Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -

Streetwise - The Passage of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & T-I-M-E

by Frank Dunnigan
February 2012

Having turned into an actual adult in the waning days of the 1960s, I divide many events in my life into pre- and post- adulthood eras, with 1969-70 as the line of demarcation. Now that I have just advanced into a new decade of life, I feel that there has been more transition going on recently than in those years leading up to my birth. Here are a few of the changes that come to mind:

Today’s 18-year-olds, born in 1993-94, will soon be off to college and on their own. In their minds:

  • There’s always been Saturday Night Live.
  • Most U.S. Presidents have been named Bush or Clinton.
  • Fur was last worn by their great-grandmothers half a century ago.
  • Gilda Radner, Lawrence Welk, and Sammy Davis, Jr. have always been dead.
  • Coffee has always cost at least $2 per cup.
  • Only really old guys have mustaches or beards.

It’s been a long, loooong time since someone like my suited, hatted, furred, and gloved grandmother took me firmly by the hand and pointed out the enormous stained glass dome of the old Hibernia Bank at #1 Jones Street after she finished “conducting business” at one of the teller windows. The guard, in his olive green military uniform, with a silver starred badge, nodded politely to us and held the heavy entrance door open for us as we left.


Irving Street between 19th and 20th Avenues, 1946. Kieser's, Rightway Market, and Brooks Stationery. - Courtesy of Ellen Kieser.

In my mind’s eye (and absolutely nowhere else):

  • A nice place for breakfast is Kieser’s on Irving Street, with a jar of homemade strawberry jam and a metal pitcher of fresh cream right there on each table.
  • A nice place for lunch is Blum’s in Stonestown, with their Coffee Crunch Cake for dessert (or Zim’s counter at 19th & Taraval if we happen to be in a hurry).
  • A nice place for dinner is Luzern on Noriega Street, with the cup of leek soup, a salad of butter lettuce, and dessert included with every meal. Parking is no problem.

Ours was the last generation of high school students that could return home at 9:15 p.m. on a school night and respond to the standard parental inquiry of “Where have you been?” with an innocent, “Studying at the Parkside Library”.

Math question: I have $1 in my pocket, and it is 1969. I can buy:

A) A gallon of gasoline at Gene’s Richfield on Vicente.
B) A parking space for 15 minutes on West Portal.
C) A small greeting card at Courting’s.
D) A first-class postage stamp.
E) A copy of the San Francisco Chronicle.
F) A MUNI ride (with one punch of student car ticket).
G) A Coke at Walgreen’s lunch counter in Stonestown.
H) A piece of Bazooka bubblegum at Vicente Variety.
I) All of the above.

Answer: ALL OF THE ABOVE! The details: A-32 cents, B-3 cents, C-15 cents + 1 cent sales tax, D-8 cents, E-10 cents, F-5 cents, G-25 cents, including generous 5-cent tip, and H-1 cent.


Richfield Station on the southeast corner of 23rd Avenue and Vicente, 1951 - San Francisco Assessor's Department

No 18-year-old today has ever had to “drop the film off” or “wait for the prints to come back”—much less drive through a place like the old Fotomat (then considered cutting-edge modern) out there at 46th & Noriega.

Families today never experience the periodic sensation of “pot-luck” when Mom decides to defrost the refrigerator, and serve various little bits of leftovers as dinner.

Catholics have not observed “fish on Fridays” since 1966.

From about 1968-72, A&W on Lake Merced Boulevard in Daly City, opposite Joe’s of Westlake, was Friday Night Central for most high school kids from the Outside Lands. Crowds were so large that the management had to hire rent-a-cops to control and direct traffic. It was the perfect place to show off your hot car, to take a first date, or to meet someone new if your own date turned out not-so-well. Music blared, root beer flowed, and a grand time was had by all. I recently drove past there on a foggy Friday night, and there were only a few families chomping down hamburgers in a parking lot filled with some non-descript Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys. Where do high school kids go now?

Outside Lands contributor Paul Judge rightly stated that members of his 1968 graduating class from Washington were among the very last that could have gone to work that summer, bypassed college, and still have become financially successful adults, homeowners, and parents.

The eternal urban-legend threat to teen-age drivers—“I hear they’re gonna raise the age limit to 18 next year”—has been perpetrated by California’s adult population on the young for more than 50 years. I heard it as a sophomore at S.I. in 1967, and history teacher Bob Drucker, told us then that he had heard it as an S.I. sophomore back in 1956 when he was still living at home on 24th Avenue near Noriega.

There are no long lines at every bank on Friday afternoons anymore, now that there are electronic deposits and ATMs.

Today’s teens can no longer select clothes at Bruce Bary in Stonestown, and tell the dapper older salesman, Bill Dorsey, “Charge it”—with neither ID nor credit card.

The Reis Brothers at 18th & Taraval are no longer around to “put that prescription on your account” and have their teen messenger drop it off at your house in an hour.

Fresh glass bottles of milk and coffee cream no longer appear magically at front doors first thing in the mornings.

The demise of the library card catalog is now complete, with the new Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library having used the old cards to laminate walls in the glass-enclosed study cubicles on several of the floors.

