Coastal Post Online


August 2002


Eureka Valley, San Francisco, Part II

By Judy Borello

Writing a column some years ago about Eureka Valley where I was born and raised was a hoot to write and there were so many stories to tell that even then I decided to write another column on the subject of Life in Eureka Valley in the Fifties. There were so many characters that comprised the colorful tapestry that it is hard to cram them all into a small narrative, but I'll try.

Let's go back to the summer of 1957 when the Platters and the Coasters were rolling out the hits along with Little Richard and Elvis. Some of us had just graduated from Most Holy Redeemer grammar school (eighth grade) and we were "free" from Sister Mary Mary Maxine, a.k.a. The Big Max, the sister we locked out of the classroom that April Fool's Day and slid math textbooks under the door, then draped a coat over the door window, turned on our rock and roll and started jigging across the classroom floor. Well, Mary went downstairs and got the principal, Sister Mary Armello, and, after about five attempts, unlocked the door. They marched into the classroom, threatening us that our fat was going to boil in oil in hell and that we were not going to graduate. But since the whole classroom was in on it, we listened to this ranting and then it was dropped.

In our class there was so much spirit and mischievous kids that there was never a dull moment. The primary character was "Crazy Albert" Gianquinto, who later played with the James Cotton Band and wrote and played with Santana. He later told me when he was typing his autobiography at my home in Point Reyes that he had a crush on Sister Mary Maxine and had erotic dreams of meeting her in the cloakroom and having an affair with her. That was "Crazy Albert."

Bog Huegle, another of our classmates, lived on Beaver Street upstairs from "Crazy Albert." They were pretty much best friends growing up and it was so ironic because Bob's dad was head of homicide and Al's father, "Bogie" was a cab driver who drank and gambled incessantly. Later Bob became a cop and attempted to arrest Crazy Albert on a weapons charge. They remained good friends until Albert's death over a decade ago.

The summer of 1958 was a very good year. The Twilight Baseball League had formed at Eureka Valley Gym and they had one mixed team of boys and girls together, which was right up my alley but not around my block. The games were played on Saturday in the late afternoon. In the early afternoon, all the Catholic kids went to confession. So Albert and I sauntered to Most Holy Redeemer Church to be forgiven for our sins. As we strolled along the few blocks from the gym to the church, Albert said, "I did it. I finally did it. I'm not a virgin anymore" Being around 12 or 13 and still reasonably innocent, I was amused and curious and said, "Albert, how divine. What was it like?" Albert replied, "Well, we were doing it in the bathtub without water in it when we heard a door slam somewhere else in the house and I jumped out of the window naked and ran home." Seeing Albert naked wouldn't shock the community because Albert used to pose nude in a shop on Castro pretending to be a mannequin. Albert asked me what he should tell the priest in the confessional box. Being not too educated on the subject at the time, I said, "Tell him you committed a sin of fortification." Of course, I didn't quite get it right, fornication was the word I had meant to say, close but no cigar.

When the priest heard Albert's confession and pumped him of what kind of "fortification" did he commit, it was all over. Albert got a penance of a full rosary, not just 10 Hail Marys and three Our Fathers. I was horrified because we were going to be late for Twilight League, but Albert came up with the most practical solution: we'd chip in a quarter apiece and have Neil Keane or Eddie Strain say it for him and away we went to the ballgame.

All of us that hung out at Eureka Valley Gym and playground never knew prejudice about anything, skin color, religion, being a jailbird, or joining the convent. We were all one under the flag of friendship. I remember the first president of our team club was a young man called Dick Grayson who was a black kid that went to James Lick Public School, and we all thought he was the nicest and brightest among us. Some of our parents and grandparents didn't take to it because they were raised in the era of blacks and whites not mixing. I remember bringing "Grayson" to my home for lunch with other Eureka Valley brats and my Kentucky born and raised grandfather threw a tizzy and accused me of being a "Nigger lover." But my grandmother came to my aid and slapped him and they didn't talk to each other for days.

And then there was the incident of Danny, a retarded boy that played at our gym. We all loved and protected him. I remember a cab picked him up and took him to Sunshine School and the cab's name on its side said "Sunshine Cab Co." I asked him what he did at Sunshine School and he said he put wrappers on gum, which I thought was "patently ingenious." We used to eat goldfish crackers, which I think are still around today, and Danny came into the gym crying one afternoon because his parents were mad at him for nibbling the family pets, the goldfish, straight out of the goldfish bowl. Some of us went over to Danny's home and explained to his parents how we were eating goldfish crackers and Danny took it literally. All was forgiven! Danny could catch anything we threw at him as long as he had his shoebox, and he loved playing baseball. So we talked to the coaches of the Twilight League and they agreed to let Danny play on our team where we put him in the outfield with his box. We were all so proud of Danny because he never missed a ball.

The Valley was a very special place and time to grow up in San Francisco. A lot of our parents owned stores along Castro Street where it was our own little village. Eddie Strain's parents owned a real estate company right across from the Castro Theater and Eddie himself owns the Tower Lodge bar right across from the Youth Guidance Center. You could walk the street and midnight and not even be scared, let along mugged, raped or beaten. Times were good in Eureka Valley and I have lots of superb memories that make me smile.

PS Someday I'll write a book about Eureka Valley in the '50s and make all of you laugh! The characters were so uncanny and Damon Runyon-like!



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