Civil Rights Actions in San Francisco Employment Practices

Poole

There were in the sixties also efforts to do something about San Francisco's rigid employment structure. When I first came to San Francisco, you could walk from Haight Street all the way down to the Embarcadero, and the only nonwhite that you would see would be people who were in custodial and janitorial positions. At that time, to the best of my knowledge, there wasn't a single black person in any of the department stores. They simply weren't there. Every now and then you would find they would have somebody; the Emporium would change its displays in the windows, and you would have a couple of window design people, and there might be one black woman, something like that, but she was mainly holding a cloth for them. It was that sort of thing. They simply didn't hire them. To my great surprise when we got to this city, one of the few persons who was rather frequently the subject of comment was one of the characters of San Francisco—I don't mean that as invidious term, but as a person who was kind of a patron and was a standard maker.


Hicke

Who was this?


Poole

His name was Joseph—I don't remember his name. But they referred to him always as Joe Shreve. He was the doorman at Shreve's. They said, If you're going to have a reception at your home and you want somebody to take care of the cars and all that, you had to get Joe Shreve. He would be the doorman. He would wear his


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gloves and be the doorman and make sure that everything went off right. He knew all the protocol and people, and he was frequently in Herb Caen's column.

After the initial period of the sit-ins took place in the South in the early sixties, it sort of spread like wildfire.


Hicke

The civil rights movement?


Poole

Yes. There came demands that the stores and establishments hire some people other than whites. I can remember Gene McAteer, who was the owner of McAteer's Restaurant out at Fisherman's Wharf, sitting down with me and a couple of other people and explaining to me that no one who ever applied to be a waiter at McAteer's Fisherman's Wharf Restaurant was used to this kind of service. They had worked in the restaurants in New Orleans and in the South traditionally. I said to him one time, "That's utter nonsense, Gene, that's utter nonsense." I got to know Gene pretty well. "You're blind." It took a long time for him to see that. Fisherman's Wharf—in those days, if you went out to have dinner or lunch, and if you were a black person, if the maitre d', whoever it was, knew you, he would get you seated quickly and make it clear that you spoke English and that you ate with your knife and fork and not your hands. But if he was not there and they had a substitute, you could tell he was going to take you to the last table in the place. That's the way Fisherman's Wharf was. No first class hotel in San Francisco would accommodate black guests until Ben Swig opened the Fairmont. Ben came from Boston, and he was proud of having been there. In fact, he would wear it out telling you about it. But it was true, the Fairmont was the first of the large hotels that broke that up.

I remember when I was—what was the year, let me see; it would have been 1949—I think it was '48 or '49. There was a traveling theatrical group, and they had a play that was called "Deep are the Roots." They were mainly people who had been in and around the studios and places in Los Angeles and Burbank and Hollywood, primarily as extras. But they formed this company and they were on the road. They made reservations from Los Angeles for a week at a Geary Street hotel. It was one of those small hotels that they had on Geary very near the two big theaters—the Hotel Cecil. When they showed up, the manager of the hotel said this was some great mistake. They said, "No, we have a written confirmation." He said, "Yes, I see that. I'm terribly sorry, but we don't have any rooms. It was a mistake."

At that time, I was practicing law, and so they came to me with their complaint, and I filed the first lawsuit. I filed it and served them and got ready to take them to court, and they


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capitulated. They said they were willing to enter into any kind of a policy statement that we wanted. I was talking about a lot of money. I didn't think we were going to get it. In any event, I do remember that that case settled, and my clients didn't want me to settle it on that basis, but I persuaded them I was correct. They settled it for $500 of attorney's fees and costs and whatever our expenses would have been, and for a declaration of policy in writing that this hotel would not discriminate against any guests on account of color or race. They posted it, and a lot of people said why didn't we get $10,000. I said, "That's worth more than $10,000. That's the purpose of doing this." Gradually, the other restaurants around began to see—So they still did it for a long time, subtly. Ben Swig immediately proclaimed what the policy was at the Fairmont, and with that in mind, the Mark Hopkins trembled. The Mark Hopkins had at one time been owned by Gene Autry.


Hicke

Is that right? I didn't realize that.