Category Archives: Storytelling

San Francisco 1926: Standard Oil, Mansion Guest Houses and A Life Changing Coincidence

 

Author’s note: The following is taken from my grandmother’s memoirs.  She wrote these words when she was 79 years old and lived to be 105.  Her memories are reflective of  the eyes of a young woman leaving home for the first time. 

This is the third of 3 guest posts from “Letters to My Kids“. Make sure to check out Posts 1 and 2!

Ruby had to return to Portland and the night before she was to leave, a friend of hers from Portland dropped by to say goodbye.  He brought with him an acquaintance from the Army days at Fort Lewis, Washington, in 1918, whom he accidentally encountered on Market Street on the way to our apartment.  They hadn’t seen one another since leaving Fort Lewis and it seems like fate that they met that night because the acquaintance was Ray Mackin, whom I married four years later.  I decided that night that Ray was a real good and generous person because he immediately invited us to dinner and paid the bill for all four of us!

In 1926 I changed jobs again, going with Standard Oil Company of California at 200 Bush Street. I was in the Land and Lease Division, where we mostly wrote leases for prospective oil-bearing lands.  I can recall writing leases for land in Saudi Arabia not realizing that the Saudis would one day control most of the oil production of the world.  Standard Oil was a good place to work – the surroundings were pleasant and my fellow workers high class, educated men and women.

Our office was on the eleventh floor and we were able to watch the construction of the new high-rises.  In the early twenties there were only a few tall buildings in the financial district, most of the buildings being only one, two or three floors.  In the three years I was at 200 Bush, several tall buildings were erected, the most interesting being the Russ Building at Bush and Montgomery.  When it was completed, it was the tallest building in San Francisco.

After Rudy returned to Portland, I moved around from guesthouse to guesthouse. These guest houses were all in old S.F. mansions and for $60 a month, I had a private room (shared bath), two meals a day and excellent service.  Filipino men who knew what the word “service” meant mostly staffed these guest homes.  The guests were generally young, single people with an occasional married couple.  It was an ideal living situation – we had pleasurable times together and many romances developed.

I dated Ray Mackin on and off for several years.  He always took me to good restaurants; the best plays, sporting events such as baseball games, college football, hockey games, etc.  He was very good company, being witty and somewhat more affluent than most of the young men I knew.  Ray gradually edged out the competition until I was going only with him.  Neither of us was in a great hurry to marry but we sort of drifted into it and were married at the Star of the Sea Church on Geary Street, San Francisco, on September 7, 1929.

Memories of San Francisco 1924: Bootleg Whiskey, the Jazz Era and Vaudeville

 

Author’s note: The following is taken from my grandmother’s memoirs.  She wrote these words when she was 79 years old and lived to be 105.  Her memories are reflective of  the eyes of a young woman leaving home for the first time. 

This is the second of 3 guest posts from “Letters to My Kids“. Check back soon for Post 3.

We found an apartment in a new building on Ellis Street, near Hyde.  Later we learned we were living in the heart of the then ‘red light’ district of the city and we took a lot of kidding about it.  However, we were never bothered and it was a very good location – close to downtown theaters, shopping and not far from the financial district.  I found a position with the North British Insurance Company.  And made some friends, one of whom I still see now and then, Pearl Pickering.  It was a good fun-loving group in that office and I soon became initiated into the life of the jazz era.  If I had known then it was an ‘era,’ I might have paid more attention. Prohibition was the law but not greatly observed by San Franciscans.  I was never much of a drinker and was wary of anything except wine, but we thought it smart to drink and I usually indulged moderately at parties and dinners at the North Beach cafes.  The wine was always hidden under the table and served in coffee cups.

We loved to go to the French and Italian restaurants where we could get a full five-course meal for 50 cents, 75 cents on Sundays when half a chicken was the main course.  We continued our love affair with the movies.  All the downtown movie houses had live entertainment besides first-run pictures.  The Warfield, the Granada and others on Market Street vied with one another each week to produce the grandest extravaganzas so the public got its 50 cents worth and more.  The California Theater was famous for the organ concerts by Max Dolin and the Warfield for the shows produced by Fanchon and Marco, a San Francisco dance company.  We often went to the Orpheum Theater on O’Farrell Street to see the latest vaudeville shows.  Across the street from the Orpheum was the famous down-stairs after-theater club, Coffee Dan’s, where everyone pounded on the tables with wooden mallets whenever new guests arrived.  Next door to the Orpheum was Morrison’s Restaurant where we loved to eat before the performance – it was considered sheik to sit at the counter!  A short distance away was Marquard’s where there was tea dancing on Saturday afternoons.  On Powell Street was Tait’s famous coffee shop where one could get a good meal for a reasonable price amid a cosmopolitan atmosphere.

