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Memories of San Francisco in the 1930s

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Posted by Rosemary Penna U'Ren on Saturday, July 16, 2005 at 14:44:25 :

I was born in the mid 1930s at Childrenís Hospital in San Francisco. We lived on Ramona St, near 15th, not far from Mission Dolores. My mother was born a few blocks away on Albion Avenue. Her mother still lived in the house that my mother grew up in on 15th St. at Ramona.

My father owned a little grocery store on 14th street near Valencia, just around the corner from Maryís Help Hospital, and just down the street from the Levi Strauss factory.

In the late 1930s you could still occasionally see horses and wagons on the streets in the Mission District neighborhoods. There was the Junkman who called out for "rags, bottles and sacks". And the Iceman still came out with a horse and wagon to deliver the ice until 1938 or so, when he came by truck. We had an ice box to keep things cold, like milk and eggs and butter. We did not have a refrigerator until 1941 when we moved to Larkspur, and ice was not so easily delivered.

We used to do most of our shopping (except for groceries, which we got from my fatherís store) on Mission Street, and on the numbered streets between 15th and 23rd Streets. There was a large department store on Mission called "The Majestic" where mother would shop for clothing. It was next door to the Majestic theatre. We also shopped at a variety store named the Bon Omi, which everyone pronounced "Bon-ammy".

My parents used to take me to see Shirley Temple movies at the Majestic Theatre. Sometimes we would go first to a restaurant for dinner. I donít know what the true names of the restaurants were, but we went either to "the Greekís", the "greasy spoon" (which may have been the same place), or "the Chinamanís". (There wasnít any "political correctness" in those days.) I think they were all on Mission Street. I liked the Chinese place the best. It had a floor with a pattern of little black and white hexagonal tiles, and booths with curtains, which you could close for privacy. I donít remember anything about the food. I do remember my father teasing me by telling me the soya sauce was bug juice.

There was a large confectionary store and Ice Cream Parlor on the corner of 16th Street and Guerrero(?) called Zeissí. They sold wonderful looking candies, cookies and cakes of all kinds. They had an ice cream soda bar with a brass rail and tall seats, and brown wooden panels on the walls. Zeissí had been there when my mother was a girl, and she remembered going for friendsí birthday parties and special occasions.

We used to go to a meat market on (?) St., about a block from Mission, where there were barrels of pigís feet and barrels of pickles. Plucked and drawn chickens were hanging on a rack behind the counter, ready to buy with their heads and feet still attached. Mother would have the butcher take the head and feet off, but she would keep the neck and feet for making chicken broth. They had lots of sausages also. My mother loved lantjaeger, a dried Swiss style sausage, and sometimes she would buy one for a treat. She would cut it into tiny slices, which we would chew on for a long time because it was so dry.

Not far from the meat market was a bakery where we would occasionally shop. Sometimes we would get cookies, or a beehive cake for dessert, or one of their wonderful meat pies for dinner. On 16th Street there was a stationery store called the Bell Bazaar. I loved to go there and see all the bins of erasers, and pencils and pens and boxes of crayons. My mother once bought me a pencil box there, and the plaid book bag I carried to school (with my lunch inside).

Occasionally we would go downtown on the streetcar. We would get all dressed up in our Sunday clothes for that trip. We went usually on the Mission Street line, and would get off and walk up to the Emporium through the back way. It was always a treat at Christmastime to see the animated figures and displays in the front windows of the Emporium, and to go upstairs to talk to Santa. We would always receive a gift or a small game from Santa. And I think I remember a merry-go-round on the roof.

Later, after my baby brother was born, mother would put him in the buggy, or in the Taylor Tot stroller when he was big enough, and he would come along on our shopping trips.

Some time in 1939 or 1940 the Golden State Co. Ltd. opened their ice cream factory on Guerrero Street. At their grand opening they gave away free ice cream to the neighbors who were invited to come by. I could never understand why we couldnít still get free ice cream there after that.

When I was old enough, I used to go out and play with the other kids in the neighborhood. Most of them lived on Ramona Street, around the corner from where we had moved to a flat on 15th St. I had a friend who lived in an apartment building on Ramona, which had an elevator inside. There was a cement courtyard in back and sometimes we played ball there or skipped rope or once in a while, roller-skated, until the residents complained. Or if there were enough kids out to play, we played "kitty-in-the-corner" in the outside front vestibule. This was a game with one person being "it" and the others standing in the corners. There needed to be five kids to play this game. The one left without a corner would have to be "it". When the game started, the way the first "it" was picked by using one of the street rhymes. Besides the familiar "One potato, two potato, three potato, fourÖ", we had a street rhyme which was peculiar to our neighborhood. My mother and her sister before her used it when they were children. It went "Eeny meany, dixie deeny, Ine swine bubble bine, Eighteen-hundred ninety-nine." And the person who came up "nine" was either "it" or was out while we did another round, until the last person was chosen. There was very little automobile traffic in those days, and hardly ever any cars parked along the curbs. It was fairly safe to run and play on the side streets.

In 1937 when the Golden Gate Bridge opened, our family took a ride across in our car the week after it opened. I remember this event because much was made of driving across the new bridge for the first time. (We always used to say we were going "by machine" when we took drives in the car. I do not know where that term came from, but many San Francisco people used it.)

I remember going to Oakland on the car ferry. Although the Bay Bridge had opened earlier, the ferries still ran for several years to serve commuters, and others who wanted to use that form of transportation. Mother had a friend, a woman she had met in the early 1930s while working as a childrenís cook for a wealthy family in San Francisco. Augusta worked as a childrenís Governess. By the late 1930s and early 1940s, Augusta was working as Governess for a doctorís family who lived either in Piedmont or the Berkeley Hills. She would come to visit occasionally on her Sundays off. We would all go along when father would drive her back home in the late afternoon. Sometimes we took the trip over on the Bay Bridge and back on the car ferry, or vice-versa.

When the Golden Gate International Exposition opened on Treasure Island in 1939, we visited a couple of times. We went again in 1940 when it was held over. I remember once we went with my motherís friends in their little car on the Ferry over to the Island, my brother and I riding in the rumble seat. I remember the crowds at the fair, and the many fountains, and all the lights at night, coloring the buildings and fountains in many colors. And I remember seeing all the "search lights" crossing in the sky. I recall seeing a big stage show which had real horses in it, which seemed to tell the story of the pioneers coming West, with cowboys and Indians and all. I no longer have any souvenirs of the fair, although for many years I had a little tin can bank the size of a small can of pineapple juice, which we got at the Dole Pavillion. I still remember how sweet the samples of pineapple juice tasted. I was sorry when the Fair closed and we could no longer go to Treasure Island.

In the summer of 1941 before WW II started, we moved to Marin County. So there ends my memories of living in San Francisco, until I went back there to school in the mid 1950ís. But thatís another story.

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