I’m always casting about for interesting locations to use in the Zodiac Mysteries. Not just the historic or beautiful settings all around San Francisco, but the mysterious — secret stairways, dark alleys, and weird and haunted tunnels.
Julia Bonatti, my San Francisco astrologer, is a native – a rare thing, since most people come to the city from other places. She grew up in her grandmother’s house on Castle Alley in North Beach, but now has her own place out on the Avenues, near the ocean where the fog rolls in every afternoon.
Right around the corner from Julia’s apartment was (in real life) one of the most infamous residences in the city. The home of Anton LaVey, San Francisco’s celebrity occultist and founder of the Church of Satan. The house at 6114 California Street is gone now, but I remember it well. It was completely black and surrounded by a dilapidated fence. Local gossip and legends surrounded LaVey and his family. His wild parties and Friday night sabbats in his home with his followers, and his pet panther Zoltan, were legendary.
LaVey sported an immaculate goatee, always wore a flowing black cape and drove around town in his coroner’s van. He had started his career playing the organ in a burlesque show but once his fame was established, he could be found playing the Wurlitzer at a local bar, the Lost Weekend, in the Sunset District. He performed satanic blessings at the Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf and he’s honored by his wax likeness there now.
Many legends and stories have followed LaVey – that he worked for the San Francisco Fire Department, played the devil in ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ performed satanic rituals in a rock tunnel at Land’s End and put a curse on the Sutro Baths that caused it to burn to the ground shortly after.
LaVey was likely more a showman than a sorcerer so I doubt most of these stories are true. What I do know for a fact is that he kept his pet lion Togar in his home. His neighbors were very concerned about the lion, to say the least and one day, the lion escaped its cage and tore through the house, demolishing walls and plumbing. LaVey and his family barricaded themselves in the bathroom and called out the window to neighbors for help. Thankfully, Animal Control arrived and the family was saved.
Some claim the rock tunnel at Land’s End is still haunted from LaVey’s rituals, and now a new apartment building stands where LaVey’s all black house once stood. I do have to wonder if the people living in the new building at 6114 California Street know about LaVey’s legend or hear any eerie groans in the night.