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Politics

How San Francisco’s Greek Mayor Saved An Old Greek Wrestler

This is the story of how former San Francisco Mayor George Christopher, of Greek descent, came to rescue from misery Nick Reckas, a former wrestler who had once been his masseur.

It was told on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle in the May 31, 1975 morning paper, a piece by Peter Stack as tender and revealing as a fable, called Return Match.

Christopher, who was San Francisco’s Mayor from 1956-64, was born in Arcadia, Greece, and came to the US in 1910 with his family settling in the neighborhood known as Greektown.

He left school at 14 when his father died so he could support his family. He sold newspapers then talked his way into a job at the San Francisco Examiner as a copy boy.

As Mayor he brought the New York Giants to San Francisco in 1958 and was active in many building projects and was a strong supporter of civil rights, citing the discrimination many Greeks felt.

He gained worldwide headlines offering his home to baseball star Willie Mays after it was reported that a Forest Hill realtor had refused to sell to Mays.

He lost the 1966 Republican primary for Governor of California to former B-movie actor and conservative icon Ronald Reagan.

“They know him as Nick in the Tenderloin, a stooped old man who shuffles along Eddy Street in layers of ragged clothes, pockets stuffed with tattered papers. He lived in cheap hotel rooms where cockroaches rule the roost.

Stack’s story laid out the saga:

“Little did anyone know that Nick was once strong and famous — a big-league wrestler with a menacing scowl who traveled the United States and thrilled thousands in vaudeville grappling contests.

“Little did anyone know that Nick, 72 years old, forlorn and street-worn, has more than $30,000 in the bank.

“Even Nick didn’t know that.

“Nick Reckas, who wrestled under the name Al Stecker, was rescued yesterday from sad obscurity in a grim Eddy Street hotel room where he has lived for a year now.

“To compound the curious tale, his rescuer was a former San Francisco mayor — George Christopher.

“The poignant story began recently when the robust ex-mayor was in a downtown bank and a friend told him that an old pal had died. Nobody could remember the name, except that they guy was a wrestler long ago.

“Nagging curiosity prompted Christopher — a Greek American — to check out the rumor. He remembered that Nick Reckas (also a Greek American) had befriended him long ago and used to come to the mayor’s office in the old days and give him rubdowns.

“‘I started calling around, checking hotels in the Tenderloin and South of Market,’ Christopher said. ‘Finally I went back over some old Christmas cards and found one from Nick with an Eddy Street address.’

“Christopher went to visit his old pal and was relieved to find him alive.

“‘But what a shock when I got there,’ the former mayor said.

“‘He was half the man — no, one-third the man he once was,’ Christopher said.

“On Social Security, the formerly husky wrestler was living on Kentucky Fried Chicken because his legs are weak and the Colonel Sanders shop is close by at Eddy and Polk streets.

“After a long, nostalgic talk, Christopher said he checked around and found Nick had some old bonds in a bank, bonds that matured more than a decade ago. There was also cash in bank accounts.

“Christopher said he named himself conservator of his old friend’s estate, and yesterday the former mayor moved the old wrestler to a sunny San Rafael convalescent hospital.

“‘It’s gonna be good, George,’ the old man said.

“‘You’ll be back in shape before you know it,’ Christopher said.

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