Fellow Book Benders
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    This is the 28th edition of Fellow Book Benders, a free monthly online newsletter about the ridiculous truth and historical tidbits of San Francisco, the Russian River and beyond.  This month we revisit North Beach in San Francisco for the second part of a two-part series.  Enjoy! For more info on my novels or to purchase one, visit
         August, 2018                                               Vol. 3, No. 8
North Beach, Part II
      The influx of writers into North Beach, San Francisco, propelled a beat movement, which began in 1953. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road drew national attention.   When the police tried to suppress Allen Ginsberg’s (upper right photo) poem, “Howl”, the resulting media frenzy backfired.   Young people flocked to North Beach in an attempt to escape the drab routine of the nine-to-five, gray-flannel syndrome.   
        Being an artist was considered a legitimate occupation—the same as that of a fisherman. Vesuvio Café on Columbus Avenue (upper left photo) opened to accommodate these new residents. Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti launched City Lights Pocket Book Shop (lower left photo) next door.
       The Cellars, Co-Existence Bagel Shop, Coffee Gallery and The Place were other popular venues for these free-spirits. A few older local entrepreneurs, however, often vied with consumers over the “value” of these bohemians. Charges were placed with police that some of these establishments, such as Caffe Trieste (lower right photo), sold bootleg whiskey. A small conservative residential group demanded a crackdown in the summer of 1957.
     A petition was submitted to city officials complaining that these “maladjusted anti-social individuals” roiled the night air with their fights, obscenities, singing, and musical instruments.  With the increase in both harassment and rents, this coffee-house clientele began to drift away. Grant Avenue, once described as “an open-air mental hospital three blocks long”, was being vacated.
Side Bar:
     Dominic Gomez: "As Maynard G. Krebs (T.V. show-The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) would say: 'Like wow, Daddy-O!'"
   North Beach used to be part of the Barbary Coast, a district known during the gold rush for prostitution and crime. During the 1960s, adult entertainment returned to Broadway as a sort of cheeky celebration of those Wild West days. The Condor Club opened in 1964 as America’s first topless bar. Carol Doda (upper near left photo) would make her grand entrance dancing seductively atop a piano, which was lowered from on high. She enhanced her bust from size 34 to 44, becoming known as Doda’s “twin 44s”. Much later in 1983 this same piano would accidentally rise to the ceiling, crushing worker “Jimmy the Beard” Ferrozzo who was making love to his girlfriend.  At least he died with his boots on...but not much else.
          Art Norack owned or was a partner in almost every club along the strip.  A partial list of his establishments included El Cid, the Peppermint Tree, Pierre’s and Basin Street West.  Tom Sullivan remembered (R.I.P.) dancing on stage with a topless performer at the Peppermint Tree. The girl was cooperative, perhaps enjoying the attention her act received from the street. No less than thirty Japanese sailors in their white uniforms stood head-piled-atop-head within the doorframe.       
          Two dancers that rivaled Carol Doda were Yvonne D’Angers and Gaye Spiegelman (upper right photos). Born in Tehran, Iran, D’Angers’ nickname was Persian Lamb. Her main haunt was the Off Broadway on Kearny Street. In a publicity stunt, D’Angers chained herself to the Golden Gate Bridge to protest her deportation to Iran, which was overturned in 1968.
        Gaye Spiegelman was a graduate of Santa Rosa High School and danced at the El Cid where the marquee billed her as “The Topless Mother of Eight”. Her act also included singing. She recorded a not too popular single with Accent Records titled “Momma Wants to be a Go-Go Girl”. In a tragic car accident in 1968, she died along with three of her children.
Side Bars:
         Steve Carman: "I went to school with one of the eight kids. Steve Spiegleman was in my 6th grade class. We went to his house after school once in a while to see his Mom sleeping on the sofa. She was billed as Big Mama Spiegleman, and big she was. Horny 11 yr old kids!"
Dona Hansen: "Art Norack started out as a barker in front of Pierre’s while I danced next door at Tipsy’s. All the owners of the clubs used to switch their signs around. Big Al’s might move their sign to Tipsy’s while that sign would go to another club."
          Debbie Vigil: "Do you remember the go-go dancers along the sidewalk as you drove down Broadway Street before you got on the freeway?"

