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Oral History Second Collection

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The second collection features interviews with 15 people who, in one way or another, helped shape North Beach as the center of Italian culture and tradition in San Francisco. These interviews were recorded in 1996 by author, historian, and long-time THD member Judith Robinson, and the series was sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library.

Many of these narrators were elderly when Robinson interviewed them, and all had either lived or worked in or near North Beach for much of their lives. Some were born in Italy and emigrated to San Francisco seeking economic opportunity or the chance to marry a fellow Italian already living in the city. The stories they tell bring to life the sights, sounds and smells of Italian North Beach life in the early and middle decades of the past century – from neighborhood kids picnicking among the goats on a still-undeveloped Telegraph Hill and families in their Sunday best strolling through the Fort Mason tunnel to circuses that set up in Washington Square Park and the aroma of fermenting homemade wine that filled the air each fall after the grape harvest. The picture was not always rosy: several narrators mention, for example, the racist taunts that were commonly hurled when Chinese-Americans ventured into North Beach.

 

Of the 15 histories that comprise this collection, five are now fully transcribed and available online. The remaining histories are being added to this website as the transcriptions are completed.