writing (6)

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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GIMME SHELTER In These Troubled Times – April 2020

This is a newsletter I send out maybe once a month. If you’d like to be on the list to receive it, you can sign up for email delivery of the Gimme Shelter newsletter here.


To those of you receiving this for the first time, this is an intermittent and infrequent newsletter that describes what’s going on with our publishing operation and daily lives. The last one was two months ago. I’m sorry these are so interminably long, but (yes, I’ve said this before):

“I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

–Blaise Pascal, 17th century French mathematician and philosopher

So much of what I write these days has to be short (tweets, Instagram, etc.) that it feels good to just let it rip once in a while.

Cover of the Rolling Stone

The big news around here these days (other than the end of the world as we knew it) is (was) the article on Lesley and me in the New York Times on March, 11, 2020. Journalist/writer Penelope Green and I have corresponded a bit over the years, but not in any depth. To my surprise, she emailed me after getting my January GIMME SHELTER newsletter, proposing she do a story on us in conjunction with the publishing of The Half-Acre Homestead.

Interesting, I thought, a sophisticated New York journalist picking up on our do-it-yourself California homestead.

When doing the book, there was always the issue of how much of our private lives we wanted to include. Getting covered in one of the biggest (and best) newspapers in the world was even riskier. How would we come across? A lot of it had to do with journalism. After emails and talking on the phone with Penelope, I felt comfortable with her.

She flew out on a Wednesday, came out here for about four hours, including lunch, on Thursday, and went back to New York on Friday. She got it. She liked what we were doing, what we’d done, loved Lesley’s weavings, got the history right. I was happy with the article.

It caused an explosion of emails, phone calls, and book orders. Things are just starting to settle down now.

Here it is: www.nytimes.com/2020/03/11/style/diy-lloyd-kahn-handmade-homes.html

The Half-Acre Homestead: 46 Years of Building and Gardening

Dining table made of 3″ by 10″ used Douglas fir floor joists from industrial building

A lot of people are saying that this is a perfect book for these troubled times. That using your hands to create food and/or shelter is not only still relevant in this digital age, but especially applicable now, when people have to stay at home. Bake some bread, fix that leaky faucet, build a table, knit a hat, plant a vegetable garden.

We got a long handwritten letter today from a 29-year-old woman who said, “Every time I open the book, it makes me excited for a future when I can build a beautiful life with a loved one…”

If you want to review the book for any type of media, send us your address and we’ll send you a free copy. To buy a copy, contact your favorite independent bookstore, or go to our website (we have free shipping + a 30% discount on two or more books): www.shelterpub.com/building/halfacrehomestead

Note: You can get a sneak preview of the book by going to: shltr.net/homesteadflipbook. It gives you about one-third of the book.

Kids

Brother and sister planning their first homes with one of our mini copies of Tiny Homes

I gave one of our Tiny Homes mini books to a 10-year-old working as an apprentice at the Proof Lab Surf Shop in Mill Valley. He flipped through the pages excitedly and then said, “This is what I want to do. … This is so sick!”

Biennale Architettura 2020

This architectural exposition scheduled for this summer in Venice was to have an exhibit of “…the content and influence of three iconic counterculture publications on organic architecture published half a century ago by now 85-year-old publisher and builder Lloyd Kahn — Domebook One (1970), Domebook 2 (1971), and Shelter (1973) — on contemporary architecture practices.” They sent me a round-trip ticket and three nights lodging, and, as you might guess, it’s been called off. I’m hoping that sometime in the future I can finally see Venice. And boy, to be recognized by architects — that’s something new.

Stretching: 40th Anniversary Edition

By having to stick around here, I got the layout done a lot sooner than if I’d been running over the hill every week. Publication date is October, 2020. Here are two of the new pages:

Working on it has made me think about posture. Hold your phone up at eye level. Stop bending over to look at it. Pull your shoulders back and relax them. Try a few of the above stretches if you’re at a computer reading this.

Sheltering In Place

Our life isn’t all that much different. Lesley doesn’t have her friends over for tea these days, I don’t meet my running pals on Tuesday nights, but we have a lot to do in our daily lives around here that’s pretty much unchanged. The cooking, gardening, fixing stuff, weaving, getting firewood, dealing with critters such as mice, ants, skunks, and gophers — running the publishing business — it’s not like were cooped up; it’s pretty much business as usual.

And there are the good things amidst all the gloom, throughout the state. LA has some of the “cleanest air of any major city in the world.” The tourists, which have become onerous out here in recent years, are not clogging the roads on weekends. People are cooperating and helping each other out, neighbors helping neighbors, masks (Lesley’s made about 30 of them for friends) and gloves and distance now part of daily life just about everywhere.

I like it at home! By staying home, I’m more in tune with the weather, the tides, and the rhythms of the surrounding land. I’m doing more foraging, hunting, and fishing. I’ve been making nettle tea every morning; it tastes good and has a lot of healthy ingredients (steep leaves 3 minutes in boiling water, add small amount of honey). Also collecting and eating miners’ lettuce, watercress, a few mushrooms, wild onions.

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.”

–William Morris, 1834–1896

A few weeks ago I took a 3-mile round-trip kayak paddle and got clams, mussels, and seaweed (the latter to dry and grind into powder to put on just about all foods). I’m making an annual calendar with harvesting times for various wild plants, Like like early summer for cattail pollen, later summer for cattail shoots, early fall for Manzanita berries and huckleberries … there’s a lot of wild food everywhere. Now there’s more time to get it.

I’m certainly not the first to say it, but things are seriously out of whack on the planet — all being made worse by our loathsome president and his greedy, vicious cohorts. It’s as if the planet is conscious (the Gaia hypothesis), and taking steps to stop planetary abuse and untrammeled consumption. One can only hope that when it’s over, the world economies will do a reset. The problem is, the most vulnerable are suffering the worst.

