Louis Marlin Jr.
Sixty-five-year old Louis Marlin Jr. was on a cruise in Europe when he found out his Burlingame home of 39 years had burned down.
Just before Thanksgiving, at 3:49 a.m. Nov. 23, Marlin’s apartment, at the 1200 block of Donnelly Avenue near downtown Burlingame was part of a four-alarm blaze that badly damaged both his building and a commercial building next door, according to Central County Fire Marshal Rocque Yballa. Investigators believe combustible items near a floor heater at the commercial business on the first floor of his apartment at 1218 Donnelly Ave. started the fire and caused $2 million in damage, Yballa said. A full report on the fire will be released sometime next week.
Marlin, who is deaf, found out about the fire through an email sent to the leader of his trip one morning at breakfast in Rome.
“At first I was shocked,” he said through an interpreter. “Then I was worried, thinking about all the valuable things [I lost]. I was so unsettled and couldn’t sleep well.”
Now he is disappointed, but glad to be alive.
“In some ways I felt the house was mine,” he said. “I loved the stairway because it kept me in shape — I was getting a little bit thick in the middle. I loved the view and watched people go by and of course I would flirt sometimes with the girls going by. One of the most important things I thought of was my life. I would have died for sure if I was not on vacation since I’m a heavy sleeper.”
For now, he’s staying at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Burlingame. His stay there can last until January, but could be extended if his search for housing continues past then. He lost his car and had home renter’s insurance, but not everything is covered.
Marlin was born in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and moved to Missouri after the death of his father in a Navy accident. He also spent time in Florida, where his stepfather worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Illinois before studying photography at National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.
During summer, he would hitchhike and visited California, finding himself loving the area.
“When I graduated, I decided to make a new life for myself in California,” said Marlin, who worked for the government’s U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park for 28 years as a cartographer. “I stopped here and haven’t left.”
In the early ’70s, he settled in Burlingame, paying $75 for his first month’s rent. He has continued his travels throughout the years, making his way to Egypt, Italy, Greece, Turkey and other countries. He became a San Francisco Giants fan, then enjoyed walking around town, reading newspapers, running errands and shopping once he retired. His most recent trip was on the cruise.
His stepbrother, Steve Daubs, said everyone in town knows him and always says hi.
“Anyone who comes in contact with him walks away a better person,” Daubs said.
Marlin was able to recover a small collection of Native American arrowheads he put together at his grandparents’ farm in southeastern Missouri.
“I took care of it and brought it everywhere I went,” he said. “I’m so glad I was able to find this (in the burned building).”
Marlin also recovered some photos, but he was really disappointed to lose the flag from his father’s coffin and quilts his grandmother made. He also missed the items in his dining room, which included maps on the wall with pins that documented all of his world travels.
He is being allowed to go back into the home this morning as well to recover more belongings.
Does he plan on staying in the area?
“I think ‘my heart is in San Francisco’ is a cliché, but I want to stay for five years or more,” he said. “I’m considering moving back to Missouri because Missouri is where I grew up, I have relatives back there and my father is buried there. I love Missouri, but I consider it my second home. It’s beautiful here and the weather is nice.”
Since the Donnelly home was so close to restaurants, stores, the airport, Caltrain, his bank and San Francisco, Marlin said he it was the perfect location and he didn’t want to leave.
He said the support of his friends, the police and others here have helped him get through the loss of his home. The Red Cross has been of help, along with Partners in Communication who offered pro bono interpretation services. The Love Awakening, a nonprofit volunteer organization of which Marlin is part, bought him a winter coat and provided him with a computer.
“I want to stay put here and take time to start over here,” Marlin said. “I want to find something close to the same area. I have to start all over again and buy all the essential things, but life goes on.”
The Red Cross has advised him get to get a legal team together to do a thorough investigation of the fire, he said.
Those interested in helping Marlin can be contacted through P.O. Box 117612 Burlingame, CA 94011-7612.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105