At the bottom of the most famous street in San Francisco, a tight snake of red brick switchbacks lined with glamorous homes, giant hydrangeas, and a constant stream of tourists, is a cursed apartment that left a string of ruined lives. It’s as if all of the worst of the city rolled downhill and collected, in a kind of psychic puddle, on the site of a Spanish style building that once housed local celebrity, Pat Montandon. The story goes like this: a fortune teller at one of Pat’s famous parties cursed her, activating some kind of malicious energy in the house. Bad stuff started happening – criminals moved upstairs, someone stole her car, a date attacked her, her dog went crazy, she saw and heard things in the apartment, and eventually, her best friend died a mysterious death in Pat’s own bed.
The story of a creepy haunting and a violent death on a famous street, with a famous person, encapsulates the schizophrenia of San Francisco and its weird social milieu. This story takes place during the most exciting time in modern San Francisco – the Summer of Love – but across town and uphill and behind the gauzy protocol of Society with a capital “S.” Pat Montandon is a beautiful socialite who exists on the fringes of that club, with its unwritten rules and unfashionable old world values. There’s something so striking about the massive cultural shift that is happening only a few miles away that never makes it into Pat’s story. She’s got one foot in the 1950’s – throwing parties, making the society pages, dating judges and mayors and shit – and the other in the tumult of the 60’s – twice divorced, employed, living alone, and exploiting the aesthetic trends of the hippies to entertain people and sell books.
Pat thought the curse was over when she wrote her book, The Intruders – but hindsight tells us she was wrong. Her marriage would fail and leave her in an even more vulnerable position – without work, banished from her social circle, mocked in the press. The curse continued past the book she wrote about it, which is uncanny and dreadful to know as you read. It didn’t end at 1000 Lombard, it just took a new form. The demonic house stopped pursuing her, and the CITY GENTRY took up the mantle.
The Number One Hostess on the West Coastess
I have to be honest with you guys – I have mixed feelings about Pat and her story. I’m deeply fascinated by San Francisco in the 1960’s and 1970’s – there were so many massive cultural moments happening here, and so much violent fallout, and Pat’s story is completely divorced from the revolution happening just a few miles away. It was hard for me to care about someone who threw parties with fake Indian gurus when the real thing was happening in the Haight. Socialites – booooorrrriiinnnggg. But the more I thought about Pat’s story, the more I realized that it casts the local noblesse in the role of the boogeyman, which is 100000% my jam. In the end, they’re the ones who really ruined Pat’s life – not a fortune teller.
Despite what Fox News tells you, San Francisco has always been run by a conservative, crusty old money set of social dinosaurs who still worship at the social register and fear gossip above all else. In 1967, when the eyes of the world were focused on Golden Gate Park and the anti-war, free love onslaught of the hippy movement, the Old Guard were still rattling their teacups and talking shit about each other’s hemlines. And I got news for you – they’re still here!
Pat Montandon was part of that set. She was beautiful, fun, and charismatic. She burned through two husbands by the late 1960’s and had become famous for her parties. Esquire Magazine named her “The Number One Hostess on the West Coast.” She hosted a popular local show called “Pat’s Prized Movies” on KGO and wrote a regular column for the San Francisco Examiner. In 1967 she was just publishing her best seller “How to be a Party Girl” and touring to promote her book. She was 35 and twice divorced and now living alone – this was KIND OF A BIG DEAL for a woman in late 1960’s America, even here in the Den of Iniquity.
She seems fun, right?
“She made it into the society pages for throwing flamboyant parties. . . There was a mod party, an astrology party, a come-as-your-favorite-celebrity costume party, a Mexican fiesta. ‘Pat is the best thing that ever happened to this blase city. Now every hostess is on her toes, trying to keep up with her,’ wrote the society editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. ‘Pat Montadon has no peer when it comes to party-planning,’” said the Examiner.
Part of Pat’s genius was serving her friends a little hippy thrill in a safe space. She capitalized on cultural trends to theme her parties – Astrology, Eastern Spiritual Practices, some vague rock and roll aesthetics – but she was in no way part of the ACTUAL revolution that was happening across town. For example, she threw a “Be Your Own Guru” Party, complete with taped invitations about “East Indian Mystique,” but then Ted Kennedy showed up for this joint! In a suit, wearing the love beads someone put around his neck. It was at one of these famous hippy-themed parties that THE CURSE was unleashed.
A slight tone shift from her previous work
Pat lived in an apartment at 1000 Lombard Street. At the time, she was 35 and single. She had a dog she called DOG and she loved her space. In her book, The Intruders, she describes the lovely apartment with its bay windows and sweeping views, old fashioned gardens and quaint surroundings. She was happy and content to listen to brakes screeching down the crooked street and the foghorns in the distance.
