Western Neighborhoods Project
"I am OMI"
Interview with Ray F. Wilson
November 16, 2002
LaBounty: This is an interview for the Western Neighborhoods Project between Woody LaBounty and--
Wilson: Ray Wilson.
LaBounty: Right. We're going to talk about growing up in the Ingleside-Ocean View area, and you ended up moving to the Sunset at some point.
Wilson: Moving to the Sunset in 1958; moved out to 46th Avenue.
[Tape recorder turned off.]
LaBounty: I think I cut off the date, so it's November 16, 2002.
Wilson: Do I sound like that normally, or do I sound different on here?
LaBounty: You sounded better on here. No, I'm just kidding. [Laughs]
Wilson: Oh, god! That was a good one. [Laughs]
LaBounty: That was a joke. That was a joke.
So, Ray, tell me about your parents. How did they end up moving out here?
Wilson: Well, my father was from Arizona. Then my mother was from Pennsylvania, and she had a previous marriage. Then she moved out around 1923, with the first husband. Then later on she met my father, and he was with the railroad, Southern Pacific. First of all, she moved out to the Parkside District. It was after her first divorce. They separated; she moved out. Well, actually, they both lived in the Parkside area, and she moved out with my half-brother and half-sister. She moved over to Taraval, where the old Parkside Theater is now, and they lived upstairs, actually, next to the Parkside Theater.
LaBounty: Right next to it, huh?
Wilson: Yeah, upstairs on Taraval.
LaBounty: And then she met your father?
Wilson: Actually, she moved over to--I'm trying to think of how she actually moved over to Ingleside. But to make a long story short, she ended up on 210 Jules, and this was a few years later. This was like in the early forties. Then my half-brother went into the service, went into the navy as a medic aboard a ship during World War II. And so she was living at 210 Jules.
My sister, my other half-sister, moved in with her father, which was my mother's first husband, moved in there, and then they moved out to the Avenues, moved back to the same area near the Parkside Theater and Taraval; 26th Avenue, they moved out to. And anyway, my mother actually stayed and was living on Jules, and they got an apartment there. Then my sister visited her, stayed sometimes with her, and then stayed sometimes with her father.
My mother had somehow--I'm not sure how she actually found out about that apartment, but I think she knew somebody that was in that neighborhood, because she knew the people. There's a grocery store--it wasn't Paul's and it wasn't Marty's. There was a grocery store, an Italian grocery store about a block down the street, going towards the Geneva side from Farragut School.
LaBounty: On which street?
Wilson: On Holloway. This is also on Holloway. It seems that all these little grocery stores--there was one, two, three, four--four that I can remember that was on Holloway alone, between where City College was and Ashton. Paul's was the main one. They all kind of like didn't like Paul, because he had more of a variety than the little mom-and-pops. All the rest of them were little mom-and-pops.
Anyway, she knew these Italian people, and the son married a Japanese girl and she got sent away during World War II to the relocation camps. Even though she was married to him, it was a still a ruling. If you were married to a U.S. citizen then, you could still be sent anyway. You could still be sent over to the relocation camps.
Then there was another--there was a Japanese laundry down the street at that time called Goto's [phonetic]. I still have three of four of their coat hangers, too.
LaBounty: Oh, wow.
Wilson: They also got sent to the relocation camps, and everyone in the neighborhood was so much against that, because they had been here for years. Their English, they knew English back and forth, but they still were sent away.
LaBounty: So was it kind of a shock to the neighborhood to have that happen?
Wilson: Yeah. And the day after, a few days after Pearl Harbor, on top of the hill, on Jules, they even set up an antiaircraft battery up there, too. The army was in the neighborhood at that time. Because previous to this, a long time ago, during World War I, the area from Holloway on up to where Granada and Grafton--the streets Granada, Plymouth, Grafton, up there by that part of the Ocean View, up over the hill down to Ocean View Park, was actually a training ground for World War I. It was an artillery training ground is what it was.
I found this out because we moved up to--we left Jules in 1953, summer of '53. We left Jules and moved up to Granada, Grafton and Granada. Across from our there--we were right on the corner--across from there was Carmen's mom-and-pop store. I think the building is still there yet, but I'm not sure. Who knows what it might be. Maybe it's a druggie hangout, for all we know.
Anyway, going up the hill, over the hill, that whole area was a World War I training artillery camp. Because the man next door, Mr. Peters, who lived next door to us, was in World War I, and had been in the city at that time, and had actually given me--when I was about ten years old, out in the backyard one day, he gave me a history of the whole area. He told me about it. He was eighty years old and I was ten.
LaBounty: Right. He'd grown up out there, or was stationed there, maybe?
Wilson: I'm not sure if he was stationed there. He was in the area at that time, but I'm not sure exactly whether he was stationed there. But I do know he was in World War I. Coincidentally, after he had told me this--this is very funny. Not too long afterwards, I was out in the yard, and all of a sudden the army was in front of his house. The army and a demolitions team was out there, went into his backyard, and underneath, in his backyard--he had called them, you know. He knew right away what it was and called them. They found a World War I artillery shell in his yard, and they brought it out. They had it like this [demonstrates], so big, like this. It was a mortar shell, and it was in a box. They put it in a box, secured it, and brought it out and put it into a special demolitions truck.
LaBounty: This is when you were ten?
Wilson: I was ten.
LaBounty: You were saying that your mom knew these grocers, these Italian grocers.
Wilson: Yeah, they knew these Italian grocers, and they were like down the street. They were on Holloway next to where Farragut School was. And I went to Farragut. I went to Farragut. From kindergarten up through the first grade, I was at Farragut. In the second grade, I went over to West Portal Lutheran School, and I still remember a lot of the teachers. I remember their names and everything at Farragut at that time. The principal was Mrs. Ward. She was the principal at that time.
LaBounty: So, how did your mom meet your dad, then? She's living on Jules, she's in an apartment there, her daughter is living in the Parkside with her father and visits occasionally. But your dad worked for SP, right, for Southern Pacific?
Wilson: For Southern Pacific.
LaBounty: Did he come through the neighborhood because of Southern Pacific? Did he live there? Do you know how they met?
Wilson: Now, let me think. Too bad she wasn't here to tell us. She could do a lot better in this interview than I could, I'll tell you that.
LaBounty: But anyway, they did meet.
Wilson: They met.
LaBounty: And then he moved into where her apartment was, or did they get another place?
Wilson: He was living downtown at the time, because this was during World War II. He was living downtown, and--pause for a second.
[Tape recorder turned off.]
Wilson: Well, anyway, he worked for Southern Pacific and he lived downtown. He lived down in--I think it was off of Powell. He lived in one of the hotels there, because during World War II, they had an awful lot of--he was out at all hours. He had a split shift. He was on call. It was what they used to call, saying "on call," which meant that they could call him anytime, so he had to be around there.
LaBounty: Ready to just go whenever.
Wilson: Just ready to just go, because they had shipments. They had everything from munitions going out and coming, you know, the bodies coming--munitions going out and bodies coming in, is what they had. And so he was on call and he was just like that all the time.
And finally, to make a long story short, they got married around 19--right before I was born. They got married in 1944. They got married the same day that FDR [Franklin D. Roosevelt] died. That was their day of marriage. They were just coming out of City Hall. They got married in City Hall, and they were just coming out of there when they found out what happened, which was strange.
So anyway, of course, he moved into the apartment, is what happened. He started getting settled, and I was getting ready to be born and everything. He was still on call a lot, and during his spare time he used to go down--he used to love to drink beer. He was a beer drinker. He used to go down to the Avenue Club on Ocean Avenue.
LaBounty: Which is still there.
Wilson: I'm going to find out if it is.
LaBounty: I think it is.
Wilson: Is it? The Avenue Club it's called.
LaBounty: Yeah, right on Ocean.
Wilson: And he used to go down there. They have like a little pool hall in the back, because I walked in one time. When I was about ten years old, I walked in with him. He took me in there, and I met the bar owner and everything. It was like a family place. Everybody knew everyone else. I'll tell you this thing--everybody knew everybody else. From the bars on up to the police officers, everyone knew--first-name basis in those days.
LaBounty: Interesting. Just because it was everyone stayed in the neighborhood and kind of just got to know everybody.
Wilson: Yeah, yeah. Then when I was about maybe around five, my sister moved in with us for a while. She left the place over in the Avenues and she went to work. She was part of the USO during World War II as a singer, for entertaining the troops. Because even when you were in high school at that time, everybody had to contribute to the war effort, so that was her part. She went out and trained to entertain, singing and everything, for the USO.
