippin' Lizzard was rented by Don and Jackie Bowles in 1965 because it was the only one they could afford at the time. It proved to be an adequate location despite some business women who practiced their profession in the apartments upstairs and an unsecured basement door which allowed the cellar to serve as a restroom for "street people". The building was demolished a few years ago.
At this location, folk music fans heard Joni Mitchell as she began her career, as well as Cedric Smith, Phil Marcus Esser and others while sitting on the floor and drinking coffee.

51 comments:

  1. I asked JWilly whether he had heard this story, and both of us having gone to school with some of the siblings and in laws of the Bowles family, I wondered if anyone remembered who the counselor was at Flint SW who came up with the "Sippin Lizard" moniker for Paul Bowles. I would like to connect that amusing story with the counselor's name.

    There's another poster on another blog that I read and post on that was asking on a third blog about whatever happened to Paul. Does anyone know?

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  2. I remember the Sippin Lizard---attended a few times during my jr. college days. Sign of the Times.

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  3. Paul Bowles was my first guitar teacher. I took lessons from him at a music shop, but I don't remember the name. He got me started but he suggested that I change teachers because I wanted to learn that rock stuff and he was a folk player.

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  4. This could get more interesting. It already is very interesting, and as this story unravels more, it will be like the old news caster said, "Now you know the rest of the story". Dan Cady may have some info on this.`The administrator's name was.....I love it, keep diggin there's conflicting information on this story. The jocks,greasers and the hippies didn't get along with each other very well nor with the counsel- ing dept.

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  5. What about the academic geeks? When I was there a few years later, I did well in class rank/GPA, and SAT, but my counselor was very outspoken in telling me that I probably would have a hard time getting into Harvard. I had no thoughts of even applying to Harvard. I wondered if it was the same counselor.

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  6. Wouldn't that be something? I did forget about the nerds though. Normally, they didn't get into trouble and had a way of staying below the radar. An example would be, of a story somewhere on this blog about a couple of slickers who pulled off a teddy bear heist at Powers and got away with it. A personal pet that belonged to the art teacher I believe. What ballage those two must have had to take that kind of risk.

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  7. Well, it was a strange stuffed animal called a moofla, and it was English class, but close enough, Uncle Buck. It's a good story and some great writing by Stephen Rodrick.

    http://www.flintexpats.com/2008/10/laffaire-de-moofla-by-stephen-rodrick_31.html

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  8. Wow, you guys are old! I wasn't even born till '73 so I can't really add too much to that part of the conversation, but I have attended the past couple of festivals put on by the Flint Folk Music Society in Kearsley Park and was blown away by some of the talent that they get to come there. I was especially impressed with Meg Hutchinson this last year and hope she'll return to perform again. It sounds like it was kind of a dive in the post but the Sippin' Lizzard must have been nice back in the day!

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  9. Thanks for the clarification geewhy. My wife,son and daughter were jumping on this computer and checking out all the stories and comments every time I said, "You gotta read this one.",or "This is funnier then hell- check this out." The moofla story finally hooked them and now they are on their own. I have my computer back now. Living in the middle of the woods up here, it provides me with a nostalgic look back and seems like most of the posts on here are about something that rattles my memory and how things were in Flint when I traveled around the city on a daily bases over thirty years ago. I hope your still in touch with your cohort in the moofla caper.

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  10. Hey Craig, I remember you and your sister Amy from UM-Flint at the MMB in the 1970s. You and Amy used to hang out in the FLIPS Library. Over the years, I kept confusing your name as Charlie Daniels!

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  11. Hi "Positive"! Ok - give me a hint. You went to Southwestern? Hmmmm. FLIPS library? So you were one of the physics geeks like me.

    If it's me and Amy you're remembering then you need to put us in the cafeteria playing euchre. That's where our "gang" hung out. I'd love to hear from you. I'm on Facebook.

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  12. I was there. I hung with Paul,bouncer and all the rest. When Joni came in we all cooed together at the Lizzard and she claimed "she played her guitar so hot that it was in heat".

    Paul was even hooked into a televison gig and was branded as 'The Weatherball Singers" when they did a tune about the color changes of the ball on top of the bank.

