the 60s (55)

Growing Up in San Francisco

I’ve never been busier in my life. Along with a personal situation that’s taking a lot of time, I’m working on publicizing our just‑finished book Rolling Homes: Shelter on Wheels (our best book in years!), running Shelter Publications, and starting an autobiography of my first 38 years (1935–1973), which includes my take on the ’60s, provisionally titled Live From California: The ’60s, Before, During, and After — 1935–1973.

For these reasons, I hardly have time to post here, However, I’ll be putting up pages from the book-in-progress from time to time.


My parents on their honeymoon at Weaver Lake in the Sierras.

My mom and dad were married in San Francisco in April, 1934. It was in the middle of the Great Depression. In August of that year, they took the Suntan Special, a train that ran from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, for a vacation. According to my mom, I was conceived on that trip, and born in San Francisco in April, 1935.

My folks rented an apartment across from the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District and then, when I was two, bought a house on Ulloa Street, near the Forest Hill District.

I was the first-born in the family, and my parents didn’t quite know how to cope with me. I wasn’t so much rebellious as curious and energetic. Plus at an early age I didn’t believe in following rules just because they were rules. I wanted to have fun.

At one point they took me to a psychiatrist and I remember having a great time hammering wooden pegs into different shaped holes and answering his questions about ink blots. I suspect he told my folks that I wasn’t psychotic, just high-energy. Years later, when my mom was in her 90s (she lived to be 103, so apparently I didn’t do any lasting damage), she would laugh and reminisce about my stunts. “You remember when you…”

She told me that one day, when I was 2 or 3, she tied a rope around my overalls, and to the garage door handle so I couldn’t get out into the street while she did the dishes. A few minutes later, standing at the kitchen sink (on the second floor), she looked out the window and saw me walking down the street naked. (It was a long leash, not as bad as it may sound in this day of Precious Parenting.)

Mom, with my brother Bobby (in later life, Bob) on left, me on right

I had a happy childhood. My parents loved each other. Our family was a happy one. We always had food and shelter. I’ve often thought how lucky we were, especially when I hear about traumatic childhoods. In many ways, it was the best of times.

I’m writing all this stuff about early years to give you a picture of my background, attitudes and outlook on life, which all led me to finally breaking out of the prescribed plan for my generation: high school/college/military service/successful business career.

I also have to admit that I’m having fun looking back at our lives in the ’40s and ’50s and sorting through the family photos, scrapbooks, and documents — some of which go way back.

The Neighborhood

154 Ulloa Street

There were 26 kids on our block (the 100 block of Ulloa Street). On any given day, there would be at least a dozen of us playing in the street. Kick‑the-can, hide-and-seek, bike riding, rollerskating, riding Flexi racers, playing football or baseball. No parental supervision at all, ever. No little league, no lacrosse, no automobile transportation to distant soccer fields. We were on our own.

There was a cave about half a mile away; we never went very deeply into it. In wet years, there was a shallow lake across from our house and we had a raft.

There was a Catholic church across the street and everyone on the block was Catholic except for us. My Mom was a Christian Scientist. (We never went to doctors.)

Kindergarten, West Portal Grammar School. I am third from left on bottom row.

There was a pony rental place a mile or so from our house, where we’d go during birthday parties. Speaking of which, at one of Bill Floyd’s birthdays, we went to see The Phantom of the Opera with Claude Rains at the Empire theater. I was so terrified by the scene at the end when the Phantom’s mask is pulled off (to reveal his face disfigured by acid) that I had to sleep in my parents’ bed that night.

During World War II, there was a large community vegetable garden on a quarter-acre lot next to our house, and we raised a ton of vegetables. My dad, being a hunter, was the official gopher trapper.

The whole city was our playground. We went all over it on foot, bikes, roller skates, streetcars, and buses. We walked to school, about one mile to West Portal Grammar School, 1½ miles to Aptos Jr. High. We’d ride four miles on our bikes to Golden Gate Park.

Some city kids made their first skateboards in the ’40s by taking apart metal roller skates and mounting the wheels on a piece of wood. On our block, the Guzman brothers built a funky flat-roofed little house on roller skate wheels and rode it down the hill. A bunch of us then did the same — maybe the first RVs!

We’d stay outside until our mother would call us for dinner: “Low-eed, Bob-ee.”

Hitching Streetcar Rides

The “L,” “M,” and “K” streetcars ran through the tunnel (my initials), which was about a mile walk from our house. They had cowcatchers on both ends, which were lowered at the front end. When the direction of the car was reversed at the end of the line, the cowcatcher would be cranked up on the back end via a cable through a round fitting in the center.

We 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 big deal was to ride through the two-mile-long dark tunnel from West Portal Avenue to Castro Street — sparks flying overhead from the electric trolleys — whoo! There are lots of recessed alcoves where someone on foot in the tunnel could jump when trains came by. The trains probably went 20–30 mph, rocking through the darkness, to emerge into the dazzling daylight at Market and Castro.

