Introduction | Cunneen interview
Conducted as part of Tales from Kelly's Cove, by Western Neighborhoods Project, April 29, 2013.
LaBounty: All right, should we start with you, Pat?
Cunneen: Well, all right.
LaBounty: Can you tell me your name and your date of birth?
Cunneen: My name is Patrick F. Cunneen. My son is Patrick M. They get confused sometimes. Anyway, I was born in the city in 1933 and we’re talking on Kelly’s [Cove] today. That’s the subject, right?
LaBounty: And I think it’s April 29th. Is that right?
Cunneen: 29th of April.
LaBounty: Of 2013. So, what part of the city did you grow up in?
Cunneen: I grew up in the Sunset [District]. They cranked us Irish-Catholic kids out by the zillions out there.
LaBounty: And was that over in the – in the ‘20’s? Was the family home there?
Cunneen: The family home was on 21st Avenue, which we still have.
LaBounty: And, when you were born, were you born at home or in the hospital?
Cunneen: No, I was born at Mount Zion [Hospital]. My dad knew where to go.
LaBounty: How long had they lived there before you came around?
Cunneen: Oh, my grandparents were there before the Great Fire and quake [April 18, 1906].
LaBounty: They were in the Sunset?
Cunneen: No, no, no. There’s nothing - they could have bought lots for five or ten bucks. But didn’t. No, they were from – the final family home was on 1923 Pierce [Street]. It’s one of those painted lady Victorians.
LaBounty: Nice. And what did your father do, what kind of work?
Cunneen: My father was with the postal service. He retired as a supervisor. He used to get all us kids Christmas cards to work at the post office. It was a good deal.
LaBounty: What kind of work did you do at the post office?
Cunneen: A highly sought after job during Christmas vacation was post office employment and you had to be eighteen to get the job, but we went under the envelope a lot. My dad being a supervisor, he’d get these cards and he’d hand ‘em out to the kids he thought were respectful and would do the job and he amassed as many overtime hours as possible during the Christmas period and that was a great holiday job.
LaBounty: Where’d you have to go? Downtown or…?
Cunneen: Well, it depended, you know. Sometimes I worked at Rincon Annex, you sorted mail, you delivered mail, I even worked at Pier 18 when they had the big rats and it was cold. So, you worked at different places.
LaBounty: But mostly you grew up in The Sunset.
LaBounty: And, where’d you go? You went to school…?
Cunneen: I went to Saint Anne’s and Sacred Heart [High School], but in those days we didn’t have many helicopter moms. You could roam anywhere you wanted, which we did. We’d meet at the meadow. I lived right hard by Golden Gate Park. We’d meet at the meadow there on Saturday and we were off. Just had to get back before the streetlights – fifteen minutes after the streetlights went on.
LaBounty: And you have a brother?
Cunneen: I have a brother, Michael, yes. He’s four years younger.
LaBounty: So you were the big brother.
LaBounty: Leading him into trouble in the park and…
LaBounty: Okay, gotcha.
Cunneen: I didn’t do a good job doing it. He’s very successful.
LaBounty: (Laughs). So you’re out there in the 40’s. I guess there were still sand dunes in the Sunset.
Cunneen: Oh, absolutely. We used to play Beau Geste out there. I mean, you could do a pirouette and see nothing but sand. And we used to play in those little ponds that they had out there, you know, and swim in ‘em. Yeah, back in the early 40’s there wasn’t much out there.
LaBounty: I heard a lot of kids would use constructions sites as play structures because they were still building houses out in the dunes.
Cunneen: Another big play site used to be – there were – at least in our neighborhood there were Foster and Kleiser sign boards and you could climb the sign boards and they were always built on an empty lot, so you could dig holes and have forts and…
LaBounty: The big billboards.
Cunneen: The big, big double billboards – or singles.
LaBounty: And they’d have ‘em on corners or along roads.
