Frisco Beat: Adios, House of Fans — or, The Adventure of The Diagraph Stencil Machine


A couple of Thursdays back I did a tour by appointment for a guy who just couldn’t hit the burg on a Sunday, but didn’t seem to mind handing over bigger bucks to pay for wear-and-tear on my gumshoes and closing-in-on-forty-years of expertise.

We got to 891 Post Street, inspected the plaque next to the door, then ducked across the street for a longer view of the building. Every tour group since 1977 has stood there on the sidewalk in front of the House of Fans, directly across Post from The Maltese Arms.

But this time a guy emerged from the office and told us he had something inside we might want to see.

And he gave us the news: after many decades, House of Fans has closed. Mort. A goner. Yet another piece of the San Francisco I like, hitting the road.

They were in the process of cleaning out the joint. A scrap metal guy filling up his box truck. Some rotator fans — with no safety guards — from the 1930s and 40s lined up on the counter.

But the last honcho of House of Fans thought we’d be interested in an antique piece of equipment he’d found from The Diagraph Company, a machine to punch stencils in thin metal — pretty much like the image above I scouted out on the net.

Yep. Cool. If you like history.

We played around with that for a few minutes, swapped yarns. I told the guy how 895 Post across the street once housed a metal weather stripping company, which he hadn’t heard of — all those fabricating businesses are being driven out of town, Fans most recent among them.

The guy owns his house, is close to retirement age anyway, so he won’t be another casual victim of Tech Frisco — and he plans to polish and oil the stencil machine until it works like new, just for fun.

My idle worry is that developers will rush in and tear the building down, muck up what could be (and is, at the moment, for all practical purposes) a Hammett Historic District. If they let the building stand and put in a Starbucks, at least we’d still have the structure you now see from Sam Spade’s windows.

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