Western Neighborhoods Project "I am OMI"
Interview with John W. Gross
November 13, 2003
LaBounty: It's November 13, 2003, and I'm here with John W. Gross, and we're going to talk a little bit about growing up in---what neighborhood do you call it?
LaBounty: You call it Ingleside.
LaBounty: And when did your family get to Ingleside?
Gross: Oh, way back, and I don't know the exact year offhand, but it had to be around 1910.
LaBounty: And what brought them there, do you know?
Gross: The building of the Twin Peaks Tunnel brought my mother's family out this way. My dad came out this way. I don't know the reason.
LaBounty: They met in Ingleside, though?
Gross: Yes. They were childhood sweethearts.
LaBounty: In Ingleside?
Gross: Right, on Howth Street. My dad lived at the top of the hill, in fact, the house where I was born, 366 Howth Street. My mother lived down at the bottom of the hill. That was between Josiah and Mt. Vernon Streets, and my mother lived right at the corner, a couple houses in from the corner of Howth Street and Mt. Vernon.
LaBounty: Are those houses still there?
LaBounty: Now, on Howth at the top, 360---
Gross: Six, right.
LaBounty: What's that cross up there?
Gross: Well, it turns. If you continue going up the hill, it levels out for a little short distance, and Howth Street ends there, makes a little dogleg, turns into Josiah Street.
LaBounty: Any views?
Gross: Oh, yes, yes, overlooking---in fact, that same panorama, that larger picture that I showed you, but looking in the opposite direction, looking down over the streetcar barns and out toward the Mission, toward the Excelsior District.
LaBounty: So your mother's family moved out here just to buy a house sort of thing?
Gross: Yes. They lived down in Cow Hollow, and my grandfather worked on the Twin Peaks Tunnel.
LaBounty: Oh, he worked on it?
Gross: And that's why they moved out to this neighborhood.
LaBounty: So he actually worked in the tunnel as like a---
Gross: You know, I don't know.
LaBounty: Some kind of construction job, do you think?
Gross: Construction, definitely, but I don't know exactly. He died in 1948, so I didn't know him very well, since I was born in 1944.
LaBounty: And your dad did what for a living, you were telling me?
Gross: My dad's a painting contractor. His father was a hod carrier and worked at various construction.
LaBounty: Now, a hod carrier is a person who takes---
Gross: Bricks, plastering, materials, pretty much. I don't even think there is a hod carrier trade today, but in those days, he did all the heavy work of moving construction materials around.
LaBounty: That must have been tough.
Gross: Oh, yes.
LaBounty: Did he ever talk about it?
Gross: No. He died in 1926, and that was before my parents got married.
LaBounty: And you said your parents were childhood sweethearts.
LaBounty: Did they go to school together out there?
Gross: Actually, no. My mother went to Sheridan, and my dad went to Farragut.
LaBounty: So they just knew each other from the blocks.
Gross: From the neighborhood, right.
LaBounty: Did they ever talk about how they met and what they used to do as kids and that sort of thing?
Gross: Well, they probably did. I can't recollect any specific. I know my dad was an avid fisherman, and he always used to talk about taking my mother out for the evening and then taking her home and going out to Ocean Beach to fish the rest of the night. [Laughter]
LaBounty: That's funny. Did they come from big families?
LaBounty: Relatively small?
Gross: Right, yes, both of them. My mother had one sister, my dad had two sisters, and that was it.
LaBounty: And so your dad, what was his name?
Gross: John J. Gross, John Joseph Gross.
LaBounty: And your mom's name was?
Gross: Frances Ruth Storry. It's double-R-Y.
LaBounty: Did they talk about the neighborhood, how it changed or anything like that?
Gross: Oh, lots. Oh, absolutely, absolutely, talked about it all the time.
LaBounty: What kind of things, do you remember anything?
Gross: Oh, one of the things that sticks in my mind, my dad always talked about the sand dunes of the area. He talked a lot about the big fence that surrounded Ingleside Terrace when it was still a racetrack. He talked about walking to school. One of the things that I told you, he was a fisherman, he was also a hunter, and he was able to afford a single-shot shotgun. And walking to school, he'd shoot rabbits, usually on the way home, and he said he just wrapped it up in a newspaper and left it in the locker at school, no problem. Other days, he would carry a golf club and a couple of golf balls, and he'd hit the golf ball all the way to school and all the way back. And he only went to the eighth grade, and he went to work right after that.
LaBounty: Did he have the open space between---like Howth is sort of on the east side of that ridge there, and he had the open space to walk to Farragut and shoot rabbits and hit golf balls.
Gross: Exactly, right, right. And they talked about a family outing would be to go down to Lake Merced and pick blackberries. He said they never did anything that wasn't practical. They didn't go on picnics just for a picnic; it was always to gather wood or to gather berries. It was a tough life for them at that time. They were not well blessed with a lot of money. In fact, I don't know how they bought the property, but that was my grandfather, my father's father, that bought that, left it to my dad. My dad bought it out from his two sisters and moved his bride in in 1929. My oldest sister came in 1930, my second sister in '33, and I was way late in 1944.
LaBounty: It sounds like even his walk to school was profitable, though, getting a rabbit or something like that.
Gross: Yes, absolutely. And the thing about the golfing was that he and a few of his buddies became caddies at the various golf links that were put up in the Lake Merced area and that was just to supplement the income.
LaBounty: And you said he mentioned the fence around the old racetrack. So your father came out in somewhere around 1910, you said, or something like that?
LaBounty: The track, I guess, had stopped, but there was still a fence around it.
LaBounty: Was it like to keep people out, sort of thing, you said, or just to delineate it?
Gross: No, it was just to delineate exactly where everything was there.
LaBounty: Did he remember all that construction going up then, I guess?
Gross: Absolutely, sure. And he used to talk about, it would be the north side of Ocean Avenue, how it was a forest right down to the ocean, and he remembers them cutting the trees and then the homes being put in.
LaBounty: Here we have that newsreel you saw, or maybe you didn't get to see it.
Gross: I didn't get a chance to see it.
LaBounty: Oh, I should bring you a copy.
Gross: My daughter saw it.
LaBounty: They have some pictures of kids, you know, running around on Ocean Avenue while they're building Westwood Park. I wonder if your dad's one of those kids.
Gross: It could be.
LaBounty: It could be pretty interesting. Wow, that's interesting. So then when you were born, everything had been pretty much built out?
Gross: Not completely. There were lots and lots of empty lots. What my mother used to call Pansy Hill, which is mentioned in this book.
LaBounty: Your mom called it that, too?
Gross: She called it that. And that was all open. That was wide open. The corner of Garfield and Head Street and looking, it would be toward the southeast, that entire hill was all vacant and open and still had wildflowers, poppies, pansies, and what have you. And we used to play up in there, run all around. Even up in behind the end of Josiah Street was a completely opened hill, a lot of exposed rocks and what have you. And that's all been developed since I was a little kid.
