by Evelyn Roy Kooperman
Editor’s Note: Burlingame Memories is a condensed version of the longer essay Evelyn presented to the Burlingame Club in 2012 in recognition of the community’s 100th birthday
I was one of the lucky ones who grew up in Burlingame in the middle of the twentieth century. I cannot take credit for discovering Burlingame – I was only two years old when I moved there in 1948. Before that I lived with my parents, Elsie and Rex Roy, in a small house in Normal Heights, at 35th and Copley, two blocks north of Adams Avenue.
Six days a week my father would hop into our 1935 Willys and drive to his barbershop at 3020 Juniper street (now Laila Salon). In those days 3.3 miles was a l-o-n-g commute! So, on his lunch breaks he would walk around the neighborhood looking for a closer residence. Finally he found a house for sale on San Marcos Avenue. It was the two-story frame house at 2523. Why my parents bought such a large house I don’t know; perhaps it was the only one available. (People tend not to move away once they settle in Burlingame.)
Our house on San Marcos was a wonderful house. I believe my parents paid $12,000 for it in 1948, and sold it in 1955 for $18,000. I do not remember what it looked like when we moved in (as I said, I was only two), but my father gradually made improvements.
On some of the wood trim, mirrors, furniture, and wastebaskets we applied decals, transparent pictures that were popular in the 1950s. Large catalogs of decals (similar to sewing pattern catalogs) were available at Woolworth’s and Rasco’s in North Park. My mother and I had great fun looking through these catalogs to pick out our favorites. I remember that flamingos, cute skunks, fruit and flowers were some of the ones we picked.
To supplement our income we took in roomers. For four years we had a college student living with us, and during that same period we had a mother and daughter, then another mother and daughter, and last a father and son. Because I was an only child, my parents thought it would be good for me to have a steady playmate, so I wouldn’t become spoiled. (Of course it worked!) For years I maintained that my mother didn’t work when I was young. It wasn’t until after she had passed away that it finally dawned on me that it would have been work for her to have all those people living with us. She did some – and probably all – of the cooking, cleaning, washing, and ironing for those folks.
San Marcos was a friendly street. We would listen for the tinkle of the ice cream man or the horn of Ralph Hoadley’s bakery truck. If the doorbell rang it might be the Fuller Brush Man, or perhaps a man leading a horse who, for a fee, would snap a picture of one of us sitting on his horse.
One year a portrait painter named Mr. Christmas came to each house selling his services. Soon every home on the block with children had a lovely portrait of each child in the living room. Mr. Lockhart, the piano teacher, also came to our neighborhood, and once a week many of us took lessons from him.
We purchased our World Book Encyclopedia set from Mr. Hanson, a former sixth grade teacher, who came door to door. We also had our milk delivered. The dairy supplied a check list, and my mother would put that out on the porch on delivery day in our handmade wooden milk bottle holder. A man who roomed at 2402 30th Street (at the corner of 30th and Kalmia) grew vegetables in his garden along Kalmia, and would come around the neighborhood to sell them to the housewives.
Sometimes the boys and girls would explore Switzer canyon, behind San Marcos, but our parents weren’t happy about our being down there without an older person along. At least once Lee Carroll and I climbed the trestles of the old 30th Street bridge. I know my parents wouldn’t have allowed that had they known what we were up to. It was also fun to walk across that rather rickety bridge. When we kids saw a bus coming we would run to the center of the bridge and put our chins on the railing so we could feel the full effect of the shaking. The bridge was replaced in 1957 with a landfill bridge – how dull!
We loved to go skating around the neighborhood, wearing our clamp-on skates. In reality we never could get much skating done because those darn clamps were forever coming loose or even worse – tearing off the soles of our shoes. We wore the skate key on a string around our neck so we wouldn’t lose it. Upon learning that an elderly lady on Maple Street was ill, we would walk past her house instead of skating in front of it, so we wouldn’t disturb her.
When I was in the fifth grade I earned my Girl Scout Skating badge by taking lessons at Palisade Gardens in North Park, at University and Utah. My mother made me a turquoise felt skating outfit with a pink poodle on the vest. Was I proud of that!
On hot summer days one of the parents might take us to the Municipal Pool at Morley Field (now Bud Kearns Municipal pool). We called it “The Muni.” We kids usually paddled around in the shallow end. As we got older we would swim in the deeper end. In 1956 and 1957 I took swimming lessons at the YWCA downtown, and there I learned to dive. The Muni had two diving boards, a low one and a high one, the latter of which seemed to loom miles above the pool. I never dove off that one, but my father did.
