Helen Eells: A New Life

Helen’s Oral History
Chapter 7
A New Life

Published January, 2011

Helen’s father died on October 12, 1911, a few days before her seventh birthday. Her mother sold the farm on July 2, 1914, and took the children to live with relatives in an elegant mansion at 123 Edgewood Ave., a short steep brick street on the east side of what is now UCSF Medical Center. The household consisted of Helen, her great-aunt, her grandmother, her mother, her aunt, her older sister, Margaret, and her younger sister, Harriet—seven females in three generations supported financially by the wealthy great-aunt. Quite a change from the nuclear family on the farm. In the summer of 1915, when Helen was 10 years old she went to the Panama Pacific International Exposition.

“We had season tickets of course, because that’s the way my aunts always behaved. But to get there…to go off Edgewood Avenue was a chore in itself, then you take number 6 streetcar, and then you had to change at Grove to the number 22 streetcar. And you got off at the top of Fillmore Street, and you took a cable car down the steepest streets I’ve ever seen in my life. Well of course, the people would be all standing straight, and they started over the hill. And then everybody was smashed to the bottom of the streetcar, of course, going down, with all on top of each other. And with my family, who couldn’t bear anyone to touch them, and thought everybody was a rapist! Aunt Allie [Helen’s great-aunt] would be screaming at the top of her lungs, ‘STOP THAT SIR!’ And, ‘Mercy on us!’ And Little Auntie [Helen’s aunt] would be saying, ‘Oh, Allie, please don’t talk like that!’ And, ‘Helen where are you?’ And I’d be smashed to smithereens, by the time we got down, I think it was three hills, but it may have been two. And then we straightened out again, and everybody straightened themselves up, and started walking back into the car, and trying to pretend they’d never been off balance and lost their dignity. But that’s how we got to the fair. And then when you came home, it was the other way, going up that hill. Of course everybody was still in the same place, down at the bottom. But it was a different kind of feeling, going up. Oh man, those days!

“But when we got to the fair, don’t think we weren’t having a wonderful time. Oh! It was the most beautiful fair! You know we still have the Palace of Fine Arts to show you what kind of architecture it was. Then there were the courts, about three courts that were done by Maybeck, and Stackpole, and all the good artists of our time, and interior and exterior decorators. It is really said to be the most beautiful fair that was ever shown. It was like Fairyland, it was so beautiful. In the middle of one of the beautiful courts was Sousa, you know. He played his wonderful, wonderful band of military music, all afternoon, really.”

If you have comments or questions about this article or other topics
pertaining to the history of Homestead Valley,
please feel free to e-mail Chuck Oldenburg.