LaBounty: You used to play, climb around, and play pirates or cowboys and Indians, that sort of thing?
Gross: Exactly, right, right.
LaBounty: Did you get to shoot guns up there?
Gross: No, no. [Laughter]
LaBounty: That had stopped by the time you were---
Gross: That's for sure.
LaBounty: And your dad, did he run his business out of the house then there?
Gross: Yes. He became an apprentice painter for one particular company, and that was in 1921. For four years he worked in that one company, and that company that I still think has a name, although it's not a painting contracting firm, called Conrad Solvig [phonetic] Company. In 1925, he finished his apprenticeship, went to work for Zelinsky Company, a well-known painting contractor in San Francisco. That was in 1925. Then he worked through the beginning of the depression until '36 when he decided to go out on his own.
LaBounty: In the middle of the depression?
Gross: Right in the middle of the depression. And he told me at the time he had $300 in the bank. But he worked through the depression. He said he never lost a day. The Zelinsky Company got down to almost a skeleton crew because there was no work, but he did not get laid off.
LaBounty: Do you know where the Zelinsky outfit was at the time?
Gross: I do. It was on Grove Street, right across the street from City Hall. It would be between Van Ness and Polk. The building is still there. It's the Art Commission today.
LaBounty: Yes. So when you were a kid, your dad pretty much had an established business by that time, for about eight years or so.
Gross: Yes, right.
LaBounty: And you said they had kind of a rough childhood and that sort of thing, but things felt a little more stable when you came?
Gross: When I came along, everything was hunky-dory. My dad was a hard worker and a pretty savvy businessman, and he did well.
LaBounty: Did he pass that down to you? Were you a hardworking kid?
Gross: I think so, yes.
LaBounty: But you had time to play and stuff like that?
Gross: Oh, absolutely, right.
LaBounty: So what kind of stuff did you do for fun when you were a kid?
Gross: Play in the street. Play with the neighbor kids. I always walked to school. I went to Saint Emydius School. My sisters went to Farragut. But my folks by that time had a few more bucks to spend and thought that a private school education would be better at that time, and so they enrolled me in 1950 into kindergarten, and I went all the way through the eighth grade at the same school. Used to walk back and forth to school, and I was pretty far from school compared to the other kids. I remember in 1953, I walked to school in the morning, and it was in September and school had just started, and that afternoon I walked to Beverly Street on the other side. Beverly Street is about equidistant from the school, Saint Emydius, as Howth Street was in the other direction. I always remembered that, because it seemed very strange that I would leave the house in the morning and go to a new house. And he had that house built. It was brand-new.
LaBounty: Wow. So your dad had that house on Beverly you moved to built just for you guys.
LaBounty: And what's the address of that one?
Gross: 194 Beverly, right on the corner of Garfield.
LaBounty: So they moved while you were at school.
Gross: Right. Although when I got home, I remember that particular afternoon, it was up and down stairs with boxes and furniture, and I was certainly helping. I was nine at the time.
LaBounty: Were they Catholic?
Gross: My dad was. His family had been Catholic. His family was from the southern part of Germany, the Munich area, which is typically Catholic. But my mother's folks were from Hamburg, and that's Lutheran, so she was Lutheran. But they decided to raise both my sisters and myself Catholic.
LaBounty: Were they pretty strict Catholics when you were a kid?
Gross: No, no.
LaBounty: It sounds like going to Saint Emydius was almost more for the educational opportunities than the religious ones.
Gross: It was. Right.
LaBounty: What do you remember about Saint Emydius?
Gross: Well, of course, I never had a lay teacher. That's the one thing that I do remember, because in subsequent years, there were very few nuns. But I had a sister, nun, through from kindergarten right through the eighth grade. They were strict, but we kids got away with a lot of things that we thought was fun. They built a gymnasium when I was there going to school. I remember the construction. That was great fun, because we liked to play basketball, and it was better to be inside instead of outside in the rain and what have you. But once school was over, I always headed on home. I had no neighborhood kids that went to school with me, so that once I got home, those kids came from even the other side of Howth. They went to Denman [phonetic] for grammar school, or Denman may even be a middle school now. Oh, San Miguel, I remember, was the grammar school on that side, and then Denman, and then, of course, Balboa. So all those kids went there.
LaBounty: So the kids, when you lived at Howth, they all went to those public schools on that side of the hill.
Gross: Exactly, yes.
LaBounty: And so you were kind of a loner going to Saint Emydius.
Gross: And I was also the youngest boy, at least, on the block, so I had no peers my age. I was probably the youngest by maybe three or four years. So all the kids were a bit older than me. Used to get beat up all the time, as a play type of thing.
LaBounty: There was a lot more rough stuff back then?
Gross: Yes, definitely. We'd have rock fights. I know I still have a scar right in the middle of my nose where I got hit. Luckily, it was not in my eye. But that would happen one day, and the next day you're back out and playing and best of friends and what have you.
LaBounty: Did you ever wander off to Ocean Avenue as a kid and do stuff there?
Gross: You know, I remember one particular "wander off." All the boys on the block, there were about six or eight of us, decided to take a hike on a Saturday or Sunday or a holiday, whatever it was, over to San Bruno Mountain, and we did that without telling our parents. We got out there and walked up around the hills. Of course, I was quite young at the time. I was probably only seven, maybe eight.
LaBounty: That's quite a hike, too.
Gross: It's quite a long way. And somehow my mother got word of it, and I was in big, big trouble for wandering off that way. But going down to Ocean Avenue, no, I didn't go off in that direction much. We'd go down. There used to be an ice cream store on the corner of Onondega and Alemany. Can't remember the name of it, but we used to go down there, and I'd get in trouble for going too far in that direction, too. She preferred me staying on the block or within a couple blocks. One of the things that we used to enjoy, particularly my boy friend next door, he and I would go to the various small grocery stores and buy candy.
LaBounty: Corner market sort of things?
Gross: Corner markets, right, of which there were lots of them in the neighborhood, in every direction. We'd wander off and buy bubblegum or whatever. One time we pilfered some soda pop bottles out of the basement that my mother saved to turn in for the deposit, and we took them down to the store and got some extra change that way. Of course I got caught doing that. [Laughs]
LaBounty: Sounds like you never got away with anything.
Gross: No, I don't think so. [Laughter]
LaBounty: So all those corner markets are pretty much gone, aren't they?
Gross: Yes, they are.
LaBounty: Did your family---most of the grocery shopping, where was it done?
Gross: All of it was done at a market right on the corner of Holloway and, not Lee, the next one over, Brighton Street. She'd only go to that market maybe once a month, and the rest of the time she'd just phone an order in and they would deliver.
