Mt. Rainier and Lenticular Clouds - Dec. 2008 copyright: JMM

January 26, 2013

The Creepy Apartment in San Rafael

My friend Kim posted that on Facebook and memories of the San Rafael apartment came flooding back.  Brian & I lived there for a year...from August 1993 to August 1994 when we bought the townhouse in Fairfax.  The move to San Rafael came about quickly.  As much as I loved San Francisco, I had been living there for four years and I was starting to feel claustrophobic.  We started kicking around the idea of moving north over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County, where we found ourselves spending more and more time on the weekends.  There was fairly decent public transportation in Golden Gate Transit, so I could continue to work at my paralegal job in the financial district of SF.  Brian ended up getting a job up near Santa Rosa that summer of 1993, so it seemed logical to move to San Rafael.  We found an apartment in no time, in what looked like a lovely residential neighbourhood, near Hwy 101.  It was within walking distance of the Transit Center so I could get my bus to and from The City.

Oh...before I go further, a quick word on San Rafael.  It's pronounced 'San ra-FELL', not 'San ra-FAY-ell'

The apartment was in a fairly large house-like building, that had 2 or 3 small apartments downstairs, then the 2 upstairs.  We were renting the upstairs apartment on the left in this picture.  The livingroom window is on the far left.

It was like a railroad flat in that there was a hallway that went from the front door straight back to the master bedroom in the back, and all the rooms were off on the left side of the hall.  This is looking from the front door, down into the kitchen area, where the hall took a short turn to the left before continuing past the bathroom and into the master bedroom.

It was a 2 bedroom place, with a fireplace in the livingroom and a spacious kitchen, and a very bright master bedroom.  It seemed perfect.  The rent wasn't too bad and we were allowed to have our guinea pig.  

While we viewed it on a cool evening after work in July, we moved in on a very, very hot day in August.  It was then that we realized how hot that apartment was going to be, because it had no a/c nor the windows that would accommodate window units.  And the bedroom?  Holy shit.  It had windows facing south and west so by 7:00 p.m., the temps topped 100*.

Looking at the back of the apartment; there was a door that led into the bedroom from a little teeny deck.

We toughed it out for a couple of days and caved in and went to a hotel nearby for a couple of nights just to have a/c.  We bought a bunch of fans but all they did was blow hot air around.

Things went downhill from there on so many levels.  It turned out that, although the 'hood looked very pretty and quaint, there was a lot of weird stuff and a lot of weird people on it.  It may be because it was literally right off the Highway.  See how pretty?  Looks can be deceiving.

There were people living in campers and vans parked alongside the curb.  Our neighbours were awful.  We were told no pets were allowed, yet the person below us had a dog that she put outside at night, under our window, that barked nonstop.  The woman nextdoor was mentally ill and would stand outside our door and ramble on and on through the screen door.  We were trapped in the livingroom, unable to move or else have to see her, because of the way the place was laid out.  Yet if we kept the door shut it was so hot.  One early Sat. morning I left to go grocery shopping and saw a downstairs neighbour's car had been badly vandalized with racial slurs directed at African Americans, although the owner was white.  I had to wake the poor kid up to let him know so he could get the cops there, and then watch him have a meltdown of swearing and yelling in the front of the building. It was a nice old car too, from the 60s with the suicide back doors.  And it was covered in deep scratches with slurs and swastikas.  

As fall drew into winter, I started to get a really weird and sinister feeling being there.  I had turned the bedroom next to the livingroom, off the hall, into what I thought would be a cool place to do my crafts, or read.  The window had a great little seat below it, large closet, hardwood floors.  I decorated it and put our desk and computer in there along with the bookshelves.

After it was all set up, I hated being in that room.  I didn't like it at all, and I avoided going in as much as possible, even in the day.  If I wanted to do crafts, I hauled everything into the livingroom.  But it didn't really matter because that was the year I suffered a crushing artistic block.  I would take my stuff out and stare at it, and put it away, totally uninspired.  Any time I tried to force myself to make jewelry, the results were awful.  I thought I'd never bead again.  I tried to sage the house from time to time, trying to cleanse and purify the place, but it didn't work.

