My grandfather was a member of the California Grays, a San Francisco military fraternity. Prior to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the Grays aided the local police in clearing out the Barbary Coast. Fights broke out in many of the saloons with undesirables ferried across the bay to Oakland by the men in their natty West-Point-like uniforms. Grandpa recalls crawling under pool tables to avoid the mayhem. But the job was incomplete. The Barbary Coast remained a sideshow, a skid row and music mecca all rolled into one.
All That Jazz:
It was here that bandleader and pianist Sid LeProtti made his mark, and traveling jazzmen like King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton came calling. A crusade started up in earnest by the Reverend Paul Smith in 1915 to clean up the district. When a San Francisco newspaper got on the ‘band wagon,’ the police commissioner decided to put an end to the shenanigans once and for all. They toiled for five years. The police, with the assistance of the California Grays again, cracked down on prostitution first, and put all the sporting houses out of business. They got tough with dance halls, prohibiting dancing anywhere in the Barbary Coast. Finally they put a stop to the music, or tried to. Hard to stamp out legends. Lu Watters and Turk Murphy carried on the tradition into the 1980’s. Remember Turk Murphy’s Jazz Band at Earthquake McGoon’s (630 Clay St.)? The sound wasn’t ala modern jazz but brassy and bold. I can almost hear it now, whirling around in the back of my mind, loud and full of life.