Sunday, August 18, 2013

Growing Up In the Bay Area In The 70's; Herb Caen, Channel 7, KFRC; Dr Don; North Beach; Oakland Chinatown; Those Were The Days My Friend

    I have a tendency, maybe overly, to associate years with events and time. Sort of a mini Rainman; don't hold that against me but I do miss a lot of the past events in my life, which for me began in the 70's, my formulative years.

As a kid, I grew up in Oakland--Sequoia grammar school; Bret Harte Middle School and Skyline High, class of 1980. Skyline was way up in the hills overlooking the entire bay. It had an aura mostly due to its star-studded alum--Tom Hanks, class of '74. The buildings were cool and we had a beautiful football and baseball field too. And damn, one hilarious "Gong Show" which I helped direct and emcee as a junior in '79. I miss those days.

Even as an Oakland kid, I was fascinated with the city across the bay. "Media" in the Bay Area back in the 70's consisted of Herb Caen's column in the Chronicle. Back then, the old Chron was big and Caen was even bigger. A mention in Caen's column was the equivalent of a comic being invited to sit on the couch with Johnny Carson after their set. Sure, Caen had a lot of help; took way too many shots at Oakland, (having been born the Sacramenta kid, please Herb!), greasing Willie Brown and Wilkes Bashford umpteen times, but hey, we still read the column. It was the quintessential morning ritual, especially on Sunday over breakfast. Scrambled eggs, burnt rye toast, and black coffee, the Sporting Green, Caen and bam, you were set!

Everybody watched Channel 7; "NewsScene" was local TV News nirvana; Van Amburg was KING. Pete Giddings was appointment viewing for the weather report even  if you didn't give a shit about the weather because Pete was Pete, just like Jerry Jensen was Jerry Jensen. KGO was the birthplace of "Happy Talk" and the newsroom phrase, "If it bleeds, it leads." If you wanted blood and guts, Oakland homicide stories, Tenderloin gloom, Channel 7 News was the TV nerve center.

The 70's in the City--Happiness, joy, bedlam with my beloved Oakland A's, and the dreariness around the Giants. I never took joy over the Giants gloom and doom contrary to my bleacher buddies out in right field at the Oakland Coliseum bowing to Reggie Jackson and giving the thumbs up to Joe Rudi, Campy, and Captain Sal Bando. The A's, the Swingin' A's as they were known, didn't have a lot of fans, but had the best fans. Three straight World Series, 1972, '73, and '74. Charlie Finley, the cheap owner from Chicago who was despised in Oakland by not only the fans, but the players too.

Big Bad Al Davis and Da Raiduhs! Talk about a football team that mirrored its city image. Oakland was kinda weird, but its quirkiness was amusing. A beautiful lake in downtown. A fantastic Chinatown where the streets were packed, the food great and cheap and better yet, a place to park without hassle. We even had our own home-grown murky mystique; the Hells Angels and the Black Panthers with a respected, if slightly out-of-place newspaper, The Tribune, curiously enough run by a highly-powerful Republican family, the Knowlands, in one of the most liberal cities in the Bay Area, go figure.

Even as an Oakland kid, I made many treks to The City. That's what it was known as--still today. It was charming as ever; the hills, the fog, the restaurants, even back then it possessed essential coolness. 1977. I waited in line, like everyone else on the corner of Geary and Arguello at the old Coronet to see "Star Wars", the second official line movie, ("Jaws" being the first.) Must have seen it 20 times and loved it.

SF and the Bay Area in the 70's. The cool radio station was KFRC! Dr. Don. King. San Ra-QUEL! Bill Graham and Days on the Green. The Rolling Stones. The Grateful Dead. I wasn't a deadhead but respected their loyal fans and was present at one of their most famous concerts: NYE, 1977 at the old, dilapidated Winterland --on the bill: The Dead, The Blues Brothers, Elvin Bishop and Eddie Money. What a show. At the stroke of midnight, Graham descended from the ceiling stage and his blue jackets served breakfast to the throng of people 7 hours later.