Then she lived on Fell Street, and went to school part-time, lived on Fell with a friend of hers, on Fell. And from there she went back--she was close to downtown, close to the USO, and so she could go ahead and still--she still did high school work and things like this, but she lived closer to where the USO was. Because that was evenings and that was kind of an on-call thing, because when the troops came in, people came in, and they would be entertained. She had done things like that for them as part of that, as part of the war effort, too.
LaBounty: How much older were your half-brother and sister than you?
Wilson: They were both about fifteen years older than I am, approximately.
LaBounty: So you were born, and you're living--the whole family is in this apartment. How big an apartment was it? I mean, especially with your sister there.
Wilson: It was a two-room apartment, and she slept in the front room couch, because what happened was, this was right after World War II. She was about maybe eighteen when the war ended. She was like around eighteen. For some reason, she contracted rheumatic fever, and so she came over. It was more quieter and it was easier for her to get around, because she was at work, and then she was sick, and then finally she had to leave. Because, see, right after the USO and right after World War II ended, she got her high school diploma. In those days they give it to you automatically, because even if you didn't finish all like two hundred credits, you'd still get your diploma. My brother got his in the navy. They gave it to him aboard ship. Right after a Japanese attack, they said, "Well, hey, your diplomas are here." So in between fights, "Here's your diploma." They just informally give them an envelope, "Here's your diploma."
LaBounty: So, technically, did she graduate from some certain high school?
Wilson: Lincoln. She actually went to Lincoln. You know, Lincoln just went ahead and sent her a diploma, is what they did for anybody that had contributed for World War II. There was no on-stage graduation ceremony in those days. Nobody had time for any of that. They were contributing to the war, and they weren't in the school full time. You got your diploma. Automatically you got it in the mail, and your credits--well, it was on your diploma that instead of formally studying, you actually got your diploma for taking part in the war, whether you were a soldier--well, like Audie Murphy was sixteen when he was over there machine-gunning Germans. And he got his diploma in a camp over there, too, Audie Murphy. They sent it to him.
LaBounty: So you're all living there in a two-room apartment. She's sleeping in the front room, and she's sick. And you must be, what, a year or two old now?
Wilson: No, I was five years old when this happened.
LaBounty: Oh, five years old. So it's like late forties, '49 or something.
Wilson: Right. This is '49.
LaBounty: You told me that your memories really start hitting when you're really young, right?
Wilson: Yeah, like even three years old, I still remember all the neighborhood and everything, and the stores, like on Ocean Avenue, and Paul's. Everything like this, like when I was three.
LaBounty: So what kind of stuff did your mom do when you were like three? Was she working or was she at home with you?
Wilson: My mother was at home, because in those days, all housewives--everyone, 90 percent were housewives, and if they did work, it was only like part-time. They'd go out like and maybe have a part-time job. But my father made enough money in the railroad so that, you now, well, for instance in 1953, he made $800 a month.
LaBounty: Pretty good.
Wilson: Eight hundred. And in those days, that's executive pay in these days, and he was an engineer, is what he was. One of the trains he drove was the old train in Fleishhacker's, you know, the old black locomotive.
Wilson: He had actually driven that during World War II. That was used to transport that old train, and the zoo was used to transport munitions during World War II.
LaBounty: Interesting. So the trains weren't coming through on the other side of Ocean View by that time. They had already gone.
Wilson: Well, they had already gone. They were gone by, I think, 1930, something like that, they were gone.
LaBounty: So there was no train coming through, but the freeways were probably starting to be built in the fifties, right?
Wilson: Over near City College they were starting to scratch out a plan for them, by City College, like early fifties. We used to take the bus. Me and my mother used to live there. When we lived on Jules, like when I was nine, we used to take the bus over to New Mission Market. This was on Mission Street. And they had a big market. It was called--it was almost like the Costco of the Mission District. It was called the New Mission Market, and the food that they had there, everything was natural, especially like, you know, they had cottage cheese that was like paste. It was so good. It was very, very good. We used to take a bus out there, and when I used to pass, I used to notice that they had been leveling ground and tearing a few buildings down, and I think was the beginning of what was to be 280 in the future.
LaBounty: Where on Mission Street was the New Mission Market?
Wilson: Mission and--oh god, let's see. Okay. I'm trying to think of the cross streets.
LaBounty: Could it be like 22nd or 21st? Because there's something that has a similar name, which is not the same.
Wilson: Well, I remember the buildings, I remember the street that ran into it. I'm trying to think of the names of the streets now. A couple of blocks up, my sister's husband--you know, she got married in 1951, she got married. 1950, she got married. That was my brother-in-law. His relatives lived down there in the Mission. They lived about four blocks, three blocks, like from here to where Kentucky Fried Chicken is. They lived that far away from the Mission. I'm trying to think of the--if I can think of the street that they lived on now.
LaBounty: That's okay. How did you get there? You took a bus. What bus did you take? Do you remember that? Was it a streetcar or a bus?
Wilson: We took a bus. I'm trying to think of the name of the bus. Oh, god, let's see.
LaBounty: Because I know there was like--was it the 12? There was some bus that I know that--
Wilson: Oh, no, no, no, wait a minute. We took the 12 Mission. She took the streetcar. She didn't want to walk. I mean, nowadays I'd just walk, but I guess she didn't want to do it.
LaBounty: With a kid and everything.
Wilson: Yeah. She went ahead and took the K, the K car, and then went down and took the--I think it was the 12 Mission at that time, because I remember we transferred once to get home. Yeah, that was it.
LaBounty: So did you go there for like big shopping, or just to get different kinds of food?
Wilson: Just to get the few different kinds, like the cottage cheese especially, and everything like this. We used to go there just to get small--all the big shopping was done at Selmi's [phonetic].
LaBounty: So tell me about Selmi's. What was it like? And where was it exactly? It was on Holloway?
Wilson: Ashton and Holloway.
LaBounty: So, like the west--northwest corner?
Wilson: Okay, like here--well, let's see. On the southeast corner, I think, as you'd say. Let's see.
LaBounty: It's on the side going towards up the hill, on that side?
Wilson: Yeah. Like here's where I draw my little bench out here. Right here, yeah, here. Okay, here is Paul's, then here is a hill right here. Paul's was right here, and then the hill--oh, here, wait a minute. I'm going the wrong way. Paul's was on this side. This was going up the hill. And right here, in this area, was where the very top of the hill was, and right here was a farmhouse with trees, on top of this hill.
LaBounty: Right. So you're thinking like around Lakeview.
Wilson: Yeah, Lakeview.
LaBounty: Kind of just on the west side of Orizaba.
Wilson: Yeah. Granada ran into Lakeview, and Lakeview ran--Lakeview actually--see right here? Lakeview ended right here, and ran right into where these hills--and there were steps going down here to Montana, right here, and this was the Ocean View Park. My mother used to take me to Ocean View Park when I was very little. I was like two and three, and we used to go to Ocean View Park.
LaBounty: And were there many homes over here at that time, on top?
Wilson: No. Actually, right up in here now--I was very disappointed. I don't know if you were with me or not. I was very disappointed when we went over there and I looked up and said, "Where's my goddamn hill?" You know, up there on top of the hill, all houses now. I don't know what they did. They just took all that--it was beautiful. Nice spot. You could go up there and have a picnic and whatever, and right here there were stairs with metal railing, going down from Jules down to Montana here, going up over that hill, past these rocks. The rocks were actually right here. It was like a little mountain, like a miniature mountain of--
LaBounty: Big boulders.
Wilson: Enough to make--those boulders were--you could fit four of these houses, plus the property, into this whole area. It was like a miniature mountain.
LaBounty: So when you were a kid and you were walking up Jules, or whatever route you took up the hill, when did the houses really kind of stop, and then the boulders and the--
Wilson: Okay. That stopped right here.
LaBounty: Right around Lakeview, huh?
Wilson: Right here at Lakeview. Well, actually, not even Lakeview. Well, I could say, yeah, I could say that they stopped at Lakeview. I think the last one was like about--there was an empty lot before you actually went down over the hill, and the last house was approximately right here. So there was about, oh, I'd say two, three, four, five, six, seven houses on each side, going up the hill. By about the seventh or eighth house, the brush began. Then on our right side, where our apartment was, at 210 Jules--it's a big brown apartment, three-story apartment right on the corner.
And right up there, I think seven houses or eight houses up, there was like a little open field, and then you go up these steps with the railing. And the steps with the railing would take you all the way down, down to Ocean View Park. And then you'd walk over like from here, maybe from here down to the corner, and you'd be at Ocean View Park.
LaBounty: Not very far at all.
LaBounty: So, Paul Selmi owned Selmi's. He was the owner.
Wilson: He owned Selmi's. Him and his wife, and he had two sons working there, too. At that time they must have been maybe junior high or almost going into high school. They worked there part-time, or whatever, with their parents.
