Jonestown started here

The Peoples Temple was located in a former Scottish Rite temple on Geary Boulevard where the post office now stands.

FORTY YEARS AGO this month, on November 18, 1978, 909 men, women and children — many of them members of the Peoples Temple from the Fillmore neighborhood — died in the jungle of South America after ingesting a mix of cynanide, sedatives and Flavor Aid fruit drink at the urging of their leader, Rev. Jim Jones.

It was set in motion here, and two programs this month commemorate the tragedy with local roots:

• On Wednesday, November 7, the California Historical Society will present a program featuring historians, academics and survivors at its headquarters at 678 Mission Street. “Discussing Peoples Temple: Understanding the Social, Cultural and Political Influences on the Peoples Temple Movement” starts at 6 p.m.

• On Sunday, November 18, a “Day of Atonement in the Fillmore” is planned, beginning at 1:45 in front of the U.S. Post Office on Geary near Fillmore, where the Peoples Temple once stood. It includes a march down Fillmore to the mini park between Turk and Golden Gate and numerous guest speakers.

A LAUDED RECENT BOOK by journalist Jeff Guinn, The Road to Jonestown, aims to tell the definitive story of Jim Jones and Jonestown. Guinn reports that Jones and his followers first came to the Fillmore in 1968 from their compound in Redwood Valley, up in Mendocino County, where they had earlier relocated from Indiana.

“Stories about an upcoming event in San Francisco caught Jones’s eye,” Guinn writes. “Macedonia Baptist, one of the city’s major black churches, announced a memorial service honoring Martin Luther King Jr.”

About 150 of Jones’s followers came with him to San Francisco to attend the service, all entering the church on Sutter Street near Steiner together, a sea of white faces in a black church. Friendships were formed and visits exchanged. Jones was later invited to offer guest sermons at the church, which were widely advertised.

“Beginning in 1970,” Guinn writes, “Jones conducted San Francisco services that were no longer directly affiliated with Macedonia Baptist. His preferred venue was the auditorium at Franklin Junior High on Geary Boulevard and Scott Street.”

Then, Peoples Temple “acquired an old multistory building at 1859 Geary Boulevard in San Francisco, a yellow-brick structure in the Fillmore District. The building had a large auditorium with a seating capacity of about 1,800. . . . The Temple paid $122,500, and renovation cost an additional $50,000 to $60,000.”

“It was in the right location,” Guinn writes. “Jones set up for business there.”

A business from the Old Fillmore

The Neuhaus Brothers clothing store at 1806 Fillmore Street.

By HOWARD FREEDMAN

At age 95, neighborhood resident Jerry Neuhaus is one of the last surviving business owners who operated in the Fillmore District before it was demolished by the Redevelopment Agency in the 1960s. And he’s still nearby — only four blocks from the clothing store he and his family ran for decades at Fillmore and Sutter.

Neuhaus was born in 1922 in Spangenberg, a small town in central Germany, where his father ran a department store. As conditions deteriorated rapidly for Jews in Hitler’s Germany, an aunt and uncle who had earlier come to San Francisco urged his family to join them here.

Neuhaus managed to leave Germany with his mother, father and sister in 1937, bringing along a sacred Torah scroll. Jews who were able to escape could bring little money with them. But some people in the know suggested they bring Leica cameras, which were in high demand in the United States.

Once in San Francisco, they were able to sell the cameras and use the proceeds to get established. His uncle helped Jerry’s father start a clothing store, Neuhaus Brothers, at 1806 Fillmore, just north of the corner of Sutter Street.

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Nonprofit taking over Yoshi’s

THE LIGHTS ARE back on in the Yoshi’s complex at 1330 Fillmore. The nonprofit San Francisco Housing Development Corp. — which, it says, has been “building homes and hope since 1988” — is taking over the space, at least temporarily.

The affordable housing group from the Bayview has applied for a permit from the city’s Entertainment Commission to offer performances and other activities in the 420-seat nightclub and vast restaurant space, in conjunction with the New Community Leadership Foundation, a local collective.

The 50,000-square-foot Fillmore Heritage Center also includes a screening room, gallery and parking garage. It has been shut down since January 2015.

The group reopening the Fillmore Heritage Center. (Examiner photo)

Read more: “Fillmore Heritage Center gets a new tenant

A master sommelier — and a film star

Verve Wine’s Dustin Wilson returns for a third installment of the Somm film series.

FIRST PERSON | DUSTIN WILSON

For me, becoming a sommelier meant taking part in something much larger than myself. Working with a team of like-minded individuals on a restaurant crew for the greater goal of unforgettable hospitality really excited me.

I was totally ready for the overall restaurant scene, challenging as it was at times. But taking part in a three-part film documentary along the way was completely unexpected.

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Farewell to Narumi

For 37 years, Jiro Nakamura’s jewel box of a shop has been at 1902 Fillmore.

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

“You have to say: ‘This is the end. It’s time to go home,’ ” says Jiro Nakamura, with a shy smile.

Sadly for the neighborhood, that means the end of Narumi Japanese Antiques, Nakamura’s tiny jewel box of a shop at 1902 Fillmore Street. Narumi has been the go-to place for antique Japanese dolls, imported kimonos, essentials for a proper tea ceremony and a unique collection of Japanese antiques and art — including many of Nakamura’s own stained glass creations and hand-painted works — since it opened in 1981.

