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Letter: A Trip Down Memory Lane

What do you remember about the Solano Avenue of yesteryear? Share your thoughts below. Have an idea for a letter to the editor? Email albany@patch.com.

[Editor's Note: Albany Patch would love your 300-word letters to the editor. Learn more here. Do you have historic photographs of Solano Avenue? Please share them with this post.]

Wondering how many locals remember some of the old Solano Avenue landmarks? 

Dinner with the grandparents at The Red Barn Restaurant on today’s Pharamaca site. 

Get a hammer and nails and great toys for friends’ birthday parties at Thousand Oaks Hardware and Variety near the Upper Solano Post Office.

Thousand Oaks Pharmacy just across the street from the Oaks Theatre.  

Stamps School of Dance just next door to Gordo’s and the five and dime store a block below (was it McClarty’s or was that at Shattuck and Vine?). 

The original location of Poppy Fabric where Greetings is today. 

A visit to Discounts Unlimited at San Pablo and Solano was a must for outfitting one’s first apartment. 

Cherry phosphates or an ice cream cone at Ortman’s on the first and last days of school (today’s Starbuck’s site) and the best malts and butter pecan ice cream at McCallum’s (Peet’s), not to mention their Blue Moon ice cream and monstrous concoction called The Sink, big enough for a family of ten! 

The old Foster’s Freeze at Solano and Pomona. 

Riding your bike all the way down Monterey from Colusa to Hopkins before there were stop signs to break up the run. 

Seeing the big, bright McCallum’s sign beckoning all the way from the top of Colusa and Monterey and hoping Dad would take us there before we screamed all the way through the tunnel and a had a thrilling ride up the big Marin hill in the back of the pickup after dinner. 

