The House On Divisadero Street (Part 5 of 6)

Continuing the story of a student co-op in San Francisco’s Fillmore District in the years 1962-64.

To begin at Part 1, click here.

Edmund The Mad Magician

LOREN: One evening when I was returning from visiting my new girlfriend Kit at Stanford, I noticed a pale fellow sitting on the bus with a portable TV set in his lap. When I got off, the guy also got off and followed me to the entrance to 857. I unlocked the door, got in, then tried to shut it behind me, but the guy wedged it open with his TV.

“What are you doing?” I demanded.

“I live here,” he told me.

“You don’t live here,” I said, “I’ve never seen you before.”

“I’m just moving in,” he insisted. “I can’t get my key right now.”

So I let him come up the stairs with me. It turned out he was a colleague of Willie’s named Edmund Robere. They had a mail-order business making chemical potions for magicians. But Edmund and Willie constantly shouted at each other, and Edmund didn’t seem to get along with anybody except me. I found him affable but creepy, and I kept my distance from him.

GERALD: Edmund Robere was a magician; but whereas magic was a lucrative hobby for Willie, for Edmund the Mad Magician it was his life and soul. Edmund was much older than the rest of us; he wasn’t a student, and to the best of my knowledge he had never been one. Edmund kept his own company, and not only because of the age gap. He maintained unusual waking hours.

Edmund was taller than everyone other than myself – and athletic in build. He had dark brown hair, a full, dark mustache and Zorro-like sideburns. He always dressed in black. We were never certain whether his appearance reflected his stage image, his self-image, or his genuine personality. Willie said that, before moving in with us, he had lived in a basement and slept in a coffin. I never witnessed Edmund turning into a bat, and it never occurred to me to confront him with a crucifix, but an ordinary guy was he not.

Edmund was a nocturnal creature. At least in the evening, when we were most likely to be together and making noise, he was up and about, but during the day, Edmund’s unconventional sleeping habits became a source of friction.

800px-Vw_bus One day Willie came back with his microbus loaded with carpets. His mother had bought new ones, and we intended to replace our threadbare carpets which had, by all appearance, been there since before the Great Earthquake and Fire.

Edmund, however, was disturbed by the racket. Since my room was right across the corridor from his, I was his first victim. He ripped my door open, poked a rifle in my face and proclaimed his intention to fire point blank at the next sound which emanated from my room. That was at least final proof that Edmund was not a vampire; otherwise, it would have been the end of him, since it was broad daylight at the time.

On the other hand, he could be amiable, even convivial. On numerous occasions he demonstrated to us his cunning as a magician. He was a master of sleight-of-hand, producing cigarettes, coins or playing cards out of nowhere. I have seen this sort of thing often enough as a stage or television performance, but Edmund was standing mere inches away from us, and the effect was none the less convincing

But his real forte was pyrotechnics, with which he would sometimes overwhelm us. On one occasion, Edmund suddenly pulled out what looked like a pistol and fired it at Willie, who happened to be standing at the opposite end of the corridor. A fireball speeded towards Willie’s solar plexus. But instead of hitting him and frying him alive, it disappeared – puff – mere inches short of its apparent target.

Pyrotechnics was also the cause Edmund’s sudden demise…

LOREN: One day in June, 1964, I was downtown and heard an explosion. I read in the paper the next day that one Robert Hammersley had blown himself up in his mother’s apartment in the Tenderloin. The accompanying picture revealed that this Robert Hammersley was in fact Edmund. He had been trying to fill an order for some magic supply, and had blown himself through the wall of his mother’s kitchen and into her sitting room.

GERALD: His mother, who was in the adjacent room, remained miraculously uninjured – fragments of kitchen utensils were embedded deep in the wooden frame of the sofa she had been sitting on – but Edmund himself took the full force and was killed instantly. Upon examination, according to Willie, they discovered the explosion had been so powerful that it shifted the entire building several inches on its foundation.

LOREN: Later Rodney Albin took me to meet Anton La Vey, before he started the Church of Satan. La Vey was trying to write a book about Edmund, and knew more about him than we did. La Vey told us that Edmund had been arrested for sleeping in a coffin in somebody’s basement. He showed us Edmund’s watch from the explosion, and there was still skin clinging to it. LaVey said he had a journal of Edmund’s that kept track of the times he’d drunk blood, and what kind of blood it was.

Eventually I persuaded my girlfriend Kit to leave Stanford, and matriculate to San Francisco State College. We moved together to an apartment on the corner of Clay and Baker streets, one room with a kitchen and bath down the hall. The bed was a Murphy bed that pulled down from the wall by a metal rod that clanged against the metal bed frame when we made love.

With Loren’s departure, there was once again a room for rent at 857 Divisadero, but it wasn’t empty long. Enter radical folksinger Nathan Zakheim, who had been sleeping on a couch in a kosher butcher shop on McAllister Street.



9 thoughts on “The House On Divisadero Street (Part 5 of 6)

  1. Pingback: The House On Divisadero Street (Part 4 of 6) « the pondering pig

  2. Hi, Chris:

    Very interesting memior. I don’t remember any of these folks, but there was a guy in the Haight Ashbury who only wore black, came out at night, and refused to own anything that was made after 1929. His name was Norman Terre and I think he was an artist, but I don’t remember his work. Characters lived in S.F. I wonder if there are any who can afford to live there any more?? How about a piece about Judah Street? The House of the Rising Sun? That was my first experience with a beatnik commune. Cheers, Eva


  3. I find your site fascinating particularly because I grew up between the Haight and the Castro (check my blog and my piece on Harvey Milk and between the Castro and the Haight.)

    I am Peter and Rodney’s first cousin and in my blog I am currently chronicling my family and their migration from New Orleans to San Francisco in 1928. My father had three sisters and a brother and they all came with him to SF. It will all be part of a my One Artist’s reality blog and how art was a defining factor for all of us cousins who spent every summer together in my grandparents House in Camp Meeker on the Russian River. My father has a mural in the Coit Tower and was a part of the North beach artists in the 30’s which included Bernard Zakheim. I’ll keep in the loop.

    Bruce Chesse


    • Too cool, my friend. We are talking Brother Buzz, right? I look forward to reading your blog. For a short description of the Camp Meeker place, check out “Famous People I Never Knew: Jerry Garcia”. Did you know the Farr sisters, Bess and Victoria, by any chance? They are connected in my mind with the Chesse family in some way, but Peter does not know them.


  4. Hi Chris
    I see that you have written your history in an extensive blog which makes my earlier questions redundant. I shall explore your blog, not least as an aide memoir.
    I would still like to know more of Willy. I found a picture of him in which he had put on a lot of weight & didn’t look too happy – but still his kindness shone through. I’m becoming a nostalgic old fart!


    • Ok. Pondering One.
      I found Willy’s obit. in the Chronical. So I guess you don’t need to respond about that.

      As it is – so it should be.

      Just remember this: Old hippies don’t die, they just go to pot.
      We can die, but we can never leave Facebook.
      Ps. Don’t come for the Oympics. The place will be mobbed with crowds slavering for the scent of jock straps. Come after.


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