Saturday, September 19, 2009

Around and about the apartment on Durant


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For perhaps as much as a year, I guess, I lived in a building, once a large family house, I think, on the north side of Durant, behind the bank on the corner of Telegraph and Durant (the Google street-level shows that building at least, now with the present-day logo of Bank of America), opposite a big Lutheran church, no longer standing. I shared an apartment with Nancy and a girl who, probably, was the one who drew once or twice in my sketch book, named Mary Lou; at least she was there for a while. Our apartment was at the extreme rear, the bedroom at least being a made-over rear sun porch. In the sixties when I was mostly in Oregon, a copy shop, perhaps an early Kinko, was built right on the street concealing the house front, perhaps concealing its actual removal. I'm nearly sure that this was the apartment where I heard a back-porch screen door slam shut on its spring as a family went in and out next door. It certainly was the apartment where, sitting at our tiny kitchen table, we could hear through the single-board thickness of the partition wall absolutely everything in the bed on the other side (no, I never met these neighbors, as it happened, so know nothing else of them). It was here that we came to know some graduate students in History. Nancy married one of them a bit later.
I had known this address once before, when a student teacher in Art at Berkeley came to our class at Oakland High School and subsequently invited several of us to visit her in the afternoon (the same public transportation that took me to the Elmwood Theater went up to Bancroft Way, very conveniently). She had a made-over apartment in a garage between the rear of the bank and the house where our apartment overlooked it. She had large non-objective paintings and she seemed very, very sophisticated to me. If she didn't know Allen Ginsberg and David Park, she certainly mentioned them. By the time I lived in the Durant apartment I still knew no one, though David Park's wife worked in the UC Library and I knew her by sight, but David and I had taken the A train after classes at CCAC and certainly knew the King Ubu Gallery (though ignorant of the source of the name) and the City Lights Book Store, though making the acquaintance only of stacks of pre-War magazines, Vanity Fair by choice.
(I am reminded of one of the sensory memories of living on Kittredge: the Berkeley electric train, the F train, which ran up the middle of Shattuck Avenue, ringing its bell to warn intersection traffic, was as audible as the early-morning fog horns on the Bay, and right on schedule. When the electric train became the F bus line, I would wake up on schedule, not hearing it, for weeks afterward.)
The main things about living almost on Telegraph Avenue, and then at 2308 Haste, less than two blocks from it, was that this mid- to late-1950s milieu was my village: not where I hung out, not where I remember coming with my "mom" or with friends, but where I lived. Having no car I did everything, major and minor, within a mile of the UC campus, and that on the south and west sides of it, mostly. The F train or bus made San Francisco easily accessible; the 51 bus went to Oakland (I forget which bus I took to the Tower Theater at 51st and Telegraph, which was in Oakland, for first-run foreign films, but those were special occasions since by then we had not only the Elmwood but our own Cinema Guild). A cross-town bus, on Dwight Way, took me to the Poultry Market for as long as I worked there; I remember once or twice taking a Final Exam with my feet tucked behind, under my seat, because I'd barely gotten back in time to take it, and my saddle shoes had chicken guts traces all over the toes. Classes I arranged with a view to my work hours, but Finals were scheduled beyond anyone's control. That felt heroic, but I don't think anyone noticed.
Towns and cities are always changing. For nearly 30 years I've watched Baton Rouge, LA, changing. Businesses come and go. In Berkeley, though, Telegraph Avenue, south of campus, suffered badly, being smaller than San Francisco, perhaps. Everybody's runaway children attracted, at best, all the motorcycle gangs and everything else that preyed on the kids. Haight-Ashbury today is not nearly so altered. Of course, it is several years since I visited. Amsterdam and Rome are not nearly so junky as they were five years ago.
If I could find anything describing this neighborhood in my youth as I actually remember it, I wouldn't try to evoke it here. But only the journalists' Berkeley survives on line.
