Personal History, Place Names/Street Names, Wonders and Marvels

Shipley Street

On October 17, 1989, I was sitting in my studio in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco, listening to the start of the World Series game taking place about a mile away at Candlestick Park. What came to be known as the Loma Prieta earthquake struck around 5pm.  I ran outside, just what you are NOT supposed to do, to see and feel the ground jumping up and down like I was on a trampoline.  As the concrete building next door developed an alarming crack, I heard someone say “como Ciudad Mexico.” I rushed home to Potrero Hill to find the only damage at our place was three broken wine glasses. Fortunately we had more glasses and a supply of wine.

In December of that year, I was working for a contractor in San Francisco. He got the job of putting a damaged building  at 280 Shipley Street, in the South of Market neighborhood, on a new foundation. Shipley runs from 3rd St. to 6th St. between Harrison and Folsom. Built in 1906, it was a two story place with four flats in it.  

Rumsey Collection

It was a dark and dreary fall and winter in the City. Everything seemed beaten down by the disaster. I had paid a brief visit to Tijuana the year before and I was struck by the polluted air and grime of the Avenida de la Revolution (I’m sure it’s very different now). Mission Street had that feeling to me in December of 1989. Yet I was full of energy and optimism. I had just finished my MFA at San Francisco State and I was beyond excited about making sculpture and having a brilliant career.

At first, the contractor, Dan, put me in the fallen building to erect some bracing to protect against further damage from after shocks. It was freaky being inside it. Everything leaned like the buildings at Confusion Hill, the venerable tourist trap in far northern California.

https://www.confusionhill.com/pictures

Confusion Hill postcards by Zan Stark.

That part of SOMA is built on bay fill, and the streets were bulk-headed and raised (like Pioneer Square in Seattle was in the 1880s https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_Underground) after the 1906 quake. Because of that, they all had basements, which used to be at street level, and half submerged doors and windows.

I was poking around down there and found some artifacts belonging to a Leslie M.

Some facts about Leslie M.

On Sunday, February 4, 1989, at 12:27AM, Leslie M. was booked for an alleged crime committed at 507 Cole, San Francisco. He was 18 years old at the time. Charges are listed as N/W 11377 H&S, and  11357b H&S.

He was working at a welding shop in SOMA in 1989.

In 1987 his Grandma wrote him from Wyoming expressing her confidence in his abilities.

Sometime between 1985 and 1987, he was arrested in Casper Wy. as part of a meth operation.

Inside the covers of a small address book he wrote the following:

“Party hardy Rock-n-Roll

Drink a fifth and smoke a bowl

Take a toke and make it last

Hope to hell it kicks your ass.

’88 Rules”

and

“what the fuck you doing reading my book asshole.”

and

“Fuck off bitch”

and

“Heavy Metal Rules AC & DC”


After initial bracing, the building was raised using hydraulic jacks and put on cribbing.

This looks a lot like where we worked under 280 Shipley St.

The building was raised and the cribbing placed by a house mover who lived in a compound out by Candlestick Point with a lot of dogs. His face was crisscrossed with scars from the explosion of one of his hydraulic lines, he told us. I only met him once, and that was probably enough.

Peter, the other carpenter, and I and some laborers worked digging out the basement by hand and with a jack hammer. The underside of the building was about ten feet over our heads. Freaky, when aftershocks hit. The design was to put a full height basement under it.

The ground was mostly sand, but when you got down a ways we hit jumbled brick that was dumped there after the ’06 quake. We found a lot of ceramic shards, pieces of glass, and other objects.

We eventually dug down to the little creek that still flowed under that part of SOMA. (Apparently part of Hayes Creek, which flows into Mission Creek.)

Ancient creeks of South of Market

As we dug, we filled five gallon buckets with sand and debris, carried them to the front wall, boosted them up to the sidewalk level, and then into a dumpster. Eventually, through some of the hardest physical labor I’ve ever done,  we got it excavated and filled with crushed rock, compacted, and concrete forms set. I used a builder’s level (for the first time) to level the forms.

Shipley really is an alley, and the back doors of buildings open on to it. Some of these buildings were full of women working at sewing machines. Clouds of industrial fragrance billowed out.

Every day at lunch time I would walk down Shipley to 5th and go to Harvey’s Café. Harvey’s was a famous hangout for bike messengers. Harvey Woo would loan them money or give them credit so they could eat when without funds. He had a big board behind his counter where he kept slips of paper with each person’s account.

Harvey’s Place, 2015

Leslie Guttman, SF Chronicle, September 10, 1989: (Quake: October 17)

“It is Friday night. And, like the rest of San Francisco’s workers, the bike messengers head to their hangout, a grimy South of Market alley off Fifth Street, where their paychecks are cashed by their guardian angel and their dreams of the future have a brilliance that only a Friday night can bring. At least a couple hundred of the city’s approximately 400 bike messengers swarm, like bees to a hive, to Shipley alley, a narrow corridor between Folsom and Harrison streets, to let off steam after a week of dodging double- parked trucks, cars barreling through yellow lights and jay-walking office workers, their faces buried in their watches. Here, next to the alley, lives the man they call the Patron Saint of the Bike Messengers. Harvey Woo is the 49-year-old owner of Harvey’s Place, a little grocery store/lunch counter. In an era of bland chain superstores, Harvey’s is a relic: a first-names-only, family-run joint. As they say in the alley, “If you’re about to starve, you go to Harv.”