LaBounty: From that market?
Gross: Yes, just a little corner---it was an Italian family that ran it, Stagnaro [phonetic]. They had a separate butcher shop, and the butcher was George Knorr. I always remember that. K-N-O-R-R. That was his own business within this little---it's just a very small market.
LaBounty: I've interviewed another gentleman who remember Selmi's [phonetic] market, which was farther down.
Gross: Oh, yes. Oh, absolutely.
LaBounty: Paul Selmi, and sounds like he had a similar deal where they'd have the butcher inside and that sort of thing.
Gross: Right. No, the Selmis went to Saint Emydius. I know that family quite well.
LaBounty: Because it's right near there, right?
Gross: Right. They were not in my class, but I knew them. I think there was a boy and a girl in the Selmy family.
LaBounty: And he described markets all over that area.
Gross: Absolutely. Even across the street from Selmi's, which is on Ashton and Holloway, was another market called Marty's Market. The building's still there, but it's no longer a corner store like that.
LaBounty: Was there a rivalry between all these markets, or was there enough business to go around?
Gross: I think so, right. Even though in later years they called it the Holloway Market, but it was called Stagnaro's at that time. There was a small grocery store right across the street from them, too. It would be kitty-cornered. They were on, would be the northeast corner. And there was another one. It wasn't right on the corner; it was one store in. But there were a lot of small stores located all over the district.
LaBounty: Now Stagnaro's, was it on---I know that intersection pretty well. Was it on the northeast corner there?
Gross: It would be the northeast corner. It's still there, yes.
LaBounty: I think it's still a corner market. Do you remember the trains or the train---
Gross: The streetcar?
Gross: You know, everybody that comes to San Francisco calls them trains because that's what they call them elsewhere. But in San Francisco we never ever called them trains.
LaBounty: Well, I was actually talking about there used to be a San Jose-San Francisco---
Gross: Oh, I beg your pardon. Yes, okay.
LaBounty: ---really close to where you were.
Gross: Well, let me talk about the streetcar, first, while I'm on that, because everybody calls it the Muni. And of course, then they came out with the LRV, the light rail vehicle. And people call them trains today, and it drives me crazy, because it was always a streetcar. And I remember the old style with the cow-catcher on the front. And I remember it used to come up one of the side streets there. It wasn't Brighton. The next one over would be---
LaBounty: Plymouth or---
Gross: Didn't come up Plymouth.
LaBounty: Not Miramar.
Gross: Not Miramar. That's too far away.
LaBounty: I know I've seen a picture of it coming up one of those streets.
Gross: Okay. And I remember that.
LaBounty: A couple blocks or a block and a half, yes.
Gross: A block and a half, and then it would switch back and go back down. When they put the turnaround right near City College is when they took it off of that street. But I remember that well, and that's going quite a ways back. That's probably in the 1955 time, maybe before. But the train, no, the train had already stopped running. And I know where you're talking. It went through Bernal Cut and it went all the way down to the 3rd Street terminal at that time.
LaBounty: And the tracks were still there and all?
Gross: The tracks were there. We used to go down and play down in there, but even at the San Jose Avenue streetcar barns, they had a lot of abandoned streetcars that they no longer used, and we used to get in those and play in those. All of the fine woodwork was still there, and they were just sitting there deteriorating. That was all before the 280 freeway went in.
LaBounty: Do you remember the 280 freeway coming in?
LaBounty: When was that?
Gross: I was already in high school when that came in, and I was in high school '58 to '62, so it must have been about 1960, I would guess.
LaBounty: Pretty close to you.
Gross: Close to where I went to high school, which was Riordan, right across the street from City College.
LaBounty: Was it a big mess or was it sort of a---
Gross: Yes, yes, the streets were all torn up. I remember right down on San Jose Avenue, they had to take a lot of homes out, condemn the homes, pay the people off, and destroyed the homes. So that was kind of a trauma. That wasn't too far from Howth Street, but that was long after I had moved to the other side of town.
LaBounty: You were on Beverly by then.
Gross: The other side of the district, I should say.
LaBounty: In the neighborhood, was the freeway looked at as kind of like, "Great, we're going to have better access to things," or was it more of those freeway wars in the other parts of town where people weren't so happy about them?
Gross: You know, of course, it was before I was driving. I don't remember.
LaBounty: One way or the other.
Gross: One way or the other, I don't remember my folks talking about it, that it was good, bad, or indifferent.
LaBounty: Yes. So the streetcar, which line was that that went up to the street there?
Gross: The K.
LaBounty: The K, that used to turn there. I guess the numbered streetcars had already stopped by then.
Gross: I remember the 12.
LaBounty: You do remember the 12?
Gross: Yes. The 12 went out Sloat Boulevard out to the zoo, and we used to ride that occasionally. But that was young. I barely remember that.
LaBounty: What did you guys do for fun as a family? It sounds like you were a hardworking family. Did they go out and enjoy the pools or anything like that?
Gross: No, no. As I mentioned, my dad was an avid fisherman, and he had a boat, and he'd always had a boat, in my memory. In fact, one of his boats, would be the second one that he owned, he kept in the Napa marsh, and they used to ride the ferry over to Berkeley, the car ferry, and then drive on up to Crockett, take another ferry to get up to Vallejo. But it was in 1941 that he sold that boat and bought a bigger boat and kept it further up the delta. And still they rode the ferry to get there during the war years. In fact, he was on his boat on December 7  when the war broke out and didn't even hear about it until they got back to civilization, because they spent the whole weekend on the boat. They took me on the boat from the time I was born. He sold that boat in 1961 and bought yet a bigger one that he brought down to the Bay here. I still have that boat.
LaBounty: That stuck with you, right? You're a boat person.
Gross: Right, absolutely. Right. So most weekends were spent on that boat.
LaBounty: Did you have any extended family living near you?
Gross: Yes, yes, we did, particularly my aunts and, of course, the resulting cousins. On my mother's side, my one and only aunt died childless. She died quite young. But my dad had a continuing extended family. One of his sisters lived in the Mission District on 21st near Guerrero, and I used to go down and see her, take the streetcar or the bus, whatever it was at that time. His other sister lived in Pacifica, which was not called Pacifica at the time; it was called Sharp Park. That's one of the districts of Pacifica today. I used to go down and spend the weekend occasionally with my cousins, and we'd do that, but nearly as much as the time that we spent up in the delta on the boat.
LaBounty: And so like the local attractions, the zoo, Fleishhacker's, Sutro, the beach?
Gross: Very occasionally, very occasionally.
LaBounty: Didn't do that stuff much?
Gross: Went to Playland, more later as a teenager.
LaBounty: Kind of on the prowl as a dating teenager?
Gross: Right, exactly. I used to go to the El Rey Theater a lot.
