George Bernard Harris.

Memories of San Francisco legal practice and State and Federal courts, 1920s - 1960s : oral history transcript / and related material, 1980-1981 online

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Online LibraryGeorge Bernard HarrisMemories of San Francisco legal practice and State and Federal courts, 1920s - 1960s : oral history transcript / and related material, 1980-1981 → online text (page 2 of 18)
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of Mrs. Charlie, who was eager to insinuate me into the loins of the
Howards. She was really dedicated to me because of the tragedy that
befell my mother.

Morris: Right. Did you have any brothers and sisters?

Harris: Yes. She had brothers and sisters.

Morris: Grandmother did.

Harris: Yes. Several.

Morris: Did they come into the trucking business, too?

Harris: No.

Morris: So when you were growing up, you were part of a big family.

Harris: Sort of a nucleus of a big family.

Morris: Were the brothers and sisters younger than your grandmother?

*Henning comments that the firm was called The China Dray or Peck
China Dray, persumably at a later date.

Harris: Yes. Mary was the eldest.

Morris: And how about her husband, Mr. Charlie?

Harris: Charlie Howard? He was quite an aggressive businessman. They came
out of obscurity preparing them of course, and their background,
of course, was a wholesome one but it wasn t one of anything of
great stature socially. They had a trucking business and it was
very productive.

They handled all the China Mail business. The China Mail was
one of the biggest shippers in the country.

Morris: China Mail being the steamship line?

Harris: Yes. The China Mail gave them all their business, practically,
not all their going business.

Morris: So that when the China Mail boats came in, your grandfather would
see to their unloading and the shipping out of all the goods.

Harris: That s correct.

Morris: Was it unusual for Caucasions to work that closely with the Chinese

Harris: I questioned that at one time. I think so. I think that socially
the Chinese always had a great respect for the white. I know that
the paying of the Howards for the services in Chinatown and the
shipping services was very fruitful because of the fact that once
or twice a year they would come out to 2521 California Street.
That was the home of the Howards. It s still there; it was bought
by a chain of events and probably highly held now.

Morris: Has it stayed in the family, that property?

Harris: No, it got away from the family. My aunt sold it, and I wish she d
kept it.

Morris: Right. I thought one of the Irish traditions was that you did hold
on to land and property.

Harris: My Grandmother Howard was critically ill for a long time before she
passed away. I guess my aunt didn t want the responsibility of
hanging on to it. But it didn t affect the vital interest of the
family at all .

Morris: The Chinese merchants would come out to your house


Harris: They d come out to our house about twice a year and settle the
accounts. The accounts, I remember very vividly, were all
settled in gold. So you can just imagine what kind of a business
it was.

Morris: And as a little boy, you d be allowed to be there, too, when all
this was going on?

Harris: I used to ride on the trucks and drive the horses home from

Chinatown. You would sit on a thing they called the jockey box.
The teamsters were held in high esteem in California, both socially
and intellectually and otherwise, because it was a business that was
big and going and fruitful.

Morris: And it kept everything else going. It was the lifeline, as it were.

Harris: Yes. He was well-held in the community, Howard was, as a businessman,
and as a representative of best interests.

Morris: When your mother died, did your father stay in San Francisco, or
did he go down south?

Harris: He remained here, mainly I would say he remained here practically
all the time. His burden was to invest money, which he did

Morris: You call it a burden.

Harris: Well, it s a burden sometimes.

Morris: Right. Did your father live with your grandfather and grandmother,
when your grandmother was raising you up?

Harris: No, she had enough money of her own. She was very important in
money matters. I think at times she used to vie with Grandma
Harris about money matters.

Morris: That s interesting. And they were both active in the same church?
Harris: Yes.

Morris: The church probably benefited from that. You have two strong-
minded women, both

Harris: Both of them were very dedicated Catholics.

Morris: Do you remember when you would have moved to the house on California
Street? Were you still a very small boy, or was that later on?

Harris: I don t remember the dates. I have to get the record.

Morris: When you were still in grammar school, or when you were in high

Harris: I went to California Street with my Grandma Howard when I was

about four or five. They were already living on California Street.

