San Francisco Landmarks

San Francisco Landmark #127: Old Spaghetti Factory, San Francisco 22 June 2003
  San Francisco Landmark #127: Old Spaghetti Factory, San Francisco An Evening at Widow Begbick's

  San Francisco Landmark #127: Old Spaghetti Factory, San Francisco Widow Begbick and Boys

1977 Begbick Photos Courtesy Carolyn Zaremba
Photographer Peter Donaldson

(Click Photos to Zoom)

San Francisco Landmark #127
Old Spaghetti Factory
478 Green Street Between Stockton and Grant
Built 1908

The Old Spaghetti Factory was located in a North Beach building which had been a pasta factory until 1955 when Frederick Walter Kuh converted it to a cafe, cabaret, and restaurant. It was a seminal example of adaptive reuse.

The Italian ambiance of North Beach had long attracted bohemians and artists. The beatnik era was born in North Beach and its leaders were associated with the Old Spaghetti Factory. Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg in poetry. Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey in prose. They created a new literary style which revolutionized and revitalized literature after WWII, not only in San Francisco but throughout the world. One need only examine the work of Richard Brautigan and Tom Wolfe to realize their effect on literature and philosophy.

Among the people who performed here were The Kingston Trio, Arlo Guthrie, Robin Williams, Donald Pippin and his Pocket Opera, and flamenco dancer Cruz Luna.

Adapted from San Francisco Planning Commission Resolution 8882, March 19, 1981.

In the heyday of the Beatnik period, from the mid-'50s until the early '60s, the place was renowned not only for serving bargain-priced pastas but was an incubator and magnet for local talent.

In 1967, Mr. Kuh bought the Tivoli, an Italian bistro on Grant Avenue owned by Nick Finocchio. He added Savoy to the name, jazzed up the restaurant by installing a silver fountain in the center of the dining room, painting the support columns with faux bark and topping the posts with aluminum palm fronds.

It was there that a fledgling cabaret act was born called Beach Blanket Babylon.

Mr. Kuh was raised in Chicago, attended the University of Illinois and graduated from Lake Forest College. He served in the Army in North Africa. Although he couldn't ride a horse and didn't know how to drive, he was put in the mechanized cavalry division until he ran over his lieutenant and broke his arm - which landed him in the infantry.

After the war, he studied the arts in Paris and made lifelong friendships with Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Noel Coward, Gore Vidal, Christopher Isherwood, Janet Flanner and Alice B. Toklas.

In 1983, he sold the Savoy Tivoli and moved to France for nine months. A year later, he sold his beloved Old Spaghetti Factory and retired.

From Frederick Walter Kuh Obituary in San Francisco Chronicle: 12 November 1997

Today [2012] the former pasta factory is home to Bocce Cafe which retains much of the ambience of its historic predecessor and offers live music on weekends.

A chain restaurant doing business as The Old Spaghetti Factory was founded in Portland, Oregon in 1969.

On 29 April 2014, we received an email from Carolyn Zaremba, a major contributor to the glory days of Old Spaghetti Factory.
On your page purportedly recounting the history of the Old Spaghetti Factory, you omit the show "An Evening at Widow Begbick's", a Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill cabaret than ran for nearly two years in the back room. I should know. I played the Widow Begbick for the entire run. A young singer named Wesla Whitfield, of whom you may have heard, was also in the show, playing my daughter, Jenny. Our show was not, however, the kind of show you could take Grandma to for a treat, like Beach Blanket. This omission is surprising on a site that is supposed to be giving the history of the heyday of the OSF. Fred Kuh was indeed a wonderful gentleman who gave our production the use of that back room with its red and gold decor for virtually nothing because he liked our show. I remember auditioning by singing to him while he sat in a chair 2 feet away. Many cast members from Begbick are still around the Bay Area today.
Carolyn also sent us two evocative photographs of cast members.
Prev | Next
San Francisco County: List | Map
California: List | Map