Story and photos Murray Schneider
In anticipation of ringing in 2015, four Glen Park neighbors gave Penny Lane a New Year’s makeover.
On December 13, each donned work clothes, pulled on leather gloves and spent the morning weeding Glen Park’s signature easement.
A former nineteenth century carriage path, rutted and bucolic Penny Lane is sandwiched between Surrey and Sussex Streets.
Juggling pruning shears and hand clippers, Adam King, Paul Matalucci, Will Sousae and Glen Park Association president, Michael Rice pruned invading Himalayan blackberry and sage for several hours, laying waste to the encroaching intruders that obstructed recently installed box steps.
Shovels, loppers, trowels, and debris bags surrounded the men. While they worked, dog walkers skirted them and a jogger dodged thorns protruding from scattered blackberry limbs.
The box steps, not even one year old, were put in place to mitigate water runoff. Since their installation, though, they’d taken a beating. December heavy rains took an additional toll.
Adam King, who lives on Diamond Street and who had taken the lead in earlier Penny Lane restoration efforts, tapped a toe on one pockmarked step.
“This spring we’re going to swap out washed out and decomposed granite for pea gravel,” said King, who is an architect for BAR Architects. “We’ll see if the pea gravel proves more stable.”
Behind him, Matalucci and Rice moved among blackberry branches that now littered the alley. Penny Lane doglegs down to Surrey Street. By noon a Saturday garage sale had gathered momentum at the house to their immediate left. Used paperbacks and kitchen utensils weren’t going begging, as neighbors milled around tables crowded with bargains.
Both Rice and Matalucci live on the frontiers of Glen Park: Rice where Sussex Street butts up against Elk Street and Matalucci on Diamond Heights’ nosebleed highlands. Matalucci is carrying major water in planning a Diamond Heights Boulevard median beautification project that will stretch from Duncan Street to Berkeley Way.
Both men feel a proprietary interest in preserving Penny Lanes charms.
“My favorite childhood memories are of playing in garden parks. Everything was fragrant, and I made up stories and hid secret things of no value except to me,” said Matalucci, who grew up in Uxbridge, a town just outside London, England. “On Penny Lane, I like to think that we’re creating not only a beautiful quiet space for the neighborhood, we’re also creating a place to explore away from home and school that’s safe from traffic where children can make up stories of their own.”
Matalucci, who is president of Wordwright Communications, Inc, grew up on a Royal Air Force Base where Winston Churchill had a bunker, and his family house was a half-mile from where Churchill directed war operations.
“My childhood was a Beatrix Potter and A.A. Milne idyll. On the path to school, there were ruined home and one of my earliest plant memories was finding lupine blooming among the rubble from someone’s left-behind garden,” he said. “Closer to school I crossed a 70-acre park called Hillingdon with centuries-old oaks. If there were any way to create that kind of magical experience for children in San Francisco, I would leap tall buildings to make it possible.”
Only San Francisco-born Will Sousae lives close to Adam King. Sousae moved to Sussex Street three years ago.
It didn’t take him long to succumb to the lane’s instrinsic allure.
“I love Penny Lane, walking along it and meeting neighbors,” he said, possibly with images of twenty-first century Becky Thatchers and Tom Sawyers frolicking along its sequestered byway. “I love the neighborhood and helping out.”
He stood a bit off the path, next to Clara Basile’s house, nearly swallowed by a thicket of blackberry. He wielded his lopper, executing precise cuts.
Across the path, Rice and Matalluci bellied up to more blackberry. They stood almost ankle deep in sheared sword fern and black currant.
King looked at his crew, surveying their endeavors.
“The help from these guys was terrific,” he said. “They cleared the overgrowth that blocked the pathway and pulled the weeds that had sprung up with the rains.”
In his turn, Will Sousae, the neophyte among the quartet, stopped for the moment and took in the treasure that’s Penny Lane.
“I’m never leaving,” he said
After being transformed by its magic, why would anyone?