Call of the Canopy - Page 2

Their magnificent trees attract attention—but it’s the friendships that make Lyons Street so special
Call of the Canopy
Lyons Street locals love to get together—including for the gathering above at the home of Marian and Tom Vanden Bosch. Pictured are (L-R) Marian Vanden Bosch, Christine Bahr, Tom Vanden Bosch, Troy Paiva, Julie Paiva, Dave Walter, Joe Nobles, Mariko Hoshi, Jeff Thoene; group of four at far right: Roger Bowie, Keisha Thoene, Mary Bowie, Peggy Smullin.
Call of the Canopy
This sharp-looking decorative screen lines the entrance to longtime owner Bob Kirchgatter's Eichler.
Call of the Canopy
Peggy Smullin, who moved to Lyons Street with her parents in 1953, loves to carry on with her favorite pastime, painting.
Call of the Canopy
Peggy Smullins's late father, Dal, the original ‘mayor of Lyons Street.'

Winning much of the credit for the block's fiesta-like mood are two people, Dave Walter, known as 'the Mayor of Lyons Street,' and his wife, Christine Bahr.

"She's the one who ties the whole neighborhood together," longtime owner Marian Vanden Bosch says of Christine. "She's the party person."

And Christine is not without a title of her own: 'Queen of Decoupage,' for the colorful and very non-mid-century modern antique furnishings that she turns into art objects by covering them with decorative patterns of collaged paper.

What's the trick to being mayor?

"It only takes a spark," Dave says. "It's a spark, and other people join in."

The Halloween party they throw for neighbors every year is legendary. "We've been doing that for, god, 18 years," Christine says.

They've even brought the party to one of the Eichlers that serves as assisted living for the elderly. "When I was Frankenstein and I was six-foot-six, it kind of scared them a little," Dave says.

Dave and Christine put on other neighborhood events as well. "When we had the pancake breakfast," Dave says, "three quarters of the neighborhood came. For the block party it was just about everybody."

Oh, and those block parties!

Dave, a self-confessed workaholic who's in the marble and granite business, hauled in sand one year for a horseshoe pit. He's supplied a tiki bar with a thatched roof. Christine, a retired firefighter, made sure a fire truck arrived.

"Remember the stripper?" Dave jokes.

"No!" Christine says.

Although it's been several years since the last block party, there is talk of reviving the tradition.

Mary and Roger get in the holiday spirit themselves, taking homemade treats to neighbors on Valentine's Day and other occasions. "It's always good," Christine tells her. "We eat them by the time you've left."

The events, though, seem less important that spontaneous social activities.

"If you hear laughter on the street," Mary says, starting a thought that Roger finishes: "[You think] am I missing a party? What's going on out there?"

When one young boy (among the few kids on the street these days) stops by to help Dave rake leaves, both enjoy it. "We bought him a little dustpan and broom. He just loves it," Christine says.

If you talk to Dave, a thoughtful guy who walks with 25- and 40-pound backpacks in preparation for hiking the Appalachian Trail, you discover what it really takes to be a street's mayor: Not just chatting people up or throwing parties, but caring about people.

Dave illustrates this not by talking about himself but about the man who preceded him as mayor of Lyons Street, the late Dal Smullin, Peggy's father. Dal and next-door neighbor Tom Sullivan first organized social activities on Lyons shortly after the tract opened 66 years ago.

That was about four years before the camphor trees were planted. Bob Kirchgatter, who arrived with his wife in 1961, recalls they were saplings then.

Dave says he was inspired by Dal, who installed a bench in his front yard.

"He would sit out on a bench every night. He would have his glass of wine," Dave remembers, adding, "He always wanted to know what you were doing. It wasn't about him. He actually put the bench there for people walking by to take a seat."

Back in 1998 Dal told the San Francisco Chronicle that Tom and his wife, Kay Sullivan, were "the first to start our block party tradition."

"They were more like dances," Dal's wife, Joanna, told the paper. The Smullins and Sullivans were the first to move into Fairwood.

"Four new plans," Eichler Homes advertised in the San Mateo Times in 1953. "Luxurious Eichler homes only 33 minutes by train from San Francisco!" Homes in Fairwood were selling for $16,500 to $17,750.

Today, Lyons Street's 28 homes seem mostly original from the front except for one that was replaced more or less in kind after a fire, and another that has an ungainly second story, albeit to the rear.

These are small homes, mostly 1,380 square feet, Bob Kirchgatter says, with three bedrooms and two baths, and two-car garages or carports.

Fairwood's homes were built four years before architect Bob Anshen gave Eichler the atrium—and before aluminum doors were available, so these sliders are of steel. Some homes have exterior walls with projecting concrete blocks to create shadows, a relatively unusual feature for Eichler.