LaBounty: And it was bigger than like a corner market?
Wilson: Yeah, it was more of a--
LaBounty: That old-style market, a little bigger.
Wilson: Yeah, more like a--he had everything that Safeway now would have, put it that way. But it wasn't as--you know, he was like in between a mom-and-pop, and in between a small Safeway.
LaBounty: Right. Right. That's how they used to be. All those markets in the city were--even Safeways used to be that size, you know, that kind of smaller size.
Wilson: The New Mission Market was slightly bigger than Paul's. It was like maybe another third or fourth--at least another third bigger than Paul's was. So Paul's was--oh, we could fit maybe five mom-and-pops or six mom-and-pops for the storage space that Paul had. And he had a whole meat market in there, Paul did, too. He had his own butchers. He had two butchers working in there.
LaBounty: So people went there and got their meat.
Wilson: Either there, and if they didn't have it, or if they were closed, or if they just didn't feel like walking two blocks down to Ocean, they went there. I mean, it was for the people actually that lived in that area. But he had a variety of meat. But, of course, great big huge sides of meat and things he didn't really have, because he didn't have enough storage space in the back for all of that.
LaBounty: Well, what else did you buy there?
Wilson: Oh, we bought everything, all the groceries. We used to come home. I used to carry one box, and my father used to carry--they used to put them in cardboard boxes.
LaBounty: How did they ring it up back then? Was it those old-style--
Wilson: Yeah, it was an old key--a key style. His wife, she was a cashier. She'd sit there, "Well, hi," and ring up, boom-boom-boom, boom-boom-boom, boom-boom-boom, you know, ring them all up.
LaBounty: Just one counter to ring you out?
Wilson: Yeah, one counter. She had one checkout counter. Later on, when we moved to Granada, though, I think more people moved in, because in those days it just started getting a little bit more, a few more people. She put in an extra counter, an extra checkout counter. One of her sons worked the extra checkout counter. But at the time I was five, though, it was only her, just only one checkout, but later she had the second one put in.
LaBounty: So your mom, to take you to the park and stuff, had to climb up the hill and down the other side.
Wilson: Yeah. In those days it was a good cardiac thing, but they didn't know it in those days.
LaBounty: And your dad worked for SP, and then your sister came and lived with you for a while, and then she got married when you were about five or six.
Wilson: Five. She got married when I was five. She got married. There was a Presbyterian church down the corner on Granada. At the corner of Granada and Ocean there was a Presbyterian church, and that's where they got married. I don't know if that church is still there yet. I think it is.
LaBounty: On Granada and--
Wilson: And Ocean.
LaBounty: Okay, I see. Down here, kind of towards where the reservoir is.
LaBounty: Was it the Ingleside Presbyterian Church, that big stone church?
Wilson: Yeah, it's brown-colored.
LaBounty: It's still there. It's still there.
Wilson: It's still there yet?
LaBounty: Wow. She got married there, huh?
LaBounty: So then you went to Farragut.
Wilson: I started in kindergarten in Farragut. Miss Robinson was my teacher in kindergarten in Farragut. That was a very nice--oh, very, very--a fun kindergarten, a fun way to actually get started in school.
LaBounty: What was fun? I mean, what was the--
Wilson: Oh, just the typical kindergarten things. You sit there, go out there and have a recess, and go out there, and come back in and draw pictures, and do all these other kinds of things.
LaBounty: What do you remember about Farragut School, about that?
Wilson: Oh, Farragut School at that time was--talk about a dilapidated school. They complain and scream and holler about the schools nowadays, and all of this. They're going through such misery being in school. Jeez, these are palaces, I mean, compared to what Farragut was at that time. I mean, even the hallways smelled like urine in those days. It was pretty bad. The bathrooms, you just wanted to wait until you got home.
They tried. They did their best. They had about three or four janitors there all the time. Even during the day they were there.
LaBounty: You mean it was like a wood building or a wooden--
Wilson: It was a stone--actually it was a--
LaBounty: It was stone?
Wilson: Yeah, it was a stone building, is what it was. The floors were linoleum. The hallways and the classroom, the floors were all this old linoleum. I don't know. I guess it'd been there since the school was built. Well, we stood it. We stood it. We went there every day and we didn't--you know, they kept it clean and it looked nice.
In the second grade, I had Mrs. Preston for my second-grade teacher.
LaBounty: In second grade, or first?
Wilson: Beginning of second, actually.
LaBounty: So you went to Farragut kindergarten and first grade.
Wilson: Kindergarten and first grade.
LaBounty: And then second grade you went to West Portal Lutheran.
Wilson: Yeah, I left. I left there. Because Mrs. Preston, you know, the teacher, she was getting very, very senile. She had been my sister's teacher. My sister had actually went to Farragut when they moved out to the Avenues, and she went to Farragut. She actually went to Farragut School. It wasn't that far away either. And she had Mrs. Preston for a teacher.
LaBounty: So she had to walk from Parkside over to Farragut? Did you walk to school from Jules, just down the hill, or did your mom walk with you?
Wilson: Oh, no. From Jules, from our corner on Jules, Farragut was one block away, and so I walked. She taught me how to walk there I think when I was five. She went a few times. Finally I came home myself. She'd look out the window and watch for me to come out, because you could see the school from the window. She'd watch for me to come out of the school and walk down Grafton to our house, and she'd see me way--she'd see me from the window, coming out of the school, actually.
LaBounty: What was the yard like in Farragut, do you remember?
Wilson: The school yard?
Wilson: Oh, they had a great big--you know, it's too bad I didn't have pictures of Farragut, too. Okay, like here's the school building itself, right here. Then right down here was a big lawn, a steep lawn, running about at this angle downhill, and here's a sidewalk. Another steep lawn running off to the side, and then the lawn kind of tapered off over here to the corner of--I think it was Capitol, I think. Then this part was a school yard, right here, going around this way where I'm putting x's, the whole school yard, which took up one half of that whole block, almost to the corner, going up the hill. And so that school yard was--that was a damn big school yard that they had there.
LaBounty: And it had kind of an "L" around the school there.
Wilson: Yeah, it did. It actually made an "L," except for the front of the school, which was a slope of grass, and the side down here was a slope of grass, too, going out to the sidewalk. The building itself, it was pretty good big-sized, good-sized building itself.
LaBounty: Did it go through sixth grade, or eighth grade?
Wilson: Sixth grade. Because I remember one time one of the girls from the sixth grade came down to help me when I was in the first grade, with my ABCs. She came down to help me from the sixth grade, sitting there going, "A, B." [Laughs] That was Mrs. Preston's class, is what it was. I got it kind of mixed up. That was Mrs. Preston's. Mrs. Cavanaugh [phonetic] was the assistant principal.
LaBounty: And you said Mrs. Ward was the principal at the time?
Wilson: Ward. Mrs. Ward. And she still sent me cards, even later on. I think I was like in the fifth grade, sixth grade, and I still got a card every year from Mrs. Ward at Christmas. I still have them yet.
LaBounty: And so your world when you were five and six is you go to Selmi's Market and you get your groceries there, and that sort of stuff. Sometimes you got to the New Mission Market down--
Wilson: Down on Mission Street.
LaBounty: You take the bus and the streetcar to get there. You go to Farragut School. What else do you do when you're like five and six? What else do you do in the neighborhood, or stores you go to?
Wilson: Okay. Like down there--this could take--
LaBounty: Oh, you go to the top of the hill sometimes, too, or go over the hill to the Ocean--
Wilson: Me and my father used to walk up to the top of the hill where the little mountain thing was, and everything like that. We couldn't walk over to the farmhouse. We walked over like from here to where the tree is over there, a couple of times, but then the line was private property at that time, too. No trespassing.
LaBounty: Who do think established that farmhouse? What street do you think it--
Wilson: That's one of the mysteries that I myself, even me living there, I'm trying to solve. Some of the people that have lived down around there--I knew one guy was an insurance adjuster. He works for Metropolitan. He took care of our thing, and he knew all the people in the neighborhood. He knew this and knew that, and knew Paul. It was like me. He says, "You know, that damn farmhouse, that place is a mystery. I haven't talked to anybody who knew who lived there."
LaBounty: Nobody knew who lived there.
Wilson: "Knew when it was built, knew anything about it," he said. He said, "I've been wondering myself what that was."
It had three or four, I think, eucalyptus trees that were growing up around it, kind of like planted around it, with a couple of small fir trees that were up there.
LaBounty: Okay, I'm sorry. You were saying you'd go up with your dad, up to the top. And what else did you do?
