Julia’s parents were killed in an accident on the Bay Bridge when she was very young. She was raised by her grandmother and grew up in North Beach, San Francisco’s Italian neighborhood. One section of North Beach is notorious because of the bawdy strip clubs and bars at the intersection of Broadway and Columbus.
But just off those main streets is a quiet residential neighborhood with Italian restaurants, bakeries and shops. Here’s a restaurant I imagine Julia visiting.
The entire neighborhood of North Beach sits at the foot of Telegraph Hill, topped by Coit Tower. Its name comes from the wooden semaphore erected to signal the cargo of ships coming into the Bay. It no longer exists of course, the telegraph made it obsolete, but the name remains. Lilly Hitchcock Coit was devoted to the fire fighters of San Francisco and erected the Tower in the shape of a fire hose. Today Lilly would undoubtedly be called a “groupie.”
Julia’s grandmother lives in a three-story clapboard house in Castle Alley. Kuan Lee,her grandmother’s close friend and Julia’s surrogate grandfather, lives in the first floor apartment where he practices acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
On Broadway, just across the street from Grant Avenue and Chinatown is the Mystic Eye, an occult bookshop owned by Julia’s best friend Gale and managed by their mutual friend Cheryl. One of Julia’s favorite walks is straight through Chinatown along Grant Avenue all the way to the Dragon Gate on Bush Street. Julia loves to browse this street. It’s crammed with shops offering all sorts of things — jewelry, souvenirs and exotic fabrics.