The Mission is full of buildings that give one the sense that something interesting is happening inside. We call them Odd Buildings, and this is an occasional series on their stories.
Walking along the 1200 block of Guerrero Street, it’s hard to miss. An imposing black gate framing a stately Victorian house painted in riotous shades of green, yellow, purple and blue. Most eye-catching of all, a tableau of figurines in the front bay windows. In September it was antique toys, last month it was pumpkins and ghouls, and now it features turkeys and gourds.
What at first Mission Local reporters mistook for an antique store, a quick check of property records revealed to be Noe’s Nest, one of the oldest bed and breakfasts in the area — one that has hosted George Lucas as well as Francis Ford Coppola, said its owner Sheila Ash, who added that mistaking the house for an antique store is a common mistake.
“We get people coming by all the time who think it’s a gift shop,” said the 65-year-old Ash with a laugh. “But the neighbors love it. We do a different display every month.”
The window displays, created from antiques and curios collected at garage sales, thrift stores, estate sales and antique shops around the Bay Area, are just the beginning. Inside, “The Nest,” as Ash casually refers to it, is stuffed with the attractive detritus of a life spent enthusiastically collecting art of any and all styles. Asian figurines and sculptures sit under reproductions of Dali paintings, ornate European chandeliers glitter from the ceiling, and in one corner, a life-sized Superman lounges in a chair, a pirate hat perched jauntily on his plush head.
The sense of eclectic style extends to Ash, who greeted us dressed head to toe in an outfit of pale pink and black. “I’m a great patron and collector of art,” she says. “People always tell me ‘Sheila, nothing matches!’ and I tell them, ‘Well I don’t match, either.’”
Ash’s life began in 1940s Brooklyn as a member of a large Jewish family. Despite her preference for high fashion and bright colors, half her family is Orthodox. One of her relatives invented Geritol. Neil Sedaka taught her and her sister to play piano. Her parents tried to make her go to Yeshiva, a school where she would study Jewish texts, but she refused. Unsurprisingly, she hated the uniforms.
Now Ash seems to comfortably inhabit the same cultural and religious space as many American Jews. While mezuzot, the small prayer boxes mandated by the Torah, are mounted on every door frame, she talks about the elaborate Christmas display she has planned. The dining room also features a painting of the Last Supper, albeit a slightly nontraditional rendition with Jesus and the Apostles as black men.
Noe’s Nest currently has six rooms and two suites, and it is the only bed and breakfast in the city to feature a kosher kitchen. Ash charges from $135 to $295 for the rooms and $265 to $345 for the suites.
According to Ash, the business, originally located a few blocks west in Noe Valley proper, began out of necessity in 1983. Ash was working two jobs while raising three young children — two biological and one foster. While the children had rooms of their own, they insisted on sleeping in her room at night. Rather than let good space go to waste, she began renting out the extra rooms for travelers.
As demand increased, the bed and breakfast eventually became her full-time job, and 12 years ago she was able to move the business to the larger Guerrero Street house.
When the city began to regulate bed and breakfasts in 2001, Noe’s Nest was able to continue unchanged in a state of what the planning office calls “non-conforming use.” Ash said that while that was a bonus, it has became a headache because the planning department has rewritten regulations again and is currently requiring Noe’s Nest to file for an official permit.
In fact, The Nest was asked to file for a permit seven years ago, a process that is now finally moving forward.
When asked how a business could operate without repercussions for seven years without a permit, the planning department explained that it was an issue of inadequate government communication. The only penalty for not carrying a permit is generally the denial of future permits from the planning department. However, Noe’s Nest is classified as a private residence and all of its permits went through the Department of Building Inspection, a separate government office which does not communicate with the planning department.
This tangle of government agencies doesn’t appear to have affected the Nest, where business has been thriving. Ash said that for more than 30 years, she’s hosted everyone from families and tourists to judges, activists and Hollywood elite. “George Lucas has stayed here, and this is where Coppola wrote ‘Rainmakers,’” she says, pointing to a framed picture of the director.
Despite its multitude of rooms, outward style and interior décor, the best trait of Noe’s Nest’s current location might be its backyard. Landscaped by one of Ash’s daughters, it is dominated by flowering trees, eccentric statuary and twisting succulents. It feels like a sanctuary. The centerpiece is Ash’s “Wine Temple,” a small gazebo that features nothing but a table and chairs, a small fireplace heater and a pack of cards — all presided over by recovered stained glass from a French church.
Inside, mixed in with the ornate couches and dining tables, a small, bright orange highchair sits in a corner.
“We try to be family-friendly,” Ash says. “When I was a single parent, I was amazed at the number of places that weren’t accommodating to parents and children; We try to welcome everyone.”
But to those looking for a night out on the town, Ash can accommodate them as well. Attending frequent parties, charities and social events, Ash is happy to play tour guide to her guests. She says she’s not just renting a room, she tries to rent her guests a lifestyle.
More information can be found HERE. The Nest’s next charity event is a latke fundraiser on December 8th.