Streetwise - San Francisco A-B-Cs—Part #2


More by Frank Dunnigan

Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -

Streetwise - San Francisco A-B-Cs—Part #2

by Frank Dunnigan
May 2012

Finishing up what we started last month, here are some additional things that everyone in the neighborhood used to do a certain way when we were growing up—unless they did them the OTHER popular way…

Meals—In our neighborhood, the evening meal was universally called “dinner” and I don’t think that I ever heard anyone call it “supper” until I went off to college and met some classmates from Omaha who spoke an alternate version of English.

Milk—Borden’s delivered milk to virtually every child-occupied house on our block in the 1950s. Sun Valley Dairy, with a number of stores, also had a delivery truck, though we seldom saw it on 18th Avenue. Sun Valley, though, had a popular retail outlet on inner Irving Street—anybody for kosher salami and strawberry milk?

Morning Television—Along with millions of others in our generation, our first introduction to the world of electronics was jumping out bed, racing to the living room in PJs, and turning on the TV set. Along with those bowls of cereal and the ever-present cartoons, the favored morning program for preschoolers was invariably Captain Kangaroo—I just listened to the program’s theme song on YouTube, and now, I cannot get the melody out of my head!

Music—Older people generally called it a phonograph or a record player, while most of us called it a hi-fi in the early 1960s or a stereo after that. Regardless of what it was called, when it was being used by anyone from 13-19 years old, the standard phrase heard resounding across the entire neighborhood was: “I SAID TURN THAT THING DOWN.”

Newspapers—Like politics, this was also a clear divide. Prior to 1965, Democrats took the Examiner as the morning newspaper, while Republicans took the Chronicle. Monsignor Collins of St. Cecilia’s, trying to play both sides of the political as well as the ecclesiastical aisle, made it a point to subscribe to both. Some older folks bought the Sunday paper on Saturday night, though they were considered “odd” for doing so.

News Programs—It was either Huntley & Brinkley on NBC or Walter Cronkite on CBS, and most of our neighborhood was pretty evenly divided, though Uncle Walter scored big points after his live-time report on the death of JFK in 1963.

Outside Lands—Where else?

Painting—Face it, some dads were painters and some just weren’t. It was an even divide about which ones would be on a ladder during their vacations, and which ones would not, My own dad split the difference by doing most of the inside painting himself, but hiring his old S.I. classmates, the Meyerkamp Brothers to do the outside. Until the mid-1960s, virtually every house on our block was painted white—reinforcing that old nickname for the Sunset, “the white cliffs of Doelger.”

Passover—Springtime religious holiday for Jewish families that often coincides with Easter. Many Jewish Moms would send their Christian neighbors all the leavened products in the house in order to adhere to the dietary laws regarding the holiday. Those Christian Moms, in turn, would return the favor by sending their Jewish neighbors vast quantities of chocolate bunnies and jelly beans that were proliferating in their homes following Easter.

Pasta—In the 1950s, it was generally called macaroni or spaghetti (unless you were Italian and had an elderly Nonie who made ravioli or gnocchi by hand). In our house, spaghetti often came from a can labeled Franco-American and ravioli from the Florence Delicatessen on Irving near 21st Avenue.

Pets—Dogs easily won out over cats when there were kids in the household. Some Moms objected to both, however, and then the choices were then limited to either parakeets or goldfish—both readily replaceable at the Woolworth store on West Portal in case of sudden death.

Mount Davidson Market, DeLucchi Brothers, West Portal Avenue at Vicente, 1952. - Courtesy of Paul Barbagelata

Pharmacies—Before Safeway, Walgreens, WalMart and mail order, most of us had a favored drug store within walking distance, generally family owned & operated. The Reis Brothers operated at 18th & Taraval for years, and a few blocks away at 21st Avenue, Mrs. Corsiglia ran Overland Pharmacy after her husband’s death, eventually bringing in Richard Barberian as a partner. Gray’s Drug was at 33rd & Taraval and Seabreeze Pharmacy was farther out at 46th Avenue. Dave’s A-1 operated in a couple of different spots around 24th & Noriega before Dave retired, and there was also Conlon’s a few blocks away at 32nd Avenue (now Ace). Bowerman’s on Ocean Avenue, Carella’s Pharmacy and Roth Drug (both on Irving, between 21st and 22nd Avenues), plus Siskin’s Thrift Drugs on West Portal and Wakelee’s on Clement Street were just a few of the many others. Many of these stores had a teenage driver behind the wheel of a classic 1950s VW Bug to handle the FREE local deliveries in an hour or less.

Phones—Most houses had one phone, black in color, and located in an alcove in the hallway, though large families, with a Mom who was constantly in the garage doing laundry, might be lucky enough to have a 2nd phone nearby to avoid those mad dashes up the stairs when it started ringing. One of the best inventions in the 1960s was the extra-long phone cord so that teenagers could pull the telephone into a bedroom and close the door for some measure of privacy. The standard parental exclamation to any teenager on the phone was: “I SAID FIVE MORE MINUTES.”


Backyard of 1682 22nd Avenue, 1954. - Courtesy of John Paul Sant.

Photography—Snapshots were the standard method of recording events for families with children, while older childless folks always seemed to favor slides. Until 1965 or so, it was the rare family that splurged on color snapshots for any event other than Christmas or Easter. Day-to-day snapshots of kids, pets, and vacations were always black & white until then. Movie cameras became popular after 1960, and you could always see adults sitting on a bench trying to load the Kodak film correctly.

Pizza—It was always Pirro’s on Taraval vs. Pasquale’s on Irving (Round Table on West Portal was a late arrival), unless you went all the way to Daly City for Toto’s. The Maison Gourmet in Stonestown Market introduced an innovative concept in the early 1960s—“Pizza Puppies”—a slice of cheese pizza wrapped around a hot dog and secured with a toothpick, for the price of 29 cents.

