Western Neighborhoods Project
"I am OMI"
Interview with Ella Driscoll
April 22, 2004
LaBounty: Ms. Driscoll, D-R-I-S-C-O-L-L, right?
LaBounty: And it's Ella?
LaBounty: It's April 22nd, 2004. We're just going to chat about your history here in the neighborhood. Now, you were telling me you didn't live here on Corona when you first moved to the neighborhood; you were living up on Ashton?
Driscoll: Yes, 37 Ashton, at the top of the hill. Yes, we had friends that wouldn't come up there because of the steep hill, they wouldn't drive up it. It was kind of spooky.
LaBounty: Now, what year did you move in over there?
LaBounty: Where did you come from?
Driscoll: Well, we lived in Oakland for a while and then my husband worked here at Lowell. He was a teacher, so he didn't want to commute anymore.
LaBounty: So this was a nice short little trip.
Driscoll: Yes, right.
LaBounty: You lived there from sixty---
Driscoll: '63 until---let's see. We moved here in '72.
LaBounty: So you were there a number of years. And you said that got too small.
LaBounty: Number of children or---
Driscoll: I just have one daughter. So we just had two bedrooms and my husband wanted an office, so it just wasn't big enough.
LaBounty: It looks like you have a lot of artwork. Were you collecting a lot of art and that sort of thing?
Driscoll: Well, I collect it and then some of it is mine.
LaBounty: Because I would think that you can easily outgrow a place.
Driscoll: Oh, well, we didn't have much art then. We didn't have the money then, for one thing.
LaBounty: When you were looking for houses, because Lowell is so close to here, you were---
Driscoll: Yes, that's why we wanted this area because he could hop down there to school.
LaBounty: What did they call the neighborhood? What was the name of it when you were first coming here?
Driscoll: I think it was Ingleside.
LaBounty: Did you fall in love with it sort of thing, or was it more like "Well, this will do"?
Driscoll: Well, the house was real cute, we liked the house, but I don't say we fell in love with the neighborhood, because the stores were all down here, the shopping, so you had to hop in your car because of this hill. But I remember all the stores and everything down here.
LaBounty: You did your neighborhood shopping here?
Driscoll: Yes. Yes, right. There was a baby clothes store and a hardware store up on the corner of Ashton, one of those old-fashioned hardware stores and a beauty shop there, too.
LaBounty: On Ashton there was a hardware store?
Driscoll: No. No, they were on Ocean near Ashton.
LaBounty: But you could find parking getting in your car then and coming down?
Driscoll: Oh, yes, there was no problem there. Then there was a grocery store there. Actually, the grocery store was on the corner and then the hardware store was next to it on Ocean and Ashton. The store, they were real friendly, a little neighborhood place, and the butcher used to give my daughter bologna or a cheese slice. So it was kind of a family grocery. They knew everybody.
LaBounty: Do you remember the name of the store?
Driscoll: I don't think so. It might come to me two weeks from now. No. "Something" Market it was. Then there was another market, a small market, next to the old El Rey on the west side of the theater, there was a small butcher shop and market.
LaBounty: That same kind of building there?
Driscoll: Yes. It's the same area.
LaBounty: Now, there was a Chinese restaurant over there for a long time, Sampan's or something like that?
Driscoll: Oh, no, that's where---up here where the Vietnamese, you know where the Vietnamese one is now, up towards Ashton, actually?
LaBounty: On Ocean?
LaBounty: Where the Vietnamese restaurant is?
LaBounty: I'll have to go look.
Driscoll: Yes. But it's on the north side of the street, but it's nearer to Ashton, and it was there when we moved there, and we never did go in there, it didn't appeal to us. I used to look, and there would be flies and they didn't clean the windows up very much, and I don't know anyone that went there.
LaBounty: Did you eat at other places on Ocean?
Driscoll: Let's see. Did we eat other places?
LaBounty: Did you go out to dinner?
Driscoll: I can't remember. I don't think there were any good restaurants up there. There was one Thai restaurant and later it was a good cajun kind of place. There was a nice bakery up there, a very good bakery, and we'd go up there and the woman would give my daughter cookies, you know, how they do with the kids. Then what else was up there? Oh, another hardware store was up there. There were two. You didn't have the Home Depot then and that, so they were both up there. There was an ice rink and then a billiard parlor where Ramallah Hall is now, and a Rexall Drugs nearby. Then there was the Farragut School. I don't know if you've heard about that.
LaBounty: Yes, where the apartments are.
Driscoll: Yes, right. Well, my daughter started to go there and then the busing started, and that was a kick because when she started---they bused the kids from up there out to Robert Louis Stevenson on Sunset, and the first day she was the only white kid on the bus going out there. It was funny.
LaBounty: So she was over here on Ashton and then they were busing her out of the neighborhood over to Robert Louis Stevenson?
Driscoll: Yes, because it went by the residence area.
LaBounty: So how long did she go to Farragut? Just a couple of years?
Driscoll: Not even that long. I think the busing started---I think she only went there to the kindergarten, maybe first grade. It was so long ago, it was in the sixties. What was it, about '69 or something like that. Next thing, I guess she got to go to the neighborhood school, it was Commodore Sloat. She went there for a couple of years and then they bused them out to Guadalupe [School], kind of over in the Mission on Geneva, off of Geneva, and that was a disaster because they had the kids from Visitation Valley, and they were really rough customers. I had to take her out of there finally; it was too much.
