Talk of the Town

Reminiscences of San Anselmo by William Franchini
Interviewed by Laurie Buntain and Karen Peterson, 1995

William Franchini, long-time San Anselmo merchant, former mayor, and one of the original members of the Historical Commission, was born in San Francisco in 1913. By 1918, he and his siblings, his mother, Nevada, and father, Gabriel Franchini, were living in a house on Ross Avenue in San Anselmo, across from today’s Wade Thomas School.

Home Market

Home Market

In San Anselmo, Gabriel, who owned three successful grocery stores in San Francisco, built a handsome Italianate structure, at a cost of $55,000, on San Anselmo Avenue for the Home Market, the first “super” market in the Ross Valley. Gabriel also built an adjoining building. These buildings are adjacent to the Bank of America building.

The Home Market was operated by the Franchini family from 1926 to 1971, when the elder Mr. Franchini died. His son William ran the market in the ’50s and ’60s and retired in 1972.

Here, William (Bill) Franchini answers questions about the market and life in San Anselmo.

What was San Anselmo like in 1926, when the Home Market opened?

San Anselmo, when the Home Market opened, had a hardware store, a Five and Dime, a couple of bakeries. There was Grant’s Creamery — an ice cream store that served milk shakes and lunch. Milk shakes cost 15 cents. There was Albert’s Dry Goods store. There was King’s Market. There was gas station where the Boulevard (the former Arbor) Restaurant is today.

There was also the San Anselmo Market, which moved and became Guasco Market (which is now Andronico’s.) There was the theater, the Tamalpais. It opened in ’24. I was just thinking about the theater. Some wealthy people bought stock — shares for $100 apiece — in the theater. That’s how it was paid for. Later, it was bought by the Blumenfeld family in the early ’60s.

Tell us about the Home Market … Why was it a “super” market?

In the early days you’d call in your order for food, you’d charge it, and we’d deliver it. We delivered to San Anselmo, of course, and Fairfax, Ross, Kentfield, later Kent Woodlands, parts of San Rafael. We did two deliveries, in the morning and the afternoon. You could call for soup bones and pork chops in the morning and if you forgot something, you could call it in later and we’d get it to you in time for dinner. Usually the maids called.

There was a big parade with music on the day the market opened. My Pop was smart. He didn’t have much of an education, but he knew how to make money. He was in the meat business. The Home Market was different because my dad leased out space in the market to other grocers – people who dealed in, say, vegetables and fish. We ran the butcher shop. That’s what made it a “super” market like we know them today. It had everything.

When did you run for Town Council?

In 1958. My campaign cost $25. I put an ad in the Independent Journal. My motto? “Good Clean Government.” In those days people only came to the council meetings to complain. A lot of building was going on in those years. Red Hill Shopping Center was built in the ’60s. There was a big stink about that. People were against it; thought it would split the town in half. But we needed the money. There was no tax base in San Anslemo; not much business for sales tax.

There were a lot of grocery stores then. Purity, Safeway – the Safeway then was located on San Anselmo Avenue, where the Post Office is now. Purity Market was in Jack’s Drug Store on Tunstead. There was United and Drake Market where Red Hill Liquors is now. Guasco came along with a bigger market. And there were a lot of little neighborhood grocery stores.

What caused the slide on Red Hill?

Some guys built an apartment building up there. I told ’em when they applied that if it were my money, I wouldn’t do it. But they got a bunch of soil engineers up here from Los Angeles and went ahead and built it. The thing just slid down the hill one morning, before it was even completed. That was in the ’60s.

What do you think is the most significant event in town history?

The floods. The town would ring bells, blow horns, call you at home and say the creek was rising and we’d go down and start sand-bagging. We had a big one in 1925. But the flood of ’82 was the worst.

Tell us about Ross Avenue, where you grew up.

Ross Avenue up near Sunnyside was the Italian neighborhood. They came from the city after the earthquake, because of the weather. Then others moved in, because their families and friends were there. My family moved from the Mission District which was then mostly Italian and Irish, a working-class neighborhood.

Most of the Italians living around Ross Avenue were gardeners for the people in Ross. My Pop had a beautiful garden, too. With a fountain; the fountain’s still there.

In those days everyone made their own wine. Everyone would help make wine; they’d get a load of grapes and crush them –they had one press that they’d take from house to house. You could smell that fermenting wine on hot evenings ….

I went to grade school in San Anselmo. You know Wade Thomas School on Ross Avenue? That was the Sousa Ranch. The school district bought the property and put up a wooden school house, then a brick school house [Main School], then came Wade Thomas. I went to school in both the wooden and brick buildings; then I went to St. Anselm’s and then Tamalpais High School.

Who was your most memorable customer at the Home Market?

Mrs. Robson [of the Robson-Harrington House] was a customer. She’d call me and say, “Mr. Franchini, those lamb chops you sold me yesterday were terrible. I couldn’t even chew them.” Then May, her housekeeper, would call and say, “don’t pay any attention to her.”

I’d deliver food to the Robsons. They had a parrot. All he’d say was “Hello, hello, hello.” Every day Mrs. Robson took a drive in her chauffeured car. She’d be in the back seat, with that parrot in its cage sitting on the seat next to her.

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