LaBounty: What was that like?
Gross: Well, I used to hate the Saturday matinee, because I'd go, I'd want to see the movie, and the kids would just be romping and screaming and tossing spitballs and flying paper airplanes, and it was not a lot of fun.
LaBounty: The controlled riot at Saturday matinees.
Gross: Exactly, exactly. And my dad used to kind of kid me, even at that time. I'd say, "Dad, can I have fifty cents to go to the movies?" "Why would you want to do that? We've got this television, that's brand new, and you can watch that and you don't have to pay anything." But it was different, because when we wanted to go to the movie, it was with a couple of kids, and it was always fun. One of the early movies that I saw that just scared me to---it still bothers me today, and yet I don't worry about those types of movies anymore, but at that time, it really gave me a fright. Actually, I'm thinking of two of them. War of the Worlds was one, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The first-run movies, and I saw those within a couple of weeks of each other, and I never did really like scary movies like that.
LaBounty: I heard the War of the Worlds had lines that were just huge at the El Rey. It was a big deal.
Gross: Yes, absolutely. Oh, yes. I remember being around the corner trying to get in to see certain movies.
LaBounty: What scared you about War of the Worlds? You know, it's funny today [unclear] kind of thing.
Gross: I know. Right.
LaBounty: How do people get scared of those things? I know it's just radio.
Gross: Yes, well, as a little kid, though, I was probably only seven, eight, nine, ten, whatever. I didn't have a sense of what was real and what wasn't.
LaBounty: Do you remember what it was like when you walk into the El Rey? What was your impression of it?
LaBounty: The smell of popcorn?
Gross: Right, right. Candy counter.
LaBounty: Was it clean? Was it kind of ornate like some of these theaters?
Gross: You know, the El Rey, I didn't think was really super special, because occasionally I'd go down to the Fox Theater down on Marquette or the Orpheum or the Golden Gate, and those, you know, really impressed me. Occasionally we'd go to the Parkside, that was more as a teenager, over on Taraval Street, or the Empire Theater over here, which is still in operation, but, of course, it was a one-screen theater. I'll tell you another two more theaters we'd go to occasionally, the Granada on Mission Street right at the end of Ocean Avenue, and the Amazon on Geneva Avenue. Those, to me, were like second-rate. The ones downtown were really special. These, they were clean. I remember like at the end of a Saturday matinee, like anything, it looked like a dump with all the soda containers and the popcorn containers and what have you.
LaBounty: So the kids in the neighborhood, you say, you talk about fighting at Saint Emydius. There were no gangs or anything like that?
Gross: No, no. No fighting at Saint Emydius. Boy, that would be---no.
LaBounty: Oh, you're talking about neighborhood kids.
Gross: The neighborhood kids on the block. No, any fight that would ever break out at Saint Emydius would be squashed instantly and your parents would be notified and you might be on suspension. No, they were pretty strict there.
LaBounty: So it was more the neighborhood kids you were talking about.
Gross: Neighborhood kids, right.
LaBounty: But it wasn't like a gang thing. It was more just like kids playing rough.
Gross: Exactly. Right.
LaBounty: Do you remember any of those kids, the names of them?
Gross: Joe Lopez lived next door. Richard Warmeister lived across the street. Robert Brown, would be Robert Brown, Jr., and his sister Carol. Carol was closer to my age, and she and I used to play a lot. Both their house and my folks' house, where I lived on Howth Street, had huge big yards, went way in the back, a lot of big trees, and we used to play all kinds of games in their yards. Let's see. Who else would there be?
LaBounty: Well, it sounds like Robert Brown, we were looking in this book, their family lived there quite a long time, too.
Gross: Yes, they lived there long after we moved away. We used to go back and visit with them. They were good friends of my folks.
LaBounty: Do you know what his father did, what Robert Brown did?
Gross: I don't.
LaBounty: Just curious how they ended up in the neighborhood, too.
Gross: You know, I don't know what he did, but I do remember he was quite an engineer. Now, whether he did that as for a living, I don't know, but when I say that, he had a machine shop right there in his home, in his basement, and I'm telling you, he could make anything. My dad would take a broken fishing reel over to him, and we'd go down in his basement, and he'd put a light right over a little workbench, and he'd go to work on it. I remember that real well. He was kind of a tinkerer that really knew his stuff. He really was good.
LaBounty: And back then, it was all mothers stay at home kind of thing?
Gross: Yes, absolutely.
LaBounty: No jobs for them?
Gross: No, no. My mother was a housewife. Robert Brown's wife's name was Myrtle, I remember, and, you know, she would stay at home as well.
LaBounty: Was there a lot of stuff happening on the front porch sort of thing or people going to each other's houses and things like that?
Gross: There was not much of a front-porch thing. The weather was always foggy in the summer, as it still is. Yes, occasionally in the evening we'd go over there. My uncle and aunt lived at the bottom of the hill, across the street from where my mother was raised. The house is still there, right on the corner of Mt. Vernon and Howth Street. So we'd go down and visit with them occasionally in the evening. There was a chicken ranch. My uncle's house would be, again, on the northeast corner. So on the southwest corner there was a chicken ranch.
LaBounty: Mt. Vernon?
Gross: Mt. Vernon and Howth.
LaBounty: I've seen an ad for this chicken ranch.
Gross: All right. It was called Neugabauer [phonetic].
LaBounty: Oh, I think it had a different name when I had seen the ad. It must have been an earlier version of it.
Gross: Well, the Neugabauers had lived there. I don't remember them. The house was right in the middle of the block between Howth Street and Harold Street. It was right in the middle. Very, very old house. It was abandoned, and we used to go in there occasionally. The rest of the chicken ranch behind the house was completely overgrown with shrubs and trees and---
LaBounty: No more chickens at the time?
Gross: Oh, no, no, no.
LaBounty: Long gone?
Gross: That was before my time. But it was always interesting, and my mom and dad always cautioned we kids to stay out of there. It was dangerous.
LaBounty: The haunted chicken ranch.
Gross: Yes, right. But my mother talked about buying chickens. Actually, my mom and my dad, at the lower part of the hill and the upper part of the hill, raised rabbits, raised their own chickens as well, had vegetable gardens.
LaBounty: Do you remember, was there anything else as a kid you saw of the old agricultural past there, that there used to be fields and vegetable gardens and that sort of thing?
Gross: Yes, yes, I sure do remember.
LaBounty: Was there still some of that there?
Gross: Yes, absolutely, yes.
LaBounty: But was it more on the east side of the hill sort of thing?
Gross: Yes, it was. Yes. I don't remember anything going towards the west. That Neugabauer ranch was about the last of it. But I remember vegetable gardens down in the valley, not too far from where the car barns are today and where 280 is.