The city abounded in cafeterias that served excellent food amid tasteful surroundings.  Another gustatory delight, especially for women, were the numerous tearooms, mostly in downtown alleys and upstairs in buildings, that served better than home cooked food.  There was almost no limit to the number of restaurants in S.F. where one could get delicious food.  These restaurants were concentrated in the downtown and North Beach areas until the 60’s when a few began to appear in the outer reaches of the city.  One exception at that time as a cafeteria called Noah’s in Burlingame that was famous for its ham.  We would take a streetcar from down town and ride all the way to Burlingame just to go to Noah’s.  Yes, there was a streetcar from S.F. to Burlingame for many years after I came to S.F. in 1924.  The right-of-way is still there and should have been utilized for a rapid transit system long ago.

There were many nightclubs where there was dancing, good food and entertainment.  Our dates would bring a bottle of bootleg liquor, which was kept, discreetly under the table.  The club usually charged one dollar for a ginger ale “set-up”.  Our favorite nightclubs were the Lido on Columbus Avenue, Bimbo’s 365 Club on Market Street and Shorty Robert’s at the beach.

Altogether it was a fun time for a young single woman to be living in San Francisco.  We were “flappers” and followed all the styles of the time – daring short dresses, high heals, lots of makeup, short hair, cigarettes and dancing the Charleston.  Until the First World War, no nice woman would have dreamed of cutting her hair or smoking and drinking in public. We thought we were sophisticated but we were really very innocent, at least I was.  No one I knew lived with the opposite sex out of marriage, and most young women had high moral standards.

Memories of Los Angeles in 1923: Setting Sail, Early Motion Pictures and a Romance Gone Awry

 

Author’s note: The following is taken from my grandmother’s memoirs.  She wrote these words when she was 79 years old and lived to be 105.  Her memories are reflective of old Los Angeles from the eyes of a young woman leaving home for the first time. 

This is the first of 3 guest posts from “Letters to My Kids“. Check back soon for Posts 2 and 3.

I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with my life in Portland and in 1923, over the objections of my family, I left for Los Angeles with my friend Nora.  We took passage on a steamship to San Francisco where we stayed for two days.  I loved San Francisco from that first visit and even then regretted that I was not staying there.  We continued our journey by ship to San Pedro.  We stayed with my mother’s oldest sister, Polly, for a week or so until we found a one-room apartment in the Westlake District of Los Angeles.  It was all so exciting to us – the palm trees, the balmy climate (no smog then), and the beautiful clean beaches.

My very first job was as secretary to Col. Selig, who owned the Selig Zoo and also the Selig Motion Picture Studio.  During my lunch hours I became friendly with the elephant trainer, the lion trainer and Blossom Seeley, an ex-vaudeville star, who operated the studio cafeteria.  The elephant trainer let me ride the elephant bareback, the lion trainer showed me his scars, and Blossom fed me.  While I worked there, the picture Abraham Lincoln was being made and I watched them shoot many scenes.  The actors collected their paychecks at our office and although I knew most by sight I always made them tell me their names.  I refused to let them know I was impressed!  I stayed there only a few months because the office manager had very handy hands.  Even then there was sexual harassment.

I immediately found another position with the Union Oil Company in a brand new office building in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.  All the best stores were nearby, good places to eat, and exciting events happening.  Los Angeles was a beautiful city at that time and there I was right in the heart of it.  I could even walk to work!  My job was not at all that demanding – in fact I often wonder what I was paid for doing.

It was shortly after coming to L.A. that I met a young man with whom I had my first serious love affair.  He was very nice and pleasant but did not have much ambition.  His sister was a famous opera star; I cannot now remember her name.  I never met her, as she did not come to L.A. while I lived there.  Eventfully I became unhappy with the progress of my romance and decided to return to Portland, a decision I regretted.  I learned you can’t go home again.  Living at home after being on my own was unsatisfactory (I am sure my parents felt the same way although they never said so).  I found the climate of Portland very depressing after sunny California and in less than a year I took off for San Francisco with my friend, Ruby Christensen.

My Grandmother’s Writing Desk: Made of wood and memories

 

This is a photograph of my maternal grandmother Frances’ desk.  She was fond of it and I have many memories of seeing my grandmother sitting on the stool in front of her desk and writing Christmas and birthday cards to her family.

My grandmother had the heart of a personal historian.  I remember her sitting at her desk, opening up her journal and making little notes in it – notes about the births, weddings, deaths and divorces in our family.  She also wrote notes about a particularly good game of bridge she had played or having the best score in a golf match.  She wrote get-well cards to her friends and planned trips to see her out-of-town family or friends, all while sitting at her desk.  She paid her bills and wrote donation checks to her local SPCA and to many other charities in the San Francisco Bay area.

