By Jonathan Farrell
While strolling along Irving Street, near the busy traffic of 19th Avenue, a little
shop once called Aladdin Radio is not that hard to miss. Although it closed
down nearly a decade ago, the shop’s owner, John Wentzel, can sometimes be
spotted inside tinkering at his leisure.
“I am just doing this a few hours a day as a hobby,” said Wentzel, now 94 years
old. “The shop officially closed back in 2007; It is not a business anymore.” But he does
like to tinker. “I like to repair radios and some TVs,” Wentzel said.
His son Jim, who lives a couple of blocks away from the shop, explained:
“Dad doesn’t work with anything made much after 1960. He really prefers old
AM-band radios of the ’30s and ’40s, sets employing vacuum tubes.”
Jim and his older brother Bob grew up in the flat above the Irving Street shop.
Jim, Bob, their mom Louise and Aunt Stella (John Wentzel’s sister), all
lived in the flat.
John Wentzel was born and raised in Newton, Kansas, a town of less than
20,000 people, located about 25 miles north of Wichita.
Wentzel always enjoyed working with his hands.
“My interest in working with radios goes back to when I was in
high school,” he said.
Wentzel served in the U.S. Army Air Force Communication Service from 1942
to 1946. While in the military, his work with radios continued and it encouraged
him to consider it as a career. Before Aladdin Radio made its permanent home on Irving
in 1950, it was located on the northeast corner of Ninth Avenue and Kirkham Street.
“And, before that, Aladdin Radio was originally at 45 West Portal Ave. in the
West Portal District,” Wentzel said.
When an opportunity to buy the business where he had been working
was offered, Wentzel accepted.
“I eventually moved Aladdin Radio to the current spot on Irving Street because I
wanted to own the shop rather than rent,” he said.
Jim spoke of many happy memories growing up in the Sunset. Both he and his
brother Bob graduated from John O’Connell High School, which was located
in the Mission District.
Aladdin Radio was a mainstay, Jim said, mostly because his father enjoyed
fixing and putting things together. For almost 60 years the little shop served the
electronic needs of the community. Post-WWII was a time of great prosperity
“My dad already had one sister, Clara, living here in the City,” Jim said “This
helped encourage him to venture out to San Francisco from Kansas with Louise
(soon to be his wife) and his other sister Stella.” Previously, John Wentzel had visited
the City only a couple brief times.
He has noticed significant changes along Irving Street over the years.
“More people, more traffic, fewer places to park and too many regulations
(among other things),” he said. Wentzel appreciates items that are
well-made, and likes to work with things constructed with craftsmanship and longlasting
quality. He has an extensive collection of old radios, clocks and various
items dating back to the 1920s.
“I used to help out a little in the shop from time to time, but my Aunt Stella
worked there full time ’till she passed away,” Jim said. “Then, my mother took
over handling all of the administrative needs.”
Jim reflected on how the Sunset District was like a little village when he
was growing up: “Life was pretty simple and low-stressed back in the
’50s and early ’60s.”
Since the official closing of the shop, Wentzel has kept Aladdin Radio as a
meeting place for hobbyists, enthusiasts and historians, like members of the
California Historical Radio Society and Museum. The site at 1609 Irving St. is a
throwback to simpler times. A look in the window will provide a
glimpse of the past, and maybe even a sighting of
Wentzel tinkering – still doing the work he loves!