San Francisco in the 70s. North Beach. Carol Doda. The Condor. The mad dasher, Davey Rosenberg, a numbers runner and character straight out of central casting. He was Caen's prime fodder. If you knew Davey well, you could get a seat right away at Vannessi's. I didn't know him, only read about him. Davey hung out at the Playboy Club and supposedly dated one of the cocktail waitresses. What a life.

The city was run back then by Mayor Joe Alioto, one of the best mayors ever. Alioto was a visionary. Nobody screwed with him. They didn't have to. He made sure the cops got paid and he greased the unions. The city was safe, cool, the neighborhoods happy and the restaurants packed like they are today.

George Moscone followed Alioto. A good man, a very good mayor. When he was murdered along with Harvey Milk, I was a junior at Skyline. I'll never forget--it was the Monday after Thanksgiving. How cruel. And OMG!, Dan White was the killer! This was a particularly tough time in the Bay Area, less than a week following the horror of Jim Jones and Guyana, and now, THIS. Somehow, the city made it through all the anguish, the dreariness of 1978 into '79. Thank God for Caen. He had a knack to writing serious pieces that allowed the citizens of the Bay Area to vent, to react, to commiserate.

I think of symbols back then. The International Hotel incident. Dick Hongisto, the stubborn sheriff and instigator. Chief Charlie Gain and his infamous visit to the old Hookers Ball at the Cow Palace in '75. The cops didn't care for Gain's goofiness and overt liberalism--they took proudly to placing small American flags on their motor bikes. Top cops were a big deal in the city. Con Murphy, Al Nelder, big newsmakers, sometimes for the wrong reasons. (Wink.)

I remember a city of pictures: Coit Tower. Alfred's. The Iron Horse. Alioto's on the Wharf. Taverns galore: My very favorite and cool place? Paoli's, thee place to meet and greet with some of the most beautifully-dressed women in SF. First place I had a drink in the city was at Paoli's. It was right there on Washington Street, a stone's throw from KFRC. The place was legit. Everybody dressed up. It was classic old-school. I don't know if a place like Paoli's could exist in today's SF, but if it could, I sure wish someone could build the place.

SF in the 70's. The people. The characters. The persona. Harry Denton. Henry Africa's. Auto Row. The Balboa. Pierce St. Annex. Perry's on Union Street. The venerable Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel where I was lucky enough to see and interview Joel Grey at a later time, (1986); (Dear Mr. Grey: your daughter is still beautiful). I can't forget the old Boarding House where I saw Kenny Rankin and a young Steve Martin, we'll EXCUUUUUUSE ME!

All of this brings back many memories. My late dad used to play the clarinet at a place called Earthquake Magoon's. I wasn't old enough to get in, but I heard the joint was jumpin.' San Francisco had that magical touch. I miss the old SF. I know this is still a great city; its geography, its history, its flavor and the like, I just miss the old-school basic and essentials. I miss the mystique, the old restaurants; the authentic Bill's Place on Clement; the Hippo on Van Ness; (Ice cream on a burger subtracted); the Carnelian Room atop the BofA building even. Yeah, I know the prices were absurd and the food was blasé, but damn, that view!

The 70's. Joel Selvin's reviews in the Pink Section. Gerry Nachman's singles column in the Chron. John Wasserman movie reviews. The old KGO Radio with Owen Spann, Jim Eason, Ronn Owens, and Jim Dunbar. Russ Coughlin too.  Art Hoppe. Charles McCabe's brilliant rants on "Governor Moonbeam". I think Jerry Brown kind of liked it. Speaking of Jerry, there was the notorious trip to Africa with Linda Ronstadt. Who could forget that image? I think Caen got a year's worth of columns out of that tour DE force.

This is not in the handbook. We're all about the future now. We're not supposed to reminisce about the good old days. Baloney. It's a time many of us will never forget, for better or worse. I say we all gather one day at Tadich and go into detail. Bring out the bread, Jack, and, extra butter please.

Oh, one other thing: Just play Journey's "Lights" only once. It was a classic. But we didn't have to play it a million times back in '79 to figure that out.

