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Meet the Boardwalk Blonde

Meet the Boardwalk Blonde

BY GARRICK RAMIREZ

It's not every day that we get to lead a story with beer, the Boardwalk, and a blonde billboard model. But these are exactly the things that comprise The Boardwalk Blonde, a golden honey-tinged brew produced by the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing. Gracing the label is Marilyn Matthews, the Boardwalk's first billboard model and the original Boardwalk Blonde. Still a proud resident of Santa Cruz, Marilyn recently sat down with us to share some fascinating Boardwalk memories and how she ended up on a local craft beer. The lesson we learned? Marilyn — and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk — have never gone out of style.

Miss California Pagent
Photo courtesy of The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Boardwalk of the 1940s & 50s

Marilyn’s Santa Cruz adventures began as a young girl when her family moved to the seaside town in 1947. When she wasn’t catching a movie at the Del Mar Theatre or Skyview Drive-In, you could find her at the Boardwalk where her brothers earned two cents for every copy of the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin they could hawk.

“We loved living in Santa Cruz with access to fun-filled activities at the Boardwalk,” says Marilyn. She says that back then, the Boardwalk had the same fun, boisterous atmosphere it maintains today. She loved riding the Giant Dipper, tossing coins in the clown’s mouth on the Looff Carousel, and learning to swim in the salt-water plunge — currently the site of Neptune’s Kingdom — whose water was piped in from Main Beach’s waves.

“Food was another highlight,” says Marilyn who confesses to eating her share of corn dogs and cones of vanilla soft serve. And like every kid, she would push up against the window at Marini’s to watch taffy being stretched before scurrying over to the Casino arcade to plunk coins into skee ball and fortune teller machines.

During her high school years, Marilyn’s dad would take her and a friend to see the big bands of the 1940s and 50s who filled up the dance floor with soldiers from nearby Fort Ord. Marilyn also recalls the annual Miss California Pageant — founded in Santa Cruz in 1924 — whose contestants would parade down Pacific Avenue in classic convertibles.

Marilyn Bathing Beauty
Photo courtesy of The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

How She Became a Model

In 1951, Marilyn herself was marching down Pacific Avenue as a high school majorette. “I loved it,” she says wrinkling her nose in delight. “I can still twirl a baton!”

That same year, representatives from Power’s Modeling Agency in New York came to Santa Cruz High seeking participants for a fashion show at Leask’s, an upscale department store in Downtown Santa Cruz. Marilyn volunteered and was a natural on the runway thanks to a background in ballet and dance. Soon she was showing her peers — some of the most popular girls in school, she notes - how it was done. After performing at numerous fashion shows for Leask’s, Marilyn was asked to represent Santa Cruz in a televised hair & beauty event in San Jose. Marilyn won and became Miss California at age 16.

beach bathing beauty
Photo courtesy of The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

President Truman Crashes a Fashion Show

In September 1951, Marilyn was selected to be Miss Western States for a three-day event in San Francisco. With a suitcase full of gowns, hats, and gloves, she and her mother motored up to the stately Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill. After checking into their suite, they noticed a throng of television trucks parked out front. When they left the room to attend the event, Marilyn and her mom were stopped and questioned by two men sporting suits and earpieces. What was cause for all the commotion? Walking up a marble staircase flanked by thirty men was President Truman who was in town to sign the famous San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan.

Marilyn today
Photo of Marilyn Matthews today - courtesy of Garrick Ramirez

The Boardwalk Blonde

After high school, Marilyn’s burgeoning modeling career led her to Hollywood. “It was quite exciting to be there in the early fifties,” says Marilyn who remembers dining at the Brown Derby and meeting celebrities like Mamie Van Doren and John Barrymore Jr.

During a visit to Santa Cruz to see family, Marilyn was picking up film that she had developed when the shop owner — who happened to be the photographer for the Miss California pageant — took note of her photos and told her that the Boardwalk was looking for billboard models. The shop owner introduced her to Boardwalk publicist Warren “Skip” Littlefield and soon her image was blanketing billboards throughout Northern California. Fifty-five years later, that same image was the perfect choice for the aptly-named Boardwalk Blonde beer.

Today, Marilyn still regularly visits the Boardwalk to soak up the cheerful ambience. “The crowds are so happy,” she says. Plus, she hasn’t lost her love of corn dogs and frozen bananas dipped in chocolate. Does she pair them with a Boardwalk Blonde ale? Maybe not, but the self-proclaimed scotch lover says that she does in fact enjoy the beer that bears her image.

Boardwalk Blonde Ale
Boardwalk Blond Ale - Photo courtesy of Garrick Ramirez

More Historic Craft Beers

The Boardwalk Blonde is one of four commemorative beers produced by Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing in collaboration with the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Horse Tale Ale celebrates the Looff Carousel’s 100th anniversary, Casinos IPA honored the original name of the Boardwalk’s 1907 event center (now Cocoanut Grove), and Giant DIPA marks the 90th birthday of the Giant Dipper roller coaster, a National Historic Landmark.

"This was a really fun way to work with another locally-owned business to create something uniquely Santa Cruz," said Marq Lipton, Boardwalk vice president of sales and marketing. "And of course, the best part was the research!”

Each beer is available seasonally at the Boardwalk, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing’s Westside taproom and beer garden, and select shops around town.

Boardwalk Blonde Ale bottle
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing's tribute - Photo courtesy of Garrick Ramirez

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