By Jan Robbins
Nothing brings a community together more than a neighborhood party where everyone
is invited. And, none so much as the eclectic and sometimes eccentric gatherings hosted
by Inner Sunset residents Barbara and Paul.
No one in the Sunset neighborhood was surprised earlier this year to hear that Barbara
was throwing a shindig. The Inner Sunset resident – now 66 and who prefers to keep her
last name secret for security purposes – and her late husband started hosting
neighborhood happenings in 2007.
This year the invitation to a barbecue was posted on her fence: “Bring finger-sized
desserts, drinks and I will supply the meat,” Barbara instructed. “Enjoy our friendly
guitar-duo.” Anyone who saw the sign was welcome.
The variety of the often impromptu get-togethers tickles the imagination of local
residents. Many remember the haunted house, said Martha Ehrenfeld, director of the
Inner Sunset Park Neighbors association. “It was so scary – someone reached out and
grabbed my ankle,” Ehrenfeld said.
A passer-by might suspect something or someone special lies behind the fence at the big
blue house located at Sixth Avenue and Irving Street. There are numerous mobiles,
chimes and other hanging art, tinkling and chiming over flowering plants.
Of all the events she and her husband sponsored, Barbara is most fond of the
“We had so many helpers, sorting books every Thursday night for 10 weeks,” she said.
Barbara and Paul sought donations for the book giveaway on Craigslist and then picked
them up in their car. “Sometimes we had so many books in the car Paul had to walk
behind the car on the way home,” she said. That year they collected 10,000 books, which
were given away over a weekend’s time.
What makes Barbara’s backyard so great for accommodating events is that the house is
located on a corner, with five big doors giving access to the street. So, when Barbara and
Paul hosted the last book blast in 2016, people delivering donations could easily pull up
in their car and offload items.
“Twice a year, your money back if you’re dissatisfied!” Barbara says of the
Perhaps Paul and Barbara’s most unique event was the “fix-it fair.” There was a time
when she and Paul were fixing things in their yard with one of the doors
opened. People would look in, sigh, and wonder how they could get what they
“I found six people who sew and brought them over with their sewing machines. I
rounded up welders, electricians, knife sharpeners, carpenters and others
who were willing to fix things for free,” Barbara said.
Other events that have debuted at Sixth and Irving are the “gazillion family flea market,”
“dessert and dancing” and “Sunday silent garden.”
Barbara’s skill in pulling off successful events could come from her background in
writing and marketing. She wrote the catalogs for major department stores as well as a
financial column for the SF Examiner when working for a tax attorney.
Then again, she just seems to be one of those naturally goodnatured types who loves to
bring people together. Happy is a word she uses a lot.
“I had a very happy childhood traveling with my family to many countries when my
father was in the state department,” she said. “I feel very happy to live in the Sunset. I
swear there is serotonin in the water. Everyone smiles walking down the street.”
Events like the haunted house, which require a lot of construction work, are too much
for her these days. Her husband died in 2017, but that is not going to stop the parties.
“Spreading joy and happiness while hosting gatherings in the Inner Sunset is in my
blood. I am continuing the tradition,” she said.
“There’s lots of demand for another fix-it fair,” she added.
To find out more or to sign up as a volunteer go to the website at http://www.BarbarasList.com.