Of Heaney and Herb

LittleKarlA fortnight ago I surprised Hank Philcox and a few others right here with my revelation that I’d written a Herb Caen column. Which was ‘way before disc, and I can’t now locate in print. But I will. [Caen pictured below right, atop the Fairmont Hotel]

My better inclusion in Caen’s column came in 1966, when a bad guy entered GeorgeHerbCaenFairmont Heaney’s pawn shop downtown and stole 18 uncut gems. The perp was cornered soon after by the fuzz, and taken to a room in the newish Reno police station and held until, well, until the gems reëntered daylight, ‘nuf said there. The crime was duly reported in the Nevada State Journal. And probably the Reno Evening Gazette.

 I – then living in Reno – wrote Caen at the SF Chron, 500 Mission Street, adding a dimension to the yarn. Remember at this juncture in time, one didn’t phone Caen ‘lessen they were named Wilkes Bashford or Willie Brown; there was no such thing as a fax in 1966, and the mere whisper of emailing a document would get one incarcerated for mental observation. Hence the Nevada State Journal clip of the yarn traveled to Mission Street via snail mail, together with my assessment of the caper.

 Nor was there digital access to the Chron following its publication, so the waiting game began. Filching a Chron each day after a few days had passed, to see if Caen had nibbled at the bait, a week went by. Then, pay dirt.

 “Our man in Reno Nevada reports that…” and so on, Caen’s usual making something out of basically nothing, and concluding with my comment.

 At this juncture I’ll clarify that I shared the same given name with my father – Karl – a  practice that should be made illegal in modern, computer times. He gets killed in 1971, Union Federal Savings calls my home loan. My mother, Mrs. Karl, passes years later, and my Visa card goes bye-bye. Can’t be too careful. But Hank Philcox, among others, know that my parents’ credo in life was, “What will people think?” What will people think of Karl Breckenridge, a bastion of Reno business, sending some smartass comment into Herb Caen. He was embarrassed; I was severely chastised. (But I loved it!)

 I asked society undertaker Ted Williams of Walton’s while dining at Brickie’s in preparation for my mother’s funeral service if I could place on my parents’ gravemarker at Mountain View, the simple words, “what will people think  now?” Ted declined. Oh well, no matter.

 Caen’s words and my comment were picked up in the Reno Gazoo back when it still had a local presence and a personality, and eventually received nationwide exposure when it was picked up by the UP, now UPI, wire service. Karl the Elder was definitely in the national bright beam, and boy was he pissed!

 Hank Philcox knew Flo and Karl the Elder, and can appreciate this story.

 Anyway, that was my shining moment in Herb Caen’s column,  not in the stand-alone columns that I and a few others wrote when he was hospitalized, c. 1983.

 Oh by the way, the comment was: “Reno records the world’s first 18-jewel movement.”

 No big deal…

 

 

 

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Our annual paean to our friend Donna Booher….I’ve some more to add to this; come back late Saturday afternoon!

cropped-kf_headshot.jpgThis is not the six-year-old boy writing, for a much older man gave him four-bits and told him to go to the Tower Theater for a flick. I need his magic little computer to write a letter I couldn’t get to on time last week.

Our story begins about 4 ayem on April 18, 2006 in our motel on the corner of Buchanan and Lombard – the Marina in San Francisco. We had stayed there quite often in the past decade. But – on this clear and not-terribly cold Bay Area morning, we brushed aside the cobwebs of a few hours past, climbed silently into our garb, and slid out the door of room 301 – our perennial choice of rooms – to the nearby elevator. A few other turn-of-the-century clad folks were in the lobby and outside on the sidewalk. The streets, while still almost dark on this mid-April morning, were quite busy, and Muni buses were already filling the streets on a weekend schedule. (This was a Tuesday…)

We walked with a few more earthquake survivors the short block to Chestnut Street. The collector trolleys of the approaching bus marked it as a 30-Stockton, which would take us to Market.

Here, the fun begins, and we meet the lady that we would know only briefly – maybe 20 minutes during the trip to Market Street. She stopped, and waved. “Hop in,” she said, and so we did. We spoke, possibly for the first time for any of the three of us, that April 18th. “I’m Donna.” “Hi, I’m Linda. This is Karl. Thanks for the lift.” Little else was said until we reached Market Street. “I’ll go park. You guys have fun.” We said thanks, exited her car, and Donna was off in near rush-hour traffic. We would never see her again, but she became a huge part of that day in the years to come.

It was 4:30 in the morning. The streets were filled.

