A Dame with a Past - Part 5

Continued from Part 4

With images of the Mark Hopkins and Fairmont hotels filling my head, my imagination is running wild as the cab brings us to Bernie’s apartment building. But when the cab pulls to the curb and we get out, I discover our destination is somewhat more modest. The twelve-story building is probably a contemporary of those two grand hostelries, but she has not had the advantage of the many facelifts they’ve no doubt received over the years. She’s a bit time-worn, but behind all the age spots and wrinkles, she’s still a beauty. I’m surprised to see there are nearly identical buildings on either side. They each have their own characteristics, but there is no doubt that they are from the same family. Like architectural siblings.
The building in front of us is mostly brick, which has faded to a soft pinkish glow with age. There are horizontal accent bands of what look like carved limestone between floors at the third, sixth, and ninth levels, but they are so darkened with soot and dirt, it’s all but impossible to see what the design is. A good sandblasting facial would do wonders.
There is a strip of dentil crown molding, also of limestone, at the top just below the roof. The roof itself features a row of somewhat baroque-looking eyebrow windows, and I wonder what’s behind them. I’m always drawn to the unusual spaces within a building.

Flanking the front door are limestone eagles set into the façade.  The wide entrance has a small columned portico over the double glass doors with aluminum accents that give it an appealing art deco look. To my delight, I see the words “Bernice Arms” set into its face.

Bernie grabs my arm. “Marty! Look at the name!” Her face glows.

“Seems you’ve been immortalized in stone, milady,” I say, sweeping my imaginary hat before me as I make a Sir Walter Raleigh bow.

She laughs in delight. The sound makes me happy. She’s been pretty glum lately. Between the phone calls from her newly-found brother Mark Mitchum and her husband’s weird reaction to her inheritance, she’d been so stressed out, it was making her physically sick. She’d shaken it off, thank goodness. She told me on the flight up that she’d decided she wasn’t going to let anyone spoil this for her.

We walk under the portico. Before I can grab the brass handle of one of the doors, which has been polished to a soft gleam despite the rest of the building’s apparent neglect, it’s pushed open with a flourish by a uniformed doorman. His name badge identifies him as “Al.” About 60 and slightly portly, he is the picture of courtliness as he holds the door open for us. I’m reminded of an old 1930s movie. He stands aside as we enter the lobby.
The lobby isn’t huge, but I love it. The art deco styling suggested by the exterior is carried indoors by pillars stenciled with an art deco design and a suspended cutwork metal ceiling. There is a chandelier hanging from a beautiful round medallion in the middle of the high ceiling, and along the walls are matching art deco sconces. Scattered around, comfortable looking seating arrangements beckon invitingly.
Just inside is a desk where the doorman appears to hang out. He follows us in, and steps behind the desk. “Can I help you?”
“I’m Bernie McGraw and this is Marty Tremaine” Bernie tells him. “We’re here to see Joseph Kimball. I believe he’s the building manager? He’s expecting us.”
Before we made this trip, Bernie had called T. Malcolm and told him she was ready to visit the building. He gave her the name of the manager, who would show her around and give her the keys to the owner’s apartment.
“Yes, we all are!” Al exclaims enthusiastically, smiling broadly beneath his bushy salt-and-pepper mustache.
“I’m Al Unger, Al being short for Aloysius,” he adds with a grimace. “Have a seat.” He indicates a couple of interesting-looking arm chairs against the wall, a small round table between them.
He picks up the phone. “I’ll let Joe know you’re here.”

In just a few minutes, we hear elevator doors swish open with a sigh, and a casually dressed guy walks over to us. He’s in his late 30s, and has one of those open, friendly faces that always puts people at ease.  Given how nervous Bernie was about this whole thing, I am relieved the building manager hasn’t turned out to be a stiff.
With a wide smile spread across his face, he reaches out to shake Bernie’s trembling hand. “I’m Joe Kimball. Welcome to the Bernice Arms, Ms. McGraw. The old dame has been waiting a long time to welcome you through her doors.”
“Thank you, Mr. Kimball,” Bernie says.
“Call me Joe. And if you don’t mind, I’m going to call you Bernice. It seems only fitting here, right?”
Bernie smiles and nods.
He turns to me and shakes my hand. “You must be Mr. Tremaine. Malcolm told me you’d be accompanying Bernice. Welcome.”
His handshake is firm and his smile looks genuine. I have a feeling Bernie will find a friend – and if need be, a protector – in Joe Kimball.
“Thank you. Call me Marty, please. This is a fabulous place,” I comment, looking around the lobby. “I’m a real fan of the art deco period. The Bernice Arms seems like a great example of the era. When was it built?”
“She opened in 1928, Marty. Timing was good. Another year, and the old girl might never have been finished.”
Kimball turns to Bernie. “Now, what say I give you the grand tour? We’ll end at Marjorie’s… sorry, your apartment. I know you must be anxious to see it and get settled.”
“Um, OK.” Bernie is still looking stunned at the whole idea that she owns this building, let alone has an apartment on Nob Hill in San Francisco.