LaBounty: Yes, like near Geneva and that sort of thing?
Gross: Exactly right.
LaBounty: That's interesting, because it just blows me away to think of vegetable gardens there as late as fifties sort of thing.
Gross: I know it. Right.
LaBounty: So you guys had a car, you said.
Gross: At the time that we lived on Howth Street, just a truck, a panel truck.
LaBounty: Did most people have cars?
Gross: Yes, people were getting cars. In fact, my dad did. It was only a one-car garage, and he kept the truck there, because, as I said, the business was there as well. And he did buy a car. His first car that I remember was a 1952 Mercury, and he had to rent a garage space over on Plymouth, Plymouth ran off of Grafton. And anytime that he wanted to use the car, sometimes he would use the car to go up to the boat up in Antioch, and then we'd have to hike over from Howth over to Plymouth to get the car. He probably paid five dollars a month or something. I know it wasn't much.
LaBounty: Do ever remember your neighborhood or your area right around Howth being called San Miguel, that area? Because I've seen on some maps they've even kind of like made a tract name for it, and they called it San Miguel.
Gross: Well, as I mentioned, San Miguel School was down there.
LaBounty: But you all called it Ingleside.
Gross: We called it Ingleside. That's what my dad called it, yes.
LaBounty: We talked about Pansy Hill. If you went farther west, do you remember the Brooks house?
Gross: I don't, except for reading about it. It's mentioned in this book. But I never went up on that part of that hill, not at all.
LaBounty: So when you moved to Beverly, what was that side of town? What were the differences?
Gross: Well, it turns out I came as the youngest kid in my neighborhood friends to the oldest, and there were a lot more kids around Beverly Street.
LaBounty: Younger families?
Gross: Right. And as kids do, we made fast friends with everybody. Things were starting to change as far as people moving. A lot of kids moved away, which I was always sorry to see them go because I never saw them again.
LaBounty: Were they moving to suburbs?
Gross: Yes, moving down the Peninsula, moving out of the city.
LaBounty: Was this part of the neighborhood demographics changing and people starting to---that kind of white flight that happened there?
Gross: Yes, exactly, yes. That was evident.
LaBounty: When would that have been?
Gross: Late fifties, early sixties. Yes, actually not even the early sixties, because I got out of high school in '62, I stayed at home, I went to San Francisco State through '64, and then I went in the navy. So the time that we're talking about would be between September '53 and about the middle of my high school year, which would be 1960.
LaBounty: That's interesting that they were moving out of like Beverly, because Beverly's pretty far west, you know. I'm a little surprised by that move.
Gross: Yes. But the demarcation line of that district, though, is Junipero Serra. And, yes, people were---in fact, most of the kids I went to school with lived in that neighborhood. Some lived in Ingleside Terrace, but quite a few lived up on the hill off of Garfield, streets like Monticello, Bixby, Victoria, Arch Street. I still have a very close personal friend that I went to actually kindergarten, we went all through high school together, and he's still a good friend of mine. But he lives in San Mateo.
LaBounty: What do you remember of people talking about that, about African Americans moving into the neighborhood and that sort of thing? Was it talked about?
Gross: Oh, yes. Yes, it was.
LaBounty: Not thought highly of?
Gross: No, that's correct. You know, change for anybody is always kind of scary, and people saw it as a change that was not for the good. I got kind of caught up in that. As a young adult I was probably as prejudiced as a lot of people in San Francisco and other areas, but times change and we get over those.
LaBounty: I know I did an interview with somebody else, and they were actually talking about Paul Selmi, and they were saying that they were trying to, at the time, start some sort of neighborhood association or something like that to create housing covenants, so that people of color and that sort of thing couldn't move in. Do you remember any of that activity trying to come in?
Gross: I don't, no.
LaBounty: On Beverly, did you have any minorities move onto your street?
Gross: You know, not onto Beverly Street, as I recall, no.
LaBounty: When you got out of high school, did you go to college?
Gross: San Francisco State.
LaBounty: Okay. So you just went down the road.
LaBounty: And what was that like, your first time going to State?
Gross: A lot different than high school, a whole lot different.
LaBounty: And it was a relatively new campus. It was only five or six years old or something like that?
Gross: I think it was a little older than that, yes, because I started there in '64. I beg your pardon. I started there in '62, in the fall of '62. And no, it had been in operation for at least ten years, I would say. A lot different than high school. I seemed to get through high school with not too much problem. But it was not as structured as high school, and so you're more on your own, like any college is, looking back. And I struggled. I had a tough time that first year. But I got through some basic courses and got into the next phase as a sophomore, and started to buckle down and pay attention to what I was doing.
LaBounty: Those campus demonstrations and all that, was that all after your time?
Gross: That was later.
LaBounty: So was it pretty calm?
Gross: What actually happened is that I joined the navy in 1964. I joined the reserves, so I continued to go to school, and as long as I attended school, I was not called on active duty. Well, I did drop a class that gave me less than the requirement, and, boom, I was called up instantly. I was sent right to Vietnam. And so when I was in the service, and I was only in for two years, but during those two years, that's when the demonstrations got hot and heavy. Fortunately, I did a lot of homework again, so to speak, because I wanted to go back to school, and I actually got what they called a school cut. I got out early from the navy. I only served, well, three months less than my full two years on active duty to go back to State, which I did.
LaBounty: What was it like coming back?
Gross: Different again.
LaBounty: In what ways?
Gross: A lot of demonstrations still going on, because I went back in 1967 then, and the hippie movement had come in. A lot of drugs came in that I had no knowledge of whatsoever prior to going into the navy. So I was pretty surprised. I was pretty unenamored with the whole program. I got married right after that, and I eventually dropped out, and I finished successfully ninety units, so I was one year short of graduation, and temporarily went to work for my dad. Thirty-seven years later, I'm still there. [Laughs]
LaBounty: It sounded like to me that you weren't necessarily willing to go to Vietnam; it just sort of happened that way.
Gross: You know, all my friends, everybody was worried. The draft was coming. We were getting classified. And in no circumstances did I want to go into the infantry, and that scared me worse than those movies as a little kid. So I joined the navy, because I always liked the water, I always liked boating. And I did very well in the navy, mainly because my dad and some other people had taught me a lot about navigation. And that's the field I chose in the navy, and I excelled because I knew it all.
LaBounty: So even though you were a little reluctant, when you came back, did you feel like many returning veterans, that you were not appreciated for what you had done?
Gross: No, no, I never got that. You know, I did get a little bit, but---
LaBounty: Because I would think jumping right back into San Francisco State, where there were demonstrations and all that stuff going on, you know.
Gross: Right, right, right. But I just kind of steered clear of that. As I said, I got married right away and had my own thing to take care of. And, like my dad, I wanted to make a success of myself, and so I didn't pay a lot of attention to the social issues. I paid more attention to where I was going, raising a family.
