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Florence's Family Album: Totally Noe Valley
By Florence Holub
For three generations, two families -- the Peras and the Duggans -- have lived happily in our valley.
For the Peras, it all began when Guido Pera's father, born in Lucca, Italy, was operating an Italian restaurant in North Beach, with his son's help. One evening an attractive young lady, Janet Malcolm (born in Scotland), came to dine at the restaurant with her brother and a few friends. Guido was immediately enchanted by this damsel with the charming Scottish brogue and irrepressible sense of humor. In fact, he was painfully smitten.
Janet and her family returned often to the restaurant, and Guido's heart swelled with each new encounter. Finally, he grew bold enough to ask for her hand in marriage. When she declined, he asked again -- every time she walked in the door!
Janet's sister Jean couldn't help but notice the anguish of this tall, dark and handsome gentleman. Jean urged her sister to please "be kind," and seriously consider his proposal. Janet had always thought of herself as kind, she later told me. And besides, she liked Guido, too. So after rejecting her suitor dozens of times, she consented at last. Thanks to Guido's persistence, a wedding date was set. I'm glad to report the marriage proved to be a long, successful union.
The first of Guido and Janet Pera's many homes was located on top of the 21st Street hill in Noe Valley. It was and still is a beautiful little vintage Victorian, where their son Angus was born and grew up. But before long, they found it a trifle small for the three of them, especially when Janet's relatives -- her mother, two sisters, brother, niece, and a cousin from Hong Kong -- came to visit. Janet also loved to entertain on a large scale, and saw herself doing so in the house of her dreams -- a large Mediterranean manor that stood just below the crest of the hill.
One afternoon when 12-year-old Angus was on his way up the hill from school, he spotted a "For Sale" sign on the manor. Breathlessly he rushed home to inform his mother, who immediately dashed down the hill to talk to the owner, who had just become a widow.
Always a superb saleslady, Janet persuaded the owner to look no further for a buyer. The Peras purchased the house, remodeled it, and were living graciously in it when we moved into the brown-shingled house across the street in 1955. They became our friends, and we found them to be the best of neighbors -- generous and helpful.
Janet was especially kind to animals and always had a houseful of them. Every morning she would take them for a walk down the hill to a large empty lot at the corner of Church and 21st streets. This event became the highlight of the day for our toddler, Eric, who each morning rushed to the front window to sit and stare at the animal parade.
Walking with Janet were her two dogs -- Bozo, a bulldog, and Baby, a cocker spaniel -- as well as a neighbor's feisty dog, Tippy, who never missed an excursion. Trailing along behind were Janet's cats, and she always had at least three. As they meandered down the street, Janet doled out treats that she carried in her pocket, which the animals anticipated with much yipping, mewing, and tail wagging. No wonder all animals adored her!
One day when we went shopping together, as we did once a week, Janet saw an animal that had been capturing her attention and sympathy for the past few days. She stopped the car, got out, and grasped the stray dog by its collar. A surprised Guido, who was with us, said, "Janet, you are not going to take in yet another animal, are you?" Janet did not answer the question. She simply stated -- as she shoved the strong-smelling vagrant into the back seat with me -- that it had been raining and the poor beast was wet and hungry.
She took the dog home, fed him, reassuringly bathed him, and named him Happy. In return, he became the most devoted animal in the menagerie.
Meanwhile, son Angus had grown up to be a handsome hunk like his father. He had also graduated from high school and was preparing to register for military service, like all young men of his generation. However, he chose not to be drafted as a foot soldier in the regular Army. Instead, he enlisted as a paratrooper and was shipped off to North Carolina for basic training. The training was rough, but Angus passed with flying colors. He then sent for Mariann, his adorable girlfriend back home, and they got married soon thereafter.
When he finished his stint in the service, Angus returned to Noe Valley with his bride and their baby son, Vincent. Six years later, the couple purchased their first home, high up on 26th Street, where their second son, Arron, was born.
Over the years they were a great comfort and help to their parents, who were suffering the ailments of aging. When Guido and then Janet died, Angus and Mariann decided to move into the large family home with their two sons, three cats, and an aging Weimaraner named Cecil.
Again, my man Leo and I were (and are) blessed with friendly, helpful neighbors by the name of Pera!
For the past 10 years, Arron Pera has gone steady with Melissa Duggan, a pretty green-eyed blond he met in kindergarten.
Like the Peras, the Duggan family has lived in Noe Valley for three generations. Fifty years ago, Melissa's grandparents came from Ireland and settled in the Mission. They lived in several locations in Noe Valley before ending up in a house near the corner of Alvarado and Sanchez streets. Three children grew up in that house, and Tom, Melissa's father, was the youngest.
When Tom was a strapping young man, he happened to see a photograph of a blond beauty named Claudia in the Polytechnic High School yearbook. He couldn't get the photo out of his mind. So with the help of a friend, he finagled a date. Tom and Claudia got along so well that eight years later they were married at St. James Church on Guerrero Street.
The Duggans' home for 30 years has been a handsome post-Victorian house on Sanchez a few doors below Hill Street. It was here they raised two daughters -- Heather, who is married and lives in Utah, and Melissa, who this past year became engaged to our neighbor, Arron Pera.
On July 5, Melissa and Arron took their nuptial vows in an elegantly appointed formal wedding at St. Philip's Church on Diamond and 24th streets (where they both went to school).
Waiting at the curb after the ceremony were two fine antique cars, a black 1931 Ford coupe and a red 1936 two-door Ford, which had been carefully restored by Tom Duggan, father of the bride. These elegant vehicles carried the bridal party across town to the reception, to the delight and cheers of pedestrians along the way.
At the lavish reception, held in the banquet room of the Maritime Museum at Aquatic Park, the best man, Robert Moser, summed up Arron and Melissa's love story charmingly:
"I have been friends with Arron since kindergarten at St. Philip's Grammar School," he said, "and we shared many great times. I remember wreaking havoc in Douglass Park after school, and in the summer riding bikes all over Noe Valley, and of course swapping cop stories [both are on the San Francisco police force]. I also recall second grade, when Arron started chasing this cute little blond-haired, pigtailed girl around the schoolyard. After about 10 years of pigtail-pulling, he realized he was getting nowhere. So he finally asked her out, and now, after dating her for 10 years, he has finally had the good sense to marry Melissa. Knowing Melissa myself, I realize that Arron is marrying an intelligent, kind woman, who looks radiant today."
After returning from their honeymoon in Portugal, this couple -- third-generation San Franciscans -- made their home among the palm trees on Dolores Street, in Noe Valley, of course!