Lined up for DAYS… (at Mama’s On Washington Square)
Mama’s has been a popular café in the North Beach section of San Francisco since I was a child, probably earlier…
If you were one of these people in line and you looked across the street toward the photographer (Daryl, that I attended school with), you’d see the Liguria Bakey on the corner that makes, hands down, the best Focaccia bread (pizza we called it) in the City, maybe in the US. Go early they sell out by 10 AM.
Next to that is Mok Studio - or it used to be. Peter Mok and my Dad worked together years ago in advertising. Peter was super good at pen and ink drawings. Did some wonderful drawings of Victorian houses.
1708 STOCKTON STREET
Above Mok’s at 1708 Stockton was my grandparent’s apartment. They rented the apartment for 70+ years and never bought it. Luckily, it was rent controlled. When my Grandfather moved out in 2000 he was paying something like $250/month* for a 2-bedroom apartment with roof access, a balcony, a garage, and he’d rented all of the basements on the block for storage. Sweet deal. When I was growing up, he grew pot** on the roof along with tomatoes, basil, peppers, at the like. If the police had raided his stash he was going to throw my great grandmother under the bus. She had used hemp to make chair seats in Italy. The apartment had a terrific view of the church and Coit tower from the roof.
My Mom grew up here, and my aunt. My sisters and I rotated weekends staying with my grandparent’s until we were nearly in college.
WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK
There’s a park just out of frame, where Old Italian men and hippies hung out in the ’60s/’70s. They held free concerts in the park at that time, and I saw both Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin perform. Later, Jefferson Starship.
SAINTS PETER AND PAUL CATHOLIC CHURCH
Around the corner from Mama’s is the big Gothic church — Sts. Peter & Paul, where most of my extended family members were baptized / confirmed / married / had their Memorial Mass. When I was engaged in high school, I wanted to get married here. Down the street is the Italian Athletic Club - a big hall used constantly it seemed for our family’s wakes and wedding receptions.
GREEN STREET MORTUARY
Farther down the street is the Green Street Mortuary. My grandmother used to take me there all of the time as a kid. We’d go into each of the rooms look in the casket, kneel down and say a prayer. Move to the next room. As we left she’d say - I knew 6 people today. Guess she just wanted to see who had died in the neighborhood. Then, we’d go shopping. I didn’t think this was weird at all, until I was older and discovered that she did not do this with my sisters. ;)
A little father down the street, stockton joins Broadway and Chinatown begins. On the border between Little Italy and Chinatown were a couple of bakeries where in the old days Chinese woman sat in the windows and made fortune cookies - my grandmother would let me stand and watch them for as long as I wanted. I was fasinated. To make a fortune cookie, hot batter is poured onto a little griddle, and impossibly fast, a woman adds a fortune, and folds the dough into quarters before it cools. I’d beg my Grandmother to buy the messed up cookies — $1 for a huge bag. Some cookies held 50 fortunes, some cooled too quickly and were nearly flat. There were always a ton of loose fortunes in the bags. That was cool Some cookies were pretty much okay…
I never ate at Mama’s until I was an adult. Kevin took me there for breakfast, shocked that I had never been. We stood in a line, not unlike this one, for an hour waiting for a table.
*At $100/month over 70 years my grandparent’s would have paid $84K in rent
**My Grandfather was quite the rascal, he used to roll enormous joints and walk down the street smoking them. He liked to see people’s reactions. Apparently, he and his brothers Joe and Chris all grew pot and fought over the other “borrowing” from their stash.