LaBounty: When did your father pass away?
LaBounty: Oh, so it's been quite a while.
LaBounty: And your mother?
LaBounty: Oh, okay, it's been quite a while. And they lived at Beverly that whole time?
Gross: That whole time.
LaBounty: Wow. Now, so many people, they get a decent amount of success, and I know your father had a business here in the city, but in that time would have moved to the suburbs. Did your parents ever talk about that?
Gross: No, no. They were real San Franciscans and very proud of San Francisco right to the end. My dad wasn't real happy with the way the politics went, because he was very conservative. But my dad always said, "Don't call it Frisco." [Laughs] And the whole neighborhood thing. And it stuck with me. I'm still here, almost in the same neighborhood. And I love San Francisco.
LaBounty: Did they eventually move to like shopping at Stonestown and that sort of thing?
Gross: Yes, yes, absolutely.
LaBounty: Well, you probably remember Stonestown being built, don't you?
Gross: Absolutely, sure.
LaBounty: What was that like to have this big new shopping center right next door to your house?
Gross: Incredible, because as a kid, when my mom would go downtown shopping, occasionally she'd take me with her, and she'd dress up, you know.
LaBounty: Gloves and hat and all that?
Gross: Absolutely, the veil and a hat.
LaBounty: Did the kids have to dress up?
Gross: Yes, yes. I was looking to show you some pictures, and I can't find those. I have a ton of pictures. I brought a few up to show you. But there's a couple of me on Powell Street when they had a roving photographer.
LaBounty: Yes, catch the mother or father and the kid.
Gross: Exactly. So she dressed me up. There's one picture of me in a cowboy suit. There's another one of me in a sailor suit. And then, of course, she'd always take me to Santa Claus downtown. So when they built Stonestown, she pretty much stopped going downtown, and so it was completely different. The kids started going there, as they do today, and hang around the mall, and so we did that, too.
LaBounty: What stores do you remember there?
Gross: The main store that we bought our groceries from, QFI, even as an adult I shopped there, because I lived in Park Merced my first four years of marriage, right across the street from State, by the way, and I continued to go to school there for a while. But the Emporium was a big deal. During the Christmas holidays, they'd have ooph [phonetic] rides, and we, a whole bunch of us kids, would always go over there and pool our money. Never had enough. [Laughs] Riding the Rocko Plane [phonetic], I remember, and just hanging around there. Other stores, that was pretty much it between---I don't remember any particular music store or other stores that we would---we didn't really shop as kids.
LaBounty: And did your family ever go out to eat?
Gross: Not too much, no.
LaBounty: I was just wondering about restaurants and things like that there, because I hear people tell me a little bit about Stonestown restaurants.
Gross: No, I don't think we ever went to a restaurant like that. If my folks did want to go out, they'd go to North Beach or down to the Peninsula.
LaBounty: You said you were big fishermen and boater and that sort of thing, so maybe you were a little too big for the idea---did you ever go fishing in Lake Merced?
Gross: Yes, I did. Yes, I did.
LaBounty: Because there seemed to be a big fishing thing going on there.
Gross: Yes, absolutely. I was living on Beverly Street, and I had a bike. A friend of mine and I went down and fished and caught a few trout. I know this one particular afternoon, I was coming back home. I wanted to go back home, he didn't, so I left by myself on my bicycle. I got to the intersection of 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra, and there was a car dealership right on the corner. The building's still there today. PG&E moved into it for a long time, and now it's an auto repair shop, and some other businesses are in there. Well, anyway, I came up Junipero Serra and came out from between two parked cars and ran right into a moving vehicle, hit it pretty hard, flew over the hood, a young woman was the driver, and landed on my head, and I was unconscious. Well, the people from the dealership---this has all been told to me---came out, grabbed me. The woman was frantic, and she had a little baby in the car, I was told. I had identification on me, so they saw my address. So they went down and got my mother, and she came up. And by that time I was conscious, and I kept saying, "My bike, my bike." And my mother thought I was saying, "My back." So she thought I had a broken back or something worse, and I was only concerned about the bike, which looked like a pretzel from that moment. They called the ambulance, and just as circumstances or---coincidence is the word I'm looking for, it was a friend of ours who was the ambulance driver, so they took me to General Hospital.
LaBounty: Small town back then.
Gross: Yes, yes, that's for sure. They did not take me to General Hospital. They took me to St. Luke's on Valencia Street for overnight observation. I had a bump on my head, and that was the extent of it. A few days later, a shyster-type lawyer came to the front door and told my dad that he could get a lot of money for this accident. I was there, and I thought my dad was either going to strangle him or just throw him right off the second-story porch. My dad was a big man and pretty gruff, and this guy had second thoughts, I'm sure.
LaBounty: Your dad was pretty honorable. He wasn't going to do that.
Gross: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And the woman who I had run into, that was the thing, too, she called a couple times to find out how I was, and so that was kind of a happy ending to the whole thing. Nobody got hurt, didn't damage her car. And so that was one of my trips to Lake Merced. But, yes, I didn't go there a lot. Never had the time.
LaBounty: And your first job, did you have an after-school sort of job?
Gross: I did. I did. In fact, yes, you're bringing back some memories. I was trying to think of all the things I needed to tell you, and a lot of these things have escaped me. I worked in a flower shop when I was in grammar school. It was between Granada and Miramar, right on Ocean. I don't remember the name of it. I was promised to be paid fifty cents and hour. I worked there after school just during the holiday season. I worked there for maybe three or four weeks. And, you know, even at fifty cents an hour for a young kid, especially that age, I was, what, twelve, thirteen, I wanted to be paid, and it was getting close to Christmas. The woman that operated the store was, of course, just giving me cash at that time. She paid me about half of what was due, and she wouldn't pay me the rest of it. Finally she said I could take merchandise in lieu of payment, so I got a couple of vases off the shelf, and then I presented those to my mother for her Christmas present. So that was a bad memory of a first job.
LaBounty: Was that the north side or the south side?
Gross: It would be on the south side. And it wasn't in business for very long, maybe three or four years. But my dad used to patronize the Shell station right on the corner of---on Ocean Avenue. It's where McDonald's is today, whatever that street is. A fellow by the name of Herb Zizzer [phonetic], he had that Shell from my memory and beyond until the Shell station closed up and tore it down and built McDonald's there. I remember he came in to buy flowers, and other neighborhood friends of my dad would come in to buy flowers, and it was always fun to see them, and they were surprised to see me working there. That was a good memory, that part of it. But that was the only job that I had, and that was only that one season, very bad memory. I wanted to be a paperboy, because some of my friends were paperboys.
LaBounty: A lot of papers back then.
