1960 0702 San Mateo Times
Injuries Open Glorious Fourth
... Jess Ezelle Jr., 205 South Ashton street Millbrae, suffered "serious" injuries to his hand when he picked up a lighted cherry bomb that someone had thrown into his lap at about 10:30 p.m. The firecracker exploded before he could get rid of it, he told police.
Officers said the boy's hand was badly burned and lacerated. Hospital attendants today said the boy's condition is satisfactory, but that it is soon to tell if serious permanent injury has been done.
2005 /SF Chronicle, San Francisco, CA
Gone but not forgotten -- shrine to Jesse on 24th Street / Noe Valley friends want memorial to late homeless man
October 12, 2005 | By Julian Guthrie, Chronicle Staff Writer
The flowers, candles and notes have been removed. The memorial service that drew more than 100 people has been held. What remains is a cross above the bench where Jesse Zele used to sit.
But this small man with the sweet smile has not been forgotten. A month after his death, his photos are up in the window of a store where he received his mail. His picture sits on the desk of a real estate broker whose office is across the street from the bench. His Tibetan necklace is cherished by a friend.
To some, he was a homeless man who seemed to live on this bench at 24th Street near Noe. To a small group of residents and shopkeepers, he was something else: smart and interested and forever upbeat. He had ridden motorcycles, traveled to Spain, played the flamenco guitar and could talk about what it was like living in North Beach in the 1960s.
His friends are determined to remember him publicly. Some are trying to put together a Jesse Zele Web site. Others are hoping to get a life-size statue built in Zele's likeness and place it next to the bench.
Harry Aleo, owner of Twin Peaks Properties on 24th Street, sat at his desk earlier this week and looked at a photo of Zele, who was born in Los Angeles on Aug. 21, 1946, and died at St. Luke's Hospital on Sept. 7, 2005. He suffered from complications from lung cancer.
"Everyone thought he was homeless because he spent all of his time on that bench," said Aleo, who was born and raised in Noe Valley and opened his office in 1947. "He'd sit out there in the rain or the cold. He always had a smile. He was just a really likable guy."
Aleo said he knew Zele had lived for some time in a house on Worth Street. The room was offered for free. Before that, he had a room in someone's garage on Diamond Street. He lived off and on under the Army Street bridge.
Aleo picked up a snapshot of Zele, wearing his trademark jaunty black beret. "It's sad," Aleo said. "I look over there, and he's not there any more."
Bill Spivey first met Zele in North Beach in the early 1960s. He knew him as a flamenco guitarist. They reconnected a decade ago in Noe Valley when Spivey saw him on the 24th Street bench.
"There was something about him that made people feel comfortable," said Spivey, who helped organize the Sept. 25 memorial service, held at the Noe Valley Ministry Presbyterian Church.
"We'd spend time talking about our adventures in the old days and how it was in the '60s," Spivey said.
The two went to lunch or dinner every week or so, he said. They were supposed to go to dinner on Aug. 31, but Zele said he was too tired. Spivey took him to the hospital two days later. Spivey wrongly assumed his friend would be out in a matter of days.
After Zele died, Spivey cleared out his room on Worth Street. He tracked down a cousin in South Carolina through an address on a letter found in the room.
He learned that the man who always called himself Jesse Zele had been born Jess Walton Ezelle III. He had two siblings. One died at 18 months of age, and the other reportedly was killed at age 20 in London. His parents are still alive and said to reside in a nursing home in South Carolina.
Not long before he went into the hospital, Zele gave Spivey's wife a cherished Tibetan necklace. He said he simply wanted her to have it.
"It was interesting because the day he died, this memorial just spontaneously went up on the bench," Spivey said. "Now, there's the bench with the cross. And there is this loose-knit group of people connected by Jesse."