Born in 1933, Ed is an artist and long-time North Beach resident. He was raised in Omaha, Nebraska, where he and his two older brothers grew up in a housing project and learned to be tough guys. After Army service in Korea, Ed enrolled in the University of Omaha’s art program in 1955, and later transferred to the San Francisco Art Institute to study painting. He’s lived in San Francisco ever since, and worked as a cook at the Old Spaghetti Factory, among other jobs, to support his painting career. Ed has lived in the same Grant Avenue apartment since 1970, which he now shares with his wife and fellow artist Peggy Huff.
Transcript: Ed Handelman (1933- )
The following oral history transcript is the result of interviews with Ed Handelman on January 31, 2022 and February 10, 2022. The interviews were recorded at Ed’s home at 1644 Grant Avenue in San Francisco, California, a flat he shares with his wife, artist Peggy Huff. The interview was conducted and transcribed by John Doxey, manager of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Oral History Project.
Format: Originally recorded on a Canon XA11 camcorder. Duration is approximately two hours, 10 minutes.
Attribution: This interview transcript is property of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers. Quotes, reproductions and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Ed Handelman, January 31, 2022 and February 10, 2022, Telegraph Hill Dwellers Oral History Project.
Summary: Ed Handelman was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1933, the son of immigrants from Russia. His mother died when Ed was two years old, and his father, a grocery store owner, died when Ed was 12. Ed and his two older brothers grew up in a housing project, attended local public schools and learned to be tough guys. Ed had little exposure to life outside his working class neighborhood, and it wasn’t until a girlfriend took Ed to an art gallery after high school that he started to consider art as a possible career. After his Army service in Korea, Ed enrolled in the University of Omaha’s art program in 1955, and later transferred to the San Francisco Art Institute in 1956 to study painting. Ed also studied painting at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence from 1957-59, before returning to San Francisco. Ed got married in 1961 and worked a number of night jobs, including as a cook at the Old Spaghetti Factory, to support his painting career. Ed has a daughter and has lived in the same North Beach apartment since 1970. He married Peggy Huff in 19xx, and he and Peggy maintain active painting careers and an active social life in North Beach.
In this interview, Ed speaks of growing up in Omaha with two older brothers, the son of immigrant parents from Russia; his father’s World War One service in the U.S. Army; his mother’s death when Ed was two years old, and his father’s death when Ed was 12; his father’s marriage to Ed’s stepmother when Ed was about five; growing up in a public housing project and attending local public schools, where Ed learned to be tough; wrestling and playing football in high school; his interest in drawing and building model airplanes as a child, and developing a comic strip about a boxer; rarely leaving Omaha as a young person, except for a train trip to the East Coast with his stepmother; working with Union Pacific Railroad after high school, then later working at a meatpacking plant in Omaha; visiting an art gallery in Lincoln with a girlfriend, which sparked Ed’s interest in art; Ed’s first realization that being an artist was something he could do with his life; his brief stint with the Peru State Teachers College football team; joining the U.S. Army and volunteering to serve in the Korean War; his time at Camp Chaffee in Arkansas, where Ed received artillery training and dropped out of an officers’ training program; his time at Camp Stoneman, a troop staging area in the East Bay; his first visits to San Francisco in early 1953 while on leave from Camp Stoneman; boarding a troop ship at Fort Mason bound for Korea; rising in rank to sergeant, then a demotion to corporal following a disciplinary action; witnessing U.S. troops destroy a Korean village, an experience that raised his consciousness about war; Ed’s experience with PTSD, which hit nearly two decades after his return from Korea; a visit to the University of Omaha after his return from Korea that reignited his passion for drawing and art; attending the University of Omaha’s art program, where Ed encountered a colorist who continues to influence his paintings; coming to the San Francisco Art Institute in 1956, after an illustration by David Park propelled him to San Francisco; living in the Sentinel Building on Columbus Avenue; leaving the SFAI in 1957 to study painting in Florence, then returning to San Francisco in 1959; living above the Cafferata Ravioli Factory; marrying Joni Lindi and living in a succession of North Beach apartments before moving with Joni to Tam Valley in 1968; the remnants of beatnik culture in North Beach in the 1960s, including the Bread and Wine Mission on Grant Avenue; moving to Sebastopol with Joni, and his resulting divorce; moving into the apartment at 1644 Grant Avenue in 1970, where Ed continues to live; his daughter Ana coming to live with him in San Francisco after the divorce; jobs Ed took that allowed him to keep his daytimes free for painting, including driving a taxi and working as a dishwasher and cook at the Old Spaghetti Factory; learning that his daughter Ana was born while he was driving a taxi; tales of his years at the Old Spaghetti Factory, its owner Freddy Kuh, friendships he developed while working there and talented entertainers who performed there; leaving the Old Spaghetti Factory in 1970 to take higher-paying union work at trade shows, which Ed continued to do for about 30 years; his affection for North Beach; raising Ana as a “latchkey kid” and her schools and childhood activities; his current paintings, including the Platte Valley series; galleries where Ed’s paintings have been exhibited and sold; meeting his current wife Peggy Huff at the Savoy Tivoli through a mutual friend in the mid-1970s; his art-focused life with Peggy, an accomplished painter.
Ed Handelman has had opportunities to review the transcript and has made corrections and emendations. The reader should keep in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.
[First recording segment of January 31, 2022 interview with Ed Handelman begins here]
JOHN: [00:00:07] This is John Doxey with the THD Oral History Project, sitting with Ed Handelman, artist, in his home, in his studio at home on Grant Avenue. What's the address?
JOHN: 1644 Grant. And the date is January 31st, 2022 … Ed, I … let's start at the beginning. We're going to work our way toward your time in North Beach, but I think it's important that we get your back story. So I believe you were born and raised in Omaha, right?
ED: Omaha, Nebraska. Yeah.
JOHN: And what's the date of your birth?
ED: July 10th, 1933.
JOHN: OK. And you were, as I recall, born into a family that had … you had two siblings, is that correct?
ED: Two older brothers, yeah.
JOHN: OK. What were their names and … the difference in age from you?
ED: My oldest brother is named Phil, and he's like nine years older than me.
ED: And my next brother is Mo. Morris. And he’s four years older than me.
[Second recording segment of January 31, 2022 interview with Ed Handelman begins here]
ED: [00:00:14] Yeah. My oldest brother was nine years older than me, and my next brother is four years older than me. They're both deceased. And … I don’t know what else I can tell you about ‘em. They're not active right now.
JOHN: And your parents had both immigrated from Russia, is that correct?
ED: Right. My parents are immigrants from Russia. They met in Omaha.
JOHN: OK. And what … about what year did your mother and father come to the U.S.?
ED: Both came … my father came when he was 17. He was born in 1895. So that means he came here probably 1914, ‘15, something like that. And god only knows why he settled in Omaha. [chuckles]
JOHN: Did it have something to do with programs that settled immigrants in different parts of the U.S.?
ED: I heard there was a program set up, a Jewish agency set up in New York, not wanting everybody to congregate. So they would give people a ticket on a train and a name as a contact. If they didn't already have something like that. And that's how my father ended up in Omaha.
JOHN: And he met your mother in Omaha?
ED: Met my mother in Omaha. She’d come over … her father and a little sister came over earlier, earned money to bring the rest of the family over.
JOHN: And he would have left Russia, or both of them perhaps left Russia, with their families or in her case with her family?
ED: No, my father came by himself.
JOHN: But was this to escape anything that was happening in Russia or was there a reason?
ED: Oh, yeah, I'm sure.
JOHN: Yeah, OK.
JOHN: Did you say that he had fought in…?
ED: My father fought in World War One.
JOHN: For the U.S. military, after he came to the U.S. I see.
ED: [00:02:24] Yeah. He came … there was just enough time for him to be old enough to be drafted.
ED: And … yeah, he was actually wounded and gassed in World War One, which led to deteriorating health. And he died relatively young.
JOHN: And what was his … what sort of jobs did he do in the U.S.?
ED: Oh, well, like immigrants we see here, he had a corner grocery store.
JOHN: Did you ever work at the corner grocery?
ED: Did I ever work…?
JOHN: Did you and your brothers or...?
ED: I'm sure my older brother probably did. My father died when I was 12, so I don't really…
JOHN: I see.
ED: I wasn't … I didn't want to work then.
JOHN: Was he the owner of the grocery store?
ED: Yeah. And they … he lost it all in the Depression.
JOHN: And your mother … what happened to her?
ED: She died when I was two.
ED: [00:03:27] Right. So I don't … really know her. But according to my oldest brother, somewhere in the house we have a tape of my older brother talking about his life, and he referred to my mother as a martinet. I'm sort of glad I didn't run into that.
JOHN: A drill sergeant.
JOHN: And so where … after your father died, you were still only 12. Where did you … who raised you or where did you go?
ED: When I was about almost five, I got a stepmother. It was really interesting because along with her came her sister and her father. So all of a sudden … we had a big family, you know.
JOHN: And after your father passed away, did you continue living with that family until you were...?
JOHN: …18 or so, something like that?
ED: [00:04:23] It was after … when my oldest brother was married, had his own family and my brother who was four years older than me got drafted and went to Korea. And there was me and my stepmother. And basically … after I got out of high school, I went to work for the Union Pacific Railroad. So I was the breadwinner in the family. I’d come home and give her the check and she’d give me 20 bucks.
JOHN: That was a big employer in Omaha, right?
ED: Yeah, it’s the headquarters of Union Pacific. So I worked in the yards. [Transcriber’s note: Per Wikipedia, the Union Pacific Railroad Company is a freight-hauling railroad that is now the second-largest railroad in the United States. The company is headquartered in Omaha.]
JOHN: Mm-hmm. What was your … the neighborhood you grew up like? Was it … did it have a lot of Jewish emigrés or was it a mixed neighborhood of different...?
ED: It was very mixed. It was Black, a lot of Black. It was … actually I grew up in subsidized housing. What they call the projects.
ED: And it wasn't like what the horror stories you read in the [unintelligible word] right now. But it was like, you know, a lot of kids, there was a lot of pecking orders, you know, like … a lot of anti-semitism. You know, lot of racism, you know. So basically you had to be tough.
JOHN: What … did you go to local schools? Local public schools?
ED: [00:06:05] I went to … yeah, there was a school about three blocks from my house. But because it was overcrowded because of the projects, I continued going to a school that was about six blocks from my house. And it was a good thing on one hand, but a … you know, like I wasn't … I was tight with a bunch of guys in the neighborhood, but a lot of kids didn't know me. And so it also made you tough.
JOHN: And did you … what were your interests? Did you play sports, things like that?
ED: I played sports in high school. I wrestled and played football.
ED: And played, you know, all the local, you know, softball, pickup basketball and … run from the cops. [chuckles]
JOHN: [chuckles] What were some of your other interests? Did you start getting interested in art at any point when you were young?
ED: [00:06:56] Yeah, I used to … I used to draw a lot. Also, I spent a lot of time building model airplanes. And I mean if you look around here, you see all the airplane stuff I’ve got. I'm of the age when you heard an airplane going by, you run out of the house and looked at it. [Transcriber’s note: Ed points here to model airplanes and other airplane-related paraphernalia in his studio.]
JOHN: It was still a novelty.
ED: It was pretty much a novelty, yeah. You know, [unintelligible word] contrails, you never saw anything like that.
JOHN: During World War Two, was there a lot of … any military or aviation activity near Omaha that you would have seen?
ED: [00:07:34] Yeah, Offutt Air Force Base is a … where General LeMay was holding court. My stepmother’s sister who lived with us was basically a young … woman, she was like 18, 19 years old. So she had a lot of soldier boyfriends. And I had bayonets and helmets and the, you know, bullets that they gave me and, you know … like a lot of kids, “Wow! It’s war,” you know, like had no idea what was going on. [Transcriber’s notes: Per Wikipedia, Offutt Air Force Base, south of Omaha, is the headquarters of the U.S. Strategic Command and served over 40 years as the headquarters for the former Strategic Air Command (SAC). Aviation use at Offutt began in 1918 during World War One as an Army Air Service balloon field.; Curtis Emerson LeMay (1906 – 1990) was an Air Force general who implemented a controversial strategic bombing campaign in the Pacific theater of World War Two. He served as commander of the SAC from 1948 to 1957, and later served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1961 to 1965.]
JOHN: You said you started doing model airplanes. Was that your first exposure to something more artistic, do you think, something that you were doing creatively?
ED: [00:08:18] I did a lot of drawing with stick triggers when I was a little kid. I mean, sure, everybody does. And then I got into drawing things. I started … I forgot how old I was. Must have been about 10. And I thought, you know, maybe I'll do a comic book. So I start drawing things. And I used existing comics as my models. Like I had a guy who was going to be a boxer like Joe Palooka, except he had black hair. And I think Joe Palooka’s manager was a guy named Knobby Walsh, and I did some character to take off on him. That didn't go very far. I remember showing my brother a picture that I’d drawn of Joe Palooka by using an indelible pencil, which was very common in those days. And my brother looked at it and said, “Oh, you traced it.” ‘Cause it looked like tracing paper. And it upset me so much I don't think I drew again for four or five years. [Transcriber’s notes: Per Wikipedia, Joe Palooka was an American comic strip about a heavyweight boxing champion, created by cartoonist Ham Fisher. The strip debuted in 1930 and was cancelled in 1984. Knobby Walsh was Palooka’s boxing manager in the strip.]