    The faculty member at Flint Southwestern who tagged them with the lizard name was that short strutting vice-principal who took delight in bragging about hard he swung a paddle. Little wonder his name is now not worth remembering...

    Rosenberg/Florida

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    1. You are right about the vice-principal, and I remember his name. I think it fitting that it be forgotten. He said of Paul and the others, "They are a bunch of coffee sipping lizards," or something very close to that. They named the place in "honor" of him. (Or so I think.)

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  13. Wow! Great info, Bernard. I wondered who it was that sang the Weatherball Song. I wonder if anyone has a recording of that. The music is from a classical piece as I recall.

    I do remember that there was an administrator there at SW before I was that was afraid of living in Flint, even way back then. He stated that the city (I don't think he just meant Flint) wasn't a good place to raise children and he wouldn't raise his own children there. I remember a name associated with that comment, but I won't embarass this person, as he did have some less fearful advice, and some positive qualities also. The administrators that were there when I was seemed better than that. But maybe like Unclebuck said, I may have stayed below the radar.

    I think that the one you may be referring to was afraid of the students, hence the false bravado.

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  14. More about Weatherball Singers and Color Codes:

    Each Weatherball had its own color code. Now certainly somebody out there must have a Flint Citizens Bank Weatherball recording to share!

    Wells Fargo Bank had a Weatherball song, but their Weatherball is long gone!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0E5jcDt9tIM&NR=1

    WZZM-TV Grand Rapids has rebuilt the Wetherball which was once on the Old Kent Bank building.

    Here's a recent promotional spot:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8VcnabFL9c

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  15. The jingle for the Citizens Bank Weatherball in Flint is pretty similar to the one in the link from Stay Postitive about the Grand Rapids Weatherball but with a few little changes.

    When the Weatherball is red warmer weather is ahead.

    When the Weatherball is blue coooler temperatures are due.

    When yellow is in the Weatherball there will be no change at all.

    And when it blinks in agitation there will be precipitation.

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  16. I remember seeing Charlie(Latimer) and Paul(Bowles)several times at the Concert Galley about 1969 or so. There was a young girl named Sue Van Arsdale who went to SW that everyone was in love with and was the girlfriend of Pauls' younger brother. I heard she later married Dan Fogelberg?
    With the number of people who claimed they saw Joni at the Sippin Lizard the place must have held a thousand or so. I even have a friend who claims Joni slept at her house when she came for gigs.

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  17. Mark Bowles was married to a Susan Van Arsdale for a while, according to public records. Can't find a link to Fogelberg. Susan wasn't the girl in the grocery store on Christmas Eve, was she? Oh wait, I don't think Mark was an architect.

    Between the people here that went to Flint SW, the people here that went to the Sippin Lizzard, and the people who knew about the panic room in the Dort House, we could fill Atwood Stadium!

    Was Bruce Bowles, who worked for Grand Funk Railroad, from the same Bowles family? Terry Knight did play at the Sippin Lizzard, so there would be a connection.

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  18. Stay Positive, another round about hook-up and connection of sorts would be...I worked at Southwestern,worked at the Dort House, was in and out of Hartwell's pharmacy-Bokars pharmacy-Herlichs drugs-the Flowershop all in the same building as the Sippin Lizzard at one time. Oh, and worked at Neithercut too. Played a round of golf with Terry Knight and remember the Bowles family before there was a Sippin Lizzard. Had a couple of family members living on Rockcreek and Penbrook. Been at Atwood Stadium for standing room only events. I must fit the catagory above. Listened to Mark Farner drive his grandparents nuts with his first electric guitar. They were downhomers and didn't understand that racket he was making in the back of their restaurant. Oh, the sixties......

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  19. There's another two or three (at least) younger posters I am aware of who worked or attended a lot of the same places you mentioned, unclebuck. One actually posts on another blog I read. I can't figure out who it was, as I PMed through the other board, and he didn't reveal his name, but the context shows he is quite a bit younger than either you or I am. A second one is a friend of Mark Farner, but slammed Terry Knight here on another thread.

