Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What is a "Flophouse"?

When I was a child growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I lived in a house in Seattle that everyone called “The Thackeray Street Hotel”. This house (also called “The Blue House” by the Frenchlings) was located on Thackeray Street in the Wallingford District of Seattle, not far from the University of Washington.

I’m not sure who first came up with the idea of calling it a “hotel” but I surely know why; it was an open house in the best sense of that term. Almost every day there were people popping in and out; some stayed for dinner, some for a night and some practically moved in for months at a time. It wasn’t a large house by any means but there was always room for a friend or a friend of a friend to sleep and there was always space at the dinner table for “just one more if we squeeze the chairs together a bit tighter.” At one time there were so many keys to this house floating around that my parents were no longer sure who had one and who might unexpectedly appear in the evening hours. Interesting people: lawyers, artists, scientists, engineers, anthropologists, jazz and folk musicians, public radio aficionados, a retired Federal Appeals Court judge and at least one hobo.

So when the time came to found my own household I looked for name of my very own. One that captured the bi-cultural nature of the family, the transient nature of our living situation and the hope that we would have our own collection of interesting people to visit us wherever we decided to live.

“Franco-American” was obvious. As a synonym for “hotel”, the archaic American “flophouse” seemed appropriate. When I put the two together I thought that “Franco-American Flophouse” tripped nicely off the tongue.

For those who wish for a formal definition, the Urban Dictionary says: “A run-down boarding house for bums, hobos, and other transients.” http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=flophouse.
Wikipedia has a bit more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flophouse

Unlike the Thackeray Street Hotel, the Franco-American Flophouse is not a physical place. On the contrary, it will never have a fixed location. But it travels well and has found homes in Seattle, Tokyo, Courbevoie, Suresnes, Paris, and now Versailles.

Think of it as a state of mind; a place where the door is always open, you have your own key and there is always a place at the table for someone with an open mind and a gracious heart.

If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them.
Francis Bacon

1 comment:

betty said...

The Palace Flophouse in the Cannery Row novel was a section of metal storm pipe, inhabited by the paisainos of Monterey.