JOHN: You had drawn it, and he thought you were tracing?
ED: He thought I was tracing, yeah.
JOHN: So you were showing some early talent.
ED: “Hey, look at this,” you know. [chuckles]
JOHN: Was there anybody maybe in your community or at school who was a mentor?
ED: [00:09:39] There was a guy who lived across the street from me who, you know, you go over to his house and his room had beautifully-done model airplanes hanging from the walls. And he gave me a coloring book, you know, one with the lines and everything that he watercolored? And god, it was so beautiful, I wish I still had it. And he went on to, you know, work for some agency in Chicago where I have no idea what happened to him, you know.
JOHN: Was Chicago the nearest big city that had a pull on people from Omaha? Maybe like if you wanted to go see art, would you have gone to a local museum or somewhere...?
ED: [00:10:23] Yeah, there's actually a quite a good museum in Omaha. It’s called Joslyn Memorial Museum. And it’s a lovely building. It was considered one time one of the most beautiful buildings in the United States. [Transcriber’s note: Per Wikipedia, the Joslyn Art Museum is a fine arts museum in Omaha. It opened in 1931 at the initiative of Sarah Joslyn, in memory of her husband, businessman George Joslyn. The museum’s original building, the Joslyn Memorial, is a large and impressive art deco structure designed by John and Alan McDonald.]
JOHN: Did you go there when you were young?
ED: [00:10:35] I went there … a couple of times, yeah. What really got me interested was … I had a girlfriend who lived in Lincoln, and she took me to a gallery at the University of Lincoln … of Nebraska in Lincoln. And there was a show by three L.A. artists whose names I can't remember, and it sort of blew my mind. I said, “Well, I didn’t even know you could do something like this.” And that got me interested. So I … funny thing: I went to the Joslyn and I knew they gave classes there. And I went there in the evening when their class is in, and I walked in the room, and I'm this wild-looking 17-year-old, right. And everybody goes, “What…” I just barged in, right. And a guy says, “Can I help you?” I said, “Yeah, I want to paint.” He said, “Let’s go out in the hall.” So we went out in the hall, and he told me what I’d have to do, you know.
JOHN: What did he tell you?
ED: He said, well, you know, classes start at a certain time, you know. If he was really good, he would have fit me right in, you know. And, you know, that basically was it until I got out of the Army.
JOHN: I see. So … but did you in the intervening years … say between your youthful sort of comic book drawing and then later becoming a full-time professional artist … I mean through your Army years and so forth, were you continually drawing here and there, or was that an interest? Or did you just put that aside?
ED: [00:12:10] I pretty much put it aside, yeah. What happened … what happened was when I got out of the Army, I was going to the University of Omaha. And a friend of mine was going to go to the engineering school at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. So it was, you know, a beautiful spring day. He said, “Well, let's go for a ride. Come on down with me. We'll go for a ride.” I said, “OK.” So while he was being interviewed, I wandered around the building and I went to the Department of Architecture. And I thought “Whoa!” [With] my upbringing, I had no idea that people even did things like this, right. So I said, you know, “Maybe that's what I'll do.” So that summer, I took a drawing course. And, ah, I just fell in love.
JOHN: You would have been about how old at this time?
ED: I’d have been … I would have been 21. Maybe 22.
JOHN: So when you were finishing up high school, did you have any sense of what you might like to do or did you have a...?
ED: Not a lick. Not a lick.
JOHN: What were other people … from your cohort, other classmates, were they going on to university or…?
ED: Yeah, most of ‘em. It’s interesting: my two best friends in high school graduated third and seventh in our graduating class. I'm not even going to tell you what my number was.
JOHN: So academics was not your thing?
ED: My first semester in high school, I got all A’s. And then I realized that to play any kind of sports, all I needed was a C average. And I thought, “Oh, that'd be easy.” And that's what I did. I maintained a C average all the way through high school.
JOHN: Did you think perhaps that you'd do something in athletics as you finished high school?
ED: No, I knew that that wouldn't happen, you know.
JOHN: Or did you think maybe a job with the Union Pacific or something like that?
ED: We used to joke about when you graduate from … go to college, you go to the Big Ten. [In Omaha] you go to one of the Big Four, which is Armour, Swift, Cudahy and Wilson. [Transcriber’s note: Per Wikipedia, the Union Stockyards were founded in 1883 in South Omaha by the Union Stock Yards Company of Omaha. A fierce rival of Chicago's Union Stock Yards, the Omaha Union Stockyards were third in the United States for production by 1890 and by 1947 they were second to Chicago in the world. Omaha overtook Chicago as the nation's largest livestock and meat packing industry center in 1955, a title which it held until 1971. By 1934, the "Big Four" packing companies were Armour, Cudahy, Swift and Wilson.]
JOHN: Big companies in town?
ED: Meatpacking companies.
JOHN: Meatpacking companies. [chuckles] When you were growing up in Omaha, did you and your … either alone or maybe with your family travel outside of that area?
JOHN: So you didn't have much exposure to life outside of Omaha?
ED: Not at all.
ED: Oh, I did go to … my stepmother wanted to go visit her sister in Atlantic City and another sister in Washington, D.C. So I went to those two places. And we went by train, which was a really … even for a little kid was a drag. You know, I was 12. And I went “Oh, Jesus.”
JOHN: By train from Omaha to the East Coast?
ED: Yeah. Are we there yet? [chuckles]
JOHN: How many days did that take?
ED: I know that we slept on the train. Or at least, you know, slept in our seats.
JOHN: [00:15:32] Mm-hmm.
[Third recording segment of January 31, 2022 interview with Ed Handelman begins here]
JOHN: [00:00:03] So we were … left off talking about you finishing up high school and not really having a plan. What happened next?
ED: [00:00:35] My stepmother decided at some point that she wanted to go live with her sister back East, and do I want to go … with her? I said, “No, I don't think so.” I didn't really have much idea what I wanted to do, but a couple of my friends were … going go to the University of Nebraska, and they're going to join a fraternity there. So some of the guys in the fraternity talked to me and they said, you know, “We'd like you to come ‘cause you're a wrestler.” And…
JOHN: They thought you might fit in on the wrestling team at the University of Nebraska?
ED: Yeah, right. And I have to tell you that my going to … not being a good student in high school compounds itself when you try to be any kind of a student in college. And I just had a really hard time, and I just … after one semester, I said, “This is not for me.”
JOHN: So did you returned to Omaha at that point?
ED: I went back to Omaha. I was staying with my oldest brother. And I was going … I went from one kind of job to another kind of job, and I realized this wasn't going anywhere, and...
JOHN: What … did you work in any of the meatpacking plants?
ED: [00:02:03] I worked in a meatpacking plant. And while I was there, someone, a friend of mine, said that he was going to a meeting, and the coach from Peru State Teachers College in Peru, Nebraska was gonna … building a team. And he had some money or something with building a team. [Transcriber’s note: Per Wikipedia, Peru State College is a public college in Peru, a city in southeastern Nebraska. Founded by members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1865, Peru is the oldest institution of higher education in Nebraska. The school’s name changed several times in the early to mid-20th century, becoming Nebraska State Teachers College at Peru in 1921, Peru State Teachers College in 1949, and then the present name of Peru State College in 1963.]
JOHN: A wrestling team?
ED: No, a football team.
ED: So I actually played football in high school. So I think I'll go to the meeting. So I went to the meeting and I met the coach. His name was coach Wheeler. And he said, “Oh, yeah.” He said, “Did you just graduate?” I said, “No, I graduated a year ago.” He said, “Oh, I saw you play against me” in a particular high school game. It was my last high school game, and I was really up for it. And they had a little thing in the paper every week called Star of the Week, and that was me, right. So he remembered that. So he said, “Yeah, come on down here.” And I wasn’t about to do it. I was working at Cudahy meatpacking plant. And a foreman said something to me that I didn't like, and I told him, “Go fuck himself.” And he said, “You go fuck yourself, you're outta here.” So I was leaving there it was, you know, around 11 o’clock in the morning. I said, “Hmm.” So I got down the road, I hitchhiked to Peru, which I don't even know where it is, close to Omaha. And … at the time was a town of maybe 1,400 people, and a college probably going to have maybe four or 500 people. And I got down there, and I worked out for two weeks. I got in really good shape. And the guys down there were really big ‘cause they were farm boys and they’d all eaten good through the Depression. And I realized there was no future for me there. And it was very, very interesting … he’d actually recruited … the only Black guy there was a running back from a high school in Chicago. And actually that team went on to play in a bowl. [Transcriber’s notes: Per Wikipedia, Alfred G. Wheeler (1899-1982) served as the head football and men's basketball coach at Amherst College in Amherst, MA, before serving in the same roles at Peru State Teachers College, where his overall football record was 133-51-12 and his team won or shared seven Nebraska Conference titles.]
ED: Called the Liberty Bowl.
JOHN: That’s a pretty big deal.
ED: It's probably some other name now. Yeah, it was … very ambitious for them, yeah.
JOHN: What was your position when you played football?
ED: I mainly played … it wasn't ‘til my senior year that we got a really good coach, and I played only on defense.
JOHN: Would you say that you had kind of a temper in those days? Were you…?
ED: [00:04:56] No, I didn't have a temper, but I had an attitude. I mean I didn’t blow up at… but I think the expression is … one of my older brothers said when I was going in the Army, he said, “Remember this, don't give anybody any shit and don’t take any shit.” That was the attitude I basically grew up with.
JOHN: So what happened after the Peru experiment?
ED: I came back, and I don't know what I did. I got some other job … construction, you know, and I realized, you know, it's not going well. So I stayed with my oldest brother. I said, “You know, I think I'll go in the Army.” He said, “Might not be a bad idea, you know.” So I went down to the draft board and, you know, my age group, you know, was like … I think I was just turned 19 … I went to the draft board and they said, “Well, it might be another year before you get drafted.” I said, “I want to go right now. Can I go on the top of the list?” The guy said, “Go home, talk it over with your family.” And I said, “Yeah, OK.” So I came back the next day, and he put me on the top of the list. And a few days later I was on a bus going toward Camp Chaffee, Arkansas. [Transcriber’s note: Per Wikipedia, Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center is located in western Arkansas, near the city of Fort Smith. Established as Camp Chaffee in 1941, and renamed to Fort Chaffee in 1956, the installation has served as a U.S. Army base, training camp, World War Two prisoner-of-war camp and refugee camp. The Army base was closed in 1995 and the installation has been used since then as a training facility by the Arkansas National Guard. From 1948 to 1957, Chaffee was the home of the Fifth Armored Division. In 1958, Chaffee was home to its most famous occupant, Elvis Presley.]
JOHN: Did he want you to take a day to think about it because there was a war going on at the time?
ED: Yeah. That’s what he told me. He said, “You know, there's a war going on now.” [chuckles] And I said … I don't really … I don't remember my exact words. I probably said, you know, “I don't mind killing somebody, you know.”
JOHN: This was for the Army?
ED: The Army, yeah. The Marines was three years. Navy was four years. If you enlisted in the Army, it was three years. And I figured, “Well, two years in Korea would probably be plenty,” you know.
JOHN: So you went to … the first stop was a boot camp in Arkansas, is that right?
ED: [00:06:58] Camp Chaffee, Arkansas. It's right outside of Fort Smith, Arkansas. I think it's called Fort Chaffee now, but I'm not sure about that. And it's really interesting: It was the first time I ever ran across Jim Crow. I was walking back to a bus depot with a Black kid in my squad, and we got to the bus depot and I opened the door and he said, “I can’t go in there.” “What are you talking about?” He said, “I have to go around the back.” It was a shock to me because I grew up, you know, with really a mix of kids. We even had one Chinese kid in our neighborhood in those days.
JOHN: In Omaha?
ED: In Omaha.
JOHN: So how long were you at the camp in Arkansas?
ED: I think 16 weeks, four months. And at one point I realized after seeing what happens in … when you're pulling targets, when it’s your turn to be in the rifle range and watching bullets go through two by fours, I thought “This might not be a good idea.” So I started to apply … I applied for OCS.
JOHN: That's the officer training?
ED: [00:08:18] Yeah. And … they had a leadership school. I was trying to avoid, you know, going into combat. And so I applied for leadership school, I was in leadership school. One of the reasons I was able to do that, when you go to the Army they give you a battery test card, the Army Generals Development Test. And I found it real easy, I had a real high score. So I went there. And after, you know … it was no fun, you know, it started getting really heavy on it. So one point, whoever was in charge, I remember they said, “Anybody who wants to go on, now's the time to quit.” And I went, raised my hand, I said, “I want to quit.” So I got put in a holding company, and then eventually I got shipped out to Korea and I caught the tail end of the Korean War. [Transcriber’s note: Per Wikipedia, the Army General Classification Test (AGCT) has a long history that runs parallel with research and means for attempting the assessment of intelligence or other abilities. World War One and World War Two created the need for this type of testing and provided a large body of test subjects. Subsequent testing targeted aptitude in order to better fill roles, such as those provided by officers who obtained commissions from other than the military academies or to meet the need for increasingly complicated skills that came along with technological progress. The modern variant of this test is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) that was first administered in 1960.]