Cunneen: There were quite a few as I recall in the Sunset around.
LaBounty: You said you’d go to ponds out in the dunes. Were there still wildlife or rabbits?
Cunneen: Oh, yeah. There were rabbits and pollywogs and you could see tracks of maybe bigger critters that came there.
LaBounty: At what point do you think you were hitting the beach as a kid?
Cunneen: Almost at that same time.
Cunneen: Yeah. I recall on your website, Western Neighborhoods [Project], that I told just about everything I could about Kelly’s, but I guess we’ll just reiterate it. But, one of our big deals were we’d save up all our pennies and nickels during the week from – if there was any for lunch or milk – and we’d also collect bottles and they had small bottles, you’d get two cents and the quart bottles you got a nickel and so we’d try to amass as much money as we could for our sojourn on Saturday and at the end of the week it was very equal. We threw all the money into one pot.
LaBounty: Oh, a communal pot.
Cunneen: A communal pot, right. We’d meet at the meadow, at 21st and Lincoln Way there and then the big deal was to nip the streetcar and save your carfare to get to Playland and Kelly’s. So, we’d sneak up from the opposite side of the streetcar, get on the fender, hopefully the guy didn’t see us, and the streetcar went right through Golden Gate Park.
LaBounty: That was No. 7 [streetcar line]?
Cunneen: Yes, it was a 7. The 17 went up 20th, but the 7 went down and went across a little trestle in Golden Gate Park and through a little wooden, barnlike tunnel. I have no idea why that was there. And, anyway, we’d end up down by Fulton [Street] and then we’d take our money and judiciously spend it at Playland and we’d always save the last fifteen cents or a quarter, whatever it was, for either the Funhouse or Sutro Baths because that wasn’t a one shot deal. You could go in and stay until it closed. And, so, we’d usually stay as long as we could until we got tired and then we’d go to Kelly’s and build a huge bonfire and the older – there was a lot of cops and firemen and bartenders, longshoremen, used to hang out there and, like I mentioned in the interview, I always thought this guy was Kelly. He was referred to as Kelly. He was an old – like a hermit. He lived in a makeshift wooden shelter hard up against the cliffs with a little fireplace and I think he lived there most of the year and once in a while he’d take pity on us before we had our fire started and let us warm up – because we’d always get wet. We didn’t go swimming, but we’d roll up our jeans and we always got wet. But we’d go there and dry off.
The other memories I have of Kelly’s in the early, early days – and this was – I’m talking about 1945-ish – I was in the sixth grade, seventh grade – something like that. But, anyway, this – quite a runner – I got to know him in the later years – John Satti – he always wore a sailor cap and he was a very good runner. In fact, he won the Dipsea [Race] one year, but his real forte was short races and he loved to race us kids and he’d say, ‘all right kids. I'll give you a dime if you can beat us,’ and he’d put a dime out in front of our noses and we’d try to beat him, but we’d never, ever beat him.
LaBounty: Just running down the beach.
Cunneen: Running down the – it wasn’t long. We’d run down to the old outfall pier from there – like fifteen hundred yards, whatever. We’d try to beat him. We never beat him.
LaBounty: So, if I get this right, you guys get all your money, you save it all week, you go out on Saturday, you sneak on the streetcar so you don’t have to pay…
LaBounty: …you go through the strange wooded little trestle bridge with the barn and all that, get out on the other side, spend your money at Playland, but save some money so that when you were done with all the amusements and rides you could go run around Sutro’s.
Cunneen: Well, or the Funhouse was in Playland…
LaBounty: Right, right.
Cunneen: In other words, they weren’t a one-shot ride.
LaBounty: Yeah, you’d pay to get in, you could do anything inside.
Cunneen: And you could stay there all day.
LaBounty: Yeah, and then when you ran out of that money or were tired of that you’d go to Kelly’s where it was free.
