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.

"If you looked at a videotape of it, it probably looks humorous, but I could have been killed," Horan says.

When his attorneys tried to notify Van Upp that she was being taken to court, they ran into a problem. She seemed to vanish off the face of the Earth.

Horan's lawyers mailed four letters to Van Upp's house, and left numerous phone messages. A private investigator tried at least 47 times to serve her with court papers at the mansion. Although it appeared she was living in the house, she never answered the door or responded to any of the letters or phone calls.

"She's very slippery," says Jessica Rudin, a member of Horan's legal team at the time. "I'd never had such a hard time serving somebody. I did everything I possibly could to locate the woman."

Van Upp didn't show for her appointed court date, so the court awarded Horan $104,629.50. Only then did Van Upp write the judge a letter, asking that the judgment be set aside. Van Upp claimed the award was no good because, as she typed in all caps, SHE HAD NEVER BEEN SERVED.

The court dismissed the case. Horan was furious. His attorneys resigned. In 1998, four years after the accident, Horan offered to settle with Van Upp for $5,000, and her attorneys accepted. Horan says he tried to call her after it was over, but she hung up on him.

The "in" crowd went their separate ways. Van Upp focused on her party referral service, where for $50 a year customers are faxed a weekly list of free or nearly free parties and events in the Bay Area. She still went to functions almost every night, but no longer hosted parties. Every time a visitor knocked, a curtain parted on the top floor, and someone looked out to see who it was.

"I don't hate Arden," Horan says. "It seems like she's not a happy person. It's almost like she's gone underground."

Caselli Street winds through the hills between Twin Peaks and the Castro District, lined with orderly rows of residential homes. Spoiling this view, as it has for years, is a broken-down, abandoned Victorian building. Until this year, 58 Caselli was another of Arden Van Upp's properties. It is her biggest real estate disaster.

The windows and front door are boarded up. The second floor's wall has been ripped away, and hoses, boards, and pipes end in midair. The back yard and basement are filled with crumbling bricks, a busted toilet, piles of wood and garbage. Amid all the rubbish, a clock ticks away on a nail, set to the current time.

"You see Safeway shopping carts in front," says a neighbor named Robert, whose mother lives next door. "Homeless people go in there when it's cold."

Robert says nobody has lived in the house for at least six years. He considered buying the property, but it was too tangled up in the courts. The neighbors have filed numerous complaints about the deserted structure, but as Robert says, "What good does that do?"

This building made its debut in court files in 1984, when the city and county first declared it a public nuisance. The legal owner, Tammy Van Upp, aka Tammy Manouchehri-Zadeh, was ordered to either repair or demolish it. But she never showed up in court. Sheriff Michael Hennessey issued a bench warrant for her arrest. Five years later, Tammy surfaced and told the court she had been living abroad, and thought her mother was taking care of the property. She then transferred the deed on the building to one "Dee Rich." City attorneys were confused. Who was Dee Rich?

Among her other quirky personality traits, Arden Van Upp is prone to sign different names to different pieces of paper. She is known to the courts, banks, and various government agencies as Arden Van Upp, Dee Rich, D. Rich, Marilyn Dee Rich, Arden Von Driska, Arden Dee Rich, Arden Dee Van Upp, Rosalind Rich (her sister's name), Myrna Rich (her other sister's name), Dee Van Upp, Arden Rich, Dee El Malik, Arden El Malik, Mrs. Sam Sloan, Mabel Warwick, and, in a nod to the other gender, Lester Barney.

Arden Van Upp assured the court she would fix the code violations, but no improvements were ever made. A later inspection found even more violations, including an illegal swimming pool and extra dwelling unit. Van Upp argued that she had tried to renovate the property, but then filed Chapter 11, which blocked further legal action against her. Her legal sidestepping did not sit well with the city. A demolition permit was issued for a second building at the rear of the property, and it was torn down.

Six more years went by, and after Van Upp again refused to appear in court, she was penalized $101,481.04. A letter arrived from Van Upp. She again moved to set the judgment aside because she was never served. Unbelievably, the case was dismissed.

In June of 1998, Carlos Castro of Ace Construction says he and a partner purchased 58 Caselli. They paid $430,000 to Van Upp's attorneys, who had assumed ownership. The new owners inspected their purchase. The roof was caved in. The interior was so gutted that bums and squatters were forced to sleep in the back yard. According to Castro, the building once operated as a male cabaret, back in the late '60s.

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