Saturday, September 29, 2007

Life and Times of BWH - Growing Up in San Francisco

Bruce W. Halstead, M.D.
3/28/1920 to 12/5/2002

Life and Times of Bruce W. Halstead
In Pictures and Words
Growing Up In San Francisco

The legendary story of Bruce Walter Halstead
begins in
San Francisco
where he was
born as

Newton Bruce Mellars on March 28, 1920.

Picture of Golden Gate Bridge circa 1940
taken by Bruce W. Halstead

A lithograph of early San Francisco

St. Joseph's Hospital in 1906

Birth Place of Newton (Bruce)
St. Josephs Hospital, Buena Vista Avenue in San Francisco

Bruce's maternal grandfather, James Perkins Shanks was also born in San Francisco on April 13, 1857. James father, Hugh Shanks was born in Canada of English decent and was married to Charlotte Perkins who was born in England. Both Hugh and Charlotte came from families who loved to travel and settled in different countries including Melbourne, Australia where they met and married. They soon left for San Francisco for an extended period of time where they started their family. Hugh was a master craftsman carpenter and made his claim to fame by constructing the spars on the Dutch Windmill located at Golden Gate Park in 1902, where his great grandson would later get his start.

While still living in San Francisco, their son James met and married Janet Bruce McLellan, another Canadian whose family had migrated to San Francisco. Oddly enough it would be this maternal grandmother that he would get the only name he would have throughout his life. She was also the only grandparent to live with Bruce and his family and was the family member that he was the closest to in his early years.

Hugh Shanks loved to travel the world and eventually Hugh and son James traveled to South America where they settled in Antofagasta, a port city in Northern Chile. It was there that Bruce's mother, Ethel Muriel Shanks, was born on November 7, 1893. Both Hugh and his son James were colorful characters that shared a love of travel, entrepreneurship, adventure, and being a regular critic of the local government.

Newton Bruce Mellars
with his mother
Ethel Muriel Shanks

His father was
Newton William Mellars,
an ancestor of
Sir Isaac Newton,
hence his given name Newton.

Newton Mellars, Sr. was also born in San Francisco. His father, Frederick Mellars was a mechanical engineer and inventor who had come from Auckland, England aboard a ship that almost sank during passage due to the rough seas from a storm. He was commissioned to come over on a contract but refused to ever get on a ship again and thus lived out his days in the United States. The Mellars were French who had escaped to England during the French Revolution.
Newton William Mellars

The elder Mellars was a dentist who had wanted to be a doctor but his parents were unwilling to support that decision. However, he had the same predisposition toward research, science, and discovery as did his son. He was an inventor who held patents for dental tools, improvements in x-ray tubes and other scientific breakthroughs. He was a research scientist who taught medical students at UC San Francisco Medical School, just blocks from where Bruce had lived during his early years.

Much later in Dr. Halstead's life, he was to learn that his biological father, whom he had never known, had also been working at the Golden Gate Academy of Science, where the young Bruce got his start in Icthyology. Throughout his youth, Bruce spent much of his spare time exploring Golden Gate Park and felt that he knew the park better than anyone else at that time.
View of a Pond at Golden Gate Park

Newton Mellars and Ethel Shanks were married on November 20, 1917. He was a dental student at the College of Physicians and Surgeons which later became incorporated at the University of the Pacific at San Francisco. Ethel had supported him through dental school but about the time he graduated in June of 1901, the marriage had fallen on the rocks and they soon separated and were divorced. Bruce was only one year old at the time and comments made by his mother made him resolved to accept life without a relationship with his biological relationship.

With no real means of support, times were tough for Ethel and Bruce. For the next year and a half, they were basically homeless living out of people's garages and living room floors until June of 1922 when Ethel was able to find a small apartment on Castro Street. It was there the she met Walter Halstead who would become his step father.

Walter had come from Nebraska and had a background working with cattle and as a lumberman. Walter and Ethel were married on October of 1922 when Bruce was just two and a half. Bruce's maternal grandmother was living with them and the new family grew again when his half brother was born on July 23, 1923. Roland was later to attend Physicians and Surgeons graduating as a dentist from the same school his father had attended.

It was a common practice at the time for the step father to adopt his step children in order to hide the embarrassing 'scourge of divorce'. So on June 15, 1927, Walter adopted him in the Superior Court of Alameda County and his name was legally changed to Bruce Walter Halstead at the age of seven. The first and last name of Newton Mellars were permanently erased.

Walter Halstead

Bruce never gave it a second thought until forty-five years later when his own son, Larry, informed him of all the amazing traits and similar interest he shared with his biological father. By then he wished he could have changed his name back to Mellars but he had already built an enormous reputation on the name Halstead.

With the exception of a short period in Hayward, Bruce spent most of his childhood growing up in San Francisco. His stepfather Walter was restless and never spent more than two or three years in one place. This gave him a longing to live in one place which explains how he came to settle down at his refuge in Grand Terrace where he lived for the last 42 years of his life.

