House is Somewhat Unfriendly to its Occupants
Chapter 1 – Sale No Longer Pending
My wife and I sold our San Francisco home. Hallelujah! Huzzah! Thank God. Much as we loved Kooktown, USA, it was time to move on.
A sense of NO REGRETS came over me, as I reflected on a 30 year life in the State Formerly Known as Golden.
The house, a 3400 square foot split level neo-deco beauty designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protégé Aram Torrossian, sits in the made-up neighborhood of Clarendon Heights. The exact address is 310 Twin Peaks Blvd.
And perhaps the location’s monikered connection to a certain TV show created by David Lynch should have alerted us to the next 24 years. A run of comic, tragic, and coincidental events that had me wiping the sweat off my brow all the way, and up through the official closing date of . . .
. . . Friday the 13th. With an added bonus of A FULL MOON.
Don’t misunderstand. The house was not a construction disaster replete with Escher-like structure and sitting on an Indian (Cherokee Not Hindi) burial ground. Not at all. The property inspector who examined it before we bought raved about its structural integrity. In particular, the use of concrete and rebar to fortify floors and to support walls. He also fell in love with the countersunk bolts that secured the foundation and resisted earthquakes.
Prior to finishing, he pointed to a component of the build that included a support beam running the length of the storage facility just off the garage.
“Balances out the stressors on the top three floors,” he said.
“Uh, okay,” came the brilliant reply.
310 Twin Peaks was a design and engineering dream. I’ve included a photo at the conclusion of this introduction. Most important, it solved a dilemma Lee and I had regarding renting office space.
Our previous house, a cozy Marina-style home in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, had three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, living room, and one bathroom all on one floor. Perfect for the two of us and an occasional guest.
Not so great for running my business, I was an independent film and video producer at the time, out of one of the bedrooms. Subcontractors coming and going; equipment in the garage; and a client meeting or three during the six years we lived there. I parked a coordinator at a spare desk once in a while as well. Not good for privacy.
In 1993, Lee suggested I rent an office somewhere in the city, which I did not want to do. If I had to go away from the house to work, I’d never see my wife, an unacceptable situation.
And this meant the hunt for a new house commenced and the very first of a series of disconcerting events sat just ahead of the stern of the good ship, George.
Bear in a mind a few facts as this unfolds.
1. We started looking for a new house in 1993. We didn’t buy, or take possession, until late 1995.
2. I was working on Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” when the search began. It turned out to be a fitting starting point.
3. Lee and I are HUGE fans of Halloween. It might be our favorite Holiday.
310 Twin Peaks Blvd. Seems harmless despite the odd connection to the odd David Lynch show of the era. Yes? No?
Chapter 2 – The Nightmare Before Escrow
In the Autumn of 1992 the Mouse (Disney) hired me to work on Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” To that point, the biggest job of my production career. It also served as the house-buying inception point because Lee and I took the opportunity of Yours truly having a somewhat normal schedule (Monday-Friday, few weekends) to be squired around by Joan Foppiano and Vickie Tucker, the World’s Greatest Real Estate Agents.
And that’s not a false claim. They got us into our house on 28th Street in Noe Valley, no small feat considering we looked at 48 properties before deciding on this particular one, and yes I kept track. They would get us out during a down market two years later, and in Guiness World Record time, subjective as that sounds.
All of this would get us into . . .
310 Twin Peaks Blvd.
But first, Tim Burton.
Or, should I say, Halloween.
For those readers who don’t know “The Nightmare Before Christmas” or “TNBC” as insiders called the film, it was a creepy stop-motion feature that involved a skeleton in a tuxedo who decided to hijack Christmas. Jack Skellington his name.
Yes, I’ve heard all the Grinch comparisons. Leave me alone.
Jack Skellington also happened to be the COO of Halloweentown, the berg tasked with pulling off the titular Holiday at the end of October.
I am looking at this in hindsight. I worked on a movie that made a lot of people uncomfortable and entertained at the same time. And that is exactly how the coinciding search for a new house felt when we discovered 310 Twin Peaks Blvd. in the Spring of 1993.
To that point, with the patient Joan and Vickie, we had looked at about a dozen properties and none of them seemed right. Too small. No truly separate room to run the business.
If a house had an in-law unit, very popular in the Bay Area . . . must be a lot of in-laws looking to be banished to the backyard . . . , it either needed $100,000 in work, had never been permitted, or did not afford more privacy than Lee and I had in the Noe Valley residence.
One weekend in mid-April of 1993, we were schlepping, actually being schlepped by Vickie, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We pulled up in front of what appeared to be an overgrown weed and vine infested lot. We exited the car.
“I really like what they’ve done with the place,” I offered.
Vickie laughed her “If I Only I Could Beat My Clients With An Ax Handle I Would” laugh, and dragged us up four flights of moss covered brick stairs. She gave us the tour, which included the following highlights, sure to close any quick sale.
1. The kitchen, admittedly a good-sized one, still had the original cabinets, floors, walls, AND (BONUS!) oven from 1939. However, the faucet was a Moen.
2. Water damage covered the entire north wall of the kitchen, a result of an ongoing second floor patio leak.
3. The washer and dryer were definitely from 1972, but the Maytag repairman had left his business card taped to one of the lids, so we had that going for us.
4. All the upstairs bedrooms (three) had bits and pieces of broken glass on the floor.
5. The downstairs powder room contained the ORIGINAL FIXTURES, which the seller consider a plus as that little fact was called out in the abstract. Abstract is real estate speak for flyer.
6. The garage, at 400 square foot had been designed to accommodate a single car, because it was constructed in the late 30’s when most families were lucky to own one. However, no adjustments had been made over the years and the garage had only enough room for a 1939 Hudson.
“We’ll take it!” I exclaimed. “Okay, maybe not.”
“I hear the Mini is a nice little car,” said Vickie.
After that comment landed with a thud, we moved onto the separate room, which would serve as my office. It’s location? The bottom floor of the house, just off the aforementioned garage.
Four hundred square feet. One wall entirely of mirrors. Wall-to-Wall carpeting that had seen better days, but just needed a cleaning. A storage closet next to it completed the floor.
And the high points. You could get to it without entering the front door of the house. AND no other common areas or rooms existed on the same floor with it.
“Again, where do I sign?” I asked, hoping the earnest tone of my voice would convince Vickie of my intentions.
“There are a few things to consider, first,” she said, and won Understatement of the Year from Dr. Paul Ehrlich, PhD in Hyperbolics.
“Yes, let’s start with the previous owner’s suicide . . . on the property.”