LottaJPEGAt that juncture, we were no longer Linda and Karl from Reno, Nevada. In her assumed role (everybody on Market Street at that hour had an assumed identity) as Linda Patrucowrowski, she was on her way to meet Ada Funston for coffee, Ada’s husband being Gen. Frederick Funston, commander of all the Army troops in the Bay Area. They were meeting on the patio of General Funston’s quarters at the Presidio.

By prior arrangement, the wealthy Linda Patrucowrowski and her suave-but-reserved SF fireman friend, like so many SF firemen a first- or second-generation Irishman of humble beginnings whose name was Callen O’Breckenridge, were meeting friends Janet and Paul O’Meaney, another son of Erin on that corner of Market and Fourth Streets. It was 4:40 a.m. In 38 minutes, (oh, OK; actually 38 minutes-minus-100 years) all that would change. Paul would capture a photo of Linda and Callan at Lotta’s Fountain – a landmark on Market Street endowed by Lotta Crabtree for the horses, people and dogs of San Francisco 40 years before.

Palace_Hotel_Fire_April_18,_1906At 5:18 a.m. San Francisco was changed, changed endlessly; a terrible moment was born, to paraphrase the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. An earthquake and incipient fire would reduce 40 percent of the City to rubble within a few days. Patrucowrowski’s four-room suite at the nearby Palace Hotel [above], built by men with streets named for them in faraway Reno, William Sharon and Billy Ralston, although only a few years old would be reduced to rubble, and Linda would take up residence with 45,000 other survivors in Golden Gate Park that night. She would ultimately secure quarters in an “earthquake house,” designed and quickly built in a month, following the quake [below, right].

sullivanShe would never again see her swain, the handsome Callan, for he perished in a collapsing building in the Financial District alongside San Francisco’s popular fire chief Dennis T. O’Callahan [left], an Irishman who had come through the ranks of SFFD and also died in the aftermath of the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

Convening about daybreak that April 18, 2006 morning near Lotta’s Fountain, which turned into the meeting place for the quake’s survivors in 1906, the San Francisco press nominated Linda asEQ house SF their darling, and we spent the entire day hearing “Oh, we saw you on TV this morning!” We met, “we” being a crowd of mostly-costumed celebrants, 11 people who were alive on April 18, 1906, and one that those 11 welcomed into their exclusive group: A lady who was born exactly nine months after the earthquake. Golden Gate Park must have had some creature comforts…!

Here’s a little aside to all this: Many in Reno have seen the large-format, sepia-tone photograph taken by the Geo. Lawrence Company’s captive airship, from 1,000 feet above the present Reno High School and pointed northeast. The backstory is, that the airship/kite had been in SF for a year prior to the earthquake, taking pictures of The City for property owners, the San Francisco Fire Department, and for the insurance industry. The airship was packed and ready to be taken back to Chicago when the earthquake struck, and the decision was made to re-photograph the work it had done to assist all in assessing quake damage. Hence, it came through Reno in 1908, the date of the Reno picture. One of the 17 known original prints of this picture is in my possession; the image below on this page (identical) is scanned from a Library of Congress-held gelatin-silver 19.5 x 50 inch print copyright claimant Geo. R. Lawrence Co.; Chicago, IL, November 21, 1908; L/C control no. 2007663909 released for publication without restriction

LawrenceAirshipPhoto

It was a fun day, a day of learning and enjoying and reliving. And a day that established our relationship with a friend, a Bay Area-gal named Donna Booher. We have stayed In touch now for these past 12 years, and I publish this – in part for fun and information, but in remainder to say to Donna: Sorry not to extend our usual greeting and offer to meet on the 30-line at Buchanan and Chestnut, but, we might be standing there at 4:3O ayem next year; one never knows!!

 

April 15, 2018 – Hangin’ out with the kid on East Fourth and Fifth, near Alameda Street in 1952

FearlessNoTextMonday, April 23 – The six-year-old kid rested this weekend at the Coliseum with about 5,000 friends, each driving 1.4 mommywagons and playing or watching volleyball on 88 courts. This number includes his two granddaughters. He is back to work now, will probably put up a new “bike ride” Wednesday….c’mon back!


 

Well, we’re back to school after our Easter Break, which we still call “Easter,” by the way. I gave all my brochures that I collected from my bike ride last week to Dad so he could buy a new car but he decided to keep the Buick he got from Mr. Scott. We’re taking it to New York and back this summer, I’ll have to do a lot of writing about that trip!

I wanted to finish up a story of cars, by adding some pictures of trucks but a few friends have asked about the new TV station coming to town, and the big tank that’s being torn down out on Fifth Street. Since the new TV station is being built across from the gas storage tank, that’s where I’m heading today.

