Kevin Cody

Hermosa Beach businessman Roger Bacon seals final deal

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Roger Bacon in 2009, climbing the Vetter Windmill, which he helped restore. Photo by Abigail Miller

by Kevin Cody

Roger Bacon was polarizing.

“I guess that’s one funeral I won’t be going to,” a former politician from a neighboring city said on learning of the Hermosa Beach businessman’s death last Friday, at age 88, of conditions related to old age.

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Bacon’s civic contributions to Hermosa Beach equaled those of anyone of his generation, as did the enmity he engendered.

“I know I piss people off,” he said with characteristic bluntness in a 1997 Easy Reader interview.

He learned the power of showmanship in his teen years at his father’s auto dealership, Les Bacon Ford, where he made a Southern California catchphrase of “Get off your couch and come on down to Les Bacon Ford.”

He offered a new Ford as a prize in a pole sitting contest, which he thought no one could win, because it required sitting atop a 60-foot pole for 30 days. When one sitter reached the 29th day, Bacon sent a message up the pole that the sitter’s wife was across the street at the Hermosa Saloon with another man. The already delirious pole sitter scurred down the pole to investigate.

Roger Bacon two years ago, at age 86, striking a muscleman’s pose to promote the opening of Trader Joe’s in his shopping center. Photo by Kevin Cody

In 1976, Bacon built the Alpha Beta Shopping Center on the dealership site, at Pacific Coast Highway and Aviation Boulevard. In 1989, he replaced Alpha Beta with the more upscale Ralphs and then replaced Ralphs with the trendier Trader Joe’s in 2016. The center is one of Hermosa’s top tax generators. But Bacon’s bombastic showmanship caused tenants, including Ralphs, to get restraining orders prohibiting him from entering their stores. When he draped the center entrance with a 30-foot long political banner during the 2009 City Council race, Ralphs hung its own sign that read “We apologize for the offensive nature of the political banner posted on this property by Mr. Bacon.”

To celebrate the opening of a Starbucks in his center in 1995, Bacon rode an elephant at the head of the Santa parade, from the downtown, up Pier Avenue to his shopping center. Detractors complained he had made the civic parade a Starbucks’ promotion and gave Santa second billing. Santa rode behind Roger’s elephant.

Less controversial was his restoration of the Vetter Windmill, which German immigrant Herman Vetter built in 1903 to irrigate his flower fields along Ardmore Avenue. In the late 1960s, when homes replaced the flowers, the Save the Windmill Committee raised $2,000 to have the Seabees move the windmill to Greenwood Park, in front of Bacon’s property. In 2000, Bacon raised $40,000 and enlisted local contractors Pete Tucker, Al Norris and Dave Garrett, and public works superintendent Mike Flaherty to restore the windmill.

“Roger wanted to make a show of the restoration by doing the work in the park, where the public could watch, like something you’d see on the History Channel. But we took it to the city yard, where we laid it out like a jigsaw puzzle and kept it covered with a tarp when we weren’t working on it,” Tucker recalled this week.

“He’d call and ask when it was going to be done. I’d tell him the more you browbeat us, the slower we work. After that, we got along. Roger did a lot of good for the city and his heart was in the right place.”

In 2010, Bacon helped form a committee of business owners and city officials to improve traffic along Pacific Coast Highway. Three years later, he resigned from the committee because, he wrote in his resignation letter, “At said meetings, I was restrained by the Hermosa Beach police, per the committee, from exceeding three minutes when speaking.”

A Pacific Coast Highway banner program he created raised over $300,000 for the Hermosa Beach Education Foundation and other Hermosa charities. Still, not everyone was happy. “I call them billboards across the highway,” Councilwoman Kathy Dunbabin said.

Roger Bacon, founder of the Beach Surfer Walk of Fame, at the 2012 inductions. Photo by Kevin Cody

The banner program provided money for plaques on the Hermosa Beach Surfer’s Walk of Fame, which Bacon founded in 2003 to celebrate Hermosa’s surfing history.

The Walk of Fame inductions have become a signature event and one of Bacon’s most popular civic contributions.

The ceremony also triggered one of the nastiest City Council elections in Hermosa history.

The race featured eight candidates for two seats. Among the candidates was incumbent Michael Keegan, who was was elected to the city council in 2001 and again in 2005. In both races he drew record vote totals.

Keegan and Bacon were generally aligned in their pro business positions. But in 2009, city staff threatened to call off that year’s Surfer’s Walk of Fame ceremony if Bacon wasn’t removed from the inductee selection committee. Other committee members complained of Bacon’s aggressive advocacy for undeserving candidates with whom he had personal relationships.

“As mayor at the time,” Keegan recalled, “I rewrote the criteria for getting the award, following the model of baseball and other sports. Only those who had won the award could sit on the selection board. I put Hap Jacobs and John Josephs and a few other surfing icons on the board and Roger was pissed to say the least because he wasn’t on the Walk of Fame and couldn’t vote.”  

“The money I get from this case, I’m going to use to throw Michael Keegan off the City Council,” Bacon told Easy Reader that year, after winning a substantial property tax refund from Los Angeles County.

Bacon launched what he called Bacon’s Air Force to tow banners up and down the beach. The banners read, “No to Taxman Keegan.” He put a Keegan name tag on a Kermit the Frog doll and held it up by a hangman’s noose next to the Vetter Windmill. (Political correctness was not in his vocabulary. When a woman asked his name, he’d answer, “Bacon, do you want a strip?”) He struck a boxer’s pose next to a 30-foot-long banner that read, “Knock Keegan Out” (prompting the Ralphs sign disavowing any association with Bacon’s banner).

Keegan finished fourth.

Like Trump’s Congressional Republicans, future council candidates took notice.

Even Bacon’s relationships with local newspapers, which traditionally welcome controversy, were strained by his almost weekly demands for coverage of his latest cause. The Beach Reporter banned Bacon from its office and Easy Reade banned Bacon’s photo from its pages. Easy Reader rescinded the ban when Bacon, at age 83, challenged the editor, who was several decades younger, to a foot race down the stairwell outside Bacon’s office. Bacon won.

“Like Trump, you didn’t have to admire his methods to admire his energy,” an Easy Reader reporter observed after Bacon’s passing.

Bacon is survived by his brother Robert S. Bacon; his son, Stephen Fleming Bacon; daughter, Robin Bailey (Bacon) Geissler; son-in law Robert Nation; granddaughter Lauren Geissler Giometti; grandson-in-law Joseph Giometti; great grandson Jack Giometti; great granddaughter, Georgia Giometti; and nephews Bruce Robert Bacon, Lester Campbell Bacon, Eric John Bacon, many grand nieces and nephews, and cousins Joan Rechsteiner and Philip Wilmott.

Get off your couch and attend the memorial reception 11 a.m. March 17 at the Palos Verdes Golf Club. In lieu of cards or flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Hermosa Beach Educational Foundation (HBEF.org).

[Editor’s note: See related story reprinted from Easy Reader in 1997] ER

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