Wilson: We used to go down to--oh, we used to go to the San Francisco Zoo. I remember the zoo like it was yesterday then, too. I mean, I could even draw you a map. If I had a mental picture, you know, it's too bad we didn't have something that was a virtual reality. I could create a picture of all of these things in their exact detail.
LaBounty: What was your favorite part of the zoo?
Wilson: Oh, I liked all of it. All of it, you know, the whole thing. We used to go down to--on Ocean Avenue there was a lot of different stores. I remember all the stores there, too. There was Mrs. Cook's Variety Store.
LaBounty: That was like a five-and-dime sort of thing?
Wilson: Yeah. And I used to get--in those days you could get, but before all this other stuff these days, and all this other B.S. about safety and about, you know, oh, anti-weapons, anti-gun, be careful of this, be careful of that, you're going to die of this, you're going to die of that. We used to get these darts. They had the real points on them, real needle-sharp wooden darts with feathers. I used to buy those all the time, go home and put up a box. Boom, boom, boom, boom!
LaBounty: So you'd get those at Mrs. Cook's Variety?
Wilson: Mrs. Cook's Variety. Plus these little toy plastic men and women. They used to come in a box. I think if I had those now I could go on Antiques Road Show and pay for this house, because I had a ton of those. Used to go home and put them on top of the couch and drop them off the couch onto the floor, like as if they fell off a cliff. [Laughs]
LaBounty: Was there really a Mrs. Cook there?
Wilson: Yeah, yeah, there was Mrs. Cook. You know, an older lady, she had her hair in a bun. She must have been about maybe at least sixty-five at that time. And she says, "Oh, what do you want today?" And the toys were--the counters were about like this table, and they had each little bins like this, and they had the little men in the box, the ones that was my favorite, in a bin about like this. And I'd go each time and pick one out, and pick another one out, or whatever. The darts were in one big bin. You'd go in there, and anything, even small things like this, little balls, whatever, you could go into the little bins and pick them out.
LaBounty: Were they open bins or just like boxes?
Wilson: Open bins. Yeah, little open boxed-in bins.
LaBounty: What else was sold? Did your mother buy things there?
Wilson: They had sewing materials. My mother used to buy all her sewing needles, and materials for--you know, you want to make something or sew something. You want to fix this couch, this kind of stuff. You know, they had cottons. She had all of these--that's what she was, was a variety store.
LaBounty: And where was this store on Ocean?
Wilson: Okay. It was Ocean. Here's Jules. Let's see where we are.
LaBounty: You could also make a map if you wanted, just like draw Ocean. We could figure out where all the stores were.
Wilson: Okay. Here's Ocean here, then here's Jules, and here's 210. That was our apartment right here. And then right down from 210 there was one more cross-street, then right here was Saint Emydius Catholic School. That's Saint Emydius, then here's Faxon here. Mrs. Cook's. The butcher shop. Here's Ocean. At the corner of Ocean and Faxon was a big butcher shop. It was a great big brown building; made Paul's look like a little hut. It was a big brown building right here, and this was a butcher's shop.
LaBounty: Is that where that Bank of America was?
Wilson: Bank of America was one block--this was Jules right here, and Ocean.
LaBounty: That's Miramar. That's where Bank of America is, right?
Wilson: Yeah, right here. The next one was Miramar, and here's Bank of America right here on Miramar.
LaBounty: So we're talking the corner of Faxon and Ocean there; kind of on the southeast was Mrs. Cook's. Oh, no, the butcher shop. I'm sorry.
Wilson: The butcher shop. Then three doors down, in the middle of the block, right here, was Mrs. Cook's Variety.
LaBounty: Okay. So, east of the butcher shop.
Wilson: Yeah, east. Because this is running like towards--like City College is over here.
LaBounty: Right, right. So this is Mrs. Cook's.
Wilson: Mrs. Cook's.
LaBounty: And this is some butcher shop.
Wilson: The butcher shop, yeah.
LaBounty: Okay. What else was on Ocean at that time? And we're talking like 1950, '51, something like that.
Wilson: Yeah, yeah. Right here on the corner of Jules was Roy's gas station, right on the corner of Ocean and Jules, on the same side as the apartment. Right here was Roy's, Roy's gas station, right here. Roy's. Then right here, next to Roy's, this was Faxon. It wasn't Miramar that the bank was on. This was Faxon. Miramar was another one over.
LaBounty: Oh, I thought this was Jules we were on here.
Wilson: Here's Faxon right here.
LaBounty: Oh, okay, I gotcha. This is Jules, this is Faxon, and what's this over here, then?
LaBounty: Ashton. Okay. Okay, now I'm straight. That makes sense, because that's what I thought, that the bank was on the corner of Faxon.
Wilson: Yeah, it was. And then right here, next to Roy's, was the Faxon Garage. It was a car repair garage, is what it was. It was a car repair place. Roy knew them. If he couldn't fix something, he says, "Well, here."
You didn't even have to go out on the street. You could drive from Roy's. There was an open area right here. You could drive from Roy's, or push the car. In those days you'd just take the car and push it from here across the street to where that white truck is, and that was the Faxon Street Garage.
LaBounty: So was Roy's on the corner of Jules?
LaBounty: Okay. And then across Jules was the Faxon Garage?
Wilson: Yeah, right on the same side, right with Roy's gas station, on the same side. You know, like as if--well, okay, here's Roy's, here's the corner. Here's Roy's here, and little signs, whatever. Nothing separating them. Here's Ocean Avenue right here, here's the sidewalk.
LaBounty: So right next to it was--
Wilson: So, Roy's pumps were here. He had two pumps here, two here. His little office was right here, off to the back. Then the drive-through for your gas pumps. There was nothing here at all, no barrier. And here's Faxon Street Garage. Here's Faxon, right here. Faxon Street Garage's office was right here, actually. His repair center was right in here, so you just push you car along here. If Roy couldn't do anything with it, he says, "Oh, shit, your transmission's gone. Push it right over here." He says, "Your brakes are gone. Push it right over here. Leave it right here, and go in here in the office and tell--."
Oh, god, what's that guy's name? I forgot their names. We never used them that much. We didn't have that much car trouble. But you go in there and you tell him, "You know, my transmission's gone."
"Okay, leave it here."
And the entrance to his garage was in here, and you'd just go right ahead and just push it in here, enough room for four cars or three cars. It wasn't all that big. But he handled everything personally, too, just like everybody else in the neighborhood did.
LaBounty: So what other stores were on Ocean?
Wilson: Across the street, right here, was another store, almost like a Walgreen's-type store. Walgreen's actually took it over. It was like a--oh, the guy sold a few things, almost like Paul's did. It was almost like a mom-and-pop-type store. And right here was a parking lot. This was right across the street from the bank, actually. And the parking lot was right here, and here was this guy's store. The parking lot, they used to have Halloween parties. They used to sponsor Halloween parties for the whole neighborhood every year.
LaBounty: And so everybody would go, and what would they have there?
Wilson: Oh, they had everything. They had dunking things, like you dunk for apples. You know, all that kind of stuff. And they'd have little prizes, little treats and prizes and things, wrapped up for the kids. They'd have a bunch of lanterns lit, with the candles in them. Then they had games, mostly all games and stuff. And all the kids from the neighborhood would go there. That'd be the first place they would go; then they'd all leave there, maybe about seven or eight, and go trick-or-treating then. But everybody went to this party first, is what they did.
LaBounty: Wow. Where would you trick-or-treat? Would you stay on Jules?
Wilson: Oh, we'd go on Jules, we'd go on Grafton, we'd go all the way up the hill to where that place was, but, strangely, never over to Ocean View, or never over to the Ocean View playground.
LaBounty: What about across Ocean, like Westwood Park or Monterey? Did you ever go over there?
LaBounty: You stayed on your side of Ocean View?
Wilson: We were always pretty much on our side. I guess it was, you know, your mothers and them. I mean, they weren't the physical-conditioning type people that you have now. They didn't do any jogging. They didn't do any exercise. The only exercise they did was pull a pan out of the cupboard and do some cooking in those days. So they never felt like walking any, not like they do now. Like some of them, they'll go over--they went over, what, three miles, four miles away or something. They never did that then. We stayed like kind of in a local--within the three-block, two-block area. All our trick-or-treating was up and down the street, maybe over to Ashton. We went around the corner.
LaBounty: Could you trick-or-treat at the merchants', too, at the stores?
Wilson: Yeah, yeah. We did that before we went home. That was like on the way home. You'd stop at Mrs. Cook's, and Mrs. Cook would throw--I think one time she ever threw a little man in for me. She knew who I was. She goes, "Oh, yeah, here's what you like," or something, and threw one in.
LaBounty: And did you go to the El Rey Theater?