The yellow-paneled Colonial Bread van, with the pull-out trays in the back, has been gone from the streets of the Sunset District for 50 years now. The familiar vehicle sold donuts, pastries, fresh eggs, loaves of bread, bottles of orange juice, plus ground coffee and coffee creamer, and other essential breakfast items up and down the streets of the Sunset every morning from the end of World War II until 1961.

My grandmother, who lived on 21st Avenue near Rivera, was probably the last local customer of the ice companies, since she resisted buying an electric refrigerator until 1955 when she sadly admitted, “I have to wait at home all day for the ice man now—he just doesn’t get to this neighborhood much anymore.” I remember the card she used to put in the front window to signify that she needed a block delivered for the built-in wooden ice box next to the kitchen sink.

Generations of San Francisco high school kids have never experienced the thrill of piling into someone’s car (or trunk) for a night at the drive-in movies. The last nearby location, the Geneva Drive-In, just across the border in San Mateo County, has been gone since 1998.

No one gets “dressed up” to go downtown for a movie anymore since the demise of so many theaters—the Fox, gone in February of 1963, the Orpheum’s spectacular Cinerama in December of 1963, and the Paramount in 1965, were just a few. There was also the United Artists’ where West Side Story and Lawrence of Arabia ran for nearly a full year each in 1962-63, followed by The Sound of Music in 1965-66 for a 92-week run. The last big house to go dark was the Golden Gate in 1976, after such blockbusters as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Fiddler on the Roof, and Man of La Mancha.

There was never a need for NO PARKING—STREET CLEANING signs before the 1970s, since most blocks in the Sunset District had no vehicles at all parked outdoors during the late night and early morning hours AND since the residents kept their own streets and sidewalks clean.

Before the late 1950s, construction sites did not have flashing yellow lights powered by batteries and yellow caution tape. There were only wooden sawhorses painted white, with round black metal canisters filled with kerosene, which burned a large flickering flame. I still remember these at the construction site of St. Cecilia’s Church, circa 1955.

It’s been long time since I’ve seen an outdoor store sign reading “TV/Radio Repair.” Almost unbelievably, though, there are still at least two places in San Francisco to get a typewriter repaired—both in the Richmond District.

I haven’t been to Café Riggio or Le Cyrano, located near Herman’s Delicatessen on Geary, or El Sombrero farther out near Wirth Brothers’ Bakery in quite a while now, and I must remember to stop by all of them real soon (gone, gone, all of them gone).

St. Ignatius High School used to be an exclusively male outpost of the Irish-Israeli-Italian Society. Now, more than 40% of the students self-identify as a race other than Caucasian, the school has been 50-50 co-ed for nearly a quarter of a century, with almost half the students living outside San Francisco. For a brief time in the 2010-11 school year, S.I. actually had a slight female majority, though the current enrollment is 731 males and 720 females.

Our leisure time has changed since 1955 when there were more than a dozen bowling alleys in San Francisco, including Baghdad Bowl at 26th & Noriega and a couple of other spots in the Richmond District. Now there are two—one at Moscone Center and the other inside Presidio National Park (with a Web site announcement crying out from a bright red background “STILL OPEN”).

It’s nice to know that I’ve lived long enough to see Lincoln and Lowell as academic rivals among San Francisco high schools once again.


Frank Dunnigan, Paul Rosenberg and Paul Judge at Joe's of Westlake - Courtesy of Frank Dunnigan.

Bicycles represent adult rather than child transportation, with most schools having “drive-through for drop-off and pick-up.” Today, only the colleges—San Francisco State, City College, University of San Francisco—have bike parking facilities.

Perky young Dianne Feinstein, who challenged old Joe Alioto in the 1971 Mayor’s race, will be—gasp!—80 years old next year!

Throughout the years, food has been an important element in our lives:

  • When I was in grammar school, old folks like my grandparents went to the convenient Gold Mirror on Taraval or to Joe’s of Westlake, reminisced for a bit, and took home doggie bags.

  • During my S.I. days on Stanyan Street, 1966-69, we found after-school sustenance at Doggie Diner-Geary & Arguello or nearby Mel’s Drive-In. By senior year on 37th Avenue in 1969-70, we discovered Herb’s Deli on Taraval and Polly Ann Ice Cream on Noriega.

  • When I was at USF in the 1970s (for a span of years longer than I care to recall), the places to hang were The Front Room on Clement Street and the Cliff House, both of which had rotating 50-cents-a-pitcher beer nights.

  • By the later 1970s, no self-respecting baby boomer ate anywhere in the Outside Lands, except possibly with a date at the refined—table clothed—setting of Red Chimney in Stonestown or Yet Wah on Clement Street. Portofino Café and Ghirardelli Wine Cellar, plus Coffee Cantata and The Deli on Union Street were the happening places where everyone under 30 went.

  • In my Financial District working days in the 1980s, The Stagecoach, on the lower level of the Wells Fargo Building at Market & Montgomery, was THE place to be after work, with a massive spread of hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, all free with the purchase of a 75-cent drink. Gino’s, that tiny place in the alley—Spring Street between California & Sacramento—was the best dinner spot from the 1970s until the 1990s.

  • By my 40s, Café for All Seasons, Beach Chalet, and Louis’ were all favored dining spots among family and friends.

  • Lately, the Gold Mirror on Taraval and Joe’s of Westlake seem to be great places for eating and talking to others—convenient and they provide customers with take-home leftovers in doggie bags.


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