The Early influences of life in Old San Francisco
But in San Francisco, most of the time he was living in the Richmond district or the Sunset district both of which were within walking distance to the Golden Gate Park. During that period, he felt that nobody knew the Park better than he did. The Park is a man-made park of about 4,000 acres that was originally designed by William Hammond Hall in 1870. Bruce acknowledged the Park as one of his greatest influences saying: "This park, its museums, and the great Steinhart Aquarium were the beginnings and the makings of my professional career." That career began at the Golden Gate Academy of Science located in the park.
William Hammond Hall

Arial View of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
When Bruce was still a young boy growing up in San Francisco, he used to spend much of his time at the Golden Gate Park and later at the Golden Gate Academy of Sciences where he was learning about fish (Ichthyology). The Golden Gate Park is also the home of the great Steinhart Aquarium and the DeYoung Museum, all of which were tremendous influences on his life.

Bruce began his quest for adventure and travel by doing little excursions on his own at the ripe age of five when he was held out of school on the suspicion that he might have whooping cough. He used to routinely spend a great deal of this leisure time by catching a 5 cent Street Car down to Fisherman's Warf, the Embarcadero, and the downtown manufacturing districts which ranged from about 5th and Market down to the waterfront.

BWH and the influence of
Embarcadero, the Manufacturing District
and the Fisherman's Warf of San Francisco
Fisherman's Warf as it looked when Bruce was growing up there

Fisherman's Warf as it looks Today

He used to love spending time along the waterfront visiting the last of the old Sailing Star fleet of schooners- the end of the era of the tall masted ships. Down on the waterfront he would see the merchant ships sailing in and out under the Golden Gate Bridge. Later he wrote in his memoirs that: "When I looked at those great ships, I dreamed of the day when I could visit those far away places."

Matson Steamship heading out
under the Golden Gate Bridge
circa 1906

One of his favorite establishments was the Matson Navigation Company with ist's glorious array of large saltwater tropical fish tanks with a magnificent array of colorful coral fishes, including the beautiful Moorish Idols. The Matson office was plastered with colorful posters of Hawaii and the South Pacific. During his frequent visits to the DeYoung Museum he would love hanging out in their South Pacific room. His head was filled with thoughts of the South Pacific and he used to say that the: "The big question was 'how do I get to these far away places?"

Whether it was the aquariums at the Matson Navigation Company, the Steinhart Aquarium, or the Golden Gate Academy of Sciences, he would stare at the fish by the hours and "determined that someday I would see them in their natural habitat." Between watching the merchant ships cruising in and out under the Golden Gate Bridge and exploring the old Sailing Star fleet of schooners, he said that: "When I looked at those great ships I dreamed of the day when I could visit those far away places."
Bruce became focused on the oceans of the
South Pacific from the DeYoung Museum,
the Matson Navigation Co., along with
the ships and aquariums of San Francisco

The Albatross Boat Club
The dreams of boats, fish, travel and adventure was firmly anchored in Bruce's blood at the earliest of ages. It was no surprise therefore when at age eight, he founded the Albatross Boat Club and consisted of "a motley group of would-be-adventurers, ages 7 to 9 years, consisting of my brother, boy friends, and myself. No girls were tolerated, and this fact was made known to all concerned."

Writting further in his memoirs about the club, he states: "Membership in the Albatross Boat Club was a real bargain with an initial fee of 50 cents and a monthly dues of 2 cents. The club owned two homebuilt canvas covered craft, the Seagull, a 12 foot kayak, and an 8-foot nondescript canvas boat that always gave us a bath whenever it came in contact with the water."

"What the club lacked in finances we made up for in fantasy and imagination. We were ready to sail for the South Seas and recruited a half-dozen dues-paying members who were about to sign up for the trip. We decided that it might be best not to discuss this project withour parents, who might not understand the importance of the proposed expedition."

The Influence of Poverty and the Great Depression
One of the biggest influences on the childhood of Bruce was the poverty he was exposed to and for which he was forced to deal with starting at the earliest years of his life.

The beginning of the Great Depression in the United States is associated with the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, known as Black Tuesday. But for young Bruce, he had already been prepared for the hardships of struggle for seven years, his age when the Depression began. The poverty created an enormous sense of being resourceful while conditions at home led him to escape out into the Streets of San Francisco where he learned the art of adventure.
During his day excursions from the house, he would scavenge for food where ever he could find it. He built his own bicycle from old parts he salvaged from the junk yard and garbage dump. He would ride his bike from dumpster to dumpster hunting for old produce that he could salvage to take home for supper.
In 1930 at age ten, he was later to reflect in his memoirs that: "the Great Depression was beginning to be felt. I took my turn at eating out of garbage cans where they had dumped excess vegetables, lettuce, celery, and over ripe bananas. I even worked at the docks as a stevedor's helper picking up odd jobs."