*Follow me into the future on Twitter


*415 Media is mostly reader-supported. Any donation is welcome and appreciated. PayPal icon on the top right.


  1. You covered it. It's a rare occasion when I am at a loss for words.

  2. I went to Skyline too. Go Titans!

  3. KSFX-FM 103.7 and 1260 K Y A great radio stations
    NBC was on Channel 4
    I Magnin
    Liberty House
    Petrini's at Stonestown
    Grand Central Market on California near Divisadero

    1. My mothers favorite store was the Emporium. She talks about it to this day.

  4. How about growing up the Bay Area in the '50s? Now THOSE were the days!

  5. Hey Rip Van Winkel,

    Nothing wrong with remembering the past but you dwell on it so much, seems like you've got no present or future.

    Go see the Woody Allen movie Blue Jasmine to examine the pitfalls of hanging on to the past to the exclusion of living life in the present.

    1. Aw the IRONY: you read it. Maybe it's you that's "dwelling."

      Saw "Blue Jasmine"--and it was a good movie. Love the Woodman.

    2. For him to rip you for hanging on to the past and then quote and recommend a movie that came out way back in July...who is living in the past now?

    3. @3:04 Blue Jasmine opened two weeks ago and now is in wide release. I didn't quote or recommend the movie.

      Hey, Rip Van Lieberman, you should learn what the word irony means to avoid misusing it in the future.

    4. "Rip Van Lieberman"--that's your best shot? Get a better writer.

      Sincerely, the "Dweller."

    5. Someone needs to tell Rich that calling Woody Allen "the Woodman" is like calling SF "Frisco", not cool.

  6. I finally made it to Tadich a month back - how wonderful! We had a dignified, sharp, quick, excellent waiter with white hair... he had an answer to every question, a true professional. Have to go back and try the Halibut Cheeks. And more.

    Blue Jasmine - how great to see a few non-stereotype shots of venerable SF - Ocean Beach, The Marina, Van Ness, etc. And views from Belvedere?

    BTW, what seaside place where they eating at? It wasn't Pier 23. Was that the Ramp?

  7. Great article Rich. For someone that grew up in San Jose in the 80's I remember hearing some of these names in passing but never really knew who they were or what they meant. Reading this article makes me long for a time gone by, back when cities had personalities, celebrities, "characters". Today it seems like the Bay Area is nothing but a big melting pot of nothingness. Everyone with their heads stuck so far into their smartphone that they don't realize what life is about and was about in days gone by. Too many faceless people in a crowd of diversity.

    I wish we could go back too, Rich.

    On a side mentioned, "If you wanted blood and guts, Oakland homicide stories, Tenderloin gloom, Channel 7 News was the TV nerve center". Were those predominantly African American shooting as they are today? I heard on the radio this morning they had 11 shootings yesterday in Oakland. Did you have to deal with all that garbage back then?

  8. Paoli's. Haven't thought about them for years. When I clerked for a law firm a few decades ago in SF the associates and partners took us there for lunch. Had a real nostalgic moment there.

  9. The original KSAN (95) with Terry McGovern's morning show. Now that was a rock station - not the pathetic "Bone" on 107.7 that bears the call letters now.

  10. Emperor Gene Nelson - KYA - "Put on the coffee Bubbles, I'm coming home"

  11. Disagree. The San Francisco of today has lost its soul. The City today is nothing but a playground for the rich. The real people who make up the fabric of San Francisco have been priced out, thanks for coming. And don't even get me started on the transplants. It's sad but true, San Francisco is no longer a "great" city.

  12. @7:00

    I agree. Class of 73, Skyline, Oakland. But I'd expand that to the greater bay area. It's just lost it's soul. About the same time it lost it's Hamm's sign as you got off the bridge.

  13. Scrap the donation program Rich. Go to the "pay per comment" format. $.05/word and if you elect to censor, the money is refunded. You'll make a bundle off christine alone.

