A tree of light

The tree atop UCSF is controlled from a room just underneath.

The tree atop UCSF is controlled from a room just underneath.

FOR DECADES it has been a familiar sight during the holidays for drivers headed west on Pine Street: a 40-foot Christmas tree in the sky made of lights — 3,000 lights, on 60 strands, with 50 lights each.

The tradition started when Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. built its four-story black glass headquarters in the 1950s on the site of the old Laurel Hill Cemetery, after the bodies were dug up and moved to Colma. The tree has continued to rise every year since the University of California-San Francisco took over the building in 1985.

As the university prepares to move this neighborhood campus to Mission Bay and development plans for new housing on the site proceed, the fate of the tree is in doubt.

Photographs © 2017 Jean Collier Hurley

Photographs © 2017 Jean Collier Hurley

Photographs © 2017 Jean Collier Hurley

Our little village

Photograph by Barbara Wyeth

FIRST PERSON | THOMAS R. REYNOLDS

I’d run into Lois Tilles a couple of Saturday mornings ago at the Fillmore Farmers Market, near the bright orange persimmons and the deep red pomegranates glowing in the morning sun. She was sporting her usual warm smile. We’re both in a group that has been walking together for 25 years at Crissy Field early on Saturday mornings and has coffee together afterward. Lois’s husband Richard usually came down on his bike for coffee, then rode over for his weekly volunteer gig in the Presidio. Lois and I chatted for a minute at the market. I was buying fuyu persimmons. She asked: “What are those?” Then: “How do you eat them?”

When we got back home after a week away, there was a phone message from the guiding spirit of the walking group. Richard was suddenly very sick. So I got fuyus at the market to bring as a get well gift. But it was too late. Richard had died — on Saturday morning, about the time of our coffee hour.

I remembered local artist Barbara Wyeth’s fondness for photographing fuyus, so we stopped by Bloomers on Washington Street, where she works, to pick up one of her hand-crafted cards. It turns out she’d made two: of a single and a double. On Thanksgiving eve, a neighbor and I walked down to Richard and Lois’s flat near Union Street and left a bag of fuyus, with the card of a single, on the doorknob for Lois. On the way down Steiner, we dropped the card with the double through the mail slot of the couple who started the walking group, and who brought us all together.

This holiday season, I am thankful to live in this wonderful neighborhood, and for good friends, especially those who live and work nearby in our little village.

P.S. On Thanksgsiving morning I got an email from Lois: “Did you know? The farmers market now delivers! I got some beautiful persimmons delivered right to my front door.”

Photograph by Barbara Wyeth

Photographs by Barbara Wyeth

Teaching human kindness

Photograph of Deb Anaya and friends by Suzie Biehler

Photograph of Deb Anaya and friends by Suzie Biehler

By LIV JENKS

On the corner of Fillmore and Jackson stands the imposing edifice that is home to Calvary Presbyterian Church, moved there from the western side of Union Square just in time to open with a community Thanksgiving service in 1902.

Often overlooked is the warm, bright preschool located on the top floor of the adjacent education building, with its rooftop playground, which has been welcoming and shaping 3- and 4-year-olds since 1956.

Deborah Anaya has been director of Calvary Nursery School for 19 years. As she walks through the six mini classrooms that divide the preschool’s open, inviting space, she points with pride to the reading corner, the student artwork that hangs on the walls, the portfolios tracking the progress the children made in learning how to write their names.

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Learning more about Santana

Santana book

BOOKS | LEWIS WATTS

I have always admired Carlos Santana, but I think I had begun to take him for granted. He made his career in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, starting in the Fillmore. I’ve always loved his music, especially his early albums, but I only knew a few particulars about his life. So I borrowed my wife’s copy of his autobiography, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light, which is well written and makes you feel as if you are sitting in a room with him having a conversation.

Santana was born in Autlán de Navarro, Mexico, the son of a professional Mariachi musician. He developed his blues chops playing guitar in strip clubs in Tijuana. He moved with his family to San Francisco in the early 1960s and formed the Santana Blues Band in 1966. I remember seeing him play with B.B. King at the Fillmore. His international reputation was sealed by his performance at Woodstock.

Santana always had a wide variety of influences in music. His unique style was formed by expanding his foundation in the blues to include Latin and jazz influences. One of his first big hits was “Oye Coma Va,” originally recorded by Tito Puente. I was fascinated to see that he was very tight with people like Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, John Lee Hooker and many others.

