Maria Fuentes’ room is dark and the curtains are drawn. A portrait of Jesus overlooks the prone 94-year-old’s bed, and the stacked cardboard boxes holding the remaining possessions of a family uncertain where it will next turn.
“No me gusta esta casa,” she tells me — I don’t like this house. Back in El Salvador, she continues, things were different. People interacted with each other. At her former home, a hop, skip, and a jump up the road, she could sit in a sunny front-yard patio and watch the world go by. Her son-in-law, Luis Carcamo, known throughout the neighborhood as “el señor de las plantas,” would be nearby sweeping the leaves and flowers from his trees off the sidewalk.
For Fuentes, it seems like it’s all a million years ago and a million miles away. But it’s not. That house, an innocuous four-unit structure at 1266-68 Hampshire Street, is a mere three-tenths of a mile from her twin bed in the front room of a home on 22nd, in the shadow of General Hospital. And it was only last year — Valentine’s Day, oddly enough — that the landlord demanded everyone be gone.
The old place is back on the market in search of new buyers. “Spacious master suite w/spa-like bathroom incl. Duravit soaking tub and custom tile work,” coos the sales pitch on Sotheby’s. “Fab location, just steps from dining, entertainment, MUNI/BART and area freeways.”
The history of this four-unit tenancy-in-common is not disclosed. It might come as a surprise to whomever forks over the $850,000 and change it’ll take to even start the bidding that they’re making an offer on what may well be San Francisco’s oldest house. Fuentes and her family had no idea, and some of them lived here for 32 years.
Well, it’s true. This home was, in fact, built by the Treat brothers, army veterans turned real-estate speculators who owned vast swaths of San Francisco, sold it off prudently, and now are remembered (or not) via Treat Avenue, which bears their name. This house first shows up on maps in 1861, but historical surveys place it at 1855 and, maybe, it’s even older than that.
That’s the history that spurred us to write about the home’s pending sale earlier this week. But not only is this pioneer history left unsaid in the home’s sales pitch, so is its more recent history.
To wit: Four generations of a Latino family — a nonagenarian, her retirement-age son, daughter and son-in-law, her thirtysomething city native granddaughter, and her young children — were cleared out of the place via the Ellis Act so the building could be sold for $1.5 million last year, and its new owners, an LLC, could individually flog each of its four units for the better part of $900,000 (“Fab location…”).
A million miles away on 22nd Street, among the moving boxes and in a darkened room, Fuentes shakes her head. She doesn’t say anything for a little while. And, then, “No me gusta esta casa.”
La familia Carcamo moved into 1266-68 Hampshire in 1985 along with a massive extended family of Salvadoran relatives. Luis and Norma Carcamo ran a restaurant in the Mission, and that’s how they met the owner of this place. They moved into an upstairs flat along with their infant daughter, Sarah. In the adjoining unit were two of Norma’s sisters — who’d buried their husbands in El Salvador — along with those sisters’ five daughters. The pack of young women were known as “The Hampshire Girls” around the neighborhood. And there were more families in more of the units. The Juarez brothers, Eddie and Oscar, lived downstairs with their dad, Leobardo, and had been there since 1970. Fuentes, Norma’s mother, arrived in 1999.
Sarah Carcamo, now 34, smiles at the memories. “We had a full house,” she says. But Carcamo doesn’t view the past through a rose-colored mist. Hampshire Street could be rough in the 1980s and 1990s. “I wouldn’t go out so much. It was more dangerous then,” she says.
Her 68-year-old mother Norma nods. “Peligroso.” Sarah continues. “There were a lot of gang members. You could get jumped. For like a jacket or something.” A cousin was shot dead not far off. For Sarah Carcamo, childhood memories tilt heavily toward playing inside with a small army of young relatives and friends.
The family had no idea about the Treat brothers or the vintage of their home. But they knew it was old. How could they not? Oscar Juarez’s bathroom had no electricity in it. This place had the feel of a structure improvisationally reconstructed through the centuries.
And the records prove it. Backing up Carcamo’s recollections, a trove of city documents reveal an aging, overstressed building with an alarming number of habitability issues and just as many notices for illegal construction. This may well be San Francisco’s oldest home, but neither the Planning Department nor the Department of Building Inspection could prevent a series of owners from taking extreme liberties in hacking up the place, sans permitting.
By 2008, the house came into the possession of Washington Mutual. In December of that year, a man named Kuo Hsuan “Chuck” Chang scooped it up for $600,000.
Chang is not fondly recalled by the Carcamo family, who claim he was an unresponsive landlord. And, in April 2013, he initiated an Ellis Act eviction to prod the family out of the crumbling home with the law as his cudgel.
A four-year struggle ensued. Neighborhood residents recall the ambulance coming multiple times for Fuentes, who developed stress-related heart issues. But neither this, nor the senior status of multiple residents of the home, could prevent the inevitable.
Eventually, in exchange for some rent forgiveness and one final Christmas in the longtime family home, the family dropped its appeal. By Feb. 14 of last year, they cleared out. Sarah Carcamo’s nephew, 20-year-old Jose Lopez, loaded up 32 years of possessions into a truck and dropped most of it off at the city dump. And that was that.
Chang, only months after moving to evict the Carcamo family and many others living on Hampshire Street (15 names appear on court papers), pleaded guilty to federal felony charges in a far-reaching bid-rigging scheme to depress the prices of foreclosed local properties bought at auction. But, in the case of 1266-68 Hampshire, it appears the law was firmly on his side.
In the end, what stands out the most about the Carcamo family’s plight is how little of it stands out. “This is what a lot of contemporary San Francisco landlords do,” sums up David Tchack, one of the family’s attorneys. “These speculators come in and buy properties. They have no intention of being a landlord, and Ellis Act the tenants to turn around and sell the property.”
The ejection of the Carcamo family from their historical home “was not particularly vicious,” Tchack continues. “It happens all over the city.“
San Francisco’s oldest house played host to what has become San Francisco’s oldest story.
The Treat brothers owned so much real estate in primordial San Francisco that the 22nd Street apartment Maria Fuentes and her family ended up in sits on land the Treats also once owned.
But those days are over and, soon, the family’s time here will be, too. Sarah Carcamo lives, for now, with her husband and two daughters with her in-laws on Bryant Street. But her 94-year-old grandmother, mother, father and uncle are on borrowed time in an apartment with an expiring lease. The boxes are packed. Norma lives out of a suitcase and, like her mother, is suffering from stress issues. She’s a full-time caretaker for her mother, Fuentes, and Luis, even at age 76, works full-time as a housekeeper for a downtown hotel. Staying in the city, where they’ve lived for 40 years since leaving Central America, will be a huge fiscal challenge. The family fears Fuentes cannot make another move.
Meanwhile, back on Hampshire Street, the Carcamo’s former neighbor, Arnie Warshaw, finds himself stunned at the high-end automobiles now parked along the curb. He’s been here since 1994, and his landlord has threatened to Ellis Act him, too; a junkyard-dog eviction attorney has been mentioned by name. Multicolored dots demarking evictions speckle the map on this very street. “I am,” confirms Warshaw, “deep in my own shit here.”
Through it all, with his former home a memory and his current home soon to be one, Luis Carcamo keeps working. He gets up each day at 5 and is out the door at 5:45. He takes the No. 27 bus downtown and returns every night with bags of groceries from local Latino markets. “I am not stopping,” he tells his family. “Because the day I stop, I will die.”