Cambrian: Opinion

Memories of Art Beal and Walton come flooding back

Basketball legend Bill Walton authorized the columnist’s nonprofit, Pacific Alliance, to market his T-shirt in the late 1970s. A patch on the shirt read: “Proceeds from this shirt go to a non-nuclear future.”
Basketball legend Bill Walton authorized the columnist’s nonprofit, Pacific Alliance, to market his T-shirt in the late 1970s. A patch on the shirt read: “Proceeds from this shirt go to a non-nuclear future.” Special to The Cambrian

We grow old, all of us. There’s no hiding and no turning back, but those of us getting up in years can reflect back upon certain memorable moments in our pasts — if, that is, we can recall where we were, what we did, and why.

Portions of my personal history are foggy, and some events have slipped into the black hole of forgetfulness. But I do still remember key experiences in my life, including my interactions with the Waltons. Not the television family — the basketball family.

To wit, upon learning in late April this year that Luke Walton was the new head coach of the struggling Los Angeles Lakers, some vivid recollections of 5-year-old Luke — and his older brothers, Adam and Nathan — flooded my consciousness. In the 1970s, Luke’s dad and I worked together on Pacific Alliance benefit concerts for the environment featuring Jackson Browne and David Crosby/Graham Nash, among other artists.

The house lights dimmed, curtains parted, and a spotlight shone on this extremely tall man whom most in the audience recognized as basketball superstar Bill Walton. Applause always greeted him as he stepped to the microphone to introduce the concert.

Speaking of Luke’s dad, 37 years ago, the basketball legend appeared at a benefit banquet I promoted in San Luis Obispo for the Art Beal Foundation. Walton, an NBA Hall of Famer, had accompanied me on a visit to Nit Wit Ridge (in “West Cambria Pines”) early in 1979; and like others I introduced to Beal, Bill was charmed by the mischievous and creatively irreverent Beal (aka Dr. Tinkerpaw).

Hence, Bill agreed to help raise funds for the preservation of Beal’s famous seat-of-the-pants creation. Festooned with abalone shells, old tires, hubcaps and all manner of cast-off lumber and scrap iron that Beal had scrounged from construction projects at Hearst Castle and elsewhere, Nit Wit Ridge dovetailed perfectly with Bill’s appreciation for anti-establishment, left-of-mainstream ventures.

How did it get so late so soon?

Dr. Seuss

The banquet — held at Mason & Stills Restaurant on March 22, 1979 — was preceded by an autograph session for kids, a huge success as the 6-foot-11 redhead graciously conversed with every child and adult in the house.

Now take a trip with me back to 1986; Bill’s slightly funky, sprawling mansion was located across a canyon from the San Diego Zoo. Both Bill’s older boys, Adam (10) and Nathan (8) loved baseball. So, with Bill’s blessing, I took the boys to Qualcomm Stadium to see the Padres play on several occasions. Luke was 5, too young to go with us.

When the St. Luis Cardinals came to town in July 1986, I was able to get three comp tickets from Cardinals slugger Jack Clark, whom I had met when he played for the San Francisco Giants.

Adam and Nathan both brought baseball gloves, in hopes of snagging a ball in our section deep down the left field line. But I noticed they weren’t watching every pitch, which you must do if you hope to snag a baseball at a big league game.

Moments after I had reminded the boys to concentrate on each pitched ball, Clark belted a long home run in our general direction. I was out of my seat and running toward the trajectory of the ball before it hit the pavilion seats.

It bounced high in the air, and I was able to retrieve it, diving and landing hard on the concrete. My bruised hip was painful for months after that stunt, but the Walton boys were duly impressed. I gave them the baseball.

Clark, who hammered 340 home runs and knocked in 1,180 runs in his career, had always admired Bill Walton, and told me he wanted to meet Bill’s boys. So we waited by the players’ parking area after the game, and when Clark drove out in his rental car, he saw us and stopped (halting traffic for a couple minutes) so he could meet Adam and Nathan.

When we got back to Bill’s place, Luke was gone, and so was his mother, Susan Walton. They were in a local hospital emergency room. Luke had stuck his hand into a vegetable juicer/blender while it was in motion and, needless to say, it injured the little guy, producing quite a scare in the house.

There is very likely a scar from that childhood mishap on Luke’s 36-year-old hand today.

Meantime, looking back at Bill’s visit to Nit Wit Ridge; he roamed the meandering paths, stopping to check out the toilet seats placed willy-nilly, Art’s quaint collectibles, old photos of the Ridge in various stages of completion — and Art’s productive vegetable garden.

Juxtaposed to Beal, Bill was a towering giant, bending over and ducking his head so he could get into every room in Art’s habitat. When a deputy sheriff’s car passed by, Bill got a taste of the obsessive literalism Art tediously embraced.

“See the deception!” Art roared, pointing out that even though “SHERIFF” was painted on the back of the squad car, a deputy sheriff, not the actual sheriff, was the driver.

Bill was treated to other inelegant and comical Beal-isms. But alas, the passage of time steals recollections. And frankly, I can visualize Art’s bearded, weathered face looking up as he spoke to the attentive basketball icon, but I can’t recall much more.

Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s column appears biweekly and is special to The Cambrian. Email him at