His Cable car trips to the market area and Fisherman's Warf were not only a source of adventure but also an opportunity to forage for food. One of his favorite establishments to visit in the manufacturing district was the Sunshine Biscuit Company. It was here that he developed a technique that would serve him well throughout his impoverished childhood. He would look around and see what the company was manufacturing and then tell them that his school was studying the manufacturing process of that very product. Once he had won them over, he would inquire; "Perhaps you have some samples that I could have?" This technique was generally fool proof and he would usually leave with a carton or more of what ever the food item was and would show up at the family's dinner table later that night.

By age nine, he started selling Liberty Magazines and found that he did much better in the financial and manufacturing districts then he did in residential areas and soon he was receiving awards as the top seller. He describe that area as a "delightful part of San Francisco in those days and the waterfront was always colorful." Despite the difficult times, the Depression, and family challenges, the young boy Bruce learned to be a survivor and the art of mixing business with pleasure. These skills were to follow him throughout his life

The Greatest Professional Influence

In 1935, at age 15, life for Bruce was about to change with a series of events that started with his transformation into the Seventh Day Adventist church. This was something that was to have a profound influence on his life, starting with his transfer out of public schools and into the church's San Francisco Junior Academy, which was housed in a converted store on 10th Avenue, just a block from Golden Gate Park. The student body that year consisted of about 30 students which were equally divided between grades 7th through 10th. The outdoor area was a small patio and so the school held their physical activities in the park.

On October 16 of that year, events were about to unfold that would cement the future of this world class scientist. That day, his biology instructor announced that they were going to visit the nearby Department of Ichthyology at the California Academy of Sciences. The young Bruce was filled with excitement and anticipation as the class arrived. They were met by Howard Walton Clark, the Curator of Fishes for the Academy. Mr. Clark proceeded to introduce the class to the wonders of the aquatic world. But to Bruce, he had just been introduced to the person who would become "the most important and influential person" in his professional life.

Howard Walton Clark
Mentor, Teacher, Friend

Before that day was over, Bruce had secured a volunteer position working at the Golden Gate Academy under the watchful eye of Mr. Clark. For Bruce; "There has never been a greater moment in my professional career." Later, he wrote that; "This was the beginining of a rich and priceless experience between an old man and a young boy."
Bruce W. Halstead
The Young Apprentice

From that fateful day of their meeting, until the death of Mr. Clark on August 10, 1941, the two men were inseparable. Beyond the best education, understanding, and appreciation for the study of fish, Clark introduce Bruce to scientific research and methodology which extended into the natural sciences of all life forms. They studied birds, mushrooms, microbes, and pond scum. The experiences they shared was a rare combination that few if any other team of teacher and student have ever experienced together. It was a relationship that healed much of what was lacking for Bruce in his relationships with his step father and his biological father he never knew. It was also a relationship that gave him the direction and inspiration to accomplish his life long work that was to follow.

In his own words, Bruce wrote about his beloved mentor:

"Mr. Clark always encouraged me to dream my dreams and to shoot for the highest star. He was a stickler for detail. He would open up vast vistas of the natural world to me, but he had the ability to tie everything together. He not only viewed the microcosm, but also the marcrocosm, and the universe was well. It was all a continuum. He had a deep understanding of human ecology at its best. He was a strong advocate of not losing sight of the forest because of the trees. He was unrelenting in his pursuit of knowledge, and greatly enjoyed hard work. No task was beneath his dignity and no person too low to be dignified. While sloppy in his dress, he was elegant in his thinking. Kindness, generosity, and thoughtfulness to others were an intiricate part of his daily demeanor. The death of Mr. Clark was unquestionably the darkest day in my life. The world had lost a great student of the natural world and I had lost my best friend, teacher and mentor, for which I have never found an equal. Mr. Clark's imprint is found throughout my writings."
Golden Gate Academy of Science
where Bruce studied under the watchful
eye and close guidance of Mr. Clark

Mr. Clark had an enormous impact on Bruce's overall education and is therefore discussed more in the post entitled: Life and Times of BWH - Education. Clark's death in 1941 came at the conclusion of his AA Degree at San Francisco City College. He finished his under graduate degree in Zoology at UC Berkeley in 1943.
Bruce and Joy at Bruce's graduation from U C Berkeley in 1943

It was around 1940 that he met Joy Arloa Mallory at the Adventist church in San Francisco. She was attending the Pacific Union College, an Adventist institution North of Napa. He also served as an instructor at Pacific Union College in the Department of Biology from 1943-44, where Joy was enrolled as a nursing student. The relationship blossomed and they married on January 2, 1943.

It is somewhat a poetic statement that his life and influence that was San Francisco, ended with the completion of his degree at Berkeley and the begining of his new life married to Joy.

January 2, 1943
Wedding Picture of Bruce and Joy

To find out how you can help with his vital life work, continue his legacy, or support the preservation of WLRI, please contact:
Larry D. Halstead
(760) 255-2012


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