Western Neighborhoods Project is dedicated to the history of San Francisco's Richmond, Sunset, OMI and West of Twin Peaks districts.   read more ...

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 518: Michael Durand

Nicole talks with the person keeping newspapers alive in the Outside Lands, Michael Durand, owner and editor of the Richmond Review and Sunset Beacon.
by Nicole Meldahl - Sep 30, 2023

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 518: Michael Durand Outside Lands Podcast Episode 518: Michael Durand

(above) Taraval near 21st Ave, 1990s

View north to Tennessee Grill.

Podcast Transcription

WNP518 – Michael Durand

Nicole: [00:00:00] It's Outside Lands San Francisco, podcast of Western Neighborhoods Project. Your weekly dose of friendly neighborhood history.

And hello, Outside Landers! I'm Nicole Meldahl, of course, and it's great to be with you again. I know, I'm sure someone has already said this somehow, some way before, but I always like to say, today's news is tomorrow's history. And I spent a lot of my research time digging around in digitized newspapers available through the San Francisco Public Library, as long as you have a library card. And neighborhood newspapers are particularly valuable to us because they cover hyper local issues. In fact, I see a lot of overlap between the work of community historians and community journalists. Particularly in the way the Richmond Review [00:01:00] and Sunset Beacon cover what's going on around here. And for this reason, and also because he's just a great guy, we asked editor Michael Durand to join us for this week's interview episode. So welcome to the pod, Michael.

Michael: Thank you very much, Nicole. I'm honored to be asked to be part of your podcast.

Nicole: I don't know that it's an honor, but it is a week. No, this is, this has seemed like a natural progression. We've known each other for a while now, right? A few years at least.

Michael: About four.

Nicole: Oh my gosh, has it, is it really four?

Michael: I've owned the papers for more than four and a half years.

Nicole: Oh my gosh, don't skip ahead. We're going to get to that in a minute, but you really are, I haven't met a single person who's like, gosh, darn that Michael Durand. Like you are a universally beloved figure on the West side here. So, I'm so excited to have you on the podcast.

Michael: Oh, and I’m blushing. So thank you.

Nicole: No one can see it. It's okay. So, we're just [00:02:00] gonna dive right in and I want to know, Michael, who is Michael Durand? What's your background? What brought you to San Francisco?

Michael: My background is I'm the weirdest person you ever met. I don't do things by the rules. I grew up on Long Island in New York. I got rid of my accent while I was living on Long Island in New York. I was an English major. I thought I was going to be an English teacher. And when I was a senior in college, I decided I don't want to be in a classroom my entire life. So, I literally graduated myself. I stood up in the middle of a class and I go, you're done. You're good. I never went back. And, and right about that time, my mother, who was alone in her house, my sister was out, my brother was out, my father had passed away, she decided she wanted to move to San Diego. So, I moved with her. I lived there for a year, 1977-78. And then I came to visit a friend in San Francisco and just fell in love with the [00:03:00] city and moved here in 1978.

Nicole: This must be why we get along. We have a lot of weird overlapping geographical history.

Michael: That's true.

Nicole: So, you're here in San Francisco in 1978. And what did you do when you got here?

Michael: Well, since I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up, I was working temp jobs, which I talked to someone younger than I amm and they said they don't really have those anymore. That's how old I am.

Nicole: They're just called hustles. They’re just called street hustles.

Michael: So, I got all these temp jobs. I was doing, delivering mail and stuffing envelopes. I was, another occupation that no one does anymore. I was a receptionist. They don't have that anymore. And I loved it. I went to all these different businesses and ended up getting a temp job at a company that planned meetings, conventions, and special events. And I thought, I kind of like this, it’s like putting on a play, you know? So, I liked the fact that it was a set up the beginning, there was the show, and then there was a [00:04:00] wind down, and then you start something new. You had a different client, so you learn something new each time. So, I ended up getting a full-time job in the mail room and then became a junior meeting planner. So, I took on small events and then I became a meeting planner and took on larger events. Then I became a senior meeting planner and did big events with thousands of people. Then I became a supervisor of nine full-time meeting planners and ultimately owned my own business for about, I don't know, about 15 to 20 years as an event planner.

Nicole: Oh, running your own business is so easy in San Francisco.

Michael: Piece of cake. Oh, yeah. Yeah. No, it was I loved it. But then that client, I shouldn't name them, should I? They, they were no longer doing this one big meeting that I did for them on one-year contracts that they re-signed me 15 years in a row. So, I'm very [00:05:00] proud of that. And so, then I just like, okay, now what am I going to do? I ended up getting a job at Kaiser Permanente.

Nicole: Oh.

Michael: As a senior meeting planner, I'd worked for them for four years and I love that. I was doing grand opening events for the new medical centers and medical office buildings. I worked with the people who came up with the whole idea of Thrive.

Nicole: Oh yeah.

Michael: The marketing people. That was really fun. And that lasted four years because I don't like bosses. I like good bosses, but I just never seemed to get any. So, I left there and ended up, in between that I moved to Pasadena myself, I lived there for nine years. My mother was at the end of her life, so I helped take care of her toward the end. My sister and brother-in-law moved there about 35 years ago for business. So, I've been going back and forth to Pasadena for three and a half decades.

Nicole: Well, you know, I love Pasadena.

Michael: Me too.

Nicole: You know, I feel like the people who do best [00:06:00] at event planning and crafting experiences are just empathetic people people. Because your whole mindset is how do I make this experience great for, insert demographic, insert type. And I see parallels to that and how you approach your work at the Richmond Review and the Sunset Beacon.

