San Francisco State’s former married student housing complex — known affectionately as Gatorville — was located on a cul-de-sac in a sandy canyon on the campus’ northwest corner, just below the Stonestown shopping center and up the street from Lake Merced. The neighborhood was composed of a half-circle of barrack-style, two-story buildings surrounding a playground.
In 1961, I was an Army veteran planning on a teaching career. My wife, Jan, and I were fresh from Oildale, a small town just outside of Bakersfield. The student body at SF State was five times greater and more diverse than the population of the community we had left, so merely residing on that dynamic campus turned out to be educational.
Gatorville was a haven, a place shared with other determined couples living on short rations in an expensive city. Its residents tended to be older than other students and dead serious about academics, a fact that sometimes irritated our peers.
One younger scholar once said to me, “I hate it when I see you old guys in the same class with me”; I was 24 years old at the time. Many of us had children, and an informal parenting co-op developed in Gatorville — thank God — since few if any of us could afford babysitters while we attended classes. In tough times, food and other support was provided by neighbors to those who had lost their jobs (or perhaps student loans), and it wasn’t unusual to see a half-dozen residents attempting to revive a moribund car. None of us knew when we’d need the same services.
Neighborliness was the rule. Our oldest son, slightly less than two, once fell from a slide, severely cutting his chin. We did not own a car so my wife, also caring for our infant daughter that day, was frantic. Word went out and soon someone we didn’t know from the other side of the complex drove up and loaded mother, daughter and wounded son for a ride to the emergency room. By the time I arrived home, the little boy was stitched and napping, and we had made a new friend.
During those Gatorville days, our lives were opening and so were our minds. It was a demanding but magical period. My wife and I developed lifelong friendships there and accomplished academic goals too. Eventually two of our five children — including one born while we lived in married student housing — would graduate from SF State, so our connection to the University has endured.
For Jan and me, Gatorville was a launching pad, a transition from our small-town, blue-collar life in the Central Valley to a much wider world. We’ll always be grateful.
Gerald (B.A., ’63; M.A., ’65) and Janice Haslam (attended ’66) are the authors of “in Thought and Action: The Enigmatic Life of S.i. Hayakawa” among other award-winning books. They live in Sonoma County.
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