LaBounty: She had to move around a lot as a kid, didn't she?
LaBounty: Because she started at Farragut, went to Stevenson, then went to Sloat and then went to Guadalupe.
Driscoll: Then I had to put her in private school because of that.
LaBounty: Where did she go then?
Driscoll: Then she went---I wanted her to go to Lincoln, because Lincoln was improving by then, but you know how the kids talk and everything, she refused, so she went to Mercy, which was a Catholic school.
LaBounty: It was in the neighborhood, at least.
LaBounty: And your husband was a teacher.
Driscoll: Yes, he was at Lowell for twenty-four years. Yes, he taught social studies and advanced placement. Then he died in '74.
LaBounty: Pretty young?
Driscoll: Yes, he was fifty. Yes, it was awful.
LaBounty: A surprise or was it a---
Driscoll: Well, it started as a surprise on his birthday; he had a heart attack. It was awful. Then it was a nightmare after that.
LaBounty: That's terrible. What did he think of all the busing and all that, being an educator himself?
Driscoll: Well, he was a dedicated public school person, so he was all for it. Then after he died, that was when she went to that bad school, so I had to take over.
LaBounty: I guess it's still an issue today, you know, these neighborhood schools and all that.
Driscoll: I know. People are suing them.
LaBounty: It was an issue then, too, I guess.
Driscoll: Yes. It's hard. It's a very difficult situation. I don't know what the answer is.
LaBounty: Just to go back to Ocean for a second, when you did neighborhood shopping, like you were going to get groceries or something, did you go to Ocean to get like neighborhood groceries?
Driscoll: Oh yes. Oh yes. Then there was the Safeway up there where the Kragen [Auto] is. But I don't know when they went in there. I forget.
LaBounty: They went in and they left.
Driscoll: Yes. Then they had the one down here where Rite-Aid is now, which was great. We loved that. But they had too much shoplifting and they just closed it.
LaBounty: That's what I heard. You had heard that, too, it was the shoplifting that made them close?
Driscoll: Yes. Yes, I think it was.
LaBounty: Yes, it's too bad, because now---
Driscoll: They had a couple of hold-ups there just before they closed, with a shoot-Ćem-up and everything.
LaBounty: That was when the crime was pretty bad.
LaBounty: When you moved here, was crime kind of bad or was it pretty good when you got here?
Driscoll: Well, it was okay for a while, and then I was just thinking, it must have been in the seventies, because it was after my husband died, and I had a break-in when I was asleep and they broke in, which was horrible. I wasn't hurt or anything, but it was really horrible. So that was bad. Then a number of years later, the drug people from over the hill started to come in here, and this one night there was bullets going all over the street here, and I couldn't believe it. Then I went out the next day and I found all these cartridges in the street and gutter, and I was going to move out at that point, because I was here by myself, my daughter and me, but then I thought, well, you know, stick it out. Then after that, it got better.
LaBounty: You said it was the dog people?
Driscoll: No, drug.
LaBounty: Oh, drug people. Okay. Because I know I heard a lot about pit-bull fighting up there. That's what made me think of it.
Driscoll: No, drug. Drug people.
LaBounty: So they got all the way down here in Ingleside Terraces, that drug sect?
Driscoll: I think somebody might have been---a drug person might have been living in an apartment across the street, because after the shooting, about a couple weeks later I was awake and then there were two guys out there fighting in the street, and the cops came and they must have driven them out, because we never had any trouble after that.
LaBounty: When was this time-wise when the gunfire and the drug---
Driscoll: It must have been in the eighties. There were a lot of robberies in the neighborhood at that point, but the last ten or so years I don't hear much. You know, very occasionally you'll hear something.
LaBounty: You don't feel unsafe here necessarily.
Driscoll: No. No, because I have really good neighbors, for one thing.
LaBounty: That's one attribute about the Terraces I hear a lot about, is that people kind of look out for each other.
Driscoll: They do. They do. I'm very lucky, because most of them have lived here a long time and they watch out for you.
LaBounty: Now, when your daughter was young---was she born when you were living here?
Driscoll: Yes. Yes, she was, up on Ashton actually.
LaBounty: What sort of activities---did you take her around the neighborhood or did you go to the parks?
Driscoll: Well, I used to go with a friend that had a son the same age, and we would go to the zoo or the museum or the park, but as far as the neighborhood and being on that hill, they couldn't really ride bikes or anything up there. Once in a while, I think, we went to that Junipero Serra playground, but mostly it wasn't with the neighborhood people.
LaBounty: Yes, and up here at Brooks Park that wasn't quite going yet or anything.
Driscoll: No, I didn't know about it.
LaBounty: People are still living there, I guess, that Brooks, might still be living there. Yes, I guess it would be hard to be a kid on a big hill.
Driscoll: Yes, it was, although she had kids come in and play, but they couldn't do much on the street; it was too steep.
LaBounty: Was she much happier being down here on the flat area?
Driscoll: I think so. I think so, yes.
LaBounty: This is an interesting little neighborhood because of its history of having a racetrack here.
Driscoll: I know, and the refugee camp after the earthquake.
LaBounty: Yes. Did you know of that when you moved here?
Driscoll: No, but you know Marsha Fontes, I learned a lot about it from her.
LaBounty: Yes, she's great.
Driscoll: And the sundial, that bit.
LaBounty: Very colorful little area.
Driscoll: We had a big fire over here yesterday. I think the person hadn't been here too long, on Urbano [phonetic], a block away.
