Born in San Francisco (currently living in Marin) I was raised with my brother Ed in San Rafael. My patient and loving parents Helen and Don Ewald were in some ways typical 1950’s suburban parents but really were secret Bohemians who instilled a love of art, miniatures and dolls, flea marketing, music and love of nature and animals in their children.
I was extremely close to my mother and father and losing them was very difficult. After their deaths I opened a museum in their honor in Larkspur called the Land of Make Believe which showcased all the things we had collected together as a family. Admission was free and any donations went to animal charities. My maternal great grandfather was a pioneer in the St Helena wine industry, migrating from France in the 1870’s. Their family name – Laurent – is still on the stone building at Markham Vineyards. Other family members were of Danish heritage, including my paternal grandfather Thomsen Ewald – who was a popular violinist, and my maternal Grandfather Edwin Hansen who was prominent in the grain business and and the Masonic Lodge.
Life in the Ewald family was never dull. Weekend trips in the station wagons were grand fun as were constant trips to flea markets and estate sales. The early Sausalito flea market was my favorite haunt. The family collected books and stained glass, native American jewelry and artifacts, vintage clothing, miniatures, dolls and odds and ends. We were in retrospect borderline hoarders! Upon finding my grandmother’s ticket book from the 1915 Panama Pacific International I started collecting Exposition souvenirs. In later years along with my great friend the famous ragtime pianist Peter Clute, I wrote a book about the Exposition entitled San Francisco Invites the World. (I also published a book about the Tuskegee Airmen entitled The Freeman Field Mutiny) and two books on traditional Jazz – Jazz West and The Great Jazz Revival.
Always surrounded by music (my brother Ed is an accomplished pianist who could rattle off Scott Joplin tunes when he was ten) I became a lifelong devotee of traditional jazz listening to the likes of Turk Murphy, Louis Armstrong, Pete Clute, Pat Yankee, Wally Rose, Fats Waller and Jim Cullum.
I also loved Benny Goodman and was thrilled when I had the pleasure of meeting him. I learned all the great tunes on a player piano and can still sing most of the standards. In my early teens I would climb into the rumble seat of my brothers Model A and would head to the Fillmore Auditorium or Winterland to hear all the rock greats. I heard everyone and collected autographs including Big Brother and the Holding Company, Blue Cheer, Buffalo Springfield, Jimmy Reed, The Butterfield Blues Band, Buddy Miles, Elvin Bishop, Albert Collins, Country Joe, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Crosby Stills and Nash, the Grateful Dead and on and on. In 1968 on the roof of Winterland I met one of my idols, Jimi Hendrix. After getting his autograph he told me something that “changed my ‘life”. I never disclosed what he told me feeling it was too special to tell. I am still crazy crazy about music – especially classic country (Merle Haggard!!!) Cuban jazz and my absolute favorite – the blues. I made a pilgrimage to the South and drove the Southern Blues Trail…making a special trip to the gravesides of among others Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and my all time favorite Albert King.
To commemorate the magical 1967 Summer of Love and all the glorious music, I completely collaged a classic Rolls Royce with mementoes, posters handbills, artifacts and victorian cutouts. I drive that car around to all of the celebratory events…everyone loves it! I like to stand by the Rolls and talk about the rock poster artists and the musicians I met and how much they all mean to me.
I learned to drive in my brothers Model A (yes, I can double clutch) and that started a serious love affair with classic cars. My first car was a 1965 Mustang fastback. I later bought a 1925 Studebaker Taxi Cab and four 1936 Fords: a pick up truck, a coupe, a two door sedan and my favorite – an elegant roadster. I also had a 1958 Ford Ranch Wagon – an exact duplicate of the family car. My brother, a talented mechanic, helps me keep those cars running.
After high school I moved to my adored San Francisco. I worked for the Junior Chamber of Commerce where I was asked by the San Francisco Fire Department Historical Society (then the St Francis Hook and Ladder) to portray San Francisco fire buff Lillie Hitchcock Coit at the 70th Anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake Observance. I continue to portray Lillie each year and I enjoy everything about it (even getting up at 4:00 AM to make it to the 5:13 AM observance at Lotta’s! Fountain). In 2019 I received an honorary Survivor’s Helmet from Mayor London Breed and Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White thanking for 45 years as Lillie. I was tremendously honored.