Michael: Yeah. I, I love people. I'm fascinated by human beings, fascinated by how different everybody is, but how similar everybody is. And yeah, the interaction of human beings is, is a mystery. I still haven't figured it all out completely. But I just love the show. It's just a fantastic show. I'll tell you what, but real quickly, going back to my college years, I was an editor on my college newspaper. I was involved with student government. I've always been involved. I always wanted to be part of something. And I had one thing that stuck with me. It was Orientation Week when I was a senior, so it was the beginning of the school year, and I was [00:07:00] staffing the information booth. So, when parents would come in with their kids and go, “can you tell me where the H Quad is,” and helping them, for some reason, I got the greatest joy out of helping them. So, I discovered within me that helping people is something that I really truly organically love.

Nicole: I'm in the same boat. I staffed an exhibition for the California Historical Society about the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition and it was actually at the Palace of Fine Arts.

Michael: Beautiful.

Nicole: It was a lot of things that weren't great about that job, but, but like getting to explain to people the fair, the exposition, in a building from the fair was just so much fun, you know, like being able to make that connection for them and just chatting about where they were from. Cause like busloads of tourists would just dump out there. And then, yeah, it's so much fun getting to know people and helping them explore the city.

Michael: Yeah, I think you and I are both educators. And we like to teach, just to demystify the [00:08:00] world just a little one piece at a time. Because we all know how wonderful it is when we learn something new and when the world becomes a little less mysterious. So, I think, yeah, that's been a real driver for me.

Nicole: And so, let's talk about how you came to the Richmond Review and Sunset Beacon, because of course they existed before you.

Michael: They did indeed. Yeah, my friend Paul Kozakiewicz, he was the one who started the Richmond Review 35 years ago, so we just celebrated our 35th birthday, we can run for president now. So, I met him through mutual friends, that softball friends that I've known for 45 years. But I just met Paul, I don't know, about nine years ago, something like that. And we talked and he told me what he did and I said, oh, I used to be a journalist in college. I was a writer, I was a feature editor. I became the feature arts director. So, I was very involved. I did more of the more of. newspaper work than, then school work. So, but [00:09:00] I loved it. I learned so much. So, he ended up hiring me to help him do like the police blotter and the calendar of events. I wrote some stories. I've been a photographer for 50 years, so, I took some pictures. And then he would have me come over with him, just like we did today, I went over his house with a proof copy of the paper, and we go over the paper copy and make all these edits, no matter how hard you try, there are always mistakes, and it just bugs me. I just, I can't wait until Paul just puts his pen down and says, no, I'm done. So, I worked with him for a while doing that editing, and then it's one point he, he said, you know, I think I'm going to retire and sell the papers. And I said, well, how much do you want for them? So, he threw out some ridiculous number and I said, I'll take them. So that was, it's gotta be five years in January that I've owned the papers.

Nicole: And how have they stayed the same and what kind of changes have you made to them?

Michael: Well, [00:10:00] they say if it ain't broke, don't fix it. So I, it lasted 30 some odd years before I got there. And the Sunset Beacon started about 33 years ago. So they're, the thing that I do differently overall is pretty much the same, but the thing that I do differently is that Paul is very, has very strong opinions, and I am of the philosophy that my opinion doesn't matter anymore than anybody else's just because I own a newspaper. I shouldn't be telling people how I feel for a couple of reasons. One is who cares? Number two is that you can get the impression that it would skew how I approve stories or edited stories. So, for one example is the Upper Great Highway, whether I'm for or against it. If I came out for or against it, either way, half of the people would think I was crazy or are incorrect. And I'm, also I don't believe in astrology, but I mentioned that I'm a Libra once in a while and Libras have the balance. So, I honestly saw [00:11:00] clearly why some people wanted to close the Upper Great Highway. And I saw equally as clearly why people wanted to close it, to have cars drive on it as it's normally done. So I, I don't take a position. So that's the one thing that I think I've changed more than anything else.

Nicole: Yeah, we're the same way at WNP. And I think we're aligned as empaths again is, we got, we got the same questions. Basically, people wanted us to come out for or against, and we just kept saying, no, the purpose of history is just to provide information and context, and the minute we start spouting opinions or, you know, coming down on one side or the other, the minute the other side stops listening to us and that's not what we want. You want to be the safe space, the mediator of conversations, not the arbiter of opinions. And that's kind of tricky for us sometimes, not to get on my soapbox here, but when you talk about historic preservation and things like that, you know, there's a lot of advocacy and politics involved in that.

Michael: Right.

Nicole: Stay the heck away from [00:12:00] that.

Michael: Yeah, right. I'm with you.

Nicole: What have been, you do such a great job, you know, like, if I'm somebody who's wondering how I can get involved or have been thinking, oh, I love journalism and would love to start, you know, is there a space for people like me on, in your newspaper?

Michael: I have this philosophy of saying yes as often as possible. So, if someone says to me, can I shoot you in the chest? I'll say no to that. But otherwise…

Nicole: Good rule!

Michael: I do have a bar.

Nicole: Yeah. Important to have boundaries.

Michael: I do have my boundaries. But no, I love giving people opportunities. I have some writers who are boundaries. Older and some who are younger. Some who are better than others, some of who are just eager to learn and to write. So I love, love, love and this is where the teacher comes back out again, I love when young people get involved. I, just the other day, I was on the phone with one of our writers and I went through line by [00:13:00] line through her story. So, okay, you want to move this piece over here. You want to, you just use the same word twice in one sentence. You want to come up with another word. You want to put a period, then a quotation mark, and all those little things. And it is like, and one of my writers said, this is like a college class. It was like, in one hour, we went through everything. So, I, the long-winded answer to your question is I welcome everyone or anyone who wants to get involved in the paper in any dimension.

Nicole: And that's, I mean, you know, we've always been happy to give it, well, before my time, before I took over at WNP, we charged the Richmond Review to use photos.

Michael: You did.

Nicole: From our collection. And this is probably why I'm a terrible nonprofit administrator. But I was like, I don't know, man, I'm into this guy's vibe. I appreciate what he does for the community and all that he gives back. And, you know, what's it to us, these old photos.