Morris: You said you used to ride home and drive the horses.
Harris: Yes, drive the horses with the teamsters.
Morris: Were the horses and the wagons stabled there?

Harris: Yes, we had a big stable in the back, in the back of 2521 California
Street there was a big stable.

Morris: That must have been marvelous for a small boy.

Harris : Yes .

Morris: Did you help with taking care of the horses at all?

Harris: Oh, sure. Clean the

Morris: Mop out the stables.

Harris: It was in the nice part of my life.

Morris: I would think so.

Harris: When I went to school, they sent me to the Christian brothers school.

Morris: Here in San Francisco. Was there any question in those days as to
whether you d go to a Catholic school or whether you d go just to
the regular, plain public schools?

Harris: It wasn t over-accented; it didn t amount to very much. There

wasn t any hard and fast rule because I think the individuals are
seeking a haven where they get the best education. I don t think
there was any partisanship about it.

Morris: And at that time the Christian brothers school was considered the
better school.

Harris: Oh, continued to be a better school.

Morris: You said that Jack Henning as a cousin had been close for years. Did
you go to school together?

Harris: No. He wound up in St. Mary s College, and I wound up at Sacred
Heart .


Morris: Did you play together as boys?

Harris : No .

Morris : Were there many cousins around of your own age?

Harris: Not many of my age.

Morris : So did you have many friends your own age in the neighborhood?

Harris: Oh, yes. The usual neighborhood people. I ll take a couple of
minutes. [Tape off while coffee and pastry are served.]

These records the fire burned so many, that the paucity
continues to these days. All of the Howard home at 2521 California
Street was written up in one of these stories about the old homes.
I think the cost of the home originally was $5,000.

And they didn t build it; it was already built when they

That s right. $5,000. Now you can pay about for the same home
it s still there you should add at least three or four zeroes.

On your driving the wagon home from Dupont Street, would you be
coming through open country at all?

No, right over cobblestones.

But the city had grown out as far as the 2500 block on California

Yes. Fire didn t touch it, because all of the shipping companies
put their boys together and developed sort of a team operation in
transporting materials from the fire-ridden areas to the more
secure areas. So the Harrises were very instrumental in
consolidating their forces by taking over the problems of saving
a lot of property from the ravages of the fire.

Morris: While the fire was going on?

Harris: The fire was stopped at Van Ness Avenue by dynamite. I suppose it
was a good thing, otherwise it would have burned the whole city.
I remember we were obliged to remain in the park overnight for
several nights the park at Alta Plaza. They were all cooking out
in the open air provisions. They established cooking points. The
organization of the people in off-setting the ravages of the fire
was generally it fortified that opinion that the whole thing was
well done in the face of a great tragedy.

Harris :



Harris :


Morris: Indeed. Would your grandfather Charliehave been out there with his
teamster crews?

Harris: Oh, yes. The family achieved a lot of personal enjoyment out of
working as they did on behalf of the

Morris: Did they sort of organize themselves to do what they could see
needed doing, or did the military say

Harris: The military intervened, whether good or bad it will never be known.
Sometimes I wonder about it all. But for the record, the military
did a workmanlike job, I suppose.

Morris: For a small boy you would have been six years old. Did you remember
it as a frightening experience, or as an exciting experience?

Harris: I remember it as a devastating one, because my grandmother I remember
it so vividly brought me down to the vantage point of California,
right at the crest of Nob Hill.


Morris: There are many personal recollections like yours that add to the

history of the 1906 fire. I ve never heard the very important part
of the ship crews getting out there and helping move things to
safety, and working with the teamsters and their wagons.

Harris: I remember the trucks coming in loaded with materials from the

disaster area. I remember trucks bringing large amounts of barrel

Morris: From the fire, or to speed the rescue workers?
Harris: For the safety of it.

Morris: Did they store things in your grandfather s stables? Was that a
safe area where they brought things to?

Harris: There were many people put up the whole period of the fire and the
quake. The quake itself caused, you know, great tragedy.

Morris : Would your grandparents have been involved at all in rebuilding?
Would their offices have been damaged?

Harris: Oh, yes, they built several apartment houses, and generally invested

in real estate. They had a corporation called the Harris Corporation,
which was very fruitful and very successful.

Morris: That was for development?


