The Depression

If you ask people who graduated from SI in the 1930s what they recall of the Great Depression, they will not say very much. Most recall times of little hardship for themselves. “That was all we knew. We didn’t know we were poor,” was the echo of nearly every Ignatian interviewed for this history.

Still SI was not immune from the ravages of the economic downturn. Perhaps the most obvious effect of the Depression on SI was the elimination of the yearbook. The 1932 edition of The Heights was to be the last SI yearbook until 1946, when it returned as the renamed Ignatian. With Archbishop Edward Hanna’s health failing, and with the archdiocese in economic trouble, Bishop John J. Mitty was called in from Utah in 1932 to serve as Hanna’s coadjutor and set things in order. On November 6, 1932, in an announcement in The Monitor, he ordered all Catholic schools in the archdiocese to stop publishing yearbooks. His reasons: “It has been shown that the preparation of these books has been found to cause a considerable loss of time, on the part of the pupils, a burdensome and useless expense to parents and a great annoyance to merchants who were imposed on to advertise in these books, to defray the cost of printing them.”1

For similar reasons, he instructed SI in 1936 not to raise funds to build a gym, and the school delayed its fund-raising campaign for several years. (In a terse letter to SI Principal James A. King, SJ, Mitty wrote that “no permission for [the gym fund-raising] drive has been asked or granted…. I hereby forbid this campaign and order it to be discontinued immediately.”2

SI suffered in other ways. Stan Corriea ’34, who attended SI in the early years of the Depression, noted that a small number of his classmates could not afford the jump in tuition, from $5 per month to $7.50, when the school moved from the Shirt Factory to Stanyan Street. Those who could not afford the tuition typically lasted out the school year and did not return the following fall; however, Frank Dowling ’36 recalls more than a few mothers coming to SI to withdraw their sons, unable to pay the monthly tuition. “The Jesuits would ask what they could afford. If only $3, the priests would say, fine. Just pay that. We want to keep your boy in school.”

Some of those who did have a little extra money spent it, during the last days of Prohibition, on liquor purchased at a speakeasy at the corner of Stockton and Sutter. “We used to go there in high school and buy a quart of whiskey for $1.50,” said Corriea.

Peter Devine ’66 tells the story of a time when the Jesuits at SI could not afford to pay their electric bill in the mid 1930s: “Several graduates, including my father and uncle, revived the Alumni Association to raise money for the Jesuits. When the mothers in the Loyola Guild learned how hard-pressed the school was, they organized a bake sale. The story goes that the Jesuits spent the night in their chapel praying for money to pay their electric bill. The next morning, the mothers brought them their proceeds from the bake sale, giving them enough to pay it.”

Bob Lagomarsino ’39 recalled that some of his classmates put newspaper or cardboard in their shoes when it rained because of the holes in their soles. “But we thought that was normal. We had three square meals a day and didn’t know any different. Our parents struggled through the hard times to afford the tuition,” which in the late 1930s had risen to $9 per month. “I used to pay for it by working at my dad’s store and by selling magazines at Ocean Beach.”

Lagomarsino sold The Saturday Evening Post and The Ladies’ Home Journal for 5 cents to people visiting Playland at the Beach. “But not everyone had money to spare, and the magazines were a tough sell.”

Al Worner ’36, like Lagomarsino, worked to help his parents pay the tuition. Worner delivered the Shopping News on Wednesdays and Saturdays. “That was nice money,” he noted. “And I used to get 25 cents to cut the front lawns for my neighbors.”

In 1935, Worner remembers, SI held its junior prom with a small orchestra in the auditorium at USF due to financial problems. The Depression didn’t keep Worner and his classmates from having a good time when school let out. “If one of us could borrow a car from his father, we would drive to Land’s End on Saturday afternoons and listen on the radio to the afternoon orchestra from Meadowbrook in New Jersey. Or we’d go out to Playland with our families or to Sutro Baths with our buddies. At Playland, we would ride the giant slides, get lost in the maze of mirrors or try to walk through the spinning barrel and get tossed around.

“On Sundays, we would eat at Lucca’s, which offered dinner for 50 cents, including petits fours to take home with you. For 75 cents, you’d get a bottle of wine for dinner.

“If I took a girl on a date, I’d go with a few other couples to a show. Afterwards we would take our dates to the St. Francis or the Mark Hopkins. Six or eight of us would take a table in the dining room, and for $2 we would order a bowl of punch for two and dance to Freddie Martin. The ballrooms loved having us there, because we looked good in our suits and ties, and we kept the places from looking empty. With dinner at $4 or $5, they were having trouble filling those places.”