Inspiration, Life Abroad, San Francisco, Writing
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Post #76: The Brown Twins of San Francisco

Post #76: The Brown Twins of San Francisco.

The first saw them about a week after I moved to the neighbourhood. They sat by the restaurant window, dressed in matching outfits of animal print. Twins. In the few seconds it took to walk by, I was taken. They were intriguing, vivacious. Instinctively, I wanted to know more about them.

I returned home and told the American. He said, “Oh, those twins? They’re famous. Everyone in San Francisco knows them. They even have a Wikipedia page.”

The Brown Twins: Marian and Vivian, dining at their reserved table at Uncle Vito’s Pizza in San Francisco.

[Source: SF Chronicle]

That was my first introduction to the Brown Twins. Since then, I have seen them at least weekly, usually dining at Uncle Vito’s and sharing a small pizza. They always dress elegantly, and have more than 100 matching outfits to choose from. Even mid-meal, their lipstick is immaculate and never is a hair out-of-place. They’re icons: plenty of locals and tourists alike have stopped to pose with these grand old dames who do everything together.

The Twins have been turning heads in San Francisco since they relocated from Michigan in 1970. At their one-bedroom apartment on the crest of Nob Hill (a building most notable for its role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo), they sleep in matching single beds. Neither of them married, but they did once date twins they met at a twin convention in Milwaukee.

A food reviewer for The Chronicle a few years ago summed up the San Francisco pair this way: “These two ladies with their elegantly arched brows, full-blown coifs and tiny, tailored suits, embody a spirit that makes the city so distinctive.” — SF Chronicle

San Francisco icons.

[Source: SF Chronicle]

The Brown Twins are celebrities of a very different nature. They adore having a chat to people on the streets and posing for pictures. They’re great ambassadors of the city of San Francisco, and have featured on numerous commercials and television programs. They even have a Flikr pool devoted to photos of them and musical theatre troupe the SF Follies has immortalised the twins as part of their cabaret act.

They remind me of “old San Francisco.” Going “downtown” in your classiest attire. Hats, gloves and all. — Paris Hotel Boutique

Marian and Vivian love a glass of red with their pizza.

[Source: SF Chronicle]

I have only met them a few times, but one of their best assets is their sense of humour.

The Brown twins, Vivian and Marian, are window shopping [at Macy’s], dressed identically and carrying matching little red bags. They love the city and the [Christmas] season, they are saying. They talk together, one finishing the other’s sentences.
“We came here from Kalamazoo, Michigan,” Vivian said. “It’s too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer there.”
“Oh, yes,” Marian said, “The rest of California is nice, but San Francisco is paradise.”
They like the December weather here.
“All you need is a good wrap,” Vivian said. They have matching coats, of course.
“They call this faux fur,” said Marian, “But I call it fake. That’s spelled F-A-K-E.”
They laughed. They’d gathered a little crowd and posed for snapshots with visitors from Millbrae and San Bruno.
SF Chronicle

These ladies have a gravitational pull. They love life, and it’s hard not to be affected by their Joie de vivre!

I often regaled the stories of the Twins and what they were wearing during Skype calls home. And when my family came to visit us last year, they were delighted to meet the Twins right where I said they would be: at Uncle Vito’s. And these saucy ladies were in fine form!

My 6 foot 2 sister (kneeling, because we struggled to fit everyone in the shot if she was standing) with 5 foot 1 SF icons Marian and Vivian Brown, at Uncle Vito’s. July 2011.

Recently, I had been wondering why I’d not seen them around the neighbourhood. Then I read in the SF Chronicle that Vivian had a dementia-related fall last month. She had to be admitted to a 24-hour care facility, and has been there ever since. Marian is only able to visit her twice a week — a painful division for the women who have spent the majority of their lives in each other’s company. From all reports, Vivian’s dementia has reached a stage where she will never be able to return to their home on Nob Hill.

Marian dines alone at Uncle Vito’s ever since her twin, Vivian, was admitted to hospital.

[Source: SF Chronicle]

It’s a sad state of affairs. Many have offered their support to the Brown Twins. People have paid for Marian’s daily meal at Uncle Vito’s, my local pizzeria. Others have provided transportation and/or cab fare for Marian to visit her sister in hospital. One person even provided burial plots for the Twins, after Marian had expressed concerns about them being separated in the afterlife. And the Jewish Family and Children’s Services are collecting money on their behalf (irrespective of the fact the Twins are protestant) to provide a home for the twins to live out their golden years together. It says one thing about San Francisco: we care, and we all want to give back to the Twins who have given so much to this city.

The Brown Twins: as San Francisco as the TransAmerica Pyramid.

[Source: Field Notes from a Noticer]

This week, I’ll stop by Uncle Vito’s to slip the waiter a card for Marian and some money to cover her favourite meal: a personal pizza, glass of red and slice of chocolate cake. She and her sister have been such an integral part of the fabric of my San Francisco, and I want the chance to tell her how bright my days are whenever I see them.


  1. This is an incredible account of the Twins. They definitely represent a sense of what San Francisco is all about. Thank you for sharing this well written story. I haven’t seen them down the street as much as you, but I felt like I knew them just as well after reading this.

    • Thanks, Steven! I love how they people embrace a city and become some of its most colourful characters. The City won’t be the same without them.

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