Noe Valley Voice April 1999

Florence's Family Album:
Connections to the Mooney Family

By Florence Holub

Each month I carry a few copies of the Voice to the de Young Museum, where a number of my arty friends seem to enjoy reading about the goings-on in Noe Valley. One who is especially interested is Jean Mooney, a volunteer docent who has family connections with our neighborhood as well as a rich storehouse of memories.

I got a small dose of them one day recently, when she kindly drove me home after we'd given our tours at the museum. As we parked on my steep block of 21st Street, she told me that her married sister, Doris, had lived down the hill and across the street during the 1930s. Jean had trouble recognizing the house as she remembered it -- a white Victorian with a side yard. But that was not surprising. The house had been remodeled several times since her sister lived there.

By the time my man Leo and I moved to the street in 1956, the once-proud Victorian had been stripped and covered with stucco. Then, about 25 years ago, it was again transformed by Noe Valley architect Al Lanier, husband of artist Ruth Asawa. Al created a handsome, chocolate-colored redwood structure with doors painted a burnt-orange.

When Jean and I located the building, she noted with a chortle that her sister had paid $18 per month to rent the second-floor flat. I was able to join in the amusement, saying that in the same era, Leo and I had paid even less for our ivy-covered love nest on Mars Street -- $17! Those were the days, just prior to World War II (we were married in '41).

Jean's family history goes back to when her father, Edward Mooney, was born in 1881, to Irish-immigrant parents on San Francisco's Rincon Hill. The Mooney family moved to Noe Valley when their eldest son (Jean's father Edward) was old enough to enter grade school.

Edward's mother took him to St. James on Fair Oaks Street, hoping to enroll him there, but the nuns informed her that the school no longer accepted little boys. More welcoming was the local public school, the old Edison Grammar School, a stately wooden structure located on Church Street between 22nd and Hill streets.

After he grew up and got married, Ed Mooney often recounted his adventures in and around the neighborhood. Before the automobile came along, he would hike all the way to Hunters Point to go fishing. Or if horses were available, he and his friends would gallop off to dig in the mud for clams and oysters. These would serve as the Friday supper for many a good Catholic family.

Ed and his brothers became particularly active in St. Paul's Parish, then under the leadership of Father Michael Connolly. During Connolly's pastorate, from 1897 to 1925, St. Paul's built a new church, a rectory, two convents, and three school buildings! The priest didn't do it alone, however. He mobilized every able-bodied person in the parish, including Jean's father.

Ed was always extremely proud to say he had a hand in building St. Paul's, our twin-spired landmark on Church Street. Although the cornerstone was laid in 1900, St. Paul's was only half-built when the 1906 earthquake struck. Fortunately, it suffered little damage.

Ed Mooney, who was then 24, rushed down to Market Street to see the devastation and then raced back to Noe Valley, where he helped carry stoves into the street for the women to safely cook on. (Read an eyewitness account of the '06 quake starting on page 1 of this month's Voice.)

Once the fire had subsided, Ed and an army of St. Paul parishioners returned to the ruins to gather bricks and cobblestones, which they then hauled back to Noe Valley. Historians say that parts of City Hall are buried within the granite walls of St. Paul's Church, completed five years later.

By the time the church was dedicated in 1911, Ed Mooney had met and married Gertrude Leanhardt, and the couple were on their way to producing three daughters -- Doris, Lucile, and Jean.

When one of the kids developed asthma, the family thought it wise to move to a sunnier climate. In 1925, they packed up their belongings and headed for San Rafael, where Jean attended school until the sixth grade. In 1933, after the family returned to good health, they moved back to Noe Valley, settling in a flat at 779 Dolores St. Jean then entered the old Notre Dame High School on Dolores Street. She later went on to get her teaching credential at San Francisco State College.

During his long life, Jean's father worked only two trades. After the eighth grade, he took a job with Union Iron Works (now Bethlehem Steel). But when he reached 20, he went off to sea. He first sailed to Hawaii as an oiler with the Pacific Mail, an iron-clad vessel. He'd return with a cargo of molasses made from sugar cane to be delivered to the C&H Sugar Refinery in Crockett. After the outbreak of World War II, his cargo changed to butter and war brides.

All in all, Ed Mooney spent 40 years on the ocean blue, and he eventually rose to be chief engineer of the Matson Line. This meant that his family didn't see him much, only a day or two every three weeks.

By the start of the war, Jean had become a teacher at Bayshore City, a small primary school in Visitacion Valley, where the Cow Palace is today. There she remained, teaching little children, until she retired in 1985. To enhance her retirement, she embarked upon a docent training course at the deYoung, which designs art programs for both young and old.

I have frequently noted what an asset Jean is in this endeavor, for when presented with some demanding assignment, she is always willing to say "Okay," after everyone else has said "No way!"

Jean came to the rescue again last month, when I was confronted with a blank page on my typewriter. (She also lent some Irish touches to this article.) She told me that a few years ago she had a surprising encounter in Golden Gate Park. She had taken her little dog, an Irish (she says) Lhasa apso named Sukey (Susan in Irish), to Stow Lake for an outing. She sat on the bench while Sukey beguilingly greeted each passerby.

A young lady pushing a stroller responded in a friendly way. The woman was wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with letters spelling out Noe Valley. Jean remarked that the only people she knew who hailed from that old Irish neighborhood, besides her father, were the Scullys, her sister Lucile's husband's family, who lived at 923 Sanchez St.

To their mutual astonishment, the young lady said, "That's my address!" After they exchanged descriptions of the house, Jean was convinced they were speaking of the same property, which she had often visited as a child.

Charles Scully, a policeman, had built a small cottage on Sanchez early in this century. Later, he moved the cottage to the rear of the lot to make room for a pair of flats facing the street. This is where his five children grew up.

Sadly, Charles Scully died young, leaving his wife to raise the children alone. After her death in 1961, the property was sold, then later resold to a young couple.

Last month I walked down the Sanchez hill to check it out and was delighted to discover that this fine building belonged to none other than Roger Rubin and his "bride" Renée Koury. (Roger is also known as Mazook, and is the author of the Voice's amusing Rumors column.)

When I spoke to Renée, she did not recall meeting Jean on that day in the park. Nevertheless, I am convinced that Renée and the young lady in the Noe Valley sweatshirt are one and the same. The youngster in the stroller was probably Shayna, their daughter, or perhaps it was their youngest, Joshua.

The two dwellings on Sanchez were joined together at some point, which creates a spacious, gracious living for this family of four. That is the happy ending to this story, which began long ago with the Mooney family, who left so much in Noe Valley for us to enjoy.