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Interview with Margot Patterson Doss

By David Chadwick
undated - mid nineties


Read the obituary from the San Francisco Chronicle - with photo


1/17/02 - Margot Patterson Doss died yesterday. She was famous for the Bay Area walks she took and wrote about in the SF Chronicle, "San Francisco at Your Feet." While I was getting things ready for the interview, Margot said that the first walk she took was in Japantown and that that's when she met Suzuki Roshi. In today's Chronicle obituary [indicated by a note with her photo on the front page) it said that her first walk was to Fort Funston, but regardless of which was first, she has taken her last for this life and I'm sorry that I haven't seen her recently. I thought about her and John, her husband, the last time I was in Bolinas. She was one of those people who keep the pulse of a city and she was an advisor to and friend of Shunryu Suzuki. Here is the interview we did some years ago - it's undated. And I'll get her obit up too. - DC

DC: That original walk you took, what year was that?

MPD: I think the first walk came out in '61. Initially it was Suzuki Roshi who showed me around Japantown. It was wonderful. He couldn't speak very good English at that time. But he could certainly make himself known. It was so interesting. Here was this church which didn't look Japanese at all. Churches in those day used to be open. I don't know that they are now in these days of so many street people. Thirty years ago they were. I was exploring Japantown and saw this interesting building that looked like it was some Christian denomination. I walked up the steps and the door was open. I went in. I was trying to figure out what denomination it was. I turned right and heard someone upstairs. I called "hello, hello," and Suzuki Roshi came out of his office and bowed to me. I said that I was exploring around the town. I asked him a few questions about the building. He told me that it was Zen and not Christian, but that the shell had been Christian at some past time.

DC: Jewish. It was a synagogue.

MPD: Of course - that's what it was. That had been a Jewish community at one time. That whole area that used to surround - oh what was it?

DC: Sokoji.

MPD: That neighborhood has all been changed by the Western Addition redevelopment. But there was a shopping street that was then a Jewish shopping street. It was wonderful. It had all kinds of second-hand stores. It was a little like going to London and seeing all those shops of all kinds. The Jewish people recycled a lot of things. These were used stores, second-hand stores, etc. Also the Ukraine Bakery was on it I remember.

DC: What street? Bush? Pine?

MPD: No it was further north. But that whole community had become Jewish at one time and then it changed over. All of the communities in San Francisco have had an ebb and flow of different nationalities through them at one time or another. That was true there.

But Suzuki came downstairs. I started asking some questions about Japantown. He said, "Let me take you."

So he walked around with me on that very first walk. Pointing out the things that were intrinsically Japanese. It was a wonderful walk. I liked it so much. One of the things he took me to was Soko Hardware. There was a wonderful shop that had Japanese antiques - Honami.

DC: The owners of Honami were really good friends of his.

MPD: He took me in and introduced me to them. He took me to several other places. We did Soko Hardware last. I remember the proprietor came out and bowed and said, "Sayonara," to us as we left. It was very lovely. I don't know if I've ever said it to anybody since, but I did at that time.

DC: There was an old guy who had a little shop might have been on Laguna or one street west of there. He had old swords, antiques. It was very small. I remember going in there. But I can't remember the name.

MPD: I don't remember the name of it but, yes, I do remember that. There was also an interesting place right on the corner of what is now the Old Japantown section. Batman [? I don't think that's right. - DC] Gallery. This was a place where there were art shows. And a lot of the beat poets hung out there.

DC: I think I remember going in there and getting Turkish coffee.

MPD: You probably did. It was right on the corner of Post and Laguna, I believe. Would have been on the northwest corner. The Batman Gallery.

DC: I think I went there before I went to Zen Center. In '66.

MPD: It probably still was. Billy Batman had that gallery first. Philip [Whalen] could probably tell you. Or Joanne Kyger. After doing the walk I was so pleased I sent him (Suzuki Roshi) an orchid to say thank you. Philip later told me it was a cymbidium - that that cymbidium was - I think it was at Michael Wenger's wedding reception later that Philip told me that that's the orchid I gave to Suzuki. And by that time there were 30 spires of flowers on it. Philip told me that he had treasured that orchid very much. Because of that, other people had given him orchids later. He said I started him off on them.

Much later the thing about getting Green Gulch and Tassajara - Suzuki called me one time. He said he needed a project for Dick Baker, and did I know of a piece of property that would be suitably large for him to try to get as a Zen center. I had recently been down to Tassajara which the Becks owned at that time.

DC: I still see the Becks. They're not together. Bob lives a great deal of time with Nancy Roscoe [no more]. Remember Fred Roscoe who owned Discovery Bookstore next to City Lights? The Roscoes owned Tassajara with the Becks but sold out to them before we bought it. Now Anna has an antique shop in Carmel and Bob has one in San Anselmo..

