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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.

Finding History in Unexpected Places: The House at 167 Corona

My grandparents Raymond and Frances Mackin married in September 7, 1929, at the Star of the Sea Catholic Church in San Francisco, California. By the end of the very next month the Stock Market collapsed, signaling the beginning of the Great Depression.

Frances, in her memoir, recalled:

“On returning from our honeymoon in Los Angeles, we rented a pleasant apartment on Washington Street, near Fillmore.  In less than a year we moved to a larger apartment on Balboa near 21st Avenue.  We were living there when my daughter, Catherine was born.  The landlady wasn’t very happy with us for having a child so we soon moved to a third floor flat on 43rd Avenue between Cabrillo and Fulton.  The stair climbing there was too much for me so we rented a small house on 40th Avenue near Fulton.  Roger and David were born while we lived there.  Our landlord was a very nice man, whom we seldom saw, and we were greatly surprised when for some reason or other he gave us his equity in the house.  This amounted to about $3,500 – a nice sum for 1935.  We soon sold the house on 40th Avenue and bought a larger one at 167 Corona Street in Ingleside Terrace.  Frannie was born there in 1939.” 

The rest of the story

You may be wondering how this information came to my attention.  My grandmother had the heart of a personal historian.  She loved to reminisce and share her life experiences.  It was this love that fueled her curiosity.  In 1984 she found out that the house on Corona was for sale (again).  My grandmother had to know the details of this house that had been her home over forty years before.  A quick trip to Franciscan Properties yielded the listing (below) and told her everything she wanted to know.

Years later, I learned more about that house on Corona Street.  My grandmother told me that they didn’t have enough money to pay the down payment, though they knew they could easily afford the monthly payments.

The owner of the house made an offer to my grandfather –if he would take over the monthly payments, my grandparents could have the house.  This would never happen in 2012, but life was a bit different back in 1935.

It turned out that the owner of the house was going through serious financial problems and a nasty divorce, and really wanted to get rid of this house.

My grandmother further told me that by virtue of owning this house, they were now well established financially.  Remember this was in 1935 – the Great Depression was being felt worldwide.  Many people were struggling financially and losing their homes altogether. My grandparents felt very fortunate.

This is just one of the stories I have learned about the early lives of my grandparents.  And finding this listing among our trove of family documents makes this story come alive for me.

Moral of this story — You never know where your family’s history will come from.

And as a side note: I Googled this house last night and found that it sold for $817,000 two years ago. Too bad it didn’t stay in our family— that would have been some return.

What tidbits of information have you found out about your family in unexpected places? Write us and let us know!