Room with a Few

A young San Franciscan’s dream: A room in a nice house, affordable rent, and a built-in social network.

We enter beneath a lounging tiger in the jungle, painted on the house's facade in the '70s, and ascend the staircase to the common living area. There are also three bedrooms on this floor, three more up the spiral orange staircase, and one basement lair. All are uniquely shaped and decorated, and the upstairs rooms (once attic space) have dramatically arched ceilings. The living room is bright and spacious, with enormous south-facing sliding-glass doors. They open to a balcony that overlooks Sutro Tower and Cole Valley Dog Park.

Scattered throughout the house are relics of roommates past. Their abundant chairs — some chic and modern, some puffy and antique — ensure nobody goes without a seat. Their games — Jenga, Clue, Scrabble, and more — are stacked neatly beneath a large flatscreen television in the corner. Their art and their naked Barbie dolls and their costumes and even a giant painting that they smashed their painted naked bodies against adorn the walls.

A glittery blue leotard — rumored to have once belonged to JonBenet Ramsey but actually contributed by a performance artist housemate — hangs regally from a curtain rod. Above it, an industrial-looking red beam traces the room's upper perimeter, often becoming an object for daredevils to climb on and jump from at parties. A message to those people from the Danlord: Stop it.

Chris Keane, Matt Fink, Dan Nazarian, Amy Benziger, and Christine Holpuch are beginning to bond.
Jen Siska
Chris Keane, Matt Fink, Dan Nazarian, Amy Benziger, and Christine Holpuch are beginning to bond.
Nico, the Tiger House Siberian husky.
Sam Heller
Nico, the Tiger House Siberian husky.

A liquor bar that roommates constructed from shattered glass and bright green wood resides in a corner and became very popular at recent theme parties — a no-pants party, a no-shirt party, and an aprons-only party. Tentatively planned for the future are a no-talking party, a blackout party (no lights — an experiment in sensory deprivation), and a Rubik's Cube party, where people wear clothing of different solid colors, then strip and exchange. The Danlord demands that his parties are innovative and boundary-stretching. They all seem to exhibit a bi-curious, nudity-driven, Burning Man mentality. "Why have a regular house party," he says, "when you've got all these people at your mercy?"

It's important to note that without the initiative of the Danlord, a tall and blond social sovereign, the Tiger House would not even exist. With buddies, he found the place and won a bidding war for it, originally throwing down $4,200 in total rent. Two years ago, when the owners put it up for sale, the Danlord's parents — who live in L.A. and work in real estate — bought the place. Now rent ranges from about $700 to $800 per person, including all utilities.

Under the Danlord, there is just one Tiger House rule: No friends of friends can move in. Too much drama. Also, part of the Tiger House mission is to create an expansive social web by bringing in new people with their own social circles. A portion of that web can be viewed on Facebook.com, where a group called "I live(d) in the Tiger House" recently sprang up.

In a big city — even one as affable as San Francisco — it's not always easy to become part of a social network, much less make true friends. But having a solid group of people to live with can sometimes fill that initial void. A study of Craigslist ads for housemates turns up hundreds of people searching for a home rather than simply a house to share. The beauty of shared living, they say, isn't just about meeting financial needs in an expensive city. It's about a feeling of comfort and camaraderie in a shared space that housemates respect.

Through interviews with a multitude of people looking to live with a group of soulful strangers, SF Weekly learned there are many hurdles in San Francisco. Some people living in some shared apartments and homes require that you be a vegan. Or an artist. Or a lesbian. Others underhandedly charge some applicants more than their fair share of rent, and in extreme cases, ask the renter to have sex with other housemates. Some put candidates through multiple rounds of interviews and reject them after as many as three meetings.

In the Mission, 16-person artist collective Million Fishes at 2501 Bryant describes the process for getting accepted as "rigorous." Temporary subletter Daniel De Bonis, recently found working on his computer in the downstairs gallery, said he wasn't even going to try for a fulltime spot.

Then there are the co-ops. Like the old Barrington Hall in Berkeley, San Francisco has its share of communist-style living spaces, and you can bet they're not easy to penetrate. Although SF Weekly stumbled on one especially interesting commune where people share everything, including clothes, that house came to a shared decision that it didn't want its name or location published. Good luck trying to live there.

In Potrero Hill, there are a number of lofts where artists live and work together, relying on each other for inspiration. One bad seed can completely destroy a vibe, says Peter Samuels, a photographer who lived in an artists' complex on Florida Street.

Though it's not a collective or a co-op, the vibe of Tiger House is equally delicate. To get in, you have to be supercool. Unlike race or religion or having children, that's a trait for which there are no antidiscrimination laws.

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