David T. Warren, Suicide Club Founder and Operator of the Giant Camera

David, Late 1950s

David, Late 1950s

David T. Warren was born in 1935 and grew up in Hayward, California. His father was a successful contractor. He was a challenging youth and Dave ran away to the circus at 15 or 16, learning the trade of booth-barking, magician and fire-eater. Eventually, Dave ran into problems with the law, and to avoid criminal prosecution, he joined the Marines.

Dave then decided to settle down, and became a salesman. He sold Kirby vacuums door-to-door and became a top salesman.  He once sold Venus Fly Traps door to door — carnivorous plants that Dave touted as “organic insecticide”, and which he recommended be treated as a treasured member of the household. He also sold encyclopedias and other items.

Dave married, and fathered five children. He and his wife volunteered for Jobs Corp and then Headstart. During this time Dave, always a drinker, increased his consumption. One night he was involved in a severe car accident, leaving him with a lifelong limp which required a cane. His marriage fell apart and debt piled up after the accident, and months later, on a sales trip, he stood alone in a hotel bathroom for five hours with a shotgun in his mouth. He couldn’t pull the trigger, but instead decided to live his life how he wanted, and to never do anything he didn’t want to do again.

Playland at the Beach

His marriage ended he moved to San Francisco in late 1972 at age 37. He visited the site of seaside amusement park “Playland on the Beach”, where he had once worked. Upset by the destruction of this park, Dave formed the one-man “Playland Research Center” and initiated a series of Playland gatherings in the rubble of the park.   Dave became a collector of photos, film, personal interviews about Playland. He had the mottos “Do It” and “Have Fun” painted on a large wall at Ocean Beach to spread his message to passersby.

Dave gains media attention in 1977, protesting the commercialization of Chrismas

Dave’s efforts to preserve the Ocean Beach area, along with other public acts such as his protest of the commercialization of Christmas by setting up a Salvation Army type coin collection, but telling people to take money, not contribute, was written up in several papers.

Gary Warne and the Suicide Club

Dave’s media attention attracted the attention of Gary Warne, director of Communiversity, the free school attached to SF State. Together, the two started making history, initially collaborating on a “Save the Fake Rocks” campaign to repair the hundred-foot cliff face across the street from the Cliff House. Marcia Miller would mention it in one of her books, missing the satirical nature of the project.

As Burning Man and Cacophony Society co-founder John Law remembers:

One day David noticed that a huge boulder outcrop directly across from the Cliff House had partially collapsed revealing wooden framing inside the massive phony hillside. It was a revelation – a metaphor if you will for the unsubstantial nature of reality. It really grabbed both men and the ensuing actions they mounted to “rescue, restore and honor our phony heritage” struck a note with the public. The largest action initiated was carried out by dozens of Communiversity stalwarts as they hung a 20-foot smiley face in the huge gaping hole.

In January 1977, David joined Gary Warne, Nancy Prussia and Adrienne Burk in torrential weather, and drove out to Fort Point, under the Golden Gate bridge. There they took turns being doused with the freezing Bay storm water. They each found the experience exhilarating, and the following day decided to form a club dedicated to living life to the fullest, as though each day was one’s last. They called it the SF Suicide Club, a reference to a Robert Louis Stevenson short story.


The Suicide Club

Archive of the Suiide Club Website

David Warrent with Steve Mobia.png

Why I Joined the Suicide Club

by David Warren

The club would carry on for five years, with Dave noting this was the happiest time of his life with Gary Warne being the most influential person over his life. The club continued for five years, featuring pranks, public theater, urban exploration and other adventures. Several of the key members of the Suicide Club, including Dave, went on to form the Cacophony Society.

The Giant Camera

In 1978, along with Chris DeMonterrey and Steve Mobia, David restored and operated the Giant Camera at the Cliff House at Ocean Beach and successfully lead a campaign to preserve it gaining over 10,000 signatures to add it to the National Register of Historic Places, despite both the GGNRA and the Cliff House restaurant wanted this bright yellow building demolished.

In the late 80s, Dave was active with the Cacophony Socierty. Jerry James was also spending time with Cacophony Society members at this time, and was building and burning a wooden effigy on Baker Beach each year, along with Larry Harvey. Jerry invited the Cacopony Society members to help with the building and raising of the man. In 1989, they invited Dave to light the man by spitting fire on it. He repeated this performance in 1990, when the Man was first brought to Black Rock Playa, and the modern day Burning Man event was born.

During this period, Dave continued to be active with the Giant Camera, gaining media attention for his efforts. But by the mid- 90s, his alcohol abuse was catching up with him. He became homeless, and was living outdoors behind a ring of rocks at Carlos Bee Park in Castro Valley California for several years. His father's house was once on that property and he played outside there as a child. The estate was later donated to the city and the house moved but Dave, over seventy years old, returned to his childhood home.