    The book, "From Grand Funk To Grace" by Kristofer Engelhardt, the authorized biography of Mark Farner, has a wealth of information about Flint, the Flint music clubs, and the recording industry, but doesn't mention the Sippin Lizzard.

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  20. According to the Flint Folk Music site, Joni Mitchell and Terry Knight played a double bill at the Lizard on November 17, 1967.
    The club as strictly folk music, no headbangers like GFR.

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  21. Craig, the only euchre tournament I remember at UM-Flint was the one held in the Introductory/Inorganic Chemistry Lab, in the laboratory wing over by Court St. in the MMB. They even had a plaque for recording the yearly winners, called the Roth-Van Alstine Memorial Award. Since they moved the labs to the Murchie Building, I doubt that the tournament still exists.

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  22. My brother attended the concert, we talked about it the other day!

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  23. I seemed to remember Chuck & Joanie Mitchell- husband and wife duo - and yes coffee with cinnamon sticks- good times.David J Boyd

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  24. It's amazing how quickly Joni Mitchell went from hanging out and crashing with our acquaintances in Flint in 1966-1967 to fame and fortune.

    The song "Our House" by Crosby Stills Nash and Young, according to Wikipedia, was about an affair in 1969-1970 that Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell had that was very traditionally domestic, and one that Nash apparently hoped would result in a traditional marriage. Remember that while Joni was hanging out in Flint, Graham Nash was still with the Hollies.

    How quickly their lives changed.

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  25. I have a vague recollection of that Weatherball Song performed in a spot on Channel 12. Were the Weatherball Singers shown on the spot? I seem to remember my father asking "Is that that Bowles kid?" The only way my father, a sometime known guitarist in Flint in his own right, would have known that is if Paul was also in music at Flint SW. If he was in instrumental music at SW, does anyone remember what else besides guitar that he played? Percussion perhaps?

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  26. i was at sw in the 60's, remember the family well, one a very good friend for life, Paul and friends had their own table in the cafeteria at lunch. Last i knew Paul was in Canada. no i didnt see Joni, was at the sippin lizard once, my personal recollection is that it was a teacher, mr. P who hung the name on them. its been almost fifty years now.

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  27. I could see Mr. Potter possibly coming up with the Sippin' Lizard/Lizzard moniker. He did have an opinion or two. Is that the Mr. P to which you refer?

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  28. The counselors name, I think, was J. D. Whittaker.

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  29. I remember how it became Lizzard instead of Lizard. It was a mistake by my friend, Charles, who painted the original sign. He just couldn't spell and they didn't have any more materials. My girlfriend (now wife) and I came up just as he was finishing and she told him Lizard was spelled with one "z", he said "oh, F***" and it stayed Lizzard.

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  30. My high school girlfriend heard about it(SL)& we went almost every weekend in 66 & 67. Josh White Jr. whose still in the Detroit area, Cedric Smith, Charlie & Paul(our favs), Chuck Mitchell, & Joni more than once. Tall, dressed in black, she was very mysterious. Mrs. Bowles said Chuck got sick once & Joni went on alone, & it was her first solo, ever. Carpet samples sown together, & a stage no more tha a foot off the floor. Walls were black, & @ the entrance was a caveman clubbing another, then a series of violent depictions(crusades, etc.)ending with a mushroom cloud. Saw Steve Boros, Tiger 3rd baseman there, reading while waiting for the music. Very intimate, heady setting, yet with a sense of the innocense of the the times, still in place. Loved it, & still in touch with my 1st love 45 yrs. later. Peace

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    1. The Lizzard was just the ticket for this 16-year old Davisonite folkie. It kinda shocked my middle America sensibilities, but I loved not only the music, but also the ambiance. I felt a part of the group of kindred spirits ....something I had not experienced before. It was some 25 years later I discovered the Ark in Ann Arbor, but the SL was an awakening of sorts for live music. Great memories for this old dude.