JOHN: Now, weren't you in artillery?
ED: Artillery, yeah.
JOHN: So at what point did you transition to an artillery group?
ED: Camp Chafee was an artillery school.
JOHN: I see, the whole the whole camp was oriented toward artillery?
JOHN: And so did you … when you were heading toward Korea, did you … was there a stop in San Francisco?
ED: [00:09:42] They gathered soldiers at a place called Camp Stoneman. It’s up somewhere near Martinez or something like that. And from there, we were there for a few days, and from there we went by ferry boat to Fort Mason. And we … got off the ferry boat, walked through a warehouse basically. Walked through the warehouse, and there was this group of ladies called gray ladies giving us donuts, coffee. Got onto the troop ship and sailed away. [Transcriber’s notes: Per Wikipedia, Camp Stoneman was a U.S. Army facility in Pittsburg, CA, that served as a major troop staging area for and under the command of the San Francisco Port of Embarkation (SFPOE). The camp opened in 1942 as a staging point for units deploying to the Pacific theater of World War Two and it was decommissioned as a military post in 1954.; The Red Cross Hostess and Hospital Service and Recreation Corps, known as "gray ladies," started in 1918 at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., providing services for war patients. Their name came from their signature uniform of a gray dress and veil. It wasn't until after World War II in 1947 that the program became officially known as the Gray Lady Service. The Gray Lady Service program was disbanded in the 1960s and absorbed into a more unified volunteer services program within the American Red Cross.]
JOHN: So you got on one of those enormous troop ships?
ED: Enormous. Three thousand soldiers on there.
JOHN: But how long were you in this gathering camp, this Stoneman camp?
ED: [00:10:32] We were given a pass. You had to be … in the Navy they call it a Cinderella pass. You have to be back by midnight. In the Army, I never heard anything … just a pass, you know. So at midnight, you know, before midnight, we were walking back. I’d met a guy, you know, we have a good time together. And he said, “God, this is fun isn’t it?”
JOHN: This was in San Francisco?
ED: In San Francisco.
JOHN: So you had come down from Martinez or wherever that camp was located for … on the pass...?
ED: On a bus.
JOHN: On a bus with a bunch of other guys from the...?
JOHN: And you had a pass in San Francisco?
JOHN: And this would have been what year?
ED: Fifty… so I was in the Army ‘52 to ‘54. So it was probably … maybe spring of ‘53.
JOHN: And the war ended in ‘53. So it must … couldn't have been too much after...
ED: It ended in July, right. So I wasn't there … I was there for maybe three months of the war.
JOHN: And so tell me what San Francisco looked like at that time.
ED: [00:11:40] Well, Market Street looked like a sea of khaki. You know, I mean, I don't know what the other streets looked like, I hardly got off of Market Street.
JOHN: Different services. Navy, Army, Marines?
ED: Yeah, you know, basically what … when you looked down the street, what you saw was a lot of military men and a lot of young women. Which was, you know, welcome to San Francisco.
JOHN: So you got friendly with a guy who was on leave with you and what happened?
ED: [00:12:14] So he said, “You want to stay?” And I said, “Yeah, let’s stay. Alright. What could they do, send us to Korea?” And so we went and we got a hotel room and we hung out for a couple of days, you know. And, you know, we were wearing the same clothes for a couple of days. And we went back to the camp and went into the supply room and … ‘cause all our stuff was gone. And the supply sergeant said, “Have you guys seen Sergeant so-and-so?” He said, “Go see him first, then I'll give you your equipment back.” So we went to see this guy and … it’s a sergeant, and I can't remember the guy's name. His last name was Palace. Pal-a-ce actually. And he went in there and … I heard him getting reamed out. I mean really. And I said, “Oh, god, we’re really in big trouble now.” So he walked out, and I went in. And the guy, the sergeant said, “What do you want?” I said, “Well, we're supposed to see you.” He said, “Come back after lunch.” So we went back to supply room, and the guy at the supply room said … “Both you guys see Sergeant so-and-so?” I said, “Yeah.” “It's OK. Here's your stuff.” And nothing came of him. Next day we got orders and we shipped out.
ED: That's when we went in ferry boats to San Francisco.
JOHN: Did San Francisco, though, your brief experience in San Francisco albeit, leave any kind of impression on you?
ED: [00:13:47] I remember looking around, said, “God, this isn’t Omaha.” I mean that’s, you know, that was my impression … I actually got a … I had an aunt who lived there. I went and visited her, somewhere in the Richmond District, just to say hello and had a couple of cousins to say hello to. And I also … somebody said, “Oh, my uncle's got a bar on Fillmore Street. Haight and Fillmore Street. It’s called The Big Glass. You know, go there and if you see my uncle say hello for us.” So I went there and it turned out to be a gay bar for Black men, you know. And I realized that right away, that I didn't want to hang out here too long. Do you know about that place?
JOHN: The Big Glass?
ED: It’s called the Big Glass. I might be mistaken, but it’s a long time.
JOHN: I’ve never heard of it. But it's perhaps before my time.
ED: [chuckles] The Haight was a whole lot different in your time.
JOHN: So tell me … I know that maybe Korea is a sensitive topic for you, but can you tell a little bit about your wartime experience in Korea?
[Transcriber’s note: Noises from a delivery truck outside Ed’s studio can be heard in background here.]
ED: I went from private to sergeant really fast. Then I went … private, corporal, sergeant, corporal again.
JOHN: What happened?
ED: It was a series of things. And I had a battery commander who really liked me, right, for some reason. Some guy from Texas. And when he left, the exec officer who didn't like me very much … since I was a sergeant, I had to be punished by the battalion rather than the company. So he had to … he put me up for a court martial, then he went on vacation, right.
JOHN: Court martial? That's pretty serious.
ED: Yeah, it’s...
JOHN: For what…
JOHN: …apparent offense?
ED: [00:15:52] The charge … I was in charge of a group of guys, a jeep driver and a radio operator and I forget what the other guy was. And something happened to the jeep. So they said, “The driver wasn't putting proper maintenance on it, it’s your fault.” Everything goes up to, you know, chain of command. So the exec … no, the battery commander was gone. So the exec officer, who’s a nice, friendly guy, I said, “What I do?” He said, “You can take company punishment or you can be a court martialed.” I said, “What would you do?” He said, “I can't give you any advice.” So I said, “What could happen in a court martial?” He said, “I can't tell you whether … you’d get off or not.” So I said … I was about ready to leave. I had maybe a few weeks or a month, I can't remember now. And so I said, “Well, I'll go for company punishment.” So what they did, they busted me and they assigned me … I couldn't stay there because I was … had been a sergeant. So they assigned me to something called AFAK, Armed Forces Aid to Korea, which I was in charge of like 20 or 30 Korean guys … went about grading a road. And we’d go out there, they all sit down and start smoking cigarettes. And they didn't want to do it, I didn't want do it. So I smoked a cigarette with them, you know, and we’d just, you know, just talk. [Transcriber’s note: Armed Forces Assistance to Korea (AFAK) was a U.S. Army-funded program that aimed to help Korean communities rebuild after the Korean War. Internet research by transcriber found limited information about this program.]
JOHN: And they took one of your stripes?
ED: Pardon me?
JOHN: Did they take one of your stripes, too, knocked you down to corporal?
ED: That's what the company punishment was.
JOHN: Were you in Korea when the war ended?
JOHN: So … did you did your time in Korea include some time in the post-war period then?
ED: Oh, yeah. Too much of it. Too much time.
JOHN: Though I guess the war's officially never been over, but...
ED: No, it’s a truce, yeah.
JOHN: A truce, yeah.
ED: Yeah, we're always on guard.
JOHN: How did the war affect you?
ED: [00:18:04] The most affecting thing of the war to me was … I never really gave it a lot of thought until much later on in my life. But what affected me was, as the truce settled in, Korean people who lived in the little villages started coming back to where the villages were and settling in. So there was a lot of theft going on. So for some reason, in our battery, two truckloads of guys went down the road, I can't remember how far it was. And we went to this little village looking for contraband. And basically I was watching … I stood back and watched what was going on … they’re going like mobs, like all these soldiers are tearing these little houses apart and I … I stepped away from it. I looked at one of the lieutenants in charge, and he went … he was at a loss, too. And I walked away from it.
JOHN: These were locals coming back to their village that were…?
ED: I mean, there was no village there. They were building what they could with what…
JOHN: You mean the villages had been destroyed, is that what you’re saying?
ED: Oh, yeah. So anyway I think of it now, I says, “That’s when you became conscious,” you know, at that point. Yeah. I must have been … must have been 20 at that time. I said, “Wow, this is a terrible thing that’s going on.” That's one aspect of war that really got to me, you know.
JOHN: I imagine as an artillery person, you know, you fire your rounds and you don't directly see what happens on the other end...
ED: [00:19:48] That's what happened to me. I don't … maybe it was 15 or 20 years ago, I all of a sudden I got PTSD. Because I realized, you know, I was killing people that I couldn't … I didn’t even see them. You know, it's like paying your taxes and you're killing people, too. And I know that's a different thing, but … Yeah, if I’d been in a firefight or something like that it would be a whole different story. But I was...
JOHN: It was a delayed reaction and it took...?
ED: Oh, very much so. I didn't think about it at all. I was more upset by this village getting demolished than anything else.
JOHN: Had that been demolished by U.S. forces or...?
ED: By guys I knew.
JOHN: And did you stay in touch with anybody from the military, from your military days after you were discharged?
ED: There was a famous cartoon from World War Two. It's in front of … an establishment. There's a guy with a broom and an apron sweeping the sidewalk, you know. And there’s guy standing there with a suit and a briefcase and … all of a sudden the guy with the briefcase looks at the guy with the broom, and says, “Sergeant Handelman.” And I go, “OK, who’s that. Private Burgraf.” That actually happened to me here in San Francisco.
JOHN: You ran into somebody just randomly?
ED: [00:21:16] Yeah. [chuckles] Actually, I ran into a … on my way to Europe, I ran into a guy who I’d met on the troop ship. And I was on 42nd Street or something like that. And this guy comes bopping down the street. And I say, “Hey!” … when I was on a troopship, I was a witness to him having a fight with somebody. So that's how well I knew him, right? I just, you know, I saw it happen. I was a witness.
JOHN: And you remembered him after all those years?
JOHN: Did he remember you?
ED: Pardon me?
JOHN: Did he remember you?
ED: Well, that’s only … maybe four years … just a few years ago.
JOHN: I see. I mean, when you realized years later that you'd been affected emotionally by your experience and PTSD, did you, you know, seek treatment or join any kind of support groups or...?
ED: [00:22:19] I did. I went to the V.A. and I talked to a budding shrink, you know. And yeah, we talked about a lot. And the best thing for me, about the same time I went back to Omaha and I was talking to my brother and my cousin and they talked …. “You know, we feel that it bothers us a little bit,” you know.
JOHN: Your brother who had served in Korea as well?
ED: Yeah. My brother was a hero in Korea. He was Silver Star and …. So I, yeah, so they sort of … that helped me a lot.
JOHN: They had had similar experience of PTSD?
ED: Oh, yeah. They'd had much heavier experience in Korea than I did. I remember telling a shrink, I said, “You know, my experience in combat is pretty lightweight.” He said, “No experience in combat is a lightweight,” you know.
JOHN: Do you feel as though that that experience has had any impact on you artistically? … Does that, in other words, does that kind of come into come into play in…?
ED: [00:23:38] I do more battle scenes with stick figures when I was a little kid than. No … I don't really know. I don't know. I'm sure it has something to do with me, so I'm sure it has, you know, what I do and what I say and everything is not any different from what I do in the studio.
JOHN: Are you OK with continuing for now or do you want to continue?
JOHN: So let's talk about what happened after … so you were, I think you said, discharged in ‘54 from the Army?
JOHN: And you came back to the U.S. And what did you do?
ED: [00:24:19] I came back, I went to Omaha, I wanted to be … I didn't know what I wanted to be, but I knew I wanted to be something other than working at the Cudahy’s or… Union Pacific. So … I went to University of Omaha. And I was a very good student. As a matter of fact, I made the dean's list the three semesters I was there. And…
JOHN: That's interesting. It seems as though maybe some maturity or focus had set in in these years?
ED: I think in some countries, in some European countries, I think Germany, I heard that they have what's called a wander year. You get out of high school and you go do whatever you want for a year.
JOHN: A gap year sometimes people call it, yeah.