Around 1976 I started my own public relations firm Golden Poppy Communications. I lived on both Russian and Telegraph Hills and represented all sorts of clients, from financial institutions to night clubs. I met celebrities and traveled extensively. During the opening of Maxwells Plum I met the revered columnist Herb Caen and we cut quite a swath for many years, sharing a nostalgia for old San Francisco.
I love to get dressed up and go out – preferably to help raise money for a good cause. I love to scuba dive (I dove with Mel Fisher on the wreck of the Atocha – one of the highlights of my life), make jewelry, paint and collect.
Looking back on other fun times and experiences: As a student I loved leaving Terra Linda High School after class and heading to the race track with my mother… on an almost daily basis we would make it to Golden Gate Fields in time to get in free for the last three races. My mom could read the spots off a racing form and I wasn’t too bad myself. We also followed the County Fair racing circuit as well as trips to the long gone Bay Meadows track in San Mateo. I have attended the Kentucky Derby three times- the most memorable being the 100th Run for the Roses with Mom and Dad. Due to the treatment of horses at some tracks I now have mixed feeling abut the races…but at the time it was something special.
And speaking of Terra Linda High School – I would be remiss not to mention my high school English teacher Jim Soladay. What a remarkable person. Because of him I have an intense love of American literature. We remained friends for many years. I truly miss him.
Around 1984 I was invited on a trip to the Falkland Islands to save the last remaining San Francisco Gold Rush Ship The Vicar of Bray. The rascally journalist Warren Hinckle, Chris Martin, Ed Zelinsky and I flew with the Royal Air Force to the Falklands which had just emerged from war with Argentina. What a wild trip that was, complete with land mines and penguins. Sadly, the ship was not retrieved but someday I will publish the articles Warren wrote about the trip.
I wrote a blog about my experiences diving for sunken treasure with Mel Fisher… check it out! Soon I will be writing about my trip to Papua New Guinea where I camped with tribes along the Sepik River and in the HIghlands. More later!
I (along with Maybeck Foundation Executive Director Jan Berckefeldt) raised the money to restore the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts, the only building left standing on the site of the 1915 Exposition. It took me eight years of hard volunteer work, but it is perhaps the accomplishment of which she I am most proud. Mayor Ed Lee appointed me Chair of the Panama Pacific International Exposition Centennial and I spent 2015 arranging commemorative celebrations throughout the Bay Area. I even installed “1915” lights on the top of the Ferry Building to replicate the look of the Tower in 1915! Photos of me dangling from the top of the building should not be seen by those with vertigo!
I also served as a Trustee on the California State Parks Foundation and the San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation and helped to create a website for the Jazz Foundation with Stanford University: https://exhibits.stanford.edu/sftjf
I married my late husband the charming Chuck Huggins in 2000. Chuck was President and CEO of See’s Candies and together we romped through the world, eating chocolate, wearing chic hats and donating candy and dollars to many worthy causes close to our hearts. Our combined zest for life created a lot of energy.
After Chuck’s death – and by a complete quirk of fate – I met John Jamieson, an Orange County native. We had been collecting artifacts from the Exposition for just about the same amount of time but never knew the other existed until our good buddy Jay Stevens sent me to John’s Exposition website. The rest was history! John’s grandmother Maud performed as a diving girl at the PPIE and my grandparents – Irma and Ed – courted there. We got to enjoy the 100th Anniversary of the 1915 Exposition at the Palace of Fine Arts and that is where John proposed to me (in front of 800 people!).
John runs his business of forty plus years – American Western Awards – in our warehouse in Bel Marin Keys. We also buy and sell large quantities of antiques, collectibles and home decor. We sell at craft shows, flea markets, Christmas Fairs, out of the warehouse and on the internet. We also sell collections for clients – for example a grouping of over 500 Panama Canal Zone objects, and a large collection of historical fire department collectibles. A couple of years ago we acquired virtually the entire gift shop from Filoli in Woodside. We purchased the closing inventory of Dollhouse Trains and More in Novato, a beloved hobby shop and have been selling miniatures and hobby related items from that acquisition. Perfect for me as I have always loved miniatures so work is like play for me! Recently, I began selling a collection of San Francisco historic artifacts for a friend who had to downsize. It has become a very successful business for us and we love doing it.