Hermosa Beach’s ‘Turkey Jon’ Burt remembered as beach icon

“A Day in the Life” by Josh Kimbrell, from the 2013 Hey Turkey exhibit.

Over the past five decades, “Turkey Jon” Burt was as favorite a Hermosa Beach fixture as The Strand where he rode his bike daily. People who took offense when “Turkey Jon” called out to girls in bikinis, “Hey girls, do you want to go for a swim,” instantly revealed themselves as Hermosa newcomers. 

“I wore his heckles as a badge of honor,” California Beach Volleyball Association director Chris Brown wrote on Facebook. 

Manhattan Beach councilman and long time 16th Street Hermosa volleyball player Steve Napolitano wrote on Facebook, “Turkey was a part our beach fabric in a way that nobody who isn’t from here would ever understand, and a good reminder of how we can and should accept the differences of those among us, and celebrate them.”

Burt passed away Monday at his Redondo Beach apartment, according to close friend Michelle Broza.

“Turkey Jon” earned his nickname from the awkward way he swam when he was young. People who grew up in Hermosa knew he suffered brain damage during his birth in 1956. His mother Wilma “mainstreamed” him before mainstreaming was a word and never acknowledged her son was different from anyone else. 

She was a constant city council critic and defender of the status quo. “Turkey Jon” frequently echoed her conservative views to residents he talked to while on his bike rides. Shortly after his mother passed away in 1993, the Hermosa Beach home he was raised in was sold and he moved to a mobile home park in Torrance. But he continued his daily Strand rides, though they became less frequent in recent years.  

“Turkey Jon’s” Hermosa Beach Good Stuff crew Hugo Varella, Demetrio Leanos, Veronica Vera and Anthony Villegas. Photo

Most mornings “Turkey Jon” had breakfast at Good Stuff, on The Strand at 14th Street. Servers always seated him at table 20, near the center door, a comfortable distance from the other diners. He wore the same blue jacket every day and it smelled.

Antonio Villegas began working at Good Stuff in 1996 and was Burt’s regular server. 

“He had chicken tamales, muffins and four tall drinks with every meal. People were always nice to him and would offer to pay for his meals because they thought he was homeless. But he always had money,” Villegas said.

Among his loyal friends were local artists who celebrated him as a symbol of Hermosa pre 1980,  before gentrification. In 2013, M1SK artist Daniel Inez and Maria Jane, of Daisies Collective, a designer of recycled clothing, organized an annual Hey Turkey art exhibit, which continued through 2018. ER


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Written by: Kevin Cody

Kevin is the publisher of Easy Reader and Beach. Share your news tips. 310 372-4611 ext. 110 or kevin[at]easyreadernews[dot]com

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