Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Old San Francisco Neighborhood Remains

Who said “You can’t go back?” I went back Saturday to the old Sunset neighborhood in San Francisco on 46th and Irving. Our fist residence was a cottage on 48th Ave., where I fell down some cement stairs, broke my nose, and started speaking like a New Yorker from the Bronx or Brooklyn, or even perhaps from Boston. My “accent” is in fact a speech defect. The cottage is long gone. The cool ocean breeze is the same. Actually, I don’t have a neighborhood; we lived all over the city, but the first home my mom bought was 4443 Irving. We lived there a number of years. I walked several blocks to Francis Scott Key Elementary School. No parent in his or her right mind should let their child walk that distance today to school at that young age. It’s too dangerous. The wood clad house is still there, as beautiful as ever as it stands out, albeit set back, from the surrounding, nondescript, pedestrian, drab homes of the 1950’s built wall to wall on 25’ X 100’ lots. Kiddie corner on the opposite corner for decades was the Busy Bee Market. San Francisco seemingly had corner markets on every block. It is now a surf shop. The Surf Theatre sat next to the Busy Bee Market. We used to watch the Saturday double features of Hollywood B movies, especially westerns and other action movies. The Surf survived for a time as an art movie house, but is now a church. The third corner was a chicken slaughtering house, where customers bought fresh chickens and eggs. It later became a pre-school. It’s now a three story building with the Happy Feet sleepware shop. The real market area was on Judah, a block away, from 46th to 44th Avenues. The bus and trolley stops are still there. The northwest corner of 46th and Judah was a Safeway. It’s been a 7-11 for seemingly forever since then. Kiddie corner from Safeway was a small pharmacy. The other two corners were small grocery stores. The Western Grocery on the Northeast corner is still there, now named the Western Sunset Grocery. It looks like it hasn’t changed in six decades. The other grocery, where the owner provided credit and played Christmas music over the Holidays, and where my mom sent me to buy cartons of cigarettes, is gone as is the pharmacy. I don’t remember much about the street from 46th to 45th up from the Western Grocery, except for a restaurant on the block and a pet store around the corner on 45th. A restaurant is on Judah, but with a glorified frontage, next to a tattoo shop. Also on the block are a cleaners and general store. The opposite side of Judah had a Laundromat on 45th, a butchershop, the Glen Five and Dime Variety Store, and an ice cream shop on the 44th St. corner. The Laundromat is still there, but the rest have been replaced by a café, employee owned food coop, and a juice bar on the corner. Across the street on 45th and Judah was a gas station, next to a large neighborhood pharmacy where we bought ten cent comics, which would probably be worth something today if we still had them. The gas station became an auto repair shop, and is now sitting there, abandoned, enclosed by a fence. The pharmacy is no more, replaced by a dental office and Mango Merry deserts. The small fire station on 45th between Irving and Judah remains, but the fire engine is double parked on the street while the station has cars parked inside. Two larger establishments on 48th Avenue have disappeared, replaced by residential buildings. Between Judah and Kirkland, close to Judah, was an ice skating rink. You could smell the ammonia as you walked by. On the other side of Irving was a large auto repair shop. One other thing is gone. Since we are talking the 1950's in the Cold War, the foot of Golden Gate Park, a block away, had a mobile radar truck with antiaircraft guns next to it. That would freak out the City Fathers today. You can’t go back to what was, but what is today is mostly the same – small shops, ma and pa operations, geared to the needs of today’s population. It's still a quiet neighborhood, compared to the hustle and bustle further up Irving,Judah, Clement, and Geary. I was pleasantly surprised.

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