Frisco Beat: 100, and Counting

During the throes of repainting the old website in the closing months of 2010, knocking together the current blog format, I had to sit on the sidelines and watch news and anniversaries pass by. The one I most regret not being on the scene to mention was December 24th — the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Fritz Leiber. I always thought Fritz got screwed in the present department with that particular advent.

People who’ve taken the four hour version of the tour may remember that we stop in front of 811 Geary near Hyde, where Fritz moved soon after coming to The City. In Literary World of San Francisco I cover every place Fritz stayed up to the date of publication for that guidebook, and he also gets coverage in the Hammett tour book because he wrote the essay “Stalking Sam Spade” while living in 811 Geary. He wrote the novel Our Lady of Darkness in this building, and had the hero living here as well. I used to visit Fritz fairly often in 1974 in his rooms in 811, when he was writing the first version of the story, using the title The Pale Brown Thing. He sat on the bed, a writing board propped on his kness, scribbling boldly in longhand on sheets of paper, getting perhaps fifteen to twenty words to a sheet before going to the next one. The holograph was typed later by his pal Margo Skinner.

Seemingly by coincidence, and with no fanfare that I heard of, early in Year One Hundred Fritz got honored with a plaque on his old residence. Some people doing research for the new Tenderloin History group told me on the walk on January 23rd this year that a wave of plaques were put up on various buildings in the neighborhood. During the tour I did for Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2010, I did not notice the 811 Geary plaque. By the time I did another walk, the Willeford Memorial Palm Sunday Tour, on March 28, it was installed on the right side of the entrance. Pretty cool, Fritz getting a plaque and doing his bit to make 811 Geary a National Historic Landmark.

On that January 23rd walk, by the way, were a couple with his-and-her Kindles. When we got to 811 Geary, and I blurbed Our Lady of Darkness, the guy took out his Kindle and in a minute had bought the novel. I’m pretty sure Fritz — one of America’s best science fiction authors — would have been delighted by that moment. From never having heard of Fritz or the title, to having it in his hands, ready to read. I remember one time Fritz and I were talking about catastrophic earthquakes leveling San Francisco, and I guessed that the downtown skyscrapers, almost all built on landfill, would just fall over. Fritz, however, didn’t think so — he figured the big buildings were engineered so well that they might ride out anything, and imagined a city where all the regular buildings crumbled to the ground and the skyscrapers towered over the ruins. Futuristic monoliths, witness to destruction.

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