    You're welcome

  14. Exceptionally well done Rich! Pretty much how I remember it from my viewpoint over the hill in Lamorinda. Check out the Eddie Money
    song 'Wanna go back' It will put you right there.
    Tom in Sac

  15. You forgot to mention KSKY Rock Rich.

  16. This is really well done ... a stream of consciousness that resonates, especially for those of us of a certain (ahem) age. I'm all misty-eyed and melancholy now, but in a good way. Remember Woolworth's--the lunch counter, the chicken lady, the candy counter. Remember the Blue Fox. I wanted to step inside that fancy place, even just once, to see what fancy people look like and what fancy people eat. Remember the SF Press Club. I hope you write more pieces like this. You've got an engaging voice ... and I bet you've got a great story to tell, too, if you ever want to tell it. Thank you, and my best...

  17. Posers and slackers, too. Most families and children have been priced out of The City, so new folks come in to The City with no ties, no roots, just the search for a good time, or survival, or status. Some of it is superficial. Now its tattoos, and pandering to the fringe. Could the Chinese vote ever outrank the gay vote?

  18. Rich, Herb Caen was the Sackamenna kid.

  19. Along with Owen Spann, Jim Eason, and Ronn Owens, there were Art Finley, Bob Trebor, Al "Jazzbeaux" Collins.

    KGO-TV's news team was also king in the 70's. It's a shame that Jerry Jensen died so young.

    The Giants were awful for much of the 70's. Thankfully, they've won two of the last three World Series. World Series Champs!!!

  20. I'll add Doggie Diner (especially on Sloat). Essential lunch after any kid's trip to the zoo.

  21. It wasn't all rosy in the city in the '70s. There was a lot racial tension and crime. As much as we might despise gentrification, we have to remember that the Mission and the Fillmore (and even the Haight) were not areas to be walking around in during the '70s. Also, school busing drove families (like mine) out of the city. KFRC, although a great top-40 station and popular, was never 'cool'. Cool was KSAN (or KOME for those of us down in the south bay).

    1. I agree. There was a lot of strife in the 70's from the Vietnam War and Watergate to long gasoline lines, the assassinations of Moscone and Milk, and Jonestown. There was also a long drought and water rationing in the Bay Area. It was at times a pretty dark time period.

  22. Don't forget Pat Henry's KJAZ and the great jazz clubs -- El Matador, Keystone Korner, Basin Street West; and the SF Ballet led by Michael Smuin.

    As I recall, Henry didn't allow canned commercial jingles or voice-overs on the air. Advertisers wrote copy read by the DJs live.

  23. Enjoyed every line. Nice work Rich.

  24. Love your piece Rich, and you're right, things always look better in the past through the prism of time.

    I grew up in the 1960s and remember the wild times and the good times. Going to the Fillmore and the Avalon Ballroom and Winterland to watch the likes of the Doors, Santana, an the Grateful Dead perform while squinting through a haze of marijuana smoke, this of course also being a time when all three bands were just getting off the ground and the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll was just getting revved up.

    The Giants were kings of the bay area sporting world in those days, and Candlestick, before it was enclosed and ruined by the 49ers (they also put that awful Astroturf on it, which ruined Willi McCovey's fragile knees!) was the place to be in the 60s if you were a baseball fan. Juan Marichal his high leg kick, Willie Mays running out from under his cap as he pulled in a long fly in the gap, Orlando Cepeda clubbing a long homer over the cyclone fence in leftfield, those were great memories. And those teams were in the pennant race every year from 1961-71. They may not have won too many titles, but if they played in today's format, they would have been in the post season at least four or five times!

    The 70s was an interesting period, but for sports, the focus certainly switched over to the east bay as the A's, Raiders and Warriors won five championships in five years! Stabler, Biletnikoff, Willie Brown and Gene Upshaw and those great comebacks by John Madden's teams in the final minutes. I went to so many of those games and thrilled in wonderful moments such as the 'Sea of Hands' and the 'Heidi' games, which are still talked about by longtime fans to this day.

    Then in baseball, those incredible A's teams of Bando, Reggie, Campy, Rudi, Catfish and Rollie and three straight World Series Titles. They would have won a few more had it not been for free agency.

