All Commentary
Sunday, January 15, 2017

When Vast Wealth Couldn’t Trump Homeowner Rights

A San Francisco story.

Look, it’s 5:30 in the morning for me. After waking up at 4 am for some unknown reason I am juiced up on the holy bean nectar and feeling a bit cantankerous. 

So allow me to expound on something that jumped out at me from a book I was reading. 

Crocker’s hilarious 40-foot spite fence became a rallying symbol for all the socialists in SF. 

It was a historical book on San Francisco written by a fella named Tom Cole in the early 80’s. It’s actually a pretty good book due to his witty and insightful writing style. Though he can’t seem to help interjecting his personal notions of what the “right” ideas are in terms of philosophy. Namely, he’s a Marxist. This is all fine and good. I have Marxist friends whom I would trust with my life. I think.

Without getting too much into it I must say, you’re wrong Tom, wherever you are. Unless you’re dead, in which case, you were wrong. Let me expound on a few reasons why. 

I’ll give one especially pertinent example of what he sees as a great historical injustice. It involves Nob Hill, which was and is a hoity-toity neighborhood in SF. 

In the 1870’s millionaires started buying up land and building some of the most extravagant mansions on this dumb hill in San Francisco. Except for one guy. An undertaker who had bought property before the hipster millionaires started moving in and building monumental houses dedicated to their virility (one can assume). 

So this undertaker was offered (presumably) a crazy amount of money to sell his sliver of land which impeded the mansion blueprints of one particular fella. Crocker. He refused. To which Crocker despite his ire, could do nothing. 

So he did what any of us would do, built his mansion around this guy’s property and put up a hilarious 40-foot fence around the undertaker’s sliver of land on which he lived. It became known as Crocker’s spite fence. And it became a rallying symbol of all the socialists/progressives/Marxists/etc in SF. 

The Outrage

This is where they get their panties in a bunch. How unfair! The horror! A working bloke has effectively had the light shut out from his house!

If it were more beneficial for him to take the buyout, I see no reason why he wouldn’t.

And yes, I don’t entirely disagree with them. It was kind of a jerk move on the part of the millionaire. He could have just been more amiable, offered the guy a ridiculous sum of money, and not have had a huge eyesore attached to his house until his last stubborn breath. But I’m assuming he didn’t.

Also, in what other country in 1870 could a poor working class guy not have been hauled off his land by any rich aristocrat and disappeared into a cold river at night. The fact that even one of the richest people in SF was legally helpless to take out such a small fry speaks volumes on having private property rights. A real nasty word to the socialists who claim to care about the little guy. 

To the outcries of injustice for our now-sunless undertaker I say, he is a human. And humans are rational. If you don’t agree with me there, then never drive a car again because you’ll be exposing your hypocrisy. 

We humans act in our best interest. Yes, even insane people. That is the reason they go insane, to protect themselves from overwhelming tragedy or pain, yet I digress. 

If it were more beneficial for this undertaker to take the buyout, be newly rich, and live a mile away in cheaper housing, I see no reason why he wouldn’t have. Instead, what all these populist movements choose to believe is that he was a helpless little rag doll tossed into a play outside of his control. How empathetic of them. 

This undertaker operated on a calculus of marginal utility and decided that, no, I like my house here, 40-foot wall and all. Also, I mean he was an undertaker, how important was sunshine to him in the first place? Not to mention that his land was skyrocketing in valuation every year, and even back then, 40-foot wall and all, was appreciating steeply in value. A dirty concept of profit to the socialists who took up his “plight.”

What I’m really getting at is, I’m tired of all these drive-by shootings from the populists who take the side of anyone that seems beneficial to promoting their cause without really understanding the situation and often having the opposite effect. Sound familiar?

Anyways, all of those houses on Nob Hill burned down not even thirty years later.

Reprinted from the author’s blog, Innocent Ideas.