Politics—Our neighborhood was a veritable split down the middle for Democrats and Republicans—sometimes within the same household, which must have made for some very interesting dinner table discussions at election time.

QFI—Until the early 1950s when many Moms did not drive, Pine Lake Market on Vicente, Rite-Spot on Taraval, or Daylite, Safeway, and Mount Davidson Markets on West Portal were the grocers of choice. As more Moms began driving in the late 1950s (enrollment of the family’s youngest child in Kindergarten seems to have been the usual motivating factor), Quality Foods, Inc., also known as QFI, in Stonestown, with its excellent selection of meat and produce, became the favored place to shop (later replaced by Petrini’s). Safeway still operated relatively small stores, such as the one on West Portal near 14th Avenue until opening one of their first “big stores” at 30th & Noriega in the early 1960s (replaced by an even bigger one circa 1984).

Rain—Something it did regularly from about November through April, without any dramatic evening news stories called STORM WATCH. It was rain, folks, and we had about 20 inches of it every single year, more or less, without fail. Rain was not newsworthy until the 1990s and beyond.

Religion—Living just ½ block from St. Cecilia’s skewed our neighborhood’s religious practices heavily toward membership there. Among our Jewish friends, there was usually a tendency to remain loyal to each family’s traditional synagogue (often located in the Western Addition), vs. joining one of the newer congregations such as Ner Tamid on Quintara or Judea (now Beth Israel-Judea) on Brotherhood Way.

Salads—In many households, the standard was a wedge of iceberg lettuce, drizzled with iridescent orange French dressing from a bottle. As alternatives, potato salad and Jell-O salad made regular appearances on many dinner tables.


"The Styleocrat," a Doelger home built in 1941 at 3430 Moraga Street. - San Francisco Examiner

Security Gates—In the 1960s, there were heated discussions about whether or not iron security gates were somehow “inhospitable.” It generally took only one burglary on any given block for everyone to agree that security gates were essential.

Smoking—Virtually all of the Dads smoked in the 1950s, along with some of the Moms. In retrospect, our smoking Dads all seem to have died in their 50s and 60s, while many of the non-smoking Moms were still going strong in their late 80s. For most of us, it was a lesson learned.

Stoves—Most kitchens had gas stoves in the 1950s, though in the 1960s, there was a push for the “AEK”—all-electric kitchen—as the must-have convenience. Now the trend is reversing itself as many people opt for a kitchen remodel that includes a restaurant-style gas range.

Sunday Evenings—Most families were evenly split over Bonanza on Channel 4 vs. Ed Sullivan on Channel 5 at 8 p.m., though everyone seemed to watch Candid Camera and What’s My Line on CBS beginning at 10 p.m.

Teen-agers—By the 1960s, most houses in the Sunset had a few of them. The gasping sound heard in the background always came from parents who just received a bill for their new auto insurance premium after adding a teen driver to the policy.

Typewriters—Every family had one, and the type style choices were Pica and Elite. As kids entered high school and began typing term papers and other homework, Pica was preferred because its slightly larger size managed to fill up a page more quickly. Among Moms who re-joined the workforce in the 1960s or 1970s, there was always heated discussion about standard vs. electric typewriters, and the pros and cons of each—oh, so long ago, so far away from where we are now!

Underwear—Although we shopped at the Emporium for virtually everything, many Moms were loyal to J.C. Penney for underwear for both the boys and the girls.

Vacations—Clear Lake vs. the Russian River were two of the most popular destinations, and it was a sure bet that you would find many of your classmates and neighbors vacationing in each place. Likewise, Marin Town & Country Club in Fairfax was a destination only 30 minutes from the fog. So much for “getting away.”

Vegetables—Again, Moms were ingrained with the knowledge that vegetables were good for growing children, but kids knew what they liked. I’ll always remember that in the 3rd Grade, Sister Michael Marion asked each of us what our family’s favorite vegetable was, and more than 80% of the class responded with POTATO (corn on the cob came in a distant 2nd).

Window Coverings—Most Sunset homes had Venetian blinds early on. Drapery panels might be added by each homeowner, but then the concept of draw drapes came into being by the late 1950s. Without exception, though, those who dumped the blinds in favor of draw drapes complained that now the neighbors always saw them looking out the front window, checking on things.

Worship—Catholics always attended Sunday morning Mass until a change in the rules in the 1970s allowed for the option of attending late on Saturday afternoons. The older crowd began to opt for Saturdays, while others still preferred Sunday mornings. Among our Jewish friends, Dads often attended Friday evening services, while Saturday mornings were a popular option for families.

Xavier—San Francisco’s 1909 Street Naming Commission originally favored this as an alphabetical street name between Wawona and Yorba, but rejected it because there was no agreement over the correct pronunciation—HAV-IER OR ZAVE-YER.

Yo-Yo—One of many crazes—in 1962, every boy in every schoolyard in the neighborhood (along with some of the girls) had a brightly colored plastic Duncan Yo-Yo (the usual price was $1), and we all managed to perform skillful tricks, including Walk the Dog, Cat’s in the Cradle, and Shoot the Moon, to name a few.

Zoo—The one, the only, Fleishhacker. Even though I worked with family member Delia for many years, I still do not understand how her family’s name came to be dropped from the place that her dad, Mortimer and her Uncle Herbert so generously donated to the community and which the family continued to support for decades.

Such are the A-B-Cs of growing up in San Francisco in the 1950s and 1960s…


Contribute your own stories about western neighborhoods places!

Page launched 1 May 2012.