Our piece on 1001 California resurrected the name Vincent Friia, a flamboyant fixture of a bygone era in San Francisco (and its real estate). A reader recollects (slightly edited for republication):

Whatever happened to Vincent Friia?

Indeed! For those who have lived in this city for less than ten years, you cannot imagine what a different place used to be. Vincent Friia’s parties and other “activities” are part of what was a city you would not recognize.

Melvin Belli running naked from his mansion (outer Broadway) firing a pistol at his wife who hosted a real estate show for the highest priced properties on television, Noe Valley was an affordable neighborhood that a school teacher could buy a home in. The Castro and Soma were actually neighborhoods that had REAL nightlife with clubs staying open till 7am, not places where homes could be flipped and condos could have an “edge”.

What I miss most is that it was a city that wanted to have fun, instead of a city that produces another IPO or Dwell Victorians. I am 43 years old, but am really feeling nostalgic for a city that I cannot even describe to people who move here now. Thank goodness I bought my home when this city was affordable (and it WAS!).

And speaking of affordable San Francisco real estate, from a 1995 Herb Caen column (in which Friia is referenced earlier in the piece):

At 1 a.m. Sunday, Beth (Mrs. Jim) Dunbar handed $3 to a Gate Bridge tollkeeper, who let out a noisy yawn. “Am I keeping you up?” inquired Beth. “No,” said the guardian of the gate, “but my mortgage is.”

And in terms of actually answering the question of whatever happened to Vincent Friia, unfortunately we don’t have the scoop (but perhaps a plugged-in reader or two might).

27 thoughts on “When Friia Ruled San Francisco Real Estate (A Reader’s Recollection)”
  1. Oh, I love this genre, its a classic. “When I moved here everything was great, then all these other people came in and ruined it”. Whatever, the only constant in life is change.
    I bet people were saying the same thing 20 years ago, and they’ll be doing it 20 years from now. Maybe in twenty years I’ll be making the same complaint. Cities are vibrant, living things. Fifty years ago the mission was an Irish neighborhood, bohemians lived in russian hill and the counter culture hadn’t happened yet. Don’t fight change, its part of living in the city, and that’s not going to change.
    But, if you want to feel and seem old, complain about how much better things used to be.

  2. God rest his soul, Vincent Friia past away years ago. He started as a salesperson (circa 1978) with a small broker, Fred Braun on Union Street. They were rumored to have constantly fought over clients so Friia departed and joined a firm at Grammery Towers on Nob Hill. The fighting continued there too.
    Friia then formed his own operation 1980’s and befriended and fed stories to Herb Caen. He gained access to the SF Social Circle attending most parties. Whether questionable ethics or jealousy over the volume of business he did , he was controversial amongst fellow real estaters.
    He faded from the real estate scene in the 1990’s .

    1. Vincente, lived in Los Gatos @ 87 Broadway Avenue. At the time he was a beautician and had a friend Alex Hart Scion of Hart’s Department, who I believe, convinced him to go into Real Estate (Van Vleck Real Estate) which he did. Between his old clientele and Alex’s connections he flourished. After which, he migrated to SF.

  3. We had it just fine here until those pesky missionaries arrived in 1763. Totally killed off the nightlife.

  4. the only constant in life is change
    Stephen wins the Trite Challenge of the day.
    Change can be good and bad. That the city’s sidewalks are no longer acceptable parking places for cars is a step in the right direction. But anyone who has been here 10 years or more can explain the declining lack of vibrancy in the city to the new folk. Clearly, the arrivistes are those who don’t know what they missed.

  5. By and large, the people in my hood fighting change – ANY AND ALL change – are the baby boomers who have lived here for 20 + years.
    The only people who are trying to do anything new in this city are the more recent transplants.

  6. Herb Caen reported that when he moved here in the 1930’s, old timers said that the real San Francisco disappeared with the 1906 earthquake.
    Prior to that, I am sure there were folks who felt like the gold rush ruined their little peaceful paradise.
    I am the same age as the poster quoted in this article and moved to SF at the same time. It certainly wasn’t affordable to me then, being that I was right out of college and broke. The antics of Melvin Belli were newspapers stories, not experiences that enhanced my life, although it was cool to live in a place where things happened, having come from a small town.
    What I recall from 22 years ago was an AIDS epidemic with scores of obituaries every week of the young men who died, men in their 30’s and 40’s walking through the Castro looking like corpses and covered with KS lesions. Not exactly a party atmosphere that I would like to return to.
    Everyone I met seemed to be shell shocked dealing with the epidemic, having lost dozens of friends and fearing for their own health. I remember it as a very dark time for the city.

  7. As the article possted earlier mentions, the surge of those earning over 200k vs. loosing those making less than 100k cannot help but change the city. I may be in part of the group that is growing, but can anyone doubt that living in a city that will be mostly inhabited by childless 30-something professionals earning 200k is interesting? It must have been cheaper then since the city had so many more families and middle class as the article goes on to say.
    I was too young to really understand San Francisco in the 70’s, but nobody could not deny that it was not an interesting place. Part of what makes a city real is when you still have to live with people who are different than yourself. I fail to understand what is so “urban” about living in a highrise 750k one bedroom condo high above actual city streetlife below? Being connected to the “working class” of the city does not mean visiting Eco Resorts and carrying back 20 dollar mushrooms from the Ferry Building.