Michael: Well, I'll tell you what is, I appreciate that. And I, it was like [00:14:00] more work to try to figure out an invoice and…

Nicole: You know.

Michael: Cost you $100 of your time to send a $50 invoice.

Nicole: Always. But…

Michael: No, I have to tell you what. If we used to just do one photo of from the Western Neighborhoods Project, the Outside Lands, the terrific collection of pictures from the Western Neighborhoods, so we used to just put one photo there with a caption that you guys generated. And I was just working on a paper, I don't know how many, year and a half ago and it was a photo of the Parkside Library being built. So, and then after I put it in there and put the caption in, I said, Oh, it's time for lunch. So, I'm walking up Taraval to go to the Tennessee Grill, you know, the Tennessee Grill?

Nicole: Oh, yeah.

Michael: Yeah. Go there for lunch. And as I'm walking, I'm saying, wait, this is the exact same angle that photo was taken. So, I took a picture, put them side by side, and I created Then and Now. I'm not the first person to use that title. [00:15:00] And that's become really popular. And, for your pleasure, I am telling you that people come up to me and say they cut out that section and save it.

Nicole: Oh my gosh. That makes me so happy.

Michael: Yeah, that's what I thought. You'd be happy. It's really cool. It's really cool. I think everybody has some degree of love for history. None as much as you, but at least some.

Nicole: Well, there's plenty as much as me. That's so great. The last column I can remember cutting out when I got, when I could afford a subscription to the Chronicle was Paul Madonna's All Over Coffee. I still have those taped up around my house. It's the cheapest art you can buy.

Michael: I was going to say, when I could still afford a pair of scissors, but I thought, oh, that's...

Nicole: Well, yeah, that's kind of a dying art. I mean, my mother and my grandmother used to cut out newspaper clippings that reminded them of me and mail them to me. It was like, you know, a big part of my growing up. But I feel like that's falling by the, I guess we just [00:16:00] DM memes and like things to each other now.

Michael: I don't dislike how things are now, but I do miss the old days. But when I talk to younger people and explain to them that you'd have to write a letter longhand with cursive and then put it in an envelope, lick the envelope, lick a stamp, and put it in the mail and you wouldn't know for a week whether or not somebody got it. It's amazing.

Nicole: You know, in terms of getting community feedback, as agents of the press, maybe it would be a little bit better if people had to go through all the trouble to mail in their comments. Maybe they would think twice about some stuff.

Michael: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I just had somebody comment on our website. We have commentaries and stories. Everything's on our website and she had a change of mind. So, she emailed me SOS, please take down that comment. Okay. Yeah. Can I talk for a quick second about the website?

Nicole: Please.

Michael: So that was pretty new when I started working with Paul about six [00:17:00] years ago, and I put a lot of time and effort into it to make it better, because I see the benefit of it. So, we take all of the stories that go into the Richmond Review and all the stories that go into the Sunset Beacon, and we combine them. Plus, we have people who want commentaries that they won't fit in the paper. So, they go online. We've got a lot of letters to the editor that go there and pictures and events that I do. So, there's a lot on the website that doesn't make it into the paper too. So. And that started out, we were getting 4, 000 views a month when I took it over and now we're about 20,000 views per month. So, I'm very happy about that.

Nicole: That’s impressive, Michael. Congratulations.

Michael: Thank you. Yeah. And there's a little space for ads. So, we do that. Sell some ads there, but yeah, so that got that going for me.

Nicole: You've always been so generous with space online for WNP, and when I took over, I mean, I don't think it's any secret that I had literally no idea what I was doing. [00:18:00] And I'm still learning, definitely. Sorry, everybody. But you were the one I was like, I guess I should start sending press releases out. And you were the one I was like, “hi, Michael, does this look like a press release?” You were like yep, yep, it's looking great.

Michael: Close enough.

Nicole: Close enough.

Michael: Speaking of which, we just shared information about your Shipwreck Week, which I encourage all of your listeners to look into that, because that sounds like a really cool week, talking about shipwrecks and fun things. You always do really fun stuff, and incidentally, you seem to go out to bars a lot, which I think is cool. Which is really fun. That really brings history alive when you have a little bit of a hot toddy, I guess. But anyway, no, so yeah, we're so happy to share what you're doing, because I believe you're doing really, really terrific work.

Nicole: Thank you, Mike. Well, I mean, same. And you know, it's the fun part of my job is getting to know people. And it also feels weird saying it's part of my job, but, you know, [00:19:00] I think it's really important for community historians to just talk to people in the neighborhood, get to know them. Not necessarily from a mercenary perspective where you're like, I am networking and maybe this person will be valuable to me in the future. But just to like, get to know folks and you never know when there's an opportunity in the future that it makes sense to work with them. And that was true for us. I mean, you were one of the first people, when I started working this job, you like took me out for pizza or I forget what, but…

Michael: Yeah. Yeah.

Nicole: But I was, it was so kind and it felt so nice, you know, that this journalist, this person in charge of a really critical voice for the neighborhood took the time to get to know me, just a little nonprofit person. So, I've always really appreciated you for that.

Michael: Oh, you're very welcome. It was truly my pleasure. No, when you think about it, history is unfolding at this very moment. So, we are living history and then things float into the past and then it becomes the history people recognize it back there, but we're living [00:20:00] history right this minute. Everything that's going on is going into the record book. So, yeah. And I just, I think it's really important. I'm not religious, but I think it's so important to be as kind as you can to every single person. I, you know, I'm not always perfect, but I try, I try being kind to people.

Nicole: None of us are. I'm definitely not perfect, but you are one of the most human humans I've met. You're very open and honest and accessible. And I think that's what makes you a great editor and a journalist. You definitely have a nose for a story, Michael.

Michael: Thank you. Yeah, it's really fun. It's really fun. I do have an interest in learning. So, new things really interest me and especially like words that I didn't know what they meant, like, like, like chaps. Did I tell you about chaps?

