12. Red Williams' Gas Station
520 Lighthouse Avenue (now Lighthouse Produce)


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Google Map of the site of Red Williams' Gas Station

Photo courtesy The Pat Hathaway Collection

In Cannery Row, Henri the painter leans his chair against the men's room here while watching the flagpole skater across the street at Holman's (Chapters XVII and XIX).

"Henri the painter was occupied, for Holman's Department Store had employed not a flag-pole sitter but a flag-pole skater. . . . Henri had taken up his post across the street at Red Williams' gas station. Henri was fascinated. He thought of doing a huge abstraction called Substratum Dream of a Flagpole Skater. . . . Henri sat in a chair, leaned back against the lattice which concealed the men's toilet at Red Williams'." (Cannery Row, Chapter XVII). 

In the early 1930s, a real daredevil named "The Mysterious Mr. X" did indeed flagpole skate for more than 50 hours. The escapades 120 feet above the crowd on Lighthouse Avenue inspired the episode in Steinbeck's work, and were also captured by a newsreel photographer. The 30 seconds of footage showing the stunt and the throngs below are now part of the National Archives' collection.

Thanks to Baravelli for converting the tape to a digital file & posting on YouTube.

Here are a few images from that newsreel:


Continue down on Fountain, until you get to the corner of Ricketts Row. You are now at . . .