Dolores Park: Then and Now

5:56 pm in Dolores Park, Front Page, Topics, video by Mission Local Staff

En Español.

Dolores Park Works sent around a link to a draft of the Historic Resource Evaluation Report on the park. We’re working on a separate story about it (finished here), but in the meantime, we’ve worked up a slide show from its appendix of historical photos of Dolores Park juxtaposed with photos taken this summer.

Note: We were mystified by the reference to the Roman Rodriguez jury of 1952 until an alert reader sent us a link to this article in Time magazine:

In fiction and in movies, if not always in fact, a good reporter can outsmart a dozen cops. Last week Hearst’s San Francisco Call-Bulletin (circ. 160,271) made fiction into fact. To the Call’s city desk came word that a 17-year-old girl had been found beaten to death in a clump of bushes in San Francisco’s Mission Park. The staff hopped on the story and Reporter Bill Walsh soon turned up the names of the girl’s boy friends.

He relayed them to Rewrite Man Bob Hall, a veteran of 14 years on the paper, who had led police to a murderer once before. Hall went to work on the phone, ran down 18-year-old Roman Rodriguez, a pants presser. Did Rodriguez know the girl? Yes, he did; in fact, he had seen her the night before.

“From then on,” says Hall, “all he needed was prompting.” Letting Rodriguez think he was a cop, Hall prompted him. Rodriguez almost casually admitted that he had had a few drinks with the girl, quarreled with her in the park and knocked her down. As he walked away, he said, “I looked back and saw a soldier helping her up.” Hall was convinced. Still talking on the phone, he scribbled a hasty note to City Editor Jack McDowell: “Whitcomb Hotel tailor shop (Rodriguez —killer).” Reporters John Keyes, Walsh and two photographers raced to the Whitcomb, found Rodriguez at the phone, still talking to Rewrite Man Hall, and hustled him to the Call’s city room.

They plunked him in a leather-covered swivel chair, snapped pictures and hammered him with questions while they called the police. Even after the cops arrived, Rodriguez stuck to his story that he had not killed the girl. When the cops stepped out of the room to decide what to do, Reporter Keyes supplied the answer. “Why don’t you tell the truth, Roman?” he said to Rodriguez. “No jury will ever believe what you’ve told us . . .” “All right,” Rodriguez answered, “I’ll tell you the truth. I killed her.” When the cops came back, he made a full confession.

In 23 minutes the Call had the full story splashed across Page One under an eight-column streamer: MISSION HIGH GIRL SLAIN, CALL-BULLETIN NABS YOUTH.

After the confession was complete, the Call graciously admitted a reporter and photographer from Hearst’s morning Examiner, but the rest of the San Francisco press had to wait. Said City Editor “Pete” Lee of the rival News (circ. 125,625): “We got thoroughly clobbered.”

A lot of interesting details in this story — especially how closely the reporters worked with police, right up to what sure reads like impersonating a police officer.

Also: the sheer number of newspapers. The Call collaborates with the Examiner, the fellow Hearst paper, but the Chronicle (which was bought by Hearst in 2000) and the News (which I’d never even heard of before) are left in the cold. In 1965, the Call would merge with the Examiner.

How many full-time crime reporters are left in this city? Not many. We’d love to have one. The hope with hyperlocal sites like Mission Loc@l is that with our lean operating budget we can afford actual beat reporters. Our costs are ridiculously low — but so is our advertising revenue.

We’re working on it. It would be great if we could figure out how to make a living at this, and San Francisco became, once again, a city filled with news outlets jostling each other for The Story.

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