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Growing up in San Francisco in the 1960s


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Posted by Judy Hitzeman on Thursday, December 01, 2005 at 08:52:26 :

I originally began putting this together for the “favorite San Francisco spot” contest, but did not finish it in time. I decided to post my random thoughts anyway. So, here are some of the favorite places from my childhood:

1) The Victorian house where I lived my first 13 years (which my sister and I think was and probably still is, haunted), on Army Street in Noe Valley. The style, I think, is San Francisco Stick, and had a lot of the original details at that time, including the claw foot tub, marble backsplash at the kitchen sink, mantels in the front parlor (our living room) and dining room, with the dangerous and now banned gas fireplace heaters with the ceramic grates. It had a big backyard with plum trees, calla lilies, and weeds. We played with the kids next door, and down the street, and around the corner. Nobody had much money, except perhaps the family around the corner on Dolores, whose daughter had an English 3-speed bike while we all had old beater bikes. (My parents would buy our bikes at police auctions of unclaimed stolen goods.) We would invent games, skate, ride our bikes around the neighborhood, play junior archeologists in our backyard, go to the Del Mar theater on Church St. for the 25-cent Saturday matinee, climb Red Rock Hill, come home on Halloween with a ton of candy from roaming near and far (the nuns at St. Paul’s were pretty generous, as were the Chinese proprietors of the Crystal Market at Army and Church), and thought life would always be this way. The house is still there, and seems so much smaller now. It’s probably remodeled to death on the inside, but I hope not.

All of my friends on the block were Catholic and went to St. Paul’s church and school. We were Lutheran and went to St. Paulus church and school, in the Western Addition. We kept having to explain that to people (“No, not St. Paul’s, St. Paulus. It’s Lutheran.” “Sheesh,” I would sometimes think.)

2) The aforementioned St. Paulus Lutheran Church. This was pretty much my second home, as I attended the church school, through 9th grade, as well as services on Sunday. Located at Eddy and Gough, it is said the massive redwood Victorian gothic structure was built by shipwrights. It was dedicated in 1894 and was in the style of the cathedral at Chartres. The congregation was largely of German descent when I was a kid. (German services were conducted until about 1970, though English had been declared the official language of the church in the late 1930s and the majority of the services were in English.)

The church survived the 1906 earthquake with little damage. It was across the street from Jefferson Square, where one of the refugee camps was located, and appears in many of the photos taken of the camp. I read a story that when dynamite charges were being laid west of Van Ness Avenue to stop the fire, the pastor came out and pleaded with the firemen to try the hydrant in front of the church. Miraculously, it had water, and that side of Van Ness was saved from both fire and demolition by dynamite. In gratitude, the pastor offered the undercroft for use as a hospital, which was accepted and used as such for many months following the disaster.

Our pastor in the early ‘60s had a big booming voice and would raise it to great effect during the sermon, scaring the daylights out of me. As a little girl I was sure that when he disappeared behind the altar during hymns he was going back to talk with God in his office. I wondered what they talked about.

I remember my third grade teacher trooping us all up to the church one day and giving us a talk about the architecture of the structure and the symbolism in the design elements. It made a great impression on me. Growing up in that environment not only ensured a proper spiritual upbringing, but contributed to an interest in architecture that continues to this day.

The acoustics were perfect, the organ magnificent, and the stained glass beautiful. It smelled of old wood and furniture polish, and the mingling of ladies’ perfumes and men’s colognes. During breaks in the liturgy I could hear the soft hiss of the radiators, which were valiantly trying to keep the place warm. The church could hold 1200 people and on Easter Sunday they had to set up extra seating in the aisles. Much of my family’s 20th Century history is tied to this place.

St. Paulus burned to the ground on November 5, 1995.

3) The west side of the City. Living in Noe Valley, it was a trek to get there. My mother would take my sister and me down to catch the 10 Monterey bus, which began at 30th and Church Streets. It meandered through all kinds of neighborhoods, but the one that impressed me the most was the Ingleside Terraces area. The houses looked so big and the architecture foreign compared to what I was used to in my neighborhood. We would eventually reach Golden Gate Park, where we had many options. Some days we would get off at the music concourse area and go to the deYoung or the Academy of Sciences. Or go to the Japanese Tea Garden, which I thought was a magical place. After strolling (for Mom) or running full tilt (my sister and I) down the paths and climbing over the big arched bridge, Mom would buy us tea and cookies at the teahouse. Sometimes she would buy us colorful paper fans or some other little item in the store.

Other days we would ride across the park, get off at Fulton, and take the 5 down to Playland. Or go to the beach if the weather was hot. I have odd little memories of the beach: Mom telling us to steer clear of the “bums” and to be careful not to step on broken glass; wading in the surf and experiencing the odd feeling of having the sand wash away under my feet; looking for sand dollars and seashells only to find they were all broken (it wasn’t until I visited the Gulf Coast as an adult that I learned there are actually places to pick up thousands of intact seashells!); the icky, gritty sensation of eating a baloney sandwich that had gotten sand blown into it.

Following the big earthquake in Alaska in 1964, my Dad piled us into the car and drove out to the Great Highway so we could watch the waves crash over the seawall. It was exciting and frightening at the same time. The authorities had said to stay away. I’m awfully glad I was there.

On another occasion we drove out to Golden Gate Park to see the snow after the big snowfall of, I think, 1962. It was melting fast in Noe Valley but “stuck” in the park. It was so pretty. Too bad we didn’t take pictures, but film was an expensive luxury in those days, and was reserved for our camping trips to Yosemite.

4) Mar Vista Riding Academy. This is not technically in San Francisco, being just over the line in Daly City, but I spent many happy Saturdays taking riding lessons. It was, I think, pretty low budget for a stable, but the instructor, Nancy, made up for any shortcomings. She was tough, and if she promoted you to the next higher class, it really meant something. These were group lessons and I think cost $3 when I first started. We were taught English forward seat equitation on a motley crew of horses. There was Stormy, an old cow pony who was blind in one eye, Shadow, a basketball player of a horse at 17 hands and very slim and refined, with a gimpy trot that was hard to post to properly; Duke, a big bay and very spirited, after I was a better rider I loved riding him; Tommy, an equally big and spirited chestnut with a rock-hard trot that was curiously easy to sit to and upon whom I won a first prize for, of all things, Western equitation in one of the little horse shows they held twice a year (I still have my trophy, 36 years later); Ranger, who was an old cavalry horse and had the telltale “U.S.” brand on his shoulder, Nig, a tall black horse with a non-PC name and a friendly personality, and my favorites, Honey, a small buckskin with a rocking chair canter, and Junior, almost a pony at 14.3 hands, who was colored like an Australian shepherd, complete with one blue eye and one brown. He had a good sense of humor and was a challenge to ride.

Mar Vista is still there but the old indoor riding ring with connected stable are gone, I understand the victim of a fire in the early ‘80s, in which many horses died. I’m glad I didn’t live here during that period and so happily do not know if any of the horse friends I remember perished.

Such are some of my memories of growing up in San Francisco.





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