Beau Bridges quest for his Petaluma roots

Actor Beau Bridges was in town last week to shoot a movie – ‘A Christmas Mystery’ with Petaluma filmmaker/producer Ali Afshar – but while on location he was inexplicably drawn to the local history, particularly that of his father, Lloyd Bridges, legendary Petaluma film and television actor. Bridges died in 1998 at the age of 85 after starring in dozens of television series and more than 150 feature films.

Accompanied by his wife Wendy and French bulldog Buster, Beau (“The Fabulous Baker Boys,” “Norma Rae,” “The Descendants”) began his research by flipping through old yearbooks at Petaluma High School, which his father graduated from in 1930 he went in search of the house his father grew up in, which they believed was somewhere on the hill behind the high school. Driving down Hill Boulevard, Beau spotted an old school friend of mine, Harry Lewis, standing in front of his house and happened to stop to ask for his help. Harry quickly contacted me and I agreed to do some quick research and meet up with the Bridges the next day at Volpi’s Restaurant, where Harry runs the bar on the weekends.

What transpired the next day in Volpi’s historic back house was a Petaluma version of the popular TV show Finding Your Roots. A curious and personable narrator, Beau made it clear that he wasn’t looking for the dry facts of genealogy—a family member had already taken on the task.

He wanted to hear the stories.

They contained stories about Volpi’s, which was an Italian grocery store with a back room speakeasy during his father’s teenage years in the 1920s. He was also excited about the Phoenix Theater across the street, where he heard his grandfather, Lloyd Vernet Bridges, Sr., had worked as a projectionist in the 1920’s when it was still the California Theater. His father watched the same movie over and over again when he was young to study acting techniques.

Harry and I were more than happy to accommodate Beau Bridges’ request. Growing up in Petaluma in the 1960s, we were both big fans of Sea Hunt, the adventure TV series that Lloyd Bridges starred in, as well as his many films, including the classic Western High Noon. and the wacky comedy Airplane. After sharing local stories and teaching Beau the Volpi tradition of signing a dollar bill and pinning it to the bar’s ceiling, we set about talking about his family roots.

Lloyd Bridges, Jr. – “Bud” as he was known in Petaluma – moved to the city when he was 10 years old with his mother Hattie and older sister Belle. His parents had divorced a decade earlier, a year after Bud’s birth, with Hattie citing her husband’s unrelenting “entertainment” of prize fights, baseball games, and car rides while Lloyd Bridges Sr. lamented their monotony.

Lloyd Sr. remained in San Francisco, where he ran a hotel and boarding house, while Hattie moved with the children first to San Rafael and then to Petaluma in 1923 and bought a house near the high school at 11 Spring Street that after A natural was named Spring on the site.

Petaluma was in the midst of his heady reign as “The Egg Basket of the World”. Bud quickly distinguished himself as a talented singer – he performed at Sunday services at the Congregational Church at Fifth and B Streets – and as a talented performer in plays and musicals staged at the high school and the California Theater. In a 1929 review in the Argus-Courier, a local critic noted that Bridges had “a natural talent for the stage, a flair for comedy and also a flair for serious acting”.

His best friend was Art Parent, who later served as Petaluma’s mayor and owner of the Parent Funeral Parlor. Art remarked that Bud was always the star of their pieces together because, unlike Art, he could improvise. One night while they were performing at the California Theater, Bud fell down the backstage steps and knocked himself unconscious. Art had to recite his lines over and over again until Bud finally came to.

“Oddly enough,” Beau said, “the thing my dad talked about the most growing up in Petaluma was playing basketball.”

A tough competitor but lettered in four sports and served as captain of the basketball team. After high school, he took a brief job at the local Bank of America before enrolling at UCLA to pursue a degree in political science. However, he spent a lot of time on the basketball court and on stage.

While Bud was in high school, his mother married Clarence Breuillot, a government contractor. In the late 1930s, Breuillot was appointed foreman of the newly constructed San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and the couple left Petaluma for Berkeley.

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