Gross: My dad wouldn't let me. He said too many people stiff the kids, and he had been a paperboy, and he remembered that. And he said, "No, you'll do better." So I used to work for him in the summertime when school was out. And, he, of course, looking back now, was grooming me to be a painting contractor. Little did I know it then.
LaBounty: He didn't talk about that openly, taking over the business?
Gross: No, no. As I said before, he was a pretty savvy character. He used to talk to me about aspirations in life, working hard, getting somewhere, being a member of your society that people could look up to, being fair and honest, and I think that was all part of, "You're going to be a businessman some day." When I first went to work for him, of course, I did all the grunt work, particularly those summers when I was in high school. But then even as an apprentice working for him, he was really, really strict, and I wasn't real happy with that job. I always thought I would do something different. I had aspirations at that time of being an accountant. Well, I don't think I could have done anything better than what I have done by going in with him. Pretty soon, you know, then the first baby came along after a while, and I couldn't afford to do anything except work, work, work, work. 1971, he took me in as a partner, and then he started laying off me, because he was pretty, pretty tough, a lot of yelling and screaming, and learning the trade at that time. Then when he took me in as a partner, then he started teaching me more about how to run a company, how to be a businessman.
LaBounty: Were you living there now? Are you still in Park Merced?
Gross: No, I was in Park Merced by that time.
LaBounty: Were you in one of the towers?
Gross: No. I had a garden apartment on Serrano Drive.
LaBounty: Then you had two sisters?
LaBounty: And what did they end up doing?
Gross: Well, my oldest sister made quite a career for herself. She went to work for the Chronicle and worked in the library portion of the Chronicle. An opening came. Originally she wanted to be an actress. She wanted to go to the Pasadena Playhouse, and my dad said, "Don't be ridiculous. We don't have that kind of money." Because, don't forget, she's fourteen years older than I am, and so back when she was of age to go to school, the family didn't have the money for college or for hardly anything except necessities. So Pasadena Playhouse was out, but she was always interested in theater. An opening came at the San Mateo Times for a movie critic, and they'd never had one before. So she created the job. She left the Chronicle, she'd only been there for about a year, went to work for San Mateo Times and became the drama critic, which just suited her fancy perfect.
LaBounty: That's great.
Gross: And she was there for thirty-nine years and retired about three years go now. Well, maybe a little bit more than that, four or five years ago.
LaBounty: And what's the name of that sister?
Gross: Barbara. My sister Joan worked for the Muni for most of her career, worked over on Geary Street, but she's passed away since. She died quite young also, at the age of fifty-eight. But Barbara's now seventy-three and still her glamorous self. She used to get to go to London, New York, and wherever there was a film opening or an opera, all the music, New Orleans, pretty much all over the world.
LaBounty: Did they treat you like the baby?
LaBounty: You're so separate in age.
Gross: Absolutely. When I was real small, I was four when Barbara moved out. I was six when Joan moved out. They both moved out at the age of eighteen. They used to tease me terribly, as I recall. I remember Joan would snap me with a dishtowel, because she always had to dry the dishes. But then after they moved out, then I was their little sweetheart.
LaBounty: Did they get married?
Gross: Yes, both of them.
LaBounty: That was more the style at the time, too, get married young.
Gross: Right, right.
LaBounty: What was your mom like?
Gross: You know, to me she was Old World, and yet she was born here in San Francisco.
LaBounty: She acted kind of German?
Gross: Yes, yes. My grandmother lived with us on Howth Street, and when they built Beverly Street, they built a special room. It was a three-bedroom house. Up until I was nine, I shared a bedroom with my grandmother. That was my mother's mother. They both spoke German, and they spoke it a lot at home. So that's what gave me that Old World. Plus the food we ate, a lot of German cooking, a lot of sauerkraut and a lot of sausages, things like that.
LaBounty: The neighborhood when you were a kid, were there lots of other Germans or Europeans or Italians, or was it just a big mix?
Gross: Mostly Italians. A lot of Italians. But I didn't get the flavor of that, though, in the neighborhood.
LaBounty: It was very American. [Laughs]
Gross: Yes, it really was. It really was.
LaBounty: What's your best memory of the neighborhood?
Gross: Oh, well, let's see. Best memory.
LaBounty: It could be an event or it could just be a general feeling. It could be the weather. Maybe it's not the weather. [Laughs]
Gross: No, the weather's the same. [Laughter]
LaBounty: You know, people, anything.
Gross: Yes, just growing up. You know, one of the recollections I have, on Phelan Avenue there was like army barracks, and they were pretty much abandoned but were still standing when I was growing up very young like that, and they turned it into a reservoir. I've never seen water in that reservoir. Of course, the high school I went to was right next to it, and it was used as a parking lot. And then they brought the streetcar turnaround, as I had already mentioned, right next to that reservoir, and I got a feeling that things were cleaning up, that prior to that, everything looked dilapidated and run down. It started to look better to me at that time. In subsequent years, I thought Ocean Avenue really got to look schlocky again, and now I think it's on its way back up again. But I think that just overall better-looking, people seem to be taking better care of their houses than they had when I was a little kids. Again, thinking about that Neugabauer chicken ranch, the fences were falling down. I always felt that it was a backwoods area. And all of a sudden, it started to look better.
LaBounty: And when was this, roughly?
Gross: As a kid growing up.
LaBounty: In the fifties?
Gross: In the late fifties and into the sixties, yes.
LaBounty: You had a good feeling about the neighborhood, that it was kind of pulling itself together?
Gross: Right, right.
LaBounty: That's interesting, because I don't hear many people talking about it being kind of beat up and then getting better. I hear people talk about it getting worse.
Gross: But you know what really got worse, and I didn't spend much time, was over at Ocean View playground area. That was over on the other side of the hill, and occasionally we'd go over there. And that was kind of a bad neighborhood for us.
LaBounty: When you were a kid, too?
Gross: Yes, absolutely. The kids over there were different, and I didn't feel like I fit in at all. And, of course, that whole neighborhood just got worse and worse and worse. Even today it's still pretty rough with the drug problems and what have you.
LaBounty: Even so in the fifties you kind of got that feeling?
Gross: Yes, yes. Yes, I think kind of a bad element of people moved in over there, unemployed people, kids running the street that had no regard for property. And we steered clear of that, and so I always stayed on the Ocean Avenue side. Yes, I felt that, like I was saying about the chicken ranch, the barracks that were over there. Safeway moved in. There was just a whole lot of trees there, and people used to dump trash.
LaBounty: Where the Kragen is now?
Gross: Exactly, right. That was a Safeway store, and now it's a Kragen.
LaBounty: Right. There were trees there.
Gross: It was a Grand Auto. Yes, I remember the trees. I remember, and you'll still find this even in this neighborhood in the springtime, the blackbirds will attack from the trees when they're nesting. I remember my dad used to frequent a bar on the corner of Lee and Ocean Avenue, a place called Proseck's. It was there forever.
