It’s easy to forget that most county residents came here from somewhere else – a place they likely know better and will remember more fondly than this place. Whether they came voluntarily for the weather and geography or on orders from their company or the military, San Diego is simply where they are. Home, their real home they will tell you is somewhere else.
I understand that and appreciate the people who knowing I am a native, ask me to show or tell them more about the San Diego I know and call home. A friend and fellow native who seems to value my memory and storytelling more than I do has encouraged me to share them with a larger audience – hence the conception of this column.
I’m not an expert on the history, geography, biology, politics or sociology of the area, but I am an observer and in the course of my 67 years since my birth here in the long-departed Quintard Hospital – I’ve learned a little about our surroundings – along with its past and present and how both point toward the future.
I also have a pretty good long-term memory: Cleator, Franger, Lyons, Curren, Hoff, Clow, Bowen, Bateman, Knowles, Gibson, Ortman and Ritchie. The first seven were the teachers I had, and in order from Kindergarten through the sixth grade at Brooklyn Elementary School. The next pair of names belonged to the two principals who served during my time at the school, followed by the school nurse, secretary and custodian.
It’s a lot better than my short term memory which is pitiful when it comes to shopping and “to do” lists. I don‘t see much of a problem with that since it wouldn’t play into this column anyway.
The column will be called My San Diego for two reasons. First and foremost it will cover San Diego as I have seen life here in the past and see it today. There may be times when the views from those two perspectives will tempt me to try to see into the future as well, but if and when that time comes, it will have to wait.
Secondly, it is My San Diego because I stole the name and intend to use it. My San Diego was the name of the Evening Tribune column written by Neil Morgan before the word “venerable” began preceding his name, the newspaper changed its name to The Tribune or Tom Blair began putting together most of the material in Morgan’s columns without due credit.
As a kid in the 50’s, I was a somewhat voracious reader of the sports section of the afternoon paper, but also of Morgan’s column and I was struck by the fact that his San Diego and my San Diego were so different. His San Diego seemed to be mainly focused on the people and places found in La Jolla, Bankers Hill and the high rent floors of downtown offices – and I didn’t know them.
My San Diego consisted mainly of Golden Hill, Sherman Heights, South Park and the streets of downtown San Diego. Those were the places and people I knew – and it didn’t appear to me from reading his column that he knew them at all.
Our San Diegos were vastly different and as different as yours may be from mine, but we are entitled to our own views of San Diego and what we think it is, has been or will be.
My San Diego – II
As the son of an Iowa farm girl and a career sailor who joined Navy to escape the hell of life in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, I figured every household was like our little cottage at the bottom of the 26th and C Street dip in Golden Hill.
My grandparents slept in a bedroom that had been added onto the back of the house, my parents lived in a small bedroom off the living room and I shared a bunk bed with my ten years older half-brother in a room only slightly larger than its closet.
The house had an enclosed back porch with a large double sink where my father meticulously cleaned his paint brushes and the fish we caught in local lakes and bays. Until the arrival of a tub washing machine with a hand powered crank for wringing out the clothes before they were hung on a line, my mother and grandmother washed our clothes and sheets on a scrub board set at an angle in the sink. The little back porch also held our water heater and it was there, under the warmth from the pilot light that Blackie made a nest for her kittens.
The front porch was added on by my father from materials he salvaged from the demolition of barracks at Camp Elliott. He installed the old glass windows that surrounded the rectangular porch. The view from the west facing window was of our garage only five feet away. The east facing window offered a view of my grandmother’s poinsettias, Mr. and Mrs. Chambers’ house and their fig tree. I’ll never forget the time when Mr. Chambers, who was at least 80 asked me to shinny up the tree to pick the ripe figs and drop them into a bucket he held in his hands. Before I could finish, I broke out in hives that covered my body and itched and oozed for days.
The south facing window offered a wavy view of C Street which was quite busy with both vehicle and pedestrian traffic and the apartments across the street where women would sometimes carelessly forget to close the curtains when they changed their clothes, or that I noticed them.
From the same window we could see anyone who came to our front door, including peddlers who came by from time to time. One was a gypsy with a red bandana tied around his neck who sharpened knives arrived on a cart pulled by a small burro. The cart was rigged with two large disks that spun when he sat down at the rear of the cart and pushed a set of bicycle pedals. One by one, the knives were first held against the light colored disk for rough grinding before being held against the darker disk for a newly sharpened edge. My mother or grandmother would give him a few coins that he placed in a box, tipping his hat and then use it to swat the burro’s ass in order to move on to the next house on the street. When my father came home from work, he would retrieve a pair of whet stones from a drawer and finish the edges to his own satisfaction.