In 1967, Pat planned an astrology themed party to celebrate her new book contract. Together with her best friend and assistant, Mary Lou Ward, she designed an event with “crystal gazers, a palmist, and all sorts of cabalistic decorations.” These included panels with Zodiac signs and an “occult orchestra.” She hung fabric everywhere and lit tons of candles. IT’S JEFFERSON AIRPLANE LITE, YOU GUYS. She doesn’t describe what she was wearing, but given the see through blouses and silk pajama style shit she was famous for, I’m imagining an I Dream of Jeannie look.
One of the performers at the party was a tarot card reader, who she describes as a fussy, imperious little bastard. According to Pat, she didn’t bring him a drink in time and he lost his temper and cursed her out in front of the whole party. Sorry, not cursed out, ACTUALLY cursed. Pat writes:
“He didn’t allow me to finish. He bolted to his feet, with his curious retinue following suit, and explained loudly that he’d never been so insulted in his life. Quivering with rage, he directed a stream of abuse at me. He had never been treated so rudely. . . I was an insufferable, ungracious hostess. . . he was leaving, but not before he made certain I would never have any happy moments in that house again. He fixed me with a glare, his face puffed and distorted. I lay a curse upon you and this house. I do not forget, and I do not forgive. Remember that!”
Bad behavior from a vendor! Take it to Yelp!! Zero stars!! BUT SHE TOOK IT SERIOUSLY. She wrote an entire book about how her life went to shit after this. A cascade of terrible things happened to Pat after this ginger asshole threw his curse. She began to feel unsafe and uneasy in her apartment. She heard noises, felt dread, felt a presence. Mysterious fires broke out, her apartment was robbed, criminals seemed to be lurking about at all times. This woman had the cops on speed dial and because she was a beautiful single blonde in 1968, she practically had concierge service from San Francisco’s Finest.
She writes, “Even in the daytime all the cheerfulness had gone. My home had become a dreary place despite its bright colors and the sunlight streaming into the front rooms. My footsteps dragged more and more slowly as I came nearer the house on my way from work, and when I stopped at the gate, I would look up at the gray-colored building high above me, torn with a nameless dread of what waited for me within.”
Her home was burglarized, she got prank calls. Her car was totaled, then vandalized, then stolen. Some kind of gangsters move in upstairs, attracting a less than appealing crowd, as far as our party girl was concerned. One night ACTUAL BLOOD started dripping from her ceiling, bringing police, ambulances, and an eviction notice. Pat managed all of this by installing extra locks and telephones in her unit. She also hired an actual security guard. Dog had a nervous breakdown and had to be sent to live with a friend.
She was abused by various men in her orbit, something she attributed to the curse. She was stalked, harassed, and sexually assaulted by a date. Men gossiped about her in the press. Her career suffered, especially when the book with the cheeky name came out. A rival TV host invited Pat on his show to promote it, then listed the episode in the TV Guide as “From Party Girl to Call Girl: Pat Montandon.” The press sneered, people asked her how much she charged for sex at book signings, made obscene phone calls to her house and sent her hate mail. Someone even mailed her A USED MENSTRUAL PAD. WHAT IS A MORE CURSED OBJECT I ASK YOU.
Pat developed pneumonia, she overdosed on some kind of pills. Before she passed out, she called her brother, a doctor in Hillsborough. He called the cops, who had to break down the door of her apartment to get in because she had so many locks on it. The story made the news, with the hilarious and condescending title “Beauty’s Flu Pill Bout.” After this incident, Montandon married Al Wilsey and moved into his apartment. She said she couldn’t stand to be in hers any longer.
The absolute worst thing was yet to come, however: on June 22, 1969, Pat’s best friend Mary Lou Ward died in her apartment. Mary Lou was staying there while her son was in town, after Pat moved to Al’s house. Sometime in the night, she died lying face down in her bed. A fire burned through the apartment, but according to the coroner, she was dead before it started. There were no drugs and only one glass of wine in her system. The room was locked, as was the house. Investigators eventually attributed the fire to faulty wiring, but they never found a cause of death for Mary Lou.
This story is horrifying! It’s creepy, it’s tragic, and in the context of the curse, it feels supernatural, doesn’t it? The Fire Inspector commented that it looked as though Mary Lou had died of “fright.” Reading Pat’s memoir, you get the feeling that she expected it to be her; that Mary Lou had been sacrificed to satiate the house’s demand for tribute.
