Becky’s Gang: Tracking Down Mysteries In An Old Family Photo

This past weekend I finally got around to scanning some old family photos that my mom gave me several years back. I’d looked at the them all before, but for whatever reason I now became fascinated by a photo of my Grandma Rebecca in her teenage days.

Look at the car parked on the left! Look at those lovely cracks in the photo! Most importantly, check out how they are dressed! The baggy pants carefully cuffed. The tucked in shirts with the top button done. Though I’m not familiar with the style, you can tell these young women were trendy (and most likely trouble for their parents!). My grandma is the one in the middle. Since she had her first child at 16 in 1952, I’m guessing the photo is from roughly 1951.

The Obsession Grows

I knew my grandma grew up mostly in San Francisco — she had stories about hanging out at a soda fountain on Castro street — so eventually I started to wonder where exactly this picture was taken. But how could I figure this out? Looking more closely I noticed the sign in the back that says “HARDING.”

A few searches later I discovered that the Harding Theater is at 616 Divisadero. Apparently it’s been closed for a long time, and there’s some controversy over whether it should be protected as a historical building, but here’s what it used to look like:

Unfortunately the sign is gone from the theater today.

I started looking in Street View a bit down Divisadero for a location in which the Harding sign would have been in the background of the shot. Though you can’t get the same angle in Street View, with the help of my wife Bethany, I eventually figured out the photo was taken about 1 block south in front of what is now a business called Postal Chase.

Figuring this out took a while though and required looking at the original photo very closely. Below are a few of the exact details that we found line up with current architectural details.

  1. These 4 horizontal ridges can still be seen at The Postal Chase.

2. You can see the 3 sided bay window where the laundry sign used to be in the current building (which incidentally is now a business called “Budget Cleaners”):

3. This vertical brick structure is still visible. Now the building is a Bi-Rite.

What Else Can I Research?

Once I figured out where the photo was taken, I realized I was really enjoying this sleuthing and wanted to know everything. It was the same sort of fascination that sometimes happens with true crime stories (think Serial), but without any sad origin or storyteller. Maybe part of the allure was just to test how easy it is to be a detective online these days.

Next I remembered that my grandma told me her parents owned a flower shop in San Francisco. Before she passed away in 2012, I asked a bunch of questions about her parents so I could now look up their names, which are Leah Mizrahi (though she went by Lilly) and Moisha Capouya (though he went by Morris). Here’s a shot of Lilly, Morris (dig the cigarette!), my grandma, mother and aunt.

A few searches later I discovered that the shop was located at 528 Divisadero and was called Lilly’s Flower Shop.

So where is that? It’s right next door to where the photo was taken and in Street View I could see it’s now a bar called Tsk/Tsk!

What’s Next?

At this point I concluded there were still three things left to do.

First, I’d like to know if either of the other two women in the photo are still alive. If they were 15 in 1951, they’d be 80 today so it’s possible. Looking at the back of the photo I can see that their names are Helena and Jeannette (apparently grandma went by Becky in her teenage rebel days rather than Rebecca.) Let me know if you have any ideas as to how I could solve this part of the mystery.

Second, I wonder if anyone has a photo of Lilly’s Flower shop from the early 1950s. So far I’ve been unable to find anything—any ideas?

Third, I wanted to go to this location and take a new photo, which we did today. I originally wanted to get a shot of Bethany and our two daughters, but it turned out to be insanely sunny so we were only able to get a decent shot of me with sunglasses.

After plying the kiddos with ice cream, I did get a photo of the former Lilly’s Flower Shop, which also appears to be the former Tsk/Tsk at this point as the doors are shuttered.