Down Vine Street I go from Sunnyside Drive on my bike. Safeway is building a new store on Vine, the second of the “big” supermarkets in Reno. Don’t know what’s going to happen to the little markets – “Mom & Pops” Dad calls them. I better hurryBabcockBldg. up and write about them soon before they’re all gone. I ride east on Fifth Street, past Reno High School [left below]and the Babcock Memorial Kindergarten [right]. Until WWII it was the only Kindergarten in Reno and your parents had to pay to send you there. I pass by the new Sewell’s RenoHigh1912market between Sierra and Virginia Street, and press on beyond University Street and the Western Pacific railroad tracks on a street that’s not a street, named on the Sanborn map as private, owned by the railroad, but named “East” street. In a few years it will be called “Record Street” probably for those pretty girls in my class, Dale and Nikki. Their dad sells plumbing stuff south of the Lincoln Highway but it’s nothing to do with WPlocoEast Street. A brand-new Western Pacific locomotive, diesel-electric at that, is heading up north to Alturas and a couple guys are blocking Fifth Street while it passes.

I’m at Elko Street now, and can see the big gas tank, which is on a full-block lot GasTankbetween Fifth and Sixth, and Alameda Street and Eureka Street. [That’s a picture that I found in my World Book Encyclopedia, not a photo of the one in Reno, which I’ve never been able to find. But they’re all pretty much the same – the sides move up and down along the rails – this one’s down about 12 feet or so.] Pretty soon the City would re-name “Alameda” street to “North Wells Avenue.” That big square block is owned by Sierra Pacific Power Company and that’s where Reno’s early natural gas is made, mostly for cooking and less-so for heating homes. But all that would change. Dad’s friend Mr. Probasco was building homes after WWII away out east of Sparks almost east of Stanford Way, and heating them with a central gas furnace in the home. They were the first home furnaces in Reno and Sparks using gas as a fuel. They weren’t  forced air, but they worked well! Dad tried to tell me how they made gas but it was pretty complicated and people who read about it all scratched their heads, so I’ll just write the simple view of it here:

If one smashes coal hard enough, a gas is produced. And that’s what they did at the Alameda Gas Plant. A “retort” smashed the coal then collected the gas that that smashing produced. Coal was brought into that plant on railroad cars. The gas that resulted in the compression was routed into a big tank, whose sides were free to move up and down. The weight of the tank pushed the tank downward, and forced the gas within the tank to go out into the gas “mains,” which were all over pre-war Reno and Sparks, on the north side of the Truckee River.

Natural gas was being brought into the power company’s generating station east of Sparks, so they elected to make another run from the power plant to Reno. The retort building was dismantled, and the tank soon after was taken down. We all got our gas at our homes through the same mains as before, but it was put into the existing mains at a different location (eventually north of McCarran Boulevard and Hug High School). But I’m only a six-year-old kid, so I don’t know that yet. I also don’t know that the power company began storing transformers which are basically tanks of PCB, which fall over and spill the stuff on the ground. And PCB is one of the most toxic liquids known to man, and the square block was so contaminated with the stuff that it was decided by someone to just leave it alone, that the cost of cleaning it would exceed its value. So that’s why there’s nothing on the lot now but an X-ray building, on an area that wasn’t contaminated.

And that’s the story of gas coming to Reno and Sparks. I might write that when the new bridge over the Truckee was built in 1937, the gas lines were brought to southern Reno. And that little known to most and I’ll probably get spanked for writing this, but the big fire that I can’t write about until 1957 was probably in all truth caused by a bum hookup in the Sierra Street area, and just stayed kinda safe until it blew in 1957.  I’ll attach a “link” at the end of this writing to tell you about that. And if you ever go to San Francisco, as we’re going to do again one of these days soon, you might have seen “Gashouse Cove” on a sign or the name of a neighborhood out by the Marina – that’s where the early city of San Francisco had its gas retort. But that has nothing to do with Reno and I shouldn’t even write about it.

I’ve bitten off more than I can chew (Dad says that and I think it’s funny!) by threatening to write about the new TV station in the same letter with the gashouse and retort, so I’ll work on that later this week. And we  should talk about old groceries more; there’s one on the corner of Alameda and Fourth Street where my little (!) friend Benny Akert works – his parents own it. He dreams of growing up and running a store to sell discount liquor – he says he’ll just call it “Ben’s”. And another little playmate of mine, a foxy little gal named Beverly Pincolini, her family has a grocery store a couple blocks away, called “Pinky’s”! Bev would graduate from Reno High with me in 1959 and marry a guy named Fabio Reginato, the lucky dude. But I don’t know anything about that yet, of course. I thought a Pincolini Reginato Fabio was one of those new-fangled sports cars from Europe!

