Surrounded by gorgeous Victorian architecture, I was in hog heaven during my visit to San Francisco earlier this month. I was lucky to stay in two different rooms in one of the grandest of the city's "Painted Ladies," a B&B called The Chateau Tivoli.
Just unlocking that gate and climbing those steps was magic. I had my own keys!
Since I was traveling solo, which I never do, I kept thinking of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, and Mary Ann Singleton, (played by a young Laura Linney in the TV adaptation). A Midwestern innocent, Mary Ann takes a trip to San Francisco in the late '70s, and decides to stay. She scores a lovely apartment on "Barbary Lane" and an eccentric landlady, Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis).
The Chateau Tivoli didn't have a Mrs. Madrigal (or I might never have left) but it was still satisfyingly eccentric and cozy. The staff and several guests were warm and friendly, as were many of the people I encountered in the city. (Everyone is friendlier there. People chatter to strangers and make loud, witty announcements on the buses. Old guys standing on the street will tip their hat as you pass by. In a car.)
One of my favorite things about the Chateau was how the interior matched the exterior — something we rarely find around my neighborhood in Boston, where the stately Victorians have mostly been gutted, sheet-rocked, and renovated beyond recognition. But look at the public rooms on the main floor:
I'd sit here after breakfast, or read and chat over a drink later in the day.
The hallway and staircase up to the rooms.
All the natural woodwork had been painted white at some point, and had to be restored.
The house was originally a private mansion and then became a home for Jewish girls,
a Jewish cultural center, a rooming house, and finally a center for New Age weirdness
before being completely restored inside and out as a B&B.
We guests made our own toast and tea for breakfast together in the dining room.
An ornament in the parlor.
The B&B was only a couple of blocks from Alamo Square Park, in a neighborhood famous for its many Painted Ladies. You've probably seen photos of these iconic houses bordering the park, high on a hill, overlooking the city:
I took a tight shot and cropped out more of the houses to the right because the fifth Painted Lady is currently covered in scaffolding and brown netting:
Seeing that house was like coming across a stylish Parisienne in her bathrobe, curlers, and facial mask. Shocking. And if you think scaffolding ruins a photo, just look at what's further along the park:
The park was full of loungers, picnickers, walkers, dogs, kids, artists, musicians, redwoods, and tourists. I felt at home. I might have bumped into Mrs. Madrigal or Mary Ann at any turn.
And I kept asking myself: Why don't we live in San Francisco? I'm still trying to find the answer.