Of course we often went to Balboa Park. All the museums were free, and the Zoo was free to anyone under 16. Often we would visit a large aviary on Sixth Avenue at Ivy, or the Japanese Gardens south of the Zoo parking lot, where the Children’s Zoo is now. I especially liked climbing the high-arched red “Bridge of Long Life.”
My mother was an active member of the Burlingame Club, a woman’s organization started in 1913, and she was president from 1956 to 1957. I remember her getting ready for the meetings when they were at our house. Everything had to be “just so,” and the women wore hats and gloves. Because most of the women didn’t work outside the home, the meetings were during the day.
There was usually a guest speaker. Non-members could attend the meetings by invitation only. As I understand it, after one or two visits the membership voted on whether or not to let the woman become a member. Not all prospective members were approved. My mother thought that one of her friends was not accepted because she was Mexican and Catholic.
Most of the neighborhood children went to McKinley Elementary school (kindergarten through sixth grade), though some attended St. Patrick’s (grades 1 through 8, I believe) on 30th Street. We would walk to school every day except when it was raining. I would usually walk home, unless I had a dance lesson after school, in which case my mother would pick me up. She could always tell when I had walked through the eucalyptus grove at the southwest corner of the school yard, by the bowl, because I smelled of eucalyptus.
After graduating from McKinley School, most of us attended Wilson Jr. High and Hoover High School, both on El Cajon Boulevard. Again, great schools. We took the bus there. On the ride home it was standing room only; the students sitting often offered to hold the books of those standing.
When my family first moved to Burlingame there was a small public library at McKinley School, called the Altadena Branch. In 1949 this library and the library that had been housed at Brooklyn Elementary School were consolidated to form the Burlingame Branch Library at 2234 30th Street, ½ block south of Juniper.
My mother and I would walk there regularly. Every summer I joined the Summer Reading Club. The summer of 1954 I read the most books of anyone at that branch, and had my name card in the front window. We were sad when this tiny branch closed in 1956, and we had to trek to North Park for our books.
One of the pleasures of the 1950s was the weekly Saturday shopping trip. Back then shopping was not something done sporadically, on the way to or from someplace else. Since most of the women and children didn’t go “someplace else” to begin with, the shopping trip was the end in itself.
The shopping area closest to us was the Burlingame shopping area, centering on the intersection of 30th Street and Juniper Street. Here we could take our pick of three grocery stores. (They weren’t called “Supermarkets” back then.) We had Juniper Foods, Piggy Wiggly, and Burlingame Market. Each of these grocery stores had a meat market with a butcher who would cut meat to your specifications, weigh it, wrap it up for you in white paper, and write the price on the paper with a black grease pen.
There was also a drug store with a soda fountain (Burlingame Sundries), Cottage Bakery, a variety store (Boydstun’s Dry Goods) a dress shop (Frances Lee Shop), two small gift shops featuring high quality goods (Moreland’s and one other), three beauty shops (Friendly Beauty Parlor, Granada Beauty Salon, and Fern Street Beauty Shop), Burlingame Hardware and Paint, Burlingame Shoe Service, Eagle Laundry (a Chinese laundry), three cleaners (Sunset Cleaners, Select Cleaners, and Master Cleaners), two gas stations with auto repair shops, a liquor store (Grier’s Bottle House), two bars, 3 small cafes (Gay’s Place Cafe, PeeWee Lunch, and Bonnie Bell Cafe), Hayden’s Nursery, Hall’s Jewelry, Reed Realty, Scotty’s Television, Burlingame Barber Shop (my father’s), an upholstery shop (Wrede and Sons), and the Burlingame Branch Library.
My favorite store was a variety store called Boydstun’s Dry Goods, at 2309 30th Street. Here one could buy everything from greeting cards to notions, and from fabrics to toys and cosmetics. In the evenings my mother and I would often take a walk around the neighborhood, and I remember one evening when I saw, on display in their window, a girl’s manicure set that I thought was fit for a princess. It was in a double decker box that was filled with pink bottles and gold plastic filigree. From then on I would make sure our walks led us past Boydstun’s window. It didn’t disappoint me that I didn’t find it under the Christmas tree; just being able to look at it and wish for it was enough.
