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Friday, July 13, 2007

Sing us a song, piano man! -- SFWeekly's Trek into the Tenderloin's Cadillac Hotel

Posted By on Fri, Jul 13, 2007 at 9:01 AM

click to enlarge piano2.jpg

A Cadillac Hotel resident contemplates the $125,000 piano in the lobby. Photo by Joe Eskenazi.

Wandering through the Tenderloin, one constantly feels as if he’s stumbled across the unholy hybrid of a Hieronymus Bosch canvas and a Tom Waits lament.

You’ll see (and smell) any number of things on these wizened streets. But you’d be surprised at what you may hear. That’s why I dropped in at the Cadillac Hotel at 380 Eddy Street in the heart of the ‘Loin and asked to see “the piano.”

The Cadillac is a non-profit Single Room Occupancy (SRO) housed in a 100-year-old former hotel; the stark but clean foyer’s size and airiness hearken to its swankier past. A black and white photo of the edifice with curvy cars and fedora-wearing men in the foreground has been hand-colored with pastels and hangs on the wall.

Today, 158 low-income seniors and former homeless adults reside in the building, said longtime manager Magali Echevarria. And, every so often, one of them enjoyed tickling the ivories on the run-down piano in the corner of the lobby. Sure, it was so out of tune that even a ditty from a player possessing Gershwinesque skills would bring a tear to the eye of the Ayatollah, but it was the thought that counted.

Still, Echevarria was overjoyed when she learned that philanthropist Lee Walkup would be donating a new piano in honor of his deceased sister, Patricia, a community activist.

But it turned out that Walkup didn’t come through on his offer to hand over a new piano. Earlier this month, he sent a used one: A 123-year-old Steinway Concert Grand worth more than $125,000.

“It even has its own humidifier,” said Echevarria, still stunned over the massive gift.

Even to my untrained eyes, the shiny, Indian Rosewood piano struck me as a work of art; it was the most valuable instrument I had touched since being inserted into an MRI machine some years earlier. Standing in front of its 88 keys, I felt like Stanley Kubrik’s ape man gazing at the monolith.

click to enlarge piano1.jpg

"It even has its own humidifier." Photo by Joe Eskenazi.

Of course, all I could do was stare at the piano. But Paul Hogarth could do more. A staff lawyer at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic (and wicked good pianist), Hogarth told me that taking the piano for a spin was like “Driving Cameron Frye’s Ferrari in 'Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. ’”

And now others can join the fun. Hogarth is helping to organize a series of Friday noontime concerts at the Cadillac and is looking for a few good piano men (and women). The first show will be a week from today and if you can — at the very least — play Für Elise, drop him a line here.

Robert Mathena, an 82-year-old retired chef and 40-year resident at the Cadillac, can’t wait.

“People will like that here. And we’ll get some champagne at the first concert.”

Echevarria quickly shakes her heard. “Oh no. I wouldn’t wait for that champagne, Robert.”

“Oh,” he replies, glumly. Then he brightens up. “Well, I’ll have some in my room.”

--Joe Eskenazi

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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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