Fellow Book Benders
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June, 2017                                                            Vol. 2, No. 6


    Are you ready for one last cruise along Ocean Beach in San Francisco? This is the 14th 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.  Can you spy a glimmer of your yesteryear from these tales? 
Ocean Beach, San Francisco: Part Trois
Fleishhacker Pool:

       Herbert Fleishhacker, banker and San Francisco Parks Commission president, founded both the pool and the zoo.  Fleishhacker Pool was located in the southwest corner of the City along the Great Highway at Ocean Beach.  Upon its completion in 1925, it was the largest heated saltwater venue in the world.  
      The pool measured a thousand feet long (over three football fields in length) and a hundred and sixty feet wide in the middle section, accommodating 10,000 swimmers.  The Parks Commission supposedly kept the temperature of the pool at 72 degrees as required for A.A.U. meets, but you ask anyone who swam there and they'd tell you that the water was freezing. The standard joke was that the maintenance guy would drop a lit match into the pool to heat it every morning.
      In the twenties ant thirties, five thousand spectators watched Johnny Weissmuller, the reigning freestyle champion and later of Tarzan film fame, win his events.  During World War II, the army used Fleishhacker Pool for amphibious assault training.    
      With the return of peacetime, attendance continued to be high.  For twenty-five cents, you received admission, a woolen bathing suit (which itched like heck) and a towel.   There were some twelve lifeguards on duty as well as a number of patrolling rowboats.   With a leap of faith, you could start your day by climbing thirty feet to the top of the two-tiered diving platform and execute a perfect swan dive for all to admire. Or you could do what pops did and tread water all day and never sink in the salty soup.  For lunch, corn dogs and fries from the cafeteria were the standard fare, eaten on the man-made, tree-sheltered beach.  With one last dip, you might play in the shallow end where a foot of algae awaited.  Needless to say,  mom and dad would roll down the windows on the drive home to release the stink from the backseat.
        Mission, Washington, Balboa, Sacred Heart, Riordan and other high school swim teams practiced at Fleishhacker's during the sixties.  The All-City meet was held there annually.  Sueann Schumann's husband says that between the waves and the rats it made for some difficult races.  Coaches would encourage the kids to swim faster, saying that there were sharks nearby. 
     There are countless stories of fish getting through the grates from the ocean.  Julie Mooney remembers the urban myth of an octopus living in the pool.  Jim Mackey says that when they drained the pool one time to clean it, there were many dead critters, including one of the human variety. 
      Politicians, however, had other intentions for the desirable land.  They surrounded the pool with a cyclone fence as part of a scheme to dissuade the public from using the facility while pursuing ambitions for the construction of residential properties.   Some City servants to this day believe that the collapse of the outflow pipe from the pool was the conspiracy of downtown and a small group of contractors.  In either case, nothing came of the building projects when Fleishhacker Pool closed forever in 1971.  It was filled with gravel and is presently being used as a parking lot for the zoo next door.  The pool house was occupied by the homeless for years until it was destroyed by fire in 2012.

Fleishhacker Zoo
             Construction for Fleishhacker Zoo began in 1929 on the site adjacent to the pool.  The first exhibits included Monkey Island, Lion House, Elephant House, an aviary, and bear grottoes.  These moated enclosures were among the first bar-less exhibits in the country.  Paws and noses were fingerprinted as the first wave of animals from Golden Gate Park moved into their new homes.  The world of these creatures was unlocked with your magical "elephant key". Over the talking boxes came the singing zoo commercial: "The animals are here to jump and play for you..." or something to that effect. 
                 With a bag of pink popcorn in hand, you might encounter Koko the gorilla who was born at the zoo in1971.  She has spent her entire life with humans and it is hard to believe that Koko is not someone in a gorilla suit. For example, not only does she leaf thru magazines but she licks her fingers before turning each page. Koko is able to communicate with humans, using over 1000 sign language symbols as well as 2000 spoken words.
            Roars signaled that it was feeding time for the big cats.   As a kid, you got past the intense urine smells, mesmerized by the sheer size of these beasts as they paced back and forth waiting for a slab of meat. Not all was blissful, however, in the Lion House.   In 2006 Tatiana, a 242-pound Siberian tiger, attacked a zookeeper, causing the closure of the Lion House for ten months.  One year later, the same tiger escaped from her grotto and attacked three visitors who had been teasing the tiger with sticks and pine cones.  One of the taunters was killed at the scene while another was hunted down and mauled but survived.  Unfortunately, the tiger was shot and killed by police. 
            Uulu was the oldest living polar bear in captivity. She was rescued by the S.F. zoo when she was abandoned by her mother in Manitoba, Canada.  On two different occasions last year, ten tons of snow were blown into her habitat as a treat while more than 6,000 visitors watched her roll and slide around.
           Hundreds of thousands of people have ridden the Fleishhacker Playfield Limited, affectionately known as "Little Puffer".  This fully functional miniature steam train is pushing 100 years of age.  It is one of only three remaining 22-inch gauge engines in the world.  Karen Austin remembers sneaking behind the children's petting zoo where the little train went around Boot Hill.  The area was sandy while the cypress trees clustered together to provide a secret hiding place.
            Linda Hancock would sit on the edge of the flamingo pond and dangle her feet in the water where she spotted a Chilean chick peeking out from under its mother's wing.  Leilani Chun recalls when her four-year-old brother got his head stuck between the bars surrounding Monkey Island and then fifteen years later her eldest son did the same thing!  Karen Bray's favorite recollection is when she and her friends would wait and wait for the hippo to dip its head into the pond.  It would then stick its behind in the air and twirl its tail, spewing poop in every direction as Karen and her buddies fell down laughing.  And let us not forget the orangutan who liked to show us the middle finger or the goats in the Petting Zoo that would gnaw at your clothing. Too many stories, too little space.
Beach Chalet

