Oh, the places the internet can take you now. It has been 12 years since I last visited the San Francisco Bay Area and drove by the house where I spent most of my childhood on Carlson Boulevard, in the Panhandle Annex of Richmond, California. I discovered that I need not drive all the way to California to see what's up in the old 'hood, however. We can fly nearly anywhere via Google Maps and look down upon fields, yards, and rooftops, and engage in innocent voyeurism from afar much like a pedestrian taking an early morning stroll. If these techniques do not offer enough input, then online real estate listings will provide the rest, including photographs of exteriors, and even interiors whenever properties go up for sale. But, in these photos our old stomping grounds can often be unrecognizable due to removed walls, added windows and structures, completely updated kitchens, and the like. One thing I did recognize in a current photograph of the exterior of my childhood home was a black lava boulder that became a fixture at the bottom of our walkway. It is still there today... but, more about that in a bit.
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|The Richmond Panhandle Annex is the neighborhood shaded in blue.|
My mother was raised on a Minnesota farm, and as a young adult, she worked seasonally at Richmond canneries. She knew how to save money on a low income, so she was able to provide the down payment on our bungalow after she married Dad. Our first house could not have been more than 1,000 square feet, with a living room, two small bedrooms, one bath, a kitchen that looked out onto the backyard, and a dining room. Off the dining room there was a laundry room that connected to the one-car garage, and hiding underneath the laundry room was a small concrete cellar, intended as a air-raid shelter. The house was built along the west coast during the threat of U. S. involvement in World War II (1940), and the architect seems to have taken family security quite seriously. The cellar was accessed by lifting up an angled double-door, which sat against the back of the house much like an old-fashioned tornado shelter. When Mom later had a family room built along that exterior back wall, a trap door in the laundry room floor became the only access. A sump pump was installed in the cellar floor to deal with the constant moisture problem, courtesy of San Francisco Bay. We always did battle mildew in that house.
Our lot was 7,500 square feet, bordered to the north by another single-family bungalow, and to the south by a two-story tri-plex apartment building. Like most homes, the garage served us well for storage, and Dad's Ford fit nicely in the driveway. The house was white with red shutters and a painted red porch and walkway, and it remained that way for many years.
|Dad (Bill Wheeler) and me, with my favorite doll, Jane, in front of the original shed at the back of the Carlson Blvd. house in April 1955. We moved to the house that spring from a duplex apartment shared with Dad's cousin.|
Growing up in the house on Carlson Boulevard meant a series of small things to me as a child. Before my sister was born, and just after, I was regularly encouraged to play by myself in the backyard. This meant regular visits with our beagle, who lived near the chicken coop and rabbit cage beside the shed. The original shed that came with the house was later torn down and rebuilt by Dad and my maternal grandfather, Ernest Johnson. The new shed was painted barn red to match the shutters on the house. In addition to watching our animals, I spent my leisure time "popping" snapdragon flowers whenever Mom was not looking, climbing the wood fence to study the passion flowers growing over the neighbor's arbor, making cities out of baby powder cans and bottles on the lawn for my toy cars, or just laying on my back studying cloud formations. When I was a little older and Mom was willing to trust me with the shed key, I sometimes took solitary sojourns to look at Dad's tools, even though I did not get to learn how to use many of them. Still, I managed to pound more than a few nails into blocks of wood during those years, and came away with greasy enough hands that my shed adventures seemed satisfying enough.
|The Wheeler home on Carlson Boulevard in Richmond, California, ca. 1956.|
|The Wheeler home on Carlson Blvd. in 1965. Note the lava boulder at the bottom of the walkway steps, left-hand side, in front of the trailer.|