Tag Archives: SRO/residential hotel

Cultural Imperatives and the Riviera Hotel

Cultural-Imperatives

“Cultural Imperatives” (2003)

(324/12) 420 Jones Street; Avon Hotel, Riviera Hotel (1982). Stores and hotel with thirty-eight rooms and seventeen baths. 4B stories; brick structure; molded brick around windows, galvanized iron cornice; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: decorative frame, mosaic floor, cornice molding; lobby: wood paneling, decorative iron elevator; corner blade sign with neon removed; alterations: security gate, storefronts. Owner: Mrs. Barbara Neff of Seattle (1907), Conard House (1983). Architects: Crim and Scott. 1907.

And now, here is something a bit off the beaten path. The Riveira (sic!) Hotel is the brown building with white trim in the background of this photograph, one of my favorite images. Approaching the hotel from the entrance side on Jones Street, I was searching for an engaging perspective when I heard a clangorous but muffled sound of drums and gongs being pounded in erratic syncopation, much like Chinese lion dance music. I was irresistibly drawn around the corner onto Ellis Street to the music’s source, an odd little building that had often piqued my curiosity.

A drab, one-story storefront had been transformed by a porte-cochere that imitated traditional Chinese architecture. From a distance the illusion was fairly convincing. Closer scrutiny revealed a sagging patchwork of the cheapest and strangest materials. Blue barrel tiles were contrived of aluminum soft drink cans covered by sheets of some indeterminate material, and the peeling, red-painted plywood was clearly interior grade. Above the entrance, golden Chinese pictographs affirmed a cultural animus, but the facade was otherwise inscrutable and any clues to the building’s function were concealed behind curtained windows. Adding to the mystery was the ritualistic music now emanating from within. Compelled to photograph the peculiar structure, I thereby found the way to frame the Riviera. A short time after I captured this image, the little building was leveled by a bulldozer. The lot has remained empty ever since.

Sunday Morning_Riviera Hotel.

“Sunday Morning – Riviera Hotel” (2012)

(323/6) 415 Jones Street; Mendel Apartments. Apartment building with seventy two-room units. Original owner: Dr. Louise C. Mendel. Architects: Frederick H. Meyer, 1912; addition Grace Jewett, 1919.

(324/12) 420 Jones Street; Riviera Hotel.

(324/11) 380–386 Ellis Street; empty lot.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Tenderloin

Sai Hotel

Sai

“Sai” (2003)

Sai Hotel. 964 Howard Street.

Near the middle of February 2001 — one week out of the hospital and just beginning to recover from a six year nightmare of homelessness and heroin addiction — I rented lodgings at the Sai Hotel for 400 dollars a month.* As this was well below what other SROs were charging, it seemed like a bargain until I actually saw what I had rented. On the top floor at the back of the building, an undersized door opened inward on a room so absurdly small, it barely qualified as a crib. The bit of floorspace unoccupied by a single-width bed was a narrow strip along the length of the room, but this was mostly taken up by a small sink and a nightstand. All that remained empty was clearance for the door. To open or close the door from inside the room, I had no choice but to stand on the bed. Every time I shaved or washed my face, I risked electrocution by the ungrounded electrical outlet in an open utility box over the sink. For all practical purposes inaccessible, the lead-colored walls were entirely bare. A diminutive window above the nightstand provided meager illumination that barely dispelled the gloom. Suspended by a length of ancient cloth-insulated wire, a naked sixty-watt light bulb offered more light, but I rarely used it as the glare was intolerable. Every aspect of the room was uncomfortable and oppressive. It felt like a broom closet, in fact I think it had been one, but it was the first place I could call home after nearly six years on the streets.

*cf. Personal History.

7 Comments

Filed under Sixth Street

Hotel Fairfax

Fairfax-

“Fairfax” (2011)

(334/7) 420 Eddy Street; Fairfax Hotel. Rooming house with fifty-six rooms and fourteen baths; 3B stories; reinforced concrete structure; stucco facade, bracketed cornice; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: terrazzo steps, doorway with sidelights; signs: blade sign with neon removed “Hotel Fairfax”; alterations: security gate and grilles, aluminum windows. Original owner: W. T. Albertson. Architect: Stone and Smith. 1907.

