Can’t-Miss Estate Sale in Old Firehouse on SF’s Broad StreetAuthor:Mary Jo Bowling
The estate sale this weekend at the old SFFD station on 117 Broad Street is filled with so many rare, valuable, historic and downright kooky collectibles, it will light a fire under your feet. Use that motivation to hot-foot it to this sale, because it’s a can’t-miss opportunity for people who want to own a bit of San Francisco history—or just something that’s truly unique.
Please believe me when I say I’ve never seen anything like Robert and Marilyn Katzman’s home. They moved into the 113-year-old Victorian fire station (home of Engine Company No. 33) after it was decommissioned by the city 33 years ago and, almost accidentally, started collecting fire memorabilia after people started bringing to their door. Perhaps motivated by their environs, they started running San Francisco Fire Engine Tours & Adventures in a vintage Mack fire engine they acquired. Fast forward to present day, and on the brink of retirement, they are ready to hang up their fire hats (although they’ll keep running the tour business), sell off their vast collection of collections and start anew living the simple life near Lake Merced.
It’s not the conventional thing to have an estate sale while you are still living—most leave the task to their heirs—but after spending the morning combing through the amazing array of things the pair has amassed over the years, hearing their colorful stories and being treated to a tap dance performance by Marilyn, I don’t think the couple is bound by convention. After all, Robert slid down this fire pole to answer the door when I rang the bell.
It’s hard to decide where to start, but let’s begin with the fire stuff. The Katzman collection of fire memorabilia is wide-ranging to say the least. You’ll find contemporary call boxes, antique call stands, vintage firemen uniforms and hats, as well as kiddie fire-related games and books. Part museum, a little bit hardware store and a dash of Willy Wonka—but it’s all interesting.
In the history category, you’ll find things that really shine. The Katzmans’ are true connoisseurs in this department, and I learned more about SFFD legend and lore during my visit than I ever imagined I would know. For example: During the Christmas seasons of 1948 and 1949, the city firemen had elaborate station decorating contests. The efforts were amazing—Number 33, now the Katzman residence, was transformed into a huge chimney—and documented by a photographer. The tradition ended abruptly when voters passed a measure unfavorable to SFFD salaries. Years later, the couple bought the entire set and some will be for sale here.
In addition to the history, the hoses and the exstinguishers, you’ll find a bonanza of other collectibles.
For example, Robert loves board games. Over the years he’s collected what looks to be hundreds, from the old favorites the the obscure. Many will be for sale this weekend. The couple also loves box cameras, photos and paintings of the Golden Gate Bridge and Giants memorabilia.
But the items that made me quiver where the old San Francisco street signs (Robert has loads black-and-white metal signs that were abandoned after city guidelines changed) and vintage bus scrolls (before MUNI had the digital read-outs, they used paper scrolls to let riders know where the bus was headed). The decorating possibilites are endless.
Finally, there are two covetable pieces of art: a blown-up vintage photo of men in drag (it hung in the Embarcadero Center just after it opened) and a giant clown poster (it had to be part of a circus).
“I’m attracted to collecting things that are vanishing. I felt the need to preserve them,” says Robert. “We had hoped to find someone who would buy it all, but that didn’t happen.”
No matter, Katzmans. You are going to make a lot of hunters happy this weekend.
The sale, staged by Quailty First Estate Sales, runs until 5 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday.
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