         The original Beach Chalet on San Francisco's Great Highway dates back to 1892 and stood directly across from the current location, perched on the beach.  It was eventually moved twenty-five blocks east to serve as a clubhouse for the Sunset District Boy Scouts at 1349 24th Ave. Mike Moore remembers when it burned down on the evening of May 12, 1958.  The property stood vacant for eight years before the City built Health Center #5.
          The present Spanish Revival building was constructed in 1925 to provide facilities for beach goers. The ground floor consisted of changing rooms and a lounge while the upstairs held a 200-seat bar and municipal restaurant.  In 1936 under the auspices of the WPA, French artist Lucien Labaut painted 1500 square feet of frescoes on the first floor.  He also helped with the frescoes at Coit Tower and George Washington High School. 
            During WWII the Army commandeered the building for use as its Coastal Defense Headquarters since the military considered the area a prime target following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At war's end, the Veterans of Foreign Wars used the upstairs while the downstairs became a biker bar of some disrepute. David Gault remembers bailing out of there during a fight and hearing the cops say to each other: "We never know who to arrest in this place, the staff or the customers."   Others think of it more kindly as a place where you could have a cold beer and play a game of pool.  No shirt, no shoes, no problem.
            In 1981 Beach Chalet was padlocked and surrounded by a chain link fence, left to remain vacant for fifteen years with the exception of feral-cat squatters and the occasional vagrants.  Jonathan Holden remembers when he and his pals would party and drink beer in the abandoned building. 
             Today there are four soccer fields out back.  Paul Madden and Henry Martinez played there for both club and high school teams. The building houses two popular restaurants. Upstairs is the Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant, making beers with such local names as Presidio IPA and VFW Light.  The downstairs displays the renovated frescoes while in the rear is the sun-filled Park Chalet Restaurant. Come for the memories, stay for the food.  You won't be disappointed.

             If you have enjoyed reading one of my novels, a short review with Amazon would be appreciated.  As Red Skelton used to say, "Good night and may God bless."

Next Time:
     In July, we will head back north to the hills of rural Sonoma County to explore the hippie communes of the sixties.  Long live the Summer of Love.   If you have a story pertaining to Morningstar Ranch or Wheeler Commune, I would love to publish it in next month's newsletter.  You can reach me through my website or email me directly at  Thanks and stay tuned.  For more information regarding my novels  or a preview of Don't Stop the Music (to be released this summer),  you can go to   

Attributions & Asides:
       A special thank you is due to anonymous subscribers for sharing their memories of Ocean Beach,   Also, a note of appreciation goes to the following individuals and organizations: Leilani Chun, Karen Bray, Mike Moore, Vicki Duffett, Nancy Tuttle Bush, Jonathan Holden, David Gault, Patty Sullivan, Karen Austin, Linda Hancock, Marsee Henon, Friends of Rio Nido ( Card Cow Vintage Postcards (, Russian River Historical Society, San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, and Wikipedia.
                To subscribe a friend to this newsletter (Fellow Book Benders) or to discover more information regarding John McCarty's novels, go to
                 Your privacy is important to me.  Be assured that I am not sharing your email or any other personal information.  JMc
Copyright © 2017 John McCarty, All rights reserved.

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