Growing Up Near Geary

by Jack Coll
October 2002

In 1940 my mother and father purchased a small home at 538-24th Avenue between Geary Boulevard and Anza Street. I was enrolled in Saint Monica's School one half block away. My father was employed by the Municipal Railway as a truck driver and worked out of the car house at Geary Boulevard and Presidio Avenue. A local history buff, he gave me a lifetime interest in local history with an emphasis on public transportation.

I have memories of life during World War II. There was rationing of food and gasoline. Streetcars and buses were jammed at all times. We patronized the Family Market on Geary Boulevard between 22nd and 23rd Avenue. The Market was divided into a grocery store, a produce market and a butcher shop. The butchers worked in uniforms. Our family also patronized the Family Drug Store and Wirth Brothers bakery at 23rd Avenue and Geary. The Family Drug Store had its own soda and ice cream fountain.

Other important stores were a Woolworth's drug store and Klabunde's ice cream store at 22nd Avenue.

During World War II the movie business thrived. The impressive Alexandria theater (then a single-screen second-run theater) was usually full. The small Star theater (now the 4-Star) had a low cost children's matinee on Saturday. The 4-Star has survived today with a wide variety of Asian and American movies.

The Coronet theater was under construction at the time of Pearl Harbor. It was not completed until 1949 and is now to be torn down.

I grew up in a religious home. Classes at St. Monica's were crowded as there was no other Catholic school in the outer Richmond. Virtually all instruction in the school was by nuns. Fees in the school were exceptionally low. The church was crowded every Sunday. The pastor was the Reverend William Campbell, a loquacious speaker with an Australian accent.

My mother and father did not own an automobile. Most of the students at St. Monica's came from modest homes. There was one student who lived in a mansion in Sea Cliff. Virtually none of the mothers worked.

The neighborhood enjoyed extremely frequent service on streetcar line "B" (Geary Boulevard-Ocean Beach). The streetcars controlled the traffic and had open end sections. Smokers could smoke outside without bothering other riders. Streetcars also operated on California, Clement, Balboa and Fulton streets.

In looking back at my grammar school days I realize that the home reinforced the parochial school of the day. I went on to St. Ignatius High School and eventually received a degree in library science. My last assignment with the San Francisco Public Library was at the Richmond branch on Ninth Avenue between Geary Boulevard and Clement Street. I retired in 1992.



Jack Coll went to St. Monica's with Jack Tillmany. The two Jacks have been very helpful with information and photos for the site!

Read Jack's article on Streetcars in the Sunset district!


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