Living in a Modern Day Tales of the City

Living in a Modern Day Tales of the City

Once again, from The Divining Wand’s Q&A page, a reader asks:

Larramie, in yesterday’s interview with Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy), I was very intrigued by this line:

“Shana lives in San Francisco, California, in part of an Edwardian compound that she shares with an informal cooperative of family, friends, and five cats.”

What, pray tell, is an ‘Edwardian (cooperative) compound’ ???

Below, in a lovely post, is Shana’s explanation.


The Pierce Street Compound

“Shana lives in San Francisco, California, in part of an Edwardian compound that she shares with an informal cooperative of family, friends, and five cats.” You bet this sentence gets the gamut of responses ranging from “what is it?” to mutters of “San Francisco” accompanied by knowing nods of the head from the informed.

The Pierce Street Edwardian compound is a “modern day Tales of the City,” the main differences being we’re located on a real street, and we have Mr. McGrath (he’s not transgendered) instead of Mrs. Madrigal. The inhabitants are aging hippies, dot-com dropouts, a couple of musicians, and a school teacher. Overseeing the whole operation is, of course, the five cats.

The compound itself consists of one large Edwardian style building with four apartments in the front and a smaller Edwardian style building with two apartments in the back. It was built around 1900 when this style of home was popular in San Francisco. The Edwardian style home generally has simpler trim than the Victorian homes typically associated with the city. Another fun fact about the Edwardian is the distinguishing feature of this style is the egg-and-dart cornice work; and these homes were constructed of wood, stucco, brick or a combination, while the Victorians built previously were all made of redwood. The two Edwardian style dwellings that make up the Pierce Street Compound are separated by an eclectic garden with a fir tree, a variety of bushes, catnip every five feet, and easily over 100 pots of plants, which are rotated by the season. In spring and summer our garden is a cacophony of color, and fall winter we have mostly green.

My second cousin, Mr. McGrath, who owns the Pierce Street Compound is a card carrying Republican complete with an NRA sticker on his car. Yet, he forged our community (in every sense of the word) by deciding to charge only what is needed to cover the bills—an act that is unheard of in modern rental markets. The result is a group of people who live in the middle of San Francisco with unlocked doors (granted our compound is protected by two very secure gates), who are a community of neighbors, friends, and family related by blood and/or time. And while do we have our own homes where we can close our doors, we’ve taken the time to keep them open enough that we know each other, we take care of each other, we basically coexist quite happily.

Another offshoot of living in a community like this is our militant social consciousness. Admittedly, this could also be considered a by-product of living in San Francisco, nevertheless, we are obsessed with green living. We religiously recycle and compost. We also share cars, ride bikes, and take public transportation as often as possible. In our homes and basement you’ll only find eco friendly products. And, even we know that we take our sharing and sense of fellowship to an extreme when it comes to parking (a perpetual problem in San Francisco). We have a three car garage that is held open for late night arrivals and guests. Keys remain in parked cars and spares are kept in the garage so that anyone vacating a parking spot can move the one in the garage if necessary to ensure availability just in case. You can often hear one of us say, “Should we move the car, or am I obsessing about parking again?” But, guests at our frequent garden parties know if they come early, they’ll get parking; and they’re also accustomed to checking if their discards are recyclable or compostable before haplessly tossing stuff in the garbage bin.

The most unique aspect of the Pierce Street Compound is our infamous Delmar Dinners, held every other month, in honor of the Pierce Street Diplocat whose ashes are scattered throughout our garden. Aside from the camaraderie, green living, frequent parties, and convivial coexistence, the glue that holds the entire compound together is our unwavering reverence for Cats (yes I mean to capitalize). You may laugh, but cats have been associated with humans for at least 9,500 years, and are currently the most popular pet in the world. And at the Pierce Street Compound, we don’t just coexist peacefully with the most popular pet in the world, we understand our role and take seriously our duty to act as staff to the five felines currently occupying the compound. Ancient Egypt has nothing on us.

Now that you’re among the informed, whether you say, “cool!” or shake your head while whispering “San Francisco,” you are always welcome at the Pierce Street Compound. Just remember if you do drop by, you might get parking, you’ll have to recycle and compost, and most important, if you see one of the cats, you must be ready to serve.

[Please remember that Shana’s debut novel, Sounds Like Crazy, is scheduled to be presented here on Monday.]

5 thoughts on “Living in a Modern Day Tales of the City

  1. Thank you, what a delightful essay! And I sense that there is another Tales of the City-type novel waiting to be inspired and written by Shana!

  2. I am an avid reader, but the Tales of City series are the only books I’ve read more than once, and I’ve read each at least three times. I love those books, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experience in San Francisco living on your own version of Barbary Lane.

    I’m from the east coast, and lived in a place somewhat similar (but not quite so strong a community) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I still miss those apartments, and am happy to know they have yet to demolished for something less grand. I wrote about Gray Court Apts on my blog at:

    I wish you continued joy on Pierce Street.

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