Al Spencer Memorial

by the Rose Man

This page last updated September 30, 2002 by Lloyd Johnson

Al Spencer, founder of the Black's Beach Bares Association, editor of the BBBA NEWSletter and mayor, by acclamation, of Black's Beach up through the 90s died on June 28, 2002.  He was 80 years old.  Al Spencer's death marks the passing of a legend.

Regrettably many details are impossible to obtain owing to a disapproval of Al Spencer's lifestyle on the part of his surviving relatives.  Certainly those of us who remember Al must be stirred to admire him all the more in light of the challenges that he faced.  In fact, few among us ever found out much about what any of those challenges were, because Al Spencer met every challenge with wisdom and alacrity.

My knowledge of the man goes back 12 years.  In early 1990 Al Spencer was already known as "the mayor of Black's Beach."  I first ran  across one of the newsletters that Al kindly furnished for anyone who made it down the trail.  And I was impressed, at the time, to find that anyone had gone to all the trouble and expense of keeping us informed of events and developments at the beach.

I might add that as editor, Al Spencer sent out hundreds of BBBA NEWSletters, and they went out to every corner of the globe.  Indeed, there were at least a dozen or more that were sent overseas.  And we would see families from Europe and various other places who had already heard about Black's Beach and knew how to get there.

Moreover Al Spencer maintained a written correspondence with Lee Baxandall, the founder of  The Naturist Society and the original editor of Nude & Natural Magazine.  They would exchange publications at each printing.

Beyond that, Al Spencer was committed to keeping people informed about their legal rights and the procedures for maintaining them.  The inquisitive could always read about the Cahill Policy, which was summarized on Al's bulletin board.

Basically the Cahill Policy sets the legal precedence for resolving serious disputes that arise at the beach or any other state, public property.  It stipulates that if a complaint is made against another party at the beach, both parties, both the aggrieved and the accused, will be required to cease and desist for one day, or more serious law-enforcement measures will come into play.

Those wishing to explore the Cahill Policy in greater depth can turn to http://www.bayareanaturists.org/cahill.html on the internet.

When I finally got to meet Al, he accepted me enthusiastically.  This was a common experience.  I cannot count the various people who have shared similar stories of their own.  And in my case, although I tried to pitch in with an extra contribution of my own, Al merely extended the subscription of my BBBA NEWSletter to ten years--the precise subscription length for the amount of my contribution.

I simply could not have run across a more kindhearted man.

Moreover, Al Spencer allowed and even encouraged me to submit essays for the BBBA NEWSletter, which I did as often as I was reasonably able.  But Al Spencer's standing on the beach was already well in place by the time we met, and it is quite simply beyond me to speak to his involvement during the 70s and the 80s.  Still, I would hazard that Al Spencer contributed to Black's Beach throughout his life.

Certainly Al Spencer had a wealth of rich stories to tell.  There were stories about picnics, body painting, volleyball, you name it--life was a feast.  And Al Spencer played a prominent role in keeping everybody happy.

To relate one story in particular, there is the chronicle of the whistle brigade through which local naturists effectively defended their rights when the San Diego City Council acted to rescind them.

Nudity had been common at Black's Beach for years before it was finally given official sanction by the city council of San Diego during the 70s.  You can still buy signs from that period at the San Diego City Store stating, "Swimsuits optional beyond this point."

But that policy of officially sanctioned nudity was rescinded a few years later, and the signs came down.  Not only that, but police decided to crack down against "offenders" to enforce the new policy.

It created a real crisis.  Nevertheless, nude sunbathers responded with determination and ingenuity:  They each wore whistles, which they would sound to warn all others of the approach of harassing, police officers.  The bleating of whistles would be relayed from one end of the beach to the other as fellow sunbathers extended the alarm.  And effectively only one ticket could be issued at a time.  Then everyone else would have covered up before the police could issue the next citation.

Eventually the police came to recognize that it was simply not worth their efforts to be issuing citations down at Black's Beach while other law-enforcement responsibilities went unattended, and the matter was settled.