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  31. Thanks for the clarification geewhy. My wife,son and daughter were jumping on this computer and checking out all the stories and comments every time I said, "You gotta read this one.",or "This is funnier then hell- check this out." The moofla story finally hooked them and now they are on their own. I have my computer back now. Living in the middle of the woods up here, it provides me with a nostalgic look back and seems like most of the posts on here are about something that rattles my memory and how things were in Flint when I traveled around the city on a daily bases over thirty years ago. I hope your still in touch with your cohort in the moofla caper.

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  32. This is one of the more fascinating threads, about people who spent time in Flint over the years.

    I have some clarifications about the earlier Dan Fogelberg comments. The "Same Auld Lang Syne" incident happened in Peoria, so there's no connection there. I talked to some musicians from Nashville who grew up in Flint, and I asked one about Dan Fogelberg and Susan Van Arsdale, and he said that Susan boarded Dan Fogelberg's horses, but knew nothing about them being an item, at least nothing as serious as mentioned.

    Another interesting rumor I heard years ago was that Pat Boone is related to a prominent Flint family, explaining why he used to come to Flint so much with the Chevy Promotions. The Chevy Mfg. thread is another that connects a lot of dots, BTW.

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  33. Wow. This takes me back some.

    I remember sitting on the couch at the Bowles house playing guitar with Joni adopting an open tuning she was using.

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  34. As I recall, Paul and Janiece Bowles and their families were kind of like the TV show "Dharma and Greg" in reverse.

    Sadly, Janiece Conaton Bowles passed away in 2004.

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  35. This takes me waaay back. Paul Bowles was my first guitar teacher. I cold-called him in 1968 after getting his number from Charlie Lattimer at the Raven Gallery in Southfield, and I begged him for lessons. He was reluctant at first, but agreed after I convinced him that I already knew some fingerstyle. I paid him $5 a lesson. I still play his version of "The Eggplant that Ate Chicago". I wish I knew where he was.

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    1. He lives in Canada, I am his daughter. He does not have internet but I showed him this thread. A lot of laughter and smiles.

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    2. Sometimes I wonder why I started a blog devoted to Flint, but this comment thread gives me the answer. Love reading all the comments about a place that I never heard of but seems so Flint. Thanks for the comments.

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  36. I got introduced to the Sippin' Lizzard and the Bowles as a high school student at Carmen, and used to play with Charlie and Paul, and Mark (Paul's brother), and occasionally others, when we were all trying to have a band like the Band, CS&N, etc..... we were all from the Flint area, and lived in Stratford, Ontario for a good segment of that time, with Paul and his first wife Janice (sp?), driving or taking the train to gigs in Detroit and other parts of Michigan when called for..... I lived in Ann Arbor though for most of that time...... I'm remembering some hair raising encounters at the Canadian border, in both directions...... Charlie is still in the Detroit area I'm quite certain.... you can find him on Facebook..... Paul visited her about 10 years ago (I live in Vermont since the late 70s), with his brother Kirk, on their Harley's.... haven't seen or heard from Paul since..... haven't heard from Mark in 35 years or more..... though Kirk and Paul talked about him when they visited..... Paul moved to Barry's Bay with others in the early 70s, and homesteaded..... Barry Goldie and his wife went at the same time.... I think they both went to Flint SW....... Paul had major health problem that he recovered some from...... not sure how he's doing now..... have been in touch with Suzanne a few times via Facebook.......

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  37. According to her mother's obituary found online in the Traverse City Record Eagle, Mark, Janiece Bowles passed away in 2004 and spelled her first name with the extra e and kept the name Bowles until she passed away. Genesee County records show her name spelled Janice. According to a mutual acquaintance, Janiece also had longstanding health problems. I had also heard that Paul and Janiece had lived in Canada but were back in the states. I didn't know Janiece personally, but her family was well known and extremely well liked throughout the Flint Community. I never heard a bad word about them. Janiece's father Martin Conaton was nice to everyone he met. He even gave me a Life Saver once!

