The Kitchen Sisters
Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva
If You Can't Take the Heat - Get Out of The Kitchen Brothers
By The Kitchen Sisters
Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva
An Oral Mystery
One of the great oral mysteries of our time is the story of those notorious stonemasons, The Kitchen Brothers. We first took an interest in the case when we decided to use their name for our radioselves on KUSP-FM, Santa Cruz.
We didn't have much to go on -- just a cryptic passage from the Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture, and a photograph of that Byzantine bungalow over on the Westside. But when you've been in the business as long as we have, you can smell an oral history the minute it walks in the door.
We loaded our cassettes and headed out Westcliff Drive. On the way we mulled over the Companion, studying the few clues we had. According to the author, somebody had told somebody (but nobody was quite sure who), that The Kitchen Brothers were the ones responsible for that abalone and brick Wonder over on Fair Avenue you know, the joint that looks like it fell off the back of a pack of Camels. Word had it that the place was built by the light of the moon as some kind of Yogi Temple that doubled as a goat milk bar.
As if Eastern Religion and health food weren't provocative enough, The Brothers also dabbled in radio. In front of the Temple they constructed two 30 foot brick towers, laced with mother-of-pearl. Topped with antennas, these were used for sending and receiving messages possibly the first non-commercial station on the Westside. This was back in the 40s Wartime and the boys also rigged up a device to jam the signals of enemy subs lurking in Monterey Bay. But the navy came down on them hard shipped them off to Pensacola.
Could this story be ture? We hoped so. And we wanted it down on tape. A little oral historical investigation was in order.
We pulled up in front the Temple. There it stood -- just like the picture. But the place looked like it hadn't seen a Yogi in years. The weeds were a couple of feet tall and the windows were boarded shut. We decided to case the neighborhood. The walls weren't talking and we need someone who would.
A surfer came out of a small turquoise stucco job across the street. We moved in on him fast we had to. The waves were good and the tide was getting low. His name was Fritz. We aimed our mikes and pumped him for all he knew about the Temple.
FRITZ: "Well, all I know is the place was built by these two crazy brothers back in the 40s for their home. But they fought like cats and dogs and finally abandoned the project.
One of the brothers sold it to this pastor, Father Karim. And he turned it into a Greek Orthodox Church. But Karim had a stroke and was sent to Oklahoma. He still plans to come back and open the church up again but for now, the place stays empty so he doesn't have to pay taxes."
Karim? Oklahoma? Our budget just couldn't handle it. We needed a clue within walking distance. We asked surfer boy if he knew anything more about The Brothers.
FRITZ: "No -- I don't even know their names. But I think they also built that weird stone place down the street you know that Mushroom Research Lab."
It looked like our first big lead. We headed for the Lab. On the way we grilled a few more of the neighbors. One old Greek Orthodox, who watch-dogged the Temple for Karim, said there were three Kitchen Brothers, not two. The woman next door to him claimed FATHER KARIM had built the place and that he'd moved to Nebraska, not Oklahoma. And two kids hanging around on the corner thought the place was a Catholic Church that had been condemned about 100 years ago. The oral web was closing in around us.
We didn't have much trouble finding the Lab you could smell it blocks away. The place had "Kitchen" written all over it stone turrets, abalone arches, and sculpted cement. We headed through a door marked "Stoller Research," and wound up face to face with Doc Stoller himself.
Doc had heard of The Kitchen Brothers, alright. In fact, he'd met one of them when he bought the place 35 years ago.
DOC: "I'll tell you all I know. There were these two Kitchen Brothers, see. One was a brick mason he built that place down the street which he made into some kind of a religious deal to avoid taxes. The other brother, the one I met, was a stonemason. He built this castle here. He told me he got the idea from a picture postcard of a temple in India.
There used to be a cellar out back with a well in it. But the place was more like a place for graves I think he was gonna put his coffin in there. But he's gone now making bricks up in Northern California somewhere."
Doc was just warming up. He claimed Kitchen had carried all the stones that were in the place down from Boulder Creek in the back of a big Packard. He also said Kitchen didn't have a building permit so he worked on it at night by the light of the moon when the inspectors weren't around.
