Ed Note: The recent rental ad for Novato’s Round House on Craigslist is like having Emmanuel Lewis show up at your work Christmas party wearing a Braveheart costume and FaceTiming with the ghost of Elliott Smith. Or, in the words of the ad, its a once-, (maybe twice)-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Intel from a couple guys in line at Italian Delite yesterday and an hour spent poring over the Novato Library microfiche reveals there’s much much more to this house than a “‘Jetson’s’ style kitchen” and spinning oil drums as metaphor of fossil-fueled white flight to suburbia.
Below, what the ad did not disclose:
Designed originally as a time machine during the fall of the Third Reich by imprisoned Polish scientist Augustyn Komorowski, the Harkleroad home of Novato is currently available for rent on Craigslist.
Sam Harkleroad was a drifter who found his way to the Novato Denny’s the night of the Kennedy assassination after riding the rails of the Marin Airporter. There he met a man called Baskethead who solved math problems that hadn’t yet been invented while he sipped coffee at the counter and, as his name suggests, wore a basket on his head.
Harkleroad, who was studying to be a cobbler’s apprentice, was told there would be work for him on Grant Avenue. He was down to his last penny when Baskethead handed over Komorowski’s plans and said the structure should border the 101—but warned him of the responsibility that would come with building such a landmark.
“But I am just a simple man, a cobbler’s apprentice,” Harkleroad said as he bit into his key lime pie. “I’m not ready for this.”
“The world’s not ready,” Baskethead said.
Harkleroad buried the plans in a Folgers Crystals canister behind the Roger Wilco and went about his business of cobbling. Five years to the day later, a vision of a Miwok princess visited Harkleroad during his evening cordial down Sutro and warned him of a great flood. “You must build a sanctuary on high ground. It is the only way to save this town.”
“Including the Novato Theater?” Harkleroad asked.
“Nobody,” she said, “can save the Novato Theater.”
When spring arrived, Harkleroad made the 1.7-mile journey to The Square on foot and unearthed the plans. He went about collecting cans and string and coffee cups in order to build his masterpiece and fulfill the prophecy.
The Lazy Susan-shaped structure, which is able to circumnavigate time and space through the power of wind through sliced-in-half oil drums that sit atop it, was erected in 1969. The home’s first tenant was the Zodiac Killer who promptly used the wormhole to go back in time and cover his tracks. His security deposit bounced and he was evicted before he could hang up anything weird on the interior’s wood paneling. He was never heard from again.
The Native American apparition’s prophecy did come true as the city of Novato was decimated by flood waters in early 1982. The seven surviving residents of Novato, known today as the “Novato 5*” (*two of the seven defected to Terra Linda to start a new utopia, now called Northgate One), were able to use the Harkleroad home as a temporary shelter and a place to re-purpose and re-build the ranch town into a bedroom community.
“We have found sanctuary here and we will make Novato a safe haven from the pestilence and crime of San Francisco. A place where the city’s guardians—its police and firefighters but not MUNI drivers—can drink and drive and get laid sometimes and not have to lock their doors,” Harkleroad said.
Novato soon flourished. Harkleroad’s Round or Barrel House became a landmark now driven past really really slowly by more than 3 million commuters a year. Its barely turning centrifuge rooftop a daily reminder that while life is in constant motion, nothing ever changes in Novato.
The home has been inspiration for many of today’s pop culture touchstones: Journey’s “Wheel in the Sky” is about frontman Steve Perry’s first visit to the home whereupon he felt he was “floating” 15 feet above the freeway.
“We were out of ideas and basically bankrupt musically,” Metallica’s James Hetfield said in a 1994 interview for short-lived British metal fanzine, Happy Clappers. “Then one day I was driving my Bronco—the one with the steer horns mounted on the front—on the way to the Bit and I saw the (Round) house and thought, ‘Nothing Else Matters’. And that’s where (inspiration for) the Black Album came from.”
Longtime Marin County resident George Lucas said he’d fallen into a deep “creative coma” after filming his biggest box office hit Howard the Duck in Novato. He used the Harkleroad home to go back in time and write the Star Wars prequels but upon re-entry into 1996, the drafts were lost.
“It was like when you wake up at 3 a.m. and have this great epiphany and you don’t write it down and it’s gone forever. But then you get up the next morning and try to get down what you remember anyway,” he said. “That’s what I did…so I blame Jar Jar Binks on the rough re-entry into the present.”
Lucas noted he’s tried several times to go back back in time to unwrite the prequels but, “That, well…that is a story for another day.”
For $3,000/mo plus a $5,000 deposit, the lucky renters will have easy access to the 101 at the Rowland exit where they can travel back a quarter century to view both Back to the Future sequels and Something to Talk About during $2 Tuesday at the new Rowland Plaza Cineplex (once they fix the leaky roof), stop by Nave Lanes’ Phoenix Garden for a RC and Crown and enjoy a dance underneath the laser lights at Club Changes.