ED: A gap year. And these were my gap years. And, yeah, I became more mature. I realized a lot of things. One of the things that happened to me at the University Omaha, I took Introduction to Humanities. Something that was not part of my life at all. Humanities, you know, art and literature. I read some books. Usually someone said, “Hey, read this.” “OK” When I was in high school instead of reading assigned books, I went to the library and read science fiction stories, you know, Jules Verne. That’s the only one I can think of right now. So, you know, all of a sudden I’m in a class, you know, and there's a guy giving a lecture. He's talking about art and painting and architecture. Wow! This is mind expanding. It’s like dropping acid without dropping acid.
JOHN: I don't want to, you know, draw … connections where they may not exist. But is this sort of the beginnings of … an artistic awakening in you or...?
ED: [00:26:15] Oh, yeah. You know, actually, I realized … this is what I want to do. So they had an interesting art department at the University of Omaha. They had a woman who was head of it. She had a doctorate in the psychology of color. They had two full-time instructors and a couple part-time instructors. That's how big the department was. But she, Dr. Kotch, had studied with people from the Bauhaus. So the education there was really interesting. We did things … you go into a drawing class and all of a sudden you're doing etchings and stuff. And you go into a design class, you're working with colored lights and everything. And from there, I went to the Art Institute here and it was completely different. I realized I was getting a really good art education at the University of Omaha. And over here I was getting studio time, basically. Which is cool, but… [Transcriber’s notes: The correct spelling and full name of Dr. Kotch, Ed’s art instructor at University of Omaha, is unknown.; Per Wikipedia, the Staatliches Bauhaus, commonly known as the Bauhaus, was a German art school operational from 1919 to 1933 that combined crafts and fine arts. The school became famous for its approach to design, which attempted to unify individual artistic vision with the principles of mass production and emphasis on function.]
JOHN: But as an artist, I think you have described yourself as a colorist.
ED: I’m a colorist.
JOHN: How was it working with this woman who … that was her specialty … that brought that into your consciousness more or…?
ED: It’s … for example, I … you know, if you mix all the colors together, you get black or dark brown some … you mix all the light colors together, you get white, you know. Well, who knew that, you know? So, yeah, I learned a lot, yeah.
JOHN: You carried that with you as your years went on. OK, so you were for how long at the University of Omaha?
ED: Three semesters.
JOHN: And then what happened?
ED: Came to the Art Institute of San Francisco.
JOHN: Had you finished the … whatever program you were doing?
JOHN: No. But you've...
ED: I’m a classic dropout.
JOHN: So what propelled you to come to San Francisco at that point?
JOHN: [chuckles] OK … but there was something about San Francisco, I guess, that attracted you?
ED: [00:28:43] Well, I remember when I … the brief time I was here that I liked what I saw, you know. And actually when I was leaving, or I decided to leave, I was going to go to Portland because … the wife of one of my teachers at Omaha U. had gone to Reed. She said, you know, “Reed might be a good place for you.” So I was driving I’m going to go to Reid and then I'll go back and check San Francisco out. And so I got on the road and I … actually my girlfriend at the time, I dropped her off at her grandparents’ house in Colorado. I can't remember the name of the town. And then I was going, “Let’s see, I go this road I go to Portland.” I said “Nah, I don’t need to go to Portland, I want to go to San Francisco.” One of the things that turned me on to San Francisco … I picked up a brochure at a Ford dealership. Had illustrations in it by David Park, famous San Francisco artist. And I said, “Wow, this is really nice stuff,” you know. And that's what propelled me to San Francisco. [Transcriber’s note: Reed College is a private, liberal arts college in Portland, OR.]
[Transcriber’s note: telephone rings here.]
[Fourth recording segment of January 31, 2022 interview with Ed Handelman begins here.]
JOHN: [00:00:01] We were talking about what drew you to San Francisco.
ED: [00:00:11] Yeah, seeing David Park's illustrations in a brochure for Ford cars. And really … they’re really quite beautiful … he’s a wonderful painter. And I says, “Maybe I’ll go there.”
JOHN: He was part of a school of artists, right, that was based out of the Art Institute? And… [Transcriber’s note: Per Wikipedia, David Park (1911-1960) was a painter and a pioneer of the Bay Area Figurative Movement in painting during the 1950s. In 1943, he began teaching at California School of Fine Arts, now known as San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). He helped revive an interest in figurative art, at first experimenting with still-abstracted forms that relied on color for their impact, dynamics and warmth. Park, along with Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff, broke away from the philosophy of painting promoted by Clyfford Still, who taught at the SFAI, forming what would later be called the Bay Area Figurative Movement.]
JOHN: …was Diebenkorn part of that group?
ED: Diebenkorn and … oh, I can’t remember … and actually when I got to here … when I got to the … my favorite thing at the Art Institute was a welding class. And there was an artist named Tom Hardy, and he's a really good teacher. I watched him walk around, pick scraps up off the floor and go over and weld ‘em and make this beautiful piece of work. And, yeah, that was my favorite class. [Transcriber’s note: Per his obituary in The Oregonian, Tom Austin Hardy (1921-2016 earned an MFA from University of Oregon in direct metal sculpture and lithography in 1952 and went on to teach at the University of Oregon, UC Berkeley, Reed College and the San Francisco Art Institute. His works, including metal sculptures, watercolors, prints and paintings, hang in major museum collections, including the Whitney Museum and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. He lived much of his life in Oregon.]
JOHN: Was the Art Institute in its current location or was it...?
ED: Yeah, its current location.
JOHN: On Chestnut Street?
JOHN: And so at this time … so I guess maybe just talk me through your … how you approached San Francisco. When you arrived where did you stay? Where did you live?
ED: [00:01:42] I actually … I went out to my aunt's house. And she said, “You can stay here.” I said, “No, I'll go downtown and stay at a hotel.” My first mistake, right? So I went downtown, I stayed at a hotel that’s at Fifth and Mission. I forget what it's called. And I made the mistake of parking my car on the street. So I went out in the morning and there was a broken window in my car and everything except what I was wearing was gone. So I said … I took it well. I said, “Well, new beginnings,” you know. Are you going to have to buy new clothes and everything else. So, yeah, so that day I went and registered at the Art Institute and there was a little notice on the board. And this has to do with Telegraph Hill, I think, ‘cause where I stayed is at the foot of Telegraph Hill.
JOHN: That was your first place that you spent a significant amount of time after this initial hotel on Fifth Street?
ED: Yeah, I only stayed there for one night.
JOHN: I see.
ED: And it's what's called now the Coppola Building. And I forget what they called it … I think it was called the Columbus Tower Building in those days, I'm not sure. But there was a little notice at the Art Institute that said Rooms for Rent. So I went there and there was a woman who ran it. I don’t remember whether she had just part of the building. I think she's had a maybe had a couple of floors. And she was a pastel artist. She did beautiful, intricate stuff, you know. And there was a guy, the handyman, who looked, you know, wore his hat … obviously some painter friend. And I rented a space there, and I stayed there for a while. [Transcriber’s note: Per Wikipedia, Columbus Tower, also known as the Sentinel Building, is a mixed-use building that was completed in 1907. The distinctive copper-green Flatiron style structure is bounded by Columbus Avenue, Kearny Street and Jackson Street. Much of the building is occupied by film studio American Zoetrope, a film studio co-founded by director Francis Ford Coppola, who purchased the building in 1972. The ground floor houses Cafe Zoetrope.]
JOHN: And what sort of a place was it…?
ED: A room.
JOHN: …a studio apartment, kind of?
ED: No, it was a room, and there was a bath down the hall.
JOHN: With other students or artists?
ED: I have no idea. I met one guy when I first moved in there ‘cause he was at the same time looking for a place. And I didn't see him again until 20 some years later. When I went to work and he was working the same place I worked in.
JOHN: Well, speaking of work I assume you needed to have income. That was probably one of the things you did fairly quickly, right?
ED: Yeah, I had … well, I had the G.I. Bill. I had some money I’d saved. And one of my cousins worked for a furniture store on Fillmore called Boxers. I think it was at Fillmore about Ellis, something like that. You’re not familiar with that? [Transcriber’s note: Internet research by transcriber found no mention of a San Francisco furniture company called Boxers or Boxer’s.]
JOHN: I don't know Boxers. I know that neighborhood very well, yeah.
ED: So when I worked there… I worked on a truck delivering sometimes. And I worked in their warehouse repacking dishes. The warehouse was on Golden Gate Avenue, right off of Fillmore. So, yeah … and as I say, I didn't really like the Art Institute that much.
JOHN: About how long did you stay attending classes at the Art Institute?
ED: For a semester.
JOHN: For a semester, OK.
JOHN: And this would have been what year?
ED: Yeah. In the fall of ‘56 I went there, yeah ... someone said, “Why didn’t you like it?” I said, “Well, I …” I thought about it a lot afterwards, like a … I found it very clique-ish. And that's probably common for art schools, you know, where you gravitate to a certain teacher. And I've never been that kind of person. So you know.
JOHN: Were the other students or the community there at [the] Art Institute welcoming to you when you arrived?
ED: [00:06:03] Yeah, in some funny ways. They had some kind of a mixer. So I went to this mixer and this one guy glommed onto me and we talked and this and that. You know, he's a nice man, you know. And he said, “Well, let’s go have a drink.” So we went to … god, what's the place down there where the … the Irish coffee place down on the...?
JOHN: Oh, yes…
ED: I’m having a senior moment here.
JOHN: [laughter] Me too. I know the place you're thinking of … yeah, where the Irish coffee was supposedly invented. [Transcriber’s note: The Buena Vista is a café at 2765 Hyde Street that is credited with introducing Irish Coffee to the United States in the early 1950s. Per Wikipedia, the Buena Vista Café originally opened in 1916 when the first floor of a boardinghouse was converted into a saloon.]
ED: Yeah, anyway, you know, we’re there and we’re hitting on a couple of young women, you know … and then he and I left and all of a sudden I realized, “This is a homosexual.” So that's how I was welcomed to...
JOHN: So what was the … you were living in North Beach and working outside North Beach, but you were going to the Art Institute. And your life, much of it seemed to be focused in North Beach. What was it like in this neighborhood at that time?
ED: Well, first of all, I have to tell you I had a girlfriend who was going to the Art Institute, and she was an airline stewardess. And she had a schedule fixed in a certain way that she had a lot of time off. She did one flight a week to Sun Valley and one flight a week to Hawaii. Yeah, I think I was her San Francisco boyfriend. So that was one of the good spots, I liked her. She and I became clique-ish. What was North Beach like? I don't know. I didn't really get into a lot of it. You know, I went to … you know, I've never been much of a drinker, so I didn't go into bars or anything like that, and I didn't really get to know North Beach much at all.
JOHN: Did you end up living in other places in the neighborhood? I think you mentioned Vandewater Street, for example. [Transcriber’s note: Vandewater Street stretches for one blocks in North Beach, between Powell and Mason streets. Vandewater Street lies along what was once the Bay’s edge, before landfill extended the city.]
ED: [00:08:10] Yeah, that's after, way afterward. I did have … while I was at the Art Institute a few of us decided to open a gallery, right. So down here on Filbert and Powell there's a series of little storefronts. So we rented one of little storefronts there and opened a gallery. And it didn't amount to much, right. But … for a while … you know, when you open a door and go in the building, there's an over overhang up … I lived there for a while, unbeknownst to most people. You know, there were no facilities there. You know, I’d get up in the morning to go find some place.
JOHN: Did you have a place where you did art? Painting?
ED: Just at the school.
JOHN: OK. But after you, you were there for one semester at the school. And then … then what did you do?
ED: I realized I had the G.I. Bill, I could be going anywhere. I decided to go … “I’ll go to Europe.”
JOHN: So after a semester at [the] Art Institute, you went to Europe?
JOHN: OK, where did you go in Europe?
ED: [00:09:18] I was going to go to school in Germany because I had a little bit of German that I [learned] in high school. So I went to [chuckles] university in Hamburg, right. And I'm talking to some guy and he’s telling me what I have to do. And all of a sudden in the middle of the conversation he starts speaking to me in German. I said, “Wait a minute, you have to slow down.” He said, “No, no, no.” He said, “You're in Germany now. You're going to go to school here. You’re going to speak German.” I said, “No, no, fuck this.” [chuckles] And I’d been in Italy and the zeitgeist in Germany and the zeitgeist in Italy is really different. So I said, “I’m going to go to Italy.”
JOHN: Where in Italy did you go?
ED: I went to Florence. The University of Florence.
JOHN: And so did you attend any kind of a school there? What did you do in Florence?
ED: I painted.
JOHN: You painted?
ED: But not at the school. The way … the system there is that you don't have to go to class, you don't have to do anything. You only have to take exams, right. So I said that’s perfect, right. So once a month, I would go to the concierge, one of the concierges at one of the buildings, and give him my G.I. Bill thing, and he'd go get it signed and give it back. I’d give him a couple hundred lira, so that way I’d keep getting my checks. There were about a dozen, 15 guys who were … I knew who were doing that.
JOHN: Former … people on the G.I. Bill?
JOHN: I mean … but was this a school or...?
ED: The University of Florence.
JOHN: I see. And so, I mean, did you have instruction in painting and drawing and things?
