Noe Valley Voice June 1997

Pigeon Lady Wings Her Way Home to Estonia

By Sally Smith

For once, more people than pigeons turned out to say goodbye to Anna Muru, Noe Valley's embattled "Pigeon Lady," who was flying home to Estonia -- a land she hadn't seen in 50 years.

This spring she sold the house she'd owned for the past two decades at 1329 Sanchez St., near Cesar Chavez.

At a May 10 going-away party on the sidewalk in front of her house, Muru feasted on cake and cold cuts, danced to a jazz band, and exchanged hugs and kisses with a loyal group of friends, neighbors, and supporters.

Though last fall another group of neighbors -- mostly homeowners with roofs to protect -- had won a restraining order prohibiting the 84-year-old Muru from feeding the birds on Noe Valley streets, she said she wasn't bitter.

"I don't go with hatred. I'm most happy, most happy," to be rejoining family in Prnu, Estonia. "In Estonia, there are lots of pigeons and trees," Muru said, gesturing toward the large pine tree in front of her home, recently shorn of its branches to prepare for new owners.

Then she put her arms around her old friend Pauline Kaldre, another Estonia native, who'd come up from San Carlos to bid a tearful farewell.

"It's been traumatic for Anna," said Judy Rydell, the realtor who helped Muru sell her pigeon poop- and feather-coated Victorian under the watchful gaze of many testy Noe Valley residents. "But I'm so glad it's worked out. She has relatives waiting for her -- her brother and his family -- and she's taking her cat, Zsa Zsa."

Rydell, a Hoffman Avenue resident who works for Zephyr Real Estate, said Muru received 17 bids for her house, all "way over" the asking price of $199,000. "What we were selling was basically lot value," she noted, due to the dilapidated condition of the property.

Rydell handled the sale very discreetly. "There were no signs. I only showed the house to licensed contractors or people used to taking on major renovations." After all the controversy over the Pigeon Lady, "I didn't want all the Looky-Lou's going through her home."

The winning bid of $241,000 was from an East Bay developer who plans extensive remodeling. "That money is what's enabling Anna to go back to Estonia," Rydell beamed.

Among the other well-wishers at the party were Muru's court defenders Lenore Gerard, Inna Bleykhman, and Tom Drohan -- of Legal Assistance to the Elderly. Gerard set out the food and drink and chatted with Muru and her friends, while Drohan played bass in his swing band, the Chazz Cats.

Bleykhman, however, was still a little steamed about what she saw as Noe Valley's persecution of Muru. "[The recent court injunction] was a witch hunt by this heavily yuppified neighborhood. People here don't want to accept anyone who is different," she said.

Viki Lewis and Frank Simeone, who live a block down Sanchez Street, were also embarrassed by the attitude of their neighbors. "They cared more about a building than a person," said Lewis. "It was like the Scarlet Letter. Somebody even tried to frame her," by spreading extra birdseed around Muru's house.

The couple said they sympathized with those whose roofs were slimed by the hundreds of pigeons who waited on the wires for the Pigeon Lady to make her rounds. But they wished the complainers had taken the time to find out why Muru couldn't control her bird-feeding.

"It went back to her being in a country that was overrun by the Nazis and Russians during World War II," said Simeone. "There was lots of fighting, and here she was, a teenager, homeless, parentless, wandering around starving to death. Her whole thing about hunger created this obsession with feeding the pigeons."

Twenty-sixth Street resident Jane Willson, another of her supporters, felt most people treated Muru as if she were too old and senile to be reasoned with. "Once I got up the nerve to talk to her," Willson said, "I found that she was an incredibly warm person, a humanitarian even," whose heart went out to all living things. "All she ever really wanted was to return to Estonia, to see her parents' grave."

As this reporter/editor was leaving the party, I asked Muru if she'd like to say bye to my dog Boychik, who was tied to a nearby signpost. The Pigeon Lady had been one of his favorite attractions on walks through the neighborhood, since she'd often stop and feed him bits of food.

I said I was sorry if the Voice had contributed to the media frenzy surrounding her illegal bird-feeding. (Our first story was "Pigeon Poop Ruffles Noe Feathers," in May 1988. Then, in February 1992, we published "The Long and Winding Road of Noe Valley's Pigeon Lady," which aired both Muru's and the disgruntled neighbors' views.)

"Try to forgive us," I said, getting into the spirit of the day. Then I couldn't help adding, "But you know, Anna, many of our neighbors, especially the older people living next door, couldn't handle all the mess from the pigeons."

She smiled, leaned in closer, and said, "They were right too in a way. I did get carried away with the birds."

Then she popped some turkey in Boychik's mouth, and whirled back to the dance floor.

Muru's realtor Judy Rydell said it was "touch and go" right up to the last-minute and that they almost didn't get her cat on the plane, but Anna Muru did fly away home on May 19.