Noe Valley Voice October 2003

Longtime Noe Resident Killed in Hit-and-Run Accident

By Heidi Anderson

Longtime Sanchez Street resident James Hahn, a retired architect known by neighbors for his frequent walks around Noe Valley, died Sept. 8 after being struck by a hit-and-run driver at Valley and Sanchez streets two days earlier.

The accident occurred just before 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 6, when a man, identified by police as 20-year-old Mark Portillo, ran a stop sign at the intersection and struck Hahn, throwing him more than 50 feet. The driver fled, running another stop sign and colliding with a taxi at Duncan and Church streets. When he tried to escape on foot, he was captured by a man who had been painting a house nearby.

Portillo was held at Martha and Bros. coffee shop on Church Street until authorities arrived.

Neighbors said Hahn, 76, known as Jim, served as an ambassador of goodwill on his daily strolls around Noe Valley.

"He always had something nice to say," said Hildy Burness, who often encountered Hahn during her seven years of early-morning walks. "He had a long route, down Sanchez, up to 24th. He'd greet everybody who walked by and always say, 'It's a lovely day, isn't it?'"

Hahn was born in Oak Park, Ill., and moved to San Francisco in 1954 after serving in World War II and studying architecture at the Chicago School of Design. Here, he raised six children with his ex-wife, Katherine, who now lives in Seattle.

One of his sons, Seth, also was struck and killed by a car 10 years ago as he rode his bicycle home from work downtown.

"Back when Seth died, it was my dad who was there for all of us. Now, I keep thinking he'll show up and help us," said Brit Hahn, another of Hahn's sons.

In his grief now, Brit Hahn said he is trying to maintain a focus on the good life his father led.

"He was a unique man, very cerebral. He came here in 1954 as kind of a part of the Beatnik generation," he said. "My father liked things to be different. He was an architect, but he told me he never, ever took part in the 'little boxes' that were springing up."

Jim Hahn was involved in a number of civic restoration projects, including the Point Bonita Lighthouse, the Golden Gate Park Windmill Society, and the Palace of Fine Arts renovation. He was a longtime docent for the Palace of the Legion of Honor.

"In every part of his life, he never took more than he needed," Brit Hahn said. "If he could walk there, he wouldn't take a car."

His father, he said, exercised an eccentric taste in clothes, which is probably why paramedics initially mistook him for a homeless man.

"Once he retired, he just wore his funky old clothes and hat all the time," said his daughter, Kira Hahn, who lives in the Sunset District. "He just wasn't about the trappings of society," she said. "When he gave me away at my wedding, he did wear a tuxedo for me--he kept calling it his 'costume.'"

Kira Hahn said she was still trying to come to grips with her father's death.

"I am dumbfounded," she said. "He was just a guy out on his walk, like anybody."

After moving to San Francisco, Jim Hahn worked as an architect for two firms--Henry J. Kaiser and in Tiburon at Callister, Payne & Bishop--before becoming self-employed. He retired in 1987 but continued to volunteer with restoration projects.

He was married to Katherine Hahn from 1955 until 1969 and bought his home on Sanchez Street in 1973.

Brit Hahn said that his father was conscious when he arrived at San Francisco General Hospital after the accident, but that he only gave his own home phone number, so none of his children was aware of his condition until Sunday night.

"My older brother Elan missed him when Dad didn't show up for their regular Sunday morning thing," Brit Hahn said. "He called around to the police, the hospital, the morgue."

It wasn't until Sunday evening when Elan Hahn went to the Sanchez Street home and listened to the message from the hospital that he learned what had happened.

Now, Brit Hahn says he would like to thank the neighbors who helped detain the driver who struck his father.

"I think Noe Valley is a place where people notice things. And it's very nice to know there are still people who are willing to get involved."

In addition to Brit, Elan, and Kira, Hahn is survived by his children Bibi and Moss, and by eight grandchildren, all of whom live in the Bay Area.

A memorial service was held on Sept. 16. h