Wilson: Oh, yeah, we went there all the time. Anytime the movie would change, especially my father, he'd go, take me down there, and we'd go. And then they had matinees. They had kids' matinees there every Saturday. Folded popcorn things were always thrown up in the air, and all the candy going through the air and everything, but they had a hell of a lot of fun, though.
LaBounty: And it was cheap.
Wilson: Very, very cheap. I'm trying to think what the price was to get--I think it was--I think for the matinee it was--oh, what was it? I think twenty-five cents for kids, for the matinee then.
LaBounty: Do you remember any of the movies you watched, or what was your favorite sort of--
Wilson: One time I went to see--remember when Prince Valiant came out, the old Prince Valiant? I went to see that there. A girl went with me. In those days girls liked me, but sometimes I didn't like them. I just didn't want to be bothered or something, because you know how you are. And she made me go to the show with her. I walked out in the middle of Prince Valiant, and went home, and left her in the show. [Laughs] I said, "I want to go do something else." I went up the street. I was about ten then. I went up the street and came home.
LaBounty: The El Rey was big, right?
Wilson: Inside the El Rey Theater, you had the first--you'd go in there. They had the candy concessions there, and then you'd go in, and then you'd--but now, like you do in a regular theater, you had the first ground level. Then they had a balcony level, had one more great big balcony level up on top. It was almost about, let's say, about 35 percent size of the lower level, at least. And that was a great big balcony level up on top.
LaBounty: Was it mostly crowded for being such a big place?
Wilson: Yeah, yeah, it was pretty crowded. Sometimes, you know, matinees, they were sitting up on top and down below. If you had a major movie, like when War of the Worlds came out--was it 1953? I have that version, too. I think I must have watched it fifty times. When that came out, there was a line that was equivalent to Independence Day. I mean what it grossed. I mean like the popularity of the movie was equivalent to Independence Day.
LaBounty: So it went down the block, sort of?
Wilson: The line went all the way up around the block, the line did, to get in, when it first started. The special effects, you know. That theater was packed, the uppers and lowers. Whenever there was something like that, the whole theater was full. All neighborhood people, too. Everybody would say, "Oh, hi. You came to see it, too," and everything. All people mostly from the neighborhood.
LaBounty: Must have been a lot of kids living in the neighborhood.
Wilson: Oh, there were. Oh, there were an awful lot of them.
LaBounty: So you went to El Rey, you went to Mrs. Cook's, you knew the gas station.
Wilson: Then across the street from--this here, across the street from--I think probably it's easier to take a section at a time, you know. Across the street from that was that guy's store, the one I told you about, remember? He sold a lot of candy and stuff. He sold mostly like snacks. He didn't have the variety that Paul--
[Begin Tape 1, Side B]
LaBounty: Sampan's [phonetic].
LaBounty: Right. Which was like a Chinese restaurant, but they didn't serve Chinese food. They served American food.
Wilson: Yeah, served American food.
LaBounty: And if you asked, kind of, they would--
Wilson: They would, and they'd actually make you Chinese food if you actually asked for it.
[Tape recorder turned off.]
Wilson: The neighborhood's horrible, I mean, as far like if you go out there--like if we took a drive over there like right now, you know, you wouldn't want to go over at nighttime anymore.
LaBounty: It's a lot more run down than you remember as a kid and everything.
Wilson: Oh, yeah. Paul Selmi predicted this. He says, "Once blacks and other ones, and they all start moving in here, this neighborhood's going to decline. It won't be no more. You won't have no more family neighborhood at all anymore."
When we first moved over to 46th Avenue, like around those days, after we'd left, a few blacks, like around the early--well, 1960, 1961, a few blacks started moving in. Up there in Paul's, on Ashton, you know, some blacks started, a couple of them started. They started kind of like coming in gradually, and Paul and a few others got together. They were trying to go after the real estate place that actually let the blacks come in and start moving in.
LaBounty: Wow. And this was in the early sixties, sort of?
Wilson: Yeah, about 1960, I'd say. That was Selmi and the rest of them. He even told my father. He says, "Once this starts happening, you'll see. Just wait. Wait fifteen, twenty years. This neighborhood, you won't even be able to walk through it anymore." And, damn it, unfortunately, he turned out to be right.
LaBounty: Because you told me that when you were a kid in the fifties, this was all white.
Wilson: Yeah, it was.
LaBounty: This was the part we kind of missed. I mean, you had the Japanese drycleaners to a certain extent, Goto's.
Wilson: Yeah, Goto's.
LaBounty: And then you had Sampan's, was owned by a Chinese family of some sort. But all your friends and all the kids you knew were all white.
Wilson: All white.
LaBounty: But there was one lady who grew up in the neighborhood, or lived in the neighborhood, and she married a--
Wilson: She married a Filipino. Actually, he was a soldier. He had fought actually in World War II. I think he was a--I'm not sure.
LaBounty: For America, for the U.S.
Wilson: For the U.S.
LaBounty: So he was a veteran. He came back.
Wilson: And she married him.
LaBounty: And then the neighbors, how did they treat her?
Wilson: They completely ignored her. Some of them came right out and criticized her, saying, "Gee, did you see what Minnie did? Did you see what she married?"
LaBounty: Wow. It's funny. It's like one of the only minorities in the entire neighborhood, right?
LaBounty: And they had two daughters.
Wilson: They had two daughters.
LaBounty: They went to Saint Emydius.
Wilson: They went to Saint Emydius. They lived right across the street from Saint Emydius. The girls, they walked across the street. Their door was here, Saint Emydius' front door was right where this house is here.
LaBounty: Right. Right across the street.
Wilson: They just walked across the street to walk in to go to school. They didn't have that many friends as far as I know, either. They just came home and just--I think later on the two of them, they moved out of the neighborhood or something. By the time they got to high school, they were going around other different places and things, but the time that they were in elementary school there, they were just so much to themselves, both of them.
LaBounty: So how long did Selmi have the grocery store?
Wilson: Oh, he had it all the way, even past the time, up to about 1960--who was Muhammed Ali? Remember the fight with Muhammed Ali, the famous fight?
LaBounty: We had a few. Which one, '72 or something?
Wilson: '66, '65, when he first--the first main one, where he really made a name. Now, what was that?
LaBounty: It was the mid--sixties or something.
Wilson: Oh, him and--oh, god, what was that first fight? It was when he was known as Cassius Clay, at that time, and he knocked out--what was that guy's name, the one he knocked out, the very first one? Do you remember?
LaBounty: No, I don't.
Wilson: That's what this was, and they showed this. It was in the Fox Theater. This was 1960, I think '65.
LaBounty: In the Fox Theater downtown, they were showing the fight?
Wilson: Yeah, and Paul went down to see it. And so his store was still there like '64, '65. His store was still--you know, they still had his store. Went down there. Sat down there, watching the theater. Never came out of the Fox Theater, he didn't.
LaBounty: He had a heart attack?
Wilson: He had this massive stroke or heart attack. He died in the theater, watching the fight. So Mrs. Selmi took over the store, I think maybe for about a year. Then her sons--she left, and then her sons, I think--I don't know what her sons actually decided to do with the store. I think they might have sold it or something, because they went into something different, too, both of her sons. But they ran the store. They were the ones to mainly run the store up until then, too, you know. After this happened, they ran the store for, I think, about a year or something. Then they sold it. I don't know who they sold it to.
The last time I went past it, it's not no Selmi's anymore, so I don't even think it's anything anymore. I think it's just a--who knows? It might be a drug-dealing area there now or something.
LaBounty: So Selmi tried to like go intimidate or talk to the realtor who was selling it.
Wilson: Yeah, they were really literally intimidating the realtor, you know, so the realtor underhandedly went and sold up to some--and these blacks moved in up there on Faxon--I mean Ashton. They moved in the middle of the block. So I don't know who did this or something, but somebody that lived up there on Ashton that knew Paul--this real estate guy, the one that I know, told me about this. He gave me this story.
He said this was about 1966 or something. The black guy came out of his house or something, and this guy came out with a shotgun. Bam! Let him have a full load of buckshot in the gut.
Wilson: Yeah. Didn't kill him, but [unclear] died and everything. And these were people that were still behind Selmi. They were still like part of his group to--part of the people in the neighborhood that didn't want this to happen. But, of course, doing something like that. I mean, the poor guy didn't know. You know, he just moved in, didn't know what, you know. It wasn't his fault. He just wanted to buy a house, and he moved in.
LaBounty: Well, I had heard that the reason that it became kind of an African American neighborhood there after a while is because they couldn't buy in other parts of the city. There were those homeowner clauses we were talking about, you know, but in that neighborhood they didn't have that.