Tax evasion? Building without a permit? This was beginning to sound like a Class K oral history. We checked our batteries and reloaded the SONY.
After talking to Doc we decided to feast our eyes on some Kitchen's handiwork. We wandered around the lab. Kitchen certainly had a flair for detail. The mortar between the stones was beveled, the door knobs ranged from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 feet off the ground, and the main office was located in what had once been the largest fireplace in Santa Cruz County. We were impressed.
As we were leaving the Lab, Mike, one of Doc's men, added his two cents worth to The Kitchen Saga.
MIKE: "I met one of The Kitchen Brother's granddaughters about two years ago she was visiting from Reno. She said all the stones in this building were brought here in a 1937 Rolls Royce." We eyeballed each other. Before our very ears the Packard had been traded in for a Rolls.
MIKE: "The two brothers were partners, but they didn't get along. They'd be working on a fireplace, get in a fight, and walk off the job. A couple days later they'd come back in the middle of the night and finish the fireplace when no one was around."
Mike had also heard rumors about the Temple down the street. Seems Kitchen's design for the radio towers was something the government wanted bad. So they came in and took the plans. After that, Kitchen disappeared.
The stories were starting to tango. It only takes two. Now if someone would just mention submarines or goat milk we'd be in business.
We got back in the car and slowly cruised the neighborhood not quite knowing what we were looking for. A couple of blocks over, on Getchell, we passed a 17-foot cypress wall that seemed to go on for days. We figured the guy responsible for this hedge must know something about The Kitchen Brothers. We weren't disappointed. The guy's name was Pat. He remembered when he, The Kitchen Brothers, and the Swanton Airport were about the only things going on the Westside.
PAT: "Raymond and Kenneth Kitchen? Yeah, they must be about 90 years old now, cause I'm 78 and I'm way younger than them.
Most people thought they was a little dingy, but they wasn't. Well, Kenneth, I guess he was a little buggy. He'd hear things. He bought a big oscillator you know, that magnifies sound. Said he heard German submarines out there. He'd take a spell at that thing and listen for a week without movin. Raymond would come down and feed him. Cause Raymond wasn't that goofy.
Now, I never heard nothing about them building by the light of the moon, but I wouldn't be surprised. Because they believed in the light and dark of the moon. You plant that way. And butcher a hog by the dark of the moon or the bacon will curl in the pan."
Pat kept talking. He said The Kitchen Brothers had learned masonry in Turkey during World War I. And Raymond was such a master that he could split a stone like a deck of cards.
PAT: "Yeah, The Kitchen Brothers go fed up with this country. Too many people. Took a big long trip back to Pennsylvania lookin' for a spot to buy where there was a lake. Gonna build a resort. They're back there somewhere."
An army stockade in Pensacola -- "Somewhere" in northern California and now a Pennsylvania lakeside resort. We could feel The Brothers slipping though our fingers. We bid Pat "Adios."
We had one last lead Ranger Pittman, an old guy who'd once tried to buy the Yogi Temple for his home. Ranger was a gold mine. But it didn't take us long to realize that he was the same gold mine the Sidewalk Companion had tapped.
RANGER: "Out in front of the Temple, Kenneth built a triangle deal with a little moon and tear drop on it. He thought they could move. And when they lined up the world would come to an end or at least the United States would. So he was fixin the place up to stand the shock.
The army took him off because he built some kind of a thing that would stop submarines out in the bay hush-hush stuff. I don't know what happened to them you'd have to ask Uncle Sam. He's got 'em someplace."
We'd come to the end of the line. There was no way two small-town oral flatfoots, even with the name Kitchen backing them, could get an interview with Uncle Sam. That was Barbara Walters' beat.
In desperation we played back the tapes, hoping the clues would fall into place. Let's see... there were these two, maybe three, brothers who built by the light of the moon for spiritual or perhaps tax purposes... and they drove a Packard or rather a '37 Rolls and the government bagged them for signaling subs and shipped them off to a lakeside resort in Pennsylvania... or was it Pensacola? So much for the facts.
But it didn't matter we swelled with family pride, just the same. We consoled ourselves remembering that our business was not to solve mysteries, but to keep the reels rolling.
Copyright © 1999 The Kitchen Sisters