Come back in a week – I’ll tell you all about KZTV’s grand opening! Now – if you want to read more – click here whatever “click” means! and read about the big fire down on Sierra Street in 1957.

See ya later…….

 

 

October 15 – our trip to Napa in 1949

Napa

How all this began….

Well, I haven’t written for a while, been pretty busy at Mary S. Doten School, but we have a weekend free so we’re hopping in the car to go see Grandma in Petaluma. Petaluma’s a little farm town right next to Napa and we’ll go through Napa to get there. Mom was born in Petaluma; her mother – my Grandma – came with a whole bunch of sisters and brothers from Ireland to be school teachers in the Valley of the Moon, but a few moved from Asti to Petaluma and Napa so I have relatives all over Sonoma County!

I should tell you that Dad just came home with a new car, a 1948 Dodge sedan, gray. He keeps leaving the back-up light turned on and killed the battery a couple times. Our neighbor John Sala gave it a “jump.” We’re loading up the new Dodge to go to DodgeGrandma’s in Petaluma. My little sister Marilynn is old enough now to ride in a car seat hung over the front seat of the car. It will take about seven or eight hours to get to Petaluma; one of these mornings I’ll write about the Giant Orange and the stuff along Highway 40.

We’re off now – and I’ll fast forward the trip, took over seven hours this time, we stopped along the way a couple of times. When we StornettasDairygot to Stornetta’s Dairy on the Napa Highway we knew we were close! (I heard that the dairy would be lost to a fire [pictured left] many years later, and it was as popular with the residents as were the California Missions and the wineries…) I wish I could write you more about that big fire, but this is 1949 and it wouldn’t happen for many more years so I don’t know anything about it.

We pass through Napa after turning off the old picturesque Highway 12. Napa is a tiny little town, like so many along our way. It’s got one main street and everything on the street caters to agricultural stuff – a John Deere dealer with big green and yellow tractors sitting outside. Boot and clothing stores, hand tools. Many signs are in another language, Dad says Spanish but Mom, who grew up 12 miles away, said they leaned toward the Portuguese language, as the town of Napa was heavily-Portuguese occupied. She said her hometown, Petaluma, was mostly Italian and Irish. There were many other little towns along the way between a place on the main highway called the Nut Tree that opened in 1920, and Petaluma to the north toward the Redwood Highway – Highway 101.

JohnDeereWe got through Napa and saw many grapevines along the way – acres of wooden frames with the vines hanging from them. There were big propellers every once in a while, and a lot of little pots. Dad says the pots burned kerosene and the big fans blew the heat over the vines to keep them from freezing. We went into Petaluma by a beautiful old brick building that looked like the Southern Pacific engine house in Sparks next to the roundhouse that was being torn down. The big building was the bag mill, where the bags for the crops and grain that supported all these little towns, were woven. The building was a real beauty.

Petaluma is a nice little town, much like Napa, with almost no one except for the full-time residents living there. Petalumans raised chickens and was known as the egg-capital of the west coast. McNear’s Mill processed the grain from all over the valley, and shipped it every morning aboard the Steamer Gold, from the end of the Petaluma River. Napans raised grapes, mostly for dining but also finding their way into the wine industry. People had been drinking wine for years but I guess never put much interest into grapes and wine – wine was red, and blush. A smattering (like that word? I’m not supposed to use it according to my teachers…) of men from San Francisco and Europe were starting to take more interest in grapes and wine, and were slowly moving to Napa. There were already some beautiful old buildings there operated by the few “vintners,” a hoity-toity word for grape growers. But I don’t recall wine as being that big a deal. But they sure had some pretty buildings and ranches – it would be a shame if a fire ever came along and burned them – they’ve been there since before WWI, some of them.

And I should write you that one of the big industries was making kegs – wooden barrels – out of oak wood for the wine to age in. This industry was really taking off! One guy even had an orchard for cork trees, because corks were necessary for bottling wine and most of them in 1949 came from Portugal. Hence, the Portuguese influence in Napa.

And speaking of wine, when we arrived in Petaluma, Dad sat on the front porch of Grandma’s house on Harris Street, which was an old railroad house that was moved across town and my mother came home from the hospital to it in 1916. Grandma joined Dad on the porch with a bottle of red wine that Dad picked up down Western Street at Volpi’s, and they laughed and giggled as usual while Mom freshened up.

Later that night, we loaded up in the Dodge, and with my great-aunts Isabel and Marge and Iola and uncle Vic and Earl and a few other relatives, in a couple other cars, and we all took off for dinner at the Green Mill Inn, which was a pretty popular roadhouse in Cotati. We went through Sebastopol, Calistoga and a few other old towns, all with some beautiful homes and businesses dating back to the turn of the century, and even to California’s statehood. Sonoma, for sure; Rutherford – we passed through them all.

