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Charles Elkind's Memories of the Fillmore

Charles Elkind's Memories of the Fillmore

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Excerpts from My Son, the Vice President, a memoir written by Charles (Chuck) Elkind, and from articles Charles Elkind contributed to the Potrero Hill View, a San Francisco neighborhood newspaper whose former editor, Ruth Passen, is the author’s sister.

This document was created in conjunction with a Memory Lab project at the Magnes, in Berkeley: "The Elkind Family in the San Francisco Fillmore District (1930s)," prepared by Risa Elkind Nye from family documents. View the project at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/magnesmuseum/sets/72157622425710187/

Find out more at the Memory Lab Web Portal: http://www.magnes.org/memorylab
Excerpts from My Son, the Vice President, a memoir written by Charles (Chuck) Elkind, and from articles Charles Elkind contributed to the Potrero Hill View, a San Francisco neighborhood newspaper whose former editor, Ruth Passen, is the author’s sister.

This document was created in conjunction with a Memory Lab project at the Magnes, in Berkeley: "The Elkind Family in the San Francisco Fillmore District (1930s)," prepared by Risa Elkind Nye from family documents. View the project at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/magnesmuseum/sets/72157622425710187/

Find out more at the Memory Lab Web Portal: http://www.magnes.org/memorylab

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life on Oct 09, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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01/31/2014

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Excerpts from
My Son, the Vice President,
a memoir written by Charles ElkindIn the massive 1890-1914 exodus out of Eastern Europe, many émigrés set upresidence in the eastern sector of the U.S. or Canada. But those who reached SanFrancisco discovered that the McAllister District was the bustling Jewish enclave. A wagobserved, “The area could have been considered San Francisco’s ghetto, even thoughthe archbishop lived two blocks away.”The midtown community was a compact replica of the multi-racial melting pot ofNew Your City, except for the West Coast city’s far larger numbers of Japanese,Chinese and Filipinos.[My father]Moishe Elkind’s first job was as a salesman for a wholesaler whoseproduct came from Petaluma—proclaimed “Egg Basket of the World”— some 40 milesnorth of San Francisco.About 300 Jewish families had come to Petaluma at the beginning of 1900. Theyplanned eventually to move on to Palestine. Of the 300 families, 200 were poultryranchers.Moishe was won over by the simplicity —and profitability—of the wholesaleoperation: paced by hourly market index fluctuations, the target was to buy at lowerprices when supply exceeded demand, and sell when demand was greater, movingprices upward. Moishe closely observed the daily action for months and concluded thatdemand won out more often.Observing his employers’ great success, Moishe resented being a mere wageearner excluded from partaking of the ample bounty. Frustrated, he asked, “Why can’t Ido the same thing? It’s a winning situation.”Determined to become an entrepreneur, he cultivated a clientele of hotels,restaurants and other larger-volume egg consumers. At that point, he left the company— taking his prime customers along. Pivotal to this scheme was a retail outlet,Petaluma Egg Distributors, which he operated on the ground floor of a pre-1906earthquake four-unit flat he bought at 1123 McAllister Street, between Fillmore andWebster.Above the store, one flat was occupied by [my mother’s] parents and another, thelargest, by our family— which was enlarged by my birth in 1923 and Shirley Ruth’s threeyears later. With the acquisition of the McAllister property, Moishe achieved one of mostimmigrants’ fondest dreams: ownership of a piece of land. The flat would be our homefor almost two decades.
 
***The block between Fillmore and Webster Streets was a mouth-watering andaromatic universe: the pungent dill pickle barrels of Mendelson’s Delicatessen… onnippy wintry mornings, the warmth of a bagful of Kaiser rolls from the Ukraine Bakery,exuding a tantalizing bouquet of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove…the baklava and spicy
hors d’œuvres at
Tarnoff’s Bialystok— whose vegetable bin sign implored, “Don’tsqueeze the Tomatoes!”McAllister could not have been more ideal for Mom. For holidays and otheroccasions, she made gefilte fish from the fattest carp she could extract from the DrabkinFish Market’s tank. Making a choice early in the week before the fish community waspicked over, Mom transferred her catch to the family bathtub. This arrangement causedno problem for us in that pre-daily shower era; we were in the widely prevalent once-a-week bath norm. The fish enjoyed exclusive occupancy of the tub until Mom was readyto make the delicacy. Their removal from the tub was the signal for the family bathlineup to form.McAllister’s lone ethnic commercial deviation was Ah Sing’s Deluxe Laundry. Theonly other Chinese were the yarmulke-wearing waiters in White’s Strictly KosherRestaurant. Diners were entranced by their sing-song recitation of dishes on the menu—which was entirely in Yiddish.There were only two non-Jewish residences on the street. Next door, a medicaldoctor ran a thriving practice. Our wonderment at having a goy in our midst was endedabruptly, however, when the police busted the distinguished-looking doctor for operatingan abortion mill.Further disillusion came from the three flamboyant women across the street—heavily rouged, brazenly bra-less, their legs flashing black sheer hose. Playing thesophisticate, my older brother Sam decided they were in show business. Viewing thenightly procession of male visitors, [my mother] Nettie was skeptical. When Moishetipped his hat and exchanged pleasantries, Mom said, “Don’t pay any attention to them,Moishe. They’re ‘
tzatskies
’ (play things).”He protested, “You’re wrong, Nettie. They’re nice family girls.”“Such a family I’ve never seen. Never a mother, sister or aunt. But plenty ofbrothers and uncles and
zaydes
(grandfathers).”Soon the police removed any doubts about the trio when they made anunannounced visit. As the street buzzed, the police unceremoniously pushed thepartially dressed women into a paddy wagon and deactivated the bustling bordello.
 
McAllister’s ethnic mix at times brought about provocative confluences. Such wasthe case when McAllister elders verbally attacked Moishe for steering a blind priest ofthe local Greek Orthodox Church across a busy neighborhood street. “How can youhelp a head of the church that did not lift a finger against the cruel persecution of Jewsin Russia and Poland?”Moishe brushed aside the tirade and quipped, “Let them all be blind, and I willgladly help each one across the street.”***Petaluma Egg Distributors insulated our family from some of the Depressionrigors. The store provided most of our basic food: dairy products, eggs, chickens andday-old bread.When cash was scarce, Moishe bartered. A significant portion of our dental billswas defrayed by an exchange of eggs and poultry for professional services: three dozenjumbo eggs for cleaned teeth and two schmaltzy chickens for a filled cavity.Penny-pinching was mandatory. Having accompanied Mom on numerousshopping excursions, many years passed before my sister realized she could buyhousehold goods and clothes at the street level. Until then, Ruth knew no world otherthan the frugal realm of bargain basements which all proclaimed: “Shop downstairs andsave.”***The following are excerpts from articles Charles (aka Chuck) Elkind contributed to
thePotrero Hill View 
, a San Francisco neighborhood newspaper whose former editor, RuthPassen, is the author’s sister. Chuck recalls more details from his Fillmore District days.From “
Blood, John Swett and Tears”
For this ex-San Franciscan, occasional revisits over the years have become futileattempts to recapture the Fillmore district aura of the Depression Years. The search hasbeen largely stymied by the absence of familiar landmarks, institutions and jazz joints,most of which are long gone.But at least one important structure remains. Although functioning now as analternative school, throughout the 1930s John Swett Junior High was a pivotal influencein the maturation of the ‘hood’s highly diverse student body.Johns Swett’s curriculum notwithstanding, one of the first compelling lessons forincoming seventh graders was the male ritual of hazing. Hostile ninth graders relishedhumiliating newcomers by pantsings. Without warning, they would swoop down on the

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