The Fortress on the Hill

Once, she partied with the Rolling Stones. Now, shunned by family and sued by friends, aging eccentric Arden Van Upp has retreated to her mansion.

Throughout the late 1970s and all of the 1980s, the mountain of legal paperwork grew. Court reporters typed up motions for continuances, arbitration conferences, motions granted and denied, declarations, complaints, and stipulations to interlocutory judgments.

Badgley's attorney, David Birenbaum, entertained bored court clerks with his expansive vocabulary, tossing out terms like subterfuge, poppycock, horsefeathers, bilge water, hokum, the tooth fairy, and "kaleidoscopic madness."

"The Bourn Mansion became a sort of hotel of convenience for a conglomeration of transient roomers and boarders, with Ms. Van Upp as the ruling matriarch," Birenbaum claimed. "The defendant has dipped deep into a sewer of desperation in concocting her story of stolen records as a diversionary gambit."

In between court appearances and filing appeals, Van Upp kept renting her apartments and throwing parties. A Bourn Mansion houseboy named Steve Dobbins, now a local theatrical producer, staged a version of Tom Stoppard's play The Real Inspector Hound inside the home.

Badgley, in turn, continued his medical practice, and opened a business called the Human Energy Church, which published books and sponsored seminars on homeopathic cures for AIDS.

On March 19, 1992, 19 years after the pair bought the Bourn Mansion, a judge ruled against Van Upp, and singled out her accounting methods as "a vague hodgepodge with no proof of accuracy or reliable evidence of linking to the property in question."

Badgley was awarded $590,557.50, plus $52,500 in attorney fees.
George Rowan and others familiar with the case say that Badgley ultimately did sell his interest in the building to Van Upp. But she was forced to declare bankruptcy, sell one of her properties, and refinance two others to pay off the bills -- her payments to Badgley, another $300,000 to her attorneys, and over $100,000 she owed to the city.

Badgley now lives in Eureka, Calif. Neither Van Upp nor Badgley responded to requests for interviews for this article. As of December 1998, Van Upp's bankruptcy case was still pending.

For Van Upp, the fight over the Bourn Mansion has been just one of many legal problems.

Dr. Robert Horan and Dr. Jan Lazlo sit in the neon-lit lounge of the Holiday Inn on Van Ness. When the waitress takes their order for coffee, they wink at her and ask that they not be disturbed, unless it's by beautiful women.

Handsome and stocky, the 48-year-old Horan wears a dark suit and tie. Lazlo is 72 and retired, dapper in a blue newsboy cap, blue sweater, and a necktie sporting 49ers logos. He walks with a cane from a recent mugging on BART.

The two men socialized with Arden Van Upp from the mid-1980s through 1994. They attended her dinner parties in Pacific Heights, and Horan lived in one of her apartments. They have a few words to say about her.

"I'd like to strangle her," says Lazlo in his Transylvanian accent.
"She needs a checkup from the neck up," says Horan.
When they met her in 1983, Van Upp looked to still be living in the 1960s, with long straight hair and a hippie dress. She was chatty, dropped names, and seemed to be some sort of society columnist. Upon meeting the doctors, she asked them how much money they made. Horan told her he was a chiropractor, his clients were the 49ers and the Oakland A's, and he owned racehorses. Lazlo described his youth in a Siberian camp, and his experiences training jungle cats for the Ringling Bros. circus. He worked as the physical therapist for the jockeys at Bay Meadows. Van Upp invited the two men to dinner parties at the Bourn Mansion.

Both remember the dinners were excellent, the wines, champagne, and guests carefully chosen. Lazlo would roll up his sleeve and show off the scar where a Bengal tiger had chomped on his arm. Later in the evenings, people would go joy riding in Sid Silverberg's Rolls-Royce.

"It was the San Francisco 'in' crowd," says Horan. "Through her parties, I met lots of ladies." Both nod and sip their coffee. Those were the days.

But as they got to know Van Upp better, they noticed traits that seemed peculiar for a woman who owned a few million dollars' worth of real estate. Van Upp didn't tell many people that she was a landlord. Much of her time seemed to be spent circulating at parties, sifting through people to find wealth. Nobody ever saw her drink or use drugs. She never had a boyfriend. She almost always took public transit. She never used credit cards, and never seemed to have any cash on hand. She attended free wine-and-cheese receptions almost every day. If someone took her to lunch, she would steal the sugar packets.

Horan turns the Holiday Inn's sugar caddy over in his hand, and mimes stuffing the packets into his coat pocket. "I've seen her do this before!" he laughs. "Like a squirrel, hoarding the nuts."

Van Upp talked about her lengthy court battle with Badgley. Horan watched her borrow $30,000 from her mother to pay attorneys, so they wouldn't pull out of the case.

In 1994 Van Upp rented Horan an apartment in her building on Steiner, a top-floor unit on the Pacific Heights hill, with a great view of the bay. One afternoon he walked out onto his balcony, leaned on the railing, and it collapsed. He fell 28 feet into the weeds. Horan filed a lawsuit against Van Upp, claiming two herniated discs, numbness, and blurred vision.

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