Harris: In development of areas.

Morris: Did many people just move out of the city and give up whatever land
or anything they had?

Harris: I couldn t answer that.

Morris: You d be kind of young for that. That was just a fishing expedition,

Harris: I d have to speculate a great deal.

Morris: The other thing about running a teamster business: when you were
a small boy, were the men who drove the wagons part of a union yet.
or was the beginning of that going on, do you recall?

Harris: I think union spirit had started to formulate. I don t think it
had grown to a point of being a great force in the community. I
think the organization came about when the very picturesque union
leader the name escapes me for the moment took over the destinies
of the laborer. There was a labor movement rustling sort of in the
twilight. There was a gentleman involved as a leader of the unions
who was very picturesque and his name is no doubt well-registered
in the annals . *

Morris: Were the people who drove the wagons, the young men, were they
considered friends of the family as well as employees?

Harris: I wouldn t know.

Morris: I was just wondering about who let you ride up there on the jockey
seat and hold the reins.

Harris: Oh, no. No one could answer that. I looked upon myself as a

Morris: Of course! But you were what, age ten then, maybe?

*According to John Henning, this would be Michael Casey, who founded
what is now Local 85 of the Teamsters Union in the late 1800s.
See also Sky Full of Storm, David F. Selvin, California Historical
Society, 1975.


Grandmother Howard; Catholic Schooling

Harris: Probably. Ten or eleven. I remember an incident that might be

recorded. My grandmother was not satisfied with the public schools
Grandma Howard. She wanted better schools for me, because she felt
that I had some talents. She learned the Christian brothers were
great educators, so she sent little George over to be educated by
the brothers. Not too long after this, I reported that I was going
to be a Christian brother, and that I was going to the seminary
for Christian brothers. She said, "You d better let me check with
Brother Thomas." She got Brother Thomas over, "This boy tells me
he s going to be a Christian brother. Have you ever heard him swear?"

Morris: [laughs]

Harris: And he said, "He swears like a teamster." Needless to say, I never
became a Christian brother.

Morris: I see. Brother Thomas didn t approve of that?
Harris: No, my grandmother wouldn t approve.
Morris: She didn t think you should

Harris: No. She felt that she d lose me. She looked upon me as potential.
She had a great love of family; she was a great lady. Mrs. Charlie.

Morris: What did she hope for you?

Harris: Well, I was always writing small talk plays, and, like all the
Irish, she was whimsical and had talent in that direction.

Morris: She liked to write herself?

Harris: She wrote quite a lot of studies. Jack Henning may have some. I
did have that article that appeared in the paper about her, about
2521 California Street.

Morris: Is Mr. Henning the family historian? He s been gathering, keeping
all these papers together?

Harris: Yes. He s spent an awful lot of his time. He s also identified
with the Irish societies.

Morris: Were the Irish societies important to your grandmother and grand

Harris: I don t know.


Morris: You don t remember them.

Harris : No .

Morris: How about St. Patrick s Day, when you were a boy growing up?

Harris: I don t remember.

Morris: It wasn t the great festival that it s become.

Harris : No .

Morris: Did your grandmother read to you?

Harris: Oh, yes, I read to her and she read to me.

Morris: How nice of her. What kinds of things did you read to each other?

Harris : Plays .

Morris: Plays, even as a little boy?

Harris: Yes, even as a little boy.

Morris: Shakespeare?

Harris: When I went to the Christian brothers they provided teachers in
drama; and later on I had the opportunity to study under Brother
Leo, who was the foremost scholar on Irish history and Irish
tradition and Irish plays, everything Irish. He taught at St.
Mary s College.

Morris: That s in San Francisco.

Harris: Yes. He was considered and still is considered one of the foremost
authorities on English literature in our schools.

Morris: And there was actual coursework on Irish studies, as it were.

Harris: That s true. The societies even now have considerable interest in
Irish studies.

Morris: The Irish societies.

Harris: Yes. Jack could give all that information.

Morris: I think of much of the Irish studies now as something that s started
fairly recently in response to the troubles with England, though
heaven knows, those go back a thousand years! But the Irish studies
that you had with Brother Leo, were those part of a literature course?


Harris: Shakespearean studies, too.

