Back in the days when no one gave a second thought to filling in the
San Francisco Bay, Treasure Island was created alongside the natural,
hilly island of Yerba Buena. It was made for the San Francisco Worlds
Fair of 1932 and later became a choice Naval Base. And in the third
year of my Naval Officer duty I found myself assigned to nine months
of duty at Electronics Material School on this picturesque island
in the bay of San Francisco. For all intents, Treasure Island is a
part of San Francisco, separated from downtown by only a small section
of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. In fact, since you can drive
to San Francisco from Treasure Island without passing the toll booth
which is at the Oakland end of the bridge, my fellow officers and
I frequently drove into San Francisco.
My favorite pastime in San Francisco was to visit the opera bars in
the Broadway area; there were two great bars at the time. One was
Vieni Vieni. The bartender-owner, Porcini, was an ex-opera great.
Porcini, with his fabulous baritone voice, could sing arias as well
as he did in his younger days; he just could not sing whole operas.
If you ordered a cappuccino from him, instead of coffee (which I didnt
like anyway), you got a chocolate brandy drink, piping hot, from the
A highlight of every evening at Vieni Vieni came at about 11 p.m.
when a wizened Chinese flower vendor arrived, drank a cappuccino,
and then sang a delightful Chinese song a capella (the pianist couldnt
possibly accompany him). Then he sold his flowers to the grateful
patrons and departed.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. When the owner, Porcini,
went Vieni Vieni went also.
But there was another opera bar, Bocce Ball, located on Broadway.
Bocce Ball was named after the clay court in the back of the bar where
seasoned Italians would sedulously lag the wooden balls down the clay
court, trying to get them to stop at just the right place. There was
a lot of conversation and good fellowship during the game.
Meanwhile, in the front part of the bar there was a marvelous group
singing beautiful operatic arias, all for the price of a cappuccino
or two, plus an occasional tip for the singers and the piano player.
When these opera bars finally closed I was sad. Some years later in
Italy I decided to visit some really authentic Italian opera bars.
To my chagrin those bars had also disappeared.
Another really enjoyable place in San Francisco was a vaudeville house
called Bee and Ray Gomans Gay Nineties. I was originally attracted
to the Gay Nineties because I knew that vaudeville had been the favorite
entertainment of my father. A fond memory of mine is hearing veteran
Bee Goman sing in her saucy voice, Theres no harm in clerking
if, when you start working, you stay in the front of the store.
Or Ray Goman singing in his smooth style the old songs like A
Bicycle Built for Two and My Merry Oldsmobilesongs
from the 20s that my mother loved.