LaBounty: There was a fire, huh?
LaBounty: A bad one?
Driscoll: Oh yes. It was really kind of coincidence, because a friend and I were going to go up to City College because they've hired these goats to---
LaBounty: Oh, to clear out the vegetation.
Driscoll: Did you see them?
LaBounty: Yes, I've seen them in other parts of town.
Driscoll: Well, we had been the day before, but we didn't have our cameras, so I said, "I'll meet you up there and we'll see if they're still there." So I was going down the block with my camera, and I saw these people running yesterday and followed them, and there was this house in the next block, and it must have been a wiring thing, but they had two big engines there and the fire chief came. And boy, those firemen, they crashed in the garage door and knocked out two front windows, and they had a chainsaw or something, and they had to go into the stucco because, I guess, the wiring was in the wall.
LaBounty: Is it one of the older houses there?
Driscoll: Well, they're all old, built in the twenties. Yes, they're all old.
LaBounty: That's too bad.
Driscoll: I feel sorry for the guy, because I don't think he's been there very long.
LaBounty: The old El Rey Theater that you were in for the history day, did you go see movies there at any point?
Driscoll: I can't remember seeing any when I was here, but I think when I lived somewhere---you know, I'm a native San Franciscan. So I think I used to go there, but I don't remember going---you know, my daughter was real young. I don't remember us going there.
LaBounty: Where did you grow up as a kid?
Driscoll: In Sunset.
LaBounty: Oh, in Sunset? What part?
Driscoll: Out near the beach, 44th and Irving.
LaBounty: Now, this was before World War II you were living out there.
LaBounty: Do you remember all the blackouts and all that?
Driscoll: Oh yes. They had all the lights painted black on the ocean side, and my father was an air raid spotter. He was too old to go in the service, so he used to go up to Fort Miley several days a week for airplane spotting. Then we'd have the air raid sirens every night and we didn't have blackout curtains, because we didn't have any money for it, so we used to have to go in an interior hall and sit on the floor there until the all-clear sounded.
LaBounty: Happened all the time, huh?
Driscoll: Quite a bit, yes.
LaBounty: Were you scared as a kid?
Driscoll: I don't think so. When you're a kid, you think it's fun. The dog was there with us and everything, and nothing ever happened.
LaBounty: Your parents?
Driscoll: Yes, they were okay there. They had all that rationing and all that stuff.
LaBounty: Did you go to school out there then?
Driscoll: Yes, I did. Have you ever heard of Francis Scott Key?
Driscoll: That's where I went.
LaBounty: The older building there? I mean, because didn't they build a newer one?
Driscoll: Yes, on Noriega, yes. We were at the old one and then went to the new one. We used to go up there when they were building it. It was neat.
LaBounty: Was most of the neighborhood built up when you were a kid, or were there still big empty sandlots?
Driscoll: No, there were a lot of empty lots, but Doelger was building out there. We used to go, when he was building, there was one kitty-corner from our house and when the men would go home and we'd go over and climb up in there.
LaBounty: Run through the construction?
LaBounty: I hear a lot of people tell me that. I interview a lot of people in Sunset. They say when they were kids, their playgrounds were construction sites.
Driscoll: Yes, right. We used to play out in the street mostly.
LaBounty: I guess all the concrete had been put in and all the street and sidewalks and all that out there.
Driscoll: Oh yes.
LaBounty: I just know some of the Sunset was very kind of undeveloped for a long time.
Driscoll: But there were lots. Like right next to our house there was a big sandlot, you know, two or three lots, probably, and we used to go and play out there. There were many sand lots.
LaBounty: What kind of games did you play as a kid out in Sunset?
Driscoll: Oh, we played Kick the Can and then we used to play Hide and Seek, you know, stupid games. We used to go out and dig in the sand and make forts, whatever, dig holes and that kind of stuff.
LaBounty: And you'd go out to the beach?
Driscoll: Oh yes, we used to camp out at the beach. My mother was probably glad to get rid of us. We'd pack a lunch and we'd be out there all day long, because 44th Avenue, it wasn't that far from the beach.
LaBounty: Did you go all the way over to Playland?
Driscoll: Oh yes.
LaBounty: What do you remember about Playland?
Driscoll: Oh, the chutes and the dodger cars and the Funhouse. Oh, there used to be Topsy's Roost. Have you ever heard of that?
LaBounty: Yes, with the chickens....
Driscoll: Yes, that was fun.
Driscoll: Oh yes. I was always afraid to go down the slides.
LaBounty: So Playland was---because in later years it seemed to be kind of---
Driscoll: Tacky. No, it was fun then. Well, it was a treat, it was somewhere to go---we'd walk there from our house.
LaBounty: Right. Inexpensive?
Driscoll: Oh yes, because we had no money. Maybe my mother gave us each a dime, God knows no more than that. Then there was that movie house, the Surf was there. It was called the "Sunset". We used to call it the "Flea House". It was. It was. You went there and you came home with fleas.
LaBounty: Oh, really.
Driscoll: Oh yes. You'd come home with these bites all over you.
LaBounty: What movies did you see there, do you remember?
Driscoll: Oh yes. I remember we used to see William Boyd. They used to have the newsreel and the cowboy thing and then they had Little Women and other things. Let me see. Murder pictures. We liked those, too.
LaBounty: Did you go to Sutro Baths, too? Did you get to go there?