Wilson: And this is the thing that Paul was fighting. He was trying to start a homeowners thing there, trying to get these real estate people, and they had blacks going in there to buy houses. He was trying to stop that, and make a homeowners [association], and get these real estate--push them into making a homeowners' association. And the realtors are the ones that were fighting Paul.
LaBounty: Right. Because they wanted to sell the homes.
Wilson: Yeah. And so Paul was fighting with the realtors. I think there was even a few punch-outs in between, too, and stuff. But Paul told my father about that, and this other guy told me about it, too. He says, "Well, you know--." But, damn it, unfortunately, Paul turned out to be right.
LaBounty: Well, now it's become kind of an Asian American neighborhood, too.
Wilson: Oh, really?
LaBounty: It's continuing to shift.
Wilson: Is it?
LaBounty: The last census it was like 45 percent Asian American in that area, or Asian background.
Wilson: In the Ocean View, you mean?
LaBounty: It keeps changing, the neighborhood. It's kind of interesting.
Wilson: How about Ingleside? Do they have a census on Ingleside, what it is?
LaBounty: I saw them. I don't really remember how it all broke down, but I remember being kind of struck at how it was 45 percent Asian. I wouldn't have thought that. I had thought it had become kind of an African American neighborhood.
Wilson: Because my mother lost a friend, too, on account of that. It was one of the ones I went to school with, the Ziemans [phonetic]. They lived over on Borica. Mrs. Zieman says--Marcy lived next door to Mrs. Zieman. This is on Borica. This is near the sundial. From here to the sundial, to where the corner is. And a black guy bought the house a door down from Marcy, next door to--
LaBounty: In Ingleside Terraces.
Wilson: Yeah. Next door to Mrs. Zieman. Mrs. Zieman called my mother up. She says, "You know, a black moved in next door to poor Marcy." And she was complaining and everything. She says, "You know, I'm thinking of getting out of here and moving out of here," she said, Mrs. Zieman.
And my mother says, "Well, if he has the money, and he looks nice, and he's got a nice family, why not?"
And that was the end of their friendship. Mrs. Zieman. Oh, god, she was very aggressive.
[Tape recorder turned off.]
LaBounty: We don't know if that was Cecil Poole [phonetic] or not, but his family was like the first black family that moved into Ingleside Terraces.
Wilson: And Cecil Poole was--what was he?
LaBounty: A U.S. attorney. He worked--I'm not sure. He worked for like the U.S. Attorney General or something like that.
Wilson: I wonder. If you can find out what street he lived on when he moved in, that would be him, then, if it was Borica.
LaBounty: I don't think he lived on Borica. I think it was--I can't remember what the name of the street is.
Wilson: It was Attorney Cecil Poole. You don't hear his name much anymore.
LaBounty: No. He might have lived on Lunado. Oh, Cedro.
Wilson: Cedro. Okay.
LaBounty: He lived on Cedro, I think.
Wilson: That wasn't him, then.
LaBounty: What was kind of interesting about Cecil Poole is, he moved into the house of Joseph Leonard, who was the guy who had developed Ingleside Terraces, and had created that homeowners' clause.
Wilson: You're kidding. Really?
Wilson: That's something to really learn. My god.
LaBounty: So when you were nine, you moved up to Granada.
Wilson: Granada, yeah. Grafton and Granada, right on the corner. Then across from us was--the 28 bus stop was there, too. The 28 went there. And the bus stop was right on the corner of our house, at Grafton and Granada.
LaBounty: So you bought a house up there, is that what happened?
Wilson: Yeah. No, we actually rented it. And actually, the apartment we had, we rented it from Mr. Akonami [phonetic], the one that owned the apartment at 210 Jules. His name was Mr. Akonami. He was Greek. Actually, we never bought a house. I never bought any house ever until we bought this one, but we always rented.
LaBounty: So the people you worked with, they were Greek. It sounded like you might have had some Irish families in the neighborhood, or Italian.
Wilson: Mostly all Greek, Irish, Italian. But the only one who was Greek was Mr. Akonami. We were in apartment number two, and he was apartment number three. There was four and five and six upstairs. An older woman with her husband lived up there. The husband died. I was about five, and he died. He fell down and had a massive stroke one night, and the ambulance come up. I remember them taking him down and putting him in the ambulance. He never came back.
She was a little bit, kind of like--I think these days she'd be qualified for Alzheimer's. She'd go down and get old toys, find them in the street, and come up and knock on the door, and hand them to my mother to give them to me. Old broken marbles, stuff that was no use at all. She says, "He would like this. Do you want this?"
I was five. I looked at it, and I'd go, "No." [Laughs] It was something that she found that was broken.
LaBounty: You just reminded me now. We were talking about the woman who married the Filipino soldier. You said, or you wrote, even, that that Italian grocery, one of the sons married--
Wilson: One of the sons married a Japanese girl. Yeah, he married her. This was about maybe--oh, he married her, from what my mother said, about six months before Pearl Harbor he married.
LaBounty: So, right in '41, or whatever.
Wilson: Yeah, he married this Japanese girl.
LaBounty: Maybe he wasn't treated very well either, I would think.
Wilson: Yeah, yeah.
LaBounty: But she got sent to the relocation camp despite being married to him?
Wilson: Well, he didn't live there with her. They lived in another part of the city or something, lived downtown or lived someplace else. That was just like a small--I think his family--his mother and father had a little--I think they had a flat above the--yeah, they had a flat, a small apartment, maybe two-room apartment, above the store.
LaBounty: So when she got relocated, I wonder, did he go with her?
Wilson: That's a real good question.
LaBounty: You know what I mean? That would be kind of weird that that marriage is split up over that.
Wilson: I know. You know, that was the rule. His mother told him, too. She says, "You know, I didn't like you marrying a Japanese girl. Now, look what happened now. Look at this. What are you going to do now about your wife and about a family?" She was Italian; very, very mad at him. She says, "What are you going to do now?" She gave him hell.
And then I think he had to go into the war, too. He was drafted, too. And so, no wife, and he had to go into the--you know, because everybody in those days went. Up to forty-five, you went. I think he went into the army or something, is what he did. But even if you were married, even if you married an American citizen, they still came and took them anyway. That's how it was. A lot of people don't know that, but that didn't get them out of it.
LaBounty: And then you ended up changing schools. You went to West Portal Lutheran.
Wilson: Yeah, I went to West Portal Lutheran. I left there. I think I went to West Portal Lutheran in 19--yeah, right after the first grade. I went through the first grade in Farragut, and that was Mrs. Preston. She was seventy-six or seventy-eight years old, and she was still teaching first grade then, at that time.
LaBounty: So why did you change schools? I mean, what happened?
Wilson: Because, you know, the school was--even Mrs. Ward said, she said the school was not--even thinking about closing it, because it was dilapidated. The subjects that they were teaching, too, weren't up to kind of like--you know, the teaching wasn't any good, and the teachers--Mrs. Preston was very, very old. The other teachers, too, up to like the fifth or sixth grade, were all--they should have been retired years before that.
LaBounty: So you just weren't getting a quality education?
Wilson: No. No, not at all. We had to have other kids come down and help the kids in the lower grades. That's when the sixth grade girl come down to teach the ABCs. Mrs. Preston, I think, was even forgetting her ABCs. That's how she was, too. She'd sit there, and she went--one day, she she'd sit there, and she went, "Um...um...um...um." And I remember that, definitely. She'd sit there, and she was going--hitting her head with her hand like this [demonstrates]. "Oh, I think we better--I think we better have our recess now. Oh," she says, exactly like that.
LaBounty: And so did you have to pay to go to West Portal Lutheran?
Wilson: Yeah. Actually, they belonged to the church then, too, so they said, "Well, we'll just go ahead, and we'll pay--." Oh, what was it? Ten dollars every six months or something like that. It was very cheap.
LaBounty: Now, was this on Sloat?
Wilson: Sloat, yeah.
LaBounty: Near 19th Avenue.
Wilson: It was always easy to just take the K for five minutes. You can even walk the distance. I mean, now one of us could just walk it in ten minutes, actually. Even to go down from here to Westlake Joe's in those days, they wouldn't walk. They'd take the bus. [Laughs] Two blocks, they'd take the damn streetcar or bus. We used to just walk over. Sometimes walk, or most of the time, take the K car over there to the school.
Then when we moved up to Granada in 1953. My mother used to take me when we lived on Jules, because it was a housewife thing in those days and all this, and she didn't work. But when we moved up to Granada, then we knew some other people in the school, and I used to get a ride from the people up the street every day, or people across the street, Mrs. McMichaels, or the Watts up the street on top of the hill. They used to give me a ride to school every day.
LaBounty: Did you guys have a car then?
