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Alameda County

Published Monday, December 25, 2000

Friends sing Lundberg's praises, hope for recovery from fire

  • The former owner of a popular Berkeley guitar store is recovering from smoke inhalation

    JON LUNDBERG was injured by an Oct. 25 fire that also damaged the haberdashery he runs in Berkeley. He was unconscious the first six weeks he was in the hospital, but now he is able to sit up in bed for brief periods of time.

    By Tony Hicks

    BERKELEY -- Jon Lundberg used to spend Christmas Eve delivering martinis atop a chugging model train and serving "heavily laced" eggnog to friends hanging around his guitar shop or, in recent years, his haberdashery.

    It was usually all the Christmas cheer anybody needed, evidenced by the returning crowd of about 50 every year.

    "I remember thinking as I left 'Wow, I don't have to go to any parties now, I can just go home,'" said Lundberg's friend and former employee Kathleen Giustino. "Jon's just a treasure."

    For the first time in 40 years, there's no party this year. There's barely a shop anymore.

    Lundberg is on a ventilator at Alta Bates Medical Center, fighting to fulfill the Christmas wishes of dozens of old friends by recovering from a devastating fire at his vintage clothing store in Kensington.

    "We just take it day by day," said his daughter, Kate Lundberg. "It's going to be a long, slow recovery."

    Lundberg, 65, is best known for his stringed instrument store on Dwight Way in the 1960s and 1970s, when he was acknowledged as a superb guitar mechanic.

    And during the past two months, Lundberg's plight has brought old friends out of the woodwork. Country Joe McDonald and others are regular hospital visitors and have worked to salvage the shop while Lundberg is recovering. They've heard from musician Dan Hicks, if not his Hot Licks. Joan Baez sent prayers through a "very sweet" card, Kate Lundberg said.

    "His shop was like an oasis -- a watering hole for serving acoustic musicians," said McDonald, of Country Joe and the Fish fame. "We'd hang out, talk shop, relax and be natural."

    "When I was 15 or 16, I used to go in there just to look at the instruments," said Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. "I met a lot of folks at Lundberg's."

    Lundberg gave up the old guitar shop on Dwight Way more than a decade ago, then opened a haberdashery in nearby Kensington, where he fell asleep on a back room sofa Oct. 25 while smoking.

    The cigarette ignited the sofa and part of the room, causing about $120,000 in damage, according to El Cerrito fire officials.

    Lundberg, who smoked two to three packs a day before the fire, is in fair condition in the intensive care unit with "very, very bad smoke inhalation," said hospital spokeswoman Carolyn Kemp.

    He can't talk because of the tube in his throat, though he can move his extremities and briefly sit upright. It's a big improvement from the first six weeks of his hospital stay, when he wasn't conscious, his daughter said.

    Friends describe Lundberg as a humorous, straight-talker who isn't easily impressed yet would go to great lengths for those he considered friends.

    "Jon has a certain attitude about celebrities," said Colleen Mundt, a longtime friend and former employee. "If they came in and expected to be treated like a celebrity, Jon would walk out the back door. But if they were a regular person, Jon would be as sweet and nice as could be."

    Lundberg and his wife, Deirdre, came from the Midwest in 1960, searching for a spot in the Bay Area's burgeoning folk scene. They went straight to Barry Olivier's folk music store on Telegraph Avenue.

    "They drove up to my shop, introduced themselves and said they wanted to start a shop in San Francisco doing the same thing," said Olivier, now a private guitar teacher.

    "I said 'No, don't do that. Do it here -- as close as you can. Then people will come from all over.'"

    The strategy worked. Berkeley became a "mecca for guitarists of all types," said Olivier, who organized large folk music festivals in Berkeley throughout the 1960s.

    Lundberg quickly gained a reputation as a genius in repairing and rebuilding guitars, giving them tones they didn't have when they left the factory.

    He also stocked only the best instruments, which he sold to the likes of Eric Clapton, Pete Seeger, the Grateful Dead, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

    "All the pros coming through town would invariably stop by Lundberg's," Weir said. "Doc Watson was there, Taj Mahal ... it seems amazing to me."

    Weir's longtime bandmate Jerry Garcia bought his first banjo -- named "John" -- at Lundberg's. Newly married, Garcia exchanged wedding gifts to buy the instrument.

    "(Lundberg's) wife was very encouraging to me," Weir said. "They'd let everyone come in and play the guitars. The vibe was encouraging to kids like me, who wanted to play."

    "It was a place you could go to be safe," McDonald said. "The world wasn't as safe as it is now toward hippies and folk music."

    Lundberg also had an eye for anything vintage -- trains, lamps, clothes, cars, especially stringed instruments.

    "His ability to attract wonderful instruments was one of the reasons it was a hub," Weir said. "I remember once I found an old Martin guitar in a pawn shop in San Francisco, and I immediately took it to Lundberg's. My giddiest dream came true -- it was worth a lot more than what I paid."

    Giustino remembered all four members of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young coming in and buying guitars before they played Woodstock.

    "Neil Young sort of sat down with the first guitar he saw, and they had to pick him up and take him into a back room," she said. "People came in off the street and said 'We saw them.' I had to stand there with a straight face and say 'Who?'"

    Lundberg also gained a reputation as a curmudgeon who would hang up a sign to deter interlopers while he was working: "Proprietor unresponsive -- y'all come back later."

    Despite what was once a bleak prognosis, friends are confident Lundberg will again be setting up his beloved train set and shaking Christmas martinis.

    "I thought about doing (the Christmas party) in the critical care waiting room, but I figured it would just be too much," said Mundt, who worked at Lundberg's from 1970-74.

    Lundberg still has to pay rent at the store, which suffered mostly smoke and water damage. Most of the contents were destroyed, and there wasn't any insurance. Friends are in the early stages of trying to put together a benefit concert. Anyone interested in helping can e-mail

    "He's a fighter," said friend Serafina Boxley, who met Lundberg when he joined the Art Deco Society of California. "He's not dying, and he's not giving up, and that's important to remember."

    Tony Hicks covers Berkeley. Reach him at 510-262-2713 or

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