I think that radical change began with Sproul Plaza, a planned open space, instead of Telegraph Ave. ending at Sather Gate with original sidewalks, shops still lining the west side and the Administration Building, as it was simply called, on the east side, practically off campus. The Bears' Lair was still in Stephens Union. Among the shops was a branch of Roos Bros., high quality fashionable clothing, and a hangout called the Southgate for wannabe philosophers (the coffee shop in the Annex to Dwinelle Hall was still brand new and was not yet a real hangout). There was, as I recall, a Rexall drugstore. When I was an undergraduate, the tenants of these buildings could not renew their leases and closed, one by one; Roos Bros. moved around the corner to Bancroft Way, until, like everything else supported mainly by the Greek living groups and other well-to-do nearby residents, it closed. I think that Sees Candies was in that block, too. Turning west onto Bancroft Way, there were still merchants on the north side as well as the south side of the street. There was, for example, that Maoist book store that I never saw anyone patronize, so it must have been sustained by, well, by Maoists. A door or two from it was the sandal shop which made, by hand, sandals shaped to one's own foot, which they would fix or alter as needed. For those who did not object to the attitudes of the women who owned it (it was plain that making sandals was a favor, not just a business, and you were expected to approve of them, too), the sandals were wonderful, even worth their price, which I could not afford, but I had friends of both sexes who owned and treasured theirs. I think there was a jewelry shop, too, real designer jewelry, silver, not the jangly bangles later sold on the street pavement. These disappeared when the Bears' Lair and the new UC bookstore and assorted appurtenances were built, not to mention Zellerbach Hall so that Berkeley no longer had only the City-High School auditorium at whose opening in my teens I had sung in a mixed choir a generation earlier. Of course, the Department of Music on campus has its own chamber music auditorium with a baroque organ.
On the east side of Telegraph between Bancroft and Durant were, inter alia, Sather Gate Books and Berkeley Commercial Photo (I still have a few of their envelopes with the negatives and prints that they processed). Sather Gate Books was a conventional bookstore that also sold good letter-writing supplies and greeting cards, and so on, but was by ordinary standards a far from contemptible book store, even for Berkeley. It lasted till the late 1960s, I know, because I got my sister's children gift books when they visited me and my niece Debby, then only a year old, a genuine Raggedy Andy doll, which she tells me she loved for years. This is the kind of shopping that you no longer can do on Telegraph Avenue, though, it must be said, the campus is still a joy for children. Though taken in the 1960s, I attach here photos of my niece with her doll and of the boys at "Ludwig's Fountain" (like Humphrey GoBart for the shuttle bus, typical Berkeley humor: the Ludwig in question was a German shorthair pointer that came daily, for years, to enjoy being a waterdog in a fountain that really had no other distinctions):






In the group picture, the three boys in trousers are the same ones I photographed by Ely Cathedral (see above), and the little boy in short pants and the little girl are my brother's children, also visiting that day. The fountain was from the time it was built practically the center of Sproul Plaza, since the shops and the Bears' Lair and Zellerbach Hall were at a lower level, to the west.
On the west side of this block, between Bancroft and Durant, was one, at least, of the big independent bookstores and a record store (though I bought most of mine from the back of UC Corner) and, if it wasn't farther up, Sees Candies. A very fine women's shoes, I think was on the NW Corner of the intersection; I think it was shoes before it was very nice, really fashionable, really wearable women's clothing, and I've been trying for days to remember its name. Someone on line (to which eventually I resorted) mentioned "Nicole", but that is not a name I remember, thought it might be the same shop. We bought fine sweater sets at Roos Bros., but dresses usually elsewhere.