Nicole: No.

Michael: You know what I'm talking about when I say chaps.

Nicole: Oh, of course. I’ve worn them. To ride horses, I have worn them to ride horses.

Michael: There you go. Well, the story I heard and that's I always preface like this is not the truth. This is a story I [00:21:00] heard is that they the cowboys put them over their jeans to, so they would prevent their, the cloth being ripped by chaparral.

Nicole: Oh, maybe. I don't, I've actually never thought about the etymology of the word.

Michael: Right? Chaps. The other one is, the other one is jalopy. You know what the word jalopy means?

Nicole: Yeah, I do, but what’s that?

Michael: It's like a beat up old car.

Nicole: Yeah.

Michael: So that derives, someone told me, from a New Orleans, so the longshoremen, they would ship these old crappy cars to Mexico and it was a town called Jalapa. Same like the jalapeno peppers and they couldn't spell it. So, they just wrote jalopy all over the place. So, it has come to mean, and that's an old word, but it has come to mean a piece of junk car.

Nicole: It's kind of a tangent, but I've been seeing on the internet, this recurring meme where it says, remember when, you know, I'm of the era where like an older person would tell you something and you [00:22:00] would just be like, well, that's a fact and you would never question it. And it would be how you understood a subject or a person or a place for the rest of your life before, before the Googles.

Michael: Yeah. Yeah. That's funny.

Nicole: Reminded me of. So, what's, in your time at both papers, what's been, what's your favorite story that you've gotten to share or work on or what are some of the favorite things you've put in the papers?

Michael: There, I have a lot of favorites, but the one that stands out to me was, I was at an event on Clement Street. I think it was the Autumn Moon Festival a couple of years ago. And we had a table with a tablecloth and some guy, I guess he was 80 or near 80, comes over and he was, had a, a point and shoot little Sony camera around his neck and I used to have a similar camera. So, I talked to him, I said, “Oh, I used to have a camera like that.” So, we started talking about photography and he said, “you know, I've got 12 photos in the Smithsonian.” I said, “really?” So, he [00:23:00] said, “yeah.” He went, it's a long story, but I'll try to cut it down. He went to the civil rights march that ended up in Montgomery, Alabama, and this is 1965 when he was in college. He was in the City College of New York, and he took all kinds of pictures, and one of the pictures he took became this iconic photo. He was in the crowd, and here's Dr. King speaking to the crowd. So, he decided he was going to go up on stage and get a picture from behind him and, to see the crowd, and that became the, like one of the most iconic pictures of Dr. King. And I'm astounded to this day that everybody recognizes Dr. King by the back of his head. Just blows me away.

Nicole: What was his name?

Michael: His name is Stephen Somerstein.

Nicole: Oh, my gosh.

Michael: Stephen Somerstein. So, I said, well, you must have had a really, oh, the story goes on. I won't, I have to leave some pieces out. Anyway, he gave that picture to Elton John, who asked for it, and they [00:24:00] put it in the Elton John AIDS Foundation auction. It was priced at $95,000. And the auction went up and up. It's sold for $225,000.

Nicole: Oh my gosh.

Michael: And he said, “Elton John, can I get two tickets to your Oscar party?” He said, “uh huh, yeah, you can.” So, I said to him, “well, you must have had a really fascinating photography career.” He goes, “oh no, I didn't have a photography career. After college, I went to Harvard.” And they studied physics and engineering and all that stuff. So right, like what? So, he says, “right now I have instruments on the James Webb Space Telescope.”

Nicole: What? Oh my god!

Michael: Come on! Yeah. And he said he worked on Hubble. Do you remember when the Hubble Space Telescope went into space and was blurry? Remember that story?

Nicole: Oh yeah. I'm really obsessed with space. So yeah.

Michael: So, he worked, he said he worked on that project and a friend of mine's father worked on that project. I said, “do you know Ray Bell?” He goes, “oh yeah.” And he always gets his phone out and there's my [00:25:00] friend's father's name. So anyway, the guy is amazing. And to this day, he can look back 60 years and tell you what the F-stop was on the camera, the picture he took. Amazing brain, really nice guy, invited us over to the house. I got to hold his Emmy that he won because they used his picture or whatever. Really cool guy. So that's gotta be one of my favorite stories.

Nicole: Oh my gosh, I'm gonna have to bug you for his contact information.

Michael: Oh, absolutely, just go to our website and just search Harvard. He's the only guy we've covered so far that went to Harvard. So, you'll find him right away. Stephen Somerstein, a really terrific guy. I really liked him a lot.

Nicole: That should be easy. What I want to know, I mean, because, you know, I love photography, so I'm interested to know what drew you to photography. Why have you taken photographs for 50 years?

Michael: Oh my god, I was in high school, back in the days of film, and a friend of mine had a single lens reflex camera and I just love the whole process of it. The clicking and the winding and all that stuff. So, I asked to borrow it. So, I borrowed [00:26:00] his camera. And then, the summer between high school and college, I went to New York City in Manhattan and I bought a single lens reflex. A Minolta SRT 101. $254, something like that. And that's 1970…

Nicole: It’s a lot of money.

Michael: Something, ‘73. and ended up taking pictures in my college and I got I was on the newspaper. I was on the yearbook. I got unlimited film back in the film days. I would develop my own film, unlimited paper and chemicals, took pictures. So anyway, I've been taking pictures forever. Then I got involved with video and I did video work for probably 25 years, editing and shooting and everything going on and up. So, yeah.

Nicole: There's, I mean, like, you know, you were kind enough to compliment my photography. “My photography” air quotes that podcast listeners can't see. I don't think of myself as a photographer. I just take photos. Because like true [00:27:00] photographers are all about the process, right? The mechanics of the camera and the developing the film. I don't do any of that. I'm just using my crappy old iPhone. And like…

Michael: It's just where you stop and where you look and where you take that picture. I think the place who went to a pizza was, it was a Pasquale, you know, Pasquale, or the one on Geary, and it's just the way you took this shot for, with the neon sign. It wasn't, yeah, it was great. And every time I see one of your pictures, I can almost, I can almost know it's yours. So, that's a sign of a good photographer, whether you want it to be or not.