I began to feel despair.  I kept thinking awful thoughts....irrational thoughts...that my parents were going to die any day, that Brian was going to die any day.  I got really clingy with him.  I couldn't stop the paranoia.  It wouldn't go away.  It was so over the top.  Not a 'gee I hope he has a safe commute', but actually living out the dreaded visit by the officers to tell you your spouse has been killed in a fiery crash. Or the call from MA that my dad was dead.  I'd practically pee myself with relief when Brian got home.   Meanwhile, he underwent a personality change too, and became a flaming, sarcastic asshole who put me down and put down my fears and scoffed at them.  He was working at a place in Cotati as a Hydronic Engineer, doing computer assisted drawing.  He was so incredibly and obnoxiously proud of his job that he was extremely conceited and condescending.  He was definitely not himself at all, and neither was I.  When he was fired a year later, without explanation, I wondered if he was as obnoxious at work as he was at home, which definitely would not have gone over well with the owners and his coworkers. 

Then the fleeting shadows started.  The kitchen was large, and as you came down the hall towards it, there were shelves that opened from the hall side to the kitchen with a counter/shelves underneath.  So when you were standing at the sink or stove, the person coming down the hall would see you to their left, and conversely you'd see them to your left.  Well, I started seeing something there.  I would look up expecting to see Brian headed in to grab a drink or something to eat, or peering at me through the shelves.

But when I looked up, there was nothing there.  This happened a lot.  There was one time that I leapt into the hall and said 'AHA!' expecting Brian to be just out of site against the wall messing with me, only to see an empty hallway.  I walked down to the livingroom and he's sitting in the chair watching TV.  I said, "Were you just messing with me in the kitchen?  How did you get back here so fast without me hearing you?"  He looked up bewildered and asked what the hell I was talking about.  I told him what was going on and he thought I was nuts, but he agreed that he didn't feel comfortable in there at all and wished we hadn't moved in.  We were stuck for a year.

Part of the problem was that livingroom being the first room off the front door.  Once you were in there, if someone came to the door and you didn't want to answer it, you were literally trapped till the person went away, because there were long side light windows on either side of the door.  Due to the window behind my couch, you could see the top of my head from the steps, so we always had to keep the drapes closed.

Then there were the dreams that started a few months in as well.  More like nightmares.  Recurring ones over and over; almost every single night it was a slightly different version of the same dream.  Trapped in the apartment, abject terror at what was out on the street which usually seemed to be gunmen that would shoot me if I went out there, or someone would try to chase me.  Sometimes I'd see my coworkers on the street and try to scream to them to run and get away but I couldn't get out a sound.  Then the inevitable point in the dream when they stormed through the front door and chased me down the hall into the bedroom where I was trapped and screaming.  Every. Night.  For almost a year.

At one point, in May of 1994, I was on a three week disability leave from work because I was having carpal tunnel issues and I was reluctant to have surgery so it was agreed that I'd take a significant break from work to heal and go to physical therapy every other day.  It was in downtown San Francisco and I was more than happy to take the bus in, if it got me out of that wretched apartment for a few hours.  Being in there alone on a sick day really sucked.  Since it was my arms that hurt and not my legs, I spent the bulk of my disability leave walking around San Rafael and a couple of times I took the Larkspur Ferry into SF.  Brian let me have the car a few times, too, since he could use the company truck, so I drove out to the Mt. Tam watershed to go hiking, and I also went antiquing in Sonoma.  I did whatever I could to stay out of there.

When June rolled around, we started looking for something else.  The schizophrenic next door neighbour was pounding on our door almost nonstop with wild, psychotic stories.  When she wasn't bugging us I could hear her in her apartment screaming and crying.  Her parents had her committed to the state hospital in Napa, but she checked herself out and came back by cab.  We viewed a few properties that were for sale and decided to buy a small townhouse out in Fairfax.  We gave our notice to the landlord, closed on the property in July of 1994 and moved out almost one year to the day that we moved in.  In an odd twist of fate, I have moved on or around August 14 on many occasions.  The property management company gave us a ration of shit, saying that we left the place filthy with rust marks on the carpet from the legs of the bed.  They refused to give us our security deposit back unless we paid to have the rugs cleaned, and then the landlord gave us a bill for paint.  Luckily I had thought to take photos of the place after we cleaned and moved out so I told the property manager to fuck off b/c I had proof the place was spotless and oh by the way, the bottoms of the bed legs had plastic discs on them.  What a fiasco.

It should be noted that I got the willies and kind of mentally uncomfortable looking at the photos in that photo album, from which I posted the ones, above.  There were many more of the inside of the apartment but I only used a few because they brought back too many bad memories.