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  38. When searching for information on Paul Bowles & Charlie Latimer's records, found this article that reminds me of wonderful time when I heard Joni Mitchell sing at the S.L. club (her Canadian husband in audience) and when Paul & Charlie performed their music there also, for which I wrote several sets of lyrics, around 1966. S.L. club was a wonderful tiny place to hear music. A.K.Rush

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  39. James Whittaker, the former Flint Southwestern Administrator who, according to Bernard Rosenberg, was inadvertently responsible for providing the name for The Sippin' Lizzard, passed away in September, 2012 in Ann Arbor at age 94. His obituary is available on mlive. In a meeting in the principal's office around 1965, Mr. Whittaker pronounced Paul Bowles and his entourage of friends, who had their "own" exclusive cafeteria lunch table, while the rest had to eat their lunch all by themselves, as a bunch of "coffee sipping lizards". This was in reference to the concerts at the Bowles' home on Euston Avenue, which became the coffee house on Lewis St. near Broadway where Joni Mitchell appeared several times, performing such songs as "Both Sides Now" and "The Circle Game", well before her career took off.

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  40. From what I remember, Paul Bowles wore his hair a little shorter than his brother Mark Bowles. Paul Bowles wore his glasses, whereas Mark Bowles, who also badly needed glasses, hardly ever wore them. I remember the school administrators asking Mark where his glasses were and telling him to put them on. I wonder if they got their glasses from Dr. Vett Cowles, Bernard!

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    1. I still have a pair of gold filled wire rims from Dr. Cowles.

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  41. I was there.....lived with the Bowles family at the time. To see Joni Mitchell and all the rest of the talent was special beyond words. The Bowles family never let anything get in their way of the passion they shared with so many. They went on to open another great venue called the Concert Gallery and again brought about an atmosphere like no other. I will miss it with all my heart! They are like a second family to me.

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  42. Jacqueline Bowles sings The Weather Ball Song, which she set to a Classical Etude, in 1964.

    http://videos.mlive.com/flintjournal/2013/06/jackie_bowles_sings_weather_ba.html

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  43. There was also this video of Jacqueline Bowles at the First Merit Flint Headquarters. The article which accompanied it identified the guitarist as "Mar Bowles". I assume that it is Mark Bowles.

    http://videos.mlive.com/flintjournal/2013/11/jackie_bowles_leads_crowd_in_s.html

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  44. I was just scanning through "Girls Like Us" by Sheila Weller, a biography of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon. I was disappointed in what I did read. There is absolutely no mention of the Sippin' Lizzard that I could find. It seems to be more of a name droppers book, as the index of names is the only index I could find. It is obviously targeted to "cooler" people than the ones who read this website. I was intrigued by the vague references to Chuck Mitchell's aristocratic family, as Joni perceived them, and would like to have seen more about the who and where of Chuck's family and their wedding, but there were almost no Michigan names or places you could hang your hat on. The book seems to be influenced by a large amount of misandry from what I saw. I guess it is targeted to women and the author thought that we men wouldn't see it. I only saw it because my spouse checked it out of the library. She actually thought it might have more about specific places in Southeastern Michigan including the Sippin' Lizzard, which she found fascinating due to the one or two degrees of separation aspect that the posters here have of that scene in the late 1960s.

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  45. I found out where Joni Mitchell's only marriage took place, and where she and Chuck Mitchell's family lived part of the time when they lived in Michigan. It was on a farm on Tienken Rd., about 2.5 miles West of Rochester. It was just down the same road West a mile or so from where Bob Seger owned a farm where his band used to practice in the early 1970s. It was also about a mile North of where Madonna Ciccone grew up near Old Perch Rd. and Walton Blvd. Joni Mitchell and Chuck also stayed in Detroit, not far from the "Maritime Sailors' Cathedral" made internationally famous by fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot. Gordon Lightfoot also also stayed with them for a while there. Not always New York City or San Francisco or other places that people write about in books, in neighborhoods that we are supposed to know about according to the "cool" people, like Greenwich Village, Tribeca, and Haight Ashbury. It's interesting to find out where famous people hung out in OUR state!

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  46. I was 5 or so at the time me my mother and two younger sisters lived upstairs Business woman she was not ? Just to clear the record there was 2 apartments upstairs we lived in one for a little while...Loved Lewis street back in the day Knoblocks 5 and dime Eastside was booming ! My Uncle Tom and friends,the coolest on the block! :) remember 5 yrs olds flashback:)

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