LaBounty: Now, these guys were firemen and police officers and longshoremen and bartenders. What were they doing there? They’d just hang out?
Cunneen: Hang out. Most of them were sort of health fanatics. They had a chinning bar and they’d do chinning and they’d swim. I remember a lot of them used to wear a singlet that had a skull and crossbones on ‘em. I don’t quite know why.
LaBounty: Like a club, sort of, insignia?
Cunneen: Yeah. Like – but it didn’t have any text on it, but I do recall that.
LaBounty: And then when you guys walked in, were there other kids there?
Cunneen: There were a few, yeah. Mr. Lewis was there. The famous beach people.
LaBounty: Mike Lewis?
Cunneen: Yes, Mike Lewis’ dad. He was a dentist. He and his wife used to hang out there and – most of them were guys that had night jobs or no jobs.
LaBounty: Right, right. And this guy who you think might have been Kelly, he just seemed to be there all the time.
Cunneen: Yes, he was there all the time.
LaBounty: (Laughs). Yeah. And did he seem like a fitness guy? Was he chinning himself on the bars or was he just kind of hanging out?
Cunneen: I don’t remember. He was a little of both maybe. I think he used to swim. You know, all of them used to swim. That was prior to swim fins too, so many of them didn’t swim too far. Like, later on, when we went to Kelly’s, at least myself, we never went in without swim fins, because you went in without fins you were at the mercy of the surf, but with fins you could not only body surf, but you could hold your own. The big rite of passage was on those certain warm, hot days where the weather was – the sea was flat – to swim through Arch Rock. That was a big deal.
Cunneen: But with swim fins.
LaBounty: Right. You’d just go out and go through it.
Cunneen: Yeah, and come out with a rite of passage. Because I was older then. That wasn’t in the fifth grade, you know, sixth grade – like that.
LaBounty: So when you’re going out there – the war’s kind of wrapping up, World War II. Is that kind of happening…?
Cunneen: Yeah, it was right after World War II.
LaBounty: Right after World War II.
Cunneen: Because I remember the sailors – I guess they were Coast Guard guys – with the carbines and German shepherds patrolling the dunes south of Ocean Beach, south of Kelly’s.
LaBounty: And then did the Cliff House have anything to do with you as kids?
Cunneen: We climbed around the rocks. That was it.
LaBounty: You never peeked in or anything or…?
Cunneen: Oh yeah. Yeah, sure. Because when you went to Sutro’s you were in there.
LaBounty: Oh, but the Cliff House restaurant – you know.
Cunneen: Oh, yeah. No, yeah. No. That was too high-priced.
LaBounty: That’s what I thought.
Cunneen: Except on what seemed like Easter’s or Mother’s Day or things like that, we went out there for brunch.
LaBounty: Did you ever go to the beach with your family?
Cunneen: I went out with my dad. My dad taught me to swim at Sutro’s. They had the raft there. We went out to raft and he said, ‘well, if you want to go home you got to swim back.’ He sort of towed me out there a little and I dogpaddled back and got me started.
LaBounty: And you’d go out with your brother?
Cunneen: Yeah. And one recall that I have, as far as Kelly’s goes, I was out there a little too far and I got caught in a rip and I was being pulled out. I got scared and that Hawaiian lifeguard – not [Eddie] Ukini– the other guy – big heavy guy –
Cunneen: Cliff Kamaka! He saved my bacon. He said, ‘you no worry, kid. You no worry.’ He was on his back. He was caught too, but he was laying on his back blowing – you know blowing bubbles and water out of his mouth. He says, ‘we just float down.’ We were going north. So, we floated north and he says, ‘just take it easy, you got no worry,’ and we floated north and we walked back. But I was scared then.
LaBounty: So, Cliff Kamaka and Eddie Ukini – those guys would hang out there?
Cunneen: They’d hang out there too. Yeah. Yeah. But they seemed to go more out by Fleishhacker’s [Pool], ‘cause that’s where they worked.