We certainly were lucky to grow up here!
Jeanne Gray Loughman, Albany

Craig Westbrooke February 17, 2012 at 03:17 PM
wow, where do I start? Foster's Freeze. the lady there always knew my order when I went up to the window. So cool to stand by the big glass window and watch them work and then go and sit against the wall and eat, or park in the lot in the corner under the tree. Forsters 5 &10 cent store. Counters full of candy and just about everything else a kid could want there. Across the street was Dagna's grocery store. I fell in love with Morton's Honey Buns there, but could rarely get my parents to buy them. They had a full butcher shop there. When I was small and still could fit in the cart, they always gave me a hot dog to eat while my mom pushed the cart around the store. Thousand Oaks hardware - you could still buy chemicals and science project stuff there! I always bought the sulphur. The Oaks and Albany theater still had balconies !!! McCallums - always got a large cherry slush, for 35 cents. Those huge ice cream bowl combination things were amazing. Discounts Unlimited - again with the candy all around the counter. I used to get ready for Christmas around October...they had there stuff out already and I loved seeing the bins of extra light bulbs in the back. The train used to cross Solano where Bart is now. That should do it for now.
Karin Lamb February 17, 2012 at 09:34 PM
I loved to shop at Forster's AND Fosters, and when Grandma was visiting I always knew I would get to go to both! I also remember McCallum's, where we all went on our birthdays, and the Sink was big enough for the whole party. Ms. McPhizz (where the Christian Science reading room is now) was where we bought all our dollhouse supplies. Thousand Oaks Hardware was great because it had an upstairs AND a downstairs, and there was always something cool to get if you were bored.
Kathe Boyd February 18, 2012 at 03:46 AM
I lived in N Berkeley in the late 60's-70's and spent a lot of time on Solano. Remember Gersh Photo and Bolton's Liquors? And my mom's fabric store at Solano &Ramona-Patience Corners. Not to nit-pick but the original Poppy Fabrics was on Telegraph near Ashby. Thousand Oaks Variety Hardware was a great place-our folks had a charge acct - all you had to do was sign your name! And King Tsin Restaurant was always a favorite. Thanks for the blast from the past.
Margaret Tong February 18, 2012 at 04:54 AM
Didn't Bolton's Liquors go up in flames? I remember Poppy Fabric being in Downtown Berkeley and then it moved to College, but I do not remember it ever being on Solano. I deeply regret that I didn't buy a dollhouse from Ms McPhizz. I had nowhere to put such a thing and I had cats that would have devoured the dollhouse furniture, but I wish Ms MsPhizz was still there. I remember when the building where Fonda and the video store are now was a boarded up/derelict building. I remember when China Village was King Tu.
Rita Wilson February 18, 2012 at 05:17 AM
Fisher's Custom-Design Jewelry thankfully is still there at 1488 Solano. :>)))) Poppy Fabric, where I took quilting classes and had a quilt I purchased from DeAnn Tyler on display with other gorgeous quilts she created, was on Solano. Or was that Kathe's mother's Patience Corners? Kathe, not only was King Tsin a favorite, but it IS a favorite of mine and my friends (please, people, patronize it heavily! at this time they're not open on Tuesdays while looking for another chef to work with those they have). It's temporary. Albert told me this a few days ago. What I terribly, terribly miss is McCallum's Ice Cream Parlor. I enjoy the ice cream stores on Solano now, but when I want some biggies, I have to go to Fenton's in Oakland. Bummer. I'd love to see something like a 99 cents store on Solano; I miss the "5 & 10" around the corner on San Pablo Ave. I'd very much like to have a hardware store back.
Paul D February 18, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Getting dressed up and waiting for the Key System train at the turnaround at the top of Solano and then riding thru the tunnel on our way to go shopping at Hinks in downtown Berkeley. Yes, this makes me officially old. http://www.bayarearailfan.org/
DALE GREENE February 18, 2012 at 04:56 PM
My daughter and her high school friends would meet at Ortmans, where Starbucks is. That is where they took their first drive when they received their license. Discounts Unlimited for valentines lace hearts and art supplies for children's projects. They had yarn, sewing essentials, basic supplies at reasonable prices, not chic-chic. Used bookstore on lower Solano with lots of vintage books. My daughter would save up to buy dollhouse furniture at ms mcfiz. The clerks at Safeway remembered each of my children's names from the time they started coming to the store as babies, I'm still fond of the Safeway clerks. Have you ever heard Tom sing? Make a request of an oldie from him.
lubov mazur February 18, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Fonda and 5 Star are in the location of a service garage that became an antiques store. The front doors had "Intake" and "Exhaust" painted over them.
Dover February 18, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Tom is great. Did you know he was silenced by management for a period of time? I know I was not the only one who complained about that act of stupidity.
Margaret Tong February 18, 2012 at 10:24 PM
I believe Tom retired last year from Safeway on Solano, but I'm sure he's still singing somwhere
Linda Patterson February 22, 2012 at 11:30 PM
I danced on the stage of the Albany Theatre when I was five. Loved the movies for only 25 cents there for kids on Saturdays. Flash Gordon was a regular. I alway got a box of root beer candies for a nickel. Loved the Denham Department store. I had my eye on a red hat there. They donated pretty fabric strips for bookmarks to my fourth grade class at Cornell School. You got to pick a different bookmark every time you did a book report. I have a fine collection of them. I felt my first earth quake in the Albany Library, next to Cornell School. I also remember the train at the top of Solano. I think it was the "F" train, that traveled on the bottom level of the Bay Bridge. In those days the upper level of the bridge was for two way car travel. Had my first chocolate dipped cone at Foster Freeze. Yum!
kevin westbrooke February 23, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Dagnas grocery, John birch bookstore, and awful chicken delight? Saturdayi afternoon all summer at Albany Theater, movies, serials, cartoons in the balcony. Yeah...and the Monterey restaurant and Orange Julius!
Bob Willson February 23, 2012 at 08:22 PM
