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Growing up along Fillmore

The end of the cable car line was at Fillmore and Washington.

FIRST PERSON | Charlie Greene

The corner of Jackson and Fillmore was the center of the universe when I was growing up at 2449 Jackson Street in the 1950s and 60s. You could get anywhere in the city on four Muni bus lines — the 22-Fillmore, 80-Leavenworth, 3-Jackson and 24-Divisadero — plus the Washington-Jackson cable car.

The 22-Fillmore — the Double Deuce — was my favorite. It could take you north to the Marina or south through the Fillmore, the Mission and all the way to Potrero Hill. I used to ride my skateboard on Fillmore, holding on to the round wire holders on the back of the bus to get a running start. I will never forget the chug-a-chug sound the 3 and 22 made going up and down the hills of San Francisco.

The cable cars were really loud, but it was cool when they rang the bell letting everyone know they were taking off. My older sister would get dressed up with white gloves and patent leather shoes and ride the cable car with my mom to go shopping downtown at the City of Paris, I. Magnin’s and Blum’s. I was jealous she got to have the coffee crunch cake at Blum’s. It was the best.

The end of the cable car line was at Washington and Fillmore, also home to Joe’s Smoke Shop, which had great greasy burgers and Nehi orange sodas. There was a barber shop next door. Across the street was the Unique Market, where my mom had a charge account I used for soda, chips, candy — anything a kid could want.

I was back on Fillmore in early June for an alumni breakfast at Stuart Hall School for Boys on Broadway. I took the same sidewalk I took to school every day for eight years, walking along Fillmore from Jackson to Broadway. After breakfast I stopped to visit with Phil Kaplan at Bond Cleaners on Fillmore near Jackson. His shop is the only one left from when I was growing up. Bond Cleaners has been there since 1952, the year I was born. Tom’s drugstore was next door and had every magazine a kid could want — and some I wasn’t supposed to look at.

The really cool thing about growing up here was Alta Plaza Park. My first memory of the park was when I was four years old. I ran away from my babysitter and crossed Steiner Street for the first time alone. She quit on the spot after calling my mother to come and get me. Poor mom hurt her back walking up the hill into the park to find me. Of course I blamed it all on my sister.

The views from Alta Plaza were amazing, especially for a boy. You could see the bay with the Golden Gate Bridge on the north and a huge swath of the city on the south. You could see Twin Peaks, where rumor had it the 50-foot woman was buried. You could also see the new St. Mary’s Cathedral. Around 4 in the afternoon, the shadow on the church made a perfect shape of a woman’s breast. My friend’s father was the architect and called it “mother church.”

These days, kids communicate by texting and cell phones. But back then, my neighborhood friends and I used the fences in our backyards. We all lived on the square block of Jackson, Steiner, Washington and Fillmore. If we wanted to get hold of each other, we would climb the fences to get to our buddy’s house, then use our secret whistle to call him outside.

When I was around 14 or 15, I used to walk down Fillmore with a friend to the Fillmore Auditorium on Geary. On Sunday afternoons, Bill Graham let kids in for the concert. I will never forget the first time I saw him. He was screaming at someone, saw us and invited us upstairs for free apples and the concert. Country Joe & the Fish opened for the Yardbirds, with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. The light show was surreal.

I was a white kid growing up near a black neighborhood in the 1960s, and anything south of Pine Street was considered a little scary. I remember walking down Fillmore past Pine during the Watts riots. An elderly black man told me point blank that this was neither the time nor the place for a white kid to be out for a walk. “Just get on home,” he instructed me.

There were a lot more bars on Fillmore Street when I was growing up. There was the Hillcrest on the northwest corner of Sacramento and Fillmore, the Hideaway a few doors north and Minnie’s Can Do Club farther south. Then there was Lee’s Liquors on the southeast corner of Fillmore and Sutter. Lee’s and the corner store a block south at Post and Fillmore would (hush-hush) sneak us white boys in to buy liquor after hours.

I live in Marin County now and walking back on Fillmore is a real treat. It used to drive my kids crazy when I made them go on the tour of my old neighborhood. But to this day I remember the cable cars rumbling by my house on Jackson Street and I miss the foghorns early in the morning.

Fillmore will always be the ’hood I loved and cherished growing up.