A multimedia-enhanced photoblog about San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood


A Tale of “Twin Peaks,” aka Making Sure This Blog Includes Strippers

Image from http://wapedia.mobi/en/Carol_Doda

My blog title references strippers, and yet, until now, I haven’t delivered on the promise of naked women (or men) (Not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s not too surprising, really, since strip clubs really aren’t my thing, and besides, cameras are verboten inside- which makes them as realistic a port of call for me as Siberia in the dead of winter.

You see, I live in Oakland,  and when I come to North Beach I do so carrying 40lbs of camera gear on my back, even if I’m only passing through. What if an earthquake happened, or a police chase went down right in front of me? I would hardly have time to drive back to Oakland, (if I even could), just to get my gear. No, I come prepared, ALL the time. Which brings me back to strippers. If I can’t bring my cameras inside, well why bother…… But hey, maybe they’re your thing, that’s fine.

What does interest me though, is history, and North Beach’s history is inextricably intertwined with the stripping profession, thanks to Carol Doda. Doda was a waitress at The Condor Club, (which still stands at the corner of Broadway and Columbus), and is widely regarded as one of the first topless dancers in the country. In 1965 this behavior brought her international fame and notoriety, but also some unwanted legal attention- she was arrested along with the then-owner of the Condor Club for lewd and indecent behavior. After winning her legal case she returned to stripping, becoming one of the first all-nude dancers in the country.

Images from: vintageconcertposters.com and chrystelle.blogg.se

Although famous for her stripping, she made headlines again when she went from a 34 bust size to 44 through the then-new process of silicone implants, a process which secured her place in the history books, along with North Beach’s, and The Condor Club’s. Doda’s implants were so famous they had their own nicknames. Doda’s “twin 44’s” and “the new Twin Peaks of San Francisco.”

It is pointless to recount her entire life story here, so rather than regurgitate ancient history, I recommend that readers visit her wikipedia page, which goes into more detail about her life.

Doda still lives in San Francisco, and is a fixture in some North Beach bars, including Gino and Carlo’s and Mr. Bing’s. She and her manager Dick Winn perform at Amante’s the last Sunday of every month (although the April performance is actually on May 1st this cycle).

And, to save you the time of a google search, one more photo for the road:

Image from: chrystelle.blogg.se

Until next time, leave the flying to me!

Saint Patrick’s Day at O’Reilly’s Irish Pub in North Beach

Sara Dobra and Mike Chen kiss at the annual O'Reilly's Irish Pub St. Patrick's Day block party in North Beach.

O’Reilly’s Irish Pub in North beach takes Saint Patrick’s Day seriously. Well, not THAT seriously. Judging by the band lineup, the size of the crowd, the general level of intoxication, and all the smiles I saw, it sure seemed like people were having fun at the 16th Annual OReilly’s Irish Pub St. Patrick’s Day Block Party. Genuinely Irish and Irish-for-a-day attendees intermingled along a fenced-off portion of Green Street in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, where O’Reilly’s Irish Pub has been an alcohol-slinging staple since it opened 16 years ago.

The party began at 2pm on St. Patrick’s Day, and early comers are rewarded with free entrance—but drag your feet and arrive after 3pm and you’ll have to pony up $10 to get in on the Irish action. This year’s musical performers included The Hooks, who make “Super catchy Irish-influenced rock,” according to Funcheap SF, Irish fiddler Colm O’Riain, SCream (a Clapton/Cream cover band, get it?), and Lunar Groove.

Deirdre Black, who’s actually Irish (as in, from-Ireland-with-the-full-on-accent-Irish, not just by-ancestry-Irish) has worked at O’Reilly’s (and the block party) since the pub opened. Asked to describe the strangest thing she’d seen, she noted that “there’s nothing that shocking on St. Patrick’s Day.” Mostly all she sees are “people putting on beards and painting them orange, and shamrock tattoos, and flag of Ireland tattoos, and some people painting their bodies green.” Black says it’s just about having fun and dancing.

Black estimated that “a few thousand” people attended the block party this year.

Out of consideration for the neighborhood and the neighbors, (especially since St. Paddy’s Day didn’t fall on a weekend this year), the music stopped at midnight. But until then, it was all the drinking, dancing, and merriment the revelers could handle. “According to the police, O’Reilly’s was the example other bars should take [in terms of] the security, the safety, everything,” said Black.

As noted above, the block party is an annual event, so if you’re Irish and/or love public intoxication/Irish music/the color green/bagpipes/leprechauns, be sure to show up early next year (and put that $10 towards your alcohol tab).

Until next time, leave the flying to me!

Bob Anderson – Documentary filmmaker and inveterate wanderer

Bob Anderson, 81, poses for a portrait in his home in San Francisco's North Beach

Bob Anderson, 81, is kind of cat-like. Not in the sense that he has feline features, (he doesn’t, at all), nor in the sense that he sleeps a lot. Nor has he died nine times. But he has had nine lives. Or at least enough adventures to fill the lives of nine, normal, work-forty-hours-a-week-and-vacation-three-weeks-a-year people.

