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Monday, March 31, 2008

The Mystery At The Top Of Telegraph Hill

The weather was so nice yesterday that we took the ferry to San Francisco so we could hike to the top of Telegraph Hill like tourists. We wheezed up the last steps, past the Open House at 333 Greenwich (amazing views, but no parking for $1.65 million, so tell us again how we get the groceries home). We caught our breath while clutching the chain link at 115 Telegraph Hill Blvd.—that weedy, overgrown $4 million parcel that's been for sale for years—and thought once again that there must be an amazing story behind the vacant property with panoramic views of everything between here and Asia. There is:

A little wooden shack once sat on the hill, home to a labor activist named Bill Bailey. Mr. Bailey, eulogized for being a "celebrated San Francisco longshoreman" when he died at age 84, had in his youth organized a legendary local waterfront strike to unionize dock workers. He was the fiery sort of idealist who tore Nazi flags off German ships and who fought fascists in Spain. Then, in the last decades of his life, he lived in a
300-square-foot box that had the best view in the world.

After his death in 1995, the lot's owners got city approval to demolish the house and build four condos on Mr. Bailey's hill. Neighborhood residents decided to save the house and in 1999 got it towed to a Muni lot near Islais Creek.

In the years since, the lot's owners let the permits lapse and the weeds take over. If any view is worth $4 million, it's this one. But the problem is taking advantage of it. As neighborhood resident Peter Dwares said in an interview, "There are a lot of people here on the hill who haven't made it very easy."

[Photo credit: The Volunteer]