Driscoll: Oh yes. We went ice skating. They had an ice rink up there, too. I remember they had that monkey. They had a stuffed monkey in a glass case there that was interesting.
LaBounty: So when you went to Sutro Baths, they'd already gone to having ice skating?
LaBounty: So when you went swimming, could you go to Fleishhacker's there?
Driscoll: Yes, we went to Fleishhacker's. Oh yes, that was really something. They used to have the lifeguards in rowboats, because it was huge.
LaBounty: Was it kind of scary as a kid to swim in that huge thing?
Driscoll: Well, I don't think we knew how to swim. We went in the water there, I remember that.
Driscoll: Yes, it was cold. Of course, when you're a kid, you kind of don't mind that much.
LaBounty: You don't care, yes. What else do you remember---I mean, since we're in the Sunset and we're talking, first of all, how did your family get out to the Sunset? Do you know what got them out there?
Driscoll: Yes, I do know. My father was in World War I, and then he came out here right after World War I and then he married. My mother came out here to get married. So they bought a house. First they bought a big two-story brown shingle house on 29th and Irving, which is still there, incidentally. Then they moved in about '29 or '30, they moved to 44th Avenue just after the Crash, and of course, nobody had any money at all, but they were lucky to pay the mortgage, I suppose. But everybody thought we were rich because we had a big---it was like a big Tudor mansion. You know, it was the biggest house on the street. I have a picture.
LaBounty: At 44th and Irving?
LaBounty: It's still there?
Driscoll: No. I was horrified a couple years ago, I went to show my friend and they had these---I wouldn't have cared if they'd put up something nice, but they had hideous four flats on that site.
LaBounty: Plain, stucco.
Driscoll: Uglier than sin.
LaBounty: You had a big Tudor, nice house at 44th and Irving.
Driscoll: Yes. It had a big concrete retaining wall in front, a big backyard.
LaBounty: But they bought just before the Crash?
Driscoll: Yes, right.
LaBounty: So then they just kind of hung onto it?
Driscoll: Yes, right, exactly.
LaBounty: Do you remember, you were right there in that area, do you remember houses made of cable cars or streetcar houses?
Driscoll: Oh yes, there were. I think there's a couple of them still left out there, but they've modified---you know, you wouldn't know. At 48th, yes. We used to pass those when we went to the beach. They're still there, a couple of them.
LaBounty: You kind of could tell, though, when you were a kid, right?
Driscoll: Yes, but now, you know, you can't. They're like little cottages.
LaBounty: When did your family leave that house at 44th and Irving?
Driscoll: Oh, well, we had grown up by that time. They moved to Sausalito and we had left home by that time. But they sold the house and moved to Sausalito then.
LaBounty: So you went to Francis Scott Key and then where did you go after that?
Driscoll: To Lowell.
LaBounty: And this was when Lowell was---
Driscoll: On Hayes Street, facing Masonic.
LaBounty: Then at that time getting out of high school, what were your plans?
Driscoll: Well, we still didn't have any---my parents didn't have enough money to send us to college, so we went up here to City College, which was good, but it was during the war and so a lot of the teachers were gone to the service. I still don't know how it happened, but someway they railroaded my sister and me into this Home Ec' course. I guess they had the teachers. I had no idea of wanting to do that, so we were in there for about a year and then we transferred to Berkeley.
LaBounty: Your sister?
Driscoll: I have a twin sister, yes. So we went over there.
LaBounty: I guess there were advantages and disadvantages to having your sister with you in school all the way though.
Driscoll: Oh yes. They don't do it anymore, but we dressed alike and everybody thinks, "Oh, the twins," and all that.
LaBounty: You guys were ready to break out of that pretty quick?
Driscoll: Oh yes. Oh yes, when we got to college, that was the end of it.
LaBounty: Was your family religious when you were kids?
Driscoll: No, we're Jewish, but we're not religious. My grandmother would go to synagogue once in a while, but I went once with her, or twice with her, and to me it was really boring, so I never went back.
LaBounty: Because I was thinking also about the different kinds of people that would live in the Sunset back then. I suppose there weren't many minorities.
Driscoll: None at all. In fact, that reminds me of a story. When we were out there, my mother would take us downtown once in a while on the N streetcar. There was one day she took us up there, and I'd never seen a black man in my life before, and this black man came up to help my mother and he had all---not only he was black, every tooth in his head was gold. He lifted us up on the streetcar and was helping my mother, and I started to scream bloody murder, you know. I was frightened, you know. And I'm sure she was very embarrassed, but I remember that.
LaBounty: That's when you were a kid and you were leaving and come back---
Driscoll: Yes, we were about four or five years old.
LaBounty: I guess downtown was like a whole different world to you.
Driscoll: Oh yes. Oh yes, the women---you've heard this before---used to wear the hats and the gloves downtown. Well, there was no shopping out here; there was nothing, there were few stores. Sometimes of Saturdays the whole family went to the Crystal Palace on Market Street, a huge grocery and deli store.
LaBounty: It's interesting that whole---I mean, everybody tells me that, you know, this idea of dressing up to go shopping downtown.
Driscoll: Oh, they did. Well, you know, people dressed more then anyway, I think.
LaBounty: So your parents, I guess you were saying that they---it wasn't easy money-wise. Did they do anything for fun?
Driscoll: Well, they didn't have the money for it, but they did go to the movies, this flea house I told you about, and like they'd go once, I guess once a week, and it was the Depression and they would have a bank night or something. I don't know what they did, but once in a while they'd come home with a dish. They had free dinnerware. But then it was a big deal, you won $25 worth of groceries. You know, that was like winning the lottery then.