MPD: Small world department. Anyway, Don Allen, meantime, who was the editor of my first book. That was "San Francisco At Your Feet." Don was the West Coast editor of Grove Press at that time. Don had suggested that the project that would be suitable would be getting hold of Green Gulch. I must say that Suzuki was fantastic. He started Dick Baker on getting hold of Tassajara first.

DC: You're saying that Don said what about Green Gulch? We didn't even get Green Gulch until after Suzuki had died in '72. George Wheelwright who owned it came to us through Huey Johnson.

MPD: But at that time, Don was suggesting to Suzuki that this would be a suitable place.

DC: That's a real nifty little fact.

MPD: Anyway, Suzuki decided that Tassajara was the choice.

DC: You're saying that you suggested Tassajara to Suzuki?

MPD: Yes.

DC: And that was before Dick had seen it?

MPD: I think so. I don't think Dick had been anywhere near that place at that time, because it was expensive at that time to go to Tassajara. And Dick was in some sort of program at UC. He got so bashed in by the way the university reacted to one of the programs he put on.

DC: He did conferences. I remember he did a poetry conference with all the beats and lots more - and he did a big LSD conference.

MPD: That one. Suzuki wanted another project for him to give him back his pride and his ability to do things.

DC: I never heard there was any problem. I always heard they went well. But anyway, something was amiss with something at UC and you suggested Tassajara to Suzuki.

MPD: And of course he did it very well. That's why that project was chosen. Dick Baker called me up probably three times a month for months asking me to suggest people that would donate money. In those days I knew some people who would. I would give him a list of names and phone numbers every time he called. It was a different milieu. Journalists, especially columnists, which I was, have access to a lot of people that Dick wouldn't have had as a program person.

DC: You suggested Tassajara - you had been down there?

MPD: We had been down there and had a good time. We liked it. I had gone to Japan as a guest of American President Lines in '62. After I came back from Japan and I had seen some places. And then I went to Tassajara with my family after returning from that trip to Japan, and it reminded me so much of Japan. This is why I suggested it.

DC: Interesting. The LSD Conference was in '66. The first time most of us heard of Tassajara was in '66. It seemed that Dick had found it while hiking.

MPD: Probably because Suzuki sent him down to see it.

[Actually, Dick had seen it years before when he and Ginny were hiking. And Grahame Petchey and Philip Wilson had also stumbled on it, maybe even before Dick, while camping back in the early sixties. -DC]

DC: Did Dick call you up about it? Before he went?

MPD: Yeah. I said you'll love it. I think he stayed in the stone cabin. We had stayed in the stone cabin and we loved it. John and I and our sons used to go down early on when it was in the process of being developed as a Zen monastery. Ed Brown was there. He cooked for the Becks before it became Tassajara. He could tell you more about the dates. I'm not exactly sure which date, but I had talked to Suzuki about it after my trip to Japan.

I think the first time I talked to him after the Japan trip was in some sort of informal way, and maybe it was for some - when the moon viewing platform was built. Suzuki I would see from time to time if there were a Japanese oriented function of any kind in which a journalist would be interested. Like the introduction of the moon viewing platform in Golden Gate Park. I don't know a date on that. I did write a walk about it. Twice. Something happened - a tree fell on the first moon viewing platform, and a new one was built. So there were two times I wrote about it. But also there were tea garden functions.

DC: One of his best friends was George Hagiwara. I notice you mentioned the Hagiwaras. George told me he owned the tea garden. But didn't it belong to the city? He said it was taken away from him during the war.

MPD: I can tell you a little bit about that. The first Hagiwaras who were there were still citizens of Japan. They were placed in the tea garden because it was appropriate. They were loaned to the city of San Francisco by, I think, the Emperor. Or by the country of Japan. His father was the gardener, the first gardener. He came and brought his family. They gardened it and lived in it. It was beautifully kept. I think the tea garden came about shortly after the midwinter fair. The first of the Hagiwaras came that way. It would have been 1898 or something like that. That was the manner in which the first Hagiwaras came to this country. They may still have been there when World War II started. They may still have been Japanese citizens. May have neglected down through those years to become citizens. Three or four Japanese planes turned up. One on Ocean Beach. One on Stinson Beach. The Navy got very freaked about this. They tracked it down through a triangulation to the tea garden - the transmitter. There was some sort of transmitter in the attic part of the tea garden. People were appalled about it. From the research I was able to do, a lot of totally innocent people were taken off to relocation camps because of it. That was the episode that set off putting people into camps. The tea garden was taken away from the Hagiwaras. An oldest daughter of the Hagiwaras committed suicide. She thought her father should do it, and he did not, so she did it, right there on that little boat landing going into the pond in front of the tea garden. It's hard to dig that material up now because I think the Navy tried to squelch the fact that there was a triangulation in there. They didn't want people to think that this country was so vulnerable.