Santana was married for many years to Deborah Santana, the daughter of Saunders King, a prominent R&B guitarist during the heyday of the Fillmore District in the 40s and 50s, featured in Harlem of the West. He is now married to Cindy Blackman, a drummer who has played with Lenny Kravitz and many jazz ensembles. One of the notable qualities of Santana’s life is his deep spirituality, which has taken a number of forms, and which has sustained him and influenced his broad musical reach.

I was happy to learn more about Santana. The book made me break out his old albums in my collection — and then seek out some of his new music. It’s a good read.

Lewis Watts is co-author of Harlem of the West: San Francisco’s Fillmore Jazz Era.

A clubhouse for millenials

The Snug opened November 29 at the corner of Fillmore and Clay.

The Snug opened November 29 at the corner of Fillmore and Clay.

SALOONS | CHRIS BARNETT

The Snug conjures up a cozy corner in a centuries-old smoky pub where big-bellied Brits and tweedy types quaff suds, trade insults and argue politics The new Snug, at 2301 Fillmore, is the polar opposite — a sleek, fun, split-level cocktail bar with friendly skilled staffers mixing, pouring and serving classic and creative libations at reasonable prices.

In a stylish makeover of the former Mehfil Indian restaurant, the centerpiece here is a 31-foot-long bar fashioned of the trunk of a single Douglas fir. The barstools spin. There’s plenty of table seating for a couple, a foursome or a crowd. Mercifully, there’s not a single blaring TV on the premises. To justify its name, the owners have a carved out a small snug that seats four, but frankly it looks a little uncomfortable.

The Snug has more than a dozen craft beers and ciders on tap, five wines by the glass and six or seven house cocktails ranging from a White Lily #2 — gin, rum, orange liqueur, absinthe and curry leaf — to a timeless Old Fashioned, with bourbon, bitters and sugar. A tall wall of every spirit imaginable overlooks the airy space. There’s no happy hour.

The kitchen puts out snacks and a few inventive small and large plates. A burger and a $16 Cobb salad top the list. Brunch is coming soon.

City tight-lipped on Yoshi’s

The Fillmore Heritage Center's public spaces are empty, and no change is in sight.

The Fillmore Heritage Center’s public spaces are empty, and no change is in sight.

IN THE two-and-a-half years since Yoshi’s walked away from the jazz club and restaurant it created in the much-heralded Fillmore Heritage Center, city leaders have met and talked extensively about what should take its place.

Now they have punted.

On November 3, City Hall abruptly announced that none of the five proposals that had been submitted by potential buyers of the complex would be accepted.

“Ultimately, the proposals presented to the review panel and the city didn’t realize the cultural and economic potential of the Fillmore Heritage Center and its significance to the community to allow the process to continue,” said Joaquín Torres, the point person in the mayor’s office for the project, in an email.

So, for now, nothing will be done.

Neither Torres nor anyone else in City Hall involved in the project would discuss publicly the shortcomings of the five proposals or what might be done differently during a second round. Torres repeatedly refused to be interviewed on the record, finally issuing a brief noncommittal statement that said: “The city is currently reviewing its options to produce a beneficial and impactful opportunity for the lower Fillmore neighborhood.”

The decision to start all over again came only days after the restaurant 1300 on Fillmore — the last business operating in the complex — announced that it too would close, at least for now.

The long wait at the Fillmore Heritage Center

Opening night in November 2017 of the Fillmore Heritage Center, now empty for three years.

Opening night in November 2007 at the Fillmore Heritage Center, now empty for three years.

UPDATE: The wait will go on. City Hall has punted, announcing on November 3 that no decision will be made yet on what to do with the Fillmore Heritage Center. All five bids for the complex were rejected, and the process will start all over again.

JUST IN TIME, 1300 TAKES A TIME OUT

THEIR DECISION could have been made anytime since July 1, 2014, when Yoshi’s pulled out next door. But the owners of 1300 on Fillmore restaurant hung on, committed to the resurgence they helped spark.

They even doubled down and opened a barbecue joint across the street.

Finally on October 19 came the word: 1300 would close. Final call was on October 25, a closing party that former mayor Willie Brown called “a classic — more like the dance palace of the Fillmore of yesteryear.”

