Noe Doubt

I didn’t expect to be someone who lived in Noe Valley, much less a person who owned in Noe. Until I moved here, I didn’t really get the appeal of the neighborhood. It doesn’t have the personality of the Castro, the history of the Haight, or the style of the Mission (lumberjack) or the Marina (lululemon). Instead, Noe seems best known as a place for kids. In our Bikes of San Francisco poster, a tricycle represents Noe Valley. More recently, Noe’s become known as a neighborhood of tech workers, since it’s close to many tech company shuttles to the South Bay. But I don’t have kids and I don’t work for a tech firm.

Rainbow over 24th Street

Noe Valley’s main commercial drag, 24th Street, didn’t have the destination restaurants or stores that give other neighborhoods a sense of place. There are some decent stores, but many — Rabat, Ambiance, Plumpjack — are local chains. Few are unique to Noe Valley. Until Contigo opened, 24th was a wasteland for restaurants. The better neighborhood restaurants, like Incanto and La Ciccia, were farther down Church Street.

Despite Noe’s family reputation, the area is also surprisingly geriatric. Although the old-timers are probably one reason why the neighborhood is such a quiet place to live, they may also explain why Noe can be so conservative. Until a few years ago, one storefront on 24th street was a shrine to Republicans with Reagan and even Nixon memorabilia posted on the walls and windows. The signs in the front windows referred to the neighborhood as “Looney Valley.” Army Street was renamed Cesar Chavez Street back in 1995, but there’s still a house on Cesar Chavez with a sign that says, “It’ll always be Army Street.” On our block, a neighbor’s truck proudly displays his ultra-conservative views, and when he’s really riled up, like when Prop 8 was overturned in August 2010, he writes ugly statements on his back windshield. That’s not something I’m used to dealing with in SF.

It wasn’t until we’d moved to Oakland that I began to appreciate Noe Valley. I liked that it didn’t have the noisy nightlife of the Castro or the tourist-crush of the Haight. It wasn’t as cool as the Mission or as cheap as the Richmond, but it had all the benefits of city living: real transit, not just commuter lines; corner markets that were open late; and people out on the sidewalks. Oakland had felt so spread out, but from Noe, we could walk to the Castro, the Mission, Bernal Heights or Glen Park.

Still, I didn’t really accept that I liked living in Noe Valley until we started looking to buy a place and soon realized that we might not be able to afford to stay here. After going to open houses in other areas of the City, I began to appreciate little things about Noe: like how our corner market sells organic milk, local cheese and Green Forest paper products (along with more typical corner market fare like malt liquor and Playboy). I liked the neighborhood feel I’d seen here and I remembered how when an ambulance came for our upstairs neighbor a year ago, people came over from the coffee shop and the restaurant across the street to see if she was OK (she was). And as crummy as the J Church MUNI line is, I like knowing I can easily get home on BART when MUNI grinds to a halt. And I love that we get the chance to take the old F Line cars at times. It feels like a special treat of living in this part of town.

Of course just as I’ve finally begun to come to terms with being a Noe Valley resident, some say that our new home isn’t really in Noe Valley. Some say we’ve bought in “Baja Noe,” while others say it’s “La Lengua,” a name coined by a local website for the tongue-shaped region between Noe, Bernal Heights and the Mission. Maybe Noe’s conservatism is rubbing off on me because when I hear this I just shrug and think, it’ll always be Noe to me.

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