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.

"The lady's one of the most honorable people I've dealt in business with," Rowan says. "She keeps everything in nice shape. The woman has been maligned. I wouldn't be surprised when you visited them, if the tenants dumped garbage everywhere. A tenant never sees a mouse, it's always a rat."

Rats and garbage aside, Van Upp's biggest and most emotional legal battle isn't with the city, her tenants, or her business partners. Her toughest adversaries are people she's known nearly 60 years -- her own family.

On Christmas Eve 1994, a commotion was in progress at 2550 Webster. Police and sheriff's patrol cars were parked outside. A hook-and-ladder truck from the Fire Department had extended its ladder to an upper-story window of the Bourn Mansion. The courts were once again trying to serve Arden Van Upp. This time, she was accused of hiding her 89-year-old mother.

When the front door was opened, and Van Upp was approached by a process server, she claimed she was her sister Myrna. Police officers and firemen were wandering about the mansion, gawking at the murals and antiques, and admiring the vintage Chevy Camaro in the garage, with the ceiling caved in on it.

"It was like a Mack Sennett comedy," Neel Rich says. "It's unbelievable."
Van Upp was fighting her brother and sister over the estate and medical care of their mother, Doris. Three weeks earlier, Arden had gotten fed up with the process, put Doris in a car, and driven her to San Francisco. On that Christmas Eve, Arden's siblings were trying to find out if Doris was being kept at the Bourn Mansion.

Relations between the Rich siblings first deteriorated when Neel, a retired engineer and Arden's older brother, started looking into the specifics of his mother's estate. Doris owned the family's 14 rental units in Vallejo and Benicia, worth at least $1.5 million, and she indicated she wanted to readjust her will. Neel, Myrna, and Arden visited an attorney, to begin assessing the family legacy. They say they came upon an ugly realization. The way Arden was able to buy San Francisco real estate on a public nurse's salary, pay her many sets of attorneys, and live the life to which she was accustomed was by using her mother's money. The Riches say Arden took almost $700,000.

"My sister would come over with blank checkbooks, and my mother would sign them all," explains Myrna. "That happened several times. My sister was an R.N. She knew that my mother was having trouble remembering. I don't understand. We weren't raised to be dishonest with money."

Myrna asked her mother why she loaned Arden so much money.
"I felt sorry for her," Doris answered. "It's because nobody likes her."
Neel and Myrna quickly started the long process of sorting out all their mother's finances. But Christmas 1994 was a tough one. Doris Rich was still missing.

A court order was issued for Arden Van Upp to relinquish her mother. The following month, Solano County court investigator Beth Rhea knocked on the door of 2550 Webster. Arden was to meet her there and release Doris. There was no sign of either Arden or Mrs. Rich, but Van Upp's daughter Tammy let Rhea into the building.

Rhea noticed immediately that the first floor was very dark and cold. Extension cords were running everywhere. She went up the stairs to the upper-story room where Doris had apparently been staying the past several weeks. In the room was a simple bed, a chair, a stinky cat box, and newspapers on the floor.

"There was a leftover bowl of food from supper the night before," Rhea remembers. "And the cat box. I mean, I have cats too, but this was gross. Undergarments stained with feces, hanging on the fire grate. There was no way to get up and down. People had to bring her food up the stairs. It was not a real safe place for her."

Arden Van Upp still refused to divulge the whereabouts of her mother, so on Jan. 10 she was arrested and deposited in the Solano County Jail. She was released three days later, when Doris Rich was discovered in an Alameda hospital.

Both Neel and Myrna Rich now say the furor over their mother has quieted down. Doris Rich is receiving medical care. Her estate is now in order. Arden is allowed to visit her. But everybody knows this is only a break in the action.

"After she passes away, it's gonna be another big mess," says Myrna.
"Oh, we go to court all the time!" Neel says cheerfully.
Badgley and Van Upp have each spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, declared bankruptcy, and burned through several sets of attorneys in their real estate partnership-turned-death match.

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. She never used credit cards, and never seemed to have any cash on hand. If someone took her to lunch, she would steal the sugar packets.

"She's your classic, basic slumlord," says the maintenance man. "She likes to think of herself as not normal. It gives her license to be eccentric, to be inconsiderate, uncaring, and complain about how the world is treating her."

"She keeps everything in nice shape," Rowan says. "The woman has been maligned. I wouldn't be surprised when you visited them, if the tenants dumped garbage everywhere.

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