  8. There are plenty of real people in The City, I run into them every day. Go to the Alemany or Civic Center Farmer’s Market instead of the Yuppie market at The Ferry Building, go get some Pho on Larkin or BBQ on San Bruno instead of the latest $50/plate joint in the Marina.
    Unless I am mistaken, they still shake their booty until the break of dawn (and beyond) at the End Up and I am sure there is still a thriving underground Rave scene. It might be a tiny bit tougher to be a starving student, but just like when I first moved here, doubling or tripling up in a big rent controlled apartment makes it all quite feasible.
    The City still has plenty of life, it is just the complaining middle aged folks nostalgic for their lost youth, who do not.

  9. “thriving underground Rave scene”
    Now YOU are showing your age. I think Oakland has more of a “thriving scene” for music than some middle aged SOMA condo hipsters attending nostalgic Rave parties.

  10. Melvin Belli lived at 2950 Broadway before his divorce in 1988. I think about that every time I see one of the ‘Gold Coast’ houses for sale. That, maybe more than anything, is an indication of change since then. It’s unlikely he’d be living there in the current dynamic. He was rich, but not by the standards of the people who live there now.

  11. Yes Vincent passed away and was both a character and an amazing realtor. He was making over a million dollars year when that was unheard of and was considered one of the only high end brokers to work with. I worked with Vincent in the 80’s as his top producing agent out of about 30 of us – learned a great deal both in his knowledge of the Bay area, his real estate expertise and his passion for entertaining. I stayed both at his house in Hawaii and at Stinson Beach. He was disliked by a lot of the agents back then and sometimes was more than competitive but that’s the nature of the business. Rest in Peace Vincent.

  12. Question to long term SF residents (read > 10 years)
    Was San Francisco really that much of a happy awesome and yet affordable party town ? If that is indeed the case, I feel like I missed out on it, since I got here exactly 9 years ago 🙁
    Or is it more like the reader is just trying to be clever and taking a crack at creating writing ?
    I hope a long term san francisco resident can either confirm (or deny) what the reader claims the city was like 10 year ago…
    thanks SS peeps !

  13. Chad-
    I left SF 11 years ago. Unless there was a one year magic window in 1999, the world portrayed by the author did not quite exist. Was it cheaper? Sure. Did I earn a lot less? Yes. So, actually I had less money on hand. My recollections are much closer to those of bgelldawg.
    That being said, am I excited to be finding a place in SF again? You know I am!

  14. Chad, ten years ago SF was very expensive, especially for renters. We were in the midst of the dot com boom. Because of that, there was both a lot of creative energy and a lot of friction.
    I think to get to the “happy awesome and yet affordable party town” you need to go back to the 70’s, when real estate was cheap, and AIDS was a diet pill.

  15. I just came across this blog as our Mother just passed away and was searching family names. Vincent Friia was my brother. I too am in real estate sales on the East Coast. Vincent was an amazing Realtor and a generous person. Yes it is true that agents disliked Vincent.He was the realtor for the elite! He was extremely successful but also very giving. There are too many charities to mention however remember when Meals on Wheels had their van stolen? Vincent went out the next day a bought a new van. That was Vincent. All the fancy parties at 1055 California Street with Herb, Willie Brown, The Mondovi’s, even the Belli’s are a time and era gone by. What I find so amazing is that here we are years after Vincent’s death and he is still on our minds! Truly a legacy.

  16. I am his sister Linda. Vincent spent his last few years with me and my family. What a special time it was. We were fortunate enough to see the amazing “spotlight Realtor and Socialite” relax and truly kick back in Hawaii. The good news is that his generosity that many benefited from never ended. His final days were spent in the calm waters of the Pacific with family that truly loved him. I am too a Realtor in the Southern New Jersey, the business is the same all over. If you are on top of your game, there are many that are jealous. Vincent was ALWAYS on top, especially when it came to his family. I miss him dearly and always will.

  17. I found this article because I was thinking of my time with Vincent in the 80s. He was a kind and fun loving man, and a fighter for human rights.

  18. I must admit the earlier post about the parties Vincent hosted at 1055 California with Herb Caen, Willie Brown, Melvin Belli and Robert Mondavi DO sound fun.
    This is an interesting column that popped back up in that I do think San Francisco is cleaner now, but it is also less colorful and interesting than it was when I arrived after graduating architecture school in 1987. Vincent reflected the time he was living in San Francisco and a generous nightlife scene was the envy of many other cities. There was a time when more people and cars were on the streets of this city at 10pm instead of 10am.
    Also for the record, it was a LOT more affordable. When I arrived I met people who were able to own homes in the city doing jobs such as teaching, and even a restaurant waiter who I designed an addition for at his home in Noe Valley. This may sound prejudiced, but the most interesting people I met in this city had the lowest incomes, not the highest. I have no desire to return to the past, but was happy to have arrived here when it was not so expensive and easier for all types of people to enjoy the city.

  19. I was a friend of Vincent Friia back in the 1990’s when he lived at 1055 California. He was a nice man and there was a time I cared for him deeply. I heard he had declared bankruptcy and moved to Hawaii. I ran into him a few years later in the Castro. I think it was around 2001 and that was the last time I saw him.

    I remember San Francisco in the early 90’s was a great time when an average guy like me could afford an apartment in Pacific Heights. The city was so warm and the people were so friendly and there was always a party somewhere.

  20. As a Broadway Avenue resident, my girlfriend and I met Vincent when he lived at 87 Broadway, Los Gatos, circa 1972? At the time he was a hairdresser & Alex Hart was his best friend. Subsequently, Vincent, received a salesman’s license from the California Department of Real Estate and worked for Van Vleck Real Estate where he excelled. I had seen him once at Perry’s in the early 80’s and again at Maxim’s & The Ritz mid to late 80’s, New Years Eve.

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