San Francisco Houses

Before it jumped the shark, the series “Weeds” on Showtime was one of my favorite shows. I had a love/hate relationship with the theme song from the first couple of seasons – Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds. Legend has it that as she was driving from Berkeley to the San Mateo Peninsula via San Francisco, while driving through Daly City she was inspired to write the song with lyrics that start out:

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.

And while it might be an apt description for the houses to the south of us, I don’t think it describes houses in San Francisco in the least bit. We have various styles of houses, from Marina style houses to Victorian houses (of the Eastlake, Italianate, and Queen-Anne variety), as well as houses that are often described as Edwardian, Mid-Century Modern (ok, some of which are dangerously close to being little ticky tacky boxes) and plenty of others as well.

While I’d love to explain every style to you in one fell swoop, the houses of San Francisco believe they deserve just a little more attention than that, and have demanded that they each get their own blog entry. You know how houses in San Francisco can be. You didn’t hear it from me, but sometimes prima donna is an apt description. Granted, if you were a house that had been born shortly after the gold rush and survived more than a few earthquakes, you too might be rather vociferous in demanding all the attention you felt you were entitled too.

Houses in San Francisco, like pretty much everywhere else, were a reflection of the times in which they were built. So you’ll see plenty of Victorian houses in older neighborhoods like Pacific Heights or Nob Hill, Doelger houses in neighborhoods like the Sunset or Parkside, and plenty of 1960′s style in Twin Peaks. I hope you enjoy reading this coming series as much I look forward to writing it. As always, comments welcome!

You say “Eureka Valley”, I say “Castro”

When I moved to San Francisco, the Castro was the first place I called home. I didn’t know that my ‘hood went by other names, so you can imagine my surprise when I looked at the San Francisco MLS map and discovered that the Castro wasn’t called the Castro but was instead Eureka Valley. Was it named Eureka Valley from the ancient greek meaning to discover? As in “Eureka, I have found the gays and this is where they congregate” Or was their some other only-the-natives-know-the-answer reason for the dueling neighborhood names? Was it some type of lingering homophobia, an alternate name put forward by people who wanted to “save” the neighborhood from the gay influx?

Tracking down the answer to this neighborhood naming mystery took a little time. Finding how Noe got it name is easy by comparison. And once you know how Noe got it’s name, you also discover the origins for the names of the following streets: Castro Street, Noe Street, Sanchez Street, Guerrero Street and Valenica Street. All were named for prominent Mexican ranchers: General José Castro, José de Jesús Noe, José Antonio Sánchez, Don Francisco Guerrero and José Manuel Valencia (or his son Candelario). But still, why Eureka Valley?

Eureka Valley, it turns out, is named for one of the Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks, a San Francisco landmark that provides spectacular city views (when not fogged in), consists of (you guessed it) two peaks. The north peak is named Eureka peak, and the south peak is named Noe peak. Eureka Valley is the valley below Eureka Peak, and that, my dear readers is the  anti-climatic ending to the story of the dueling-neighborhood-name mystery.

twin peaks and noe

twin peaks and noe by dolanh, on Flickr

But as with all questions, the answer to one question inevitably just creates a new question: why is Eureka peak named Eureka peak? Stay tuned…

Three Things You Might not Noe about Noe Valley

(Groan). Sorry folks, couldn’t help myself with that ridiculously tempting pun of a headline about Noe Valley. Yesterday’s Bernal Heights neighborhood trivia was pretty popular, so today I’m going to try and bring you three equally interesting tidbits about Noe Valley, the neighborhood that some people love to love and some just love to hate!

I love Noe - Whole Foods (can a grocery store chain really love a neighborhood)

I love Noe by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

Noe Valley Trivia Tidbit #1:
Noe Valley was named for Jose de Jesus Noe, who served a variety of administrative roles in the last years of Mexican California. He was variously a justice of the peace (Juez de Paz), Assistant Alcalde, and  Alcalde (roughly equivalent to Mayor. If he was around today he’d be rocking it on foursquare). Born in 1805 in  Puebla, Mexico, he along with his family came to Norcal in 1834 with the Hijar and Padres Colony. He died in 1862, and city records listed him simply as “farmer, dwelling on old San Jose Road” at the time of his death.

Noe Valley Trivia Tidbit #2:
Duncan Street is the Noe Valley equivalent of Billionaire’s Row in Pacific Heights. The two most expensive homes to sell in Noe Valley (per SFAR MLS, although I couldn’t find anything with a higher recorded sales price in the tax records, either) were both on Duncan Street. 526 Duncan sold way back in 2005 for $5,300,000 while 625 Duncan, originally listed for $6,250,000 sold in 2008 for $5,818,000. For those of you into conspiracy theories, please note that both home addresses are a combination of the numbers five, six, and two.