Neighborhood Notes

There was a lady we called “The Crab,” who would spray us with a hose when we rode by her house on bikes; one Halloween we put the traditional flaming paper bag full of dog shit on her porch. During World War II, everyone saved bacon grease in cans to donate to the Army (to be used for manufacturing explosives); we also flattened tin cans and recycled them.

The Tower Market was a few blocks away; we learned how to get on the roof. Down the block was another market where we got whipped-cream-filled chocolate eclairs for 15 cents.

San Francisco Was a Port

Until the ’60s, the city, surrounded on three sides by water, was a shipping center. The waterfront was a deepwater port, dating back to the clipper ships, with a series of piers. It was (is) called The Embarcadero, and when we were kids, it was a city within the city, with its own hotels, bars, and restaurants. Loading and unloading of ships was controlled by the Longshoreman’s Union.

Fisherman’s Wharf, now a tourist mecca, was at one time the fishing center of the west coast, with its 16-foot Monterey Clipper fishing boats modeled on the felluca sailing fishing boats of Genoa.

I mention this because this was the city of our childhood and one would never guess this by looking at the tourist-oriented, sanitized, palm-tree-lined waterfront of today.

Fishing in the City

Around the turn of the century, my grandfather had a bait and tackle shop at the foot of Polk Street (in later years, it became Muni Bait), and that’s how my dad got started fishing. He and his friends went fishing in the ocean and they also fished for trout in lakes in the Sierras.

My grandfather used to import hexagonal bamboo rods from Asia and tie on the casting guides with red and gold silk thread. It’s a craft he taught my dad, and that he taught me.

My brother and I had our city version of fishing, which didn’t require any parental transportation or guidance. We would walk down to the streetcar tunnel, carrying fishing rods and a crab trap, and take a streetcar to Van Ness, where we’d catch a bus down to the Hyde Street pier.

We’d catch crabs and use the orange part of the innards as bait to catch perch. We’d go back home on public transit and our mom would cook a fish dinner.

The City Was Our Playground

We’d ride bikes out to one of the two huge abandoned windmills at the beach, sneak in the boarded-up door, and climb the ladder to the top, which was 75 feet above the ground.

We’d ride to Golden Gate Park to a large pond that had a concrete bottom, and we could ride (about pedal-deep) all around the pond. We roller-skated around the city, using skates with metal wheels that you clamped onto your shoes.

We roamed in the eucalyptus groves of Mt. Davidson and Twin Peaks (had a big rope swing up there).

Playland-at-the-Beach

Sal was rescued when Playland was demolished (in 1972) and today is at the Santa Cruz boardwalk.

This was an amusement park out at Ocean Beach, with a fun house that all kids loved. There was a spinning disc that you hopped on; as it speeded up, riders were ejected. There was a revolving barrel, in which you tried to stay upright as it spun around. (Think of the lawsuits nowadays!) There were long, curvy slides and mirrors that made you look taller or shorter or distorted.

The Hot House, serving Mexican food, was open for 40 years and reportedly served 12,000 tamales a day, Unusual for a Mexican restaurant, they always brought you a basket of hard sourdough French bread with lots of butter. The Pie Shop sold 14 types of pies (they were good!). The It’s-It ice cream sandwich (a disk of vanilla ice cream between two oatmeal cookies dipped in chocolate) was invented at Playland.

There was also a roller coaster and other carny type rides and games, plus Laffing Sal, a gap-toothed, red-haired, freckle-faced, 7-foot-tall automated figure in front of the Fun House that waved her arms and cackled raucously. (A bit scary for little kids.)

Sutro Baths

Nearby was the magnificent Sutro Baths, a huge oceanside glass palace with six swimming pools filled with salt water. (Next to the Cliff House.) It seems kind of unbelievable now, but we took everything in the city for granted. There were pools of different temperatures, a diving pool, a cold pool. People wore old-fashioned, wool bathing suits. You can still see the foundation just north of The Cliff House.)

It was never a commercially successful operation and burned to the ground in 1966.

(To be continued)

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Paul Krassner on the Spiritual Revolution of the ’60s

In starting back to work on my book on the ’60s, I ran across this:

It was sex, drugs and rock and roll, and those were all fun. But at the core of the counterculture was a spiritual revolution, in a sense of leaving the Western religions of control, and exploring the Eastern disciplines of liberation.

There was meditation. There were workshops in advanced breathing. The counterculture represented a certain economic threat, because here were several people sharing a car, or not getting insurance, but taking care of each other, making their own clothes, using less electricity, making candles.

The Justice Department was trying to infiltrate communes. I spoke to a friend of an ex-FBI guy who said they had the FBI hippie squad. And they had to learn how to roll joints, the better to infiltrate with. Originally, the CIA intended LSD to be used as a means of control, but all these young people deprogrammed themselves from the mainstream culture, and then reprogrammed themselves with a more humane value system.

