Noe Valley Voice February 2006

Florence's Family Album

The Schudels of Noe Valley

Reminiscences by Florence Holub

In this essay, first published in the March 1993 Voice, Florence Holub describes her strong ties to the Schudel family, who settled in Noe Valley during the late 19th and early 20th century.

It is always a revelation to drive or stroll around Noe Valley with my sister-in-law, Margaret, because she was born here.

On our frequent neighborhood excursions, she likes to point out various houses and tell of those who lived in them, and it seems as if our valley was once overflowing with members of her family, the Schudels.

Margaret's father, John Schudel, came to America--with his mother and two siblings--after his father died, to join six older siblings already settled in San Francisco. The Schudels were from the small, charming, German-speaking village of Beggingen, near Schaffhausen, in Switzerland.

Back in 1905, Anna, the oldest daughter, was already here and married, with five children, to Oscar Menchen, who operated a paper supply business. Oscar's brother-in-law, Emil, also operated his own business, the Schudel Paper Company, which provided paper goods (wrappings, paper plates, pie boxes, etc.) to many small bakeries, and which he built into a large, lucrative business as the city grew.

Emil Schudel and his wife, Gazina, lived in a house at the corner of Dolores and 27th streets, where they raised four daughters. Behind the house was a barn where Emil kept the horses he needed to pull his delivery supply wagons. Emil's youngest brother, John, also sheltered his horse there.

Not long after the 1906 earthquake, Margaret's mother, Meta, arrived in America. She came over with an aunt, from a small town in northern Germany near Bremen. When she first set foot in San Francisco, Meta, who was just 16, was shocked to see the city in shambles, but she immediately landed a job as a live-in domestic with a wealthy old San Francisco family.

It was Meta's responsibility to keep everything gleaming in her employer's fashionable mansion. At the end of the day, the mistress of the house would walk around brushing a white handkerchief over the furniture, to make sure there was not a speck of dust remaining. There never was, though, because this young lady was (and remained) an unparalleled housekeeper!
Meta was allowed one day off per month, and on that day she visited her sister Gazina on Dolores Street. There she met Emil's brother John, who was also a frequent guest. At their first meeting, Meta and John sat quietly in Gazina's parlor, glancing shyly at one another. But eventually the timidity faded, and the couple developed a mutual romantic interest. On that one precious Sunday a month, they could often be seen venturing out of the parlor and into the streets of the neighborhood.

Their destination invariably was the Nickelodeon--Noe Valley's first movie theater, on 24th Street near Castro--and following the movie, they'd stroll to a nearby soda fountain for banana splits.

John and Meta married in 1914, and raised a family of three--John, Margaret, and Conrad--in a Victorian house at 820 Elizabeth Street, above Douglass Street. They shared the house with John's widowed mother, whom everyone called "Mutter" (pronounced "Mooter").

John Schudel was a self-employed salesman for the Consumers Yeast Company. In the pre­Wonder Bread era, he was one of the many people who supplied the city with its daily bread, making yeast deliveries to bakers by horse and buggy.

On occasion, John would take daughter Margaret with him and, in a business-like manner, direct her to count out the one-pound packages of yeast, as ordered by the customer. This, recollects Margaret, made her feel very important.

Quite a few of John's customers were relatives who were also running bakeries or stores. Uncle Ernst owned the Majestic Bakery on lower 24th Street. Uncle Jacob ran a small store on Sanchez between 25th and Jersey, which he opened up after he had completed his early-morning milk route (leaving full bottles of milk, and picking up the empty ones to be returned, sterilized, and refilled).

Margaret always liked to go with her father to Uncle Jacob's store because he never failed to present his niece with a large ice cream cone. The outing also served Margaret's mother well, giving her time to do her countless chores without the interruption of little scampering feet.

In the days before the invention of such labor-saving devices as the washing machine, refrigerator, and vacuum cleaner, "women's work was never done," as they say. And in addition to her three lively children and the household duties, Meta had an aging mother-in-law to care for. Suffice it to say that she would not put up with too much foolishness.

For example, when it was time for Margaret to start kindergarten at the Noe Valley School, located just across the street from their house--where Noe Courts park is now--Meta met with adamant resistance from her shy little girl, who felt she was being totally abandoned. Each morning, she would walk Margaret across the street to her classroom and then return home. But before she could take off her hat and coat, her daughter would burst into the kitchen, wailing loudly.

Meta trotted Margaret back to school, but time after time, the weeping tot would run home, looking for reassurance from a mother whose patience was wearing thin. This might have gone on indefinitely, except for a secret weapon that Meta held in reserve: a thin little switch that rested within arm's reach upon the kitchen molding. When applied, the switch delivered a sharp sting. One quick, light application, and Margaret's rebellion was over.

Another time that the switch was called upon (remember, this was the era of "Spare the rod, spoil the child") was the day Meta sent Margaret and her little brother Conrad to buy vegetables at the market, which was near Nielsen's soda fountain and candy store, at 24th and Douglass. They were allowed to spend one penny each for candy, as a reward. (A penny was like a dime then, a dime like a dollar, and a dollar was a day's pay.)