DC: You told this story to Mike Phillips once. He told me afterwards. I had forgotten it was you who told it.

MPD: I don't have any information in my files any more to document it. At one time I cared about it enough when I was working on Golden Gate Park at your Feet, another of my walking books.

DC: Did you throw it away?

MPD: I don't remember. I gave it to another man, Ray Clary, who was writing books on Golden Gate Park. I went to look for it one time in my files. It was gone then. I remembered I'd given it to Ray. He's no longer living. I have no idea where his file is. A park superintendent of that time was Jack Sprang. He used to run the nursery at one time. He would know something about it. In 1941 the superintendent may have been John Maclaren. He was there a long time, the longest superintendent in tenure of any of them. I'm not sure when MacLaren died. Some of his successors included Ray Kimball, Roy Hudson, Bart Roth. I don't think any of those men are still living, but I think Jack Sprang may be. He'd be in the phone book.

DC: I'm doing a lot of archiving that's of a far greater scope than any book I'm working on. The Hagiwaras were the most important families of Sokoji. I knew George. He just died last year. I used to take Suzuki
over to his house.

MPD: They were much loved in this community. It was unfortunate that this triangulation thing happened. Probably if they were still Japanese citizens, they must have been required by the Emperor to do it.

DC: As I remember the story as Mike told itů [That's Michael Phillips, long time advisor of ZC who I just told that Margot had died. He didn't know. He said, "I'm going to miss her. She was a great woman." - DC] I said to Mike it's a terrible thing them taking the tea gardens away from the Hagiwaras. I thought the Hagiwaras had owned it. They just managed it. There was actually a ceremony for the Hagiwaras.

MPD: Yes. This was because a lot of people liked them. It had been pretty well forgotten by the time World War II was over, that the daughter had committed suicide. And also the Japanese have a tendency to shrug their shoulders and say well, she was only a girl.

DC: Oh gosh. I hope they didn't say that. Well anyway, I said to Mike, there was that ceremony. The city ought to make restitution to the Hagiwaras. I thought they'd owned it. He said, well that's what I said to Margot Doss once, and she said, well let me tell you a little story. And he told me you told him that story. Here are some of the things I heard from Mike that I didn't hear from you. One is that the Navy was looking for a transmitter. I didn't get the part about the airplanes. That makes sense.

MPD: I don't know if they were planes or one-man subs.

DC: More likely subs. Yes, yes - subs. I remember reading about that. Something was happening. They finally found it in the tea garden. Was there a bell tower?

MPD: The upper story. The place where the family lived. There are a couple of pagodas in the tea garden. Or were. It might be that part of the equipment had been put into a pagoda.

DC: It caused a big uproar. The Japanese community demanded of the senior Hagiwara that he commit suicide.

MPD: That may have been. That was one story. I may have told that to Mike Phillips because I was told that by a lady from Berkeley who taught me flower arranging. Can't remember her name. That's where I first heard it - in Berkeley. My husband came out with the epidemics intelligence service out of the CDC, and was assigned to the Berkeley field station. We lived in El Cerrito when we first came to California, right after his graduation from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. First he spent a year in the Kansas City field station, then came to Berkeley, and we found a house in Kensington. My neighbor across the road, Charlotte MacGregor, turned me onto this wonderful Japanese flower arranging mentor. I took many lessons from her. That's where I first heard the story. How much was true I don't know. It was word of mouth.

DC: Then I heard that he refused, that he was only serving his Emperor.

MPD: That's what she said.

DC: People said, your eldest son should do it.

MPD: I didn't say that. I was told that the oldest daughter did it.

DC: What I heard was that the community had asked for somebody to do it. First the senior, then George, and they both said no. Then the daughter took the initiative and did it, feeling shame for the family.

MPD: It sounds like it. It's a long time since I've thought about this.

DC: I think it's a significant story. But I don't think it would be a nice thing for the Hagiwara family if it were printed.

MPD: The community felt that the Hagiwaras were victimized in a way. All the Japanese felt victimized too. One of the ceremonies in the tea garden was for the placing of some elephant stone, or hippopotamus stone, or something, in the tea garden. And another was a commemorative stone for the Hagiwaras. Suzuki was present at both, I think. Those were post World War II, of course. They would have been about '59. But I met Suzuki in '61 at the temple. I'd never seen him before anywhere. There were Obon celebrations. There were press parties for them. The various public relations ladies, usually Caucasian. I would see him at some of those functions. And there were other parties that went with those Obon celebrations. And the parade, etc.