Artist’s interpretation of work under 280 Shipley Street. Photo collage on water color paper, water color, 2021. 23″x24″

A dispatch from 2008 via Yelp:

The condos and other new buildings have proliferated on Shipley and all over the City, particularly South of Market, but a few of us remember Harvey’s.

Michael Acker, april 2021

Standard
Personal History

A Family Photograph

Note: An earlier version of this was password protected because I wanted to address my family directly. This version should make more sense to the general reader.

Years ago my father, Marty, gave me a copy of a photograph of the Acker/Samuel(Weissbuch) family, assembled in Manchester, UK around 1900. I don’t know if he knew more about the photo, but he never gave me any details. The family had migrated from Rumania not long before. The group is photographed in front of and hemmed in by, brick walls, in tiers, with a gaggle of kids sitting in the front row. I have been going through folders of family photos lately, (partly so the younger members of my family won’t have to do it some day). I came across a copy of the photograph.

Now, in this family was a boy who would become a well-known writer, a Zionist thinker, and something of a radio personality in the U.S. His name was Maurice Samuel (my father’s first cousin. He was a hero to Marty in his youth, and I remember hearing him talk with poet Mark Van Doren on national radio. This conversation, the subject of which was the Old Testament, went on weekly in the summer for twenty years! They were also on TV.)

Maurice Samuel and Mark Van Doren

In 1963 Maurice published a memoir entitled Little Did I Know, the first sentence of which reads

 “Among the people who rise out of my past to claim first mention in this book, my uncle Berel is the most persistent.”

 Berel Acker was my great-grandfather.

I have had Maurice’s book (my father’s copy) by my reading chair for months and I dip into it now and then. I started reading, on page 72, a few days ago, this: “My mother’s family came to Manchester in full force, part of it moving on, as I have told, to America. I have a group photograph taken in 1902, in the squalid backyard of 5 Norfolk Street, on the occasion of my aunt Chaya’s wedding, which was celebrated in our upstairs front room. Uncle Berel is in it, billycock set jauntily on his head, a cigarette dangling from his lips. I am there with my twin sister Dora, in the front row, seated on the ground, and into my face only a Wordsworth could have read trailing clouds of glory…”

Vicinity of 5 Norfolk St. Manchester

An amazing coincidence that I found the photo I read about in Maurice’s book just a few days later, giving me a lot more detail and a certain flavor.

Marty wrote on the back of the small copy I found that the little boy at the extreme left is his father, my grandfather Isaac.

In 1995 Marty and I visited the English relatives. In cousin Harry Rothman’s living room was a large version of the photo.

This photo was taken in 1955, in the New York area. My brother Dave and I are sitting on Isaac’s lap. Seated to our left is Berel. My mother and father and two grandmothers are standing behind. The woman at the left is unidentified, possibly one of my aunts.

Maurice’s depiction of Berel agrees with everything I was told by my father. Berel was the man of the world, the “cool grandfather.”  Marty’s other grandfather, who was named Katz, was so religious that he established his own synagogue and became its rabbi. Kids of Marty’s generation would say “when the Katz away, the mice will play.”

It’s gratifying to have little bits of family history come together like this.

Standard
Personal History

Rudy Cipolla

I used to have this recurring dream. I would find myself in a little corner store, in some unidentified city, maybe San Francisco. The place would have been lost in time. Inside was a glass case and inside the case was a marvelous collection of old fireworks with fantastic labels, for sale.

The dream came true, in a way, when, in the late 1980s, we stumbled across a strange little shop on Judah Street. We walked in, for what reason I don’t remember, and there we found Rudy Cipolla. The shop did have a glass case with musty, interesting old things in it. Among those was a box of caps for a toy gun, a firework of a sort, which I bought. The label said “72 Big Shots.”

caps72bgishots1

The proprietor of the shop introduced himself as Rudy Cipolla, and in a few minutes our acquaintance had progressed to the point that he started to tell us that his name meant “Onion” in Italian, and that he was related to John Cipollina, the lead guitarist for the Quick Silver Messenger Service, a famous 60s band. He also told us he played the mandolin and that he was a composer. Then he gave us an autographed cassette tape of a piece he’d written entitled “La Civetta” (The Flirt, in Italian.)

rduycipolla

Cipollacassette1.jpg

We wandered out and into a gray fall day in the Inner Sunset district, never to see Rudy again, but I never forgot the literally dream-like encounter.

Later, I learned that the shop was called the Book Nook, and that Rudy Cipolla was revered by local musicians, mandolin players especially. David Grisman counted him as an influence and friend, and indeed, he was a very prolific composer.image1Rudy died in 2000 at the age of 99.

Photographs courtesy of Owen Hartford

 

 

Standard