I think that the News, Paperbacks, and Records called UC corner was on the SW corner of Telegraph and Durant; I already have described it as my Second Campus, or Open University. Between Durant and Channing there was still a wonderful Variety Store, large, name forgotten, with everything inedible that one needed. For example, perfectly useful Japanese flatware and knockoffs of Arzberg, till one could order the real thing from Frazer's across the street. Less satisfactory, reduced imitations of the famous canvas-seated, continuous steel rod framed chairs: the imitations were lighter, thinner, hinged pot metal, and cheaper, thinner canvas, pieced besides. I'd love to have my big orange canvas vintage butterfly chair! Most of those sold now, when you can find any, have joints and are poor. The real McCoy, like everything of lasting beauty, came from Frazer's. When I was at CCAC we were sent up to Berkeley to study design there. I craved everything they had, and Williams Sonoma (for example) can't match them on every size and shape of wine glasses. At my age, of course, some of my favorite chairs are hard to get out of. Later, the premises of that variety store served other tenants; for a while it was an excellent cafeteria run by Iranians. Then there were more bookstores, an Asian imports store (small and actually Asian). Opposite, starting at the SE corner of Durant and Channing, there was another News Stand. Then Larry Blake's, which is still there. The tossed salad was famous, justly famous. Then they sold beer downstairs and called that the Rathskeller. What I can't remember is the name of the place next south of Larry Blake's. It started in very high style, sold mostly beer and snacks and congeniality for those who really liked its Eames chairs. It wasn't so noisy or so crowded with fraternity boys as Larry Blake's, but neither did it last so long. The big specialty cafes, with big espresso machines and nice pastries, seem to have put out of business all but Larry Blake's; the first one, at the NE corner of Haste and Telegraph, took the whole premises of a Lucky supermarket. That was shortly before I went to Greece.
I simply can't remember everything, and I've left out the grocers so far. There was another store, with china and other small furnishings that had some wonderful things. At the NW corner of Telegraph and Channing there had been a store as old as the recording industry, perhaps, a record store that barely survived into the LP era and did not survive into stereo. It was set up for the 78s that had prevailed for so long and was called Art Music Company. A place that mattered. They would order 78s from Europe for you. They had listening booths, an amenity incompatible with vinyl records that required very nice handling and very good pickups and frequently replaced styluses. After we moved to Berkeley and lived for a while when I was still in high school at 1736 Hearst Avenue, I would go and haunt Art Music Company whenever I could. And now I remember: in the 1960s there was a women's wear shop, a good one, which I patronized whenever I came down from Oregon, where Art Music had been. Art Music was the sponsor of Doug Pledger's Polka Party program on KSMO, which became KKHI when stereo FM came in. By subscribing to KPFA-FM for an extra $10 one got an FM tuner, which one put into one's component system. It drifted off station but it worked fine if you tended to it. KSMO and then KKHI also broadcast Music of the Italian Masters, the gift of Frank de Bellis (to whose memory Henry Clay Lindgren dedicated the second volume of his publication of Ancient Greek Bronze Coins). In those days, too, on regular commercial radio, the Giannini family, the Bank of America, la nostra banca, sponsored the Italian-language half hour on KRE-AM, with good Italian singers on all the songs and arias that Beniamino Gigli and Luciano Pavarotti grew up on.
Maybe I'll write in another posting on the Berkeley Market, the Berkeley Grocery, the Blue and Gold Market, and the Garden Spot, as well as the Viennese bakery still run by an elderly Viennese couple. They were the ones who made cats' paws with real almond paste filling. But I'll close for today with the King Pin, which has survived, as well it deserves, still making donuts on the premises. It seems to have expanded a little but the production (in a photo on line) seems to be the same, and, with one omission, so are the donuts. I strongly recommend the raised dark chocolate dough with dark chocolate icing, though the others are good, too. The one that is missing was a delectable thing the size and shape of a Danish 'snail' which they called (I'm almost sure) a Bismarck. It was the sort of pastry that wouldn't hurt you if you ate it only two or three times a year... The King Pin was at Dwight Way. It had little booths, ideal for a couple, served over a divider as in a highway diner. It refilled your coffee mug, too. It was usually busy, but not too full, and unless you saw that it would be inconsiderate to others, the King Pin did not mind if you sat and talked for an hour. Add to that, it was a clean, well lighted place, par excellence.

If only I had known that no one else was taking pictures of Telegraph Avenue in the 1950s. It was simply our street, and, like Greeks in a village, we came out and strolled and browsed after supper almost every evening that we weren't at work. In the 1950s, no one wanted a house with a yard; we had our Avenue, with all its bookstores, with all its wonderful windows full of treasures, and no need even for a single policeman. It was better than a village. It was our true ivory tower.