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Fred Caldwell, pictured above at age 4, with Charles and Mary Caldwell and his 10-month-old sister Cindy. Photo via Facebook/Fred Caldwell
Fred Caldwell, pictured above at age 4, with Charles and Mary Caldwell and his 10-month-old sister Cindy. Photo via Facebook/Fred Caldwell
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Raising a glass to the life of Fred Caldwell

By Debbie Burgett

“I should have juiced more beets and carrots!”

We’re guessing that’s what 68-year-old Fred Caldwell, who passed away peacefully on July 20, 2023, would probably be saying right about now. To the very end, he passionately believed that juicing beets and carrots were the cure-all for everything.

And who could blame him?

After surviving a knife wound to the heart many years ago, resulting in his heart issues afterward, he may hold the record for flatlining at the hospital over the years, only to return home later to juice more beets and carrots! It obviously worked! And it certainly didn’t hurt.

But he would also admit with a smile that as the owner of Caldwell Antiques in Leucadia, it was his duty to be a strong supporter of other local establishments. And he was. Especially the local eateries.

He was the “vegetarian” who passionately embraced all his local hamburgers equally and unashamedly. And the fish burgers from Captain Kenos. And the nacho plate from Robertos. And the Hawaiian pizza from Leucadia Pizzeria. And we will never forget the fun we had “supporting” right along with him!

Truth be told, the sweet, unassuming man, who puttered happily around in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, was passionate about many things. Quietly passionate. They say we run from those who yell, but we lean into those who whisper. Perhaps that’s why he had so many friends. Fred Caldwell whispered his life. And we leaned in.

First and foremost, the love of his life was Leucadia. The night that thief stabbed him, we have no doubt the doctors were staring in disbelief as he bled pure and unadulterated Leucadia. (The report is most assuredly sealed in some undisclosed file at the hospital!). He was simply passionate about the place he grew up in and yearned to make it even better.

So Fred Caldwell got involved. But not like, “Here I am! God’s gift to the world!” But instead, “Here I am. How can I help?” And he did help — publicly and privately.

Publicly, he served as president of the Leucadia Merchants Association and joined the board of directors of the Leucadia 101 Mainstreet Association. He heartily embraced their mission to preserve and revitalize the N. Coast Hwy 101 Corridor. And he also worked hard on the campaigns of local political candidates. His quiet passion and influence in his town were as real and ever-present as the salty air. Maybe that’s why those who knew him best dubbed him “the unofficial mayor of Leucadia.” The title fits perfectly.

And privately, he spent hours on the computer at the back of the antique shop (which visiting female relatives often railed was “Too dark, too dusty and too cluttered!”) designing beautifully creative brochures, business cards, the famous “Kook” calendar, the retro 101 shields pressed into the sidewalk and cast-iron tree surrounds, and the retro woody bus wraps, only to name a few favorite projects. The dinginess and dusty clutter obviously didn’t bother him or his creative juices one bit.

An article once written about “Legendary Locals” described his life well: “Fred has had his imprint on most things that matter for more years than anyone can remember and has won innumerable awards for his creativity and input. But you have to find all that out for yourself: there are no framed certificates juggling for wall space in his Aladdin’s cave of a workspace.”

And passionate would certainly describe how he felt about his antique “cave” and its eclectic menagerie of historical treasures. It had been in the family since opening in 1963. “The average shopper wanders in to find out what kind of shop this is,” Fred once said. “I ask them to let me know if they find out.”

His specialties were old coin-operated items like jukeboxes and arcade machines, and also vintage advertising signs, art, and furniture pieces. And because Fred was Fred, he also hauled out a rack of Hawaiian shirts to adorn the front of the shop. Why not? I guess he didn’t want the hula girl mannequin in the grass skirt, a landmark unto herself, to feel alone.

The most notable items that came through the shop were a rare 1941 Wurlitzer “Peacock” jukebox and a 1902 9-foot Steinway Concert Grand Piano. Fred’s dad was once asked how they fit such a huge piano into such a tiny shop. Charlie Caldwell replied, “We got a running start at the door.”

But whatever piano was in there at the time, Fred played it by the hour. He loved Gershwin and Boogie Woogie music, which his dad taught him. And he also took art classes at Palomar College and loved to sculpt and paint like his mother did. He actually painted the iconic Marilyn Monroe sign outside the store.

Fred was truly passionate about the quality of time here on earth, not the quantity of the money you made. So he didn’t feel called to a life of feverish advertising or marketing himself. As long as he had enough to live on (and enjoy his local hamburgers!), he felt it was a blessed life indeed. So most customers usually just happened by on a weekend stroll.

One neighbor got so tired of people asking, “How long have you been here?” he once replied, “When Fred bought all this stuff, it was new.” Instead, he made time for the creative outlets that inspired him and for long walks on the beach and around the community that he loved.

Most of all, Fred Caldwell was passionate about family. Maybe that’s why he never left home. Our family actually resembles the contents of the attached antique shop — an odd assortment gathered over time, each with their own worth and value.

For instance, Fred was all grown up when his dad married my mom. She had three grown daughters of her own. But guess who took care of Mom when his dad passed away unexpectedly years later? Fred! He loved her and wanted to honor his dad that way. He honored us all by doing that. And we were very thankful that he was the one with her when she passed away.

And that’s just one of the myriad of reasons we call him brother.

And we are also thankful that as the business of life goes on, Fred’s quiet essence is literally and permanently stamped around Leucadia. So as you walk over one of those retro shields or tree grates, take a moment to lean in and listen. It will whisper that quiet people can live out their passions and make their mark just as meaningfully as loud people do.

Oh, and if you happen to stop by “Just Peachy,” as Fred often did, remember to pick up some fresh beets and carrots for juice. Then raise a glass to Fred. He’d truly like that.

Fred Caldwell is survived by his biological sister, Cindy Royce, his half-sister, Patricia Fix, step-sisters  Diana Davis, Debbie Burgett and Cheri Christiansen, and nieces and nephews galore.

Debbie Burgett is a freelance writer and Fred Caldwell’s step-sister. 

1 comment

Scott July 29, 2023 at 1:17 pm

Debbie, this is a perfect portrait of the Fred I knew, and his spirit. You nailed it! He will be so missed. He knew everybody – I’ll never forget his helpful suggestions when we first began our campaign to save the Pacific View school. His collection of local historical ephemera was unparalleled, and I hope it’s going to be preserved. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

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