The 6-unit Queen Anne Victorian building at 2840-2848 Folsom Street in San Francisco, dubbed the “Pigeon Palace” by its tenants in 2011, was built in 1903. Its early inhabitants are still being researched, but the father of Frances Carati bought the building in 1946 for $12,000. When he died in 1962 the building was inherited by Frances Carati who had lived in it since she was 14, and remained in her apartment until 2013 when a court-appointed Conservator, Tom Lucas, had her removed from her home and put into Buena Vista Manor. She continues to live at Buena Vista Manor to the present.
Thelma Montes was the tenant in 2846 Folsom for many years before she died in June 2014. She had been born in 2844 Folsom and had spent a good portion of her life living in the building.
In 1997 Frances held 2844 for long-time Folsom Street neighbors Marian Doub & Bob Thawley while they moved back from Boston with a new baby & graduate degree. Frances held it empty for ~4 months with a low deposit because, as she repeatedly stated, she was dedicated to having good, working families stay in S.F.. They lived there for 6 years, bringing the apartment next door to the attention of their friends Keith and Seth and introducing them to Frances. Then, when the time came for Marian, Bob, and Aidan to move in 2004, handed over our flat to Chris and Mona with Frances’ blessing.
In 2002, Keith Hennessy and Seth Eisen moved into 2842 Folsom after several months of DIY repair and renovation. In June 2004, Chris Carlsson and Mona Caron moved into 2844 Folsom, followed in June 2005 by Ed Wolf and Kirk Read to 2840A, and finally in 2008 Carin McKay moved into 2840 after stints as a temporary resident at 2844 and 2842 during 2006-07. Eisen moved out in 2007 and Mona Caron moved out at the end of 2005. Adriana Camarena joined Carlsson in 2844 in 2008.
In approximately 2008, the tenants — Chris Carlsson, Carin McKay, Adriana Camarena, Ed Wolf, Kirk Read, Thelma Montes, and Keith Hennessy — began speaking (individually and collectively) with our landlady Frances Carati about buying the building after her death, in order to stay in the building at a cost that we could afford. Chris Carlsson had been a dues-paying member of the San Francisco Community Land Trust since 2005, and began more serious conversations with San Francisco Community Land Trust in 2010 about the possibility of buying the building in order to take it off the market permanently and preserve the low-cost housing in it. In 2011 the tenants met for the first time with SFCLT.
In 2012 the tenants formed Pigeon Palace Inc. to prepare ourselves for the possibility of purchasing the building with the assistance of the SFCLT.
During these years, Frances continued to suggest that we be prepared to buy the building after her death and often stated her desire that her tenants get to stay in the building after she is gone. The tenants had a close relationship with Frances. Thelma Montes, who was born in the building and had been a continuous tenant for 40+years, fed Frances almost daily in 2011-2012. Other tenants would take Frances out for coffee, to hospital visits, veterinary visits, and then all together we would take her out for her annual birthday lunch. We often brought her food and repaired things in her house, including her toilet and television, and installed safety bars outside and inside her front door. Frances was a hoarder and generally did not let people into her house.
In the summer of 2012 the tenants noticed that a woman named Ori Calderon was taking Frances out quite often, sometimes from 8 in the morning to 12 midnight. The tenants became alarmed when Ori introduced herself as Frances’ “caregiver” whenever Frances said, “Ori is my friend.” The tenants tried on numerous occasions to ask Ori where she took Frances, to which Ori responded with verbal hostility. Frances often returned appearing dazed, perhaps drugged. The tenants suspected Ori of financial elder abuse.
The tenants contacted Officer Steve Keith of Mission Station. Officer Keith, a beat cop for our street, knew Frances well and he also became concerned about Ori. With encouragement from Officer Keith, the tenants called Adult Protective Services (APS) about the questionable relationship between Ori and Frances. Frances’ bank, Wells Fargo, also calls APS saying that Ori was threatening Frances at the bank. This triggered APS into action.
The tenants realized that Frances’ situation might change with APS being brought in and decided to write an Intent to Sell Form recording what Frances had talked about and wanted for years, for her tenants to be able to stay in the building by purchasing it after her death.
During Fall 2012 the tenants were praised repeatedly by Officer Keith, by Sara Bunting at APS, and by conservator-to-be Tom Lucas. At the recommendation of APS, the court appointed Conservator Tom Lucas in January 2013. Lucas was initially very willing to work with the Tenants about Frances’ care, and assured us that we would be part of her care team. Frances and Lucas and some of the tenants went to court in Feb of 2013 and Frances agreed to have Tom Lucas be her conservator. The judge told Lucas that we tenants were to have a role in Frances’s care plan.