Pat’s book offers some more weird details about the house. She alleges that 1000 Lombard was the site of public hangings, which I don’t think is accurate. As far as I can tell, the scaffold for public hangings was also at the top of Russian Hill – all the better for everyone to see it. There’s also mention of a Russian cemetery on the site, but that’s not correct either. I spoke to Beth Winegarner, a local journalist who writes about forgotten San Francisco cemeteries. She told me that there was a Russian cemetery in the area, but it was at the very top of Russian Hill (Jones/Green/TaylorVallejo). 1000 Lombard is at least 5 blocks away from that site.
There are several suicides associated with the property – all women. Decades before Pat moved in, a woman killed herself in the downstairs apartment. Two women Pat knew and loved – Vera and Carolyn, both of whom had spent time with her at 1000 Lombard, killed themselves. Pat clocks a history of divorce, alcoholism, and unhappiness at the site. She also reminds us that all of these women were unmarried, which is a chilling detail that will reassert itself when Pat herself threatens suicide after her divorce.
The House is Out to Get Her/ THE HOUSE IS SOCIETY/ IN THIS ESSAY I WILL
The creepiest, most uncanny part of Pat’s story is what happened after she told it. Kids, that book was FORESHADOWING. When Pat published The Intruders in 1975, she was at the top of her game. She’d lost Mary Lou, but fled to the safety of Al Wilsey. She was out of the cursed apartment, and married to a rich dude, living the high life. She was protected from bitchy TV producers and petty criminals. She was now a fancy lady who held Roundtable lunches in a skyscraper condo, with the riffraff who mailed her used pads far below.
But Pat flew too close to the sun. Even though she’d written books, appeared on TV, produced a regular news column, and hosted important people, she also had a rich husband who got jealous and a contingent of detractors that wanted to see her fail. She got out of that haunted apartment, but right into the cross-hairs of a judgmental, perverse, and scandal obsessed press and petty aristocracy. They took her down HARD. Her fall was spectacular and very public. Like the apartment, it left her beat up and confused. It ruined her mental health and almost cost her her son.
In 1980, Al Wilsey divorced Pat for her best friend, Dede Traina. Pat’s son Sean Wilsey wrote a scorched earth tell all about his life with Pat, Al, and Dede – “Oh, the Glory of it All,” that details Pat’s very public fall from grace and subsequent melt down. Sean writes that Al “saw Mom in the paper, did his wooing, did his marrying, joined San Francisco society, had me, built mom her dream house, gave her everything she asked for, and then left and took it all with him.” He punished her for having a career, telling Sean “If your mother had cared half as much about being a wife as she did being a star, we’d still be married.” They fought an ugly court and press battle, with the media (especially Herb Caen) mocking Pat for how much money she wanted, deriding her writing, and making fun of her for being “liberated” – even though it was clearly Al who dumped her.
Pat was on her own again, ostracized from the cool kids, made a target and an object lesson by the gossip rags, left with no money and no friends. And that story is much worse than what happened to her at 1000 Lombard. Her mental health suffered – Sean describes her as delusional, paranoid, and sometimes suicidal. It’s as if all of the imaginary demons pursuing her before Al made manifest once he dumped her. The curse never went away, it just took a newer, sadder form.
BUT LISTEN – Pat came out OK in the end. She’s still alive! She has a website! She wrote a bunch more books and she seems to be living her best life. I think she and Sean have reconciled, and his book was some righteous fucking revenge. As critical as he was of his own mother, it’s an absolute barn burner on San Francisco ** SOCIETY ** and its Queen Mother, Dede Wilsey.
In case anyone is wondering, our crusty upper crust is still at it. We’ve got a boatload of Trump donors, random Ron “DON’T SAY GAY” DeSantis supporters, neocon war profiteers, and a slate of conservative-lite types looking to can our progressive DA. As this blistering Twitter thread made clear, if the smell of misery drifts past its proscribed peasants’ border, it’s time for PD to crack some heads. These folks can’t risk getting some dooky on their latest pair of Golden Goose or seeing human suffering on their way to the Opera. This town is nowhere near the progressive hell that conservative media wants it to be.
In closing, I still love this story. The cursed apartment of a socialite, complete with a mysterious death and aura of female tragedy, on the most famous and visited street in San Francisco is a perfect gothic melange. It capture’s San Francisco noir so perfectly: beauty and culture with a seamy, violent underbelly. It gives me an opportunity to wax about vanity, fame, misogyny, and the gaping maw of vapidity that is the upper class of American society.
San Francisco socialites have the Devil beat. Never send a fortune teller to do a debutante’s job.
The Intruders by Pat Montandon
Oh, the Glory of it All by Sean Wilsey
Haunted 1000 Lombard Street (with great photos from last time this place was on the market)
The Last Party on Lombard Street (Chron)