LaBounty: They were lifeguards at Fleishhacker’s.
Cunneen: But, they were there too.
LaBounty: And was that later, when you were older?
Cunneen: It seemed like Kelly’s became the mecca for surfers and swimmers and bodysurfers and the whole ball of wax. Though Taraval Hole also was a spot. Some longshoremen, as I recall, they dug a big pit and braced it with timber as a windbreak and you got down in it.
LaBounty: Oh, you actually went down in the pit?
Cunneen: Yeah, down in the pit. Just to get out of the wind. Because if you can get out of the wind in San Francisco, Ocean Beach it’s not that bad. The wind is the nemesis. That was a dangerous place to swim, though, Taraval Hole. In fact, one of my high school chums, a Lincoln High student, Del Young, went out and didn’t come back. His body was never found. His father, a former baseball player, owned Del Young’s bar on Polk Street.
LaBounty: First we were talking about you when you were just a kid – sixth grade or something, but did you keep going back all the way through high school?
Cunneen: Oh yeah. Always, always. Yeah. When I was in the fifth/sixth grade, we just built fires and rolled up our pant legs and tried to dry ‘em before we got home because rule number one was ‘don’t go in the water.’
LaBounty: Didn’t it used to be illegal – that they would say, like, ‘no swimming because of undertow?’ I remember seeing signs in old pictures.
Cunneen: I don’t know it was illegal, but they had warning – definitely had warning signs. ‘Dangerous undertow,’ blah, blah, blah, but I don’t know if they ever said it was unlawful to swim.
LaBounty: Were there any girls at the beach?
Cunneen: You know, I went to St. Anne’s... Girls were a different species.
LaBounty: I mean, did any girls ever show up at the beach and walk around.
Cunneen: Very few. Very, very few.
LaBounty: Girlfriends or anything.
Cunneen: No, no, no. The sauce was closer to the heart than the girls.
LaBounty: (Laughs). And that’s a good point too. So, when you saw these longshoremen and firemen, you know, was drinking a big part of hanging out there?
Cunneen: No, it didn’t seem like it. Might have been the night before, but they – there was no heavy drinking out there. And absolutely no drugs. I mean, we didn’t even know what they were, except aspirin.
LaBounty: Right. When you remember – so people had swim fins, they’d go swimming…
Cunneen: We had the black fins first. The black Churchills. They were the very first fins that I recall.
LaBounty: And, how did you get them? Were they expensive? Pass them around?
Cunneen: Got them for Christmas, you know, what have you. And they didn’t float. That was one thing about those. The black ones didn’t float, so if you dropped them when you were surfing, you know, they’d come off after a big wave caught you at the heel, you usually lost your fin. You did lose your fin. The newer ones floated. They would usually float in.
LaBounty: They had body surfing? Were more people doing that?
Cunneen: Oh, yeah. Body surfing and then mat surfing became very popular also. You didn’t need the skill for mat surfing.
LaBounty: Do you remember the first time you saw somebody actually have a board and stand up on it?
Cunneen: The first boards I recall were – they’d call those kook boxes. They’re more or less like a big paddleboard. Hollow. And another popular place to learn with those kook boxes was down at Linda Mar [Beach in Pacifica] because the surf was much softer.
LaBounty: Do you remember seeing the first surfer and going, ‘what’s up with that?’ or, you know, it having any impact on you?
Cunneen: It didn’t have any impact to speak of.
LaBounty: It just happened.
Cunneen: I remember Jack O’Neill had an impact and he was very innovative. I recall he had like an iceboat, but it had wheels on it and he’d sail it on Ocean Beach at low tide down – he had a little trouble tacking coming back and he was always innovating with wetsuits and dry suits and what have you. He had that first surf shop out by the Fleishhacker’s and he lived out there too. He sold fire extinguishers. He was always hustling.
LaBounty: A business guy.