Morris: Were those part of a literature course, or a history course ?

Harris: Brother Leo made lectures at given times. He was probably one of
the foremost English scholars in the West. He left the teaching
order and was living in southern California when he passed away.

Morris: Had he retired, or had he gone on?

Harris: No, he was still continuing his writings. He had a very picturesque
place. I have some of his writings that he engaged in then.

Morris: Did you go down to visit him when he moved to southern California?

Harris: Yes, a couple of times. He was a very, very interesting man.
Lived the life of a recluse, sort of.

Morris: And he encouraged writing as part of your schoolwork?

Harris: It was part of the curricula, but I think he gave it vitality and
meaning, and he was able to instill in quite a few people a love
of literature that otherwise they wouldn t have had.

Morris: Do you remember particularly any friends of those school days, or
people whose talent you admired?

Harris: Yes, I do; but most of them are gone.

Morris: Did they also continue a love of literature and writing in their
later lives?

Harris: Oh, I m sure that in an academic sense they did. [pause]

Morris: Was the neighborhood pretty much Irish families on California Street?

Harris: Yes, in the main they were Irish. There were a few Italians. The
Western Addition was considered to be a respectable area. And
property values were centered more as the development Western
Addition took on a rather picturesque part of our community. The
architectural designs had a certain metaphor.

Morris: Did your family continue to go to the same church, the big one
down in

Harris: St. Dominic s. My Grandma Howard was a daily communicant, went
to communion every day of her life at the sisters school at St.
Dominic s church, right down two blocks from here.


Harris: My Grandma Harris was a devoted Catholic, and gave an awful lot of
money to the church.

Morris: But not just to St. Dominic s?

Harris: She gave it to the Spanish church down in North Beach. It s on the
hill what s the name of that street the church is still there

Morris : Columbus .

Harris: Yes.

Morris: That was considered kind of what, charitable work because the people
in that district needed help?

Harris: No, it was a growing community and a haven of many businesses
productive business. It wasn t an outcast type of thing.

Morris: It sounds as if religion were an important part of your daily life
as you were growing up.

Harris: Oh, part of my whole life.

Morris: Were the brothers in school also concerned that the students would
grow up and be involved in the life of the community?

Harris: The brothers were constantly at pains to produce leaders. That
was the purpose of educating an individual, so that he or she
might perpetuate the ideals in permanent form. [pause]

Morris: Now we ve got your grandmothers both active in the church; how about
your grandfather? Was he active in politics in the city or other
kinds of civic affairs?

Harris: I imagine Charlie Howard was. Grandpa Harris was a I don t know
how to describe him, because I never recall seeing him, so it
wouldn t be fair to describe him. I didn t know him. I m sure
that my views would be prejudiced by the influence of my Grandma
Howard. [laughter] As I say, my sense of her is of an aristocratic

Morris: I know the sense you mean. Could you describe it a little bit, the
feeling that your grandmother was an aristocrat?

Harris: Like many women being sensitive to their photograph and reproduction
of it. Why can only be answered by people more versed in the
psychological impact of the situation. [pause] What was the
question again?

Morris: About your grandmother being an aristocrat your sense.


Harris: Oh, yes. It s curious that Mrs. Driscoll* had a similar grandmother,

though I think she was more vocal in her views than my Grandma

Howard. But they both came out of the same areas; they both voiced

the same sentiments as I recall; they both were people who raised

not one family but maybe five or six families.

I thought nothing about it. They were sort of God s noblemen
in that area I think. They sent people out into the world that s
the Christian brothers philosophy and training. I m steeped in
it. They sent people out into the world prepared to meet emergencies
and prepared to meet the philosophical tenets of many of their
neighbors, and carry the Catholic faith. They re really free to
a high standard. I think, without becoming strident about it, I
think that the teaching of the Christian brothers, as well as the
Jesuits I was trained under the hand of the Jesuits, too has been
a great force in not only local communities, but nationally and
internationally .

Morris: In relation to the importance of a sense of service, and participating
in the broader life of the community, in addition to one s own realm?

Harris: Yes, in the social life and the intellectual life of the community.
They ve been trained to play that part; some of them do, and some
of them don t.

*Patricia Driscoll, the judge s longtime secretary who sat in on
the interview.