LaBounty: How was it spelled?
Gross: P-R-O-S-E, either C-K or no C.
LaBounty: Sounds like it might have been German, too, or something.
Gross: Probably. But it was run by an Italian, a fellow by the name of Lou Dipello [phonetic]. And all my dad's neighborhood friends and his fishing friends, they'd meet there occasionally, like a Friday evening, on the way home from work. But I remember in those days, minors could go into a bar, and I'd be sitting in there having a Coke or a Roy Rogers or something. And people would run in there, being chased by the blackbirds.
LaBounty: It's their best business plan.
Gross: So that big open lot used to be used as people would dump stuff there, so that's what I'm talking about, it cleaned up later as a kid growing up, and I thought the better of Ingleside. But then when we got into the late sixties, it started to go downhill again.
LaBounty: And now you think it's getting better again?
Gross: I do, yes. I think there's a lot of civic---you know, even with your project alone, there's a lot of civic pride there, and people taking care.
LaBounty: And you still have a connection. Is it your daughter who still lives in the Beverly house?
Gross: Yes, my oldest daughter.
LaBounty: And to the neighborhood. You talk about changes like civic pride and that sort of thing. Are there any other changes you've noticed in the last ten or fifteen years over there?
Gross: You know, even more than ten or fifteen, all the young kids such as myself, all grew up and moved away. And there's not young people. I think the attrition has contributed to older people living in the area, even though my daughter lives there now. She's one of the youngest ones, probably, on the block.
LaBounty: Real estate prices?
Gross: Oh, skyrocketed, yes.
LaBounty: Do you remember when you lived on Beverly, even, were there divisions like Ingleside Terrace was a little more hoity-toity?
LaBounty: Did you get that feeling even then?
Gross: Absolutely, absolutely. Yes. Saint Francis Wood, you know, you're next to God. Ingleside Terrace, they were, yes.
LaBounty: Was it like that way even with the kids? Like, "Oh, he's from there" or, "He's from there"?
Gross: Yes, yes.
LaBounty: What were kind of the divisions that you felt as kids? You're talking about over the hill, right, or with kids in Ocean View Park you felt were different, you know, you didn't want to tangle with them?
Gross: Right, right. I had friends that lived in the Terrace that they always gave me the feeling that we were from the other side of the tracks.
LaBounty: Even on Beverly, which is a nice street.
Gross: Yes, right. And so the kids that I really palled around with were on that side, and not my friends from school that did live in the Terrace, because those homes were more expensive.
LaBounty: So you held out with the Ingleside kids.
Gross: Right, right. Now, what my dad called Ingleside, I would say the boundaries would be Ocean Avenue, Junipero Serra, pretty much Garfield, Grafton, Mt. Vernon, which is all one street. If that was strict, that would exclude the house on Howth Street, so he would probably say that it would be the top of the ridge, which is what we called Merced Heights today. So that whole valley, but not up into Westwood Park. To him, that was not Ingleside. And San Jose Avenue on the east side.
LaBounty: And then south is Ocean View, is what you called it?
Gross: Right, right. That's what we called it.
LaBounty: And you never went over there?
Gross: Never, no. Stayed away from there.
LaBounty: I suppose you celebrated holidays. Halloween, I heard there used to be like a big carnival or something or little Halloween activities on Ocean. Do you remember any of those?
Gross: I don't remember that on Ocean, but certainly the kids all got together and went trick-or-treating door to door. I remember also during the Christmas holidays, my dad would pile my mom and myself into the car, and we'd go all through Ingleside Terrace, just looking at the decorations. My folks weren't too big on that. They didn't decorate much. We did on the inside. But we'd ooh and aah with all the lights and the glitter.
LaBounty: [unclear] Ingleside Terrace.
Gross: Yes, yes.
LaBounty: And your dad actually, you said, he had somebody build the house or he---
LaBounty: Did he get the design from anybody in particular?
Gross: Yes. He many time showed me. It's a house on---I'm going to tell you the street, but I can't remember the cross street---over on Lawton Street. It looks just like the house on Beverly Street. And the people that built it, long, long out of business today, a company called Midbust---that's one word---and Dahl, D-A-H-L. That was the contracting company. And it turns out that where he got them, maybe he worked for them as a painting contractor. I think that was the case. But I think that he told them about the house that he saw on Lawton Street, and either they had built it or they were privy to the design and got the plans or whatever. And that's the way that went.
LaBounty: So they didn't just like build the whole street out with---they didn't develop that whole street. They just kind of did that lot for your dad.
Gross: This was an empty lot. As I mentioned earlier in this interview, there were lots and lots of empty lots all through the neighborhood as a kid growing up. And my dad, I remember he bought that lot with the idea that he was going to build a home with a big basement so that he could operate a painting company. That house, you'll notice, on the Beverly Street side has an oversized garage door. That's where he would keep his truck. And on the Garfield Street size is smaller, for a car. So it's a two-car garage. And then he had the basement particularly designed for an office and for all the equipment that we needed.
LaBounty: Does it look different than the other houses?
Gross: Yes, it does. It looks very different. And there was never any opposition from the city or from the neighbors about him operating out of there. But he was very small; four employees. The employees never came to the house until later, until the late fifties. Then he started to expand a little bit, maybe up to six, seven painters. Of course, when I took over many years later, we run up to thirty painters today.
LaBounty: Wow. And where are you out of now?
Gross: I'm over in the Bay View.
LaBounty: Let's talk about Pansy Hill again real quick. When it was all wildflowers, you remember that as a kid?
Gross: Yes, used to go up there.
LaBounty: And when did it become homes, do you remember that?
Gross: I'm going to guess, about the time I went into the navy, mid-sixties.
LaBounty: So, that late?
Gross: Yes. I had a friend that lived at the top of Bright Street, up near Grafton, and two or three houses down. And there was a big rock wall right on the opposite side, that T-bone of Bright Street, across the street from Grafton, there was a huge big rock wall, and above that was Pansy Hill that ran all the way down, I think, to Victoria. No, I already mentioned, to Head Street, down to the corner, and that was all vacant. I think it must have been when I was in the navy, just one day I remember going by and all these houses were there. Yes, we used to run up there. I do remember this. My dad bought the lot on Beverly Street about 1949, and he paid $2,000 for it, because I remember him talking about that. And so it just sat there as an empty lot.
LaBounty: When did he build it?
LaBounty: Is there anything else, when you were thinking about this interview, that you wanted to get across or say?
Gross: No, I think we've covered it. I think we've covered pretty much all of it. I can't think of anything.
LaBounty: This has been wonderful. Thanks for taking the time to do it.Gross: You're more than welcome. My pleasure.
[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 3 July 2006.