Movies on Market Street, streetcar monkeys, San Francisco, in the '40s, Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco in the '90s

On Tuesday night, my friend Roger (also a native San Franciscan) gave me an old scrapbook he’d picked up at a garage sale. Someone had cut out articles from 1948-’49 newspapers and made a period scrapbook. It was perfect, and brought back memories of those years, Jeez, SF was even more breathtakingly beautiful and wonderful in the 40s and 50s, when it was still a real port. Ah, well, ain’t it true everywhere?

We lived on the last block of Ulloa Street (26 kids on one block), near the “L,” “M.” and “K” streetcar lines. This rare photo shows one of the old-style streetcars from the ’40s. The cowcatcher is being lowered here. When direction of the car was reversed at the end of the line, the cowcatcher would be tied up on the back end via a cable through that round fitting in the center.

Throughout the city us kids would creep up behind a slowly moving car (crouching so the conductor, who was in the back, wouldn’t see us), then run up and jump on the cowcatcher.* We rode all over the city. The 2-mile long tunnel from West Portal to Castro – –  whoa! Sparks flying overhead from the electric trolleys, lots of alcoves where someone on foot in the tunnel could jump when trains came by, 30 mph rocking through the darkness. To come out into the dazzling city at Market and Castro.

Every Saturday I’d go to the movies. I loved the movies. There was no TV. Market Street was, among other things, an arcade of film palaces, the Fox, the Warfield, the Paramount… I’d walk the 6 or so blocks, looking at marquees; sometimes I’d go to two movies. Actually, come to think of it, when I was maybe 10, my grandmother used to take me for what she called “a toot:” taking in two movies on Market Street. (Different eras, different “toots.”)

These days I don’t watch too many movies. But once in a while I get stunned. Donnie Brasco (1997), with Al Pacino and Johnny Depp is a great film. It snuck up on me; halfway through I realized that the dialogue was brilliant, the chemistry between Al and Johnny perfect. I think it’s Pacino’s finest role. And Johnny can actually act, as opposed to the weird roles he’s been playing in shitty movies lately). The dialogue is on the level of “The Wire” or “Deadwood,” by which I mean tight, funny, finely-crafted dialogue. Check out https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119008/quotes for dialogue from the film.

Music du jour: “Are you lonely for me baby?” by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. And a beautiful version of “Something is wrong with my baby;”stands right up there alongside Sam and Dave’s version. Both songs on CD King and Queen, 11 duets of Otis and Carla (including “Tramp”).

*Fred Van Dyke, who grew up closer to the beach, says that sometimes if a conductor spotted you, he’d roll open the rear window and slap your hands so you’d fall off (not at high speeds).

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

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