    And of course, let's not forget the Warriors of the mid 1970s when they had Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond, Al Attles, and of course that amazing, 1975 Cinderella post season run that ended up with Franklin Mieuli's club that such heart and soul. It's so sad to know that Phil Smith, Charles Johnson, and Derrick Dickey, three key members of that team all died within the last decade at such young ages!

    The 70s unfortunately are also remembered for the Zodiac and 'Zebra' murders, and for the disillusionment of a country that felt betrayed by a dysfunctional President who never apologized or admitted he did any wrong in breaking the law and shaking the faith in our great, but flawed system.

    But the bands! Chicago, the Doobie Brothers, the Eagles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Blood Sweat and Tears, and so many others! And of course as you pointed out Rich, some great characters and a media that still had credibility and more than a shred of professionalism (unlike today's joke of a media!)

    Sportscaters such as Bill King, Lon Simmons, Monte Moore, Bob Fouts, Barry Tompkins, Jan Hutchins, and Wayne Walker, and sportswriters the likes of Bob Stevens, Glenn Dickey, Art Spander, and the late, great Wells Twombly (what an amazing word-smith he was!)

    Hey, I'm with you my friend. There are some good things happening today, it's certainly true. SF is still a wonderful city, but you're right, it's NOT the same (but what city is 40 years later?)

    But that doesn't mean that the 'good old days' of our youth shouldn't be fondly remembered here in the bay area. The young people today will probably be saying the same thing about these times we are living in today, when they get to be middle aged codgers as we are, 30 years hence!

    1. Nice post, and glad you recognized those '74-'75 Warriors too!

  25. Ahhhh .. Paoli's was great. Why have dinner? ... when a young single guy could go to Paoli's and munch on terrific 'Happy Hour' feasts, meet young wide-eyed ladies who just moved to SF from back East; the poor girls had to share tiny apartments (3 or 4 to a unit... or they lived in the famous "Residence Clubs" of SF.... oh, and those nude paintings on the walls at Paoli's? Where are they now?

    Or, one could go to the more modestly-priced Paoli's in the Richmond District that would get the "Downtown" Paoli's leftover hors d'oeuvres. Paoli's was the classy place to meet young ladies!

    Where have they gone?

  26. Rich,

    NICE! Class of 80 also! South Bay. Day on the greens, sitting in an empty Oakland Coliseum watching the A's. The Oakland Invaders. Going to chinatown to buy fireworks. I bought my first beer in SF at 16 years old. Someone please invent a time machine.

  27. The Mission in the 70s seemed safer than The Mission in the 80s!

    And famous folks heading out to La Traviata in The Mission, where the owner Zef (Albanian) had that old-world charm that attracted Pavaroti, Placido Domingo, Beverly Sills, Karl Malden and others. It's still there, run by his nephew.

    Red's Java House is a classic still here, as well as the cable car place with the pricey burgers... I don't mind the price so much, as the signs all over explaining the high prices! I have yet to be the Sears Fine Dining... is the super old guy still there?

    And venerable Tu Lan will - supposedly - reopen soon and 6th & Market. Hazaa!

  28. Van Amburg might still b e holding down an anchor position at KGO if he would have agreed to use a teleprompter.

  29. Wow...hit a nerve here...

    El Cerrito High '81...idolized Dr. Don so much I became a DJ at our high school's station KECG, it was a blast...

    Moved to the Bay in '72 from Palm Springs, I remember The Ghoul on channel 44 (Cable 12!!), Amburg/Jenson/Giddings/, all the great A's teams (and all the horrid ones), Billy Ball, going to a Raiders playoff game against the Oilers (tickets: $12!)...remember Vicki Liviakis as the news girl on Dr. Don's show on KFRC in '80 and was amazed when she showed up on KRON in the mid-2000s not looking a day over 30...oh, Creature Features with Bob Wilkins...Charlie & Humphrey, Dialing For Dollars, the Coliseum before Mt. Davis...i could go all day...

  30. Yes, to a 8 year old boy Joe Alioto would seem like a great mayor, SF would seem safer than it is today (it isn't), and the world was better!