|87 Denslowe Drive
2011 by Dale Fehringer
feels strange sitting in this quiet little house at 87 Denslowe
Drive. I sense spirits here and I can feel them moving about --
going from room to room, putting things away, cleaning. A sense of
orderliness remains, and I get the feeling that everything is exactly
where it is supposed to be.
also a sense of permanence in this two-bedroom, one-bath, stucco
house in the western part of San Francisco. It has had only two
occupants since it was built in the early 1940s as part of the
Lakeside residential neighborhood, between
19th Avenue and Junipero
The Harlows were the second family to live in it when they moved here
in 1951; Walt senior, his wife, Alice, and their only child,
28-year-old Walt junior. It was the Harlow’s home for the next
for the exterior paint, the houses look alike on Denslowe Drive; a
long row of narrow two-story brick homes; each with a
postage-stamp-size front yard, one-car attached garage, and shingle
roof. Inside, the floor plans are nearly identical; a narrow living
room, dining room, and kitchen on the first floor, and two bedrooms
and a bathroom on the second floor. Slender walkways lead to the
side door and back yard, which overlook the houses the next street
over. The “M” Muni line is a couple of blocks away, and
shopping on Ocean Avenue and Stonestown is within walking distance.
This wasn’t luxury living, but the yards and garages must have
seemed deluxe to people who moved here from downtown apartments or
their six decades in the house, the Harlows tended it with loving
care; painting it white with turquoise shutters, building a white
picket fence around the front yard, and adding a decorative hedge in
the back. They became acquainted with the neighbors and visited with
them while walking and working in the yard. They hosted dinner
parties and played cards with friends from work and Masonic Lodge
families, and built shelves in the garage and filled a workshop with
tools, ladders, and paint cans.
senior died in 1978, and his things were stored in the crawl space
under the house.
junior remained in the home to take care of his mother, who developed
Alzheimer’s and behaved erratically toward the end. Walt hired
people to stay with her while he was at work, and he cared for his
domineering mother at night and on the weekends. There’s a
rumor she used to wander the streets in various stages of undress,
and Walt built a metal cage over the stove to keep his mother from
turning it on and burning herself or the house.
died in 1983, and her things were added to the crawl space under the
after Alice’s death Walt asked Elsa, his fiancé of 17
years, to marry him, and she moved her things into the little house.
Walt was 65 and Elsa was 72. Their wedding day was undoubtedly the
happiest of their lives, and I’m sure the little house was
pleased to host the newly-married couple.
and Elsa were very happy, and the atmosphere in the little stucco
house must have been cheerful. Elsa cooked and painted still-life’s,
and Walt maintained their home. They invited friends over, went for
long walks, and asked neighbors to watch their house when they
traveled. Walt and Elsa travelled all over the world, and Walt took
thousands of photos during their trips and hung some of the best on
the walls of the house, along with Elsa’s paintings. They are
still there, and they help tell the story of that happy era.
ten very happy years together, Elsa developed a heart condition and
she grew increasingly weaker and died. Her things went in the crawl
space beneath the house, next to those of Walt senior and Alice.
little house must have mourned her death and the next few years must
have been gloomy, but Walt stayed and continued to care for his
house. He began to follow a strict routine of household chores;
scrubbing the kitchen on Monday, spiffing up the living and dining
rooms on Tuesday, cleaning the upstairs on Wednesday, doing laundry
on Thursday, and shopping and paying bills on Friday. The weekends
were spent outside (weather permitting) mowing, trimming, painting,
and whatever else needed doing. The quiet little house was
meticulously cared for.
died in his beloved home at 87 Denslowe Drive this February. We’ll
probably never know what caused his death. He was 87 years old, so
it was likely old age that killed him, but three months before he
died he was knocked to the ground when the doors of a Muni train
closed on him while he was trying to get off after going downtown to
see the Christmas lights. He broke two ribs in the fall and bruised
his throat. He had trouble swallowing from then on, and he would
occasionally choke while trying to eat. But he stayed in his little
house and continued to care for it as best he could. He died in the
upstairs bedroom of the little house that was such an important part
of his life.
for Walt’s things and the spirits, the little house at 87
Denslowe Drive now seems hollow. There’s a lot of history
here, embedded in the threadbare furniture, bits and pieces of china,
and yellowing photo albums. Unfortunately, much of the history will
be lost when the little house is emptied of the Harlow belongings.
sure the house is curious about who will move in next. Whoever it
is, they will find a cozy little house with a lot of wonderful
in the subject
line of the message.)
Story List and Biography
The Preservation Foundation, Inc.,
A Nonprofit Book Publisher