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She kept the neighborhood looking good

Lydia Ainsley: caught in the act of cleaning up Fillmore Street.

SHE WALKED the street incognito, just another neighbor, often bandannaed, with a shopping bag on her arm.

But Lydia Ainsley was on a mission every time she walked down Fillmore Street. For more than two decades, she made it her business to remove the signs and posters taped to utility poles on Fillmore and discreetly tuck them into her sack.

Nobody asked her to do it, but she approached her task diligently. Eventually the Fillmore merchants began paying her the princely sum of $150 every month, which she expected on time.

She resisted all praise and publicity, insisting it would only blow her cover.

She was also a faithful volunteer for Food Runners, delivering excess food from local businesses to shelters where it was needed. And she did it via Muni, or on foot.

Lydia Ainsley died on August 6 at age 91, still in her beloved apartment of more than 40 years at Fillmore and Vallejo, overlooking the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Our own piazza

Photograph of The Italian Homemade, at 1919 Union, by Sheila Pierce

By SHEILA PIERCE

La piazza: It’s one of the things I miss most about Italy.

Because la piazza preserves the traditions and habits of the past, which modern life is swallowing.

Because la piazza offers a newspaper stand instead of an app, interaction with people instead of technology and an outdoor space to breathe in where the world goes by in person rather than on a screen.

Because la piazza becomes a canvas of local flora and fauna, the central hub of a neighborhood, where kids migrate in the afternoon to kick a soccer ball and grandparents perch on benches to watch the next generation whiz by — where life slows down.

In the year and half I’ve lived in San Francisco, I’ve watched una piazza take shape, and by no coincidence it’s thanks to a group of Italians. This piazza is not where you might think it would be: in the North Beach-Little Italy area of the city, which is an admirable community of shops, pizzerie and restaurants run by extraordinary Italian-Americans still operating their ancestors’ businesses. And it’s not oval, square or rectangular, like most piazzas.

Instead, it’s linear, and it takes up two blocks on Union Street, between Laguna and Webster Streets. Here, my kids feel at home, as if back in Italy. In these places, my kids can speak Italian, enjoy homemade Italian cooking and gelato, feel the bond of neighborhood friends, reminisce about the Italian culture they miss and see how the tradition of family-run businesses transcends from Italy to America.

Read more: “A San Francisco Piazza

Alta Plaza Park reopens

Photograph of the new lawns at Alta Plaza Park by Dickie Spritzer

AFTER MONTHS of being surrounded by chain link fencing while its irrigation system was overhauled, the top side of Alta Plaza Park has reopened to the public.

The lawns have been replanted and new drains installed to capture water runoff. Some areas of the park are still fenced off as final details, including a new entry at Jackson and Pierce, are completed. New plantings at the entrances are to be installed later this year.

Still cozy after all these years

For four decades, La Mediterranee has attracted a mix of diners with its atmosphere and food.

By SHELLEY HANDLER

In the very affordable 1970s, the Fillmore was home to working artists, including photographer Edmund Shea. Best known for his collaboration with conceptual artist Bruce Conner and his book covers for neighbor and acclaimed writer Richard Brautigan, Shea’s work can still be seen in the neighborhood today.

Approach La Mediterranee restaurant at 2210 Fillmore, and hanging just to the right of the door is a large framed photograph of a champagne bottle on ice, with “open” splashed across it. On the reverse, the same bottle is shown upended in the ice bucket, with the message “closed” directly below.

Though champagne might seem a bit upscale for this simple neighborhood spot, it reflects both Shea’s quietly bon vivant lifestyle and owner Levon Der Bedrossian’s desire for a place at once humble and indulgent. Shea moved easily between his artistic friends and San Francisco society, where his innate charm was not lost on the ladies. In its own way, La Mediterranee has the same cross-cultural ease — still, after almost 40 years, drawing a mix of creative locals and tony denizens of Pacific Heights.

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Unity Church may become a pot shop

Unity Church (center) is in contract to sell its longtime home at 2222 Bush Street.

UNITY CHURCH has entered into a contract to sell its longtime home in the Victorian building at 2222 Bush Street — reportedly to a marijuana retailer — if the church can find a new location within the next year that is near mass transit lines and better-suited to its needs.

Church members voted earlier to hire a commercial real estate broker to explore the sale of the building — which is zoned for retail as part of the Fillmore neighborhood commercial district — and the purchase of a less expensive home that would be more accessible to its members.

A church leader confirmed the contract, but declined to identify the buyer. Records in the city’s new Office of Cannabis show the Vapor Room has submitted an application for a retail cannabis permit at 2222 Bush.

On August 18, the church was the location for what was billed as the world’s first Free Weed Comedy Show. For $35, attendees got to hear three local stand-up comics, plus two free drinks and, before the show outside on Bush Street, “a small amount of free marijuana to take home (no onsite consumption).” Munchies were available for purchase.

“It went really well,” said comedian and organizer Adam Hartle. “No plans yet to do another in San Fran, but maybe one day in the future.”