Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
Jim Argo's family has deep San Francisco roots.
In this podcast, we get to know Jim, a born-and-raised San Francisco mortgage broker. His grandparents on his mom's side met in the Marina, each a member of an immigrant family from Italy. Jim's grandfather played saxophone and met his grandmother at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. His great-grandfather on his dad's side took his children and left his wife in Tennessee after learning of her affair. His paternal grandmother's parents were immigrants from Italy and Bulgaria.
Jim's dad's dad was a railroad clerk, eventually working out of San Francisco. The family lived off of Waller Street in the Lower Fillmore area. Jim's mom grew up in the Outer Richmond (near where Jim lives today). Her dad was a grocer in the then-new neighborhood, and he did pretty well.
His parents met when Jim's dad and a buddy, both students at Poly High, went on a double date with girls from a Catholic school in another part of town. His parents weren't paired with each other that night, but they met and the rest is history. It was the mid-1930s, well into the Depression but before the US's involvement in World War II.
Jim's dad worked for SFFD as a firefighter. It was a stable job, and, coming out of the Depression, that was a big deal. The young, newly married couple rented a place not far from her parents in the Outer Richmond. They lived there with their three daughters.
And then Jim, their only son, was born. This meant it was time to move. The family bought a house on 29th Avenue and Fulton, near Golden Gate Park. This is the house where Jim did most of his growing up.
He went to Catholic schools and, eventually, around the time of the Jonestown Massacre and Milk/Moscone murders, SF State. (We'll get more into that in Part 2.) Early in his childhood, looking to his maternal grandfather and his own dad, both of whom played, Jim picked up the saxophone. Playing sax is something he does to this day.
We end Part 1 with the story of how, at Sacred Heart high school, Jim ended up being the de-facto student director of the band. This was necessitated by the fact that many of the music teachers were professionals who played out a lot and might've had a hard time making it to school the next morning at 8 a.m.
In Part 2, we learn that Jim didn't care for grammar school much, but he enjoyed his time at Sacred Heart High School, where he spent a lot of time playing saxophone in band. He says that, being a musician, he was accepted by just about every clique.
Jim's house was a serious one. His dad worked to support four kids going to private school while his mom stayed home to take care of them. But Jim didn't like that somber environment, and so, he would often be the one making everyone in the family laugh.
When Jim was going to college at SF State and still living with his parents, his dad passed away. He had never wanted to leave The City, and this furthered that notion for him. He ended up with two degrees from State and graduated in 1981. It was at SF State that Jim realized, as much as he loved playing, musician wasn't gonna be the career for him. Instead, he studied economics.
He spent some time in Italy during college and shares those stories. Jim also talks about experiencing the Jonestown Massacre and Milk/Moscone murders around the time that his dad abruptly passed away.
After college, he played sax around town in various venues and did some cooking in restaurants. He loved food, but soon realized that he didn't want to do that full-time. Around this time, a friend recommended mortgage brokery, and to Jim, it was a "Why not?" situation. He's been in the business now for 38 years.
Jim talks about grappling with the fact that the San Francisco he grew up in isn't the affordable city we call home today. We wrap up this two-parter with Jim's thoughts on what it means, both personally and professionally, to still be here.
If you'd like to get in touch with Jim, check out his website JamesArgo.com.
We recorded this podcast at the San Francisco Elk's Lodge #3 in January 2022.