While growing up in San Francisco in the 1950’s, the appearance of the City was not the same then as it is now today. Roads were unpaved, pedestrian walkways were under the highways, not over them as they are today. As a young boy walking through the tunnel under the Bayshore freeway, located west of Army Street which is now called Caesar Chavez Blvd. the only thing to watch for while walking through the tunnel was the occasional wino who might try to spook you, but never harm you. That same tunnel is still there today, but no longer accessible. I often wonder if the reason the tunnel was closed was because of a rise in criminal activity.
We lived in the Bernal Heights area, close to the same street where they found Patty Hearst. San Francisco is often referred to as the city of love because of the hippies who took up residence there in the 1970’s. For over a century San Francisco has been the melting pot for immigrants from all over the world. One might wonder why they took up residence there. It all started in 1849, when San Francisco became the base of the gold rush. Everyone went there in hopes of making it big. There’s very little discrimination and lots of hope in the city of love.
The city overnight, became the largest and most important maritime trade centers in the country. San Francisco harbor, known as one of the world’s best natural harbors, became the center for naval and commercial shipping. Even though the earthquake of 1906 devastated the city, San Francisco quickly recovers and continues to thrive today. As I drive around the city, I remember various aspects of my childhood. Many of the streets are named after the different immigrant ethnicities. Such street names as London St., Italy Street, Russian Road, just to name a few were the neighborhoods of those immigrants who first came to San Francisco for those parts of the world. Although San Francisco is not a very old city, the structures that remain in different neighborhoods still have the same wooden homes that were built there long ago.
Tony Bennett’s signature song, “I left my heart in San Francisco,” was written in 1953 and recorded by him in 1962. I can still remember the first time I heard him sing it. Although the lyrics of the song portray the beauty of San Francisco, it still brings tears to my eyes today. One might wonder why and the answer is simple. I was proud to be born in San Francisco, as second-generation Greek-American and although San Diego has been my home for many years, my heart is still in San Francisco. Although I really enjoy visiting the city, I would never want to live there again. Don’t ask why…okay, I’ll tell you. It’s a very expensive endeavor to live in San Francisco. Insurance rates are triple what they are in San Diego because the people there drive without regard for the law or innocents who have never lived there. A Yellow light means “hit the gas,” not proceed with caution. Of course, growing up there is an advantage to someone like me, because I know how they drive. They even park their goings on the opposite side of the street. I aunts father who was a police captain once told me, “We don’t have time to fight the traffic violations, there’s too much other crime to fight that’s more important.”
The most interesting aspect of San Francisco is it’s not that big. Travelling from one side of the city to other is only seven miles in each direction. So why does it look so big? My guess is that it’s the fact that the homes are built right next to each other. My grandfather owned two one-acre hillsides in San Francisco. My mom sold them in 1976 for $2000.00 each because we never dreamed they worthwhile to build on. In 1983, when mom’s body was transported back to the City to be buried in the Greek Cemetery with the rest of the family, I took a drive in the old neighborhood. Much to my surprise, on each of those one-acre hillsides was a massive apartment complex built on stilts. It’s indicative of the saying, “If you can see it, if you can dream, if you can afford it, it can become.”
San Francisco still thrives today, thanks to Silicon Valley. And for me, some fifty-six years later, when I hear someone say they are from San Francisco I instinctively start to sing, “I left my heart in San Francisco.” My hometown, where I spent the first ten years of my youth making memories. still is the place that I call home because it’s buried deep inside my heart.