As a scholar of Early California artists, painter and gallery owner Joaquin Turner is greatly interested in the community of creative souls who defined the bohemian vibe of early 20th century Carmel-by-the-Sea.
When Cynthia Williams walked into Turner’s Dolores Street gallery with several shoeboxes packed with sepia-toned photos of a dancer posing in various theatrical costumes, he was intrigued.
Realizing that he was looking at a treasure trove of never-before published photographs depicting performers from the early days of Carmel’s Outdoor Forest Theatre, he contacted his friend, Carmel Magazine publisher Steve Snider, who decided to ask Williams for permission to feature some of them in this magazine. She was thrilled with the idea of sharing this historical find with the public.
The photos, many by prolific Monterey Peninsula-area photographers L.S. Slevin and Lewis Josselyn, depict Williams’ maternal grandmother, Jeannette Hoagland, founder of an early dance troupe, “The Woodland Dancers.”
A Google search of Hoagland yields links to archived editions of the Carmel Pine Cone bearing notices of her performances at the outdoor Forest Theatre.
Williams has few memories of her grandmother—she was a toddler when Hoagland died—but her mother, the late Jeannette Parkes Ewing, related many stories to her daughter. The name “Jeannette” has been passed through the generations—it’s also Cynthia’s middle name.
“I’m the last of six,” she says. “My grandmother was born in Alameda County on December 1, 1893.”
Hoagland passed away on April 29, 1964. Her Monterey Peninsula Herald obituary states that she was a resident of Carmel and Carmel Valley since 1907.
Typical for her times, Hoagland was raised in a strict Victorian manner but quickly adapted to the free-spirited Carmel lifestyle.
“All the kids ran around barefoot then,” Williams says. She recalls that her grandmother also flew kites on Carmel Beach with famed author Jack London.
Hoagland was a diminutive woman. “She was only 4 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 96 pounds,” Williams says. “I think her petite size just added to her ethereal demeanor.”
Photos of the dancer bear that out: she was a lithe, graceful, natural beauty who obviously loved to dance. “She taught my mother to dance as well.”
Indeed, Williams’ mother danced for the San Francisco Ballet and entertained servicemen for the USO shows, post World War II. She also followed in Hoagland’s footsteps by dancing many times at the Outdoor Forest Theatre.
The dancer met and married architect/builder/developer Earl Percy Parkes.
“They were very different people,” Williams says. “She was a true bo-hemian artist, and he was a practical man who erected buildings. But it worked.” During his career, Parkes constructed many homes and commercial buildings that still stand. Perhaps the best known is the iconic Seven Arts Building at Ocean Avenue and Lincoln Street, today home to the Carmel Bay Company.
A tragic accident involving Hoagland and Parkes’ son Billy caused her to withdraw from the spotlight to care for him. The family moved to the Robles del Rio area of Carmel Valley, erecting a cabin that Williams still owns. Hoagland remained there until her passing.
The photos on these pages are just a sampling of the collection that had been squirreled away in Ewing’s home for decades. They are in a remarkably well-preserved condition and many have handwritten descriptions on their backs.
“I’m grateful to be able to share these almost forgotten treasures,” Williams says. “To me, my grandparents were part of the foundation of Carmel-by-the-Sea and its unique and diverse history. It truly was an oasis for all types of artists, giving them unbridled freedom to let their minds romp amongst the stars.”