Wilson: Yeah, my father took it to work, because he was still on call with the Southern Pacific. And so he took the car, drove to Oakland. He had to drive to the train yard at 7th Street in Oakland. That's where the train depot, where the train yard was for freight. The freight yard was at 7th and--yeah, someplace on 7th Street in Oakland. And so he drove all the way over there and parked there and everything. The car was over there. And then he'd come back ten hours later or twelve hours later. Or sometimes he'd go to Sacramento or something, and stay overnight, and then come. So the car wasn't there that much most of the time. 1953 Chevy is what it was.
LaBounty: Was it the first car you guys got there, or did you have one before?
Wilson: Yeah, we had a '49 Ford, I think it was, before that, the old Ford.
LaBounty: Did you guys go away on weekends, then, and do stuff?
Wilson: No, no. It was mostly just for commuting, like around. I don't remember ever taking any big trips or anything.
LaBounty: So, for fun--
Wilson: We went to the zoo. Quite a bit of times we went to Golden Gate Park, the museum and aquarium in Golden Gate Park a lot, too.
LaBounty: Did you go to Fleishhacker's? Was that still open? Or the pools or anything like that?
Wilson: Yeah, the pool was open at that time, too. I never went swimming. You know, ever since that pool opened, everybody used to say this. You know, like the weather we have around here? It was too damn cold. The pool wasn't heated. So if you didn't have a body that loved cold, I mean--or else, unless you had a few drinks. Most of the ones I knew that went in there when I went to Lincoln, they always kind of got a little bit loaded first, because that warms you up, the liquor. Then you're brave enough to go jump in that cold water, because the water's like--it's like ice water in that pool. That's why the popularity never got so overwhelming that people were standing in line to go in there. I mean, in my opinion, that was a big mistake even to build it, because it's too cold.
LaBounty: What about the beach and Playland and Sutro?
Wilson: Oh, all the time, a lot. Those were all the main things. Playland. Used to have a shooting gallery in Playland. I don't know if you knew that or not. You did know that?
LaBounty: I don't think so.
Wilson: Real .22 rifles. They used the .22 short for ammunition. You know, the long, it's too powerful, but the .22 shorts, it's very, very good for plinking and for target practice, like you can even do it downstairs. I've done it downstairs here. Just close all the doors and put some in my Herrington and Richardson, and go like this, and plink out some .22 shorts.
LaBounty: So that's what they did at Playland? They actually used real rifles?
Wilson: Oh, yeah. Real rifles. How much was it? I think it was fifteen cents per load. Fifteen shots for, I think it was like a penny each. A penny each shot is what it was. My father used to take me there all the time and I got damn good at them. I was pretty good at it.
LaBounty: What other stuff did they have a Playland when you were there?
Wilson: Oh, they had the diving bell. I think all that's on your site, too.
LaBounty: Yeah, people remembering that.
Wilson: Oh, the diving bell. Remember the--
LaBounty: I don't, but people have written about it, I know.
Wilson: When were you born?
LaBounty: I was born in '65, so I missed all that Playland stuff.
Wilson: You missed everything. [LaBounty laughs.] God, '65. I was working at U.C. Medical Center in '65.
LaBounty: I missed everything.
Wilson: You missed a damn hell of a lot, Woody.
[Tape recorder turned off.]
Wilson: He had a Coke machine. The guy drank nothing. He didn't drink liquor, didn't, you know, anything. Didn't drink coffee or tea. Bottles upon bottles of Coca--Cola, all the time.
LaBounty: Your landlord.
Wilson: Yeah. He had a Coke machine as tall as this, a mid--sized Coke machine. He'd go in there, see me in the hallway. Boomp, like this, pull one out, says, "Here, you want a Coke?"
And I go, "Okay, thank you."
LaBounty: Free Cokes coming out of this machine.
Wilson: Free Cokes all the time from Mr. Aconomi. He had it almost to where his front room and kitchen were.
LaBounty: And what were you saying about Carmen's, which was a mom-and-pop up on Grafton and Granada? Is that what you said?
Wilson: Yeah, Grafton and Granada is where they were.
LaBounty: And you got your sandwiches there?
Wilson: Sandwiches, and every day after school, I used to go there and get a fudge bar. You know, ice cream, the fudge bar. You've eaten them; everybody's had those. They were three cents. She raised it to four cents in 1956 and everybody raised hell. Everybody in the neighborhood was, "Carmen, why did you raise this?"
"The company raised the price on me. I can't help it," she says.
They went up to four cents and everybody was mad. I used to buy three after school every day. That was what I used to do.
LaBounty: So tell me about West Portal Lutheran. What was it like when you went there?
Wilson: Well, actually, West Portal Lutheran, for the history of the school, they started out in West Portal, is where they actually started. Reverend Hockey [phonetic] started out the West Portal Lutheran School. The building that they rented was right on West Portal. I don't know what the building is now, but it was in the center of West Portal. It was on the left side, going towards the tunnel--or right side, going towards the tunnel. That's where West Portal Lutheran actually started. That was 1950 he started that. That's before I went. I was still going to Farragut at that time, whenever he started.
Then when I went, that was the first year that they actually had the school down in the basement of the church.
LaBounty: On Sloat.
Wilson: Yeah. And that was the first grade. They didn't have a kindergarten yet. That was the first--second grade, rather. And they had that inside the basement of the school.
LaBounty: Was it weird for you at a new school, or was it a tough transition at all?
Wilson: No, no. I remember the September, first September I went there, a little line going into the classroom there. People were standing outside, you know how you do on the first day of school, to get into the building.
Wilson: Made friends there right away. One girl started talking. Carol Ann started talking to me. Like now, probably would have been my girlfriend. I said, "Hey, let's go out." She came on to me that strong. I could have made a date right away if I could have then. [Laughs]
LaBounty: Second grade.
Wilson: Yeah. I mean, being older, say we were older, I would have had an instant date. Anyway, she made friends, and her mother came the next day and brought me a box of crayons, a fifty-pack box of Crayolas. "Carol Ann!" My mother says, "Oh!" She came to pick me up. She says, "Where'd you get those?"
"Carol Ann brought them for me."
She says, "Oh, for heaven's sake. We're not starving. My god."
"Well, she just wanted to be friends."
Then we met the mother, too. The mother was there. She says, "Oh, I just wanted to--she made such a nice friend here," she says, "yesterday when--I just wanted to--I'm Carol Ann's mother."
And, of course, we were friends from then on, too. Then she went and bought Carol Ann something, too, and bought the mother something. That's how they did in those days.
LaBounty: Did they have like a yard and all that stuff there, really? I mean, other than a basement in a church.
Wilson: So what they did was, for recreation, during lunch or for recess, they had a schoolyard, but that was mostly all the--
[Telephone rings. Tape recorder turned off.]
LaBounty: You were saying for recreation what they did at West Portal Lutheran.
Wilson: Oh, okay. Okay, the church was like right here, and right next to the church and behind was--they started building, and they had these other smaller buildings they had just got through finishing, an L-shaped series of buildings. I think it was about five, four classrooms or something. And right here was a small schoolyard, and here was a dirt field, and behind here was the section. This was before they built the Masonic temple.
There was a whole section going down like a little valley, and it was all trees and things. This was a schoolyard then. It was right off where the driveway is. It was a parking lot for churchgoers, too, when it wasn't a schoolyard, so that's what they actually used.
You had up to the eighth grade, so it was all the eighth grade, and seventh, and sixth grade, and fifth grade and them, they occupied those buildings. But the lowest grades were in the basement, like us. We were in the lower--yeah, second grade and third grade. Yeah, second grade was in the--kindergarten, I think, might still have been in that building that they had in West Portal yet. I'm not sure. Yeah, yeah, that's what I remember. The second grade was in the basement, so we started out there, is where we started out.
LaBounty: So you started out your life on Jules Street. Where were you born?
Wilson: Actually, the St. Francis Hospital.
LaBounty: So you started out in 210 Jules, and then what year did you move up to Granada?
Wilson: '53. I was nine. I stayed there on Jules until I was nine. Then that summer, when I turned nine, is when we moved up to Granada.
LaBounty: What was your address there?
Wilson: Ninety-five Granada.
LaBounty: And you had gone from Farragut to West Portal Lutheran by that time. And then when did you leave Granada?
Wilson: 1958. Then we moved out to 46th and Vicente, 1958.
LaBounty: Okay. So way out there, near the beach, sort of.
Wilson: Yeah. And I went to Lutheran School up through the ninth grade, so that was the last year at the Lutheran School when we moved over to 46th and Vicente.
LaBounty: And you were renting a place there?
LaBounty: Do you remember that address?
Wilson: Yeah. That was 2591 46th Avenue.
LaBounty: The Lutheran School went through ninth grade, so you must have gone to Lincoln after that.
