The Summit (a.k.a. the Eichler Summit) - Page 2

Once a tower of controversy and Eichler's dream, meet this legend of 'non-pretentious elegance'

Built as apartments, the building was turned into condos in 1974 by Gerson Bakar, and Al Wilsey, the late food magnate who lived in the penthouse. Bakar, called by the 'San Francisco Chronicle' "one of the fastest shooting stars on the San Francisco real estate scene," bought the building the year before from Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance. Like Eichler, who had worked many years for a butter-and-egg wholesaler, Bakar had a background in poultry. He grew up in Petaluma in a family of chicken farmers.

And over the years, the number of units has diminished as people buy up and combine adjacent condos. Some of the interior changes are legendary. Lola Bugatto has been living on the 28th floor for more than 20 years in a condo made up of three units. "I would say eclectic," Buggato says of her d ´ cor, which includes walls that are upholstered and adorned with many mirrors. "It's a very comfortable place indeed."

worcester cottage

Residents describe condos that have gone completely Asian, have bedroom hot tubs, restaurant-size kitchens (originally, kitchens were standard galley), and Las Vegas-style party rooms. "Many of the people who buy in here can well afford to put the same amount of money into changing it," says Bob Long, a retired scientist and academic whose condo is one of the few that remains largely original, at least in layout.

The lobby, once sleek and unadorned, today wears crown molding. "People didn't want modern furnishings," says Gananian, who was on the board during the lobby remodeling in the 1990s. And even the building's exterior integrity has been compromised, as individual condo owners have enlarged their units by turning balconies into living space and removing exterior railings.

The changes have at least the occasional resident riled up. "The building is a very distinguished structure that I don't think should continue to be attacked," Nelson-Rees says. Still, the essential silhouette of the building remains intact, as does the Eichler-style wall of windows—and radiant heat. And the building still has one characteristic that defines modern California architecture, what one resident calls "non-pretentious elegance."

Unlike the typical suburban Eichler subdivision, however, the Summit never attracted buyers motivated by a love of all things modern. "I don't think you're seeing people rush there because it's 'Eichler,' or rushing to the building because mid-century architecture is their thing," Gomez says.

The building differs from the typical Eichler neighborhood in two other ways as well—it's relatively insular, not neighborly. And it is not, and never has been, a place for kids. (One of the relatively few children who was raised at the Summit, Sean Wilsey, son of Al Wilsey and former society columnist Pat Montandon, told all last year in his memoir 'Oh the Glory of It All.')

Residents—who include some of San Francisco's wealthiest people, some who have lived there for decades, and others who had to dig deep to afford smaller units—value their privacy. But they are always cordial when they meet on the elevator or in the lobby, says Jim Coran. "There isn't a community room where people come and chat," he says, "and I don't think there's a sense of need of one either. People don't come here for a sense of community."

resident bob long

But people do tend to know their immediate neighbors, says Bob Long, who lives in one of the building's smallest units. "We tend to be like little countries, floor by floor," he says. "The kind of people who live here are people of standing in the community," says Don Reid, president of the Summit Homeowners Association. "They are people of importance in the city."

The most prominent current residents are former Secretary of State George Shultz and his wife, Charlotte Mailliard Shultz, San Francisco's much-admired chief of protocol, who live in what now serves as a single penthouse. Former residents included radio personality Don Sherwood, who was famous for his parties, and actor Michael Douglas, who made the building his home while filming 'The Streets of San Francisco.'

Although more young people are buying units, residents say, retirees are more common than young marrieds. It's a cosmopolitan crowd, with an increasing number of Asians and Russian ´ migr ´ s. Gomez estimates that half of the units serve as second homes. Many of the condos are pied-a-terres that are rarely occupied, neighbors say.

architect feskes