ED: [00:11:12] No, no. They didn’t have … I was studying at the Studio dell’Arte. The study of art, art history. And I went to one class one time ‘cause a woman I know was like, “Oh, come on to this class.” And the guy he’s up there, he’s got the book he’s writing on art and he's going [murmuring noises]. And I’m going [snoring noises]. So I didn’t have to go to classes. So it's like, you know, I painted … I painted every day. I’d get up every day and paint ‘til maybe three o’clock or something like that. [Transcriber’s note: the name of the art school in Florence is Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze.]
JOHN: And what sort of things were you painting at that time?
ED: Pretty much abstract stuff, you know. It was the times, you know, ‘50s. And, yeah, that's pretty much how I painted…
JOHN: And so how long did you stay there in Florence?
ED: I got there in the spring of ‘57, and I came back to … I was back in San Francisco the fall of ’59. So it's basically almost two and a half years.
JOHN: And you decided when you left there that you would return to San Francisco?
ED: Oh, yeah. I actually stopped in Omaha, you know, for awhile. I have to tell you I had an experience in Omaha that got me out of there real quick. And one of it was … Friday night I'm with a couple of my buddies and we're going to, you know, go hang out at some bar, something like that. And there's a bar in a mall, right. So one of the guys said, hey, so and so, and so and so … a couple of girls who we knew were working up there. So we went up, said Hey, come and join us. And one of them said, well, I have a date. But the other one said I’ll come with you. So it was three guys and this girl. So we were out, we're having a good time. I'm the first person to drop off, I was staying at my brother's house. And my brother and my sister got up early to go shopping. And while they're shopping, they meet this girl’s aunt there. This is really fast, right. And she said, “Oh, I hear your brother had a date with my niece last night.” My brother came home and told me. I said, “Man, you can't do anything in this town, right.” I mean I didn't have a date with her, she was part of the group, right. So that's one of the things that prompted me. And also I woke up … there was in the back of my head that, you know, I don’t want to be around like that. I woke up one day, it was hot and humid, and I said, “I’m not going to spend another day here.”
JOHN: So the more big city vibe, as well as perhaps the climate in San Francisco were appealing … among the other appealing factors?
ED: All I know is when I came to San Francisco it was August and I got out of the car and I'm wearing a short-sleeved shirt and “Oh, god, this is wonderful.” [chuckles]
JOHN: So OK, you returned to San Francisco in 1959. And where did you land?
ED: I stayed … the first place I stayed is … Entella Hotel. It’s on Columbus and Lombard. And a friend of mine had a girlfriend who had a place, down here above the ravioli factory. Cafferata. [Transcriber’s notes: Entella Hotel San Francisco is located at 905 Columbus Avenue.; The Cafferata Ravioli Factory, founded in 1886, was located at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Filbert Street. Internet research by transcriber did not clarify what happened to the Cafferata Ravioli Factory or in what year it left its Columbus Avenue location.]
ED: [00:15:03] And anyway, she was going to leave, so I got that place. And there was one big room, probably a … maybe as wide as this. It’s not really big. But it, you know, had a bed in it, you know, a little single bed. It had a sink. Must’ve had some kind of stove ‘cause I used to cook rabbit skin glue in there. You know what that is?
JOHN: Rabbit skin...?
ED: Rabbit skin glue.
JOHN: I’ve never heard of that.
ED: When you do a canvas, you prime it, right, with rabbit skin glue and… you know. People don't do that much anymore.
JOHN: I see, so it's … OK.
ED: So, yeah, I had that place until I met a woman who became my first wife. And she and I moved to Vandewater.
JOHN: What is her name?
ED: Her name was Joni Lindi.
JOHN: Joni Lindi.
JOHN: Where was she from?
ED: She was from San Rafael.
JOHN: A local.
JOHN: Is she still alive?
ED: No, she's not. She died several years ago.
JOHN: And at this time, were you painting full-time?
ED: Yeah, yeah. That place is perfect.
JOHN: You had really dedicated yourself then to painting?
ED: Yeah. It's a disease.
JOHN: Nice disease.
JOHN: And, OK, I don't want to interrupt. Go on.
ED: [00:16:32] Oh, no. So anyway, I kept that for a while as a studio, and we lived on Vandewater. And we sort … my daughter was born, we were living on … it was really interesting when I would go around … when I first met Peggy, my wife now, I thought, “I used to live there. Oh, I used to live there.” So we moved from there to Powell and Chestnut. Then we moved from there to Kearny between Green and Vallejo. Then we moved from there to Montgomery between Green and Vallejo. Then we moved out of the city for … we moved out to the Haight for awhile. And that was not so good ‘cause the guy who was a roommate of ours killed himself in there. So it just became uncomfortable there. So when we moved back, we were living on Vallejo just up from Grant Avenue. So I live in a lot of places and...
JOHN: Was your wife an artist as well?
JOHN: Did she have an interest in art or…?
ED: [00:17:55] Oh, yeah. She told me … she said, “I always wanted to marry an artist,” right. She was an interesting woman. She's one of those people who took Latin in high school and could speak it. And so any language that comes along, she just picked it up like nothing. She graduated high school when she was like 16, you know, and she was sort of attracted by what was left of the beatnik culture. See I'm too young to be a beatnik and too old to be a hippie. So I would have been, you know, fit right in either way.
JOHN: Well, I'm glad you brought that up because I was going to, you know … getting back to my questions about what the neighborhood was like. I mean … in the late ‘50s, were there still places where beatniks were hanging out?
ED: Yeah, right over in the corner here was the Bread and Wine Mission. You familiar with that?
JOHN: On the corner of Grant and...?
ED: Yeah, Grant. That corner over there. It's called … it was run by a guy named Pierre Delattre. And, you know, it's like, you know, you could crash there, and sort of... [Transcriber’s note: The Bread and Wine Mission (often referred to as “The Mission”), located at 510 Greenwich Street, was founded by a Congregationalist minister names Pierre Delattre in 1958. The Mission became a central hub of beatnik culture that rivalled City Lights bookstore, hosting poetry readings, live jazz performances, group counseling and political discussions. Several issues of Beatitude, a central literary publication of the Beat movement, were published at The Mission.]
JOHN: What was it called?
ED: [00:19:15] Bread and Wine Mission. And the closest I ever got to it, when he left this place was closed down there was another guy named … gosh, I should know his name because he was a Unitarian minister. Jack Matlaga was his name. And he married me and Joni, my first wife. I remember what he said. “You want anything special for your wedding?” I said, “Yeah. How about the recitation of the Charge of the Light Brigade?” Which I thought was funny. Joanie didn't think it was very funny. [Transcriber’s note: The Rev. Jack Matlaga was The Mission’s minister.]
JOHN: That's what was recited at your...?
ED: No, it wasn’t. [chuckles]
JOHN: [chuckles] And so you moved around … it sounds like, aside from the time in the Haight. And then did you say you left the city at some time?
ED: Left the city in I guess it was ‘68 or ’69. Moved to Tam Valley. You know, kept working here in the city. I still registered to vote in the city. And Tam Valley we … one day I got out and walked out and sat on the front stoop and a car pulled up and a bunch of people got out and they started walking and I said, “Can I help you?” And they said, “We've come to see the house.” I said, “Well, yeah, it's for sale,” I thought. The landlord never told me, right. So we figured, “Well, probably a good time to move.” So we bought a house in Sebastopol. And even in Omaha I lived in a neighborhood like this. There were a lot of people and a lot of stores and, you know, everything like that. So all of a sudden we're on the outskirts of Sebastopol. There was a well, you know, pump water into the house. I'm going, “God damn, I just hate this.” So anyway, it ended the marriage, and I came back to the city. And … trying to remember where I … oh, I had a studio in the city, South of Market, so I stayed there for awhile. And then I ran into a woman...
JOHN: The art studio?
JOHN: And you lived there as well?
ED: [00:21:50] Yeah. Not the most comfortable living, but … so I ran into a woman I’d known for awhile. And she said, “I got a room for rent and I'll trade you. You can move in, but you have to do some maintenance throughout the house.” “OK, I'll do this.” So I did that for … I stayed there for about … I don't know how long. I can't really remember how long. But meanwhile I’d gone to visit my daughter and my ex-wife in Sebastopol, and I ended up bringing my daughter back with me. And she and I lived in Bernal Heights for awhile, then we moved to the city. We're living in a place, a friend of mine had a place on the corner of Green and Kearny. And so we stayed there for awhile. And then I heard about this place. A guy who had worked at the Spaghetti Factory was living here, and he was a heavy alcoholic. And he moved in with a woman who was living here and she moved out. I mean, that's how bad it was for her. So I came down here, I heard about her moving and him being here. So I came down, knocked on the door. He said, “Hi Ed. What’s happening?” I said, “I'm moving in here.” He said, “Oh, OK.” He said … he says here's who you go see, there’s a woman in Chinatown. I went and saw her and told her I was moving in, and she said, “OK.” [Transcriber’s note: Per a San Francisco Planning Commission resolution issued in 1981, The Old Spaghetti Factory was located in a North Beach building which had been a pasta factory until 1955 when Frederick Kuh converted it to a cafe, cabaret and restaurant. The establishment became a hub for North Beach’s bohemian and artistic community. Among the people who performed at the Old Spaghetti Factory were The Kingston Trio, Arlo Guthrie, Robin Williams, Donald Pippin and his Pocket Opera, and flamenco dancer Cruz Luna. Freddy Kuh sold the establishment in 1984.]
JOHN: Did your daughter come with you as well?
ED: Yeah. So we moved in here, you know, we didn't have anything, no furniture or anything. And sort of pieced things together.
JOHN: This was around what year? In the early ‘70s are we?
ED: She was born ‘62. Must have been around 1970, ‘71 something that.
JOHN: And you've been here ever since?
ED: Yeah, I've been here since 1970.
JOHN: In this same apartment?
ED: It’s the same apartment.
JOHN: It's a great apartment.
ED: It’s a great apartment. The landlord lives in the building down the alley.
JOHN: So it seems as though North Beach, you tried some different places, you even left the city altogether … on a couple of times. But North Beach was a real attraction for you.
ED: [00:24:20] Oh, it's a wonderful neighborhood … I hardly ever came up this up this street until I moved into it ‘cause, you know, I just centered about what I knew, right? And I think maybe I walked up to here once or twice. I sort of explored the neighborhood, and...
JOHN: And has this been the studio we're sitting in now? Has this been your studio ever since then?
ED: [00:24:48] No, I had a studio in Hunters Point Shipyard for awhile, where Peggy has a studio. This is her last day there. Yeah. All in all, I had … I'm trying to remember. Well, I still [was] married Joni I had a studio South of Market on a street called Zoe Street, between Third and Fourth, Brannan and something else. And I got that through another guy who worked at Spaghetti Factory and he was giving it up. So I got it. And what it was, I rented a whole basement of this place. The basement … the window street-level was right about eye-level, right. So, you know, you had good lighting … and I rented the studio to other artists and I had a free space and $40 a month. And I kept that until the building changed, and the guy told me, said, “Oh, I'm tripling your rent.” And so I decided to give it up. [Transcriber’s note: Per thepointart.com, the Hunters Point Shipyard Artists is a community of artists who rent studios in the former U.S. naval shipyard on Hunters Point in the Bayview community of San Francisco and in the nearby Islais Creek Studios. An artist community since 1983, the Hunters Point Shipyard is now home to more than 250 artists.]
JOHN: This was the one on Zoe Street?
ED: Zoe Street, yeah. The last time I looked at that, which was years ago, it had turned into a boutique. That's how the neighborhood changed down there.
JOHN: So let's talk … you’ve referenced a couple of times the Old Spaghetti Factory. Around what time, what year was it that you worked at the Old Spaghetti Factory?
ED: Let’s see, I worked … early ‘60s, maybe ‘62 or three until maybe ‘70.
JOHN: So you had a good run there of seven…
ED: Pardon me?
JOHN: You were there, it sounds like, seven or eight years?
ED: Oh, it was a great place to work.
JOHN: Did you work there steadily that whole time?
JOHN: And what was it that … how did you find it? … tell me how you found that job.
ED: My first wife was a cocktail waitress in the Flamenco show there. You're familiar with the Flamenco?
JOHN: I've heard about it.
ED: [00:27:10] She was a cocktail waitress there, you know, and she’d take Flamenco lessons and stuff like that. So I was driving a cab previous to that … I always look for jobs that … [telephone rings here] where I have time in the evenings for myself. I worked at Bemis Bag, it used to be a factory over on the other side of Telegraph Hill. And I drove a cab. I ran a coffee shop down on Post Street. That's where I met, Sergeant Handelman met Private Burgraf. [Transcriber’s note: The Bemis Bag Company, founded in St. Louis, was a national leader in the manufacturing of bags and sacks used for holding flour, grain and other commodities. Beamis Bag’s San Francisco plent was built in 1906 at 1088 Sansome Street.]
JOHN: [chuckles] Is that because you do your best painting work in the evenings?
ED: No, I wanted daytime free.
JOHN: I see. You wanted jobs that you could do in the evenings after you had spent the day painting?
