Renderings & Ramblings: More About Life as a Kid in San Francisco

By Charles McLaughlin
I’m picking up here, guys and gals, talking about what it was like living in San Francisco.

Well, unlike poet Rod McKuen, Stanyan Street held no sorrows for me. Livin’ on Stanyan was the “Yellow Brick Road” that led straight down to Kezar Stadium and the “Oz” that is Golden Gate Park, while going up the street took one to the enchanting Eucalyptus forest that covered the hills south of Carl Street. And, my friends, in a little while I’ll tell you why a trip to the Eucalyptus forest up-street from our flat in San Francisco led me to the neck-of-the-woods called Oregon. But first, let’s talk a little about Golden Gate Park and its nuances. On second thought, let me set the stage by describing what was in between the enchanting forest and the Park (I always capitalize “Park” out of everlasting reverence!)

On the southwest corner of Stanyan and Carl, just one door down from Grandpa and Grandma’s flat was an Italian Deli owned by a guy named Caselli. It had sausages and stuff hanging from the ceiling and all kinds of edible goodies, as well as a good-looking young lad working there who ended up marrying my mother’s younger sister, my aunt Mary (See pix).

From left- Harold, Aunt Mary – Chuck is the bambino, and Jeane.
His name was Joe Caselli and was the son of the owner of the deli. That turned out to be a good deal for the McLaughlin kids because we could go in there anytime and scrounge some free food when we were hungry. Around the corner on Carl St., about half- a- block west, was a Mom and Pop Candy shop that featured shelves-full of chocolate candy of every sort…. slabs, bars, drops , balls,, brittle, you name it! And all down low enough for kids like us to be able to see and pick out anything we wanted to spend our nickels or pennies on. In those days a nickel or even a penny had to go a long way for a kid because the economy was still recovering from the Great Depression and kids’ allowances were not experiencing an upward trend. Adults who experienced down-times during the depression were beginning to smile again and have hope for the future under the leadership of arguably the most beloved President in American history: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only president to win reelection four times! Yes, Sir, four times! And if he hadn’t died during his last term, he probably could have won a fifth term! His “Fireside Chats” on radio were a gathering time in every household around their beautiful old Zenith or Philco superheterodyne radios to listen to him talk. And talk he did in a tone of voice that made you feel like grandpa was talking softly to you in your own front room. He was inspiring, too, because he was crippled by polio and was able to stand up only by wearing braces and holding on tight to a podium. So he seemed more like us than an elite arrogant don’t-give-a-hoot politician preaching down to us from a distant ivory tower.

Pardon that rough seque. I’ll get back to my story now:

Throughout the day and into the night the “N” car ran by the corner of Stanyan and Carl, stopping now and then to pick up paying passengers on their way downtown to Market Street via the Sunset Tunnel. That was a boon for rascally nonpaying little boys who loved to hang on the “cow-catcher” on the rear of the car and ride free down Carl into and through the tunnel and drop off on the other side, not too far from downtown. Then we could go to a theatre and watch a movie or go to the Embarcadero for ice cream and other fun things. You might well ask “That far from home, unaccompanied by parents or chaperone and no fear of foul play?” Yep. That’s how it was back then, my friends.

Downtown was cosmopolitan, filled with uppity-type shops, grand hotels and women dressed in furs, outrageous hats and heels and men suited up with derby hats, small-knotted ties and vests that had little pockets to stash watches in. (Watchmakers hadn’t seemed to have discovered the wrist back then, at least on Market Street in San Francisco!) Oh, and I should mention everyone seemed to have an umbrella either open or closed and hanging from the crook of their arm!

Men wore shiny shoes, too. Their shoes were shiny because back then there were shoe-shine stands here and there and guys would sit there reading the San Francisco Chronicle while some poor guy was doing a number on their Florscheim shoes with his waxed-up shoe rag. Florscheim shoes were invented by a German dude way back in the late 1800’s and he made millions of dollars in the process of selling them everywhere. In fact, here’s a tidbit for you: Michael Jackson always wore Florscheim shoes when he danced, even when doing his famous Moonwalk routine!

We’ll talk more about San Francisco from a kid’s point of view next issue.

Missed some R&R? Here’s the other McLaughlin meanderings –