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CELEBRATING CULTURE & COMMUNITY'S HISTORY PROJECT: Howard Morrill


Celebrating Culture & Community is putting together interviews of 25 El Cerrito residents, a project aimed at showing the diverse communities that have contributed to the city's history.

The interviews have been made possible largely through support from the California Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For more information about Celebrating Culture & Community , contact Eve Ma at 236-3255 or ccandc_97@yahoo.com

Following is one of the interviews:

Interview with Howard Morrill, 10/22/99

Interviewer: Robin DeLugan

Howard Morrill lived in El Cerrito between 1931-37 while 12-17 years of age, and again in 1941 for four months before joining up with the U.S. forces fighting in World War II. In approximately 1960, after getting remarried, Howard returned to El Cerrito for three years to remodel the family home. Prior to his initial move to El Cerrito in 1931, Howard lived in Albany and is currently a resident Berkeley.

Some personal background: He is a first generation American born of immigrants: a Swedish Mother and English father. His father died when he was young. Howard was raised by his mother and his hard-working Norwegian stepfather, who was a machinist for Apex Washing Machines in Emeryville. (The wringer washer had just been invented…he remembers everything in their El Cerrito home being green to match the new washing machine!) His mother worked as a waitress on the ferry boats leaving from Oakland…Howard says that all the ferry workers were Swedish and Finnish.

Howard's El Cerrito address from 1931-37 was 932 Shevlin Drive. This house was on 1/3 acre of land and his mother (who had come from a farming community in Sweden) raised chickens, pigeons, goats and picked up stray dogs. El Cerrito was rural but not what you would call farmland. He recalls that his family purchased their house for $3,000. If he had a magic wand, his wish would be to get back the El Cerrito house that his family sold years ago.

Howard had a job delivering newspapers by bicycle. At this time the newspaper boy had to collect his own money from customers to pay for the newspapers. He remembers getting stiffed from some of his customers. His route was from the Kensington shopping center to the top of Terrace Drive to what is now the 7-11 store on Stockton Street. He says he would fly down the hill on his bicycle. Howard says this job gave him the good health that he has today. As there was no high school or middle school in El Cerrito, Howard went to school in Richmond. He remembers the school bus picking up 8 kids from his bus stop and by the time the bus reached Richmond, it had picked up just about 30 other students.

El Cerrito was a great place for kids. A large, well-known Boy Scout camp was located at the top of the hill near where Moeser is now (possibly still there?). Howard and his friends would go to Wildcat Canyon and go hunting for bobcats and muskrats. He recalls lots of ranches and lots of cowboys.

One of Howard's favorite memories is sitting on a hill with a direct view of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco…he and his friends would smoke cigarettes and daydream about what they would do when they got older. Howard accomplished many of his dreams including attending the San Francisco Art Institute and becoming an accomplished painter.] In fact he painted murals at a well known establishment called the It Club. [We have a newspaper article dated January 18, 1977 from the Independent & Gazette that features Howard and describes an exhibition of this local artist's work that was displayed at the El Cerrito branch of the county library (We have a copy of the newspaper clipping.) (He still paints, but does not actively sell his artwork.) He went on to become a ship’s navigator in the merchant marines and was also the owner of his own trucking business for over 20 years.

He recalls a very different El Cerrito than today. People were just getting used to automobiles and there were accidents all over the place. Other changes:

Fatapples (the restaurant where we conducted the interviews was then a large grocery store. Moeser Lane did not exist at this time Where El Cerrito High School stands now he remembers polo grounds and a riding stable. Where Ace Hardware is today there used to be the Past Time Bar. The graveyard and mortuary located at the top of Fairmount, however, did exist when he was a young resident of El Cerrito. Howard recalls that there were only about 15 houses on Stockton Street at this time.

Howard (although too young to partake in the activities) remembers that there was a real bar room scene not only in El Cerrito but all over the Bay Area. He said that there must have been 20 bars in El Cerrito at that time. Bones Reemer (sp?) was a famous gambler and club owner with a well-known establishment approximately one block down from where the Elks Club is today. He recalls the post-depression era and remembers that all of the adults he know worked very hard were also big spenders. And because working class people didn't understand banks, they would take their paychecks to the bars to get cashed. This sometimes caused problems as wives would have to go down to the bars and be sure to collect the money from the paychecks before the men drank or gambled it away.

Some famous El Cerrito residents that Howard recalls: [please check spelling of names]

Dagna family (Dagna Stores)

The Jacuzzi family (Yes, inventor of the Jacuzzi)

Joseph Villa (owner of Jay Vee stores)

Tenelli Family

A black women opera singer (couldn’t' recall the name)

George Friend, an influential lawyer

Howard doesn't recall much about the ethnic makeup of El Cerrito at that time. He remembers that there were mostly Italians.

As for El Cerrito today, Howard comes often to visit his daughter Pam Fingado, who is also a successful artist. He notes that the area has been greatly upgraded from working class to middle class and has become quite gentrified.

 

CELEBRATNG CULTURE & COMMUNITY (CC&C)

1900 International MarketPlace, San Pablo, CA., 94806

(510) 236-3255;  fax (510) 233-3068

e-mail:  CCandC_97@yahoo.com


Run dates: 2000-01-01 - 2000-02-01
 


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