Bohemian Grove

I’m in Auckland right now—more on that in a later post. But before it fades too much into the past, I wanted to write a bit about one of the crazy experiences in San Francisco: a visit to the Bohemian Grove. This, I discovered, is a private encampment in the redwood forests about two hours north of the city that is owned by an organization called the Bohemian Club. This is a fraternity composed mainly of two groups of people: rich Californians and artists. They have a clubhouse in downtown San Francisco, but for three weeks every summer, most of the membership (1000-1500, I think) treks out to the Grove for what they call a “Jinx.” This involves camping, hiking, eating and drinking together, singing, playing instruments, listening to shows and speeches, and socializing. I had never heard of the place before the Whiffenpoofs, so it isn’t quite famous, but everyone in San Francisco that we talked to seemed to know about it.

The Grove is organized into about 130 “camps,” and each member belongs to one of these. They have weird names like “Aviary,” and “Hill Billies,” and vary greatly in size and aesthetics. Some are very rustic with hardly any permanent structures. Others have posh cabins. A few have teepees. The most important feature that they all have in common is an open bar. In the evenings everyone wanders from camp to camp. There are no boundaries once you are inside, so little, in fact, that you are allowed to obey the call of nature on any tree except the ones that are marked with what looks a “No Parking” sign but whose meaning is slightly different.

When we walked in, the CEO of Wells Fargo was giving a speech about the economy to a large gathering of people around a lake. After settling in to our camp, Aviary, we enjoyed a few cocktails at some nearby camps, and then went to dinner. This meal and breakfast are eaten collectively at a central dining area. On the walk over we could hear organ music, which I later found out was coming from a large outdoor theatre built into the hillside where they stage an annual musical. After dinner, we sang at a variety show that included a really good saxaphonist, an big-band jazz orchestra, a comedien, a troupe of people who had done a really funny voiceover for a John Wayne movie, and a guy who juggled on a unicycle while playing the guitar. For the rest of the night, we wandered around and enjoyed the hospitality of various camps.

The coolest experience for me was the walk to breakfast the next morning. By the same lake that hosted the speech the previous afternoon, there was a full orchestra set up playing Tchaikovsky,with the forest in the background. They were mostly old men, and amateurs, but they were very enthusiastic and quite good. Unfortunately, because the club is quite secretive, I couldn’t take pictures outside of Aviary, although I would have liked to snap one of that lake. Here is one of the Aviary camp from a distance, showing our sleeping quarters.

Bohemian Club - Rex - 1

This is one of me standing in the common area of Aviary.  The bar is directly in front of me (behind the camera). The posters in the background are posters for shows and performances that had been put on by the men of Aviary in the past.

Bohemian Club - Andrew - 23

3 Responses to “Bohemian Grove”

  1. Jamey Stegmaier Says:

    That’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard. How did you get in? I’ve always wanted to see the redwoods.

  2. Aunt Anne Says:

    Hi, Andrew. Hear that you are having some awesome experiences. Sounds like you ae also enjoying yourself.
    I have never seen the redwoods but would like to.

  3. Chip Dawson, CEO IBML Says:

    I just came across your article on the summer adventures within Aviary. I have enjoyed Aviary with my Dad and brothers for the past thirty- eight years. The Dawson boys would gather in the Redwoods from Florida, New Zealand, Hawaii, and New York for either Spring Jinx or the Summer Encampment each year and share our year of experience with each other over a beer or drink. It became a tradition of which we will cherish all our lives. The friendships, and fellowship has been a wonderful intiative for our children.
    We are heading back to Aviary this spring (Spring Jinx 2010) for a reunion with our sons.

    I would love to stay in touch. Cheers, Chip
    Chip Dawson
    MD CEO
    International Business Management Ltd.
    26 Prospect Terrace
    Milford North Shore
    Auckland, New Zealand 0620
    P/F: +649 410 0843
    M: +64 27 496 3820
    Skype: chip.dawson1

Leave a Reply