Noe Valley Trivia Tidbit #3:
As with all things that involve Bragging Rights, there is a bit of controversy about the steepest streets in San Francisco, and thus what neighborhood can claim them. For this tidbit, I’m relying on Stephen Von Worley, from his blog Data Pointed. The sixth-steepest street in San Francisco (a four-way tie, actually), and the steepest in Noe Valley clocks in at a grade of 31.5%. On what Noe Valley block do residents live in mortal fear of people failing to properly apply their parking brakes? 22nd street between Vicksburg and Church Street.
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Three Cool Trivia Tidbits about Bernal Heights

Holiday party season is now in full swing, and you can all to easily find yourself with a bunch of strangers when an uncomfortable silence descends out of nowhere. To help you out of those akward moments,  I thought I’d offer you some San Francisco trivia to help impress your friends (or strangers). These should come in handy the next time you are at a holiday party, cocktails, or stuck in an elevator. Today’s trivia is all about San Francisco’s hipster ‘hood, Bernal Heights.

Bernal Heights Trivia Tidbit #1:
The steepest grade on any muni line is in Bernal Heights. Where? The #67 bus line running on Alabama between Ripley and Esmeralda has a grade of 23.1%! And if you want to confess to riding it for three blocks, just to avoid walking up the steep hill, we’d all understand. Heck, we’ve all probably done it ourselves.

Bernal Heights Trivia Tidbit #2:
306 Mullen is the most expensive single family home to sell in Bernal Heights. Designed by Craig Steely Architecture and listed in late 2007 for $2,295,000 it closed escrow in March of 2008 for $2,150,000. It includes a four car garage, an elevator, and wonderful downtown views. The tax records report the home as having over 4,500 square feet.

Bernal Heights Trivia Tidbit #3:
The largest surviving collection of earthquake cottages can be found in Bernal Heights. According to Jane Cryan, there are at least 21 surviving earthquake cottages in Bernal Heights. Among those that she has identified are: 43 Carver Street, 211 Mullen Avenue, 150 Cortland Avenue, 20 Newman Street, 164 Bocana, and 451 Anderson. Additional unverified earthquake cottages include: 48 Cortland, 509 Ellsworth, and 842 Moultrie. Pictured below is a cottage in Precita Park after the great quake of 1906.

Bernal Heights Earthquake Cottage in Precita Park, Source: SF Public Library

So there you have it, three great trivia facts about Bernal Heights neighborhood in San Francisco. Next time you find yourself at a loss for words – regardless of the event – hopefully you’ll be able to remember at least one of these tidbits about Bernal Heights.

Five Great Things about Noe Valley

The holidays are a great time to pause and reflect on all that we have to be thankful for. At least, that is what my mom always tells me ;-) Personally, I say its a great time of year for tearing through wrapping paper with wild abandon and purchasing shiny expensive electronics from the Apple Store. But to each their own, right? In the spirit of thankfulness, here are five of my favorite things about Noe Valley in San Francisco.

Walking Tour Between The Mission and Noe Valley (San Francisco - 2009)

(San Francisco - 2009) by, on Flickr

One: 24th Street
The main shopping drag in Noe Valley, it is filled with great boutiques, restaurants, and stores. Whole Foods recently opened in the old Bell market space, and while the parking lot is always five kinds of crazy, it is still great to have such a good grocery store within easy walking distance. Noe Valley Bakery is also found along 24th street, stop in for a raspberry croisant or any of their cupcakes, you won’t be sorry you did! Oh yeah, you’ll also find Zephyr’s Noe Valley office along, you guessed it, 24th street! 

Two: The weather
Noe Valley generally has some of the nicer weather in San Francisco. Twin Peaks does a great job of sheltering the neighborhood from the cool air, fog, and wind.

Three and Four: Douglass Plaground and Dog Park
There are two great parks along Douglass street. The entrance to the playground is at roughly Douglass and 26th street. A block up the hill is the entrance to the dog park. Be sure to bring the appropriate accessory (dog or child) to the appropriate park. Otherwise, a mom may go medieval on you. Consider yourself warned.

Five: Noe Valley Recreation Center
Recently refurbished, the gleaming new Noe Valley rec center is a great neighborhood resource. It has indoor basketball courts (that can also be reserved for birthday parties or other events), interior play space, indoor theatre and stage, an outdoor kids playground, baseball/softball fields, and a separate dog park/play area as well. Located on the southern end of Noe Valley, it’s a wonderful Noe Valley treasure.

Holiday Withdrawal Syndrome

Holiday Withdrawal Syndrome has reached epidemic proportions in San Francisco, with properties withdrawing themselves left and right for the holiday season. Within just the past 24 hours, 12 properties have been withdrawn (termed inactives in the graph below) from the San Francisco multiple listing service, and I’ve probably received just about as many emails from brokers that want me to know that while their listing has been withdrawn, it is still available over the holidays.
What is the cause of this annual syndrome? Long story short, withdrawing the property from the market for a minimum of 30 days (it used to be two weeks) will cause the San Francisco multiple listing service (MLS) to list the property with a reset (think zero) days on market (DOM) count. So, even if you’ve been flogging your listing since October of 1942, if you withdraw it for 30 days the next time you enter it in the multiple listing service it will appear as a “new” listing with a days on market (DOM) count of zero! It’s the real estate equivalent of a fountain of eternal youth, allowing stale properties to come back to market “new” with the exact same agent and brokerage.

