In search of Brautigan’s Cleveland Wrecking Yard

When Richard Brautigan went Trout Fishing in America he told a tale of riding the Number 15 bus — that means, south on Third Street along San Francisco’s southeast waterfront — to the Cleveland Wrecking Yard where they had a trout stream for sale by the foot. Fictional-sounding kind of geography to the place. Part of it is an outdoor storage yard but it also has a front show window. And then it seems to have a second story too since “the waterfalls are upstairs in the used plumbing department.”

So it turns out the Cleveland Wrecking Yard was real, and (if you ask me) the funny geography may be explained by the real thing having existed on two properties. The erudite Brautigan.net fan site says Brautigan really did help a friend buy a used window at the Cleveland Wrecking Yard in 1958. As location it gives: “2800 3rd Street; Quint Street” and, on second reference, “a demolition business on Quint Street”. That has to mean two different places. The Third Street address is a few blocks north of Islais Creek near the San Francisco Bay waterfront. All of Quint Street is farther inland (i.e. west) and definitely south of the creek.

The 2800 – 3rd Street address does seem to be right. The good offices of the SF Public Library and the Internet Archive have combined to place a 1958 San Francisco city directory online. Page 599 of it notes several businesses under “Cleveland”, including not only the “Cleveland Vibrator Co.” (no kidding), but also “Cleveland Wrecking Co. Chas H. Rose v-pres bldg 2800 3d.” As shown at this Google Street View link, a long two-story building at the Third Street address has been fixed up a lot but you can still see how, presuming suspension of the laws of physics, someone might have laid out a 60-foot waterfall horizontally along its second floor.

On the other hand, the city directory page for Quint Street doesn’t mention “Cleveland” at all. Pity.

Just a guess but maybe the Cleveland Wrecking showroom for customers could have been on hard-bitten but businesslike Third Street while the same company could have used a storage yard over on Quint for large, awkward and less popular items. A likely place for such a yard, on Quint, could have been somewhere around Davidson Street in the jumble of wrecking, auto and scrap yards on the south bank of Islais Creek.

This would fit the part in Brautigan’s story where the yard manager gives directions to an area where “what’s left of the animals” are on display as possible extras to go with the stream: “You’ll see a bunch of our trucks parked on a road by the railroad tracks. Turn right on the road and follow it down past the piles of lumber…” Sounds about right.

There’s still a yard where you can buy a salvaged window frame (if not a trout stream) just a few blocks east of Quint and Davidson along that south bank of Islais Creek. It’s Building Resources, out there on Amador north of the postal complex.

[Added: Brautigan’s fictional tale of animals in storage on Quint Street isn’t all that far-fetched either. Mike Garza, who ran a junkyard right near Quint and Davidson, had 13 Barbados blackbelly sheep, all rams, seized from his property in 2004. He briefly faced criminal charges but they were dropped on his agreement to move the sheep to a pasture in Sonoma County.]

It’s exciting to know the real locations involved. Especially that Brautigan may have picked up the unique industrial-backwater atmosphere of that Quint and Davidson auto-yard district.

On the other hand, knowing the facts is bad for a nice conjecture I had going.

I had started out to write this post by wondering if the trout stream for sale “by the foot length” might have been stacked up in its sections of “ten, fifteen, twenty feet, etc.” in Building 2 at Pier 70. I still think Building 2 looks like the kind of place even now I’m sure that it wasn’t. It has the old Dogpatch/Bayview warehouse-world feeling, only parts of which are quaint enough to qualify for preservation.

IMG_0449scaledYou get to Building 2 by way of the Delancey Street Movers lot. Apparently it’s still in use just like it says on the box: by Paul’s Cost Less, AKA Cost/Less Inventories. Some beautiful last-century language in those sigIMG_0454detail2ns painted on the wall.

The signs are very pre-Amazon, pre-eBay.

The signs say:

“Salvors and Appraisers”

“Wholesalers * Jobbers * Salvor”

“Parking for Scooters Only”

“Promotional Items”

“Flea-Market Venders Welcome” (sic)

Brautigan’s text just kind of fits those signs. Frexample: “‘Sir,’ the salesman said, ‘I wouldn’t want you to think that we would ever sell a murky trout stream here. We always make sure they’re running crystal clear before we even think about moving them.”

IMG_0454detail

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