All the people I know from that time have, whatever their profession, they brought that same sense of idealism and compassion with them. Socrates said, “Know thyself”, then Norman Mailer, said “Be thyself” and the unspoken mantra of the counterculture was “Change thyself.” And the psychedelics — but not necessarily them, it could’ve been meditation or Zen or whatever —served as vehicles for people to change themselves. And that included protesting against the war, which meant that the CIA’s plan had backfired.

See:

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Crystal Voyager — Music by Pink Floyd, Photography by George Greenough —1973

Crystal Voyager: Echoes from Jacob H on Vimeo.

In 1971, Bob Easton and I were putting the finishing touches on Domebook 2 at his home in Santa Barbara. Bob said his next-door neighbor was a surfer and liked to use the large white walls of Bob’s house on which to project his surfing films. Should I invite him over, said Bob. Well, duh…

When it got dark, over came the neighbor — George Greenough, with a projector, and as we watched George’s footage of hot dog surfers in Southern California, Bob played an Albert King blues album.

Later in the early 70s, when Bob and I were working on the book Shelter in Bolinas, George came up from Santa Barbara with the footage for this film, and we showed it to friends in my dome, and then to everyone down at the community center. He subsequently made a deal with Pink Floyd where they projected this footage along with their song “Echoes” in concerts, and George used the music in his 1973 film, “The Crystal Voyager.”

George was the originator of in-the-tube surf photography, using a homemade 30-pound waterproof camera mounted on his shoulder, riding a homemade spoon kneeboard. Resolution is a pretty crappy 240p, but you get the idea: you are inside the chamber of the tube with the barrel getting smaller and smaller, like the f-stop on a camera, until — wham! — psychedelic bubbles, turbulence, and spinning.

George went on to become a surfing legend legend and now lives in Australia.

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The ’60s…

Catalysts for Change When the baby boom generation grew up, many of them rejected material success and its accompanying conformity, and sought other avenues in life and means of expression.

It’s hard to believe, but all the following ideas, concepts, perceptions, movements, arts, practices, discoveries, and acts were going on in the ’60s:

Zen Buddhism, meditation, the Tarot, the Kabbalah,
the I Ching, martial arts, women’s liberation,
gay rights, the sexual revolution, black power,
Native American culture, marijuana and LSD,
political activism, building your own house,
organic gardening and farming, revival of crafts,
alternative energy sources: sun, wind, and water,
organic gardening and farming,
ecological awareness, self-sufficiency,
the Beat poets, the blues and rock ‘n’ roll,
the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan,
Rolling Stone magazine and dozens of new
underground newspapers, dolphin consciousness,
viewing the earth from space,
The Whole Earth Catalog,
planetary consciousness, whole systems,
the West Coast publishing revolution,
the first desktop computers, domes,
long hair, new styles of dressing,
the Human Be‑In, the Monterey Pop Festival…

Note: Many of these things were not so much new, as they were new to this very large group of young people — who had the time and means to study and experiment — and set out on new courses in their lives.

All of these things were part of our world in the ’60s, and carried over into what we did in the ’70s, including building this homestead.

From my almost-just-completed book, The Half-Acre Homestead. (This is kind of a footnote in the appendix describing briefly what happened in the ’60s, because the values and discoveries of those times are reflected in the building of our homestead.)

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Nadine – Chuck Berry

youtube.com/watch?v=myPzYiTLvK0

Recorded in 1963, just after Chuck got out of jail. Essence of rock and roll. Johnny Johnson (I would guess) on piano here. Johnny was a big and relatively little-known integral part of Chuck’s success. I saw Johnny in NYC some years ago. I closed my eyes when he was playing and saw shimmering diamonds. And yeah, I was stoned. So?

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Interior of Geodesic Dome, 1969

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Fisheye of the interior of a plywood and vinyl geodesic dome built by teenage students at Pacific High School in the Santa Cruz mountains, California, in 1969. The window patterns were great, and made for striking photos, but the domes leaked. I’ve always thought that our work at PHS was in the aesthetic realm, not in the practicality of our designs.

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Martin’s Pod

In the 1969-1970, I ran a dome building program at Pacific High School in the Santa Cruz mountains (above Saratoga). The school had 40 acres and the kids built their own domes to live in. It was pretty wild, and we did have some good moments before it all fell apart in a few years — teenagers away from home for the first time in a drug-rich environment.

Martin Bartlett was the music teacher and he built the only non-geodesic dome for himself. It was constructed by standing sheets of ¼″ plywood on end, trimmed on the upper edges so they could be pulled over and joined at the top. Martin then covered it with cedar shingles, installing a circular plexiglas skylight in the center. The design was by Bob McElroy, who had built one in Big Sur.

The school — teenagers building their own homes — resonated with the press in those days. Life magazine came and took photos, and Time published an article on us. I’m working on and off on a book on the ’60s and it will include the Pacific High School story.

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