Four tenants in two units where the rents are $1,200 and $1,300 a month, at Gough and Oak Streets, are fighting to stay put as their landlord is attempting to evict them under the Ellis Act. The building, inscribed with R.L. Goldberg on the front frieze, was commissioned by the famed cartoonist and whimsical machine inventor Rueben (Rube) Goldberg, who was a San Francisco native, and the first steps toward getting it historic-preservation status were taken yesterday, as the Chron reports.

Goldberg grew up in San Francisco and was a cartoonist at The Chronicle before going to New York in 1907, where he worked at the New York Evening Mail to draw daily cartoons. His drawings of complicated contraptions to solve simple problems were a smash hit, and over the next few years he also began to appear on stage. Flush with cash, he returned to San Francisco and commissioned the construction of the subject property, which has his name, “R.L. Goldberg,” inscribed on the building’s frieze.

It was one of the longtime tenants, jazz singer Jacqui Naylor, who proposed the building for landmark status with the Historic Preservation Commission, who are taking its architectural qualities into account more than the Goldberg connection. Naylor knows that the landmark status likely will not affect the eviction process but she says, "This will make anything [the landlord] wants to do a little harder."

The landlord in this case is 67-year-old Ken Hirsch who tells Hoodline that he's maintained a good relationship with the tenants over the years, and even given them a one-year extension on the eviction — now about to expire — to give them time to find new homes. But the tenants, including Naylor and her husband Art Khu and, in the other unit, Beverly Uptown (Executive Director of the Domestic Violence Consortium) and her husband Dave Hill, have all lived there so long under rent control that their far-below-market rents aren't providing the retirement income Hirsch had hoped for when he bought the building 18 years ago. Both leases predate Hirsch's ownership, and rental rates are protected by rent control.

On the ground floor is 20th Century Café, and he's getting some income from that, but now he would like the tenants out so that he use the units for family use — and, presumably, re-rent them at higher rents in five years, as the Ellis Act allows. He says he "may just keep them vacant and stay out of the residential rental business entirely," but that sounds disingenuous, not to mention mean-spirited given the fact that he is making $2,500 a month in rent from them as-is, and taking units off the rental market in these tight times seems wrong.

But it is, after all, his right to do so, and it doesn't sound like these tenants have a lot of ground to stand on. Hirsch has also offered them buyouts of $40,000 apiece and says he's willing to go higher. So, for now, they're going to the press, and yesterday a small protest was held outside the building organized by Eviction Free SF. "We will not be exiting. We'll be fighting it," says Naylor. "We came together as a building, as neighbors, and decided we were going to stay strong and unified on this, not only for us but also for the community."

And Hirsch tells the Chron that he empathizes with Naylor. "If I had a three-bedroom flat for $1,300 a month in Hayes Valley I wouldn’t want to move either,” he said.