824 Florida Street
by Elizabeth C. Creely
Sunday, after a late morning breakfast of hot cross buns and coffee at Joey & Pat’s, my husband and I slowly perambulated the Mission, doing errands in a desultory way. On Florida Street, between 20th and 21st, we encountered a scrum of people on the sidewalk.
Two men in their fifties or sixties were presenting a building plan to the neighborhood. Blueprints were on a folding table. You could take a copy. The men and the table were in front of an old, white house with a garage door right at the sidewalk. We stopped to see what was happening. Why were they sitting in front of the house with an attitude of resignation?
The “house” is, or was, a dwelling for someone, but when it was constructed (in 1908, as it turns out) it wasn’t built to house people. It was clearly a garage or a space for light industry.
Two women were looking at the plans. The table was in the shade of the building, a nice place to linger. Two children biked around the women. We walked over to the table.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“We’re presenting these plans to the neighborhood,” replied the sitting man. He was older, maybe in his late sixties. “We’re adding a vertical element.”
“Oh,” I said, looking at the plans. “Are you the owner?”
The man shifted in his chair. “We’re the designers,” he replied. “We’re going to add a couple floors.”
Sensing circumvention, I tried again. “Who owns this place?”
The heavyset man sighed and moved in his folding chair again, almost imperceptibly. Evasion hung thick in the air. Crosstalk prevented the moment from becoming too acute.
One of the women knew the building’s history. The Travertini family had made pottery there. A truck used to pull into the garage and load up, she remembered. She moved to Florida Street in 1965, when she was eight years old, and has lived here ever since. “I’m first generation,” she said. Her parents were from Puerto Rico. The neighborhood was full of Italian families when her family moved to the Mission, she said. “We were the minority. Can you imagine that?”
I said immediately, as I always do when Mission history comes up, “My great-great-grandparents lived down the street!” The woman and I beamed at each other, pleased to find another ancestral Missionite.
The standing man said the building was originally a gymnasium.
Back to the question hanging in the air. “Are you the owners?” I asked again.
The sitting man sensed that I wasn’t going to let it go. “There’s a group of owners,” he said. “I’m the face of the owners.”
He wasn’t going to say who. He wasn’t going to name names. Eleven owners? Twelve? Three? We thanked the men and left.
At home I went online. The San Francisco Public Library has online city directories from 1850 to 1982. I searched the 1963 Polk’s City Directory and found Travertini & Co. Mfg., “plaster casting,” owned by Gino and Ulaldina Travertini at 824 Florida Street. No pictures emerged on Google of Mr. and Mrs. Travertini. The only picture of them with their plaster and lathe and delivery trucks is a memory held in the mind of the woman who moved to the Mission in 1965, the year I was born.
My husband went back to get a blueprint at 2 p.m., perhaps thirty minutes after we’d seen them, but the men were gone. Nothing was posted on the building or the telephone pole in front of the building. Apparently, the men had given notice to the neighborhood.
The men were nice, and spoke to us in a civil fashion about the change in the neighborhood, the alteration of the Travertini place. But a description posted last year on Zillow seemed offhandedly callous. It described the structure as a “Great one open space with bathroom, kitchen, lots light and huge backyard. . . . We will tear down place in 22 months.”
It’s bewildering, this speculative wilding in the Mission, where prices are so high that groups of investors need to pool their money to purchase property, where the blueprints detailing changes to the neighborhood are grudgingly unveiled for a few minutes on hot, sunny Saturday afternoons and then folded up and secreted away so that neighborhood re-visioning can start, and where the perfect moments of the Mission stay preserved in memory.