And we’d do it many times again in the years to follow – Dad and Grandma on themost happy fella porch with a jug of red, Mom freshening up, all the old ladies sitting around Aunt Kate’s Bosendorfer upright piano that had come ‘Round the Horn from Galway, all singing the old songs they’d learned as children. Or, they’d have more red, all together, and commandeer the Green Mill Inn’s piano and sing of the Emerald Isle. Good times, in the Sonoma Valley. Possibly the prettiest part of California, I’d probably get an argument to that from Santa Barbarans, where I was born ten years before. In 1955 Frank Loesser would even write a Broadway musical about it, “The Most Happy Fella” (in the whole Napa Valley..)!

fireNapaBut beautiful country, old buildings, tree-canopied streets, some picturesque old rock wineries and quaint downtowns – Napa, Sonoma, Petaluma, Calistoga, Sebastopol, Stornetta’s Dairy, the bag mill, McNear’s grain elevator – I hoped that nothing would ever come along to alter it…..

C’mon back in a while, we’ll ride Highway 40 or walk the Truckee’s banks – I never know ‘til I start writing

POSTSCRIPT: I WAS REMINDED THAT MY “LITTLE SISTER MARILYNN” REFERRED TO AS “NOW OLD ENOUGH TO RIDE IN THE CAR SEAT,” RETURNED TO NAPA AFTER COLLEGE AND, WITH HUSBAND ERIC, TAUGHT IN THE NAPA COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT FOR OVER 30 YEARS!

Napa schoolhouse photo credit AP

Photo Stornetta’s Dairy courtesy Joe Fazio

Horsley on the Fun Train…!

FunTrainGordon Horsley, pictured at the right below, is a Reno guy, pure and simple, all over the place all the time, Reno High Alum Association, Harrah Auto Museum trustee, great taste in columnists. And drives a classic Dodge with an old Harrah license plate. He took the time to send this:
Boy you really hit home on the Sunday column.  I could write a book report on my ties with this one but I promise not to.
Some highlights….
Don “BoomBoom” Burke I first met when he ran the Reno Chamber office in S.F. and got the fun train started.
Jud Allen, (who hired Don),  his widow Glenda and my wife are the best of friends.
When the RSCVA was formed Roy Powers brought Don to Reno to be a sales manager for him
.
As time went by Don later came to work for me at the Kings Castle as a sales manager and was my best man when I Horsleymarried my wife in Virginia City.  His wife Carol and my wife were business partners in Convention Activities, a convention services company that my wife and I took over and ran for 30 years.  Don’s widow Carol is still living in Reno and another of my wife’s best pals.
The fun train is still in operation run by Key Tours out of Walnut Creek but not anything like what you wrote about.  TheyNouk charter buses from us now and then to get the people from the train station to the various properties.
Boy what a event when you got Don Burke and Don Manoukian [at left] in the same room or on a golf course.  One a 49er and the other a Raider.  It was a cherished  part of my life I will never forget.
As always Karl….many thanks for the memories..
Gordon

Where the China Clippers lived

ClipperCoveOK, pressed for time on a gray day, lousy for taking a few pictures I’m after, I go to the archives for this one taken a couple years ago over Yerba Buena Island in the San Francisco Bay. Note the new bridge coming from Oakland; it’s quite a bit further along now with one tall tower supporting the whole span. The storied Pan American Clippers of the 1930s moored in the bay we see here, known as Clipper Cove. Pan Am built the island to the left – Treasure Island – starting in the early 1930s, planned as the future San Francisco airport. The curved building on the lower corner of the artificial island was built for the 1939 World Exposition, the statuary in front of it created by Oakland’s Sargent Claude Johnson, a decade before he would create the Harolds Club mural from a Theodore McFall painting.The two major building east – (above) – that curved building were hangars and maintenance centers for the Clipper aircraft. The planes lacked landing gear; a ramp from Clipper Cove (near the present yacht harbor in this view) enabled them to be beached on a dolly and taken to the hangers.

BoeingClipperThe airport on Treasure Island never materialized – the island was used by the Navy for many years after its construction, and was turned over to San Francisco in 1996. A major rebuild of the island is in progress, with upgrades to the existing infrastructure and planned creation of many new residences, leaving many wondering how in the world access, which is limited in either direction off the Bay Bridge, will be affected.

And most importantly, my grandson Andy plays Little League (catcher) at a park on the east side of the island, with an absolutely grand view over the right field fence at the skyline of the Oakland hills!