ED: Right. I want to get up in the morning and be bright and well-rested and go enjoy my studio. You know, I don't mind slogging around work, you know. Anyway, the Spaghetti Factory was quite a good place to work.
JOHN: And did you … you got that job because your first wife was there?
ED: I'd been driving a car, driving a cab and it was starting to get to me a little bit, you know. And I [unintelligible words here] bar and I said, you know, “I need a job.” And they said, “We need a dishwasher.” And I said, “I could do that.” So a dishwasher, and maybe four or five days later I was second cook, and then first cook. There was very little cooking involved, I have to tell you that, at the Spaghetti Factory.
JOHN: So what are some of the things that you used to cook?
ED: We didn't cook anything. The way they operated there was that we made the spaghetti fresh. Some guy would come in during the day and cook all the sauces, and we just put things together.
JOHN: The spaghetti, the noodles were actually made on site?
ED: Well, they came in boxes, you know, a big box.
JOHN: OK, and so then your job then was what? Assembling things sort of, you know, putting the sauces on...
ED: [00:29:32] Yeah. Like as the first cook, the waiters used to come up and put their bills down there. And I’d look and say, “Oh, give me 10.” The guy would get 10 plates of … and I’d do the sauces and put ‘em there and cut their garlic bread and … you know, you got the system. It became like a dance almost. You do this, you know, move this way. And time went by very fast. And there was always a lot of laughs.
JOHN: Around what time of day would you start working?
ED: Four o’clock.
JOHN: And you'd go until about when?
ED: ‘Til midnight.
JOHN: ‘Til midnight?
JOHN: Is that when it closed, at midnight?
JOHN: Yeah. So it was like … I'd like to hear some of the … the other people who worked there and the clientele. What was it like?
ED: [00:30:17] We, uh, one time we were figuring out our years of college in the kitchen, right. We had guys … one guy had a master's degree, but most of most of ‘em graduated from the Art Institute. One guy who worked there was … his name is Dave Getz. He was a drummer for Big Brother and the Holding Company. So when they were first coming, they were meeting at the Spaghetti Factory … there were a group of guys, Janis Joplin and company. And, yeah, we had a softball team, a coed softball team. We played against the Art Institute. And there used to be a restaurant just down the street from the Trieste, right on that corner there, that was called, I forget, MDR, for minimum daily requirement or something. It had that kind of name. And I forgot who else we used to play. [Transcriber’s note: David Getz was a jazz drummer who joined Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1966. The San Francisco-based rock band became well known with a lineup that featured vocalist Janis Joplin, who left the group in 1968 for a successful solo career.]
JOHN: But it sounds like there were quite a few artistic people who worked there. Is that right?
ED: Freddy Kuh, the owner, used to talk about, he said, “I put dozens of people through the Art Institute.” Well, that's not quite … but a lot of people, yeah.
JOHN: And did … can you tell me what the interior of the Spaghetti Factory looked like?
JOHN: I've heard it. I've heard there were chairs on the walls and things like that?
ED: [00:32:01] There were open rafters, there were chairs hanging from the rafters. And Freddy Kuh is the kind of guy who would go to an auction and he’d buy stuff that no one else would buy. On the second floor of the Spaghetti Factory, it was jammed with stuff. Just jammed with stuff. I remember every time I had to use the elevator to go up, there was a madonna, statue of a madonna looking down the elevator shaft, you know, and you’d go… [chuckles] He lived on the third floor. When he was moving from there, he showed me, he said, “Oh, I just uncovered this letter.” It was a letter with a three-cent stamp on it and had been buried for all those years.
ED: So the Spaghetti Factory you walked in it had … nothing matched. One guy who worked there had covered all the tables with a collage. And he did that same thing at Vesuvio’s. They might still be there. Yeah, it was a very interesting place. [Transcriber’s note: Vesuvio Cafe, located at 255 Columbus Avenue across from City Lights, is, according to its website, a saloon that was established in 1948 and “remains a monument to jazz, poetry, art and the good life of the Beat Generation.”]
JOHN: It was a good time, though. People that, the clientele that came in.
ED: [00:33:31] Yeah. You know, like there was a woman who used to come in there periodically and she had a shopping bag full of peyote buttons that she would sell. And there was a guy who would come in every Friday night and sell lids, right. So … am I giving something away that I smoked marijuana? [chuckles] So we’d buy a lid for the kitchen. One time I came back in from out in the alley, the little alley there, I came in from the alley after having smoked a joint, and Blaine Ellis who’s married to Rita, right, had this one guy on the floor and was choking him. I said, “What the hell are you doing?” He said, “I’m gonna kill this motherfucker,” right. I said, “You kill him you’ll have to do all his work.” “That’s why I wanna kill him, I'm doing all his work now.” You know, things like that went on all the time. [Transcriber’s notes: Blaine Ellis is a photographer based in San Francisco and New Mexico. Blaine worked at the Old Spaghetti Factory with Ed, and the two are still good friends. Blaine is married to Rita Pisciotta, who was also interviewed in 2022 for the THD Oral History Project.]
JOHN: So Blaine also worked at the Spaghetti Factory?
ED: Blaine worked there, yeah.
JOHN: Did you make a lot of friends that you still … ‘cause he's still one of your good friends, isn’t he?
ED: [00:34:40] That's really interesting. Peggy said, “You know, I go to places and people talk about the Spaghetti Factory all the time.” I said, “I go to places,” Peggy did a lot of catering, “and all your friends are caterers,” right. [chuckles] That's what happens.
JOHN: [00:35:40] There were, as I, you know, did a little reading about the Old Spaghetti Factory, some big names performed there. It said The Kingston Trio and Arlo Guthrie. I guess Cruz Luna was a flamenco dancer… [Transcriber’s note: Per The Los Angeles Times, Cruz Luna (1938-1988) was a nationally known flamenco dancer who was born in Spain and launched his career at age 17 with appearances on the Ed Sullivan and Dave Garroway television shows. He moved to San Francisco in 1959 and performed with the Smothers Brothers and Phyllis Diller. From 1960 to 1974, he operated Cafe Madrid in North Beach and presented flamenco dancers from around the world.]
ED: Yeah, Cruz…
JOHN: Robin Williams was there.
ED: [00:36:04] There was a room in the front called the Blue Noodle Room. It was run by Joan Reynolds, who was married to one of the Kingston Trio guys... [Transcriber’s note: Per internet research by transcriber, Joan Reynolds, who died in 2018, was married to Nick Reynolds, a founding member of The Kingston Trio, one of the most prominent groups of the folk-pop boom in the late 1950s and early 1960s.]
[Fifth recording segment of January 31, 2022 interview with Ed Handelman begins here]
ED: [00:00:00] Mr. Reynolds … Nick ... I don’t really remember.
JOHN: When you were working there, though, did you see performances or, you know, kind of well-known performers or artists at the…?
ED: [00:00:16] Oh, yeah. Let me tell you about the Flamenco show a little bit.
ED: The headliner guy was a guy named Ernesto. And when troupes came to town, they always hired some locals. And one troupe came to town and they hired Ernesto. And Ernesto got the write up in the paper ‘cause he’s incredible … he’s incredible dancer. So … the word got out that when troupes came through, they’d never hired him again. But people would come from far and wide to…
ED: And there was a woman named Isomora. Myrna Williams. That's her name, right, who … the first time I ever saw her I almost fell in love with her. She was beautiful, and watching her dance was incredible. [Transcriber’s note: Internet research by transcriber found no reference to a San Francisco dancer named Isomora or Myrna Williams. Correct spelling of this name is unconfirmed.]
JOHN: Was there … here was a stage then?
ED: Yes. ‘Cause the Blue Noodle Room. And the next was a small … room. That's not too big, it’s not too big. And that's where they did the Flamenco.
JOHN: And can you tell me a little bit about Freddy?
ED: [00:01:23] Freddy is a … god, he’s a wonderful man. If he’d run into you at somewhere like at Vesuvio’s or something like that, he’d buy you a drink, but never at the Spaghetti Factory. Except I was driving a cab when my daughter was born, right. I came home and the groceries were still sitting there. I said, “God, I come home to eat dinner and it's not ready?” The beautiful thing about driving a cab you go home for dinner if you wanted to. And I went upstairs and knocked on the guy's door and he said, “Oh, congratulations.” I said, “Wait a minute?” He said, “Your wife had a baby, you didn’t know?” I knew she was due so … anyway, after I saw her, I came back and went to the Spaghetti Factory because, you know, and I was telling … Freddy got me really drunk. Really drunk.
JOHN: But Freddy was kind of a supporter or patron of artistic people. Is that right?
ED: Well, he gave ‘em work.
JOHN: Gave ‘em work.
JOHN: And he owned the Savoy Tivoli as well? [Transcriber’s note: The Savoy Tivoli, originally opened in 1906, is a historic bar and music venue in North Beach. Located at 1434 Grant Avenue, the Savoy re-opened in late 2022 after a lengthy hiatus.]
JOHN: And is that where you and Peggy met?
ED: Yeah. [chuckles]
JOHN: We're getting ahead of ourselves a little bit, but … let's just, I guess, stay on the Old Spaghetti Factory for a minute and...
ED: OK, Freddy…
JOHN: You stayed working there, you said, until about 1970 or so. What was it that caused you to leave at the end?
ED: I wanted to make more money. Yeah. I wanted to make more money.
ED: So I started off doing handyman work on my own. And then I heard about this particular job that I got and worked out really well. I worked at it for 30 years. I worked setting up displays for trade shows. It was also a great job because you could work basically whenever you wanted to.
JOHN: So you could do that in the evenings if you wanted to?
ED: [00:03:29] It was a union job, so like a hiring hall. I'd pick up the phone, I dialed and remember that? I dialed the number and the tape would come on, said so-and-so company needs 100 men on Wednesday, you know. Anyone with a seniority number of one to 50 call in now, and 50 to 100 call in later. And that's how you’d get your job. Or not.
JOHN: And you did that for 30 years?
ED: Yeah, about 30 years.
JOHN: Was that the … final paid job that you did?
JOHN: Yeah. And when did you … and what year … would you call yourself retired from the work life, from the paid work life or…?
JOHN: What year did you..?
ED: Yeah. I try to think about that … it’s maybe 12 years ago. Ten, 12, or 15 years, I really don't remember. A lot of things I don't remember. But it paid very well for that kind of work. It paid very well. When I quit, it was $38 an hour, which is for very little skilled labor. And now the guys are making close to $50 an hour.
JOHN: What union is that?
ED: [00:04:59] It's called Sign Display and Allied Crafts. I started out with sign painters, window displays. Allied crafts, that's where we were. And when I started doing that work, it was basically table shows where you'd set up tables and stuff like that and the vendors would come in and use the table. Then it got very elaborate. I don't know whether you ever been to all those trade shows.
JOHN: I don't think I have.
ED: Yeah, but they got to the point where some, you know, some of the displays are two stories high with little theaters, you know, where 12, 15 people could watch them. It got … yeah, it became a big deal. That's Moscone Center. Started out at Brooks Hall, which is not much, you know. Now Brooks Hall is used as a … storing library books. [Transcriber’s note: Brooks Hall (originally Civic Center Exhibit Hall) is a disused event space underneath the southern half of Civic Center Plaza. Opened in 1958, the space served as the auditorium and Brooks Hall were used as San Francisco’s primary convention center until 1981. Brooks Hall closed to the public in 1993, and the space is now used for parking and storage.]
ED: Well, it's...
JOHN: This is a great photograph.
ED: [00:06:15] It's a great photograph. It was taken by Jerry Burchard. [Transcriber’s note: Jerry Burchard chaired the photography department at the SFAI from 1968-71 and 1978-79. He is perhaps most famous for his night photographs. Burchard died in 2011.]
ED: [00:06:44] Yeah, that's me.
ED: [00:06:46] That's my first wife.
ED: My daughter, Ana, over here.
ED: [00:07:02] It’s Freddy Kuh right here.
JOHN: And what was the occasion that this photograph was…?
ED: I have no idea.
ED: But I can tell you, it was it was either a Saturday or Sunday because I only worked…
JOHN: Because why?
ED: I only worked during the daytime on Saturday and Sunday, which was also rare.
JOHN: I see. Uh-huh.
ED: ‘Cause the day cook was off … I can't cook. Fortunately, she could cook.
ED: So it worked out all right.
JOHN: How many people in the … how many cooks were there?
ED: I mean, when I was working in the kitchen?
JOHN: When you were. Yeah.
ED: Let's see, there was in the kitchen there was a dishwasher.
ED: First cook, second cook. [chuckles] A guy worked in the salad room.
JOHN: Is it safe to say that probably nobody went to the Old Spaghetti Factory for the food?
ED: For the cuisine? [laughter] It's not as good as you get at home, and better than Chef Boyardee.
JOHN: Didn't you tell me something that Freddy said? I think it was … the customer's always...
ED: [00:08:30] Oh, Freddy Kuh said the customer's always wrong. [laughter]
JOHN: [laughter] I'm sure there's all kinds of stories. Maybe … I think this could be a good time for us to take a break.