LaBounty: What stores were there out there? I mean, grocery shopping.
Driscoll: Yes, there was some shops. Yes, there was a---what was it?
LaBounty: Like an A&P or something?
Driscoll: No, it wasn't even that big. My brain's going dead. Anyway, there was a market at 46th and Irving and there was a poultry market, too. And a really nice deli, Charlie's Market.
LaBounty: It's still there.
Driscoll: I don't know if he's still there.
LaBounty: Charlie's probably not there, but, yes, the market's still there.
Driscoll: And he was good. He had good deli stuff. I remember my folks would go there to buy spaghetti and potato salad.
LaBounty: I didn't know Charlie's Market had been there that long.
Driscoll: It might not even be in the same location, but it was between 46th and 47th, I think, on Irving.
LaBounty: It's out there. That's right near there. Did you guys have a radio?
Driscoll: Oh yes, and we used to listen to the big---my father loved to listen to the prize fights, you know, Max Baer, and sit in front of the radio and listen to the prize fights. Then my grandmother---oh, this used to drive us crazy. There was a horrible commentator by the name of H.V. Kaltenborn, he was a big bore, and she would listen to him religiously every day and we'd come home from school and hear him. We were kids; we had no right to complain about it.
Driscoll: Yes, K-A-L-T-E-N-B-O-R-N.
LaBounty: What kind of stuff would he talk about?
Driscoll: News. It was a news commentary. I can't even remember.
LaBounty: Like the Rush Limbaugh of his time or something?
Driscoll: Sort of, not that bad. Nobody was that bad, but they did have awful ones like that Fulton Sheen, Bishop Sheen. Yes, he was pretty bad.
LaBounty: That was a big form of entertainment back then, right?
Driscoll: Well, there was no TV then; it was important.
LaBounty: Do you remember the first TV you saw?
Driscoll: Well, it must have been way later, because I remember when I was in high school we always had to write papers and everything, and I wrote a paper on television. You know, this was a big deal, you know, sets, big old sets. So that was in the forties. I don't remember---I don't think our parents ever had one at that point. No, they must have been too expensive when they first came out.
LaBounty: Yes, I bet. So when you got out of City you went to Berkeley. What did you major in over there?
Driscoll: Public health.
LaBounty: And then when you got out did, you get into public health?
Driscoll: Well, I was in the laboratory, medical lab.
LaBounty: Then met your husband somewhere in there?
Driscoll: Well, not really, no. I was quite a bit older. We belonged to this Young Democrats Club. They had these cocktail parties just about every week. It used to be in the Domino Club downtown and they used to have cocktail parties. It was a singles thing.
LaBounty: Kind of politics and singles together?
LaBounty: Were you interested in politics pretty early on?
Driscoll: Not that much, but he was. He did a lot of campaigning for Senator Phillip Burton.
Driscoll: Anyway, he helped him.
LaBounty: So when was this that you met your husband?
Driscoll: I met him about the late fifties, it must have been. The mind gets dim. I don't know exactly what year.
LaBounty: So you were born here in San Francisco, and you got married here?
Driscoll: Well, we were married in Carson City.
LaBounty: Oh, you went to Nevada. Then you had your daughter here?
LaBounty: I'm just trying to get that timeline here in my head. So when you moved here, was most of this hilltop filled in with houses and such? It was all done pretty much?
Driscoll: Oh yes. There were still some lots, but it was pretty well filled in. Like on our block, you know, it was all full.
LaBounty: This is in the sixties, so was it pretty integrated at that time?
Driscoll: Yes, it was, but I was just thinking the other night, on our block there were some blacks, but it was mostly whites. But the other, as I told you about, the busing, it was all pretty much black. Because I remember that's why we were able to get the house at a decent price, because the people at that point wouldn't move in where there were blacks.
LaBounty: Did the realtors, were they okay---I mean, did they try to talk you out of it, too?
Driscoll: No. No. Let's see. How did we buy that? I don't remember how we bought it, but we knew we had a certain amount of money to spend and that was about the only place that was convenient for him that we could afford.
LaBounty: Now, were you working at this time or were you---
Driscoll: I worked for a while until I had the baby. I worked in some labs, but then I quit.
LaBounty: What did your daughter end up doing?
Driscoll: She does graphic art and she worked at Macy's in display for a long, long time. Now she got a really good job with a company called Benefit Cosmetics.
LaBounty: You said some of this art is yours?
LaBounty: So how long have you been---
Driscoll: Well, I always wanted to be an artist when I was kid, but I knew damn well I couldn't make a living at it, so I really couldn't go into it until later in life, but I've been doing it twenty, thirty years.
LaBounty: Did you have any training at that point?
Driscoll: Yes, I did. I used to go to night school at Berkeley. Of course, when I was going to UC, I had to do mostly what courses you were required to take. I think I took one art class there and I took art in high school, and then I used to go to night school. Then when I came over here, I went to City College took a lot of art and photography, both.
LaBounty: So you went to City College during the war?
Driscoll: I went back.
LaBounty: Yes, and then you came back.
Driscoll: That was much later.
LaBounty: Did it change a lot in between?
Driscoll: Not really.
LaBounty: It seemed the same to you?
Driscoll: Well, of course, it's more diversified. When I went there, I don't remember any minorities. To tell you the truth, I don't remember any minorities. There might have been a few, but not many.
