Friday, November 6, 2009

A (tiny) Room of One's Own


The New York Times recently did an article on women's residences - buildings reserved for single women that do not allow men beyond designated public areas and which sometimes function as a dorm with a common dining hall, all for under-market value.

While created for some of the wrong reasons, I can certainly see the appeal. They are clean and safe and provide a way to meet people in a giant, unforgiving city. And heck, not having to cook is fantastic.

They remind me a bit of my first apartment in San Francisco. It had been built as a dormitory for the women's teaching college across the street at the turn of the century. The rooms were so tiny I had a twin sized day bed. My kitchen barely qualified as a galley, with an apartment-sized oven and refrigerator. But, the closet was almost as big as the room since it had once housed a Murphy bed, the bathroom had a clawfoot tub, and it had all the period detailing of a perfectly-San Francisco apartment including a lovely sun-filled bay window. Oh, and I could clean the whole thing in 25 minutes flat.

Out of 23 units, twenty of them were inhabited by women from 18 - 25. In the remaining three units, that were somewhat larger as they had been intended to house the dorm "mothers," lived middle-aged to elderly gay men who had lived there forever thanks to rent control. One of them was in his sixties and he spent time in the lobby waiting for his ancient one-eyed Shih Tzu to catch her breath before they went up three flights of stairs.

We chatted often and he once showed me a picture of the building following the 1906 earthquake. It stood solitary on the small hill with a tent city surrounding it for blocks. The building had been built earlier that year and when it didn't collapse everyone realized that it sat on bedrock - and that is a good thing in an earthquake. It is why every apartment I have ever lived in either survived or is next door to a building that survived that earthquake. I explained this to the poor girl who knocked frantically on my door after a minor shake. She had moved from Minnesota about four hours before it started rumbling.

Shortly after the 1906 quake, they moved the San Francisco Mint (as in one of the places that prints money) from the collapsed and fire-ravaged downtown to the block on the other side of the college. While it was strange to look out my bay window and see semi-automatics through the palm trees, it also lent its name to a really fun karaoke bar around the block.

The second male resident was about the same age as the Shih Tzu's dad, and though friendly, drank a little too much. Whenever we heard the cops outside we knew he had been trying to get into the building across the street (the looked only somewhat alike). The third had been a professional ballet dancer. And when the building was broken into it was he that went running down the stairs to chase the offender into the street.

In other words, it was the perfect first San Francisco studio apartment. At the intersection of the edge of the Castro, the start of the Lower Haight, Hayes Valley (before Hayes Valley was Hayes Valley), and the outskirts of the Mission, I could get petty much anywhere in the city by public transit with one transfer at most, which meant I could absorb the city to my 22 year old heart's content.

So I get the appeal of women's residences. Who needs space when you are rarely home? As for the no-male visitors policy, well that does stem from the attempt to protect a lady's virtue and all that nonsense, and it assumes that all the ladies or are of a certain orientation, which if they are not blows the whole theory to pieces. But, you know, I can see why some women might choose it. That can really make things a bit less stressful - you don't have to worry about whether or not you've got dirty laundry and dishes out before asking them up. And besides, as a young single woman I instituted dating safety rules that pretty much created the same situation:
1. Date does not get to know what building I live in until the 3rd date.

2. Date does not get to know what apartment number I live in until the 5th date.

Only two ever made it up, and one of them became my husband, so I guess the nuns and chaperones wouldn't be too upset.

San Francisco Bay Window (not mine) via Apartment Therapy.

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be nice.

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