Sunday, January 8, 2017

Uncle Wilt

Wilton Gunzendorfer 1969 cropped

Wilton Louis Gunzendorfer was my grandmother’s brother, but I knew him as Uncle Wilt.  How many kids think about the fact that, at one point, their grandparents were young and actually had parents and brothers/sisters?  The “old folks” who were hanging around were just that – old folks – and we really didn’t give them much thought.

Wilt was born 23 May 1899 in San Francisco, California and was the second child of Abraham and Bertha (Schwartz) Gunzendorfer and my grandmother’s only sibling.

Being that Abe was a professional photographer, I’m never sure if the photos I find are of my ancestors or just a photo he took but, thankfully, he wrote on the back of this early photo of Wilt. 

Property of His Dad

I love how he called out that the photo was the property of his dad.  Hmm, July 8th, 1900 – that would make Wilt not quite 14 months old.  So where else would we find him but on a chamber pot!

Wilton Chamber Pot 1900

Look at the beautiful embroidered pillow case.  What are those initials?  It doesn’t look like W G to me but more like L G – could this have been my grandmother’s (Loraine Gunzendorfer) pillow case?

Even though Uncle Wilt was in my life for nearly 35 years, it wasn’t until I started researching that I really knew much about him.  And as we have all experienced, by then it was too late to ask questions.  Thankfully, my mom was still living (Wilt was my dad’s uncle) but she did fill in a blank for me as to how Wilt got his name.  Bertha’s (aka Birdie) brother, Milton Schwartz, was a yell leader at UC Berkeley and when they would go to the events to see him in action, the announcer would tell the crowd that his name was Wilton Schwartz.  Turns out after hearing it enough times Birdie decided she liked the name and bestowed it upon her only son.

In 1900, the family lived at 2040 Sutton Street in San Francisco.  The census states that Abe was an abalone fisher – I guess it makes sense that he might have left Monterey for a few years to fish but I’ll need to keep my eyes open to see if I find any other clues about that.

By 1910 the family was back in Monterey at 430 Pacific, although the enumerator wrote 430 Pacific Franklin.  Did the street name change?  And in 1920, the family was still on Pacific, although Loraine was not there (she was married in 1919) and Wilt was enumerated as a college student.  From other records I know that he followed in his Uncle Milt’s footsteps and attended UC Berkeley.

I’ve learned that Wilt was a musician and from everything I can find, he played the clarinet.  I’m guessing this photo, taken by Myers in San Francisco, was used for advertisements and marketing.  What a handsome man!

Wilton Clarinet by Myers SF

Wilt was also a composer!

Wont You Remember

Wont You Remember page 1

Wont You Remember page 2

I have found information about the copyright (22 Sep 1920) with some other notes but I’m not really sure what it all means.  One interesting fact is that the music was arranged by Arthur Fisk.  It’s been a LONG time since I’ve read music – it would sure be fun to hear the tune.

In the mid 1920’s, Wilt was living in San Francisco and 1925 the Directory shows he was a car salesman with his uncle, Jacob Gunzendorfer, and also lived with Jacob’s family.

By 1930, things were getting a little more interesting for Wilt.  The 1930 census shows that he was a lodger at 1231 Market Street in San Francisco.  As I researched a little more, I found that Wilt (or Gunzy as he was known) was performing with an orchestra of 9 men at the same address – turns out that address is for Hotel Whitcomb.  An interesting tidbit about this hotel is that after so many buildings were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, Hotel Whitcomb was used as the temporary City Hall from 1912-1915.

Hotel Whitcomb San Francisco

What a great commute he had – play music at night and then wander upstairs to go to bed!

In 1931, Wilt traveled on the President Jackson from San Francisco to New York – a 17 day voyage from 22 Apr to 9 May, 1931.  He shows on the manifest as a musician and is listed with others who worked on the ship so my guess is that this was his job for that time period. 

After waiting many years, Wilt found ‘love’ with Natalie Traube and they were married on 18 Jan 1940 when Wilt was over 40 years old.  I haven’t pieced together how they met but the romantic in me hopes she was a frequent visitor to the Hotel Whitcomb where she loved to hear Wilt and the orchestra.

Natalie Traube 1
Natalie Traube, date unknown

Unfortunately, their marriage didn’t get off to a great start as reported by the Santa Cruz Sentinel on 19 Jan 1940.

Luggage Stolen Santa Cruz Sentinel  19 Jan 1940
Santa Cruz Sentinel
19 Jan 1940, Page 1

Things turned out okay and the marraige lasted until their deaths.  Come back next time to see what Wilt was up to after his marriage.


  1. Ok - question: if Wilt played the clarinet, why is he pictured with a saxophone? Cute story about how Wilt got his name.

    1. Ha - I didn't even notice that. Although I'm not sure I really know what either instrument looks like. My guess is that the sax and the clarinet are sort of like the flute and the piccolo - if you can play one you can probably play (or at least close) the other.

  2. Yes, sax and clarinet are very similar---similar mouthpieces, similar fingering---but obviously there are differences.

    And if you need any help figuring out the copyright information, feel free to ask (I taught copyright law for 32 years!).

    Great post, Debi!

  3. Great post! I love the photo on the chamber pot, and hope you figure out the monogram for sure!

    As far as the instruments, I played the clarinet in band and my sister played the saxophone. Although you play them similarly, the fingering is different and you'd have to learn them both. However, many musicians play multiple instruments, so who knows! It does look like he loves that sax, though.

    I also play the piano and played through the first page of this song. It's pretty! The second page gets more complicated and it would take me some effort to play with my small hands. :) I did Google to see if I could find the song online. I didn't find it, but I found this in case you aren't familiar with it:


    1. Dana, do you know how I could get a copy of this? I'd love to read more but New York is a VERY long way from Washington.

    2. Debi, since it's available through World Cat, your local library should be able to order it.