Noe Valley Voice November 2010

Twice Upon a Time, Fairies Tiptoe Into Noe

By Nicole Wong

The fairy door in the public parking lot next to Radio Shack is hidden behind a large planter box (or perhaps it’s a sylvan forest).   Photo by Sally Smith

A new and unexpected demographic has moved into Noe Valley. They are a small, mischievous group, occupying property without lawful permission. They are said to have wings, pointy ears, and sparkle.

Fairies have come to Noe Valley.

Their homes, marked by tiny “fairy door” entrances, have been popping up in unusual places along 24th Street.

“My daughter and I were walking along 24th Street, and bam, there they were,” said Mike Adamick. He and daughter Emmeline first noticed the small wooden doors in April of 2009. Adamick posted photos and descriptions of the portals on his parenting blog Cry It Out, though soon after, the doors vanished.

But in early September, almost a year and a half later, the fairy doors returned, in new locations and with new designs. At most, there were five doors sighted at once; in late October, fairy followers could find only three.

One tiny door sits in the minipark in the public parking lot between Noe and

Castro streets. The miniature wooden faŤade—just 2 inches wide and 6 inches tall—is attached to a wall next to the left leg of the community notice board. It is hand-painted yellow with antique-white trim and topped with a Victorian-style decorative arch. The door stands out against the green wall, but its low placement and the obstructed sidewalk view by a planter box make it easy to miss.

At Home in Children’s Books

Other fairies have scouted out more private real estate. Their door stands on a shelf in the cart of children’s books that sits outside Phoenix Books, on 24th between Sanchez and Noe. The door is the same size as the one in the parking lot, but it is painted white with bright red trim, and bears a tiny golden doorknob in its center.

An adult must crouch and peer behind the “front gate” of Dr. Seuss or Goosebumps books just to take a peek. “My daughter was just the right height to see inside,” said Adamick. “I think the fairies might have planned that one.”

The staff of Phoenix Books does not take credit for the door, nor do they know how they came to host it. “It just showed up one day,” said employee Paula Heaney. “We don’t know where it came from or how it got there, but we like it.”

They Need Coffee Too

Bernadette Melvin, owner of Bernie’s Coffee across the street, was similarly out of the fairy-door loop. “Some little girls came in one day looking for a fairy door,” said Melvin. “They had read about it somewhere, but I didn’t know what they were talking about, so I was no help.”

It turns out the door in question is hidden below a bench outside her coffee shop—a spot where many locals like to congregate.

“I was sitting here reading the paper one day, and I heard a little kid say ‘Look! Look!’ and [she] was pointing underneath the bench,” said Joe Wildberger, a Bernie’s regular. “I thought she saw a mouse or something, but she was pointing at that little door.”

The red door, which has a white frame, indented panels, and a gold doorknob, rests on the bottom ledge of a planter box, and measures only 1 by 3 inches.

Raymond Claraval, a Whole Foods parking lot attendant stationed a few yards away, says most adults walking by are oblivious but that children make a beeline to the tiny door. “The kids notice it and will walk up to it and try to open it,” Claraval said. “Kids are lower to the ground. It’s too low to be seen by an adult, but kids see it all the time.”

A Way Into Fairy World

Fairy mythology has existed for centuries, much of it stemming from Ireland and the British Isles. According to lore, fairies are magical creatures who may exist among humans but not always reveal themselves to non-fairy folk.

“The concept of fairy doors is not new,” says Jonathan Wright, a self-proclaimed fairyologist from Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Typically, it would be a hole in a tree, as a way into the fairy world. The idea of human-styled doors for fairies? That idea is relatively new.”

And perhaps he invented it. Wright has chronicled, monitored, and curated the largest community of fairy doors in the country since 1993, when the first reported mini-door “appeared” in his own house. In 2005, doors began sprouting up in front of local businesses, bringing renewed interest and foot traffic into downtown Ann Arbor.

“Having it go beyond our door is something we hoped to see, and it feels great,” Wright said, while emphasizing the importance of uniqueness and sincerity when it comes to each fairy door.

He first heard about the Noe Valley fairy doors from Adamick, who contacted him through email in search for answers about the doors he had seen around the neighborhood. “The Noe Valley doors seem sincere. They’re not boilerplate doors,” Wright said.

Questions for Tinker Bell

However, the Noe Valley fairies may soon be taking flight. Two doors spotted in September have disappeared without a trace. And the yellow door in the parking lot has lost its little arch.

Outside La Boulange at 24th and Church streets, a fairy door went missing in early October. James Lord, an employee who cleans the outdoor tables every day, said, “I figured someone stole it, or the building owner took it down. Who else would have done that?”

That question and others remain—such as, who is the human helping the fairies move into their temporary Noe Valley homes?

“It’s very mysterious. Whoever put it there must have done it during the day because we bring the sale cart in at night,” said Heaney of Phoenix Books.

Whether they appear by magic or as the gift of a playful individual, the fairy doors are clearly a sign that imagination roams free in the neighborhood.

“I always tell my friends that Noe Valley is like Sesame Street, and it is things like this that make it special,” said Heaney.

Adamick agrees. “The community seems to have tapped into the mind and magic of a child. I like to live in a place that believes in magic.”