Owners Monetta White and David Lawrence insisted they are just taking a break — a “hiatus,” White called it — from trying to keep an upscale restaurant open on a lonely corner. Business has gotten slower and slower during the three years since Yoshi’s jazz club and restaurant called it quits, and city leaders have dragged out a decision about what to do with the space.

“Something had to be done,” White said. “We hope to revamp, revise and relaunch in 2018.”

David Lawrence and Monetta White greet diners at 1300 on Fillmore soon after it opened.

David Lawrence and Monetta White greet diners at 1300 on Fillmore soon after it opened.

In the meantime, Black Bark BBQ will continue and they will rent out 1300 and its Fillmore heritage lounge for pop-ups and private events.

“It’s a short-term decision for a long-term stay — hopefully,” White said.

Like nearly everyone else associated with the Fillmore Heritage Center — which houses 1300, the massive Yoshi’s restaurant and showroom, an art gallery, a screening room and a public parking garage — White expressed frustration with the city’s delay in finding a buyer for the complex. The project defaulted to the city when the developer went bust.

“Why is it taking them so long to deal with this building?” lamented White. “Who is in charge over there? They told me to hold for one year… it’s been three!”

Willie Brown spoke for many fans of 1300: “Thanks for the memories. Bring it back soon.”

‘It’s made a huge difference’

Chuck Louden is a longtime lifeguard at the neighborhood’s Hamilton Recreation Center.

Chuck Louden is a longtime lifeguard at the neighborhood’s Hamilton Recreation Center.

By DANIEL SCHILLER

If there’s a story that needs telling, you’d want Neil Hart to tell it. That became apparent one bright recent morning when, after a 3,000 yard swim, he turned to one of his favorite topics: San Francisco Tsunami Aquatics, the gay, lesbian, trans and straight-friendly adult swim league that has been a fixture at Fillmore’s Hamilton Recreation Center for three decades.

Hamilton’s dedicated aquatics community helped launch the team in 1986 and, in the aughts, helped renovate and reshape the multigenerational facility at 1900 Geary Boulevard the neighborhood’s diverse population enjoys today.

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Zen garden back on again

Renowned gardeners Shigeru Namba (right) and Isao Ogura are to create the Zen garden.

Renowned gardeners Shigeru Namba (right) and Isao Ogura are to create the Zen garden.

THE ON-AGAIN, off-again plan to create a memorial Zen garden at the foot of Cottage Row — once a Japanese enclave — is back on again.

On October 19, the Recreation & Park Commission approved the garden, a memorial to the founders of Japantown.

But approval on the commission’s consent calendar came only after another attempt to derail the project by the husband-and-wife team of Bush Street residents who have doggedly opposed the garden. Mary King and Marvin Lambert both argued again that honoring only the Japanese founders leaves out many others who have lived near Cottage Row.

So far they have managed to delay the garden, which was to be created last year in honor of the 110th anniversary of the founding of Japantown after the 1906 earthquake. At the October 19 hearing, Lambert repeatedly demanded that the issue be removed from the commission’s consent calendar. He said he has created his own memorial that would include all who have lived in the neighborhood.

But commission chair Mark Buell said the issue had already been discussed in a lengthy committee hearing and that only commission members could remove an item from the consent calendar. No one did. The garden passed unanimously.

EARLIER: “Cottage Row Zen garden sparks a fight

Alta Plaza makeover scaled back

Alta-Plaza-Master-Plan

The 2016 master plan for Alta Plaza Park.

GRAND PLANS to renovate Alta Plaza Park have been scaled back due to a lack of funding, but more limited measures to conserve water are proceeding.

The Recreation & Park Commission has awarded a construction contract to replace the sod and irrigation system on the north side of the park and to install perimeter drainage intended to address longstanding water seepage onto the sidewalks surrounding the park. Construction is expected to start during the winter, but the schedule has not yet been announced.

In addition, the project includes a “donor recognition circle” near the playground, which was renovated a decade ago, and a concrete driveway at Scott and Washington leading up to the donor site.

If funding permits, some new benches may also be added.

“Please bear in mind the reduced nature of this project,” wrote Janet Gamble and Anita Denz for Friends of Alta Plaza Park in an update to neighbors. “The entire north side will be excavated to replace the antiquated irrigation system and new sod will be planted. Some of the existing plants and shrubs will have to be removed and there is no funding for replacements now. The beds will be filled with mulch.”

A master plan for Alta Plaza approved by the Rec & Park Commission last year called for new pathways, furnishings and plantings. Those have been deferred.