Cunneen: A business guy – absolutely. And it shows.
LaBounty: For sure. But he hung out there at the beach too?
Cunneen: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
LaBounty: I remember seeing – I’ve seen actually a movie of that sailboat — it had wheels and it just goes down the beach with the sail. Pretty neat.
Cunneen: There was another instance where somebody built a trimaran. Do you remember that one?
LaBounty: They came in at Kelly’s? Jim Gallagher tells this story.
Cunneen: Yeah, they crashed it and what have you. Jim and I went to school together. We were very close – still to this day – very close. Oh, yeah. I slept there many a time. His mother’d just throw another potato in the pot.
Cunneen: It was like a barracks, that upstairs room there. Watkins and… and all the Gallagher boys looked alike to me.
LaBounty: So, was that mostly your activity? I mean, going out to the beach.
Cunneen: Oh, God, no. No, no.
LaBounty: What did you usually do for fun?
Cunneen: Oh, like my dad was super active as a coach at St. Anne’s and CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] and we had – we didn’t have CYO until my dad broke the game by Boy Scouts and we had a Boy Scout baseball team and we had a couple of sympathetic parishioners and priests that said, ‘hey, get ‘em in the CYO.’ We had the largest parish in the city, or one of the largest. We didn’t have any CYO program at all. After that and we broke the dough. We had baseball teams, basketball teams. My dad got Kezar Stadium to practice on Saturday mornings. That was real big.
LaBounty: That’s amazing.
Cunneen: And then he started – he was instrumental in the Cub softball/baseball program too, but then it was baseball and basketball.
LaBounty: Right. And then when you went to Sacred Heart, did you play sports there too?
Cunneen: Yeah, yeah. Played basketball and baseball.
LaBounty: And then after Sacred Heart, what happened then? You graduate.
Cunneen: Went to USF [University of San Francisco] for two years and I got into Coast Guard Reserve and we had – Korea was in full swing and first two years at USF when you were in ROTC you could remain in the Reserve program. But, when it came to your junior/senior year you had to relinquish your Reserve and go in, which for all intents and purposes was a Reserve program and I figured, ‘well, let’s see. The Coast Guard or second louie [lieutenant] in Korea.’ No brainer. So, I stayed in the Coast Guard and then I got drafted a year later, but I just activated myself for two years in the Coast Guard.
LaBounty: And where were you stationed there?
Cunneen: I was stationed in Southern California on the Minnetonka – went to sea there out in the middle of the Pacific on station – and then the remainder of my time – my two-year period – was out of Alameda supply center – Coast Guard government island there – and that was very sweet. Home almost every night, every weekend. It was great.
LaBounty: Where were you living then?
Cunneen: I was living at home, yeah.
LaBounty: Yeah, yeah. And what happened then, after Coast Guard?
Cunneen: Those are my dark years.
LaBounty: After the Coast Guard?
Cunneen: Well, not absolutely. I got a one-way plane ticket with my friend, Don Gehring, and we went to Hawaii and it was a territory at that time and they poured us off the airplane – and, in fact, that’s where I met my wife. She was working at Kapi‘olani Maternity Hospital.
LaBounty: In Hawaii?
Cunneen: Yes, and I went over with Don Gehring, like I said, and my wife’s girlfriend, they just graduated from nurse’s training in Sacramento and they were going to travel the world, well, long story short – I married Betty and later Don married her roommate! Sounds like a bad Grade B movie or something.
LaBounty: They were going to travel the world, but they ended up in Hawaii and then you guys…
Cunneen: That was it, yeah that was it. But, life was very sweet, had a good time.
LaBounty: Yeah, and then you guys, where did you settle – you and Betty after you got married?
Cunneen: Well, after I came back, eventually I got on the Daly City Fire Department and that was it.
LaBounty: Yeah, you worked there for a long time, right?