LaBounty: You said that a lot of the teachers had left when you were there, to go to the war.
Driscoll: During the war, yes, they went in the service.
LaBounty: So who did they have teaching you at that time back then?
Driscoll: They had some men, you know, they must have been 4F or something. There were some math, I remember, and English teachers that were men.
LaBounty: Now, like your fellow students who were men, you know, there was that feeling that they might be going off to war.
Driscoll: Well, that didn't occur to me until we got over to Berkeley and then they had these ROTC guys, and then it hit me that that's where they were going. Although in high school when the war first started, quite a few of the younger---I guess they were seniors maybe, they volunteered. One of them, that stuck in my mind, poor guy, he was on the track team and he went over there and he was dead in six weeks. You know, that was a shock, you know, young people.
LaBounty: Yes. And you're still in school.
Driscoll: Yes. And then another one that went in the service and he was involved with some---I think he was going to a whorehouse or had some thing with a prostitute and he was stabbed. You know, this was in the war. He was killed down in the city, downtown.
LaBounty: It's hard to imagine now, because I guess back then, people weren't protesting the war.
Driscoll: No. Well, that was a different war.
Driscoll: I mean, what was awful was they were relocating the Japanese at that point, too. One of my best friends in high school was relocated, and that was a rude shock.
LaBounty: Did you feel like it was a real unjust thing at the time?
Driscoll: Oh yes, but there was nothing you could do. This was General DeWitt that put out this proclamation, and there's not a darn thing you could do. We knew it was wrong, but there were no form of protests. I imagine maybe at that point maybe there were a lot of people that were against the Japanese. Who knows.
LaBounty: I've interviewed some other people who knew Japanese families living here in this neighborhood that got sent to the camps.
Driscoll: Yes, it was awful. You know, it was really kind of interesting, because she was one of my best friends. They were at Tanforan and then they transferred to Topaz, Utah, and then I guess some of the younger ones were allowed to go to universities in the Midwest. She went to Illinois and we lost track of her, and I never knew what happened to her. I kept looking for her, and by golly, I found her a couple years ago here. She did the same kind of work I did; she's a medical technologist.
LaBounty: And you just came across her?
Driscoll: Well, no, I didn't come across her. I saw in the paper a death notice of that name, and then I looked in the phone book and I saw her name. She never married, so I was able to contact her.
LaBounty: What was her name?
Driscoll: Martha Abe, A-B-E.
LaBounty: So you had a conversation with her then?
Driscoll: She came over here one day, yes.
LaBounty: Again, it's hard to imagine now having a war with no real protests and living in this day and age, and having people physically relocated because of their race. You know, it's hard to imagine that today. It's interesting to talk to people about times when that was just the way it was. What do you remember in what ways has this neighborhood---we talked a little bit about the drugs and the crime and a bit about the integration, but if you were to pick a couple of things that you think are the major changes in this neighborhood since you've lived here, because it's been forty years now, what would they be? I mean, what are the big changes in this neighborhood?
Driscoll: Well, I think that in this neighborhood here a lot of the younger people have moved in with small children, which is very nice. Because when we first moved here, it was mostly older people.
LaBounty: People who had lived there from the beginning, almost?
LaBounty: So you're getting more families and that sort of thing.
Driscoll: Which is nice, kind of new blood. And then it became quite integrated, too.
LaBounty: The Terraces part?
LaBounty: It seems like it went through a little integration thing in the late fifties or sixties, but it probably accelerated a lot in recent years.
Driscoll: I think so.
LaBounty: The whole west side is a lot more Asian, Asian American.
Driscoll: Right, and that was all white in the old days.
LaBounty: What's the one thing you miss? Is there anything you miss in the---it can be anything on this side of town or in the city at all, but is there anything that you kind of go, "I wish that was still here"?
Driscoll: Oh, some of the old landmarks, maybe something like that. But life goes on. Some of the stores you miss, like there was a really neat---there was Petrini's Market. Of course, that wasn't in this area, but you could get there. Petrini's Meats.
LaBounty: Are you talking about over in Stonestown?
Driscoll: Well, they also had one in Lakeside. They had two of them, and one was a small store. Then they had these---oh, I remember now. They had that restaurant, the Red Roof, up here, we used to go up there once in a while. I forgot about that.
LaBounty: It's like a Chinese church now, isn't it?
Driscoll: Yes, right. It was like a big coffee shop with red naugahyde seats. It was pretty good, as I remember. It wasn't wonderful.
LaBounty: Do you remember when that closed? I remember that, too, now.
Driscoll: Somebody else would be able to tell you. It's been a good number of years, because I don't know how long after they closed it that the Chinese church got it. Somebody with a better memory might be able to tell you. Maybe in the seventies.
LaBounty: And then Ocean Avenue, that's gone through a number of changes.
Driscoll: Oh yes. Because there used to be little tiny shops up there, and that was nice. You could walk to them, get stuff in the hardware store and the grocery store.
LaBounty: More of a neighborhood shop.
Driscoll: Yes, they were small.
LaBounty: Now they've got all these palm trees and they redid the whole street and all that.
Driscoll: Yes, I took a lot of photographs, slides, of that, of the reconstruction.
LaBounty: You know what's funny that's hard to find is, we've been looking for things---you can find pictures of Ocean Avenue eighty years ago, and you can find, of course, recent pictures, but that sixties and seventies, that's the tricky part. People didn't take pictures of Ocean Avenue in the sixties and seventies.
