David T. Warren (aka: Flamo LaGrande, R. J. Mololopozy) lived a strange and unique life. After a tempestuous upbringing in the home of a prominent building contractor in Hayward, Dave left town with a traveling carnival. Here he learned the art of eating fire as well as various sideshow skills including magic. Later, he would apply his showmanship to selling Kirby vacuums and became tops of his team of salesmen. Of other door-to-door items he peddled, perhaps the strangest were Venus’ Fly Traps — carnivorous plants that Dave touted as “organic insecticide.”
At a crucial junction in his life involving separation from his wife and children, he moved to San Francisco after the 1972 demolishing of the seaside amusement park “Playland At the Beach.” Upset by the destruction of this park, Dave formed his one man Playland Research Center and initiated a series of Playland parties in the rubble of the park. PRC was dedicated to collecting and archiving photos, film, personal interviews of and about the classic attraction out at Ocean Beach that served as a magnet for young and old alike. His mottos “Do It” and “Have Fun” were painted on a large wall at Ocean Beach to spread his message to passersby.
In 1978 David, along with Gary Warne, Adrienne Burk and Nancy Prussia had a wild experience where they clung desperately to a heavy barricade chain atop the seawall under the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Point as thirty foot waves crashed down on top of them. Later, in the early hours of January 3 over hot chocolate the four friends decided to start a club where they would encourage members to “live each day as though it were their last” by creating events and experiences that would challenge their deep personal fears, expand their knowledge and understanding of their world and those in it AND be hella fun. This group became the San Francisco Suicide Club.
Also in 1978, along with Chris DeMonterrey and Steve Mobia, David restored and operated the Giant Camera below the Cliff House at Ocean Beach. Dave considered the camera to be one of the last vestiges of Playland and so it fit into his grand scheme. This spectral attraction, one of fewer that half a dozen surviving in the world, was often attributed to Leonardo DaVinci and became a popular curiosity at scenic tourist spots during the Victorian era. Though both the GGNRA and the Cliff House restaurant wanted this bright yellow building demolished, David worked overtime, cooking up publicity for this interesting but strange place and it was his passion (and thousands of signatures gathered at the camera) that years later finally won for the camera the “official” designation as a national historic building (which is why it still exists, even after the remodeling of the Cliff House).
Though David, and the “Friends of Ocean Beach” fought a hard grassroots battle to stop condominiums from crowding out the public on the old Playland property, the developers got much of what they wanted. However their plans to build right up to the rocky edge of Sutro Heights Park was halted. The parcel of land where Dave painted his festive signs is even today free of buildings and this is due to the struggle that Dave and the “Friends of Ocean Beach” put up to stop the developers.
The Suicide Club morphed into the Cacophony Society in the mid 80’s, which in turn birthed the Burning Man Festival as a desert event in 1990. That year, in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, Dave was the first human to ignite the 40’ wooden figure, inaugurating nearly 20 years now of desert shenanigans.
David had a rough time of it the last decade or so. For someone who inspired people and brought humor and adventure into their lives, he could never seem to shake the many demons that plagued him and eventually brought him to his end. Many concerned friends searched out and/or helped to find David several times from the mid-90’s til 2008. He would lapse in and out of binge drinking and usually end up on the street, sometimes making it into a group home or hospital/rehab clinic. Over the years some of us visited him at a graphics artist retirement home in Oakland, a group home in Oakland, a nursing home in Hayward as well as a couple of different camping spots in Castro Valley, Golden Gate Park and Hayward. His son put him up in an apartment in Sonora for a few months around 2002, but Dave’s weakness for drink always managed to sabotage any gains he might have made. He lived in Golden Gate Park for various periods throughout the early 00’s and with Richard Tuck in El Cerritto for a while as he worked on the upcoming museum. We always eventually found him.
About a year ago, we became concerned when Richard was notified that David’s storage space in Santa Rosa was in arrears and about to default. Over the years, whether David was living indoors or not, whether his rent checks cleared or not, he always paid the rent on his storage. He placed great importance on the stuff he had stored though much of it (boxes of empty vodka bottles, hundreds of pounds of Encyclopedia Britanicas, stacks of wood, etc.) might strike the casual observer as being of little or no value. Regardless, David lived homeless many years in order to insure his storage fees were paid. So when we learned that after ten years he missed the rent we were pretty worried that maybe this time we wouldn’t find him again. And, sadly, we didn’t.
It all seems pretty blue but one time a couple of years ago when I had tracked him to a disheveled camping spot behind a huge boulder in Carlos Bee Park in Hayward, which was his home for several years. David explained why he was there. It was mid-morning on a glorious day, sunlight was streaming through the thick canopy of pine trees across the stream bed just below his camping spot. The park was beautiful and seemed much as it must have back before the 49ers invaded the West. I was pretty upset that David was living in such straits – sleeping in a soggy pile of blankets and cardboard. Being morning time, he was sober and, for the time being had regained more than a bit of his old eloquence and insight.
He could see I was bummed and had started berating him somewhat for not staying sober and retaining his quite comfortable room in the nursing home on B Street. He gave me that intense gaze of his, eyebrows raised in mock sardonic judgment. “Just look at this” he said gesturing grandly with the old showman’s panache’. “ This park, these trees and rocks and that stream… it’s all mine. I sleep where I want. I walk where I want. NO ONE tells me what to do, where to go, what I can’t say, WHO I SHOULD BE! You should be so lucky, kid!”
That is how David T. Warren should be remembered.
Written by John Law & Steve Mobia