Oral History: Ines Belli
In this interview, Ines Belli, who lived all but the first three years of her life in the home her father built on Union Street in North Beach, tells the story of her family’s life in San Francisco and California beginning with the Gold Rush, extending through the San Francisco 1906 Earthquake, up to and beyond the Great Depression. She recalls how her immigrant father established the successful scavenger business (originally known as the Scavengers’ Protective Union) that would eventually become the Golden Gate Disposal Company.
Here is an excerpt from the transcript:
INES: In 1906, when the earthquake happened, Papa was out with the horse and wagon and he saw the old Call Building, they called it; it had a tower and he saw it wiggling back and forth. But the horse felt it first and bolted. Papa said, “The only way I could stop him was to go up a hill.”
INTERVIEWER: Where was your father at that point?
INES: He was down around Montgomery and California. Downtown. He saw the Call Building’s tower wiggle. The Call was a newspaper. And then the Call became the Chronicle and the Examiner. See there were about five newspapers in San Francisco at the time.
INTERVIEWER: So he got the horse to go up a hill and that way he could control him?
INES: Yes, to stop him. And you know, when I was very young and we lived on Lombard Street, I remember that most of the merchants had a horse and wagon. And when they went down the hill, they braked it by putting the back wheel against the curb so the horse wouldn’t slip. Cobblestones are very slippery, and all these hills were cobblestone. Yes, when they were going down they used the back wheel and had a way of hitting it against the curb. Otherwise the horse could slip.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember any of the merchants who came around with a horse and wagon?
INES: Oh yes. There was the “rags, sacks and bottles” man. You’d sell your rags and bottles to him. My brothers used to sometimes hang on to the back of his wagon and take stuff back. Yes, some of the kids would take stuff away and sell it back again [laugh]!
Ines’ Father and Uncle