Pete's Journey

Persistence and Musical Integrity: Pete's Journey

Told by Tony Pera and Linda Goetz, Board of Directors, 2013

Mr. Pete Douglas is a legend in the music community, known as a dedicated presenter of high-quality performances in a traditional intimate setting. As an advocate of this form of presentation, Pete has made an incomparable contribution to the world of music by preserving the Douglas Beach House and the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

We acknowledge his foresight and persistence. Fifty years ago he purchased a small beach cottage on the San Mateo Coast, created the Bach Society as a non-profit organization in 1964, added a concert room in 1972, and survived various hurdles to maintain his vision: “creating the finest setting for listening to music.” The list of prominent jazz and classical musicians who have made their way to Miramar Beach in Half Moon Bay, CA is incredible. We wish to thank him for keeping the Douglas Beach House doors open for the past 50 years.

Pete Douglas has been “choreographing” his music scene since 1958 when he bought a run-down beer joint on the beach in Half Moon Bay on the San Francisco Peninsula. He expanded the still-existing cottage by building his home above in the 60s and developing the concert hall in the 70s. The complex is known today as the Douglas Beach House. Affectionately described by some as a “triumph over architecture,” the unpretentious beach house became home to the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1964.

The Bach Society has been in continuous operation for 44 years, but the first musicians starting showing up at the Douglas Beach House 50 years ago. Pete muses that perhaps presenting “live music is an addiction” . . . waiting for that next heart-thumping “hit” of musical perfection “I set it up, then let the scene manifest itself, always hoping for one more magical moment.” He admits his real satisfaction comes from watching the audience “get off”. It happens often at his House. All the elements come together and reach a certain peak between turned-on musicians and semi-stunned audiences.

The concert hall commands a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, coastline and Pillar Point Harbor, creating one of the most unique settings for the enjoyment of music anywhere. Followers and fans often come repeatedly as members of the Bach Society to experience the “magic” in one of the funkiest places on the planet. “I survived the beat hipsters of the 50’s, the freaks of the 60’s, the stoners of the 70’s, the yuppies of the 80’s, and the dot comers of the 90’s.”

But Douglas has more than survived. He has made an incomparable contribution to the world of music. Musicians across the nation vie to play at his legendary venue. Pete perpetually expounds the components of intimate music presentation as natural setting, casual atmosphere, small audience and artistic license for the performer. After the introduction it is the artist’s show and the most amazing things have happened.
The list of prominent jazz musicians who have played include Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Etta James, Kenny Barron, and many many more. Not solely a jazz venue, Classical and World musicians such as Ravi Shankar, Mariano Codoba, Strunz & Farrah and the Kronos and St. Lawrence String Quartets have enjoyed the intimate stage.

Through foresight and persistence to the point of obstinacy Pete has entrenched himself in his own corner of the music world. As he tells it, “when you are an individual outside of the mainstream, you pay the price.” The musicians make the music, but Pete Douglas makes the music possible. He is the ultimate patron of the arts having survived various hurdles to maintain his vision of a music medium where the audience frequently interacts with the performers, where you can hear the natural, non-amplified resonance of the instruments and voices, and you are so close that you can hear the musician draw a breath and the crinkle of paper as they turn the sheet music. Children and families are a frequent sight at performances and their attendance is encouraged by Pete.

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is the ultimate non-profit organization, making just enough money to sustain the program and facility, often subsidizing one performance through another. The ticket prices have always been low for the caliber of performance and the level of talent. As a benefactor to music itself Pete has been generous to the point of pain, subsidizing young artists, giving free tickets to music students and donating the use of the facility to fundraising efforts that benefit music and dance students. At age 79, he is a living legend as a music presenter, being a benefactor to contemporary jazz in a way that the Medicis were to Renaissance Art.

Born February 2, 1929 in Waukegan, Illinois, Prentice “Pete” Douglas relocated to Inglewood, California in 1938. Graduating from Inglewood High School in 1947, he served overseas during the Korean Conflict in 1950, then attended UC Santa Barbara completing a degree in Sociology. He married and started a family in 1958 and eventually moved his family into a run-down café on commercial property on the San Mateo Coast that was to become the Douglas Beach House. Pete followed a variety of career directions including the San Mateo County Probation Dept., San Francisco Welfare Department, mortgage broker, real estate sales and appraisal. None of it suited him. He owned beachfront property however, and found out that if you “build it, they will come.”

The jam sessions began immediately in the café. Musicians and friends, and friends of musicians, and friends of friends all descended time after time on the tiny cottage for weekend music making that went well into the night. In the finest tradition of a jazz roadhouse where people congregated for the purpose of making music, being with other music lovers and partying in general, the cottage became the center of a Bohemian like counterculture devoted to music aficionados and jazz in particular. The combination of the coastal setting, friends, music, wind, waves breaking on the shore, and outrageous parties that would have made Dionysus blush, attracted a following and the outdoor concerts began by popular demand.

The outdoor concerts attracted the ire of San Mateo County officials less than content to deal with the issues associated with a large number of people congregated for any reason on the rural beach front. When the outdoor concerts were ultimately shut down, plans were drawn for the concert room addition that was completed in the early 70s, and Sunday afternoon concerts have continued in the tradition of the first 1950’s jam session at the Beach House