Driscoll: Well, there was nothing really---there wasn't anything aesthetic about it, that was probably why.
LaBounty: Nobody went, "Oh, we should take a picture of---."
Driscoll: Well, I remember when they knocked down that Homewood Terrace and I was too chicken, because there was a nice wall sculpture that was knocked down, and I should have gone in and asked if I could have it, but I was too shy.
LaBounty: It was like just a part of a---
Driscoll: It was a plaque, kind of a big concrete or cement plaque in the front entrance.
LaBounty: It was part of the wall, sort of?
Driscoll: Yes, it was.
LaBounty: I met somebody from---I guess the agency that used to be what is the Jewish Family Service, something like that, and I guess the method of having a big orphanage kind of went out of---
Driscoll: Yes, they didn't do it anymore.
LaBounty: I guess it was in bad condition there for a long time.
Driscoll: I think so.
LaBounty: They just kind of abandoned it.
Driscoll: I think it deteriorated.
LaBounty: Yes. Then they built that huge complex.
Driscoll: I know.
LaBounty: I was interviewing somebody else, and we were talking about the Vietnam War, all the protests that went on over here.
Driscoll: Oh, I remember that.
LaBounty: Did that affect you guys much here?
Driscoll: Not up here, but I remember that one day when they were out on 19th Avenue there, and there's a house there, I don't know if you know it, sort of an English Tudor house, and I remember the day when they had Sam Hayakawa with a bullhorn on a truck. Then I remember the day they had the mounted police there and they were way up to that house there trying to control the crowds.
LaBounty: So Hayakawa was there and all that, the police actually went all the way up there.
Driscoll: The students must have been spilling out up there.
LaBounty: Yes, on Holloway. Yes, I interviewed the Trasvina family, lived right next door to that place and we were talking, because their backyard, they had gas and all of that, teargas and all that going there.
Driscoll: Yes, they could tell you a lot, I'm sure.
LaBounty: That whole civil rights, I mean, the whole Vietnam War, all that, it's a lot quieter over at State now, I think, than it was.
Driscoll: Although they did have---when did they have some? Not too long ago. I'm trying to remember, probably about Iraq.
LaBounty: Yes, they still have things.
Driscoll: They stopped the traffic up on 19th. They didn't get into these riot things then.
LaBounty: Did you guys use Stonestown a lot when you moved in?
Driscoll: Oh yes.
LaBounty: Because that used to have a lot more---there was a market and---
Driscoll: Well, they had a Petrini's there and it was great, and a Merrill's drugstore.
LaBounty: And a restaurant, a few restaurants.
Driscoll: Right. Oh, the Red Chimney.
LaBounty: Oh, yes, the Red Chimney.
Driscoll: And the Emporium.
LaBounty: Now it's more of a place to go buy clothes.
Driscoll: Typical mall, yes.
LaBounty: It used to be more of a neighborhoodish mall, as I remember. The open air, of course.
Driscoll: Yes. I think they had a Jack LaLanne or had a health club down there, I think. It was downstairs under the mall somewhere.
LaBounty: Yes, it was nice except when it rained.
Driscoll: That's right.
LaBounty: So what's the best thing about the neighborhood, if you were to pick something?
Driscoll: I think the people, they're very friendly. I walk here almost every day. We know all the people around here, they stop and talk, so it's very friendly.
LaBounty: Very neighborhoody.
LaBounty: If there was a worst thing, it could be the weather, it could be anything, what would it be?
Driscoll: I can't think of anything really bad. The worst thing people seem to complain about is the dogs pooping on the sidewalks and lawns, but I don't think there's anything really serious.
LaBounty: Parking is not a big issue?
Driscoll: No. No, as long as you remember to move your car on street-sweep day. But that's one thing that's really good, you know, when you have people here they can always find a parking place.
LaBounty: Traffic not really too bad here?
Driscoll: Not bad. Although for a while there, they stopped it now, by the---you know those roundabouts they put in here? We used to have, a couple of years ago, these damn kids in these trucks make donuts at midnight and screaming the tires and waking everybody up. I guess by the time the cops came they'd be gone. So they kept that up and kept that up, and then I guess Lonnie could probably tell you more about that, but they were able to get those roundabouts put in and so it wasn't as much fun for them then.
LaBounty: The one thing that I think obviously hangs over all of San Francisco, but probably this nice detached whole neighborhood here, is the real estate prices.
Driscoll: They're out of sight. Well, I was going to say one thing that is bad, I don't even know if there are people that live in here, but they drive too fast. They almost killed some guy a couple years ago up here. I think that's one reason they put in some of these roundabouts. It was terrible. This young kid was going sixty miles an hour or so and this poor guy was out walking his girlfriend's dog, and the dog ran out and he ran out, I guess, to get it, and this guy just hit him and knocked him sixty feet or whatever it was. He was in a coma, and then I think his parents finally came out and got him.
LaBounty: Here in the---
Driscoll: In the Terraces, yes. It was sad.
LaBounty: So how does it feel to have a house that's almost a million dollars now?
Driscoll: It feels pretty good, but, you know, on the other hand, where do you go? You don't move. So they'll probably cart me out of here feet first. It's very nice, because with your taxes from being here that long you couldn't live in an apartment for what you pay here.
LaBounty: I was just thinking, I guess the only kind of sad thing is that you can only have people who are---have the money living in the neighborhood.
