My Awesome (1940s) Neighbors

Via Burrito Justice, I started looking into the National Archives’ released census data on who exactly lived at my address (via 1900 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps)- the corner of Columbus (formerly Montgomery) and Taylor, in North Beach. The entries are fascinating, especially when I started doing the math. The details are fun.

I decided to focus on two locations that are relatively indicative of the neighborhood.

The Widow’s Lodging House

This unit above represents one corner of my current modern apartment building, from a 1900 Sanborn map. on that premisis was a lodging house/hotel, run by a widowed 38 year-old, Ethil Cramer (sp?), from Kansas City, Oklahoma, more recently of Montana. Her son, Jack Harroun, aged 21 worked as “host.” This may be him- a veteran of the USS San Francisco 1942 attack on Guadalcanal, though it’s unlikely he joined up so fast and went active, and he’d have to be 82 in the photo. I have more faith in another report that at age 41 he died, because his birthplace in this report matched up with the Census- as Oregon. Sad, to die so young, in 1962, born in 1919. Let’s hope it’s the vet. Ethil Cramer is impossible to find- her literal name doesn’t match any records, and if it’s misspelled, and should be Ethel Cramer, it’s a very common name.

She had him at 17, and with his different name, I wonder if it’s an earlier marriage or out of wedlock. She had other income, probably from her inheritance. He made $900 that year. She pays $40 for that unit, which is quite large by all accounts. Though, I have such an old map it’s hard to tell what was actually built there- interesting is that she’s renting it, it’s not owned by her.

Almost all 6 tenants were older single men, or widowers, including a spunky “Irish Free State” widow, Catherine Monague. Think what she’s seen – born in 1875, living in San Francisco, through both World War I and II, and obviously has an opinion in telling the Census worker that she’s not just form Ireland but the “Irish Free State.” I could find a record of an early Irish-Texan cattle rancher named John Montague, who married an Irish Catherine Montague, but it’s a pretty common name and I have no way of verifying.

Dying to find her on Google somewhere. She’s living on some kind of non-wage income too. One 34-year old American Dominico Grillo, born in Michigan, recently of Glouster Massachusetts (good fishing?), and unemployed. The three guys older than him are also a cannery worker at a fruit packing plant, a fisherman, and a sardine fisherman (sometimes they differentiate from “crab”- I find the specificity endearing) earning from 600 to 200 a year. Josefa Nikka was a 51-year old Hungarian waiter, who earns 1,000 and had a full year of work,. There’s another interesting character – the resident who mostly represents modern North Beach. James Anderson, 62, from California, who earns $500/year as a doorman at a bar, 40 hours a week. Also the divorced, with a big D, 58 year-old Italian Antonio Gambuzzo, who works as a fruit-packer at the cannery and has “other income.” My favorite occupation in scanning these – the “macaroni drier” at the “pasta factory.” Awesome! Also- a vinegar works was right across the street, where a Mongo Networks telecom company now sits (sad face).

Big Amazing Italian Fisherman’s Family

On the little alley Water, at #67, currently an architecture firm, housed 10 Russo’s.

The patriarch, Giacomo, was a fisherman, his son a construction worker, his next son a messenger boy for PG & E (“telegraph company”)- I wonder if this is the one downtown. He has a 2nd grade education; his wife a 3rd grade. They’re from Italy, their first son was born there, then they immigrated. All the kids are in school, and the eldest two have graduated. As you can see from the Sanborn map, this is a tiny, 1-level place. I can’t imagine how they’re in there. Also, his wife had their last child at age 44. Their father worked 50 hours this week. Giacomo also has “extra income” listed- inheritance? Side line of work? He may own other properties- he owns this house, paying what looks like $15/month mortgage and an annual income of $1300 a year.

According to this, average home income nationwide was $20,000 in 1940, roughly half what we have now. According to that, almost all my neighbors were very low income, which I could tell by a couple of markers- the high density, the level of unemployment, the very low level of ownership. Also, kids contributing to monthly income is a big sign. Still, as we know it’s a thriving community with various other incomes, and it seems like even then people traveled far and wide to live here.

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