Back in February, I reported on the forgotten connection between actor-crooner Bing Crosby and the Los Altos Youth Center. In addition to his spectacular, multimedia career, Bing, who died in 1977, was a quiet philanthropist who donated more than $1 million to youth centers all over California. In 1959, he wrote a check for $10,000 to help start construction of the Los Altos Youth Center, now known as LAYC.
The center opened a year later, and Los Altos scheduled its dedication for Sunday, Jan. 15, 1961.
Bing planned to be in Pebble Beach that month for his golf tournament – now the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am – set for Jan. 19-22. His brother, publicist Larry Crosby, said Bing would attend the dedication, and Los Altos was abuzz with excitement. Students at Los Altos High created a “Welcome Bing” sign, and the city commissioned a commemorative plaque for the star, designed by resident Warren Ferris, a calligrapher and consultant to the Library of Congress.
But Bing did not appear that day. A small item in the Los Altos News showed unsmiling local leaders with the caption: “Mayors Show Crosby Plaque. Bing Not There to Receive It.”
After my story ran, I got a call from Los Altos native Jim Shattock, born in 1954, who had recently returned to live in his family home. In the summer of 1976, he had a job with the Los Altos Recreation Department, prior to starting his career as a firefighter. Looking for something in a tool closet at Hillview Community Center, he found a battered picture of Bing Crosby holding a plaque. It was on the floor, and the glass covering it was shattered. Jim recognized the plaque in the picture as the work of his great uncle, Warren Ferris, who lived on Rosita Avenue. He asked if he could take it home to show his mom, and supervisor Bob Workman said: “That old thing? Sure.” Jim took it home, showed his folks, and promptly forgot about it for 44 years.
Then he read my story. He was sure the Bing photo was still in the family home on Arboleda Drive, where his father, Art Shattock, had resided until his death three years ago at the age of 102.
“My mom and dad never threw anything away,” Jim sighed.
He found the nearly 60-year-old photograph in a pile of old clippings. It shows a tired-looking star, still in golfing togs, posing alone. Stamped on the back is “Photo by Bill Early.” Bing did receive his plaque at some point and acknowledge it. He inscribed the photo: “To my friends in Los Altos. Gratefully, Bing Crosby.”
We still don’t know why he missed the event; so there is more to learn. But we now know he did his best to make amends.
Jim would like to return this piece of history to the people of Los Altos. We owe him our gratitude for unearthing it.
We also owe his parents, for never throwing anything away.
Robin Chapman is a journalist, historian and Los Altos native.