Driscoll: But, listen, there seem to be so many of them. They've got these up here for 900,000. Where do you live?
LaBounty: I live over on San Jose. I'm right off San Jose. But, yes, I grew up in the city, too, but I can't ever imagine a way of owning a house here now.
Driscoll: It's sad, because the younger people don't have a chance. The down payment, can you believe it---
LaBounty: But that, I guess, is what hangs over every neighborhood here, just the price of houses.
Driscoll: Well, they're all crazy. Like Sea Cliff, they're probably five, six million over there.
LaBounty: Even the poor neighborhoods, you get these million-dollar houses sometimes.
Driscoll: Well, about the cheapest is 500,000, you know.
LaBounty: So who's this guy up here on the wall, this old oil painting?
Driscoll: Oh, his name is Francis Biddle. He's not a relative, by the way, but it looks like a Navy uniform, but it was an Army uniform, the War of 1812. It was an English portrait man by the name of Sir Thomas Sully.
LaBounty: So you just got it as like a collector sort of thing?
Driscoll: Yes. So anyway, that was that, but he's not a relative. You know, I pass him off as a relative.
LaBounty: Yes, he looks good. Where did you find him?
Driscoll: The Salvation Army about thirty years ago or something like that.
LaBounty: Wow. And you found out all that just from---
Driscoll: Well, I went to the library and I looked him up.
LaBounty: That's great. That's like something one of those Antique Road Show things.
LaBounty: And then this, is this Native American?
Driscoll: Yes, I collect. Well, that has a story, too.
Can I get you a cup of tea or something?
LaBounty: Oh, no, I'm fine right now. Thank you.
Driscoll: That one is funny. Have you ever been to Butterfield's?
Driscoll: I don't know if it's like that anymore, but I used to go out there once in a while, and this thing was on the floor and people were stepping all over it, and it was in a "lot" of merchandise Sometimes they put a lot of stuff together, and so I put a bid in on it for $50 for the whole lot. I know they didn't know what it was, and I don't know that it's old, that I don't know, but it's a plains Indian dance shield.
LaBounty: It has these long feathers. It's very beautiful.
Driscoll: And then this is from Alaska, this shaman's mask from Nunivak Island, which I'd never heard of before, but it's up in the Bering Sea.
LaBounty: You have a lot of like---what would it be called, sort of---a lot of art and sculpture from everywhere.
Driscoll: Yes. I like to collect. I like primitive art. That one's from Papua, New Guinea.
LaBounty: I was going to say it looks like something from over there.
Driscoll: There was a sale, oh, god knows, twenty years ago maybe down at Fort Mason, there was a folk art international and they had all this stuff from New Guinea, so I bought it. But there again, I don't know if it's very old. I don't think it is probably.
LaBounty: It's neat. It adds a lot of character to this room.
LaBounty: Is there anything else that we haven't chatted about that you'd like to get on record?
Driscoll: No. Well, I was going to show you, I have one picture here. I don't know if you're interested in it.
LaBounty: Let me pause this.
LaBounty: Oh, welcome to the neighborhood sort of thing?
Driscoll: Yes. It's for kids, bring your kids.
LaBounty: Family barbecue thing. Yes, I've been wanting to interview Marsha.
Driscoll: Oh, she would know a lot.
LaBounty: Because she knows so much.
Driscoll: She's done research and she's got a lot of slides and everything, too.
LaBounty: I've chatted with her before, and I went straight to her work for all the initial history, because she's just great, but she's so busy.
Driscoll: Oh, I could imagine. Have you ever gone to that Gladys Hansen. She used to be the City Librarian and historian.
LaBounty: Yes. And I'm pretty good friends with the current archivist down there, but it's hard; the neighborhood history is a little trickier, you know, it doesn't get to the libraries often. It's great that Marsha did what she did, because I can find articles she had written for the local papers and that sort of thing.
Well, this has been great.
Driscoll: And this one, I don't think this would be appropriate, but I used to take pictures through the store windows and it was an old---I think it was an old coffee grinding machine up there on Ocean Avenue.
LaBounty: And they just had it like in the store window, huh?
Driscoll: Yes. Yes, I took it through the window.
LaBounty: That's interesting. That's a coffee grinder you think, huh?
Driscoll: I think so. I'm not sure.
LaBounty: It's got these two very ornate urns and then like a motor connecting them.
Driscoll: Yes, it's kind of weird.
LaBounty: That's neat. It looks like you have kind of an artistic eye even back then.
Driscoll: Well, I used to take pictures. I have another one of these big gas tanks, you know, oxygen and whatnot in one of the store windows up there. I did it for art's sake, not for anything else. But I wanted to go inside and take it from the inside and this, I guess it was the landlord, she was Asian and I think she was very suspicious who I was, and she wouldn't let me take it from the inside.
LaBounty: Do you have any old photos of yourself as a kid or anything like that?
Driscoll: Oh yes. Oh yes, I do.
LaBounty: It would be kind of fun to see you as a---well, I'll stop this. Thank you so much.
Driscoll: You're welcome.[End of interview]
Contribute your own stories about the OMI!
This project is made possible by a grant from the CALIFORNIA COUNCIL FOR THE HUMANITIES with generous support from the San Francisco Foundation, as part of the Council's statewide California Stories Initiative. The COUNCIL is an independent non-profit organization and a state affiliate of the NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES. For more information on the Council and the California Stories Initiative, visit www.californiastories.org.
Page launched 30 November 2004.