Fellow Book Benders
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    This is the 27th 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 venue allows me to promote my novels, etc.  New followers are deeply appreciated.  Spread the word and feel free to share.  This month we visit North Beach in San Francisco for the first part of a two-part series.  Enjoy!
         July, 2018                                               Vol. 3, No. 7
North Beach, Part I
      North Beach, the early days, was an actual beach, a landfill dating back to the middle of the 19th century. Warehouses and wharves were built on the newly formed shoreline (top left photo). Due to the proximity of the docks, the southern half of the neighborhood south of Broadway was home to the infamous Barbary Coast.
      Washington Square was one of the first parks designated in San Francisco, established in 1847 (bottom left photos). Grant Avenue is the oldest street in San Francisco. Upper Grant, as the locals refer to it, was the center of many cafes and vintage boutiques including Café Trieste and The Saloon, both of which date back to 1861.
       After the 1906 earthquake and fire, Germans, Russians and East Europeans moved out while Italian migration into the neighborhood continued. By the 1920s, North Beach was predominantly Italian and known as “Little Italy".
      North Beach during Prohibition (right photo) remained a wide open city. San Francisco officials rejected the idea of enforcing the law against alcohol, allowing its citizen to continue their gin-guzzling ways. William Smith recalls the stories of his great grandparents operating Tony's restaurant and hiding homemade wine in the walls, which was served to select customers. 
       The mafia from the East Coast moved in to control the speakeasies and flow of illegal booze. In 1928 a four-year power struggle for control of North Beach resulted in a blood bath that included the deaths of five different Sicilian bosses all of whom had brief reigns in the district. In 1932 at the Del Monte Barber Shop at 720 Columbus Avenue (North Beach Citizens’ headquarters today), Luigi Malvese was gunned down in a hail of bullets with the killer applying the coup de grace behind the ear. The manager of the shop dragged Malvese out to the gutter before returning inside to resume business.
       The City that knew how was first in both alcohol and gin mills per capita during this period. What later became Mooney’s Irish Pub had a speakeasy in its basement next to a bocce ball court. If there was an unexpected raid, the owner simply changed the color of the curtains on the storefront windows as well as a couple of digits in the street address. In 1933 the Volstead Act was repealed. The bootleg trade dried up and most of the mafia boys left town at the behest of the SFPD.

   Optimism abounded in San Francisco like so many other cities throughout the nation during the 1920s. It was a time of easy credit and installment buying. Until it wasn’t. On Black Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1929, the stock market crashed and sent everything spiraling downward. Banks closed, credit dried up. The exuberant hurly-burly that was North Beach stuttered to a crawl. It seemed everyone was out of work. There was not much meat but fish from nearby Fisherman’s Wharf was cheap. You ate a lot of soup as well— split pea, lentil, vegetable soup. Occasionally you might splurge and eat at Lucca’s on Powell and Francisco Streets in North Beach. It had a sign: “All you can eat for 50 cents.” Another local bargain was the San Remo Hotel (top left photo), where you could order a Genoa-style full course dinner for less than a buck.
        You sought distractions from the Depression, playing Monopoly or listening to the Philco radio, which ran on vacuum tubes and resembled the doorway of a medieval cathedral.   Jack Benny or Fibber McGee and Molly might hold your interest for an hour before turning the dial to enjoy popular tunes of the day such as “Pennies from Heaven”, “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “We’re in the Money”.   For a nickel (probably saved from your paper route or selling doughnuts door-to-door), you could venture down to the Palace Theater (later known as the Pagoda Palace) near Washington Square to watch You Can’t Take It With You or The Wizard of Oz. Local barber Pete Curreri (R.I.P.) recalled the stories of kids engaging their local hero, Joe DiMaggio, in stick ball at the playground on Greenwich Street (bottom left photo). At Seals Stadium on 16th Street and Bryant you could sit in the bleacher seats, which were 50 cents for adults and 10 cents for kids. All of the above helped to forget the fact that your parents didn’t have jobs until World War II kicked everything back into high gear again.
        "The Last Great War" saw the government classify thousands of Italian immigrants as “enemy aliens” after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Among those were Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio.  Each was required to carry photo ID booklets at all times and were not allowed to travel outside a five-mile radius from their home without a permit. Giuseppe’s fishing boat was seized and he was barred from San Francisco Bay.
           Nevertheless, their son Joe, like most others, felt obligated to do their part.   DiMaggio traded a $43,750 Yankees salary for a payment of $50 each month when he chose to enlist in the army on February 17th, 1943 (right photo).   Others made sacrifices as well.
         Citizens of North Beach utilized horse-drawn carts to save gas for the war effort (far right photo). Teenagers, with their binoculars, manned two-story towers along the sand dunes of the Richmond District as well as atop Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, scanning the skies for trouble. Lou Marcelli remembers his father fishing for shark. Its liver was prized by bomber pilots for improving night vision. Italian engineers and architects mobilized to help North Beach residents build bomb shelters in backyards.  Carol Inocencio's dad was an air raid warden.  She remembers looking out the window of her home at 280 Green St. and staring at the Ferry building in the dark. 
        Others would make the ultimate sacrifice. Almost 1,900 San Franciscans would be killed in the line of duty before the war ended. The sight of black hearses at St. Peter and Paul’s Church became so common that Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote a poem about it, about the old men sitting on a bench in Washington Square, watching.

       If you have enjoyed reading one of my novels, a short review with Amazon would be appreciated and much needed.  One or two sentences would suffice.  This is an important element in book selling.

Next Time:
   In August we will revisit North Beach in San Francisco for the second part of a two-part series. Do you have a favorite historical tale or personal adventure relating to North Beach?  If so, I would love to publish it next month in Fellow Book Benders. You can reach me through my website or email me directly:  Thanks and stay tuned. 

        If you spied a film crew along the banks of the Russian River recently, they are shooting scenes for Katrano, a documentary inspired by my first novel, Memories That Linger.
       On another note, Don't Stop the Music won a Notable Indie Book Award in a national writing contest.

Where to purchase my latest novel:
      Don't Stop the Music is an award-winning, action/adventure story that celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love.  It is a wild ride through the streets of the Haight and Fillmore Districts of San Francisco culminating in the historic Grateful Dead concert in Rio Nido along the Russian River in 1967.
         The paperback as well as the kindle version are available on Amazon.  If you want to save on shipping and handling charges, you can purchase a signed copy through my website at

          My novels are also available at Hand Goods, Occidental; Gold Coast Coffee, Duncan Mills; Jenner by the Sea Gifts, Jenner; Larks Drugs, Five & Dime, and Russian River Art Gallery, Guerneville; Bia's Coffee, Monte Rio; Gaia's Restaurant, Santa Rosa.
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: William Smith, Pete Curreri, Lou Marcelli, Carol Inocencio, 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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