With vegetables in hand, the two little shoppers entered the creamery to spend their pennies on candy. It was an extremely hot day, however, so the man behind the counter said, "I bet you would like ice cream cones." They nodded their heads up and down agreeably--of course they would. But when he handed them the cones scooped high and said, "Ten cents please," Margaret began to feel uneasy.

The minute they reached home, she directed her little brother to sit on the stairs holding the cones, while she went inside to belatedly ask permission to buy ice cream on such a terribly hot day. She was well into her plea when Conrad entered the room holding a cone in each hand, melted ice cream running down his arms. She knew she was in big trouble when her mother reached for the switch (the one that didn't sting much--just enough to remember forever!)

When Margaret was about 10 years old, the house next door caught fire, and the blaze quickly spread to the Schudel home. This was a terrifying experience, and so much damage was done that the children had to be sent away to stay with a favorite aunt while their home was being repaired.
"Tante" Martha, their childless, doting aunt, and her husband, Albert Jestadt, lived on the then-unpaved upper end of 29th Street (above Diamond), before the Redevelopment Agency razed the old houses and put in new streets. In the 1920s, it was a steep hill where flowers grew and mockingbirds nested in the tall grass, filling the air with lilting song. The temporary stay was heavenly for the children because Tante Martha provided a daily menu of cakes, candy, and cream puffs oozing with whipped cream. How they reveled in this house of loving care and endless sweets--until both of them broke out in a miserable case of hives!

They had to be put on a healthful, low-sugar diet, but they were cured of their sweet-cravings for a long time. Soon they returned to their remodeled home with its new stucco facade and a garage to shelter the new delivery truck that replaced the horse and buggy. When their father brought home a cake purchased at one of the bakeries on his route, his two young children complained, "What, cake again?!"

Over the years, Tante Martha and Uncle Albert lavished attention upon their little relatives, often taking them to dinner at the Rathskeller in the German-American Hall, or to the park or the beach. One day they even dressed them in their Sunday best and carted them to a downtown studio to have their picture taken. There the photographer seated his four subjects in front of a painted backdrop of "Portals of the Past," the colonnade in Golden Gate Park. The children had to hold still for a long time as he snapped several poses. Later they were given brown proofs to choose from, which would turn dark brown, almost black, if not quickly returned to the photographer.

Margaret attended St. John's Lutheran School, an elementary school on Howard Street, and then went on to Commerce High. After graduating with secretarial training, she got a job in the Financial District, where she met my older brother, Mike Mickelson.

They married and were living in the house on Elizabeth Street in the early 1940s, when Mike was drafted into the Army. For the remainder of World War II, he was assigned to a troop transport, the SS Sea Star, which sailed to and from the South Pacific. Mike was at the end of the run when his first son was born and named after his father, John C. Mickelson.

By the time Mike and Margaret's second son, Robert, came along, they had moved to the ground floor of my father's home in Sunnyside--a ravine just west of Glen Park, known at that time, disparagingly, as Pneumonia Gulch. (This was before central heating.)

In 1961, Margaret and Mike Mickelson built their own modern home just across the street from my father's, where Margaret [now 86 years of age] still resides. With my father's death, their son John purchased the family home. He and his wife, Linda, raised four children there--Paul, Beth, Willie, and Joe--all of whom graduated, with honor, from the Noe Valley Nursery School.

The Schudel family is no longer as visible as it once was in Noe Valley. Margaret's father died in 1949 at the age of 60. Her mother lived on for another 21 years, and during those years she and her devoted daughter could be seen shopping up and down 24th Street. In 1971 Meta died, and the house on Elizabeth Street was sold.

Emil, the last of the nine Schudels from Beggingen, died later that same year. By then most of the family had left Noe Valley, except for Emil's youngest daughter, Dorothy, who married a brilliant young lawyer, Jay Pfotenhauer, who was appointed a Superior Court judge. They built their modern home on Cumberland Street in Dolores Heights, and worked actively on neighborhood causes until illness forced them to move to a retirement community.

Dorothy and Margaret bear a striking resemblance to one another, but that is not surprising since their mothers were sisters and their fathers were brothers.

The Schudel offspring were mainly females (13 girls to 5 boys), so the name has almost disappeared with time and marriage. A few years ago, when our oldest son Michael was joining the Navy and we threw a party for him, Margaret was as amazed as we were to see that our son's best friend, George Haddock, was "Geordie," Uncle Jacob's grandson, his daughter Alvina's child.

Today there is only one Schudel listed in the phone book, Conrad Schudel, Margaret's younger brother. Conrad lives south of Noe Valley with his wife, Lois, and their pretty daughter Cheryl.

Cheryl has not yet relinquished her maiden name--and maybe she won't. But in either case, Schudel will long be remembered as a pioneering name in Noe Valley.

Editor's Note: Cheryl Schudel reports that both her parents have passed away: her mother, Lois, in 1994 and her father, Conrad, in 2003. But she is proud to carry on the family name, pronounced "Shoo-DELL." Cheryl is currently residing off Silver Avenue in the Portola District.