a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: 1952 San Francisco and Yosemite

Thursday, September 03, 2020

1952 San Francisco and Yosemite

SUMMARY: From a GI's perspective on the way to Korea. 
Backfill: date

My dad loved Yosemite. But the first time he saw it was Armistice Day, 1952, while waiting for the final leg of his trip to the Korean War.  As he was a New York City born-and-raised young man, I'm doubtful that he ever went west of the Mississippi before that, and other than a year at college in Michigan, not certain [without going back through his personal history] whether he'd ever been much west of the state of New York. He was an explorer, though: Discovered the mountains and hiking and climbing and camping in late high school and more in college and never went back to city living. Never one to be shy about travel, or any suggestion of somewhere new and different to explore, would get him moving.

Not sure that he felt that way about Korea, but-- bypassing that--

The draft scooped him up in 1951, and in November of 1952 he began the long journey to Korea--stopovers in Chicago and Denver and Oakland to refuel the plane before landing finally in San Francisco for a two-week layover in a camp in Petaluma.

Mom kept all of his letters home, and decades later he assembled them with commentary into a book.  Some excerpts from that first week in California:

We arrived in Frisco via Greyhound Bus from the airport. We bought our bus tickets up to camp, and then walked down Market Street at about 8 A.M. Finally gave up on walking, after being stopped by a number of people who said we really should take a tour to see the city [1], and bought some sight-seeing tour tickets. While waiting for the tour start time we went for a ride on a cable-car. The ride went from Powell and Market streets over the top of Nob Hill, by the Mark (Hopkins), through the edge of Chinatown and then back again. Had views of Alcatraz, the Oakland-Bay-Bridge, and some very nice houses.

Got back in time to take the tour, and had a pretty good time. Saw a lot of the Sights, and a lot of Real Estate. I wasn't impressed by San Francisco's zoning restrictions and rental policies as we were told of them by the tour bus driver [2]. And prices; wow!! Twelve to fifteen thousand (depending on location) for a five room attached bungalow.[3] And there isn't much room in either front or back. The plots are usually 50x70, or smaller.

The tour is over and we're having lunch on Fisherman's Wharf at DiMaggio's (Filet mignon). 


[after settling in at the camp]


We were fortunate, Armistice Day was on Tuesday, so we were given passes from noon Saturday until 0800 Wednesday. We spent those days touring: saw Muir Woods, Yosemite, and Devil's Postpile among other places.

He likely has more photos of this trip, but immediately at hand I have only this--

"Road to Yosemite Armistice Day 1952"

I'm not sure where exactly this photo was taken, but the road to Yosemite no longer is one lane without guard rails.  I remember Dad saying that parts were still unpaved. 

Dad told me in 2015 when we were discussing his photos:

On the Armistice Day Weekend in 1952, four of us GIs rented a car to go to Yosemite and Devils Postpile. The roads into Yosemite (Rte 120) and through Tioga Pass were single lane roads, with places to turn out to let other cars go by. Included with this is a photo showing a short stretch up in the high country.

I believe that the Sierra Nevadas made a lasting impression on the man who had already climbed a few of the highest peaks in New England. The eight highest there range from 5,000 to 6,300 feet (1520- 1920 m) above sea level. But the fifty highest in the Sierras range from 8800 to 14500 (2680-4420 m) --none more than about 200 miles from sea level at the coast).

I think he couldn't wait to get back to the Sierras and Yosemite when we moved to California less than 10 years later. And again about 8 years after that. We went many times as a family.



[1] they must've been in uniform

[2] my dad's frustration and anger about ill treatment of black people was well established by then--and not too many years later that caused him (a white male) to resign from a job he loved otherwise.

[3] Today, the median price for a home in San Francisco is $1,310,500. I'm not sure what Dad meant back then by a "5-room" bungalow--was that bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room, and--?  And I don't know what size home today's median price will get you, but likely not much more than a 2-or-3-bedroom attached house with little or no yard.

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