Saturday, September 24, 2011

Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, CA

Monterey Bay's premier nightclub, featuring acts from around the world.
The main dance hall is 5000 square feet, not including balconies, and can hold 800 people.
The bar downstairs is 100 feet long, starting in the front room and extending into the concert area.

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. (judyxx-

Randall Philip Kane was born in Minnesota Oct. 12, 1923. His family moved to Ohio when he was about 9, but before they left, Randall Kane made his mark.

He used his tongue to paint a mural inside the family's home featuring monkeys paddling down a river in a canoe, his brother said.
"My mother wouldn't let anyone touch it," his brother said. "It was wild."
Later, Kane's three-year stint as a dean for the San Francisco Institute of Art didn't satiate his need for adventure and art. Instead, in 1969, he turned his attention to a coffee shop on the ground floor of the old St. George Hotel on Front Street in Santa Cruz.
There's a fair handful around town who remember the old Catalyst, a beat coffeehouse that straddled Pacific Avenue and Front Street where the newly rebuilt St. George Hotel is now situated. Located in the abandoned grand dining room of the original retirement hotel, the Catalyst attracted a steady stream of beats, bohemians and college students with its Old World charm and laid-back atmosphere.
Originally owned by a collective of Santa Cruzans known as the Consumers' Co-op, the Catalyst was ready to fold until one of its regulars, a former schoolteacher named Randall Kane, offered to take it over. "I drifted into the nightclub business willy-nilly. I only got into it so I'd have a place to hang out when I had free time," Kane recalls.
Ooganookie! And wild Annie playing her electric violin and grinding away in those skin-tight jeans. And all the wild paint on the walls, and the outrageous graffiti on the bathroom walls. And the woman-on-a-bearskin-rug painting. That was the original Catalyst in the old St George Hotel. It was packed, packed, packed!!

The old Catalyst presented interesting logistical challenges, problems Kane more bluntly calls a "nightmare." For one, customers could reach the coffeehouse-cum-roadhouse through Front Street or, more interestingly, through the lobby of the retirement hotel, a rather surreal experience. Needless to say, the elderly did not appreciate rock bands ripping until the wee hours of the morning.
"He gave birth to The Catalyst," said Gino Krum, who worked 10 years as a bartender for Kane. "It was the best nightclub around because he wanted it to be."
On March 17, 1976,  he relocated the club to the former site of a bowling alley on Pacific Avenue, creating a unique garden atrium full of plants and artwork.
Moby Grape performed on Opening Night.
Kane can never be accused of mincing words. "It's just a wild coincidence that we opened on St. Patrick's," Kane says. "Back then, nothing was happening on that day. The only places celebrating St. Paddy's was New York, Chicago and San Francisco, big hotbeds of phony Irish bullshit."
The two-story building was a polished wood and stained glass party central that would book musicians as diverse as the Circle Jerks, Tina Turner, Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Curtis Mayfield, Emmylou Harris, Hugh Masakela and Rick Nelson. No musical style, from rockabilly and world beat to grind-core and ska, has missed a turn on the Catalyst stage.
Of course, to the old guard, this shiny new venue just wasn't the same as their beloved--yet enfeebled--old Cat. Although Kane tried to recapture some of the original essence with similar overarching skylights, huge potted plants and, of course, the centerpiece fountain, the lazy coffee culture was quickly replaced by the city's clubbers, attracted to the Catalyst's behemoth dance floor, professional sound and lighting, and newly acquired hard-liquor license.
But the real place to be was the incomparable Friday afternoon Happy Hour, where riot-sized crowds jostled and drank to the tunes of Jake and the Abalone Stompers. For many, it required the skills of a chemist, counterbalancing the alcohol with cocaine, in order to keep going from 5pm until the end of the final act at 1:30am.

The Catalyst or "The Joint" as Kane called it became one of the West Coast's premier music venues, hosting acts from Sista' Monica to Tom Petty. One thing most people don't know about Randall Kane, who brought so much great music to Santa Cruz: he preferred silence. Randall was a talented cook who could feed an army. He baked all of the bread for The Catalyst, even the hamburger buns. Sunday morning breakfasts were his specialty.
Legendary for his encyclopedic knowledge and sardonic wit, Randall held court at The Catalyst bar. Kane was an intellectual Jack-of-all-trades, equally comfortable deliberating over the daily news or jousting rhetorically with all comers. A working-class man, Randall held those who work with their hands in highest esteem: artists and artisans alike. (Mary McCasslin and MetroSantaCruz's Kelly Luker)
On Oct. 1, 2003, the Catalyst officially passed from its eccentric founder, Randall Kane. The sale marked the end of a 34-year journey of live music.

Randall Kane passed away on July 27, 2009. The Catalyst continues to remain open.

Jerry performed here on
3/30/79 Reconstruction
3/31/79 Reconstruction
5/27/79 Reconstruction
2/7/80 Jerry Garcia Band
1/18/81 Jerry Garcia Band
1/29/81 Jerry Garcia Band
4/21/81 Jerry Garcia Band
2/2/82 Jerry Garcia Band
2/3/82 Jerry Garcia Band
10/13/82 Jerry Garcia Band
1/18/83 Jerry Garcia Band
10/16/85 early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band

1.)^ Judy, 2007-05-19,
2.)^Luker, Kelly, Rock and Mollusk Reunion, 1996-03-14-20,
3.)^O'Connor, Kelly, 2009-07-28, Randall Philip Kane, founder of Catalyst Club, dead at 85,


  1. How sweet to find this article, while searching for news of the band Ooganookie. I worked at the Catalyst for both the DiLudavicos and Randall Kane. I had forgotten how one could get in through the St. George retirement home. Very surreal, I thought even at the time. Athough the nude painting of the woman on a bear rug was mentioned, the artist, Kitty Wallis, was not. An amazing artist and a good friend. Well, surely the end of an era. Kane was a really special guy. Thanks for writing this. --- Joy Banks

  2. P.S. Should anyone want to reach me to possibly reminisce, feel free to contact me at --- Currently living in Hawaii.

  3. My time working at the Catalyst was a brief but memorable few months in the summer of `78. Randall cooked breakfast with us regular fry cooker boys on weekends, and my strongest memory of him in the kitchen was his elated joyfulness while he was whipping up a huge batch of borscht. And it was good, too. He told me his inspiration for having his own place came from the time he worked at "Larry's" on HIgh Street in Columbus while he attended Ohio State on the GI Bill. He was a truly unique and decent person.