In a non-fiction book he self-published in 2010 called ‘The Errant Nomads’, Anderson wrote about “Greenwich Village in the ’50’s, Alaska as a territory, Europe before tourists, Puerto Vallarta as a village, San Francisco in the ’60’s, China just after Mao, Wreck diving in Micronesia, and life in an expatriate colony” – and that’s just one book.

Anderson’s two sons, Bob Jr., a fishing boat captain, and Tony, a writer and artist, both live and raise their families in a small town up in Humboldt County. Bob Sr. has lived in Mexico, New York, Washington State, Oregon, and Marin before buying his home in North Beach 28 years ago. He hasn’t moved since.

Which is not to say that he’s been stationary. Along with his late wife Jeanne, Anderson criss-crossed the globe numerous times in search of adventure- and most of the time he found it. He has also directed documentaries that touch on subjects only slightly less varied than his own real-live adventures.

The view from his home is gorgeous. Two windows, at right-angles from each other, look out on the Bay Bridge and the Transamerica Building, respectively. Anderson acknowledges the view in passing, admitting that it was the reason he and Jeanne decided to buy the building all those years ago, even though $240,000 seemed, at the time, far out of his budget.

Many of Anderson’s neighbors have moved in the last ten or more years, thanks to the dramatic rise in their homes’ value. The money allowed his neighbors, many of them Italians who had lived in the area since birth, to move to Marin, and other less urban areas. The view may be fantastic, but there’s another reason Anderson hasn’t moved in the intervening years like so many others.

North Beach is “extremely neighborly, it’s very live-and-let-live, [and] it allows a lot of pretty loose living,” said Anderson. For someone who has always lived life on his own terms, this may be the highest compliment Anderson could give.

Photo Gallery: Out and About, Take II

Danny Bobbi plays his trumpet for tips at the corner of Columbus and Green in San Francisco's North Beach.

A visit to North Beach’s famous Green Street Mortuary

Green Street Mortuary appears, from the outside, like you would imagine a mortuary to look. It’s painted a light shade of beige, a peaceful color, with a friendly green font for the name, which is written on either side of black awning that extends from above the wide doors, across the sidewalk to the street, and there’s a picture of some trees inside an oval logo for Dignity Memorial.

The mortuary has been around since 1917- and is one of the most famous mortuaries in the Bay Area, (if such a thing is possible among the living). Although now owned by Dignity Memorial, a nationwide mortuary corporation, it still retains some unique touches that belie the monolithic corporate power behind it.

Inside, the building is rife with style, and architectural details that you just don’t find anymore. Maxine, the friendly Chinese woman who staffs the front desk most days, (unless she’s on lunch and JoJo is answering phones), says that the hand-painted details on the ceilings and moulding would cost so much these days that only the super-rich could afford to have such work done. Back at the turn of the century labor was much cheaper. Maxine sounds nostalgic, but, of course, it would be decades after the building was built before she would be born. I know better than to ask her age.

The ceilings in Green Street are high, about ten feet if I had to guess, and hallways in the building have a series of domes, like I imagine buildings in Italy have, or the Vatican, but on a significantly smaller scale.

The chapels, (the mortuary has four) are fairly standard. Wide, long pews, a front, center podium, and light, calming colors. One of them even has stained glass- a fact that Maxine proudly points out to me.

The mortuary is also famous for their band- the aptly named Green Street Mortuary Band, which, according to Javier Lopez, one of the morticians there, is possibly the only remaning mortuary band in the country. What I find odd is when Javier mentions that although it is almost exclusively Chinese families who hire the band, the band only plays Christian hymns. Javier says that the families don’t really care WHAT is being played, just that it sounds nice, and makes noise- to scare the evil spirits away. He tells me that Chinese families are very superstitious, and ceremony and ritual and tradition play a large part in their funeral services.

It feels odd suggesting that you visit a mortuary, but that’s just what I’m going to do. The next time you’re in the neighborhood, stop in and take a look around. And remember to say hi to Maxine for me at the front desk.

Until next time friends, leave the flying to me!

The multiple-gold-medal-winning, world-champion dough-acrobats you’ve never heard of, who work right down the street

Eric Corbin is a world champion, but not only have you never heard of him, you’ve probably never even heard of the sport he’s a champion in. Pizza dough acrobatics is an internationally-recognized sport (the US even has its own team).

Since 1991 Italy has hosted the World Pizza Championship, in which 20 different countries compete in various categories associated with making pizza, like speed, taste, acrobatics and others. Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, is a 9 time World Pizza Champion, and 2 time Guinness World Record holder. Besides being a full-time cook, Tony owns and runs a pizza-making school.

Tony also manages an international team of dough acrobats, of which Eric is a member.

Here’s Tony giving a primer on how to toss pizza dough:

And here’s Eric performing at the World Pizza Games last year in Las Vegas:

Until next time, leave the flying to me!

The owner of North Beach’s famous sweets store Z Cioccolato talks photojournalism

Last week I interviewed Mark Warmus. While locals and curious tourists might know him as the owner of the famous candy and homemade-fudge store Z Cioccolato, Mark has a history in an industry near and dear to my heart- photojournalism. In the short interview below, (and please pardon my rudimentary editing skills), he talks about how he began, what the industry looks like now, and what his new passion in life is. Give it a listen, then go buy a few of his 65 flavors of sweet, sweet fudge.

Z Cioccolato can be found here.

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