I've often wondered about what the history of that place was.  It had an awful lot of bad energy attached to it.  When Brian & I moved to Fairfax, I stopped having that all consuming paranoia and fear, and he returned to his good natured self (for awhile till things started to collapse a few years later).  I told him about his personality change in San Rafael and he said that he really had no memory of acting that way, but he did think that place messed with his head, and the scientist in him could not figure it out.  I know it messed with mine.  The bad dreams stopped immediately upon moving to Fairfax.  It's a place that I'd like to forget, but I can't.


  1. Well, Jojo, I'm really sorry that you had to experience all that at some point of time , but it's also good that it finally went away. I heard a lot about such apartments, we also watch here a Haunting, and can't believe that even creepier and more dangerous things like this can happen in real.
    I hope you still can fill your life with new happy moments, with your colorful crafting, smile of your close ones. Try to engage in different good activities, enjoy your life.
    Have a happy day!
    Warm hugs,

  2. Yikes. All I could think of was Amityville while reading that. I wonder if certain places do have some kind of negative energy (a real chemical imbalance perhaps in the ground) that causes this? There are quite a few instances of it just to be coincidence... And no, I don't believe in ghosts. I would look for a physical reason for such an occurrence. Anyway, I dare say it was a good thing you got out of there! Sounds horrible.

  3. Ah yes, the Canal District of San Rafael.... As I recall, your place in Fairfax was the same complex as my friend Judy lived at around the same time, on Mitchell Creek. Nice spot, but her condo was super dark. She now lives in Sonoma. In fact all my old friends that were born and bred in Marin have left it to the rich, vapid transplants!

  4. Anna - Yes my life improved ten fold when I got out of that apartment.

    Maureen - Didn't think of Amityville but yeah, it definitely had that kind of weird energy. Maybe the house was built on an old burial ground!

    Aiko Annie!!!! How are ya girl? How's Hawaii? This apt. was actually 2 blocks from the Dead's office building on 5th, but on the other side of the Canal District, near Montecito Plaza. Yes, the townhouse in Fairfax was in Canon Village, next to the Jehovahs Church.

  5. That is spooky. It reminds me a lot of those horror stories like Amityville and the Shining. Where someone moves into a place and they become inhabited by the spirits of people who lived or maybe died in those places.. shivers! Or maybe it was just plain years of crappy energy.

    Thank goodness you're safe now!

  6. Anonymous12:16 PM

    SPOOKY - it's giving me the willies just reading about it! Glad you got out.

  7. My idea is that someone as disturbed as the neighbour had previously lived there, and left their mark carved on the atmosphere, like the grooves on a vinyl record, that replayed, misery and all.

  8. Very, very creepy! I'm sorry you had to spend a whole year of your life there!I have no doubt something was seriously wrong there - I have goosebumps just thinking about it!

  9. That is just wild. Glad you finally got out of that place. Sounds like there was definite evil vibes there.
    It sure makes me wonder what the history of the place was.


  10. WOW that is some story... I am convinced some places have karma or history attached. Like the Overlook Hotel! :P

    After my mom died I dreamed repeatedly of her house... and I was walking thru it over and over, looking for her. Once, someone else screamed as if I was in their house and (stay with me, here) I wondered if *I* was the one haunting it.

    Some time after this, I told this shaman hippie (Blackfoot) lady, who did this psychic reading and told me 5 people were now living there, and I needed to let it go. My dreams were "scaring the smallest child." (BTW,I didn't tell her about *my* idea of haunting the place, SHE correctly told ME what I was thinking!) After she said that, I stopped dreaming of the house. When I look at the house on Google street view, I see that kids now live there, and I wonder if any of that was true?

    Maybe someone else could not leave the place alone, in their memory, and their dreams and memories also added to the paranormal energy.

  11. How frightening. I'm glad you got out. I experienced something similar in Pinole, CA.

  12. Sounds very dreadful and a little scary. Luckily it was only a year, and once you moved you felt like your self again.
    Everyday Inspired

  13. There are too many things that we cannot explain and science gives us only hazy answers to - lame excuses such as it's just illusions and it's only our imagination.
    However it is known that certain places generate strong energy forces, usually referred to as spiritual energy, which is a positive force (Santa Fe, New Mexico is one such area) . . . therefore it only stands to reason that, like ying and yang, there must be areas of negative energy too.
    All in all, your experience actually sent shivers down my spine.