My early childhood memories are of living in the Eureka Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. My father’s parents came to San Francisco from Ireland and owned a house on Eureka Street. My mother’s parents came to San Francisco from Canada when my mother was 7 years old. We lived a block over from my father’s childhood home.
At that time, in the 1950s, it was a neighborhood with mostly an Irish, Italian and German ethnic makeup and Catholic. The neighborhood was self-contained in that our lives pretty much revolved around that area and we did not venture out of it that often.
My neighborhood world consisted of a public school, Douglass Elementary, a public park, Eureka Valley Recreation Center, the Catholic church and elementary school, Most Holy Redeemer, and our local movie theater, the Castro. My father told me our neighborhood had the most children in all of San Francisco.
I transferred to the Catholic elementary school in first grade. Then it was about uniforms with navy blue pleated skirts. White blouses with t-bow ties. Bobby socks and saddle shoes. Nuns dressed in long black habits with starched white wimples and heavy waist rosaries. Catechism and first communions, with white dresses and veils. Rosaries, prayers, and stations of the cross. I was taught religious tolerance and that other religions are different paths to God.
The Monsignor would come to our classrooms and read us our report cards. He pronounced my name De-BOR-ah, with a brogue. It was a time of high expectations and pressure for a sensitive kid.
It was a time of hula hoops, jump ropes and clamp on metal skates that you tightened with a key. I was not allowed to have a bicycle because of the city traffic.
We watched the Mickey Mouse Club afterschool every day and dreamed of being Mouseketeers, like Annette Funicello. I loved Spin and Marty, a short TV series that was part of the Mickey Mouse Club show. I really wanted a Mouseketeer hat with a pink bow.
Halloween in our neighborhood was a big occasion. There was a local five and dime store called Cliffs on Castro Street. Every year Cliff hosted a Halloween parade lead by a large mechanical dinosaur. I remember kids lining up in their costumes behind the dinosaur to march down 18th Street.
The Castro Theatre
The Castro Theatre was built in 1922. It has over a 1400 seat capacity with a mezzanine and balcony. It is still in operation today. I can remember going there for the Saturday matinee with the theater full of kids. The price of admission was 25 cents. Candy was 10-15 cents. Some of that sugary fare included Necco wafers, Rolo caramels, Charms squares, Milk Duds, Red Vines licorice and Juicy Fruits.
Some movies that were showing at that time were, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin comedies like Scared Stiff, Godzilla, Cinderella, and Lady and the Tramp. I would laugh hysterically at Abbott and Costello and Jerry Lewis. Some may remember Tobor the Great and ” Tobor is robot spelled backwards.”
Sometimes I saw really scary movies like The Fly ( 1958), The Blob (1958) and The Tingler (1959), a centipede like creature that lived on our spines and grew stronger with fear. The only way to keep it from growing was to scream. There was a scene with blood running out of a faucet and a bath tub filled with blood. In one part of the movie, Vincent Price announced the Tingler was loose in the theater. The scary feelings elicited by those movies would last for weeks.
My friends and I often went by ourselves to the movies, but I can remember my mother taking me as well. My mother took me to see Creature from the Black Lagoon, one of the 3D films of the 1950s.
We moved from San Francisco to the peninsula when I was in 4th grade. There was a waiting list for the Catholic school there so I was enrolled in the local public school. That was the end of my Catholic school experience.
The old neighborhood has changed since the 1950s and is now known as The Castro and for its history in the beginning of the Gay Rights movement. Douglass Elementary is now the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy.
Featured image “The Castro” by Lucy Orloski