My favorite peddler was a tall, handsome man my folks called a “drugstore cowboy.” He wore a tall hat and fancy shirt that reminded of Gene Autry. In one hand he held a box camera and in the other the reins of a palomino Shetland pony. His deal was to sit neighborhood children on the pony and take their picture for free. Sometime later he would come by with the printed photo and you could buy it if you wanted. There is a box somewhere around here with a photo of me. I’m wearing my own fancy cowboy shirt, a holster and aiming a six-shooter toward the sky.
Each of the side yards had a narrow strip of lawn with the same mix of grasses as the front lawn. A row of poinsettias lined the edge of the east lawn and the west lawn had two heavy duty poles with cross beams that supported four clotheslines that ran the length of the lawn. The backyard had a small patio with a brick fireplace, a lath and screen aviary for parakeets, a hutch for our rabbits, a coop for our chickens and a small area where my grandparents grew vegetables which like the rabbits and chickens were for our table.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were the only family I knew of with a large basement. Half had tall concrete walls with a slab floor, a table and shelve that served as my father’s workshop. The other half was uneven with a dirt floor and the working end of the floor furnace in our living room. To the back of the basement, where the distance between the ground and ceiling was smaller were the water and sewer pipes that served our house, and were perfect for hanging the tin can lids that served as targets for my BB gun shooting range.
I spent hour upon hour emptying my Daisy carbine at those targets and filling the dirt floor with its copper coated BB’s. I wonder if the current owners of the house at 2634 C, Street know or care much about how it came together, or the lives that were lived or ended there.
My San Diego – III
Before television arrived at our house, the news came from a tall radio housed in a beautiful wood cabinet, along with the Evening Tribune which arrived each afternoon Monday Thru Saturday. On Sundays it was replaced by its sister publication the San Diego Union. We took the afternoon paper because according to my father, it was more for the working class than the morning paper which was tailored more for the wealthy. Plus, it had the added benefit of more complete coverage of the previous days events, particularly the sports scores.
Those who didn’t have the paper delivered at their homes would pick one up at a news stand or on their way home from work downtown. When they came to stops at key intersections, they’d be met by a newsboy, usually an older man with a stack of “greensheets” who would exchange them through the driver’s car window for a nickel. “Green sheets” were a double page of green newsprint limited to the first two and last two pages of the A Section and represented the first of what might be several editions of the evening paper.
Nickels were not always easy to come by at our house, particularly if I’d not done my chores, but being industrious and a little bit devious, a few friends and I found a way to turn single nickels into a pocketful of them. At the same time the papers were delivered to the newsboys, they were stacked into newstands that opened when a single nickel was placed in the coin slot. We’d grab an arm full of papers and head to intersections ahead of those staffed by the newsboys and sell the papers for our own ill gotten gains.
Each nickel meant quite a lot to a kid in the mid 1950’s. A single nickel could buy a candy bar, pack of gum of popsicle at any store. The best deal however was at the foot of Broadway, next to the bay where sailors gathered. For some reason not explained to this day, the soda vending machines cost a nickel there and a dime everywhere else. When we were thirsty for half-price sodas, which was often, it was nothing for us to walk downtown, or drop the required coins into the coin sorter on the “2 Piers” bus that stopped at 26th and B Street and head for the foot of Broadway.
Once there and with a pocketful of nickels raised selling newspaper, we would drink sodas dispensed into wax cups until we could drink them no more, so I have always appreciated our local papers.
Note: Jim Brown is a native San Diegan who except for one college year happily misspent in the redwoods of northern California, has lived and worked in San Diego his entire life. His writing “career” began in 1963 when he became the Sports Editor of The Russ, San Diego High School’s student newspaper. His by-lines as a correspondent for stories covering high school sports first appeared in the San Diego Union in September of 1963. Later he served as a stringer for The Tribune, providing features, news stories and weekly columns about the outdoors over the course of many years. His work as a free lance writer has appeared in a variety or national, regional and local publications, as well as his blog – The Sporting Life. His aim at this time is to provide a local publication with weekly columns detailing his unique view as it pertains to the past, present and future of San Diego, with emphasis on its less known, but worthy and interesting people and places.
Publishers or editors interested in learning more can reach him by email (Sportnlyf@aol.com).