Growing Up in Alameda: Happy Days and the Fonz

Growing Up in Alameda: Happy Days and the Fonz

Dave LeMoine

Our first encounter with Fred “the Fonz” Gaspar took place kitty corner from Alameda High School at Rider’s Drive-In, which was at Oak Street and Central Avenue. Fred was 10 years older, drove a ‘48 Ford pickup and had a reputation that scared us to death. He was a fighter and a motorcycle racer, the epitome of COOL. Truly, we were the “Happy Days” prototype, 17 years before the TV show aired. (I was a jock, but more the Richie character.)

Freddy adopted our group, and we moved as a team: Fremont Drag Strip, Pacheco Speedway, hardtop racing on Saturday nights, girlfriends in tow, proudly wearing our Shifters jackets, and smoking Havana-Tampa cigars. Steaming the windows at Island Drive-In, and constantly working on our cars at the Randolphs’, or Budda’s on Harvard Drive, or my driveway on Beach Road, blackened from oil and grease. Poor Mom.

Ken had an Oldsmobile-powered ‘47 Plymouth coupe. We couldn’t afford a chain hoist to install the engine, so brute force was applied. Straddling the engine, feet on the frame, with the chain over my shoulders, I lifted a big block engine enough to bolt up the motor mounts. My body reminds me every morning of this stupidity.

Red and Frank had the coolest home positioned on the estuary. The Randolph home at 3019 Marina Drive was small, maybe 900 square feet. All the fun was in the backyard.

A path on the right side of the house led us through a grape arbor gate to a small yard, with a fish pond to the right, and concrete steps descending to the lower level across the seawall and onto a 65-foot pier. Moving onto the pier was a workshop with a 600-square-foot building, complete with family room, bath, kitchen, and a fireplace.

To the right of the building was an open deck; below was a small sand beach, which was exposed only at low tide. Further out, near the deep-water end of the deck, sat a covered boat lift concealing a beautiful, 1932 Chris Craft-type inboard ski boat called the Chiquita. Standing at the end of the pier below was a 30-foot-wide, wood and Styrofoam float, a perfect takeoff point for water skiing.

Industrial buildings and a scrap iron yard were visible across the estuary. Tidewater Sand and Gravel tugboats and barges passed by daily, sounding the horn for the High Street Bridge to open. I could hear that horn wherever I was in town.

At this time, we had very little money and were always looking for any form of income to pay the 20 cents per gallon fee for cruising the Plaza or Gordon Drive-Ins on Friday and Saturday nights. We sometimes sat for six hours nursing a Cherry Coke and an order of French fries. Part-time work at the Chevron gas station at the corner of High and Fernside helped some, and it was a great place to work on our own cars.

One of our sources of income was across that estuary in the Randolphs’ rowboat at night during low tide, stealthily crawling along under the pier looking for brass and copper that had fallen onto the beach during barge loading. These finds would then be sold across town to a scrap iron yard that later resold back to the estuary yard – maybe the first true recycling plan.

This lasted until that fateful night under the pier on a 12-inch-wide walkway, face to face with four yellow eyes and two glistening sets of fangs. Guard dogs had been employed.

Hmm, Dobermans or water?

We boys went for a swim and began looking for other forms of income … like a siphon hose.

Next: Dave and Jerry
Previous: Bay Farm Island 1957, Beyond the Dumps


Submitted by Patti C (not verified) on Wed, Jan 21, 2015

Your story brings back fond memories of Cracklin' Rosie's at that same location years later (Oak/Central)where hamburgers were 35 cents and we so looked forward to one after "free swim" at the Swim Center. I went on to work at that very same location when it was the Record Factory. times.

Submitted by David W LeMoine (not verified) on Thu, Jan 22, 2015

I had forgotten about Rosie's and the Record Factory. What fun! Do you remember the trampolines on South Shore? And early than that, Park St. ending at the water?

Submitted by kenneth R. Heaton (not verified) on Mon, Feb 2, 2015

Dave OH how I do remember those days , the ACTION RANCH BOYS ,demolition derby ,Modesto, the car club gatherings with other clubs , the SF trip to see Booker T & the MG's ,
LiL's Pantry and so many other times, KEEP Writing

Submitted by Frank Jacopetti (not verified) on Sat, Mar 7, 2015

Around 1963 my family moved from Beach Rd around the corner to Melrose where it dead ended at the farms . Two houses down and across the street lived Fred "The Fonz " , his wife Bev and their two sons . They were wonderful people and became great friends of my family . It seemed there was nothing Fred couldn't do , he helped me with my car many times . On my side of Melrose two houses down lived Dean and Joanne . I was lucky enough to know four of your " Happy Days " people !