Al Spencer also erected a bulletin board.  That was down in Spencer Canyon (dedicated to Al Spencer) when I arrived in 1990.  And Al Spencer kept that bulletin board stocked with a variety of notices.  Basically Al Spencer would let anyone post anything they wished.

Moreover, Al Spencer would never second guess the intentions of anyone seeking information at the bulletin board.  He was committed to the proposition that getting the information out to everyone with a proper interest was much more important than any futile effort to outmaneuver anyone who might possibly be conducting hostile surveillance.  Accordingly, there was a free sharing of information right where regulars and visitors alike needed it.

In any event, that bulletin board came down with a landslide on the night following Labor Day of 1990.  And three years passed before the bulletin board was replaced.

The replacement of that bulletin board arose out of a conversation in the summer of 1993 when someone asked the mayor how long Black's Beach had been a nude beach.  Al cast his mind back to 1943.

Immediately we all recognized that we were right at the golden anniversary for sartorial freedom on our hallowed grounds.  And we determined that we would have to replace that former bulletin board to mark the occasion, which we did.

Al Spencer made appropriate arrangements with the park ranger.  And we proceeded with the park ranger's permission.

Al Spencer simply would not have proceeded on any other terms.  But Al Spencer knew how to address official channels, he got things done, and he got them done right.

Sadly, the next bulletin board was ravaged by vandals.  It was decimated within two-and-a-half years.

That development seems to have been a by-product of the police chasing the campers off the beach.  Before their ranks were thinned, there were too many campers on the beach at all times to allow anyone to get out of hand.  But once they were chased away, the ones to resist defiantly were ones to act out other aggressions, and the Black's Beach, bulletin board suffered accordingly.

Still, during its time, that bulletin board was able to resist most graffiti through the application of floor wax to every surface.  When graffiti would appear, the floor wax would be stripped away, removing the graffiti at the same time.  Then a new coat of floor wax would be reapplied to protect the bulletin board from the next onslaught.

That was fairly effective.  And once again, Al Spencer demonstrated his dedication to a free exchange of ideas and his resourcefulness about keeping those principles on track even in the throes of hostile challenge.

But Al Spencer also knew how to have fun.  One year Al Spencer secured a hall for a Halloween party.  There were wonderful refreshments.  There were films.  And personally, I have never seen better costumes!

This would be a case of where less is more, and everyone was looking their absolute best.

Al Spencer was also the grand marshall of the Black's Beach Fourth of July parade in 1996.  This was but ten days before the Republican party convened in San Diego for their national convention.

I, myself, anxiously questioned the wisdom of drawing attention to ourselves at a time when so many politicians from across the nation would be showing up with an eye for any cannon fodder that might serve as a dramatic counterpoint to help advance their own conservative views.  And surely if anything held potential as a dramatic foil for right-winged demagoguery, our Black's Beach Fourth of July parade would have.

But the parade went forward.  And it came off without a hitch.  Al Spencer led as everyone in the parade passed out roses to those who sat and watched.  I would guess there must have been about 40 people in the parade and hundreds sitting along the parade route.

That night one of the local news stations carried the story.  I think it was NBC.  Anyway, there were pictures of the parade in progress--mostly from the ankle down.  That news team was really cautious.  And they had an interview with Al Spencer (above the waist).

Now when Al Spencer was asked why we were conducting a nude parade down at Black's Beach on the Fourth of July, Al proudly proclaimed, "This is about freedom--the freedom to enjoy life as we choose!"

Without a doubt, Al Spencer had certain media savvy.  And he was able to express our most basic, motivating passions in those clipped, concise terms--media sound-bytes--that are essential for television in our time.  It truly was a magic moment--an Al Spencer moment.

During the time I knew him, Al Spencer would offer me an umbrella to shield roses.  In fact, it really would have been tough to get roses out to so many people without his support and encouragement.

