Wildwood Conservation Foundation & Retreat Center
PO Box 78, Guerneville, CA 95446

The Beginnings

Wildwood was homesteaded around 1900, twenty years after the first land deed was issued on October 9, 1880.   The original fence and an orchard yet remain down the hill from the main house.   The property was owned by the Purdy and then Grider families.  Widow Jesse Grider was sole owner of the property in 1946 when a mountaintop house was constructed (current area behind fireplace).  Grider sold to Juanita and Vernon Corley in 1954.

Chicken coops were built (the garden end of the current conference room) by the Corley’s, who owned the property from 1954 to 1968.   Juanita ran the chicken and egg business, while Vernon toiled in the Guerneville lumber mills.

1960s Guerneville was a fringe hangout for the hippie culture, but by the 1970s the town blossomed into the west coast’s premier gay vacation spot.  In summer, crowds packed the string of offbeat villages, cabins, cottages, resorts and bars along the Russian River.  In Guerneville, there was freedom to be without judgment, without hassle.


The Beginnings

The adventurous navigated a five and a half mile dirt road to a mountain retreat called Wildwood – now owned and operated by Jerry Geller and Ken Sullivan, who added a pool and Jacuzzi in 1977.   The living was basic:  tent cabins with hotdogs and beans for supper.   But the views were stunning for nature boys yearning to commune with something other than a tequila sunrise down at the Rainbow Cattle Company on Main street.


The Beginnings

John Calhoun remembers Nicholaas as a “taskmaster with a good sense of humor.  He didn’t believe in idle hands – breaks were limited to 45 minutes.   He had been on Werner Erhard’s staff as an in-house counselor.  It was arequirement to take the EST training if you were going to be on the Wildwood staff.”

San Francisco-based Erhard Seminars Training (EST) was popular in the 1970s.  A large group awareness training, it was an outgrowth of the human potential movement of the 1960s.

“Nicholaas’ whole intention,” says John,  “was to change the image of Wildwood – away from being a bathhouse in the woods.”

While Nicholaas, Tim and John enjoyed the otherworldly charm of the property’s 210 acres, it came at a steep price.   “Every winter we asked, ‘Do we stay open, or do we close the door?’” says Tim.   “The rainfall in a redwood forest can top 100 inches a year.”

Floods were common.  No power for a solid month was common.  The winding dirt road to town could be closed for weeks.   And roving bands of boars trampled gardens.  Even in summer months, nature could be unforgiving for a property that is yet reliant on springs 200 vertical feet down the mountain.


The Beginnings

A Dutch immigrant named Nicholaas Hocke recognized the property’s true potential, and in January 1977, traded Ken and Jerry his San Francisco apartment building for Wildwood. By that summer, resort guests got more than roasted hotdogs after romps in the woods.

“There were gourmet meals, wine with dinner, candle light, a roaring fire, classical music, piano and sometimes a violinist,” remembers Tim McNary, who with John Calhoun staffed the property for nearly two decades through the 1980s and 90s under Nicholaas’ ownership.

“With Nicholaas, there was a feeling of home and family, which many gay men had never had,” says Tim.  “He was keenly interested in the idea of men transforming each other, and in providing an alternative to bars and discos.

“Nicholaas was stoic, a king of the mountain top type.  I believe he was a stockbroker – tall, about 6’ 2” with grey hair.   He was somewhat rigorous, and had a vision of what Wildwood could become for the community.”


The Beginnings

“Boars would rout up the piping, or water would just get scarce,” remembers Tim.  “We’d shut down the water to the showers, and then the gardens – sometimes the toilets.   There was always a spirit of cooperation and conservation among everyone – including the guests.”

Under Tim and John, numerous projects were created – the beginnings of the current conference room (the former chicken coop), the guest room wing, gardens and fruit trees, the walk-in refrigerator, the gazebo, a drip system, outdoor lighting, pool resurfacing, a renovation of the water system, a small deck with hot tub, the current manager's quarters (Nicholaas’ former living quarters), health code improvements and extensive and ongoing maintenance. 

Other staff, caretakers, volunteers and board members lent money, management skills, and labor.   Creating and sustaining Wildwood has always been an enormous community effort.

Contact Wildwood


Wildwood Conservation Foundation & Retreat Center

PO Box 78

Guerneville, CA 95446


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WCF is a 501(c)3 non-profit charitable organization


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