| October 2011
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By Irene Barnard
In this 2001 snapshot, Al Gibeau, 90, relaxes on a San Francisco pier with his longtime companion, Esther “Mickey” McGuire. Photos courtesy Gibeau family
On May 29, 2011, family and friends bade farewell to lifetime Noe Valley resident Albert “Al” Gibeau. Al died at the grand old age of 100, from complications stemming from pneumonia. An engineer for much of his career, Al had the good fortune to enjoy a century of success in the city of his birth.
Born to an Irish, English, and French Canadian family rooted in San Francisco since the 1850s, Al led a life that mirrored the city’s history. His maternal grandmother arrived after sailing around Cape Horn, and his ancestors were wheelwrights and wagonmakers. Al’s father, Charles Gibeau, ran a blacksmith shop in the Mission. Charles and his wife Theresa raised six children in a house rolled on redwood logs to its current location on Castro Street near 24th Street. Arriving in the spring of 1911, Al was the second of five boys and a girl.
The western hills their back yard, the kids sledded down Twin Peaks’ slopes and scaled the sand dunes leading to the beach. A creek at 24th and Castro flowed near the Nickelodeon movie theater (today’s Noe Valley Auto Works), and barns dotted the Noe Valley landscape, Al later recalled. He rode horseback with his father to the waterfront to view the ruins of Treasure Island’s 1939 Golden Gate Exposition.
With a talent for sociability, Al distinguished himself early in the family. “If Al didn’t find a person to talk to, he’d talk to a horse,” his mother would say.
A young Al Gibeau poses with his mother, Theresa Gibeau, in front of the family home at 1231 Castro St. He was born in the house, which still stands today. Photo circa 1930.
Al enraptured Sunday dinner guests with tales of camping with friends in the Sierras, where “he claimed to have seen the Sasquatch,” remembered his niece Molly Gibeau-Griffin. He spoke with a now rare Mission/Noe Valley accent, laughing at jokes and singing songs like “Danny Boy” and “In the Good Old Summertime.”
Al attended St. Paul’s Grammar School, and then Mission High, where he excelled on the track team. He also played on the neighborhood baseball team—against the DiMaggio brothers.
Working from age 5, Al sold potatoes out of a bucket and earned money as a local paperboy. He also was a lamplighter, lighting the gas lamps that once illuminated the streets for carriages, trolleys, and cable cars. In the Merchant Marine during the Depression, Al was working the docks at the time of the 1934 West Coast Longshoremen’s Strike.
In the 1940s he learned engineering and got a job at PG&E. Then for decades he manned the San Francisco Fire Department’s Second and Townsend pump station, “an exciting place for a young boy to visit, with boilers tall as church ceilings,” recalled nephew Walt Gibeau. Al loved his work, eventually becoming chief engineer at the Fire Department, retiring in 1982 at age 71.
He met lifelong companion Esther “Mickey” Maguire more than 60 years ago, at a dance club. The couple frequented eateries like Al’s (Mission and 29th), and traveled globally together, before she died in 2010.
Although Al wasn’t a drinker, he often did favors for friends by tending bar or delivering mail while they went gambling or drinking, recalled longtime friend Kim.
Al ran a number of small businesses, including a weaving shop, and a shoe repair at 4092 24th St., near the corner of Castro. He also was a buddy of Noe Valley resident Harry Aleo, the founder of Twin Peaks Properties (who also passed away recently). Like Aleo, Al acquired several local properties, including buildings on Church, Henry, and 26th streets—the latter where he eventually moved and spent his older years.
Following family tradition, Al built and repaired most everything himself, even mixing his own paint. He also saved everything—his basement was filled with items ranging from shoe-repair tools and boxing gloves to the bicycle built for two he rode with his grandfather.
Well into his 90s, Al still walked around the neighborhood, running errands. In his last years, he needed help with household chores, cooking, and getting to appointments. Caregiver Buddy remembered a doctor giving him a cane, which Al happily added to his collection—unused.
Every week, he swapped stories with his buddies, some of whom were fellow members of the Native Sons of the Golden West or other fraternal organizations. His niece Annie Gibeau said, “He always helped people, calling to check that everything was okay.”
Al loved animals, once petting a skunk his poor eyesight mistook for a cat. He seemed perpetually energetic, never tired, always on the move, friends said. Indeed, Al outlived three of his brothers—Charlie, Jim, and Frank—as well as his sister Marie. (His youngest brother, Jack Gibeau of Cape Cod, Mass., died in August.)
A memorial mass was held for Al Gibeau June 17 at St. Philip Catholic Church, the church he attended for years. His ashes were interred next to Esther Maguire at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma. He leaves behind family, including many nieces and nephews and loving friends. He also leaves a house on Castro Street still vibrant with family memories.