[First recording segment of February 10, 2022 interview with Ed Handelman begins here]
JOHN: [00:00:49] John Doxey on February 10th, 2022. With the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Oral History Project interviewing Ed Handelman at his home studio in San Francisco North Beach. This is our second interview session. And, Ed, when we were finishing up in our first session, we talked about your time at the Old Spaghetti Factory, and then some of the work that you did after leaving Spaghetti Factory. I believe you worked doing union work, right? And you were living in the same place that we're in now. You've been here since 1970 I think it was approximately.
ED: 1970, yeah.
JOHN: OK. And now you are working, I guess would you say you work daily doing painting in your studio?
ED: [00:01:54] I manage to paint at various times. Sometimes late at night I get up and paint. Sometimes I don't paint at all for two or three days. And there was a time when I might do three paintings in one day. Now I take maybe three days to do one painting. And I don't work very big, I’m working small, 12 by 12 and a little bit bigger than that, a little bit smaller than that.
JOHN: I think at the end of our interview, we can maybe take a look at some of your works that you're doing these days. They're very nice small works.
ED: [00:02:36] I don't mind people looking at my work. I like to show off. If I consider something bad, no one ever sees it. Other people might consider some of the stuff that I think is good bad, but I don't care about them.
JOHN: Would you say that these days you're working in a certain style, a certain series of works you might say?
ED: Yeah, I'm doing a series which I sort of call my Platte Valley series. It's all like landscapes with big skies and not much going on the ground. Like the area I grew up in.
JOHN: In Nebraska?
ED: In Nebraska, yeah.
JOHN: Would that have been similar to the terrain that was surrounding Omaha?
ED: Yeah. All the way to all the way to the Rockies.
JOHN: And going back to our earlier conversation, you had been, I think, pretty heavily influenced by one of the teachers you had at … in Lincoln, right, who was a colorist? Would you say that that has continued to influence your work at all?
ED: Actually, I was at the University of Omaha…
JOHN: Oh, at Omaha.
ED: …which is part of the University of Nebraska system. And the head of the department was really small. And it had a department with a woman who had a doctorate in the psychology of color. And she had studied with people who had studied at the Bauhaus. So the education there, as little as available is very, very good. And I left there for greener pastures. I came to San Francisco to go to the Art Institute, which I didn't find, for me, as good as what I was getting at the University of Omaha.
JOHN: And you had mentioned earlier that you found the Art Institute atmosphere to be kind of clique-ish. Is that right?
ED: Yeah, I suppose that’s normal at an art institute, you know. You go … you gravitate to a teacher because you like what they're saying and what they're doing. And that didn't happen for me.
JOHN: Did you find that there were any maybe fellow students or any of the faculty staff who became influential for you at the Art Institute?
ED: No, I can't think of any. But some of the people I knew there became quite well known in the art world.
JOHN: Let's talk a little bit about … you moved around quite a lot. You described in our previous session, you know, moving around San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area like Sebastopol and Mill Valley. But then you returned, I think initially to the city. Your first stop was Bernal Heights, and then ultimately you and your daughter moved back to North Beach. And maybe we could talk a little bit more about what it was that drew you back to North Beach. What did you find appealing about this neighborhood?
ED: [00:06:03] This is a wonderful neighborhood. You know, if you if you live here in North Beach, if you live in Telegraph Hill, which I suppose it is, you're within walking distance of, you know, the Bay and downtown, Chinatown, Embarcadero. It’s a wonderful place. I like to read. I'm within walking distance of two branch libraries: North Beach, Chinatown. And if I don't like the stacks at one, I go to the stacks at the other one. That's great. And every now and then, I walk to the Marina branch library. Good walk. And yeah, about a month, not recently, but about once a month I go down to [the] downtown library, the Main library.
JOHN: Can you say a little bit about what it was like to have raised your daughter in North Beach? About how old was she when you … the two of you moved into North Beach?
ED: [00:07:02] I'm trying to remember exactly how old she was. She was seven, eight or nine somewhere, I really can't remember. And it's interesting when she was with me here, I was working at the Spaghetti Factory, and I'd go to work at four o’clock, and she would come to Spaghetti Factory after school, with some of her friends maybe, and they’d help the waiters set up the tables and do little things like that. Then she would eat dinner and then she would go out. And I really … and she had a key … she was called a latchkey child, right. [Transcriber’s note: Ed’s daughter, Ana Handelman, grew up in North Beach and continues to call the neighborhood home.]
JOHN: One of the original latchkey children.
ED: [00:07:42] One of the original latchkey child. I have to tell you … before we when we were living on the other side of the hill on Montgomery Street and she hasn’t been in school yet, and I was working late at night and my wife at the time was working late at night, and we’d sleep late … she would get up on her own and get dressed and go out and meet her friends. She was probably four years old. And so…
JOHN: So she's always been a very … it sounds like an independent person.
ED: Very, very independent. When she was … when we were living here, she asked me one time how she could make some money. So … I don't know, what can a little kid do? I said, “You consider shining shoes?” She said, “I’ll do that.” So I'll show you this. I built her a shoe box.
ED: I built her a shoe box.
JOHN: Yeah. That's nice.
ED: And still some of her stuff.
JOHN: Where did she … where did she set up…?
ED: [00:08:50] Well, she didn't … she seemed to acquire certain customers that she hit on every day. And there were guys who drank at Mooney’s, which used to be down here. And they wouldn’t let her in there. But she’s go to the door and say, “Hey, is Richard in here? Alright, come on out here, Richard.” You haven't met her yet, but, you know, you’ll understand what… [Transcriber’s note: Mooney’s Irish Pub, located at 1525 Grant Avenue and owned by Sean Mooney, was a favorite watering hole of a generation of bohemians. Owner Sean Mooney sold the pub in 1979.]
JOHN: She was a go-getter.
ED: She’s a go-getter, yeah.
JOHN: And she was quite young at this time, is that right?
ED: Nine maybe.
JOHN: And so she would actually go to the places where she knew there were people who would be customers?
JOHN: That's good. Was, you know, was there kind of a community of parents where you … were there other people you knew, peers, who were also raising young children at that time?
ED: Oh, yeah. She had some … she had some friends that … I didn't know their parents at all. And she had a good friend of hers who was a child of migrant friends, right. One of her … one of the kids who came from an Italian family remarked that coming to our house was like going to a museum ‘cause there were paintings on the wall. And they also said to her and her good friend Leslie that her parents … her parents seemed different than her parents.
JOHN: Your daughter commented on that?
ED: One of her friends commented on it, yeah … like, you know, they were older Italian people, right. One of … there’s a guy in the neighborhood whose mother … she’s still good friends with him … whose mother was a waitress at … god, I can’t think of … what’s that … I’m having a senior moment … she was at Caffe Sport on Columbus. And there were, you know, older, white-haired Italian ladies, basically.
JOHN: Would those … I mean, if you and your wife were sleeping in late or working late, were there people in the neighborhood, like perhaps these ladies, who could step in and provide a little child care or oversight?
ED: [00:11:24] Well, when my daughter was living here with me, I was no longer married to her mother. Her mother was living in Sebastopol. And so … there weren't really any of those parents. But it was really interesting walking down the street with my daughter, she knew a lot of older people. I said, “How’d you know them?” She said, “I had dinner with them one time.” She has a lot of friends, you know. I'm known in the neighborhood by most people as Ana’s dad.
JOHN: Ana, for our listeners, continues to live in the neighborhood and works as a manager, I believe, at Sodini’s. [Transcriber’s note: Sodini’s Trattoria is an Italian restaurant located at 510 Green Street. It was established in the early 1990s by Mark and Peter Sodini, who bought and rebranded an already famous North Beach restaurant (Green Valley Restaurant) that had been in place for 85 years. Ed’s daughter, Ana Handelman, is a manager at Sodini’s.]
ED: Yeah, she’s at Sodini’s.
JOHN: Mm-hmm. What school did … what schools did on Ana attend?
ED: She was … she wanted to go to school here in North Beach, which … the one up the hill … I can't even think of the name of it right now.
JOHN: The one on Kearny, on the steep block of Kearny?
ED: Yeah, right up here. I can't think of the name of it now. But she was being bused to somewhere in Hunters Point, and...
JOHN: At what level of school? Elementary or middle school…?
ED: Elementary. When she started middle school, she went to Francisco Middle School. And it’s an interesting thing: when she showed up for a class day picture, she came with her hair in pigtails, freckles on her face, and … a couple of her teeth blacked out. And… [chuckles]
JOHN: What was she trying to accomplish? What was the image?
ED: You’d have to ask her. Just to be different, I guess, you know. And from there, she went to … went to Downtown High, which is a school set aside for kids who just weren't comfortable in regular schools. And it was downtown, somewhere on Howard Street I think. [Transcriber’s note: Downtown High School is a San Francisco public school located at 693 Vermont Street. The school offers project-based learning that emphasizes critical thinking skills and a school-to-career program.]
JOHN: At that time when you had divorced your wife, who was remaining in Sebastopol, and you and Ana were living here in San Francisco, did you have other partners that you were together with?
ED: [00:13:54] Yeah. Well, for a long time I had roommates that sort of looked out for her, right. And then I had a live-in girlfriend for a couple years, which was very nice. Nice girl. And, yeah, so everything worked out.
JOHN: So she went to Francisco Middle School for I guess … middle school was three years, sixth, seventh, eighth grade, right?
ED: She must have been there for at least a year or two, anyway, yeah.
JOHN: What sorts of changes … you mentioned how at that time there were still, or maybe even a little earlier, a pretty heavy Italian-American presence. And what sort of … you've been here now for more than 50 years in this apartment…
JOHN: …what are some of the changes that you have observed?
ED: [00:14:54] Well, one good thing … there used to be on the corner here was a grocery store. I might have told you this before, an Italian man named Mike. I’d go up there and buy the paper or something like that. And I had long hair, and he’d sort of look at me like what … there goes the neighborhood, right. And after he retired and I’d run into him on the street, he’d said to me, “You know, Ed, the neighborhood’s going to hell.” [chuckles] And I don't know who he meant by that ‘cause I was already accepted by then. Yeah, big changes like there used to be … also on a corner up here was a laundromat, and before that it’d been the Bread and Wine Mission, something set up during the beatnik period. And then it became the laundromat, and now it's some kind of offices, I don't know what they do there.
JOHN: When you first came to San Francisco, you were coming in sort of … the later stages of the beatnik era. Did you observe some of that continuing on to influence North Beach?
ED: [00:16:09] Well … my wife at the time who had been here before me, with [unintelligible word] “See that guy over there? Don't bother talking to him,” right. “Oh, see him. He might be someone good to know.” And, you know, she’d … beatniks I guess there were some people still hanging around who you would call beatniks, right. But, you know, Kerouac and, you know, well-known ones were gone. There was a guy around, Hubert Green, he was known as “Hube the Cube,” and he was left over from that period. He was an interesting guy. And he was a person who … some medical people used him to experiment with drugs. And he seemed to be OK, right. Yeah. [Transcriber’s note: “Hube the Cube,” whose real name was Hubert Leslie, was a bearded icon of San Francisco’s beatnik scene from the 1950s into the ‘70s. Hube was known as a “human guinea pig for medical experiments” and a frequent attendee at poetry readings. A North Beach coffee shop called the Co-Existance Bagel Shop reportedly used to give Hube free food for sitting in the Bagel Shop's front window.]
JOHN: Did you … you say that, I mean, you've been a big reader. Is City Lights part of your experience here? The bookstore.
ED: Oh, yeah. I still buy books occasionally from City Lights. Usually for someone else. I think I might have told you this … when I first moved here I stumbled upon City Lights and I was reading, they have a big magazine section and I'm picking up a book, a magazine, a folio almost, and I think it was called One. Something like that and I’m looking, and all of a sudden realized it was geared toward homosexuals that were [unintelligible word]. And I looked around, “Is anybody looking at me?” [chuckles] And that was my first experience at City Lights. I might have avoided it for months, but I don’t really remember that.
JOHN: But you returned.
ED: Yeah, of course. [chuckles]
JOHN: And, you know, I guess … did you in terms of making a living, were you doing OK in terms of the income you were getting from union work and the Spaghetti Factory, or did you have you seen the prices of everything shoot up a lot here?
ED: [00:18:28] Oh, yeah. Rents, for example, right. But the first place I rented it was on Columbus. It's over Cafferata’s sausage [sic] factory. And it was, I forget, it was about $30 a month, something like that. And when I married my first wife, we moved down to Powell and Van de Water and was $40 a month. And I kept the other place as a studio for a long time. And then the two of us, like, we sort of upgraded. We moved from Vandewater and Powell to Powell and ... god, I can’t … Powell and Chestnut, and from Powell and Chestnut to Kearny between Green and Vallejo and that over the hill to Montgomery between Green and Vallejo. And then we moved to the Haight-Ashbury for a short time, then back to North Beach to Vallejo right up from Grant. And yeah.
JOHN: Did you ever see, you know, the hippie movement was I guess all over the city but, you know, centralized in the Haight-Ashbury. How did that period of time ... what signs did you see in North Beach?