Nicole: I do. I do like capturing what I see. Like, I don't know how else to describe it, right? I think every photographer is in the same boat. Like, I'm so fascinated with why people are compelled to take photos, because it's all, it's sometimes, it's always very profound, even if it's simple.

Michael: Yeah. Yeah.

Nicole: I just, it helps people connect to their worlds, you know?

Michael: Yeah, it's like, if you could have a picture of your memory, you literally are, you're taking a picture of what you remember at that [00:28:00] time.

Nicole: Yeah, so if you're an editor, you're an editor of to print newspapers, so I'm going to ask you, is it true that a picture can tell 1000 words?

Michael: No, 977.

Nicole: Well, yeah, I'm just that, you're straight from the source. So.

Michael: You got it and you can write that down.

Nicole: Yeah.

Michael: Oh, it's unbelievably powerful. Yeah. Unbelievably powerful. Not all of them are, but the example I gave with a picture of Dr. King behind his head like, holy mackerel, somebody paid $225,000 for that. That's more than a thousand words. That's 225,000. Holy mackerel. Yeah, it is. And I love a lot of my pictures that I take, I put in the paper, are taken on my phone. The phone's amazing now. To think of where we've come and try, always try to get people on the front page. And yeah, it tells a story for sure. And it's, then it's, [00:29:00] pardon the expression, it's part of history now and forever. And that newspaper, as long as that newspaper exists, that picture is going to be there. So yeah, it's powerful. And it tells the story years or decades down the line too.

Nicole: It's true. Yeah. So much of my research is in papers and I, you know, it's what we do at WNP. We've been very lucky people like you cover what we've been doing and it's so great. And sometimes, when I stop and think about how we're part of the record, you know, that people in the future, historians in the future will be looking through papers from the past and we're going to pop up. It's really a little overwhelming.

Michael: It is. Yeah, it is. I get it.

Nicole: I can't even imagine it being, working in nonprofits, you get kind of used to just being a public figure. Like, I can't even imagine how powerful it is when you spotlight just residents in the neighborhood, you know, and they get to be in the paper and they get to share that with their friends. It must be so incredible.

Michael: It's wonderful. That's one of my favorite things. I'll, [00:30:00] I did a story on an art gallery, it’s like a little hole in the wall art gallery. And it just like changed them. It changed them. One of the, I, do you know who John Musgrove is?

Nicole: Yeah, he's wonderful.

Michael: Oh, he's got the greatest painting. He's got a picture in the de Young open, which is like brilliant. So, I saw his stuff online and I asked the writer to cover it. She wrote a great story and he, I went over to see him afterward, and he shook my hand for like literally a minute. And he goes, you just completely changed my business.

Nicole: Awww.

Michael: I mean, that's, you can't believe it. It's so fantastic. And one after another, I've got all kinds of stories of people who, yeah, you change people's lives for the better. I mean, what's better than that?

Nicole: Yeah. I mean, we're not doctors, so we're not like, saving lives.

Michael: Well, that's true. Yeah. I didn't say save lives. I just said change lives. [00:31:00]

Nicole: But I mean, like, you know, cause it can be very stressful owning your own paper, owning, you know, running your own nonprofit. And one of the things Chelsea and I say to each other a lot is like, we don't matter. We're not important. Like nobody's going to die. But it is true, you do get this sense that like shining a light on folks, on people over the past, people of the present, like helping connect people with each other.

Michael: Yeah.

Nicole: There is something really powerful about what we do. And it's very humbling often.

Michael: It is, and I love it. I love it. And I tell you what, and I know this is true to you too, and all of my efforts come purely from my heart. I have no agenda to try to do anything. I just want to reflect what's happening in the community. So, I don't feel too much pressure, because I know I'm coming from a good place.

Nicole: Yeah, it's true. You wake up. It's a lot easier to sleep. I'm a terrible insomniac. But yeah, you sleep a lot better knowing that you really are coming at things as purely as possible.

Michael: Yeah. Yeah. And it's, we're never perfect, but we come [00:32:00] from a perfect place.

Nicole: And I think that's why you're so successful and why the papers are reaching more people and doing so well. Not that Paul wasn't fantastic too, but you can feel authenticity. It's always in the room with you. It's, it comes through in all the work that you do.

Michael: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Yeah Paul, Paul, I'm standing on his shoulders. There's no question about it. And he still has his fingerprints on every paper. He has such institutional knowledge that I rely on. But yeah, I couldn't, I can't give him too much credit. I mean, I mean, I can give him a lot more. I mean, I give him all the credit in the world, but I, and he set it up. He set up the groundwork for everything I'm doing. So, I'm very grateful to him.

Nicole: Oh, I feel the same way about David and Woody. Poor Woody. He still gets texts where I'm like, ah, how do I, where do I find this file? Or like, who's this person or things like that? And he's so gracious with his time with me.

Michael: Great guy. I like Woody a lot.

Nicole: Yeah. Well, we've, okay, so we've covered a [00:33:00] lot of ground tonight, today, tomorrow morning, whatever time people are listening to this podcast. Before we move into the next section where we ask you very hard-hitting questions…

Michael: Oh, go for it.

Nicole: Is there anything you want to say about the work that you do or the life that you've led that you think our listeners need to hear?