On Kains and Solano, kitty korner from the Albany Theater, was Del Courtney's TV store, one of the first in the Bay Area. Every night many who lived on Albany Hill or around the lower portion of Solano would gather on the sidewalk after closing and watch TV through the window in amazement. If you had a picture of us I think it would be comparable to a picture of those watching TV when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon! The TV was about 16 inches, black & white, of course, with static lines running through the screen, but who cared? We were watching radio fed through an electric line into this miracle box! There were only 3 programs and no TV after 11:30 pm. We knew who the rich people were in Albany because to get reception you had to have a big antenna on your roof and you really envied those folks. NBC-CBS-ABC was the extent of coverage. More to come maybe next week, if my senior memory rebounds? Lots of fun recalling those early days. Love Bob Willson ( No place like Albany!)
Bob Willson February 23, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Train tracks on Solano for the old Key System train that would take you up through the tunnel down Shattuck into Oakland and across the one level S.F. Bay Bridge to downtown S.F. Before the giant self serve gas stations, there were many stations on Solano at corners of Stannage, Evelyn, Pomona, Ramona, Santa Fe, Colusa, and Modoc. That's all I can remember anyway. Today I think there are 2 on Solano? There were 3 large grocery stores on Solano: Dagna's (@Ramona), and at the top of Solano Villa's & Park & Shop (now Andronico's). There were also approximately 13 Mom & Pop stores in Albany around 1952.
Rita Wilson February 23, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Bob, with two Ls in Willson, I'm enjoying your comments, thanks. The only gas station currently on Solano is at the corner of Colusa, from which I just came. The prices are "a bit" different now. Rita, with one "L" in Wilson.
Lyn K March 16, 2012 at 10:22 PM
A few from the 60's, on the same block as McCallum's, were a couple of liquor stores (Bolton's was one), a delicious Danish bakery, named Larsen's (where the taqueria is) and a gas station on the corner at Colusa. I remember the 1000 Oaks Pharmacy being just a few doors below the Oaks Theater. At one time there was also a dog grooming business near the Alameda. I think the owner had a large poodle that wore glasses. There was a 5 and 10 store a few doors down from Ortman's/Starbucks. Where Montero's is (at Peralta) was once The Child's Wardrobe. The Telephone Market was next to the Albany Pet Shop on the same block. I miss Sam's Pharmacy that was close to the Albany Post Offfice.
Emilie Raguso March 16, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Any idea if Sam's Pharmacy was the same owner as Sam's Log Cabin??? Thank you for sharing these wonderful reflections!
Peggy McQuaid March 16, 2012 at 11:37 PM
I don't think so as Sam's Pharmacy was there in the 1960's.
Emilie Raguso March 17, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Just a strange coincidence then?
Peggy McQuaid March 17, 2012 at 01:20 AM
The owner of Sam's pharmacy was Bernie Mander
lubov mazur March 17, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Meckle's Grocery had a fireplace and delivered.
Peggy McQuaid March 17, 2012 at 02:15 AM
You phoned in your order and they delivered - even put stuff in the fridge if no one was home
pat campbell June 05, 2012 at 08:43 PM
I'm a gift, say cheese, the kitchen, indoor sunshine, berkeley bakery and it's antiques, michael's liquors where a young boy took a big black cigar and when the store called ge had to first pay for the cigar and then smoke it ALL with us all watching. Solano Strolls, Diane Stoll & Clare Rothenberg and their wonderful frame shop with suffragette postcards and Goines prints, ..... Wonderful memories....
Winifred Owen June 05, 2012 at 09:04 PM
And I remember when China Village was the Heather and Thistle - owned by the Walker family, and predecessor to Walker's Pie Shop a few blocks up Solano. We (my parents and I) used to go there for dinner after church on Sundays in the mid '60s. They had that large picture with heather and a lavender thistle on the wall with the Scottish poem, that was also on the wall at Walker's: "Some hae meat and canna eat, and some wae eat that want it, but we hae meat and we can eat, and so the Lord be thankit." Roast lamb night at Walker's on Thursdays. I also remember eating at the Red Barn as a child. Andronico's was then "Park & Shop." It was Michael's Liquors, at the NW corner of Curtis and Solano, that went up in flames. McCallum's and Ortman's - of course.
Marcia P June 05, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Didn't there used to be a gas station on the corner of Solano and Colusa where Mechanic's Bank is now?
Peggy McQuaid June 05, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Yes, there were 3 gas stations at that intersection - a Chevron, the 76 and the one where Mechanics Bank is now. I can't remember what it was, but want to say Flying A
Winifred Owen June 05, 2012 at 10:44 PM
The antiques store (circa '70s) was called The Salvation Navy (I think, not 100% sure), and had a variety of dealers inside the large space. I still have the antique oak sewing machine I bought there as a decorative table, and probably a couple other things.
Denise Valdivia December 18, 2012 at 07:12 PM
I also remember riding in the cart at Dagna's, clutching a cold hot dog from the butcher!
David Wills December 24, 2012 at 08:00 AM
I recall in the early sixties,there was a Shell gas station on the northwest corner of Solano Avenue and The Alameda, and the Park & Shop (Andronico's) supermarket on the south side of Solano. Now, what was the name of the supermarket on the north side of Solano Avenue? I think it was Sid's. I think that store got their deliveries from behind on Station Place. I also recall walking with my mother from my childhood home (two doors north of the Northbrae Community Church) on The Alameda to a fish market underneath the hotel at Solano and The Alameda. Does anyone remember that market? The name "Fish Heads" comes to mind. Or maybe I'm wrong! My parents even tried to get me to ride on the Key System "F" train, but I was afraid of it. Of course Larsen's Bakery, Gersh photo, Ortman's, Thousand Oaks School, The Oaks Theater, and others are all part of my memory of this wonderful part of the Bay Area. My favorite thing to do after school was to get a triple scoop marble fudge ice cream cone at McCallum's and head up to Contra Costa Rock and watch the fog roll across the bay and over Albany Hill.

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