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The Last 25 Years, 19772002:
In celebration of our twenty-fifth year in print, the Noe Valley Voice is taking a look back at the people, places, and events that have made Noe Valley unique. We hope you enjoy.
By Kathy Dalle-Molle
Bingo Night at St. Paul'sIt's 5:15 p.m. on a much-too-cold Friday evening in February, two hours before the first game of bingo, and 150 people have already crowded into the Parish Center at St. Paul's Church on Church Street. They've nabbed their lucky chairs, set up their good-luck icons, and are noshing on hotdogs, pizza, and 50-cent slices of fruit pie from the snack bar.
Welcome to a 50-year-old Noe Valley institution: Friday Night Bingo at St. Paul's.
At long, lunchroom-style tables, players spread out their bingo sheets (the minimum buy-in of $12 gets you two sheets with six cards each) and make sure their Dab-O-Ink markers are working. They speak to one another about pull tabs, Speed Safari, and Five Around the Corner -- what a clueless observer can only describe as a sort of subculture Bingo Lingo.
"For some of these regulars, coming to Friday Night Bingo is like taking a trip to Reno," says one volunteer worker. But for most -- while they'd rather win than lose -- the evening is about getting together with longtime friends.
They come from as far away as Brisbane and Pacifica and as nearby as 29th Street. Some, like 70-year-old Marilyn Capwell, a St. Paul's parishioner and Noe Valley resident since 1962, have been playing for decades.
"We're like a big extended family here," she says. "If someone is missing, we call to find out if they're okay. If they're sick, we make sure and send a card."
By 7 p.m., about 300 players -- mostly senior citizens -- are in their seats as bingo-caller Monica Curran adjusts the microphone and starts up a machine that sets little white numbered balls bouncing beneath a glass dome. She pushes a button, and a ball flies out of the hole and into her hand. Let the fun begin!
For Curran, who has been working Friday Night Bingo for almost a quarter of a century --longer than she's been married --the game is also a family affair. Her father, Al Farrell, who passed away last year, helped get bingo started at St. Paul's and was a caller for 30 years. Her mother, 85-year-old Agnes Farrell, still shows up to play, and recalls when "it cost 10 cents a card and there were never more than 50 people here." Back then, a game winner would pocket $25. Now, players who hit the jackpot can walk away with up to $250 per game.
St. Paul's, like many other Catholic churches throughout the United States, relies on income from weekly bingo games (along with Sunday donations from parishioners) to help cover operating expenses. In fact, according to bingo lore, the idea of church bingo came about more than 70 years ago when a member of a financially struggling church in Wilkes-Barr, Pa., suggested starting a bingo night to help his parish raise much-needed funds. By 1934, an estimated 10,000 church bingo games were being played each week.
"At St. Paul's bingo, people are here during good times and bad," says volunteer Dorothy Vigna. "It becomes a part of their life."
And like Jim Ellison, who drives over from Brisbane, they return week after week. "It's really a lot of fun," he says. "If you're not having fun, it's your own fault."
Voices From The Past
Stories from the 25-Year History of the Noe Valley Voice
On a warm mid-September afternoon, Mayor Dianne Feinstein took her first walk through Noe Valley since she assumed office a year before, following the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Feinstein, who was running for reelection, strolled down 24th Street, "smiling a lot, shaking hands with shoppers, and popping her head into stores for quick chats with owners," the Voice reported. "Most merchants and passersby seemed awed by the mayor and most of the conversations were chitchat rather than debate on substantive issues, such as the difference between herself and major challengers Supervisor Quentin Kopp and gay activist David Scott." Feinstein hoped to collect a half a million campaign chest, and had been outspending Kopp four-to-one in the race.
"Lowdown on High Offices,"
There was no thanking heaven for 7-Eleven in Noe Valley as neighbors fought against the 24-hour chain's plans to open in the vacant storefront at 4049 24th Street. For several months in 1987, Friends of Noe Valley battled to keep the home of the Slurpee out of the neighborhood. Within weeks of learning about 7-Eleven's plans, Friends Co-President Jacques Bertrand started a protest petition, collecting 200 signatures in his first hour on the street. Residents feared that the store's all-night hours would attract more crime to the neighborhood. By September, 7-Eleven had withdrawn its application for a license to sell alcohol, and a "For Lease" sign was back in the window of the building, which is now home to the electronics chain store Radio Shack.
"Residents Try to Close the Door on
7-Eleven," February 1987
"Residents Try to Rattle the Chains on 24th Street," September 1987
Noe Valley mourned the September death of Fred Methner, its "Mr. Clean," who passed away in his sleep at the age of 84. For almost 30 years, Methner, longtime secretary of the East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club, was "a fierce enemy of clutter and graffiti," the Voice reported, who carried on a personal crusade to clean up the neighborhood. "Methner was so notorious for spoiling the fun of graffiti taggers that one devilish youngster sprayed this message on a Church Street wall: 'Don't paint this out, old man!'"
Methner's neighbor and "partner in grime" Dave Simon told the Voice, "When we'd paint over a particularly foul piece of graffiti, Fred would say, 'Goody, goody, goody!' You can't go a block anywhere in Noe Valley without seeing a splotch of Fred's paint covering up some piece of graffiti."
"Fred Methner, Noe Valley's 'Mr. Clean,'
Dies at 84," October 1991