Michael: Right now, it, the way things are with newspapers, they're folding throughout the country, throughout the world, and I see a glimmer of hope in the fundraising that we're doing. It's called Patreon. Patreon is like GoFundMe where somebody can give you money. But this is once a month. So, $5 a month, $10. We have some people generously giving us $25 a month. I see that, basically, the only way this paper is going to survive, and I know you're looking for money, everybody's looking for money, but if people want this newspaper to survive past my life, then it would be really, really great if everybody could rally behind it. And, you know, I have this dream, like we're the only newspaper left in the world, it's a small newspaper. [00:34:00] But yeah that's an important thing right now. And I came up with a way for small businesses to get some inexpensive advertising with it. So, I'm excited about that. So, so yeah, but otherwise, no, I have nothing profound to add other than I really love, love, love San Francisco. And I find myself driving in the Sunset District or driving in the Richmond District, thinking to myself, I love this place. I really love it. Yeah.

Nicole: That's a great place to leave it before we enter our Barbara Walters section.

Michael: Go.

Nicole: Okay. Michael, the first hard-hitting question I'm going to ask you is, what is the best meal you've ever eaten in San Francisco?

Michael: Wow. The best meal. This is going back 40 years. May I do that?

Nicole: Yes, please.

Michael: And it's out of the Richmond and Sunset. It was in kind of Chinatown. There was a restaurant called Taj of India [00:35:00] and it was Indian food, which I never really had before. And you'd order like these little plates. It was all you can eat for, like, I think it was $20 back then. So, all you can eat, which was a lot of money. And they would bring like dishes out, all these to taste and anything you liked, you could order another one. And that was like, that really impressed me. And it was a food was fantastic. Really, really good. And the other one there was a bar on 2nd and Geary called Pat O’Shea's Mad Hatter. And it was, in those days, we called it an old man's bar, that's what we used to call those, and then it came up with this idea of putting televisions in the bar, so people could watch sports and then it revolutionized their business. All of a sudden, it's packed with young people. So much so that they moved the bar a block away to 3rd and Geary and triple the space. And they hired this woman to cook for them. So, I would go in there all the time for dinner. They cashed my checks. That's how I was back in [00:36:00] my drinking days. It was a dollar a pint for a Michelob, by the way, dollar a pint. And this woman, her name is Nancy Oakes. Have you heard of Nancy Oakes? She, I think she studied with Alice Waters. So, she was really good. So, she would make, I just remember, I would get rack of lamb with roasted potatoes and sautéed green beans for six dollars. That was like unbelievably good. Like, oh, and I, it wasn't like the best meal I've ever had, but it was the best, like, overall experience. To the point where she opened her own restaurant on the corner of 3rd and Geary on the north side, northeast side called a L’Avenue. And L’Avenue was so popular, her food was so good that after I was like a year, she moved downtown and it's a restaurant called Boulevard.

Nicole: Oh. Casual.

Michael: So, she said that she has a Richmond District roots. So, [00:37:00] those are the two things. Oh, the last one. Can I do one more?

Nicole: Yeah, keep it coming.

Michael: So, there was a restaurant on Geary, north side, around 5th, 6th, something like that. I think it's a garage now or something. But it was called Cafe Riggio, R-I-G-G-I-O.

Nicole: Oh yeah!

Michael: Oh my god, was that good. And they had a sauté, the prawns were like the size of your fist, delicious, and they would cook them in a brandy, butter. garlic sauce. I was like, oh my god! So, I ended up, I would go there on my birthday and have, that same day, and it tasted the same year after year and they closed. I'm like sobbed. I didn't really, I was so upset that they closed, but all right, that's enough. I could talk about food for the rest of my life.

Nicole: I know. I'm getting really hungry now. Didn’t eat before recording, that was a mistake. Okay, question number two. What is your favorite place in San Francisco? The one place you return to again and again.

Michael: The place where I want some of my ashes scattered. [00:38:00]

Nicole: Sure.

Michael: That's, the truth is the Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. I love it there. I love it there. And I've been through it, I've been walking through it and around it and in it for 45 years. I really have watched myself grow up there and it's hard to beat when you get a hot dog out in the front, bag of chips, and a Coke and you find it, and you're hungry, but I love it there. That's that would be my one place.

Nicole: Oh, gosh, we are the same person. That's a place I go to when I'm having a hard time when I go to either the Yellow Submarine or Irving Subs in the neighborhood.

Michael: Have you go to Lou’s yet?

Nicole: Oh gosh, we're going to Lou’s all the time from the office.

Michael: It's the greatest.

Nicole: Oh, man, we, we bought lunch there for two of our volunteers, John Martini and Paul Judge. And John was like, this is the best sandwich I’ve ever had.

Michael: Fantastic. Fantastic. There's one on this side of the park, too. There's one over on Taraval.

Nicole: I mean, no surprise. That place, yeah, their [00:39:00] sandwiches are so good.

Michael: I love it.

Nicole: Their salads are not great, but, you know, that's on you for ordering a salad at a sandwich shop. Sorry, Lou’s. Okay, number three. What is the one thing out of towners shouldn't miss? Like, where do you take people to visit when they're in town?

Michael: I love taking them down to Fort Point. The view of Golden Gate Bridge underneath is really, really special. And then from there, I usually take them up to the Marin Headlands. The view back to the city is breathtaking. And I've been doing it for four and a half decades and I still go, oh my god, this is unbelievable! Really is. Really is. So yeah, that would be that's the place.

Nicole: There’s something unique about the smell of the Marin Headlands. I don't know if it's all the wild sage or what going on out there, but it's so, it’s so perfect.

Michael: Yeah. I, yeah, no, you're right. It's that sage smell. It's just that it's warmer, when it's warm, it's like intoxicating. Yeah. I lived in Marin for five years. So, I still love that.

Nicole: I feel like I'm going to end up retiring there. There's just something about [00:40:00] who I am as a human being. It just feels like it's going to push across the Golden Gate Bridge at some point.

Michael: It's special. It's boring, but it's special.

Nicole: I know, but like, it's probably okay when I'm in my, well, however long I live.

Michael: Careful. Well into my 60s.

Nicole: No, I hope I'm still like raring to go with the nightlife of San Francisco in my 60s. We'll see. I'm in my late 30s and I'm already exhausted.

