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Berkeley California

House falling down a hill, slowly for now...

I got a room in a house in Berkeley California, up in the rich north hills, for $200 per month. That was cheap, for any kind of apartment, in Berkeley or anywhere else in the Bay Area in 1998.

I'd been living in men's shelters for a couple of months, having arrived earlier in the summer from the Pacific Northwest.

I had gotten a job at a bakery just recently. H_, my boss, told me that he had just sold a house up on the hill; that there was a room available; and that he'd introduce me to the new owner. He did so, helping me to find the only private space that I could afford.

In 1964, the year that the house was completed, it had been featured in a popular "lifestyle" monthly that was (and is) called Sunset Magazine. The cinder blocks of the lower level were always ugly; but the upper floor, of glass and dark wood, had been attractive. When I moved in, it was obviously falling down the hill.

There was a small ravine on the northern border of the property, and soil under the house had been subsiding in that direction. There was a break in the concrete, a split across the basement floor, and the front corner of the north end of the house was about a foot-and-a-half lower than the south end.

My bedroom was at the south side of the house, in the lower, concrete-block part. It was a basement room, but, on a hill, it had nearly a full-height front wall to the street, and a large window looking over the San Francisco Bay.

I cleared the space of the hoard of possessions that H_ had put into storage there — except for a desk that he'd buried within it. In the far back righthand side (looking from the street) of my room was a triangle of level space that was just big enough for that desk, and big enough for its chair to sit and scoot backward a fair bit. To the left of just enough room for the desk and its chair was the crack — and from there the concrete was tilted leftward, in one single slab that constituted about 75% of the area of the foundation.

By the time it reached the wall of my room — a leaning arm's reach and a bed's-width away from the chair at the desk — the floor's level was about five inches lower.

About a quarter-mile uphill from the property was the Hayward fault, one of the most dangerous in the world.