“First, a little history," Kimball begins. "The building was built by Marjorie’s grandfather, Jonathan Bancroft, Jr.”
He pauses to look at Bernie, “That would be your great-granddad, Bernice.”
“This is all so confusing,” Bernie says. “I’m going to ask Mr. Worthington for a family chart.”
I nod. “Good idea, Bernie. I’m sure he’d be willing to do that.”
Kimball continues, “Marjorie’s dad was born in 1928, and the building was sort of a 'birthday present,' if you will. It was put in Trip’s... – he was called Trip by the family, since he was Jonathan Bancroft the Third, you know – in Trip's name and held in trust for him."
I’m curious. I say. “I assume the building wasn’t always named the Bernice Arms. How did that come about? That lintel out there above the portico looks like it’s been there forever.”
Kimball laughs. “You’re right, of course. That’s a more recent addition to the façade. It looks old because Marjorie wanted it to look original. Apparently she succeeded.
“Your great-grandfather fancied himself as something of a Titan, Bernice. There’s an office building down on Pine called the Cronos Tower where he headquartered his engineering company.
"You may have noticed the two buildings to either side of us?  The three buildings formed a little complex originally, with the other two deeded to Trip’s siblings. They’ve since been sold off. The complex was called Mt. Olympus, and was carved into the portico of all three buildings. The eagle -- there's one on either side of the front door -- is the symbol of Zeus, the king of the gods. Did you notice the bands of carvings around the building?”
Bernie and I nod. “I couldn’t make out what they were, though,” Bernie says.
“Yes, the building seriously needs cleaning. After Marjorie got sick, I’m afraid we let maintenance slide. She had other things to deal with. When you get comfortable with all this, we can talk about that, Bernice. I know there is an account with adequate funds for building upkeep.”
Bernie said, “Oh, I think Mr. Worthington told me that, but I was so overwhelmed that day, I guess I forgot.”
“You’ll see when we get them cleaned up. The carvings are mythological scenes. According to Greek mythology, Cronos and his Titan sister Rhea were the parents of the Mt. Olympus gods and goddesses. Your great grandfather was really into it. Thus the name of the complex. The names of the other two buildings were changed when they were sold, but this one remained the Mt. Olympus until the earthquake of 1989.”
“I remember that earthquake,” I say. “That was the one they called the 'World Series Earthquake' because it wreaked havoc with the World Series. It hit during the third inning, I think. Longest time-out in the history of baseball. The game didn’t resume until ten days later.”
“That’s the one. Anyway, this tough old gal stood her ground. The only real damage she suffered was to the portico, which was reduced to rubble by the quake. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
“When the portico was rebuilt, Marjorie changed the name of the building, and it’s been the Bernice Arms ever since.”
“That’s quite a story,” Bernie says. “I love hearing about the history.”
“Yep, this lady has quite a past, Kimball responds. “I’ll tell you more about her as we explore your namesake.”
As we turn to follow Kimball, I feel my cell buzzing in my pocket. Checking the screen, I find a text from Harry:
"Whn u gt a chnc, cll. I thnk ur bng fllwd. H."
Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 5, Muse 5: "Children of Cronos."


  1. Ha! Became so absorbed in the story, Icompletely forgot about the muses until this one. Nicely handled.

  2. The first two sections of this are you at the top of your game. The description fits with the narrative and we're immersed in this world.

    Not sure where it's twitching, but I think we're slipping back into the days when your dialog needed work. It's much improved, of course, but there's a tendency for exposition. Must fix.

    That said, the pacing is finally where it needs to be.


Thoughts? I would love to hear from you.