Michael: I'm in my late 60s and I'm still going strong. I'm loving it. You got to love life, man. I'll tell you, it keeps me going.

Nicole: You and one of our members, and now I'm lucky to call him a dear friend, Jim Jenkins. I have no idea if he listens to the podcast, but he has more energy than like most 20-year-olds. Like he's the one who's always like, yeah, man, let's go to a bar. Let's go see that concert. So, I respect you two so much for that. Yeah. Okay. Question number four, what's one San Francisco thing [00:41:00] that doesn't exist anymore that you would bring back if you could.

Michael: The, back in the day, back in my day, it was, it was affordable rent. The city was a lot more affordable. So, you had way more artists and painters and dancers and poets and writers, musicians all over the place. And people dressed weird. I was different, you know, the hippie day, but even the, like the hairstyles or I love that. And that made the city so colorful and it's almost gone. I know there are little pockets here and there, but boy, I love that. And there was one time I was in a backyard in the Haight and some guy over here across the way, across the fence, was on his porch playing guitar and I just go, “hey, you want to jam?” He goes, “sure.” I go over and I, he lets me in his house, a complete stranger. And it's like, you just don't see that as much anymore. Maybe you do and maybe I'm out of it. And the last thing I loved back in the day when you would get on a bus and people would read a book instead of looking at [00:42:00] their phone. And then you look at it and you say, “oh, I read that book. What do you think?” And then, all of a sudden you have a conversation. You can't do that with somebody on a phone. Hey I see you're looking at CNN, you know, it's different. So anyway, that's without trying to live in the past, that's what I would bring back. Affordable rent.

Nicole: Affordable rent would be great to come back. I will say that a lot of people do read books on, on the bus. I will, at least on the N-Judah. There's an Instagram account I follow called Hot Dudes Reading. And I see, and I, so I, maybe I'm just attuned to like looking for hot dudes reading on public transit, but I see a lot, I see a lot on the N-Judah. So, don't discount the reading of books on, on public transportation.

Michael: I promise. I usually don't look at hot dudes, but I get it.

Nicole: Touche. Yeah, maybe that's just a mean thing, but I do agree that that everyone's in their own space on public transportation. Like striking up conversations is hard. Okay, so last question. This one's the real zinger. [00:43:00] Why is history important?

Michael: Why is history important? It gives you a three-dimensional, four-dimensional view of life. Like if you just look at what's around you, you're seeing reality. But if you know about the history of things, it gives you a depth, a bigger depth. So, it's like looking at a flower and saying, “oh, that's pretty.” And that's it. When I look at a flower, I think the whole idea of pollination is like a miracle. And then the idea of seeds germinating, like, are you kidding me? This thing, it has, it sends out roots. How does it know this? And it grows and certain cells know they're going to be leaves and certain cells know they're going to be the stalk and the petals. Oh, it's absolutely, so, I see history is just doing the full color, multi-dimensional view of the life we're living now.

Nicole: Oh, my god. I love that answer. That's one of the best answers to that question we've had on this [00:44:00] podcast, Michael.

Michael: All right.

Nicole: Well, that concludes the Michael Durand portion of the podcast. I am now going to work my way through a lot of WNP business. You are welcome to stay, but I respect if you don't.

Michael: I’m going to stay.

Nicole: Yes. Thank you. It's weirder when I do this alone. Okay, here we go. It's time for listener mail. So, of course, devout podcast listeners already know that the way you reach us fastest usually is by sending us listener mail via email. That's podcasts@outsidelands.org. You can also send a snail mail to our office at 1617 Balboa in the Richmond district, but, but I really think email is the right call. You can also take advantage of our social media presence. We are on Instagram, Twitter, or what we are calling it now, which is X, I guess, and Facebook. You can post a podcast [00:45:00] comment there. Arnold is, and Drew, who run our, our other social media accounts besides Instagram, are really religious about posting the podcast. I'm hit or miss because I forget, because I don't work on the weekends in terms of being online, but we'll get there. Okay, I'm rambling now.

So, in fact, we did get a comment on the social media platform formerly called Twitter about the recent part one of our Clement Pub History Crawl. The Mineshaft Society posted, and I quote, “Nicole and Arnold, that was a fascinating and enthusiastic history about drinking on Clement Street in the Inner Richmond, of which I am a fan. Knowing the intimate background now makes it more interesting to go there. Your explanation about the theater groups particularly got my attention.” End quote. And, of course, that's about the Bitter End that used to be the Open Theater run by Jack Anderson. So, thank you so much.

And because we had to know, the Mineshaft Society is a [00:46:00] collaboration of scientific artists conducting pataphysics, which leads to the further question, what is pataphysics? Well, apparently, it's a branch of philosophy that deals with an imaginary realm in addition to metaphysics, which I have to say is very much up my alley. So, thank you so much for enlightening us on many, in many different ways and for giving us this feedback. That's really awesome to hear that we're having an impact.

And now, speaking of impact that you can have, I am going to tell you all about the benefits of membership and donating. So, of course, if you clickety, clickety, clack the big orange button in the upper right-hand corner of any page on either of our websites, outsidelands.org or OpenSFHistory.org, and you send us money, it will change our lives as nonprofit [00:47:00] employees. Even a small amount, $5 makes a difference. And if you donate $50 or more, you get a quarterly membership magazine, discounts on events, and other exclusive perks.

And, of course, that membership supports all the good work we do that we don't charge anybody for. We've got the OpenSFHistory archive, which is a treasure trove of historical photos that span all of San Francisco and you can download for free. We don't ask you what you're doing with it. That's none of our business. Your membership helps us keep scanning and keep identifying where these photos are. We've got the Cliff House Collection, which continues to grow. We told you last week that we've just picked up a gigantic sign that was on the side of someone's house in Aptos. And we got four sets of Sutro Baths windows, original windows from the Baths. So, you know, it's not easy to store these things or clean them or [00:48:00] keep them accessible. Your membership helps us do that. And then, of course, the podcast, right? You don't have to pay to listen to this. Well, actually, we should probably never charge you to make you listen to this, but we like making sure that your history doesn't cost you a dime and donating helps do that. So, thank you very much in advance. And thank you to all of you who are members. We appreciate you and it helps keep us going.

