P Segal is likely the first person to suggest moving Burning Man to Black Rock Desert. The first playa event was planned in her living room, as were many SF Cacophony Society events, and she eventually went on to run the Center Camp Cafe for many years.
In the 80s, P was living at 1907 Golden Gate Avenue. 1907 Golden Gate was a two story, 14 room inner city mansion in deteriorating condition that served as the de facto headquarters of the Cacophony Society, and a hang out place for artists and creative types.
P first heard of Black Rock Desert in 1988 from a one-eyed, 34-year-old arborist from San Francisco named Marshall Lyons who was creating an art event called “Croquet x Machina” on the playa. Croquet X Machina was an enormous motorized six-way croquet match: “Beneath the hazy desert sky, on the hard-pan of a great prehistoric lake bed, a motley and dilapidated fleet of trucks smashed brightly colored balls nearly six feet in diameter through 15-foot-high wickets over a course approximately 1,100 feet long. Instead of wielding small wooden mallets, the players used their trucks to advance the balls on long shots.”~S.I.
While P didn’t attend the event, one of her roommates went and brought back pictures of the desert. This inspired to P to attend the next playa event. She, along with Kevin Evans, Dawn Stott and Cynthia Kolnick, visited Black Rock Desert on Labor Day weekend in 1989 to attend a wind sculpture event in the Black Rock desert sponsored by Planet X pottery. Everyone was required to participate in the event by creating something that could move in the wind: P and her group created a four post bed wind machine.
Kevin Evans decided he wanted to host a Cacophony Society Zone Trip to the playa,, which became “Bad Day at Black Rock”, Zone Trip #4. At some point during the planning, they reconnected with Jerry James, who they had met at the wind event on the playa. He invited them to watch the Man burn in 1990.
By 1990, the SF Cacophony Society had been promoting the Baker Beach burn, and in 1990 was helping to recruit members to build the man in a parking lot across from Slim’s nightclub in San Francisco. P attended the 1990 solstice event at Baker Beach with John Law, Kevin Evans and others.
The 1990 Baker Beach gathering did not go as planned, however. Louis M. Brill notes:
As we prepared the effigy for Baker Beach, we learned that the Golden Gate Park Police (GGNRA) had “discovered” this event and decided because of the potential fire hazard (half of Los Angeles, as it usually does around this time, was engulfed in various intensities of hill fires) to the surrounding hillside that we could not burn the statue. The police was represented by a lone officer on a motor bike who had come to Baker Beach to issue his edict. We negotiated a compromise: we could build and erect The Man, but not burn him.
According to several sources, after John Law’s attempts to persuade Larry Harvey to burn the Man regardless of the promise made to the park police were unsuccessful, P suggested first to the Cacophonist gathered, and then to Larry Harvey, that they bring the Man to the playa: P saw Larry for the first time, wearing the original grey stetson that had been his fathers (and was ultimately lost on the playa) and tried to get his attention, suggesting that the Man be brought to the playa and burned. Later, Law as the spokesperson more formally pitched the idea of burning the Man at Zone Trip #4, and an initial plan was formulated to burn the Man on the playa.
Note, some have suggested John Law or Kevin Evans as the originator of the idea to bring the man to the playa. Regardless of where the idea originated or who first approached Larry Harvey, John, Kevin and P all played key roles in making the first burn happen. P now presents it as a group idea: “[the Cacophinists"] locked eyes and we said ‘We have to take it out there. It won’t burn anything down and nobody’s going to stop us.”
Over the following weeks, Larry and a group of around 40 Cacophonists met in P Segal’s living room to plan the 1990 Burn.
P remained an active participant at Burning Man, and in (or around) 1995 she used her restaurateur and catering experience to take over running the Center Camp Cafe
In the 1970’s and 80’s Miss P was living in North Beach and soaking in a rich café lifestyle. On the terrace of Savoy Tivoli there used to be a cross section of interesting people: maverick quantum physicists, poets, radical political leftists, neo-cons, and members of the SF Suicide Club.
The beat poets were still around, the Italian community dominated the waterfront, and a blossoming punk scene was growing at Mabuhay Gardens. P Segal was hanging out in the literary scene with the likes of Jack Micheline and Gregory Corso, giving Bob Kaufman beer money, and rubbing elbows with people like Alan Ginsberg. Housing was cheap, cost of living low, and people had the free time to be creative.
P carried this San Franciscan Bohemian style to the three story Edwardian town house at 1907 Golden Gate Ave, where she played host to Cacophony society’s plots and parties. This is where they built the foundation of a festival that grew from being just a group of friends on Baker Beach in 1986, to 89 people in the desert in 1990 (they counted exactly 89 people to make sure no one got left behind), to now 70,000 people this August 2018.
Miss P was Burning Man’s first Hostess. She created the Burning Man Café, which was the inspiration for what is now the center camp concept. In 1994 she was fined by the Nevada Board of health for allowing her baristas to work naked! Back in San Francisco she was running her own restaurant, Caffe Proust, a haven for foodies and creative types. Now Miss P is an author and therapist, and champion to a cause that promises to protect and cradle the creative pursuits of San Francisco’s artists. Because, as she says, “being in the presence of creative energy is vital to the mental health of a city“.
The San Francisco Art House Project seeks to give artists and proven creatives a way to stay in San Francisco and keep our city interesting, diverse, and beautiful. ‘Art houses’ will be like tech incubators, only instead of pumping out software, we would be creating art publications, paintings, galleries, and new music. The designs and layouts of these Art Houses are being drawn up as we speak.