Positively Front Street
2000-03-16, Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz, CA
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"If you're looking for somewhere to eat, if you don't already know, 'Positively Front Street'," Bob Dylan says at one point in this evening's show. "We need to franchise that place."
There were rumors that, before this show, Dylan had eaten at this seaside joint named after one of his most famous songs. More likely he just saw the large sign from his bus. Or maybe the promoter told him about it. The building at 44 Front St. in Santa Cruz certainly would have been up his alley though. Built in 1907, over the decades it had housed a brothel, a hotel, a wax museum, and an oyster bar. Burgers-and-chowder restaurant Positively Front Street had occupied the first floor since the 1970s. It served dishes like the Maggie’s Farm House Salad.
You'd think a shoutout from the man himself would have been a boon for business. Instead, Bob’s onstage blessing may have cursed it.
Nine months after this show, Positively Front Street burned to the ground. It took 50 firefighters three and a half hours to put out the blaze. The fire caused nearly $1 million of damages. What little of the building remained was demolished not long after, just a few days before the one-year anniversary of Dylan’s joke about it.
Police suspected arson. As the Santa Cruz Sentinel dutifully chronicled, the restaurant’s owner Louis Meadows and the building's owner Harold Angus were locked in a legal dispute. Meadows had tried to exercise an option to buy the building only weeks before the fire, but Angus had turned him down. Meadows sued.
The police cleared Angus after he took a polygraph. Meadows was scheduled to take one too, but cancelled on his attorney's advice. He did hire an independent polygrapher, who he said cleared him, but he didn't submit the results to the police. "It is odd to me that somebody would go out and pay … to be polygraphed when we offer that service for free," the police chief told the paper.
Meadows became their leading suspect, but the investigation was soon put aside due to lack of evidence or eyewitnesses. The crime, if there was a crime, was never solved.
Meadows maintained his innocence throughout, telling the paper a few years later, "The whole city thinks I’m a ... felon. I didn’t do it. I have in my heart a firm belief of who it was, but I can’t say it on the record."
Meadows reopened a new Positively Front Street next door to the original in 2003, but it didn't last long. On May 6, 2004, just over four years after the concert where Dylan shouted out his restaurant, it shut down again. He owed his new landlord $60,000 in rent. A series of benefit concerts to help save the restaurant had raised, the paper reports, “about $90.”
Even the day before the closing, Meadows was looking to a savior: Bob Dylan. He told the paper he wondered if Dylan was really serious about that franchise idea. He wanted to open more Positively Front Streets all the way down the coast. He said he had a friend who lived next door to Bob and was trying to get the word to him.
"I’d be happy to have him as a shareholder," Meadows told a reporter. "He’s always been a hero of mine."