Making Do

I’ve come to realize lately that there are a ton of used things in my life that I’m nursing along, and that I get a lot of satisfaction from making do instead of buying new. A few examples:

  • Replaced damaged plastic knob on teakettle with piece of madrone
  • My 20-year-old Mercedes E-320, bought for $4000, a fantastic car
  • My 10-year-old Smartwool merino wool jersey, with patches and holes
    (my blankie)
  • Coffee roaster top held together with high-temperature silver tape
  • 70-year-old (family heirloom) wooden pruning ladder, still working fine
  • Stool re-covered with piece of old Persian rug
  • 25-year-old Evinrude 15 hp outboard, motor rebuilt twice

The Aging Body

One of the things I learned working on fitness books in the ’80s and ’90s, was that it’s not so much age that makes you lose strength and agility, as it is disuse. People stop using their muscles and they deteriorate. I read about a 35-year-old doctor who broke his leg skiing. When the cast came off, his leg was shriveled, “…like the leg of an old man,” he said. It’s the “use it or lose it” principle. If you stop using your muscles, they’ll shrink, and you’ll get weaker. It’s not that aging doesn’t take its toll, but steady exercise — if possible — is key to staying healthy and fit.

Bob Anderson, author of Stretching, my frequent running partner through the years, told me once: “You never hear anybody say, ‘I’m sorry I worked out.’” So true. Every time I hike, walk, paddle, ride a bike, or lift a few weights, I feel much better. Especially paddling; something about being in the (cold) water and getting an upper body workout leaves me feeling energized and happy.

My New eBike

I started competitive running at around age 50, did it for 20+ years, and quit racing 10 years ago due to knee problems (I wanted to be able to walk for the remaining years of my life).

I started skateboarding at age 65, and kept at it for maybe 20 years until I broke my arm pretty badly a few years ago. I didn’t give it up right away, but the trauma made me tentative, my skating awkward, and I lost my confidence. Sigh!

My latest activity, at age 85, is with my new Specialized Turbo Levo Fattie pedal-assist e-bike, Is it exciting! I know that hard-core mountain bikers don’t exactly love bikes with motors, but there are three reasons I finally made the jump. First, you get a break when you’re over 80. Second, our good family friend Bryce, a professional bike guy, had bought this bike for his wife, and she decided not to keep it. It was the perfect size, the perfect bike, and I got it for a healthy discount. The third reason, which I discovered on my first ride out into the hills, was that it was fun. Really fun!

It’s changed my life, in spite of the fact that I was crossing a big puddle on a fire road yesterday and the wheel sunk down, and I went over into the water on my side, along with the bike. That’s why my leg and arm are covered with mud here. No real harm, just embarrassing. I squirted the bike and me off when I got home, and I’m going out again today to pick nettles and mushrooms. After a lifetime of riding a bike, this is like having superpowers. You’re going up a steep hill and you kick in the motor and it’s like someone is pushing you from behind. And this bike is beautifully designed, it not only has power, but it’s a kick-ass trail bike.

Lesley has had a Rad eBike for about 6 months now, that she uses to pick up groceries downtown and to visit friends (once that’s possible again).

The State of Shelter Publications

The coronavirus has closed bookstores, and much of our income is cut off. This isn’t exactly unchartered territory for us, because we’ve been in the red for about two years now, and could well be out of business in the next year. We’ve applied for a Payroll Protection Program loan, as well as an Economic Disaster Loan, but the processes are confusing and disorganized. We’re looking into getting a grant, or an angel that would help us keep us rolling (paying printing bills of about $40,000) until we get some income from the new version of Stretching. At that point we hope we’ll be self-sufficient enough to do another 5 or 6 books and keep our communications hub operating for another 5 years. We’ll see.

In any event, it’s been a great 50 years, and a privilege to have been in such a wonderful business, and to have followed our hearts in whatever we’ve done.

In the meantime, we’re going to, as the Scots say, och wheesht and get oan wae it.

On My Blog


My Instagram account (8400 followers): www.instagram.com/lloyd.kahn

Shelter’s Instagram account (13,000 followers): www.instagram.com/shelterpub

Música del día

Springsteen, Sam Moore, E Street band live at 25th anniversary of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “Hold On, I’m Comin’”



““Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

–High school football coach Eric Taylor, Amazon Prime series “Friday Night Lights”

Over and out…

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The Lost Files

I was looking through one of my many filing cabinets (which contain old school file folders containing papers and photos) the other day and discovered about 15 folders on a book I started to write in the late ’70s. It was going to be called Home Work* and was about my building experiences, starting with my first building (studio with a “living roof” in 1962), then building homes over the next 17-18 years. I took them out of the filing cabinet and put them in this box:

Back then, I felt that I could offer guidance to novice builders, based on the fact that I started building from scratch. No carpentry training or previous construction experience.

I’d made a lot of mistakes that I could warn first-time builders about, and I had ideas for simple homes based on practicality and economy– and ones that felt good.

I wanted to encourage people to use their own hands to build their own homes. I’d done it, and never had a bank mortgage or paid rent.

The project got interrupted by my publishing Stretching by Bob Anderson in 1980 and then 20 years of publishing fitness books. Karma, I guess.

Read More …

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“Constraint inspires creativity.”

Article in New Yorker (here), 10/21/2013, about Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter:

“…He is a techno aesthete in the manner of Steve Jobs: Dorsey, too, is a college dropout, a taker of long walks, and a guy whose father liked to tinker. And, just as Jobs, with his Issey Miyake turtlenecks, tried to embody Apple’s sleek functionalism, Dorsey’s tastes are self-consciously in synch with the design of Twitter. “Constraint inspires creativity” is one of his credos.;”

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