Having lived a month in a dismal crib at the Sai Hotel, I was more than ready for a change, but the only vacancy I could find was a room at the Hotel Fairfax, a haven for heroin-addicted hustlers, prostitutes and crackheads. Peace and quiet were the rarest of commodities at the Fairfax. Management rarely ventured beyond their first-floor enclave, and hotel housekeeping was spotty and superficial at best. The upstairs bathrooms and toilets were unspeakably vile. For the most part, tenants were free to carry on however they pleased in shadowy hallways and on dark, winding stairs at all hours of the day and night. In need of a temporary hideout or a bathroom, or for reasons best left undiscovered, all kinds of unsavory characters would lurk about the upper floors late at night after sneaking up the rear fire escape. In the end, five weeks at the Fairfax was all I could stand. Long after I moved out, Cohen Alley was gated and turned into the “Tenderloin National Forest” by the Luggage Store Gallery, effectively ending the hotel break-ins, but as far as I know, little else there has changed.

2 Comments

Filed under Tenderloin

San Francisco’s Hidden Shame

This is a story about Jim Ayers, a friend of mine who for over two decades lived and worked on Sixth Street and devoted himself to improving his community. To give you an idea of what he’s like and what he’s done, here is a piece I wrote about Jim several years ago.

In Praise of a Hero

Jim

I could talk for a long time about Jim Ayers. His life story is not just remarkable, it is truly inspiring, like a tale written by John Steinbeck or Mark Twain. HL Mencken would have loved him. As I have only two minutes to speak, I’ll give you instead the simple, unadorned reasons that Jim is so highly deserving of this award, which I am enormously pleased to be presenting to him.*

Integrity: Jim is the living, breathing definition. He is, without question, the most trusted person in his community. Jim may be a man of few words, but you can be certain that what he says will always be the truth. Blunt, gruff and unpolished, Jim is also one of the most lovable persons I have ever known, and he has a heart to match. A more compassionate man you will not find. Best of all, Jim shares these virtues with his community.

During the eleven years that he worked there, Jim made Grady’s a comfortable and safe haven for the many seniors who live on Sixth Street. It was, in fact, the only place in the neighborhood where they could escape from their lonely, cramped hotel rooms to socialize, have their morning coffee and read the paper. For Jim, tending bar was entirely secondary to providing for the social needs of Sixth Street’s seniors.

Jim has fought tirelessly and single-handedly for the rights and welfare of the tenants of the Lawrence Hotel, where he has lived for the past fourteen years. After years of thankless, solitary struggle at City Hall and in court, and in the face of intimidation, property damage and physical threats, Jim is winning the battle to force Club Six, the bane of Sixth Street residents since it opened, to comply with noise and public nuisance laws. No one has done more for his community than Jim Ayers, a man I am proud to call my friend.

*The text is a speech I gave when presenting Jim with a Community Leadership Award in May 2007. Regarding the photograph, Jim hates having his picture taken, so he’ll make faces or look away if he’s aware of the camera. In order to catch Jim off-guard, I photographed him through a crowd of people from across the Board of Supervisors chambers at City Hall, hence the grainy and tightly cropped image.

Jim was one of the founding members of the Central City SRO Collaborative back in 2001, an organization that was originally intended to improve the quality of life for those who live in residential hotels, and he has steadfastly remained true to that mission ever since, though the organization was long ago subverted by the personal and political agendas of its de facto administrator Randy Shaw.

Several weeks ago, Jim—who is sixty-five years old and subsists on a meager income from Social Security—was evicted by the landlord of the Lawrence Hotel for purely political reasons, and he has been living on the streets in his pickup truck ever since. Jim is a very proud man and refuses to use my shower or just come to my place to get some rest. People and organizations that should be tripping over each other to offer him housing have been consistent in their inability or outright refusal to help in any way.

If this story makes you uncomfortable, tough shit. I want it to. This is what life is like when you’re poor, even if you have a public presence and have devoted years of your life to improving your community. Fact is, poor people don’t count, and San Francisco, for all it’s self-serving “progressives” and self-congratulatory back patting, simply doesn’t give a fuck.

Oh, and one more thing: if you’re sitting in your comfortable home, reading this on your expensive iPad, thinking, “Gee, how awful. Thank God, that can never happen to me,” think again. Years ago, I lost everything and endured nearly six years of homelessness here in San Francisco,* and I can tell you from first-hand experience that life can be a selfish and unpredictable bitch. The real question is, are you going to watch from the sidelines or get involved? Whether you like it or not, this is about all of us.

*If you want the details, read my Personal History.

UPDATE, 02 Nov 12, 4:30pm: Good news! Jim has been offered temporary housing and Don Falk, the director of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, has been working with me to help get Jim a permanent place in one of their buildings as soon as possible. Thanks to all who have responded from the bottom of my heart. If you’d like to donate to TNDC for stepping forward to help, here is where to do it.

20 Comments

Filed under Local Characters, Messages, Mid-Market, Sixth Street, Tenderloin