Cunneen: Thirty-eight years. Oh yeah, worked way beyond retirement. Well, when the dog died and the kids got out of college, I quit my hobby, as they called it, side jobs. Nowadays, they have so much overtime nobody has side jobs.
Cunneen: But in those days, just about everyone had a side job which we called a hobby and I was an engraver, but when the dog died and the kids got out of college, I quit my engraving job and just stayed with the Fire Department, because I didn’t have to commute and it was ten days a month. It was sweet.[Pause of recording]
Cunneen: [It] was a very rare occurrence, but when the weather was hot and super low tide and the water looked like Lake Tahoe, you could walk out there to Seal Rock and touch it.
LaBounty: I also remember people talked to me – and, you know, the sea wall, of course, used to have so much more of it exposed and it had all the little benches sort of built in, but that it would get so high sometimes the water would hit the sea wall.
Cunneen: There was also a huge tunnel – a cave underneath the Cliff House. I mean, you could drive a garbage truck in there – a couple of ‘em and it was big, depending on how high the sand was at times. One time we discovered a little entranceway to a tunnel and the tide was way out so we weren’t too concerned about the tide coming in and getting us. You could go through this tunnel and come way out on the north side of the Cliff House.
Cunneen: Yeah, it’s riddled with sea caves all around there.
LaBounty: Did you ever have a board, Pat? You never…
Cunneen: Yeah, yeah, I did. I was more of a body surfer. I really preferred body surfing.
LaBounty: Did you have memories of going to Fleishhacker too, Pat, or – did you ever go to Fleishhacker’s?
Cunneen: Of course, yeah. I wasn’t a regular, but I definitely went. Well, what saved us a lot – the tavern called the Hitchrack – Mac’s Hitchrack. It was owned by the McFetridge family. They lived upstairs and the sons [Bob, Tom, and Ed] were good friends of mine and the mother ran the little lunch/breakfast place and it had an archway – you could go from the bar into the lunch place, right across the street from the tunnel and my wife hated it, because we were always – on Sundays we were always going to take a nice drive down the coast, go horseback riding, we’d stop at Mac’s… If you had breakfast, you also got a free fizz with it. That’s all we needed. We never went horseback riding. The joint was next to the beach tunnel near Sloat [Boulevard]. It had small green sheds and horse tie-ups in the rear.
Another tidbit about Mac’s Hitchrack, besides having a link to the breakfast place and the bar, in the back they had – I remember they were green, but they had stables and they could – guys would – it was very popular to ride horses along the beach and they’d tie up their horses in the back, come in for a few whips.
Also I remember on Stanyan Street when I was a boy, there were stables there. In fact, my dad as a youngster used to muck out those stables and one of his perks was his dad was allowed to take a surrey and they’d ride it up to the top of Strawberry Hill, or out to the beach, through the park.
One of my neighbors, where I live now – he’s a generation ahead of me, and he’s sharp as a tack – McCarthy – and he was on San Francisco Police Department horse patrol and he has pictures of the stables out at Ocean Beach there and he’s – his mind is very crisp. He grew up in the Sunset he went to Poly when there was nothing out there. I know one of my dad’s friends was named Rivera and he’d say ‘oh, yeah, the Riveras had a huge farm.”
LaBounty: On Lawton [Street].
Cunneen: Yeah, but nobody went out there, because if you fought one Rivera you had to fight nine of ‘em all. There’s a whole big family.
LaBounty: Yeah, their house was one of the first houses in that area - the center of the Sunset. When did you get into the South End Rowing Club?
Cunneen: Oh, that’s after my dark ages, I started to run and I joined the South End Rowing Club and the Dolphin South End runners and my wife was a founder – one of the founders of the Pamakid runners and my life took a big turn for the best.
LaBounty: When would that have been roughly?
LaBounty: ‘69? That long ago, okay. So you became more health-conscious. A runner and…
Cunneen: Yes, I quit smoking and drinking and started to run, jump, and play, and really had a lot of fun and the whole family got into it too.