In the 1950s I knew of no family other than ours who ate yogurt. Somewhere my mother bought Yami Yogurt, which came in small glass containers like miniature milk bottles. Then, in the early 1960s, fruit-flavored yogurt started to become popular. Juniper Foods, the grocery store where we shopped, carried Knudsen yogurt in one-pint containers. The first two flavors offered were orange and strawberry. I tried them, and immediately loved the fresh fruit favor – much more fruity and less sweet and artificial-tasting than any brands I have had since then. The owner of the grocery, Daymon Ellis, told me that I was the only customer to buy yogurt.
If we needed more goods than were offered in our neighborhood shopping area, or if we just wanted a change, we would drive or walk all the was up to North Park – over a mile away! North Park was one of the medium-sized shopping areas that could be found scattered around the city. Similar areas were located in East San Diego, Hillcrest, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, Linda Vista, Clairemont, and in every smaller city and town throughout the county.
In these shopping areas we would find the same kinds of stores that we had in Burlingame, but they were larger. The mainstay in North Park was Penny’s – the first one in San Diego. Penney’s was big. It had a basement, a second floor, and even a mezzanine. While you were shopping there you would hear the buoyant bong of the elevator bells, and the elevator operator announcing, “Going up” or “Going down.”
Every shopping district had one or more large ten cent stores, and North Park had Woolworth’s. All the wares were arranged on “islands,” with an area inside for the clerk, who would ring up your purchases right there.
In addition, North Park featured many specialty stores that Burlingame didn’t have: two fabric stores, two health food stores, two hobby shops, several banks, a hat shop, three corset shops, a store for baby clothes, many shoe shops, two movie theaters, a toy store, two candy shops, a maternity shop, a pharmacy, a men’s clothing store, a sporting goods store, an office supply store, a florist, a bicycle shop, a furniture store, a drapery store, a gym, and a branch of the San Diego Gas and Electric Company, where most of the customers would walk in and pay their monthly bills in person.
The clerks in North Park were all friendly, but they didn’t know us by name.
We would seldom venture north of Highway 8, which was a narrow two-lane road back then. We had everything we needed in Burlingame, North Park or downtown.
In 1955, after seven years of living on San Marcos, my parents evidently decided they no longer wanted a two-story house. For whatever reason, we moved a few blocks away, to 2404 Pamo Avenue.
Our house was on the corner of Pamo and Kalmia. Across the street, covering the 3100 block of Kalmia, were 10 huge houses: five had two stories and five had three stories! These were the Benbough houses. Percy Benbough, a local businessman and civic leader and later mayor of San Diego, bought nine of them, and he and members of his family lived in them. Back in 1912 his friends told him he was crazy for moving so far out into the country and away from downtown!
In 1957 we purchased a portable dishwasher from MacLean’s North Park Appliance. I believe it cost over $200, which was a lot of money then. It was a fun novelty at first, but later we thought it was just as easy to wash dishes for three persons by hand.
Some sporting toys that were now becoming popular were the pogo stick and the hula hoop, and I would practice bouncing or swiveling in the backyard.
Winifred Wright, the widow of the author Harold Bell Wright, lived next door to us on Poma. He was the most popular and successful novelist of the early 1900s, with books such as The Winning of Barbara Worth, and Shepherd of the Hills. In his day he outsold Zane Grey, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack London, and Sinclair Lewis. He and his wife moved to Escondido in the late 1930s, to Quiet Hills Ranch. As they got older they found the ranch too difficult to maintain, and decided to move to town. They purchased the house at 2416 Pamo Avenue, but he died in May, 1944, just before they were to move in. His widow lived there through the early 1960s, and was a very gracious lady.
When I was very young I didn’t pay much attention to the styles of the houses in our neighborhood, but as I grew older I began to admire the variety of homes there, and to appreciate the fact that almost all the houses and yards in Burlingame were well kept. I particularly liked the three dark brown “Swiss chalet” houses on the curve of San Marcos: 2516, 2518. and 2520.
Incidentally, I know of no other streets in San Diego where so many house numbers are consecutive, as they are in the middle block of San Marcos Avenue: 2516, 2517, 2518… 2531, 2532. My mother and I wondered why that was.
It was very difficult for me to sell the family house after it had been in the Roy family from 1955 to 2006. I miss Burlingame – the pink sidewalks, the quiet streets, the unique houses – but most of all I miss the friendly, helpful caring people who live in Burlingame.
All images from the personal collection of Evelyn Roy Kooperman