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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More S. F. 1906 Earthquake stuff

LottaJPEGWhen last we met, I described meeting a friend who gave us a predawn ride from the SF Marina to Market Street, for the 100-year anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake – the morning was April 18, 2006. What I didn’t really develop was the participation and organization of the San Francisco Fire Department. The event was basically rooted in the fire services of San Francisco and more outlying communities.

Don Young, who I’ve profiled in a 2016 RGJ column, is a retired chief of the Sparksxsfd Fire Department – a man with his wife Maddy that you should know. Soon I’ll dig out the column I wrote about him, and figure out how to convert it from Gazoo-print to WordPress. Watch for that. But right now, Don writes, in response to the piece her of a couple of days ago: “The Sparks Fire Department changed the rules in 1964 to honor the State of Nevada Centennial and the firemen were authorized to sport facial hair and wear uniforms like you have on. [in the photo with Linda at Lotta’s Fountain on Market Street]. My wife and YoungLittleWalothers made the shirts out of heavy red flannel and we also wore jeans as a work uniform. Thanks, Don”

And we thank you Don, known by his license plate as “XSFD” – ex-Sparks Fire Department. You’ll read more of him soon, right here. His official department portrait seen above right was taken by SFD’s Jeff Spicer. Pretty cool.

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Also in the column of a couple days ago, I mentioned the 1908 photograph of Reno and Sparks, taken from an airship, better described as a kite, by the Lawrence Airship Company out of Chicago. I won’t waste space here; you can read more of it in the preceding post. But – I did allude to 17 prints of it being discovered downtown, and my ownership of one of the originals.

LawrenceAirshipPhoto

The backstory there is, that in 1957 there was a major explosion and fire in downtown Reno (I’ll put a link to it at the end of this post). In its aftermath, some workers in the A. Carlisle Company, on the west side of Sierra Street just north of Home Furniture on the First Street corner, were mopping up after the fire. They pulled a large ozalid-process machine for making blueprints and about as big as a big deep freeze, away from a wall and voila! They found behind the printer, 17 original prints of the photo, in pristine condition. My dad scored one of them; it’s hanging to this day in a relative’s law office. There were only 17 known until recent technology and the expiration of a copyright allowed them to be copied – and copied in better detail than the originals. So – there’s more than 17 around town now. Lawrence’s brochures and records indicate a price of $18 per copy, a pretty penny in 1908.

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OK, still writing of fire department stuff vis-à-vis San Francisco and the earthquake, let’s pay proper attention to the American LaFrance Company, who in 2006 had been supplying America, through its several incarnations, with fire trucks. CaptureSan Francisco was a prime customer and LaFrance took it upon themselves to make a statement of gratitude. They sold the City 16 new “triple” engines, but put a little extra into them before they were delivered starting in February of 2006. The engines were painted a “retro” color, darker red and almost a purplish-brown, to emulate the color engines the City used before WWII. But the piece-de-resistance was the gold-leaf treatment – I don’t know whether the engines are more striking by day with the sun dancing off the heavy gold-leaf that covered the engines and station numbers and SFFD ownership, or maybe they were more so at night, with other light sources lighting up the gold. Top that with heavy silver plating on the bumpers, trim and the big bells on the front bumpers with the LaFrance eagle atop them, and those are 16 pretty trucks. They remain in service, immaculately-maintained these 12 years later, and are still head-turners when cruising around the Streets of San Francisco.

Now, we’ll put the SFFD out of service for a while, but return to a tale of a local guy, a Sparks Railroader who ran the Sparks Fire Department. If you’d like to read the post that preceded and inspired this go here and it will open in another window, or if you’d like to know more about one of Reno’s major downtown fires in 1957, click here.

See ya in a week or two; I’m going to get the six-year-old kid off his butt and writing about old Reno!

 

 

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!!

 

A new hat for the Ol’ Reno Guy…

birdcage traffic signalEffective on the first, which is to say the first chance I get, I am going to start a new venture. I have been invited by a San Francisco friend to submit somewhat regular posts to a Facebook website of and by San Franciscans – about, San Francisco, and my memories and experiences in that enchanted city. He/they want a Herb Caen-type, three-dot column; I reminded him that I don’t live in the City, nor did I grow up there, nor do I have a great number of resources to rely upon as I do for Reno and Sparks. He said do it anyway.

And so I will. I have no idea where it will land, but I have a wealth of San Francisco stuff in my noggin, and a lot of photographs, and two sons and their families who live there, and friends I can call if I get stuck. And I will.

But, in the near term, such a column will evolve, and I’m going to put it onto this website. Unless I can figure out how to make a companion website through WordPress. But, as a forewarning, that’s where we’re going. I’ll still post the meanderings of the little six-year-old kid remembering Reno from his Ralston Avenue home. And I’ll post old websites, taken mostly from old newspaper columns – after 29 years in that paper which name escapes me, I’ve a trove of stuff and stories yet to be told.

I’m not quite there yet, so I won’t trouble y’all with that web page’s name, but as the site matures, I’ll clue readers in – if you’re in Facebook you may request membership in the group, which is not a difficult thing to accomplish. If you’re not on  Facebook, it’ll be posted here way you may read it

Bernstein'sGrotto

And that’s the way it is, September 18, 2017. Come back once in a while. God only knows what will appear on this site…! 

Karl