“…down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.... He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man.”
— Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder
‘Downtown Sam” is a San Diego character who may be neither tarnished nor afraid. He may even be a hero and a complete man, but it is certain he is an unusual man.
“I’m going to be walking past seven or eight places where tragedy occurred,” he says. “I’m calling it ‘The Mean Streets Walk.’
“The walking tour of downtown’s dark corners and bloody sites include the Grant Hotel, where in the 1970s they were taking the old fire escape, and it fell and killed two old fellas from the Plaza Hotel. There was supposed to be a guard on duty, but he wasn’t around. That’s one of my stops. Then I’m going to walk past the Electric Chair Bus Stop on Sixth and Market. That’s the most recent tragedy. That’s where this poor guy, Brian Williams, was sitting there on a Sunday evening, and there was a short at this metal bus shelter where they had electric lighting. It shorted out and fried him. As a result they closed down a whole bunch of those bus stops that had electrified display boards that were lit up at night.
“Also, I’ll be going by the corner of Fourth and G, the Golden West Hotel. About three years ago a guy was waving a gun in the intersection and had traffic stopped. A couple of bicycle cops came up, and they agreed to aim low because there had been some police shootings. They hollered at him to drop the gun. He didn’t. He turned around and faced them, pointed the gun at them, and they opened fire. They fired like 13 or 14 shots. They dropped him, but he wasn’t killed. The bullets ricocheted up and down Fourth Avenue, and one of them hit a woman standing in front of the Golden West. She was a transient. It killed her. Some other bullets ricocheted in the other direction and hit the Cheese Shop, left holes in the walls. Unfortunately, they painted over the darned building.
“Then, of course, there was the suicide at the Majestic Hotel. That hotel was located where the Parrot is now, at Sixth and F. This old guy, a book collector, was living in the Keating Building, and they told him he had to move. He didn’t want to, but he moved to the Majestic with all his books. Thousands of books. He told the people [at the Majestic], ‘This is my last move. I’m not gonna move my books anymore.’ About a year later they decided to tear the hotel down. He said he wasn’t going to move. They didn’t see him for about a month. Finally, the manager went up to his room and found him dead. He committed suicide. He had told everybody, ‘I’m not moving my books,’ and, by God, he didn’t.
“Then Horton Plaza park. In the ’80s the park was where all the transients hung out before the shopping plaza. Well, one of the guys who hung out there, he was a mean son-of-a-bitch. He claimed a certain bench was his bench. People that knew wouldn’t sit there. But this out-of-town guy sat down there, there was an argument, and the mean son-of-a-bitch stabbed him to death.
“Also, there was the Roundup Barber Shop at the corner of Fourth and E. I think there’s a restaurant there now; it’s on the northeast corner. I would say this was some 20 years ago. There was a shoeshine stand on the very corner, and it was part of the barbershop. Some guy walking by got into a fight with the shoeshine guy. While they were arguing, the newspaper guy — I think his name was Raymond — tried to break up the fight. He tried to hit this guy — not the shoeshine guy but the other guy — with a karate chop. Course, Raymond didn’t know nothing about karate. Meanwhile, the shoeshine guy reached in back of the stand and pulled a gun and pointed it. The one guy took off running, and Raymond took off after him. The shoeshine guy pulled the trigger, and he hit Raymond right in the butt. Somebody had called the cops, and they pulled up just then. The cop got off two shots and hit the shoeshine guy right in the head. He died there on the sidewalk. Raymond recovered. He was a weird guy, kind of a hippy who peddled newspapers around town. Apparently he kept the hospital staff in stitches up at Mercy, telling them about his past lives and stuff. He was a very entertaining guy.
“I think people are interested in the dark things that happen in San Diego. I think I’ll attract a crowd. It’s free, sponsored by Walkabout International. It will be about an hour and a half. Very casually paced. We’re meeting in front of the old Balboa Theater at Fourth and E at 6:00. It’ll be dark. That’ll add to it.”
“Downtown Sam” says he can be recognized as “the guy with the shorts and the visor with all the pins on it.”
- Mean Streets Walk
- Friday, February 25, 6:00 p.m.
- Meet at corner of Fourth and E, downtown
- Info: 619-231-7463