by Cynthia Cummins
Cynthia is owner and founder of Kindred SF Homes and a top San Francisco Realtor. Check out RealEstateTherapy.org for refreshing reflections on the meaning of home and for more “best real estate advice” (since 2013).
Reading time: 3.5 minutes
I never met a San Francisco neighborhood I didn’t like, but if I had to choose just one favorite, the Marina would be a contender. Bookended by Russian Hill and the Presidio, it rolls out like a bright pastel tapestry. There’s the smell of bay in your nose and the Golden Gate Bridge in your view. The sun is almost always shining and, on the rare days when it’s not, a whipped-cream shimmer of fog fills in.
Walking along the Marina Green, you hear fog horns in the distance and boat tackle clinking in the foreground. There’s the rhythm of runners’ feet or the jangle of bicycles. Dogs huffing and yipping. Newly mown grass. House facades painted candy-dish colors. Granite glittering in the sidewalks.
30 years ago, I moved here and found work as Communications Director for the San Francisco Bay Area Dance Coalition. Our office was in Building C at Fort Mason, and the locus of my daily routine was Chestnut Street. Gap, Apple, Pottery Barn and Starbucks were yet to arrive, and Chestnut was lined with mom-and-pop flower shops, butchers, grocers, hardware stores and stationers. It felt like a small-town main street but with a romantic sparkle that fit the iconic image of San Francisco. I kept pinching myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.
A 1960s kid from Appalachia, I’d grown up watching Rice-A-Roni commercials on TV. If you’re not familiar, those ads all featured a famous jingle that is permanently carved into the brains of every American man, woman and child who had access to a television during that time:
The San Francisco treat
The flavor can’t be beat
I memorized that song and tried to imagine what life in the big city in California might be like. So, it’s ironic to me that all these years later I not only live here but I sell real estate here. (I am, in fact, currently representing the owners of an iconic Marina property that has been in the same Italian-American family since 1962 – coincidentally the same year this Rice-A-Roni commercial first aired.)
As a kid watching The Beverly Hillbillies on our black-and-white television in Grundy, Virginia, I learned from Rice-A-Roni just enough to be smitten by San Francisco: It was a cosmopolitan city where fashionable, independent women with long legs ate exotic rice dishes (instead of plain potatoes) and rode cable cars to and from skyscrapers and supermarkets. Never mind the newfangled notion that this “exciting new side dish” came in a box and could be made in minutes.
I cared only that San Francisco was “famous for food” and as foreign as Rome, Italy. The steep hills and the Transamerica building looked nothing like our coal-mining holler of Slate Creek. I’d never seen an actual, modern Chinese person like the beautiful woman glimpsed at .09 in the commercial linked above. I’d never ridden on a bus or a train, much less a cable car. And even my glamorous, Sorbonne-educated mother didn’t wear long gloves to the grocery store.
The promise of the land of “fluffy and fragrant” Rice-A-Roni burrowed deep into my subconscious. When the time came to put a proverbial stake in the ground as a young adult, there was no debating where I’d go. San Francisco was my predestination.
At an anthroposophical biography workshop I attended in the 90s, I learned we all tend to feel more at home in the place where we took our first steps. That – for me – just happened to be San Francisco! My father was stationed at the Presidio during my first year on the planet, and we briefly lived across from what was then called “the French Hospital.” I went from crawling to walking in that 5th Avenue apartment and practiced my new skill all over town – at the Palace of Fine Arts, in Golden Gate Park, at Baker Beach, in Chinatown, at Fisherman’s Wharf, at Land’s End. (I have no memory of it, but there’s photographic evidence.)
Perhaps those first steps in San Francisco cemented my connection once I returned here in my 20s, but I’m pretty sure McCann Erickson (the agency that created those ads) is to thank for luring me here. The city I met as a baby and as a young adult is gone forever, yet a walk on Marina Boulevard (where nothing has really changed) can time-travel me back to the magical kingdom where cable cars played the Rice-A-Roni song. I highly recommend you check it out yourself. It’ll be your San Francisco treat.
Photo Credit: Daniel Abadia