Wilson: Lincoln. Yeah, right.
LaBounty: And how long did you live on Vicente, or 46th?
Wilson: That was up until--moved out on my eighteenth birthday, actually. Moved up to 32nd and Santiago.
LaBounty: So what prompted all the moves? Was it just a better situation that your parents kept finding?
Wilson: Yeah, yeah.
LaBounty: A little better rent or a little better place, that sort of thing?
Wilson: Yeah, exactly. Sometimes I think the owner, for Mr. LaPlace [phonetic], he was sick, and then I think he wanted somebody else, or somebody in his family to move into the house in Granada. That's why we had to leave there. He was sick. He had to have his bladder removed or something.
LaBounty: His name was what?
Wilson: LaPlace. He was French. That was the owner of the house in Granada.
LaBounty: So, on Jules you had a Greek owner, and then you had a French owner up there.
Wilson: Then the other one was a German Jew. The one on 46th Avenue, the accent, looked just like a German Jew. Kinky hair. Mr. Zeidler [phonetic], his name was. He goes [imitating voice], "Oh, hello. How are you doing? Oh, everything is fine." [Laughs]
LaBounty: So why did you leave the Vicente place?
Wilson: Well, the house was small. The house at 46th and Vicente, you can see it now. It's still there yet. It's a very, very small house. You have no room inside that house for--I think all the floor space must be about maybe--oh, it was about, I think, a third smaller than this house upstairs is, the whole space.
LaBounty: Yeah, very small.
LaBounty: Did you have any other brothers or sisters that were younger than you? Did your parents have any more kids?
Wilson: No. I was the only one.
LaBounty: And so when you were eighteen, you guys moved to 32nd and Santiago?
LaBounty: What did you do when you were eighteen? You were out of Lincoln by that time?
Wilson: Yeah, I was out of Lincoln.
LaBounty: So did you start working?
Wilson: Yeah, I started working. Actually, I went to Bank of America and actually got a job there, and went to City College part-time with another friend of mine from Lincoln, is what I did.
Then I went back east, and then kind of like went traveling and whatever, and stuff like that.
LaBounty: So you went to City College; you went back. So you were still kind of near your old neighborhood then, when you were--
LaBounty: Able to see how things were changing.
Wilson: Yeah, I went over there. I went over to the old neighborhood a few times, and I still knew some of the people, like from the Lutheran School, and some of the people we knew, like the McMichaels and some other people that I knew, too, there. I went over there and visited them quite a bit. So I went back. And the Ziemans, too, still lived over there on Borica. So I went over there to see them a few times.
LaBounty: Had Ocean Avenue changed by the time you were eighteen?
Wilson: Yeah, because like one store--I'm not sure what store it was or what business was there, but that's the one that they pulled out, and that became like a hamburger place. That's where the friend--we went over there to see that girl on Edgewood, that girl.
LaBounty: Was it Beep's Burgers?
Wilson: No. It was across the street from Sampan's. It was like a hamburger place, next to the skating rink. There was a skating rink, too, that they built there in 1957. It was an ice-skating rink.
LaBounty: Oh, I didn't know that.
Wilson: Yeah. It was across from the El Rey Theater, between Sampan's and the El Rey Theater, right across, about four doors down from the entrance to--the other Ocean Avenue Ingleside Terrace entrance, about four doors down.
LaBounty: An ice-skating rink.
Wilson: An ice-skating rink. Pretty big, too.
LaBounty: What was it called, do you know?
Wilson: I'm trying to remember the name, because a couple of the kids from the Lutheran School, especially one German girl from the Lutheran School went there all the time. "Oh, you come over to see me ice-skate?" Uta Kern [phonetic]. And so I went over there one day. She liked me, and I didn't really like her that much, for some reason, but she liked me. My mother says, "That girl likes you very much. Why don't you talk to her more?" I said, "Oh, well." You know, some you liked better than others, you know. But she went there all the time. I think they built that there like about 1957 or something.
LaBounty: Interesting. I didn't know that was there.
Wilson: Yeah, it was an ice-skating rink. It wasn't very big. Oh, the lot itself was--inside, it was from about here to where the end of the sidewalk was, to about--like it was enough to kind of enjoy yourself. You couldn't go full blast, but enough just to kind of enjoy yourself, skating.
LaBounty: I wonder when that closed.
Wilson: I don't think it stayed there very long. I don't think the business was really that good, because the few times I went there, there wasn't that many people there either.
LaBounty: Tell me about Ferguson's. Was it Ferguson's?
Wilson: We had Ferguson's Cyclery.
LaBounty: And where was that?
Wilson: I just put a posting.
LaBounty: Yeah, that's what I think I'm reading.
Wilson: Did you see it?
LaBounty: You said it was your hangout, and you knew Ed well.
Wilson: Oh, listen, when we moved over to 46th, Ed went to the church. Ferguson went to the Lutheran church. He never went to the school, but I knew him from Sundays, because everybody in those days, church every Sunday, whether you believed in or thought it was all right or not, they just did it as sort of a social thing, kind of. Went to see their friends and whatever.
LaBounty: Was your mother like that, or your parents? Were they like real Lutherans, where they felt like into it, or was it kind of like a social thing?
Wilson: It was kind of a social thing. She'd go over there and she'd say, "Well, we'll go with Mrs. Zieman to church this Sunday, or go with McMichaels," or, "I'll have to see Mrs. Zieman over there and talk to her about--."
Mrs. Zieman said, "I'm going to church today. I'm going to complain of how they're treating Kenneth at the school," or something. "I want to see Mr. Zahn [phonetic]," she used to say, "at the church," and all.
LaBounty: So Mrs. Zieman was the one who complained that the black people moved in, and she complained that her son wasn't being treated well.
Wilson: Well, he was sort of--he was overweight and they used to call him "fat stuff." In those days, the schools in those days, number one, the teachers could beat the hell out of the kids if they wanted to. That's how it was there. The teachers would grab you and shake you, and pull your hair, and bang your head against the blackboard, and stuff.
LaBounty: Wow. At the Lutheran School, huh?
Wilson: Yeah. But they never touched Kenneth, and he didn't do anything. I think they didn't want to hear from Mrs. Zieman, probably, and go through all that. But kids used to say, "fat stuff" to Kenneth and everything. [Laughs]
LaBounty: So she was a strong personality.
Wilson: Oh, very, very fiery she was. Oh, jeez. But anyway--
LaBounty: Ferguson's, you were saying. I'm sorry.
Wilson: Yeah, Ed. Ed used to go to the church, and then this other guy, Bob Moore, too. Real nice guy. Very, very intellectual. Very up there intellectually, this guy was. He used to go to the school, too, and I'd met them. And, of course, they went to--they were going to Giannini at the time, then they went to Lincoln. They lived out in the Avenues, and Ed had the bike shop.
LaBounty: And where was the bike shop?
Wilson: That was at 47th and Wawona. It was right across from--it's a surf shop now.
LaBounty: Yeah, I think I know where you're talking about. It was like kind of in the middle of the block, between 47th and 48th, something like that.
Wilson: Yeah, yeah, right there. The entrance to it--there's an entrance to the beach there, too. You can walk through a cave. I don't know if you can still do that yet, if they closed that.
LaBounty: They closed that, I think.
Wilson: You're kidding.
LaBounty: It's not there anymore. Under the Great Highway?
LaBounty: Not anymore.
Wilson: Damn them, anyway. We used to walk through there all the time. But the bike shop--you know, Ed says, "Oh, you're moving to where, 46th and--oh, I just live a block away."
And so from then on I was--from the first day on, I was at the bike shop all the time from then on. From 1958 to 1963, you could see me there almost every day, with Ed. I learned bike repair. I could even fix some, any kind of bicycle or anything like that. I'm mechanically deficient, put it that way. But, you know, I can do anything with bicycles. I can change your tire, your rim, or even if it's a mechanical part, I know it.
I learned that all at Ed's, too. Me and Ed used to just take people's bicycles. Ed says, "Could you fix that?"
I said, "Sure. I'll work on this, and you work on that."
Sometimes during the summer, and I'd go ahead and do it and fix it. Fix this one, fix that one, with Ed. All the time we were there. We used to have friends come down. You know, all the different ones we knew in the neighborhood from Lincoln. It was like a hangout, is what it was, Ed's was.
LaBounty: Interesting. Can we take a break on this, Ray, because I want to see your photos. And maybe we can copy them before it gets a little too dark, and we'll talk more. We'll have another meeting, because we didn't even get you into middle school or anything.
Wilson: No, not yet. You know, like I said, we just barely touched the surface.
LaBounty: Well, there's a lot of life to record there.
[End of interview]
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 8 Aug 2003.