LaBounty: Now, recently there’s been these reunions at Kelly’s and all that sort of stuff. When did you feel like you kind of reconnected with people out there or went back to Kelly’s?
Cunneen: I felt I never really disconnected.
LaBounty: Yeah? You always kind of hung out.
Cunneen: And, also, my son is quite a surfer – one of ‘em – and so I knew a lot of his pals that surfed out there all the time – John Kaplanis and Brian Toolagian… There was a bunch of them, so… it sort of extended.
LaBounty: And you said you were good friends with Jim Gallagher.
Cunneen: Oh, very good.
LaBounty: What would you say – when you think of Kelly’s, what’s the thing that makes Kelly’s Kelly’s? We were kind of talking a little bit about it, I think, when we had the recording off, but…
Cunneen: Well one thing, surfing was pretty much unknown in the early days, so it was a small cadre of people and many of ‘em, you know, they were the square peg that didn’t fit in the round hole and, anyway, everybody liked to be friendly and they just sort of…
LaBounty: Kind of outsiders?
Cunneen: A lot them didn’t play ball. They were great athletes, but they never played any ball. Many did, but a lot of them didn’t.
LaBounty: What about building the fire or anything like that?
Cunneen: Oh, that was a big deal. Everybody built – you know, that was – you had to build a huge fire when you were at Kelly’s. The bigger, the better. You collect all the driftwood and used old tires. Because it was cold. It was cold. I recall when the weather got bad, you’d see the fogbank out there – and this is when we were a little older, maybe when we had a car – we’d go from there to China…
LaBounty: China Beach.
Cunneen: …and then the fog would follow us and then we’d go from China to Aquatic [Park] and, finally, we found a little cove in Belvedere. It’s now a big – it’s a yacht club. A lot of yachts board there. It’s right – the water was about 70, 75, and Carol Schuldt and [Richard “Dick”] Petrocchi and I, we used to go over there. It was a really neat spot if we had enough to get across the bridge.
LaBounty: When do you remember meeting Carol?
Cunneen: High school. She went to Lowell, yeah. She was always, uh – Carol.
Cunneen: Heart of gold, but always Carol. And a very striking looking girl in high school. One of my good friends, Dick Petrocchi went with her for some time.
LaBounty: And then her husband and kids…
Cunneen: Tambi you mean?
LaBounty: Yeah. Tambi Tavasieff.
Cunneen: That was sort of a scandal. She robbed the cradle.
LaBounty: And then as far as when you’ve been going back to reunions, have you been enjoying them?
Cunneen: Oh, love ‘em. We all love ‘em. Just like saying, ‘where’d you go’ in high school?
LaBounty: Yeah, ‘where’d you go?’
Cunneen: First thing, you meet another city guy, you don’t know ‘em, ‘where’dyago?’ One word.
LaBounty: And the people in Kelly’s – were they mostly San Franciscans?
Cunneen: Oh, all of them, to my knowledge, yeah. And many of them were high school swimmers – good swimmers. The McFetridges and – all of them were pretty good high school swimmers.
Money was tight in our years. Kids nowadays don’t even pick up a nickel. [And] for better or for worse, there was no diversity when I grew up. There just weren’t – there wasn’t any, you know. Seemed like it was Irish or Italian – a few Frenchmen thrown in – a German – but there was really no diversity.
And the icons out there, as I recall, knew some of them. Gallagher will have all of ‘em, but, I wrote a couple down, [Rod] Lundquist, [John] Stonum, [Dave] Lomski, [Bob] Cunningham and then, of course, Jack O’Neill and there’s a number of others. But those guys were – those guys were the big kids on the block, as far as I was concerned.