          Besides the strip clubs, there was family entertainment along Broadway as well during the 1960s. Basin Street West (far left photo) featured breakfast shows, which started around 2:30 a.m. On one particular morning Tina Turner was the featured star. Janis Joplin, who had drifted in after her performance at Winterland, was in the audience. When introduced, she jumped on stage as Tina gave her the old “stink eye”. A vocal duel ensued for the next two hours (upper left photo) where Tina would belt out “Proud Mary” before handing the mic to Janis with a dare. Janis took on the challenge with “Piece of My Heart” and so it went on until the house lights came on, forcing them to stop at 4:30 a.m. to the chagrin of all present.
           In an annual act of charity, comedian Redd Foxx (upper right photo) and other performers along Broadway made a field trip to San Quentin to entertain the boys for the Christmas holiday.   Coincidentally, there had been an escape attempt the week before that failed because the rope the escapees were using broke. At the end of his act, Foxx invited the inmates to visit him at Basin Street West “if you can get a new rope.”
          Another venue, The Red Garter (lower left photo), was singularly responsible for reviving the banjo craze. Harry Higgins and his band played for eighteen years until the club closed in 1976. For five nights a week, nearly 500 people packed the house. It was a beer joint with a New Orleans vibe. Sing-along songs such as “When the Saints Come Marching In” or “California Here I Come” were among tourists’ favorites. Higgins logged more than 25,000 hours, setting a national record for the longest running banjo player.
Side Bars: 
        Pat O’Brien: "The Red Garter on Broadway with guitar, banjo and gut buckets got the crowds singing and responded to calls for special songs like "Oh, how I wish I was in Peoria", which we didn't know in those days that Peoria was famed for its prostitution."
Rich Caselli: "Worked at the Red Garter during DDS school. Great job-much fun."
          Italian restaurants in San Francisco are articles of export. The energies of many immigrants from Italy to the U.S. went into introducing their “old country” culinary expertise to create a viable industry in San Francisco. Such efforts were not officially recognized by the critics until Holiday Magazine made note in the 1950’s. Fior d’Italia (far left photo) is the city’s oldest surviving Italian restaurant established in 1886. Buon Gusto has created the best sausage since the seventies, featuring Genoese pasta with pesto as well as polenta with cioppino.
            Lucca Deli has served the Marina District at the same location since 1929. Salami hanging from the ceiling and wheels of cheese in open racks introduce you to employees (near left photo) who still roll their ravioli by hand to achieve a light and tender product.
           Dante Benedetti (R.I.P.) would drag wayward kids off the streets to work in his New Pisa restaurant (near right photo) alongside his daughters Luna and Carmen. Dante (who later became the baseball coach at U.S.F.) is credited with discovering the DiMaggio brothers, replacing their fishing poles with baseball bats. Such examples of the Italian spirit still exist today through these establishments and so many others despite the winds of change.
           As Italians leave for the suburbs, Chinese occupy empty storefronts in North Beach. Hunan’s restaurant (far right photo) is a typical example of this shift. Also, the high rents of Telegraph Hill and the surrounding neighborhood are introducing a mixed bag of “outsiders”.
Side Bars:
      Cathy Barry: "Loved Capps Corner, Venetos and Ceasars. So sad they are all gone. So many wonderful memories at those places in SF. Too many changes."
Mary Ontano: "Went to Remo's, the New Tivoli. I loved that we had a curtain and were in our own private family space."
Jim Geracimos: "Family went to Granada Cafe on Mission every Wednesday for years."
Upcoming Events:
I'll be at the Rio Nido Art Festival this Sunday, August 5th, as well as in the Kraft Building at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Friday, August 10th.  Stop by and say hello!
This last Saturday, July 28th, KRCB hosted a broadcast celebrating Rio Nido and "memories that linger".  It was great sharing the stage with Gaye LeBaron, Claire Harris, The Slavyanka Russian Chorus, the THUGZ band and so many others.  The show will air on KRCB-FM, radio 91.1 on Sunday, August 19th, at 4:00 p.m.
Reviews are trickling in for Don't Stop the Music:
        “For those who remember the era (Summer of Love), Don't Stop the Music is a delicious summary of memory.”
         San Francisco Museum and Historical Society
        "John McCarty has put together a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love (1967) that is cheerful and entertaining and even pays tribute to the beauty of west Sonoma County..."
          Sonoma County Historical Society

          “A trip back in time to the 1960’s San Francisco Fillmore District, up through the Marin & Sonoma coastline to the Russian River hippie heyday and the peace, love, and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.  A nostalgic read.”
            Russian River Historical Society

            "Somehow McCarty manages to build sympathy for his motley crew as they embark on a classic road trip from San Francisco to rural northern California."
            Northern California Fulbright Association

         "Familiar folks, home-grown scenery, and candid attitudes will put you happily in the middle of all the action."
            Stephen Gross, The Press Democrat

           "All along there is danger, excitement, budding love and a number of unrighteous brawls.  The author knows what he writes about.”

            Bob Jones, Sonoma West Times & News

Attributions & Asides:
       A special thank you is due to anonymous subscribers for sharing their memories of  North Beach.   Also, a note of appreciation goes to the following individuals and organizations: Tom Sullivan (R.I.P.), Steve Carman, Dona Hansen, Debbie Vigil, Pat O'Brien, Rich Caselli, Cathy Barry, Mary Ontano, Jim Geracimos, Robin Monroe (website designer), The Press Democrat, Card Cow Vintage Postcards, Sonoma County Historical Society, Russian River Historical Society, San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, and Wikipedia.
                To subscribe a friend to this newsletter go to and scroll to the bottom of any page to "Subscribe To Our Newsletter".
                 Your privacy is important to me.  Be assured that I am not sharing your email or any other personal information. As Red Skelton used to say, "Good night and may God bless."   JMc
Copyright © 2018 John McCarty, All rights reserved.

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