Heart of the City Archives


Part II: A moving experience from hill to hill
by Hank Donat

News that San Francisco's population dropped off as much 4.2 percent in the past few years has me reeling. Was it something I said that caused our city-state to become a relocation nation?

Following are some loose ends and notes from a move of 25 blocks. By the time I land in the new place I shall try to understand the rationale of those who have moved 25 miles or 25 states away. Some folks apparently prefer jobs and affordable places to live over beautiful parks and interesting social culture. Let that be a lesson to all of us, but especially to the folks who spend so much time at City Hall making it more difficult to live and do business here.

Beginning with his very first apartment on Clay Street, Herb Caen moved more than 20 times from the time he came to San Francisco from Sacramento in the summer of 1936 until his death in 1997. Caen lived in Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights, and on Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill, and Nob Hill. His apartment at the Brocklebank was decorated by San Francisco's style icon Billy Gaylord and was featured in the July, 1987 edition of Architectural Digest.

Gaylord died of AIDS shortly before Caen's place was completed. Caen wrote, "I'm only sorry that Billy Gaylord never saw what he created. Thanks to him, I'm home at last." Also among Caen's former residences are 2800 Scott Street, and 45 Priest Street.

With my own boxes packed and ready to go, I find myself offering last rites to the current stomping grounds, now caught in the act of becoming former ones. Supervisor Aaron Peskin has agreed to stamp my passport as I leave the unofficial City of San Francisco (east of Van Ness Avenue) to the County of San Francisco (west of Van Ness). My spouse-for-life and I are moving from apartments in Districts 2 and 3 into a house in District 5. Sometimes life just adds up.

The City's recent exodus notwithstanding, natural beauty can be a great socio-economic equalizer. From the flat on Union Street, we'll miss nothing more than the view. The Getty's have the same view of the Marina, the bay, Angela Island and beyond from their mansion on the hill in Pacific Heights. In fact, I would argue that our view was nicer. We didn't have Mayor Gavin Newsom and Kimberly Guilfoyle splayed out on the carpet in front of it.

I'll miss the tinkling sounds of the boy who practices the piano in the apartment over the garden. The kid's got talent, but that's no surprise. His father is a well-known San Francisco musician, the piano a gift from the late jazzman Vernon Alley.

I'll miss the nannies and housekeepers who ride the 45-Union with me when we're not dodging BMWs, Saabs, and that one Hummer that owns the road over here.

The digs in District 2 offered a grittier urban scene, but one that's rife with character and memories. For a San Franciscan there's a kind of separation anxiety that's unique to leaving the place where you were during the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Maybe it's not too soon for survivors of the '89 quake to register for a future memorial event like the one at Lotta's Fountain last week for the '06 survivors.

Goodbye to that ding in the wall where the toaster hit it after flying out of my kitchen cupboard when the quake struck. I never did get around to patching it, but I have some lines and cracks of my own. Don't we all? Each one tells a story so why not leave them out for all to see? Plenty of time for spackle and botox in the new place, in years to come.

I was interested to learn that, for a fee, parking spaces can be reserved for moving trucks even on busy streets. What says, "farewell" better than having your neighbors towed on the last day?

Having started the first part of the move last weekend, I've also discovered that home ownership has put a significant fast-forward on my trajectory toward becoming my grandmother. I don't know when I started using the word "disgrace" to describe the condition of a filthy kitchen, but I heard my grandmother's voice when I said it. "They should be ashamed of themselves," is a Catholic conclusion if ever there were one.

Heart of the City will return in two weeks while I take some time to unpack my computer and finish cleaning the kitchen

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