I was asked to be one of the founders of Ikebana International. I had to leave my name off the list of people who were starting it. Fay Kramer had asked me to do it. The Chronicle told me that I had to retire or resign from every board of directors. It must have been about the same time. I told Fay I would be glad to be one of the founding members and I went to the original meetings, and then I had to ask her to remove my name from it. The Chronicle didn't mind associations, but they didn't like their columnists to be on the boards of directors of organizations. The reason is if you're on the board you've got an in, and these organizations are all fighting for space in newspapers all the time. There was no political issue. Pearl Kamiro was one of those starters. And one of the Takahashis.

DC: When George's sister committed suicide - or was it his aunt?

MPD: I don't know.

DC: George just died last year at the age of 91, so it would probably be his sister. Do you know how she committed suicide?

MPD: Evidently she did it with the classic ritualist sword. With the blood running into the tea garden pond. My flower arranging teacher told it with tears. She cried. She's dead now.

DC: You said that that is the reason the Japanese were interred. The way Mike told me it sounded like it was a key argument of the government for interring them.

MPD: It was one factor. There were these Japanese one-man subs that came up on beaches. Then the fact that there was triangulation happening and they felt this was a traitor to this country. There used to be posters in trains and busses saying "Loose Lips Sink Ships." There was one in a 40 year World War II exhibition at Fort Mason.

DC: So the Hagiwaras were kicked out of the tea house. George told me he lost $250,000. I think he had farm land that he lost too. He said everything was taken away. But he wasn't really bitter.

MPD: There were people who lost their farms. I didn't know he was a farmer.

DC: Maybe not. Back then he talked to me about that stuff. I'd take Suzuki over there and Suzuki didn't talk much. George was the most friendly member of the Japanese congregation with the Caucasian people. He was our best friend there - and the president of the congregation too. So I'd talk to him. I remember he had beer on tap at his house. I'd have a beer. Suzuki didn't care about that at all - as long as I didn't start acting bad. Is there anything you have to say about Suzuki? What was your impression of him?

MPD: That he was wonderful. He seemed too down-to-earth to be saintly. But saintly was an impression that I got, along with his down-to-earthness. I saw him later again down at Tassajara. Early on in the transition. Maybe the first or second year. We had gone down for the weekend. One of the memorable things is the flies. There were lots of them. There were flies around the dining room. We were all chasing flies off ourselves. But not Suzuki. I looked at him and said, "Why don't the flies land on you?" And he said, "I tell them to go away." Very cute. We loved to see him there.

I remember another Tassajara episode. They didn't wear suits in the baths. Our family with the four little boys were in one of the baths and in came a family from somewhere else. They had two little girls. I was proud of my sons. There was none of that snide exhibition of interest in little girls. They didn't display any of the little boy curiosity. The result was that the parents of these little girls who wanted to go to Suzuki's lecture later asked me if my oldest son who was then twelve could baby sit her children. I asked Rick if he would, and he said sure. I asked if he had any visitors. He said yes, the roshi came in for a few minutes. I said, what did he say? He said, Goodnight. It was so innocent. That was the feeling about it. There was that innocence in Tassajara too. I Remember all the hikers coming in from along the trail that went along the creek. They'd always stop and leave their backpacks by the bridge by the baths. I don't recall anything being stolen ever.

DC: Very little was stolen. I had a watch of my father's stolen there once from the baths. Or somebody took it accidentally or something.

MPD: It's not much of an anecdote. But the fact is he cared enough to look in on the children. That's really the gist of this. We were staying
in the room with the fireplace and the one with the big round window.

DC: Would you remember the last time you saw Suzuki?

MPD: At a reception. It may have been following somebody's ordination. We were present when Yvonne Rand and Philip were ordained.

DC: That was after Suzuki died.

MPD: But they had ceremonies. They did that. The last time I saw Suzuki it was something comparable to that at the temple.

DC: Did you come to Dick Baker's High Seat Ceremony? The one where Suzuki came in and he was brown from his liver cancer.

MPD: Yes. And his eyes were yellow.

DC: He had this staff that Alan Watts had given him and he was going "kachink, kachink!" with it.

MPD: Right. Now that you mention it. My husband, who is a physician, commented on how bad he looked.

DC: He was like a dead person who just stayed alive long enough to conduct that ceremony. He died two weeks later.

MPD: I didn't know that. That must have been the last time I saw him. I'm sure we went to that ceremony. The Bakers child, Sally, was a patient of my husband's. He was a pediatrician. Because we had four little boys I persuaded my husband to leave the Epidemic Intelligence Service and stay home because I said boys need their fathers about. And he did until the boys were grown enough. Then he got a call from the World Health Organization to go to the smallpox epidemic in India. I could tell he really wanted to go. I said, John, go, the boys are old enough now. So he did. But he practiced pediatrics for 14 years.

DC: Do you remember the last time you saw Suzuki when you talked to him?

MPD: I think it must have been at Tassajara.


Read the obituary from the San Francisco Chronicle - includes photo


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