A lot of people didn’t realize how powerful the ocean is at Ocean Beach. Like when my wife, who was from Sparks [Nevada], came back from Hawaii, one day she came to the beach and all the guys were out there and everything, ‘oh, there’s Pat’s girlfriend. Bet you – she’s a good swimmer.’ She has all of her nice little swimming suit on. She pranced out to the water. She got about ten feet, a big wave knocked her ass end over teakettle. She never went back in the water to this day, in fact.
LaBounty: A Nevada girl...
Cunneen: That surf is hard out there. There were a lot of rites of passages too, like, we would call swimming from China Beach. That was before China Beach became gentrified, but you’d swim around at low tide and you still had to swim, to swim around the Baker Beach. That was scary when you were little or swim the other way, or dive off the rock at China Beach. That was another rite, and then also swimming over to Dead Man’s and Eagles [Point] and places like that.
LaBounty: What else do you remember about that time?
Cunneen: Everybody smoked in that era. And now…very, very few people smoke. It’s wonderful. It was culturally ingrained that way. I mean, you don’t see a black and white movie without a guy with a cigarette, having a drink and that’s what my dad did. Anybody come to the house, first thing he’d get a highball and a Camel.
The biggest thing I miss, though, are the connections. I mean, when I grew up the city was almost incestuous, you know? It was just – everyone was so fiercely proud of being a San Franciscan. They’d never consider moving down the Peninsula or to Marin. I mean, that was for cowboys and farmers and the East Bay, that might as well have been Chicago, you know.
And the closest I – most people would go was Westlake and a lot of people thought they lived in San Francisco when they lived at Westlake, you know?
[At] the South End [Rowing Club], I recall when they – when I first joined in ’69, or so when they finished a party or a general meeting, we had this emcee called Bottles Leary, a City Hall guy – a big rough guy – but, anyway, he’d lead the song, ‘Where The Hell Is San Rafael,’ and everybody would sing that. I remember that vividly. ‘Oh, where the Hell is San Rafael.’ But, then, with the influx of new people and the price of homes – that was one of the big things in the split.
LaBounty: But swimming was a big thing at Kelly's?
Cunneen: San Francisco really wasn’t a swim town, at all. We didn’t have the neighborhood pools then. Of course we had Sutro’s, Crystal Plunge, YMCA, Concordia, Jewish Community Center, Fleishhacker’s, etc. but they were mostly club membership or pay-to-swim places. If I hadn’t been going to Boyes Springs I never would have got into swimming and then I got on, I qualified for the swim team and I started going out to Fleishhacker’s and, so, that’s how that all… No, it was not a swim town. We never had a 50 meter pool. They jury-rigged one at Fleishhacker’s. Well, we did have one 50 meter pool you’d win money on that inside the boundaries of the city. It was on Treasure Island.
LaBounty: Where else did the kids hang out?
Cunneen: Playgrounds and schoolyards were real, real big. We had many of the schools where there were no playgrounds in your neighborhood – like Jefferson Grammar School – they’d get some of the – some of the top jocks that graduated and they’d say, ‘hey, you run the schoolyard during the summer, hand out the balls and bats, we don’t want any beefs.’ Yeah, it really worked good. We’d go there, play ball, you know, sun up to sun down a lot of times. I remember John Burton, you know, the politician, he was always at Jefferson and the playground director – he was this guy named Billy Burke – and he was a big time basketball hero. They should have that now. But hire the big kid on the block.
LaBounty: Yeah, exactly. But there’s no big kids left, I think. What do you think of the city changing? From the hippie era on to…
Cunneen: Most of the hippies were “Elsewherians.” The thing I notice now, the population is approximately the same, but the city seems so much more crowded to me. Well, there weren’t as many automobiles then. That makes a big difference. But, even so, it just seemed like there’s a gazillion people.
LaBounty: Well, thanks for doing this, Pat.
Cunneen: As soon as I get home tonight we’ll think, oh jeez, why didn’t I think of that?
LaBounty: Great. Terrific. Well, thanks so much.
Introduction | Cunneen interview
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