Some multiple listing services have a metric known as cumulative days on market (CDOM for those of you lingo-lovers), which defeats the purpose of this little strategy, by picking up and continuing the days on market count from the prior  listing. San Francisco, it is rumored, will someday implement this metric. But as of today, we don’t. Unlike, say, Seattle.

So why so many now? Simply put, this time of year is slow anyway, so if you don’t anticipate many showings, your seller doesn’t want to show their home while it is filled with holiday decor and guests, and you expect minimal open house traffic, it makes sense (under the existing rules) to withdraw the property from the market, let other agents know it is still available, and bring it back on in mid to late January after a quick and painless dip in the fountain of eternal youth erases all those troubling wrinkles (er, days on market).

Inner Sunset Holiday Home Shopping

Monday began our last-minute-home-shopping marathon with a tour of what could be yours in Bernal Heights. For those of you that wanted to live in the Heights, but not just Bernal Heights, we headed up to Pacific Heights on Tuesday. Today we tour a neighborhood between the two, not just geographically but perhaps metaphorically as well. That’s right, today’s gift-a-palooza looks at a neighborhood I’m pretty partial to, the Inner Sunset. Nestled up against Golden Gate park, and bounded by 19th Ave. on the west side, the Inner Sunset is a wonderful neighborhood filled with shopping and dining venues, as well as being steps from the park and convenient to public transit (if any public transit in San Francisco can be called convenient, but I digress…)

For those of you who are not quite sure what to give, how about a home that isn’t quite sure what it is? Listed as a single-family in the MLS, this home appears to be a 2 unit building with an unwarranted in-law and a cottage in back. For those keeping track, that would be four units. It’s a home with such so much shiny granite and ornate detail that even Elvis would be happy to call it home! Without further ado, please meet 1278-1280 17th Ave. listed by Charles Lu of Diamond Location Realty. Asking price is $1,799,000.

1278-80 17th Ave., listed by Charles Lu of Diamond Location Realty

If you are thinking more along the lines of a condominium, then you should definitely consider this great top-floor condo that is just steps from Golden Gate Park. Listed by Susan McLaughlin and Lawrence Garvin of Paragon Real Estate, 1244 6th Ave. is a two bedroom, one bath condominium in a four-unit building. It includes one car independent parking, but shame on you if you drive that car to Golden Gate Park! Asking price is $699,000.

1244 6th Ave., listed by Paragon Real Estate

Passwords – How to Make Them Easy to Remember, Tough to Hack

If you haven’t heard by now, Gawker was hacked and a huge list of decrypted passwords, usernames, and emails were released online. This would include a password for an account of mine that I rarely used, but nonetheless just to add to my to-do list, it was included in the information that now is in the public domain! Frustrating, indeed. And before you say, hey, it couldn’t happen to my password because I don’t use gawker, please remember that gawker is the umbrella company for a bunch of websites that include: Lifehacker, Gizmodo, Gawker, Jezebel, io9, Jalopnik, Kotaku, Deadspin, and Fleshbot.

As frustrating as it is, every gray cloud can have a silver lining, and I used the opportunity to do a little research on how to make a better password (I have to admit that I do use the same password for various sites, although my password for every site isn’t the same, I have a set of five or six passwords that I commonly used). The folks at lifehacker, as part of their mea-culpa for getting hacked, posted a link to a phenomenal slate article about how to create incredibly strong but incredibly easy to remember passwords.

And that tends to be the problem with passwords, right? Usually, the harder you make the password to guess (by throwing in numbers, punctuation, random capitalization, or a phrase or word you are unlikely to remember) it almost follows that the harder you make the password to remember. But here’s the slate article with a phenomenal way of creating easy to remember but hard to hack passwords:

Start with an original but memorable phrase. For this exercise, let’s use these two sentences: I like to eat bagels at the airport and My first Cadillac was a real lemon so I bought a Toyota. The phrase can have something to do with your life or it can be a random collection of words—just make sure it’s something you can remember. That’s the key: Because a mnemonic is easy to remember, you don’t have to write it down anywhere. (If you can’t remember it without writing it down, it’s not a good mnemonic.) This reduces the chance that someone will guess it if he gets into your computer or your e-mail. What’s more, a relatively simple mnemonic can be turned into a fanatically difficult password.

Which brings us to Step 2: Turn your phrase into an acronym. Be sure to use some numbers and symbols and capital letters, too. I like to eat bagels at the airport becomes Ilteb@ta, andMy first Cadillac was a real lemon so I bought a Toyota is M1stCwarlsIbaT.

That’s it—you’re done. These mnemonic passwords are hard to forget, but they contain no guessable English words. You can even create pass phrases for specific sites that are coded with a hint about their purpose. A sentence like It’s 20 degrees in February, so I use Gmail lets you set a new Gmail password every month and still never forget it: i90diSsIuG for September,i30diMsIuG for March, etc. (These aren’t realistic temperatures; they’re the month-number multiplied by 10.)

Boom, that’s it and your done! Go forth and propogate secure passwords that are easy to remember.