ED: Well, I think … in North Beach? Well, we moved to the Haight-Ashbury. It seemed kind of exciting, right. But no big deal, right. And North Beach, you know, I can't really think of it as an area of hippies, right. But yeah I guess maybe me and a lot of people I know might have fallen into that category. But I was, you know, maybe 10 years older than most of the others, you know.
JOHN: What … did you ever have, you know, you had two older brothers. Did either of them ever come and visit you here in San Francisco?
ED: Oh, yeah. My oldest brother came … it was for my 60th birthday, which we held at the Bay View Boat Club. Are you familiar with that? [Transcriber’s note: The Bay View Boat Club is located at 489 Terry A Francois Blvd in the Mission Bay area.]
ED: [00:20:54] And my brother was really … he said, “Wow, all those people, you know, they all … your friends they all love you.” You know, most of them were … I had never seen before in my life. But we had a band … and, yeah, he had a good time. It was soon after his wife had died. So one of the things he said … this was when the mayor was the ex-police chief. I can't think of it...
ED: Jordan. So my daughter is riding somewhere with my with my brother. And she sees the mayor and she yells out, “Hey, Mr. Mayor. This is my Uncle Phil from Omaha.” And he… [chuckles] It's a good story about my daughter, that’s what she’s like. [Transcriber’s note: Frank Jordan, born 1935, is a former police chief who served as mayor of San Francisco from 1992 to 1996.]
JOHN: Did you and … I guess, conversely, did you go back to Nebraska for any visits as you got older?
ED: I went back for weddings and funerals.
JOHN: Mm-hmm. And did you think about staying?
ED: [00:21:58] Oh, I did. I actually … I had a show at the University of Nebraska. And I went back for that. It was really interesting: the opening night of the show in Lincoln at the University of Nebraska, there was a blizzard. So we drove from Omaha. And there was two carloads, you know, some of my friends and my brothers and their wives. And then we were the only people at the opening. [chuckles]
[Transcriber’s note: Noise from a truck outside Ed’s studio can be heard in the background here.]
JOHN: Because of the blizzard?
ED: So anyway, the guy who arranged the show for me at the University of Nebraska was like an assistant curator or something like that. And he told me later on he said, “I almost got fired because of your show.” [chuckles] That's not saying a lot for what I showed there.
JOHN: Was that show put on in part because you were … had the Nebraska roots?
ED: No, no … somebody, a friend of his had a piece of mine, and he liked it. So he wrote me and asked me for some photographs. I sent him some photographs, and he said, “Oh, yeah, right. We'll give you a show.” And that was how it happened.
JOHN: Let's talk about some of your shows. Where have you … where has your art been exhibited?
ED: I started out showing in galleries in San Francisco. There was a gallery called the Hollis Gallery, which no longer exists. [Transcriber’s note: Correct spelling of Hollis is unknown.]
JOHN: Where was that?
ED: It was on Clay before they tore down everything.
JOHN: Where? In the Jackson Square area?
ED: [00:23:44] Yeah, somewhere down there, yeah. And then I showed at a gallery … oh, I had a studio where Yerba Buena park is right now … a street that ran right through the studio there. So I went to … there was a gallery on Pacific, in a Victorian house was between Franklin and Gough, I believe. They were called Yarly Gallery. And I went there and, you know, I talked to the guy, and he said, “Well,” he said, “You know, I'm booked up for six or seven months now and, you know, I don't know, blah, blah, but I’ll come by and look.” So here's a guy who ran a gallery, but he wasn't an artist. He'd been a concert pianist. And so he brought one of the people from the gallery that he knew well, and he looked at my work and said, “Oh, yeah, OK.” So I had a show there within a month. And six months to keep people at bay. And I showed there for a few years. And then he moved the gallery to Montgomery in a building that was called Zappanesque. Nice little place. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. [Transcriber’s notes: Correct spelling of Yarly Gallery is unknown.; Internet research by transcriber found no reference to a “Zappanesque” building.]
JOHN: I believe I've seen that.
ED: Yeah, it’s on Montgomery between Pacific and Jackson, I think. And then I sort of … I sort of dropped out and didn't have a show for a really long time. So the next show I had I in a gallery was probably … god, I'm trying to think … maybe 30 years later. I was showing … I was doing outdoor shows like in Washington Square, Union Square, Golden Gate Park.
JOHN: That was an annual thing in Washington Square Park?
ED: Weekly. Different places, weekly. And somebody from a gallery that was on Sutter Street … and I can't even think of the name of right now … came by and said, “We like your work and we’d like to have your show.” So that was the first show I’d had in … I don’t know…
JOHN: Was that a solo show?
ED: Yeah. Yeah, I filled up the gallery. And, you know, it sold. I don't know how many pieces I sold, but the guy running the gallery said, “God, I thought this stuff would fly off the walls and it didn't.” So it was my last gallery show. And I have showed a few times at a local gallery called Live Worms Gallery that’s on … but’s usually two or three pieces at a time.
JOHN: Live Worms on Grant? [Transcriber’s note: Live Worms Gallery, located at 1345 Grant Avenue, features group art shows of local artists.]
ED: On Grant, yeah. Actually, I like to be a group shows rather than one-man show because people are like, “Oh, yeah,” you know.
JOHN: Do you think that your current work, the Platte River … is it not Platte River?
ED: Platte River Valley. [chuckles] There can’t be any valleys in Nebraska.
JOHN: OK. [chuckles] Well, I know there's a river, so usually there's a valley. But, well, do you anticipate that some of those will be shown publicly?
ED: Oh, that's what I've been doing for the last few years.
JOHN: But I noticed, because I attended your most recent show at the Live Worms Gallery, and the works that you had there … I think there were three of them…
JOHN: …were older works that you said you had done maybe in the 1980s.
ED: [00:27:34] Oh, yeah. Those were similar to the things I was doing in the ‘60s, and I stopped doing those and was doing other kinds of things. And one day I went to someone's house who owned three or four of ‘em. And I said, “Wow, these are really nice. I think I'll do some more of ‘em,” right. And the ones I subsequently done were much better. And those were ones I showed mostly out of doors. Actually, when I first started doing the outdoor shows, I was doing still-lifes. I was doing like flowers and things like that.
JOHN: Because that was appealing to...
ED: I thought I could make some money that way.
ED: And then I started bringing some of the figures out, and wow, they became very popular. And an artist friend of mine said, “It usually takes 30, 40 years before this something happens.” So over the years I was doing that, I sold maybe 300 paintings. You’d think I’d be rich, but not for a lot of money.
JOHN: Do you … is there an artist community that you are part of that would be perhaps in this neighborhood or…?
ED: Yeah, down the hall. [chuckles]
JOHN: Well, of course. We'll talk about Peggy in a moment, who is an artist, Peggy Huff. But I'm thinking about more broadly … you were at one time working at the Hunters Point Shipyard…
ED: [00:29:06] Yeah, but I'm not really a joiner. So when I first started showing outdoors, I joined a group called the Artist Guild of San Francisco. And I think that started out with a group called … oh, god, I can't remember what they were now... but they're basically … San Francisco used to have an annual every year, and the first group that started showing outdoors were rejects from that annual, right. And that split off and became the Artist Guild. And I used to walk through the Artist Guild shows and say, “That's not bad, but that's terrible,” you know. And I figured, well, OK, maybe I’ll start doing this, and I did. It worked out for me very well for me awhile. I don’t want to use the word lucrative, but … I would pass up … later on the years when I was working at the union, I'd pass up union weekend hours where I made time and a half because I was doing better on the weekends in the parks. [Transcriber’s note: Founded in 1961, Artists Guild San Francisco puts on outdoor art exhibits in San Francisco city parks, including Washington Square in North Beach, the Marina Green, Union Square and Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse.]
JOHN: And you would do that at least maybe during the summer season, nearly every weekend, is that right, or…?
ED: Yeah. Yeah, most of the year when it wasn't raining. Yeah.
JOHN: Let's talk a little bit about Peggy. How did you meet Peggy? And let's say when did you meet Peggy?
ED: [00:30:39] I met Peggy. I can't really tell you exactly when, but a mutual friend of ours was showing films at Savoy Tivoli. There used to be a bocce ball court in there. So she started showing films there. It was called the Bocce Cinema. And one night I was going to one of her films, and I met Peggy there.
JOHN: She was also … going to see the film?
JOHN: Did you have mutual friends who introduced you?
ED: [00:31:16] She was a … the woman who ran the show was a mutual friend. I think that she and Peggy might have shared a studio one time, but they were … Peggy wasn't painting then, she was doing cloth art … and this other woman was doing quilts. So, yeah, a woman named Mary Lucas. It’s interesting: I met Mary Lucas when I was in Italy and I was there on the G.I. Bill and she was there on a Smith Junior Year Abroad. I can't say any more about Mary Lucas. [Transcriber’s note: Correct spelling of Mary Lucas in unconfirmed.]
JOHN: That's fine. So you and Peggy met, and a beautiful friendship was formed?
ED: A beautiful friendship. It’s still going on.
JOHN: And can you say approximately what year that might have been?
ED: [00:32:24] I think … I’d have to say it would be … I base this, I can do it because I met her when her son was about five, and he was born in 1970. So it's probably the mid-‘70s when I met her. And we joke about this sometimes ‘cause I can't remember exactly the day or year I married her.
JOHN: Where was she living at that time?
ED: When I met her, she was living in San Anselmo. So I would bike over there.
ED: Yeah. A long ride.
JOHN: That is a long ride.
JOHN: And eventually you got married. And she moved in here with you?
ED: No. At one point, her ex-husband remarried. And her son … he wanted his son to come live with him. He was like 10 years old then. And then she moved to the city. And, you know, we were courting, and then she moved in here.
JOHN: And Peggy, for the record, is a painter.
ED: Peggy's a wonderful painter, and she's a big influence on me. I often walk by and I go, “Oh, god, I wish I would’ve done that.” Yeah.
JOHN: And Peggy has recently given up her longtime studio at The Hunters Point...
ED: Yeah, you know, she got … it got to be like a chore for her to … you know, it's like a minimum half hour to drive. That's when, you know, when there's no traffic at all, you know. And she's … going through withdrawal systems now.
JOHN: So you'll be sharing studios in the same place?
ED: She has a room right next door here that she’s using as a studio.
JOHN: Yeah, that should be nice. We've covered a lot of ground. Would you say that … are there any … we've talked a lot about various turning points in your life, when you encountered people who helped shape directions you would take. Are there are there other turning points, things that happened in your life that perhaps we haven't addressed? Maybe particularly in your San Francisco life?
ED: [00:35:21] I really don't know. You know, like when I went to work, when I started doing union work, I met some people who’ve become … really good friends of mine. And people I wouldn't have met otherwise, you know. I have a really good friend who is who is actually a wonderful person who is… to give you an example, he was...
[Second recording segment of February 10, 2022 interview with Ed Handelman begins here]
ED: [00:00:00] …what his life was like, I was in his mother's house one day with him, and he went out of the room for one reason or another. His mother said, “You know, my son Eddie, his name is Eddie also, he can be in a room by himself and get in a fight, right. And he was a guy that, you know, got a general discharge from the military, was not an honorable discharge. And he did a little time for something he shouldn't have done. And he was actually president of my union for a while. And he's just really quite a wonderful man. You know, people grow out of things, you know.
JOHN: Is he somebody that you stay in touch with?
ED: Yeah. Yeah, I might him later on today, as a matter of fact.
JOHN: And you stay in touch with Blaine, another alumnus of the Spaghetti Factory?
ED: Yeah. He also, through my good offices, he worked in the union, too. He joined the union, yeah. And there's a guy lives around the corner who was one of my foremans when I was in the union. And he's a friend of my daughter's, right. And my daughter used always tell him “take good care of my dad,” right. [chuckles] So every now and then, he says, “Ed, I want you to go do this.”
JOHN: Do you have at this point any plans or goals that you're working on?
ED: [00:01:35] Yeah, I'd like to live for about 20 more years. And I’d like to keep painting. And there’s a couple of art pilgrimages that I’d like to do. I’d like to go to the Prado in Madrid, and I’d like to go the Tate in London. Most of the trips we've made, Peggy and I, have been to “let's go see some art somewhere.” We went to see the new Guggenheim in France, and there's a town in France you wouldn't go to otherwise. We’ve been to Florence a couple of times to see the art. One time Peggy and I and her son, when flights were relatively cheap, we flew to L.A., went to see a show, I can't think of the name of the artist, we flew to L.A., went to see the show, went and had dinner and flew back the same one day. Art pilgrimage, yeah.
JOHN: That makes sense to artists.
ED: Oh, yeah.
JOHN: Must be nice to have that shared passion.
ED: It is. You know, like people go to places like, “I understand there's a great cuisine there.” I go, “What are the galleries like?”
JOHN: Well, I think that's … I want to thank you very much, Ed.
ED: Oh, thank you for…
JOHN: It's been a real pleasure talking with you and getting to know you.
ED: [00:03:08] Thank you. Good to know you, and thanks for bringing up some memories.
[END OF INTERVIEW]