continued "To me, it's a symbol of political neglect on the part of our council members. If it were on First Avenue, or above Laurel, this wouldn't have happened. The fire department or Neighborhood Code Compliance [would have done something]."
Another former resident, Randy, now 75 and living nearby, tells me the "calypso colors" are Jack's handiwork and that Jack "wrecked it up. He tried to work each room into a studio, and little by little he was tearing up the rooms and fixing the rooms himself."
Randy also draws some connection between the immigrant rumors and the "spooky relationships." "I never did see him with a woman," Randy recalls. "I never did hear him talk about a woman, wanting to see a woman, wanting to take her to a show or dancing, or go out.
"He had guys there. [Once], he was going downtown for something, and I was, too. He says, 'I'll walk with you guys.' As I was walking, the other guy we were with said, 'Isn't that beautiful? Isn't it gorgeous?' Jack says, 'Yeah, that's right.' I said, 'Where?' All I saw was a guy walking! I said, 'Where's the woman?' There wasn't any woman! It was another guy! I said, 'Goddamn, kiss my grits.'
"He had the habit of having wetbacks in there. It was known that whoever lived there, a wetback, he would pass the word, Being that they were young, he would give them room and board and a little money and whatever they had to do, that was it; they were comfortable with it. It was obvious. I didn't see it, but it was obvious. He was a good guy to know, but I didn't like the way he was living -- his social companionship." (Jack declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Randy suspects that Jack's "habit of having wetbacks" is what got his brother killed. "I used to warn him, I said, 'Jack, one of these days, someone's going to hurt you bad.' A couple of times, they cut his throat a little bit." In 1987, someone did more than that. According to a story in the San Diego Union, Jack went to his brother Juan's taco shop downtown to find the place ransacked and deserted. Upon returning to the house, he found his brother in the shower, still wearing his robe. The water was still running. He had been beaten to death. Randy figures the killer returned to Mexico after robbing the store.
On another occasion, according to Randy, Jack answered the door, and the men who had knocked threw acid in his face. It cost him an eye. "They were always trying to break into his house," says Randy. "That's why he got bars around his windows." Along with the bars, he installed security doors at the base of each staircase, framed in by two-by-fours. No tenants lived in the house after 1990.
Randy tried to call to see if he was okay, but Jack stopped answering his phone. According to the realtor, Ken Bourke, Jack spent much of his time in a ground-floor front room, watching TV, while the house slowly went to pieces around him. The floor of the room is littered with empty bottles of calcium supplements. "Men ugli" is written on one wall, and Ken says this reflected Jack's outlook. "Something happened," said Ken, "that made him start barricading himself in." Twice, his sister attempted to have him committed to a mental institution; twice, she failed. He has since moved out.
As of this writing, the top bid stands at $200,000. Demolition estimates are from $40,000 to $50,000. But, says Ken, "the demolition man told me it would probably be very expensive to build another redwood house like this one." Ed still lives next door to the magnificent wreck. "Every Halloween, kids come by. They ask, 'Is that house haunted?'
" 'Oh, yeah,' I say, 'it's haunted.' "
(Some names in this story have been changed.)