The South End
I recently retrieved my second hand police bike from where I had forgotten it two days earlier, locked to a
parking meter outside the North Beach Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. I have been a serial owner
of bicycles in Manhattan, and the bike would not have been there had I been living anywhere in Gotham -
choose your location. As I pedaled away, I considered my good fortune, not the least because I still had a
bicycle to take me to my destination, The South End Rowing Club.
The storied wooden structure on Hyde and Jefferson is actually the home to two clubs with parallel facilities,
The Dolphin and The South End, although they are really one club with two personalities. They share a
secret passageway, so when, say, the men's sauna at one is under repair, the men trundle over to the
other. The building is a public facility owned by the City of San Francisco, and open to anyone lucky enough
to get someone to open the door for a daily fee of Six Dollars and Fifty Cents (payable on the honor code).
Club or not, a visitor passing from the locker room to the beach at the more staid Dolphin may notice the
Dolphin Commodore Lou Civelli in the Board Room chatting with a woman of a certain age clad in nothing
more than flip flops and a bikini, and get the immediate impression of being in a very unusual place.
The distinction between the Dolphin and the South End, in the eyes of the latter, is that one is a place of
rules and the other is a place of whimsy. A Dolphin would not dispute the contrast, but would phrase it that
one is a place of rules and the other is a place of no rules, pointing out that rules promote safety, and, hey,
a club needs rules. I was preparing to join the Dolphins but they had a rule that you had to show up on the
third Wednesday of the month at a Regular Meeting of the club for an Introduction and Briefing; whereas to
join the South End, all you had to do was put your application and check in Bobby Roper's desk, which is the
false bottom under the seat where he can usually be found. So I became a South Ender, and have never
When I was doing my swims around Manhattan a few years back, there was always a great buzz about the
California women's relay team that would swim around Manhattan naked. That team, of course, came from
the South End.