Work and Law School

Morris: I understand from several of the articles I ve read that there was

some question that you might seek a career as a writer, or an actor,
instead of the law. Tell me about deciding to make your career in
the law.

Harris: Would you mind repeating that?

Morris: That was long winded. Tell me how you decided to go to law school?

Harris: I always wanted to be a lawyer, ever since I can remember, because
I met quite a few lawyers around my father. He was a litigious
type of person.

Morris: Was he?

Harris: Yes. And I met lawyers upon lawyers upon lawyers. Lawyers sort of
fascinated me.

Morris: Why?

Harris: I don t know. They seemed to know everything about everybody, and
without being pretentious, they seemed to get along pretty well.
Intellectually I thought the law was a great field, and that I might
pursue it some day. One of my father s lawyers was a very lovely
gentleman, scholar, Irish, and became quite successful as a trial
lawyer. I used to play tennis with him as a youngster.

Morris: Was that Gavin McNab?

Harris: No, this was McNab didn t take time off to play tennis.

Morris: I was wondering about that.


Harris: No. This gentleman was a scholar. I d play tennis with him, and
then we d go and have coffee or something. He was the first one
that really gave me confidence that I could be a lawyer. He was
a gentleman among gentlemen, and he was a scholar. He and
Brother Leo, I think, were the two instrumentalities that decided
my career.

Morris: Who was the tennis playing ?

Harris: The name escapes me. I can go back in my memory, maybe.

Morris: All right, because I d like to know what his name is. He sounds
like a marvelous gentleman. Tennis playing! Would this be grass

Harris : I lived right near the California Lawn Tennis Club . I used to

chase tennis balls so that I could play there. You notice in the
professional field of tennis, they have a little kid that will run
out into the tennis court and pick up the ball and run back.

Morris: Very fast.

Harris: That s what I was doing. I learned under the tutelage of some of
the best players in the world, who played at the California Club.

Morris: I d like to hear a little bit more about your father as the

Harris: My father was a dapper young man. He was a sportsman: he loved

to fish and hunt. He liked business if it didn t interfere with his
social activity. [laughter]

Morris: Were you able to spend much time with him?

Harris: No. Whatever love and devotion I had I gave mainly to my Grandma

Morris: You were fortunate to have such a woman around.
Harris: Well, they gave an awful lot of themselves.

Morris: How did you go about law school in about 1914, when you were ready
for law school?

Harris: There must have been a focal point in there where I oh, yes, I
recall. I went to work for one of the brokerage houses.

Morris: Blyth-Witter?


Harris: Blyth-Witter. That was one of the first offices Blyth-Witter had.
And I happened to know one of the employees, and he was likewise
interested in law, and intended to pursue it as a career. So we
worked during the day and studied at night. St. Ignatius then
had a night law school, and I went to work for them.

Morris: At some point and I don t know how long it was before this one
used to become a lawyer by reading law in somebody s office.
At what point did that move into a more formal law school kind of
a curriculum?

Harris: The reading of law in an office was the one main avenue of approach
to becoming a lawyer before the law school became as dominant and
predominant as it is today; it was useful as an instrumentality
for a law school. A night law school today will deliver to an
industrious young man an opportunity to practice law where otherwise
he d be denied. In the olden days, the turn of the century and
other, we had many, many very able lawyers in San Francisco. It
was a mecca for ability in the law. The land problems were replete
with [issues] in the law. The law firms were large, identified as
such, and carried with them an impact of confidence in the
community as a whole. Night law school was not held in the derision
it was at one time.

Morris: No, I m speaking of it with respect. I think that tradition of
working while studying is a very valuable one.

Harris: We carried on, and then I went to work for Hunter Dulin and Company,
[spells it] I occupied a pretty good position for a young man.

Morris: Was this a banking firm?

Harris: Yes, banking. I met a gentleman by the name of Stuart. He

interested me in finance. I used to remain with him in the late
afternoon after we closed shop, and he d point out to me the

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Online LibraryGeorge Bernard HarrisMemories of San Francisco legal practice and State and Federal courts, 1920s - 1960s : oral history transcript / and related material, 1980-1981 → online text (page 2 of 18)