Certainly Al Spencer touched my life, yet I was but one of hundreds.  Occasionally I could sit and join with his closest friends.  But everyone who has been to the beach for more than five years has a story to relate.

As John Willits says, "Al was a friend to all.  He helped out all kinds of people, let them stay at his apartment.  He was the first person everyone met at the beach"

John Willits co-founded the Black's Beach Bares Association with Al Spencer.

Chris Nau remarked, "He had a mind like a Rolodex, greeting everyone by name and always in a friendly, affirmative manner."

And I will never forget the extent to which Al Spencer went to maintain a common ground.  I will not delve into areas that Al chose to keep private, except to say that I was close enough to Al Spencer to glean certain things about him that he nevertheless refused to explore with me openly, out of deference to my own personal sensibilities.

Al Spencer was a true gentleman through and through.  And he really would bend over backwards for all the kindred souls he would find at the beach.

Sadly, there was a lot of confusion for Al Spencer at the end of the 90s, through to the end of his life.  Al was not well.

And that was not well understood.  Many took umbrage at various lapses in Al Spencer's personal manner at a time when he was struggling with dementia.  I discuss this only in the service of closure.  But it was something that all of us experienced in one way or another.

Alas, the poor man was losing friendships left and right.  That development seems to go hand in hand with Alzheimer's Disease.  And it was sad to see him make a mockery of his former self.

Al even became convinced on one occasion that someone had drugged him down at the beach.  Suffice it to say, no one wants to unleash that kind of story about our beach, except for our worst detractors.

And those who knew Al Spencer, by contrast, suspect that instead of foul play, Al must have actually suffered a mild stroke down at the beach, which would have been every bit as distressing as losing control for any other reason.

But Al was convinced that it was drugs, and I reluctantly helped him to write up that contention at his insistence for his next newsletter.  For my own part, I simply determined that I should not be second-guessing anyone with a concern as serious as that, particularly as dear a friend to me as Al Spencer.  And I placed my faith in the readership to be able to sort out facts on their own.

Al Spencer even seemed to be pushing away from me, so I can well sympathize with other people's stories of frustration.  And yet I prefer to remember Al Spencer for his outstanding contribution throughout the course of his life rather than for the rough edges of any struggles he faced near the end.

Most of Al Spencer's closest friends have moved or gone on to other things.  And I understand that Hank is gravely ill.

Hank, if you should happen to receive this, I want to extend you my very best wishes and my warmest regards.

But Al Spencer was the glue that held a lot of people together.  The memories go on and on.

The last word on this goes to Ice Cold Jeff, the T-shirt man who keeps us refreshed and looking good even when we absolutely have to wear something.  Jeff points out that Al's last memories were of the beach.

And Jeff is right.  Al Spencer was so dedicated to Black's Beach throughout his life that he continued to come and contribute warmly up until the very moment that his memories just gave out and collapsed on him.

Moreover, that comports well with one of the stories I heard a year or so ago--I heard that even during his last years, which he spent with his sister in Arizona, Al would say, "Why don't we head down to the beach today?"  And he would say that without betraying the least awareness that he was hundreds of miles away.

As Jeff points out, Al's last memories were of Black's Beach.  And what wonderful memories Black's Beach holds for anyone of us who can keep them in mind up until the very end!

Al Spencer wished to have his ashes spread over the cliffs.  He once told that to Ice Cold Jeff.

Spreading Al Spencer's ashes may not be possible in view of family considerations.  However, there will be a memorial for Al Spencer and a commemoration of his life one day before Memorial Day in 2003.  That will be Sunday, May 25, 2003.  And at that time we may do something to honor his wishes symbolically.

It is hard to overstate the importance of any individual who coordinates with the park service, the lifeguards, the news media, other nudist organization, the volunteers who work on the trail, and gets the word out to everyone down at the beach.  Al Spencer did all of these things.  And he did them in a friendly, affable manner.  He was a towering presence.  And he will be missed by many for many years to come.

Please submit additions to Lloyd Johnson.