Steve Mobia and John Law noted:

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.

Dave’s friends realized something was wrong when Richard Tuck received notice that Dave had not paid his storage locker bill. (Richard Tuck operated Playland Not On the Sea)

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.

Dave Warren died January 2, 2009, and that his last contact address was in Oakland California. Cause of death was pneumonia, complicated by dementia. His death was on the 32nd anniversary of the founding of the Suicide Club on January 2, 1977.

At his memorial (photos here), John Law read Dave’s will:

The Will:

To all my friends I've come to love and care about, I'm leaving quite a mess of things and stuff for others to straighten out.

John Law get pie in the face, per Dave’s will. Photo courtesy of Scott Beale, and LaughingSquid.com

Oh, and this post script:  Since much of my hair has turned gray by this date and is accumulating in ever increasing numbers in my comb, I've decided to start saving my hair as it comes forth by way of the comb.  I will collect it in a coffee can and wash the collected strands.  It would please me greatly if after some kind of tribal cutting up of this gray matter, it would be added to a small can of paint as Gary Warne's ashes were, then painted with him at the top of the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge so that I too may follow his path into the future sunrises and sunsets overlooking our beloved city of choice.  John Law and Jayson Wechter, this final request is left to you. (gets hit with pie)


Remembering Dave Warren


A Tribute to Dave Warren

R.J. Mololepozy

R. J. Mololepozy was David Warren's pen name. Inside the many boxes Dave left behind were piles of spiral notebooks filled with writings, poems and observations. Many of these were done while he sat inside the Giant Camera's ticket booth day after day. Other writings were associated with earlier projects of his.   ~Steve Mobia  

A long time ago, in the beginning of man's experience, there was the word. And the word was GRUNT. It said a lot, it expressed his need. It said "me too." It showed his love. It expressed his desire. It cleaned his bowel, it welcomed friends. No Webster defined its meaning. Understanding gave way to intelligence. Soon, give or take a few thousand years, men knew the moon was blue only once in nineteen years and in China people walked around upside-down, and when relatives came over for dinner they hardly ever did the dishes. And man became wise and bought a dog.

R J Mololepozy mused upon the world
For thoughts of grand designs for fun
Distorted images, and frowns turned upside down
He had the humdrum on the run . . . He had the humdrum on the run  

This morning, I wrote all over the eye that rides our pyramid: We have nothing more to fear, the Invisible Man is dead!

What if you were an ant... existing in a cubicle one foot wide, one foot high and one foot long. Would you remain in one solitary inch and never move? Or, would you walk every wall and peer into every corner, or perhaps look for a grain of wheat...or sand...something that is different. And what if you found a pebble, would yyoupush it from wall to wall or put it in the corner...and look at it? And if you put it in the corner...and looked at it....when you grew old would you wish that when you were young....you had pushed it?

Yesterday's gone forever
Today's yet not here

As I sit at the typewriter
I have nothing to fear
Nothing to fear

Friends and demons are abundant
sometimes it's hard 
to tell which is witch

We could all be dead tomorrow
that's a son-of-a-bitch

And who would ever know those days would ever end
And his many dreams would live on inside his friends
He's probably somewhere now laughing at us all
Waiting for another curtain call

The responsibility entrusted in you for the care and feeding of your Venus Fly Trap cannot be over emphasized. Choosing the right name for your flytrap can be a ticklish business and may make a difference to the growth and development of the plant. 

The first name we offer, for obvious reasons is "Snappy."  This is by far the most popular flytrap name.  However before attaching this moniker to your flytrap check around your neighborhood.   Talk to other flytrappers on your block.  It is not good to have more than one "Snappy" on the same block.  This tends to break down a flytrap's feeling of individuality, independence and many of the benefits that develop from having a non-competitive name.  "Chondoo", is a good name to consider for your flytrap.  It is highly unlikely there will be another "Chondoo" on your block.

R J Mololepozy
Captain of the freak show
I know his flame will never die
Is that him waiting for your face
around the corner
To hit you with a coconut cream pie.

Today America is faced with many problems and the Institute of the Inconsequential is trying to solve them.  As an example: did you know that 1950 was the year the Miss America Pageant decided to choose the winner for the next year instead?  They knew they could make more money if she was around longer.  

And so we are left without due representation!  We need to re-stage this event with eighty-five thousand seven hundred and fifty contestants.  All of their photographs will be placed on 1700 blackboards to create a 102 square foot picture of Laughing Sal.  The individual photographs will be mounted according to their light density to form this giant picture of the great laughing lady.  Next, a bi-plane will drop a small red streamer on the mass of candidates and the winner will be Miss America 1950 -- (it could even be a man).

Saving all the fake rocks
Naked on a street car
Venus Fly trap salesman
Dining on The Bridge
He is now a legend not only in his own mind
Cause now they've put that legend in the fridge