It Can Happen Here

A surprising development in Easton Addition

From the Burlingame Voice, a local news blog, comes this chilling tale: “The talk of the town up North is the closure and subsequent boarding up of the so-called ‘meth house’ at 1600 Broadway.”


Nobody official has called 1600 Broadway a “meth house.” There is no existing police report detailing the dismantling of an illegal drug lab in Easton Addition, and the U.S. Department of Justice is “happy to report” that as of right now there are no “former drug labs in the Burlingame area.”

But this is not a case of gossipy, nosy neighbors, either. 1600 Broadway may not have been a meth lab, but it was a neighborhood nuisance, rumored to have “more than six (presumably illegal) units” wedged into a single three-bedroom, 2,600-square-foot residence.

When local authorities' attempts to clear the property because of code and fire violations failed, they simply boarded up the windows, slapped a notice on the front door and kicked everyone out. The neighbors, presumably, applauded.

How does this happen in Easton Addition? 1600 Broadway is worth well over $1 million (Zillow.com estimates its worth at $1.35 million). It’s a three-bedroom, 1921 bungalow located two blocks from downtown – on a corner lot. It is surrounded by upper-middle-class homeowners, the types of people who take an active interest in their neighborhood. The schools are excellent.

The home is one of seven properties in six Bay Area cities (whose estimated total worth is somewhere north of $5 million) that make up its owner’s real estate portfolio. 1600 Broadway is one of the highest valued properties in that portfolio, and yet its longtime owner turned it into a boarding house rather than sell. Now that owner will be facing a series of headaches, and the home’s revenue stream has been turned off like a (rusty) faucet.

I’d say that the endgame here – and it will take time to get to this point – would be that the home will eventually be sold, taken down to the studs and remodeled. It will emerge like a butterfly laden with Viking and Sub-Zero appliances and refurbished inlaid hardwood floors.

That’s what would happen if 1600 Broadway were in San Francisco. It happens all the time in San Francisco, where in 2001 I saw a hoard of would-be buyers descend on a $499,000 Noe Valley home that had been vacant for 20 years.

“You’ve got to have vision,” said the listing agent expansively, standing where the kitchen should have been. Eighteen months later the same home was back on the market, doubled in size and tripled in price. And now it had a kitchen.

Burlingame is not San Francisco. This house’s future could also include fines, a period of emptiness and then the starting of the whole cycle all over again. Meanwhile, neighbors will be required to disclose 1600 Broadway, should they choose to sell their own homes.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Terry Nagel discussed the plight of Burlingame’s elderly residents. She learned, while campaigning in 2007, that many felt “marooned” in the homes they’d purchased decades ago and could never afford now. This is not a case of that. It’s a bucket of cold water in the face of Pleasantville. As far as I can tell, 1600 Broadway is not a “meth house.” It’s an illegal boarding house – in the middle of Easton Addition. Yes, Burlingame, it can happen here.

Fiona Hamilton September 12, 2011 at 12:57 PM
Thank your for reiterating the simple fact - "As far as I can tell, 1600 Broadway is not a “meth house". Important fact over "wild blogging".
Larry Rosen September 15, 2011 at 07:07 PM
yes, that is a lesson on the casual names by which we refer to things. i was deep into googling "burlingame meth labs" before i read it again and realized, "oh, that's just what the neighbors call it."


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