Submitted by Karl Breckenridge
In the early 1960s I bade farewell to Reno and the University of Nevada and came to roost in a boarding house in San Francisco, known as the “Dair House” on Bush Street between Taylor and Mason – two blocks from Union Square.
Life was easy at Dair House; I paid them $115 a month and they gave me two good meals a day, a big breakfast on Sunday, clean sheets once a week, a sunny south room with a view to Sutter Street and free television (Andy Williams in Living Color!). For another $22 a month my Jeep got a parking spot at the new garage at Mason and O’Farrell Streets.
Early on in my tenure there I met the neighbor, who lived in the house across Bush Street. I’d noticed the house before; I had thought it was a fire station but had also noticed that the doors to the apparatus bays never opened, nor did any engines ever leave it.
It was a private residence, the home of San Francisco’s fire chief. Built to look like a firehouse. Wowee.
Its occupants were Fire Chief William Murray and his wife Alida. Murray had been the chief for about ten years, and was one of the most respected and revered men ever to live in The City – by both the fire community and all its other residents. San Francisco loved its fire service, and Murray was the top kick. And he was a nice man besides, funny as a crutch!
Our nexus was my Jeep. The chief loved Jeeps, and our relationship jelled when I lent it to him to take Mrs. Murray around the block one afternoon. They were gone over an hour and I heard later they hit a considerable number of fire stations, showing it off to the boys!
One weekend morning I was washing it and he came out the door. “Karl, do you know who Arthur Fiedler is?”
“DO I KNOW WHO ARTHUR FIEDLER IS?”
Arthur Fiedler was the larger-than-life conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, probably the nation’s finest. Immensely popular in the music world… I had a couple of his albums – my favorite was a classic on RCA Red-Seal called Concert in the Park – the park being the Pops’ home facility in Tanglewood, outside of Boston. Still have it 50 years later – my friend Deidre McCormick recently transferred it onto a CD. Fiedler was a legend…
I responded to the chief in the affirmative, the chief saying “Fiedler’s coming to town for the Pops summer season and staying with us – you want to meet him, be here at 10 a.m. next Saturday.”
Next Saturday I was indeed outside on Bush Street when a SF Fire Department hook-and-ladder came over the crest of the hill across Taylor Street (Bush is a one-way street down a pretty good grade toward the Ferry Building). No siren. In a jump seat next to the tillerman was seated Arthur Fiedler.
For the uninitiated, Arthur Fiedler was known as a fire-department junkie, who made friends with the fire service in every town he visited. No less than Herb Caen, writing in the Chronicle, once wrote that “Every time Fiedler comes to town [for the annual Pops concerts], something goes up in smoke!” He was followed by a car with his luggage, and staying with the Murrays for this, the summer concert rehearsal and S. F. Pops Stern Grove Summer Concert, toughest ticket in The City.
Sigmund Stern Grove is a beautiful tree-lined concert venue about a block square, out 19th Avenue on Sloat Boulevard toward the SF Zoo. To that shady grove each summer, the SF Pops orchestra and about 5,000 of their fans would congregate to be seated at tables with red-checkered-tablecloths and mimeographed (remember those?) music lyrics and the program, BYO picnic basket lunch and wine. Fiedler would hold forth for two-and-a-half hours of the greatest music in the world – classics, modern, and even The Beatles.
“You wanna go to the concert, Karl? We’ll leave from here, next Sunday morning.” I jumped at the invitation. And the following Sunday morning, a hook-and-ladder came over the Taylor Street bluff and we hopped in…out 19th Avenue we went and turned into Stern Grove off Sloat Boulevard.
OK, This is Reno readers; we’re in the park and finding a few vacant tables for our picnic and looking over the program. Tomorrow, we’ll hear some music, but, ‘til then, be safe, huh?
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Karl Breckenridge was slowly going nuts. So he decided to help out This is Reno by writing a daily out-of-his-mind column for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown. Now that it’s over he’s back to his usual antics, drinking coffee with the boys at the Bear and, well, we’re not sure what else. But he loved sharing his daily musings with you, so he’s back, albeit a little less often, to keep on sharing. Karl grew up in the valley and has stories from the area going back to 1945. He’s been writing for 32 years locally.
Read more from Karl Breckenridge
Karl’s pal Jody shares the rich history of bootlegging, decorating, and engineering within the confines of the Truckee River’s banks and its picturesque islands.
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