I’ve mentioned before that our unexpected detour to San Jose on our way from 30 year residency in San Francisco to our “forever home” in Sonoma (which isn’t built yet) was bringing us to an early sale of our little Noe Valley Victorian. It hasn’t been as traumatic as I thought, I guess because we knew we were eventually leaving the city we’ve lived in for three decades. We just didn’t know we’d leave this fast. And we didn’t know we’d leave in the midst of this crazy a real estate market. If all styles and fashions are cyclical, the hardest thing to realize has been how out of synch with the cycle we are. When we purchased our Victorian back in the mid-Eighties, everyone who bought in San Francisco wanted a Victorian. If you had money, you got one in all its gingerbread splendor. If you were impecunious newlyweds, as we were, you got one that had gone through several unfortunate remodels back in the Fifties, which was the last time everyone decided they hated Victorians and wanted something clean and modern. So we spent 30 years restoring our modest Victorian back to its 1891 splendor — whatever splendor it had back in that day. Our neighborhood, Noe Valley, was never the home of newly minted Gold Rush millionaires or railroad robber barons. It was farmland until 1880 when the cable car was extended out here and it became a Scandanavian/Latvian/German working class neighborhood filled with modest little Queen Anne cottages. Did you ever see the film, “I Remember Mama”? This is that neighborhood.
So here we are 30 years from the last time everyone who bought in San Francisco was fighting to get a Victorian. Now the rage is for taking Victorians and gutting them to open plan and redoing them with glass and steel. I’m told by the realtors that it’s the Google/Facebook/Twitter young millionaire crowd who want modern, modern, modern and hate gingerbread. But it’s probably just the cycle. Ten years after the last Victorian is gutted, people will probably be putting the walls back in and searching flea markets, antique stores and estate sales — as we did — trying to find period furnishings and fittings. Or maybe not. The consensus from the stagers and the real estate agents that we’ve interviewed is that the last people who care about Victoriana in San Francisco will be gone when Andy and I leave the City. Of the four stagers we interviewed, all of them immediately said the colors had to go neutral, some were visibly shocked at our decor, and one just stood in the doorway and shuddered. So the consensus is, our taste is crap and better be rectified if this is going to sell at all.
If you look at the “Victorians” that are selling for obscene prices, like this and this, you’ll see that it’s true. Suddenly, all the work we’ve done on this place — foundation work, expanding the upstairs, new roof, restoring period detail, new kitchen — counts for less than the fact that we’ve retained, even embraced a Victorian look. The consensus among agents is that our house will go for far less than the above linked houses, even though it’s bigger, because, it’s not “modern”. Oh well, if someone is going to gut this little gem and make it glass and steel, I don’t want to know about it. As of now, I’m doing the cosmetic “de-Victorianization” by taking down all those period-correct chandeliers we bought at estate sales, flea markets and antique stores around the country. I’m pulling down the drapes and we are repainting the inside in a neutral palette.
It was all getting a little traumatic, so, on one of my last nights as a homeowner in San Francisco, I decided to do something very San Franciscan. I took myself to a laundromat to wash duvets. For those of you who don’t know San Francisco, let me tell you that San Francisco laundromats are almost always located near great bars. Many times, great bars are actually located IN San Francisco laundromats. My New Orleans peeps tell me that city is perhaps the only other one in the country to get the importance of the bar/laundromat connection. There is nothing like waiting out the spin cycle with a great classic Martini in your hand. Add free wi-fi and you’ve got the holy trifecta. Luckily, my duvets have never fit into my washer/dryer at home. So I’ve never lost touch with that laundromat-bar connection.
So even if the city I’m leaving isn’t the Victorian-mad city I moved to, I’m able to indulge in a little corner where traditional San Francisco is still appreciated. It’s at the intersection of cocktails, phosphate-free detergent and wi-fi, slightly down from the Castro on Market Street.