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Take a Mind-Blowing Trip to This San Francisco Eclectic's Home. 

Tuesday, Dec 23 2014
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Try interviewing Bob Pritikin and it's hard to get a word in edgewise. Pritikin is an easy enough subject, though. It's his house guests who make trouble.

"Your fortune! I will tell your fortune!" barks a Zoltar machine like the one that granted 12-year-old Josh Baskin his wish to be 32-year-old Tom Hanks in the movie Big. This happens around 15 times an hour.

But this Zoltar, now bedecked in Angela Alioto campaign buttons, isn't like the one in the film Big. It is the one in the film Big.

That's the kind of place this is.

Downstairs sits a rather standard-looking globe in a display case. Pritikin paid $100,000 for it. An American soldier whisked it off a desk in the bombed-out "Eagle's Nest" in Austria in the waning days of World War II.

Yes, it's Hitler's globe.

Pritikin lives in the largest private estate in this city, counterintuitively located in Glen Park and, once and for all, answering the question "So, what's there to see in Glen Park?" He describes his domicile as a museum and, in the manner that the Smithsonian used to be randomly crammed with unrelated odds and ends befitting "America's Attic," it is. There's Zoltar; there's an assortment of military helmets; there's a canvas that may or may not be a J.M.W. Turner; there's a clutch of lifelike human figures perched behind bars stocked with very real booze; there's an indoor pool in a room with a retractable roof; there's a dummy in a faux electric chair who shrieks and writhes; there's a carousel pig from 19th century France that may well have once supported the prepubescent rump of Charles de Gaulle.

And, of course, there's the globe, which, in a curatorial flourish, is demarked "HITLER'S GLOBE: MAY THE BASTARD ROT IN HELL."

Which is just how you'd do it if you lived in the city's largest private estate and stocked it with eclectic oddities and you were Bob Pritikin.

"MAY THE BASTARD ROT IN HELL" isn't something you'd normally find in a museum. You also wouldn't cross paths with a large, friendly mutt given run of the place. The dog is half black and half white and Pritikin named him "Obama."

Well, that's an interesting choice. But Pritikin made his money and his reputation via interesting choices. When he was a successful ad executive he kept a deli-type counter outside his office door along with the sign "ads while you wait." There's a special kind of genius in simultaneously tugging at someone's heartstrings and purse strings.

Obama the dog tilts his head in that adorable dog way and gives a look with his adorable dog eyes. And then, ever so deftly, he plunges his head into your humble narrator's backpack and makes off with his lunch.

Well, that's an ad man's dog all right.

Pritikin recently released a documentary about his "life and legacy" (it is easily located on YouTube). When asked why he would do such a thing, Pritikin candidly replied, "Most everybody I know is dead. That's why I only get two Christmas cards a year." This, figured the ad man and onetime hotelier to the stars, was his last chance to put out a film about Mickey Rooney, Jayne Mansfield, Liberace, or the other celebrities he used to hobnob with and invite to his lavish home for lavish parties. Liberace, Pritikin claims, consented to accompany on piano while Pritikin played the saw, with a bow, as a musical instrument. There is a clip in Pritikin's film, which is unapologetically titled Me, in which he explains his virtuoso saw-playing to a game show panel featuring Nipsy Russell.

It's that kind of film.

A viewer's brain can begin to trickle out of his ears midway through this documentary, triggered by the incongruous sight of Tammy Faye Bakker leading a gospel choir during one of Pritikin's lavish backyard Labor Day parties ("Eight hundred of my closest friends, some of whom I actually had met"). The pace of the trickling increases when, right as Bakker exclaims "whooooo!" in mid-warble, a near-subliminal image from an adult movie flits across the screen.

It's that kind of film.

Asked just what the hell that was all about, Pritikin smiles, coyly. "He put it in there," he says with a nod across the table at Anthony Garcia, the producer of Me. "He thought no one would notice." Garcia shakes his head. "It was a collaborative process. For the record."

"Your fortune!" barks Zoltar. "I will tell your fortune!"

Pritikin's documentary received a smattering of attention from tech publications because of his grandiose claim that he coined the term "Google" — and that the up-and-coming internet company owes him.

Yes, in 1967 Pritikin created a very successful magazine ad for the Sierra Club titled "Don't Muddy Up the Googol." Asked if he feels he truly inspired the conquering Stanford nerds who, 30 years later, showed less adeptness at spelling than at search-engineering and registered the domain, Pritikin answers, "They owe me a thank-you note. Or something."

So there you go. But his bluster did get his documentary a few writeups on gizmo websites and led to a visit in which his dog partook of a newspaper columnist's lunch.

Not bad. Not bad at all. The old ad man's still got it.

For a slideshow of Pritikin's mansion and the wonders within, visit

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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