When I was just five years old, I remember sitting at my grandmother’s desk. This desk was always paired with a round heavy stool.  I have happy memories of lying on top of the stool, spreading my arms out wide and spinning myself around and around until I was sick.

One interesting thing about this desk is the many hiding places that it contains.  I still gain pleasure from the idea that things can be hidden in the desk in plain sight but invisible to someone unfamiliar with the desk’s design. The hidden compartments are handy places to hide cash, love letters or perhaps even a secret diary – don’t tell anyone, though!

This desk also comes complete with a delicate, tiny brass key, which still works. 

 

 

As I recall being told, my grandfather bought this desk for my grandmother sometime between 1930 and 1940.  My grandmother used it every day until just a few weeks before her death. She died on February 3, 2008 at the age of 105.  After my grandmother’s death, my aunt sent the desk to me by freight truck all the way from San Francisco to Virginia.

When I received the desk, my first thought was to give it a good polishing.  I spent an afternoon cleaning and buffing the old desk.  Surprisingly, during the process, I found some things that had slid under the drawers and behind several of the compartments – a piece of carbon paper, instructions on how to do tubular crocheting, my grandmother’s 1955 Certificate of Members in the American National Red Cross, a recipe for baked fish and a few old canceled checks. Most pieces even show my grandmother’s beautiful and flowery penmanship.

Sometimes I think about having the desk refinished, but then I tell myself that all of the patina and provenance that goes along with the desk would surely disappear in the process.

I don’t think I will ever have my grandmother’s desk refinished. Today, as I look at the writing surface of the desk, I can still see faint traces of my grandmother’s handwriting in the wood’s surface. Her story and the love she had for her family is engrained in the surface of the desk she used for over sixty years.

I am so very grateful to now be in possession of my grandmother’s old desk along with all of its precious memories.  I hope that one of my daughters will want to keep this desk after I am gone.

Do you own a piece of furniture that is considered a family treasure and that holds memories for you?  I’d like to suggest that you write those memories down.  Future generations will enjoy knowing the history of that very special family heirloom.

More Than 500 Letters Later, A Granddaughter Is Born (Part 2)

 

Note: This is the 2nd part of a post from Bob Brody’s Letters to My Kids, which featured Lin Joyce’s letter to her daughter Annie. Visit the website at www.letterstomykids.org.

Dear Annie,

As you well know, your dad and I love to travel. But I had no idea just how much traveling I’d be doing when I married your father 37 years ago. I have the U.S. federal government to thank for 18 moves in 21 years, 12 being international relocations.

I gave birth to you during our second overseas assignment in Amman, Jordan — a great memory, of course. You are already aware of some of the unusual details of your birth. For example, very few Americans citizens have a birth certificate written in Arabic that is signed by an official representative of King Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. But you do.

You were supposed to have been born in Bangkok, Thailand. That’s where we were living when the nurse at the American Embassy Medical Unit told us that we were going to become parents. But when the office in Washington DC called with travel orders, we always said, “Yes.” And so we were transferred to Amman when I was five months pregnant.

Because your dad had to leave right away, I decided to go stateside to visit family and then fly to Amman by myself. What a long trip that was for me! My belly had gotten uncomfortably big, my moo-moo styled dresses were getting tighter and my ankles swelled if I stood for too long.

Your dad met me at Amman’s airport and soon I was walking into our new home. The American Embassy provided us with a spacious home only ten minutes from the embassy. The house had three floors and we were to occupy only the top two floors.We had three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a washer and drier but no disposal or dishwasher. The floors were all marble and the walls were wallpapered or covered with dark wood paneling. The house came fully furnished with Drexel Heritage furniture. We had many lemon and blood orange trees growing in our backyard.

On the morning you were born your dad spilled his coffee all over the kitchen table. It was raining outside and because of the Arabic Summit that was going on in the city, security was very tight on the main streets of Amman.

Still, all we could think of was: today we would become parents.

Your birth was helped along with a pitocin drip. During the birthing process, my Lebanese-trained obstetrician told me to stop making so much noise. You were born at 5:00 p.m. on the afternoon of November 21, 1980 at the Al Khalidi Hospital in Amman, the only light-haired baby to be found in the nursery.

 

You developed an elevated bilirubin level, which scared us. It was necessary for us to leave you in the hospital for a few extra days, but soon that situation resolved itself.

We got to bring you home on Thanksgiving Day, 1980.That was a Thanksgiving I will never forget. Your dad and I were so tired. We found two Swanson turkey TV dinners in the freezer that I had purchased at the Embassy Commissary and that’s what we had for dinner. We were very thankful to be celebrating Thanksgiving at home together.

Love always,

Mom