There is correspondence from Lucas about removing Frances from her home, clearing up her horde, and then putting her back in her home. It was estimated at that time that she will be returned in one month. On April 8, 2013 Lucas took Frances out of her home without telling the tenants her whereabouts. This was very distressing for Frances, the tenants, the neighbors and Frances’ friends as well. Lucas refused to communicate directly to the tenants, and only communicated via his attorney. Two angry and frustrated emails were sent from the tenants to Lucas.
The tenants communicated their upset about Lucas’s behavior to Court Investigator Melinda Gene, to which she responded that Lucas has an excellent reputation, and was doing everything legally. She stated that any concerns about Lucas, Ms. Carati’s care, etc., could be seen as suspect because we were Frances’ tenants and have a vested interest in her property.
After two weeks, the tenants were given limited access to seeing Frances at Buena Vista Manor, and no rights to be able to take Frances out. Consequently, Frances rarely left the assisted care facility. In every visit, Frances was extremely clear she wanted to go home. Frances’s apartment was cleared and partially renovated, and remained empty for more than 2 years until the building’s sale in September 2015.
Thelma Montes, tenant in 2846 Folsom, suffering long term health issues, passed away in June 2014. Her unit also remained empty and unrepaired until the building’s sale in September 2015.
In April 2015 we received notice from realtor Michael Freethy. He told a few of us that the sellers knew that Frances wanted us to be able to buy the building, and that he hopes this can happen. SFCLT lawyer Richard Hurlburt began to speak with Freethy about purchasing the building and presented the Intent to Sell document that Frances signed. When the realtor lists the building for $1.5 million, SFCLT makes an offer of $2 million, $500,000 over market price. This offer was ignored.
This is the crucial moment when a City Attorney or representative of the Mayor’s Office of Housing SHOULD HAVE THREATENED to use eminent domain to seize the building UNLESS the lawyers for the Conservator negotiated in good faith with the SFCLT and their fair offer.
Instead the Conservator’s attorney refused to acknowledge the validity of the Intent to Sell Document and insisted that the building be auctioned in a court confirmation. The open sale closed on May 6, 2015 with the high bid being $2.3 million. On June 17, 2015 that bid was opened in court whereupon the auction began.
A jam-packed courtroom watched while several known speculators bid and dropped out as the price went higher and higher. Finally it was down to serial evictor Sergio Iantorno versus the SFCLT’s lawyer Richard Hurlburt. Incredibly the price kept climbing, finally reaching Iantorno’s bid of $3.27 million, which Hurlburt then topped with an offer of $3.28 million. Going once, going twice, sold to the San Francisco Community Land Trust! Wild elation erupted in the courtroom. The impossible had happened, the Pigeon Palace was “saved”! The tenants had been tasked with organizing the 10% downpayment that would be due within hours of the auction’s completion. How much did Pigeon Palace have in the bank that day—begged, borrowed, and scraped from the tenants, their friends, and families? By wild serendipity, exactly $328,024… !
It must be noted again that by allowing this to go to auction, the City facilitated a deeply corrupt process in which a known serial evictor was free to bid up the price on this building, knowing that he could only benefit whether or not he won the auction. By raising the (false) “market price” of the Pigeon Palace so high, Iantorno legally increased the value of his many other properties around the neighborhood.
At no point has any consideration of bringing Frances Carati back to her still-empty apartment been undertaken by her Conservator Tom Lucas, or the lawyers he works with. Lucas’s relationship to the Buena Vista Manor where he has kept Frances for more than two years is unknown, but we understand that he has multiple clients there. Frances has repeatedly stated her desire to come back to her apartment. The cost of a 24-hour live-in assistant to feed her and assist her in moving about would be less than the reported $8,000/month to keep her in Buena Vista Manor. While the Pigeon Palace tenants still wish Frances could come home, it has become apparent to us and to her that she will live out her days at the Buena Vista Manor.
After the breathtaking auction in June, the summer rolled by with endless delays in the promised financing from the Mayor’s Office of Housing. Tracy Parent, executive director of the SFCLT, and Richard Hurlburt the SFCLT attorney, did a masterful job of negotiating the impossible minefields laid out to sabotage this project, finally concluding the sale on September 10, 2015.
With the tenants and their low rents saved, attention turned to the renovations and rehabilitation, a project that also stretched out far longer than anyone imagined it would. As of this writing at the beginning of May, 2016, there is hope that actual work will begin within a little over a month and new tenants will be able to move in to the empty apartments some time this summer.
There is much history to be written, but this is the basic story that brings us to this point.