So now that we're through that, we can go on to announcements. Which actually we renamed and I've already forgotten. We renamed to What's Up with WNP, because these aren't so much announcements as they are things we're keeping track of or stuff that's happening at the office. And I actually reconsidered calling it this, cause I was like, who wants to know what I do with my weeks? But actually, you all are very interested in giving us good feedback on what's going on with WNP, [00:49:00] so thank you for that.

So, first of all, I have some sad news but hopefully news that turns around. Maybe you've already heard, but we were really sad to hear that our favorite Tiki bar, Trad’r Sam's, has closed at least temporarily because of what seems to be some complicated family dynamics. The Chronicle reported that a new lease has been signed. So this isn't a landlord issue, which everyone kind of automatically expects, but still, we're a little nervous. You know, we even have a podcast about this place. It's episode number 228, because I guess it's a bar on the West side and that's just what we do. But I thought maybe we could all collectively think good thoughts, pray to whatever higher power makes sense to you, cross your fingers, whatever brings the luck in. Because the Richmond district cannot be without its Banana Cows and this one of the oldest Tiki bars in the country now, so everybody think good thoughts about that unfolding story.

And whenever I think of Trad’r Sam's, I think of our buddies [00:50:00] at San Francisco Neon, because I first met Randall Ann Homan and Al Barna at the bar, because we were trying to help the bar fix up their epic neon sign that they have. And that was one of the first real partnership meetings that I took as a newly minted executive director and Angie poured us way too many Banana Cows. I thought, oh gee, I'm a little tipsy at a work meeting and this doesn't feel great, but it did solidify one of my favorite professional, personal, whatever you want to call it relationships, because they are absolutely the best. We've done so many public programs together now. They're always a hoot. Plus, Randall designed the Trad’r Sam enamel pin that we sell. And that's a crowd favorite. And here's the announcement part of this section. They're helping WNP get a neon sign designed for our front windows. And we're able to do this thanks to funding from SF Shines and its Storefront Improvement Grant that we successfully [00:51:00] applied for. Again, thanks to Randall and San Francisco Neon, who were basically like, you have to apply for this. We'll take care of everything. It's going to be great. So again, community really gets it done and we'll let you know when that neon sign is ready for the public. We should have some sort of like unveiling party or something because it's super cool.

And speaking of grants, I have one more bit of exciting news. Grants for the Arts is officially awarding us $10,500 in general operating expenses. This is huge for us, not only because WNP could use the money, but because it's an acknowledgement that we do support local artists and offer visual displays that have artistic merit. That makes me very, very proud. That's a big part of what I've been trying to do with the organization, push it beyond its history boundaries and help it meet artists where they're at, help it connect with people in the neighborhood and it's happening. So, thank you so much to Grants for the Arts. We were also [00:52:00] able to recently purchase two brand new computers, which means we're one step closer to really in earnest relaunching our digitization efforts. So, things are happening friends. Slowly, but surely, and we couldn't do it with all this, without all this support. We appreciate all of you so much.

And we are heading into the last quarter of the year with some epic events coming your way. Michael Durand brought up Shipwreck Week in October. That's going to be so much fun at the Balboa Theatre and so much more. You can find details on our website outsidelands.org/events, where you can also sign up for our monthly newsletter. We don't, you know, we don't blast your email, your inbox with too many emails. It's just on a need-to-know basis. And be sure to join over 415 followers on WNP’s Eventbrite and be the first in the know. Because as soon as we add an event to Eventbrite, you get an email from them as [00:53:00] well.

So, thank you again for being with us for another week. Next Saturday marks the beginning of Shipwreck Week and we're going to tell you about two lesser-known shipwrecks to kick off the commemoration. I'll be joined by my first mate, Chelsea Sellin. And that's the preview for next week. So, until next time, I'm Nicole Meldahl, and this has been another episode of Outside Lands San Francisco, podcast of Western Neighborhoods Project. Thank you, Michael, for being with us this week. He's giving a wave.

Michael: Am I supposed to talk now?

Nicole: You don't have to.

Michael: Oh, it was an honor. As I said, I truly appreciate everything you're doing and I am so happy to be connected with your organization. Thank you.

Nicole: Thank you. We'll just keep saying thank you into infinity.

Michael: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Nicole: And, of course, thank you all for being with us history friends. Have a good [00:54:00] morning, good night, good afternoon, whatever feels right for when you're listening to the podcast.

Ian: Outside Lands San Francisco is recorded by Ian Hadley. Content creation and media production at ihadley.com.

Nicole: To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more on San Francisco history, go to Outsidelands.org. You can also find us on social media at Facebook, which is outsidelands with an S, at Twitter, which is outsidelandz with a Z, and on Instagram, which is outsidelandz, also with a Z. And check out our historic San Francisco images website at OpenSFHistory.org.

More Podcasts
  • Podcast # 206: Geary Park and Ocean Railroad

    When cable cars and steam trains ran on Geary Street to the Richmond District. Plus, a listener mail question! (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Jan 7, 2017)
  • Podcast # 457: Meet WNP Board Members

    Nicole hosts a conversation with two WNP Board members, Eva Laflamme and Carissa Tonner who share their backgrounds and enthusiasm for San Francisco history. We pull back the veil on how Board members contribute their talents, ideas, and energy to support the nonprofit Western Neighborhoods Project. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast May 21, 2022)
All Podcasts...

The Outside Lands San Francisco podcast is also available as a subscription via iTunes and by RSS feed.

Save SF History