The buzz on Divis: change is coming

Photographs of Divisadero Street by Erik Anderson

Photographs of upper Divisadero Street in San Francisco by Erik Anderson

By CHRIS BARNETT

THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE DINGY INTERSECTION of Divisadero and Bush won’t win any architectural awards today, but the location is increasingly prized by investors, and all four corners are in transition.

Bulldozers are rumbling over the dirt on the southwest corner, home for decades to the San Francisco Community Convalescent Home. More recently it has been a slot machine for speculators. Owner Jocelyn Carter cashed out seven years ago for $4.6 million from a San Francisco builder and his Manhattan money partner. Then, in foreclosure, they lost the location to a Mill Valley condo developer and investor who paid $14.6 million in 2012 — and quickly flipped it to Los Angeles-based megabuilder KB Home for a jackpot $38 million.

Now a six-story residential and retail complex with 81 condos is under construction, with a grand opening slated for early next year. Price tags on some units are sure to top a million apiece.

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Cottage Row loses its redwoods

Five redwoods were cut in the mini-park at Cottage Row.

Five redwoods were cut in the mini-park at Cottage Row.

THERE HAD BEEN TALK for years about cutting down the rapidly growing redwood trees in the park along Cottage Row. Suddenly one day in mid-February the five redwoods were felled, along with a massive eucalyptus tree and other smaller trees.

The howls of outrage among many neighbors now seem to be giving way to acceptance.

“I was opposed to cutting the trees when they could have been trimmed,” said Cottage Row resident Jeff Staben. “But now that you see the light and openness, it’s nice. If only people would stop using the park as a dog potty.”

cottage rowA crew from the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks has removed the trees and the redwood stumps and begun to refurbish the mini-park, which serves as a front yard for the historic Cottage Row homes. New Japanese maple trees — and perhaps cherry trees and magnolias — will be planted in a nod to the heritage of the row before its Japanese-American residents were ousted and interned during World War II. A few redwoods remain on private property.

“We’re stabilizing the park and updating the landscaping,” said Steve Cismowski, the manager from Rec & Park responsible for Cottage Row. “Those redwoods were always the wrong species for a park this size. We caught it just in the nick of time.”

He said the interim plan — what he called “shoestring and duct tape landscaping” — will make the park safer and more usable. “But it isn’t intended to be the end of the conversation — just the beginning,” he said.

Cismowski and his crew expect to work in the park every Monday for the next six weeks, completing their limited work by mid-May. They are widening the planters where the redwoods stood, building new steps and adding Japonesque touches. The eucalyptus stump — too big to grind out — will remain.

While Cottage Row has lost its redwoods, it has gained its own song — a lyrical melody by singer-songwriter Eve Fleishman, who lives nearby.

“Twice a week I could sing to the five small redwood trees that inspired the bridge lyrics of my song, City Light,” she said. “I felt like crying when I saw they were gone. Not much to sing about on Cottage Row right now.”

A salon offers help and hope

Photographs by Susie Biehler

Josh McGill gives a young client his first haircut. Photograph by Susie Biehler

GOOD WORKS | Barbara Kate Repa

On a sunny afternoon in late March, Christine Coppola pulled up to the Compass Family Shelter on Polk Street and opened the trunk of her car to unload an unlikely stash: a collection of combs, brushes, blow dryers, towels and hair potions and products.

Coppola has worked at Renaissance Salon, a block off Fillmore at 2600 Sacramento Street, for 19 years — and owned it for the last 15. For several months now, she has been leading a group of hair stylists who deliver the gift of grooming to the families living temporarily at the shelter.

Within moments of arriving at the shelter, she and two other stylists at Renaissance — Sara Nowacky and Josh McGill — transformed a basement area just off a communal kitchen into a makeshift salon. “It’s a little difficult not having the right chairs and all, but we make do,” Coppola explained cheerfully.

Her first haircutting session at the shelter was last September and she has returned every eight weeks or so since then, enlisting a group of hairdresser friends from Renaissance and elsewhere. Shelter residents sign up for a styling session in advance; there are usually 10 to 20 clients.

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Making a joyful noise — and maybe a healthier life

Members of the Community of Voices choir sing at the Western Addition Senior Center.

Members of the Community of Voices choir sing at the Western Addition Senior Center.

By Judy Goddess

MANY AGREE THAT choir music can be a joyful noise. And choir members often find singing fulfilling and fun. But a new study recently launched locally aims to uncover whether singing in a choir can actually help older adults have longer and healthier lives.

As part of the study, the 15-member Community of Voices choir gave a lively gospel performance on March 20 at the Western Addition Senior Center at Fillmore and Turk led by Maestro Curtis and his wife, Nola Curtis. Maestro Curtis, a renowned San Francisco Bay Area music legend, producer and author, has a background in classical music as well as jazz, gospel, R&B, funk, folk and country. Haruwn Wesley on upright bass and Larry Douglas on trumpet accompanied the choir at the concert.

“I know singing in the choir makes people happier,” says the center’s director, Robin Bill. “People who were quiet when they first came to our center in September are now stepping up. You can see the improvement in the choir from when they first met to now.” The Western Addition choir previously performed at the City Hall celebration of Kwanzaa and at the Parc 55 hotel, and another performance is planned for the fall.

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The golden years: contemplating a move

FIRST PERSON | Hazel Reitz

My husband and I lead active lives and are in pretty good health. But the years are marching on, and to our surprise we suddenly find ourselves in our 70s. A barrage of mail and phone calls pushing medical alert devices, walk-in bathtubs and lifetime care establishments underscores that sobering thought. While not eager to leave our comfortable home, the responsible thing seems to be to examine our options. So together with friends of a similar age, we recently embarked on a series of visits to local “life care communities.”

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New plaza coming to Fillmore

Rendering of the new Gene Suttle Plaza on Fillmore

Rendering of the new Gene Suttle Plaza on Fillmore

WORK BEGINS in early March on an ambitious new plan to transform the forlorn public plaza at Fillmore and O’Farrell streets into a dynamic green space that honors the history and culture of the neighborhood.

“It’s got a lot packed in,” said architect Jane Martin, whose Shift Design Studio designed the new plaza. “We want it to be fun and engaging.”

The paved checkerboard with the names of key figures from neighborhood history will remain, but eight squares of bricks will be removed and converted to planted areas with built-in benches. All of the plants will be native to Africa, and African symbols like those on nearby buildings will also be incorporated into the design. References to the earlier history of the area when it was largely a Jewish neighborhood will also be included.

“Our plan is to subvert the checkerboard and use the plaza as a way to make sense of a lot of disparate elements that have been added over time,” said Martin.

The nonprofit San Francisco Beautiful is coordinating the project with the owners of the property, nearby merchants and city agencies. The public is invited to join a community work day scheduled on Saturday, March 15, which is also when the planting will be done. The plaza is envisioned as the first phase of a larger series of neighborhood improvement projects that will unfold over the next two years.

“This is one more bead on the string,” said Kearstin Krehbiel, executive director of San Francisco Beautiful.

Rag & Bone is a go

Rag & Bone will open in the prominent space at the corner of Fillmore and California.

Rag & Bone will open in the prominent space at the corner of Fillmore and California.

AFTER PAYING $25,000 a month rent for seven months on a key corner location at Fillmore and California streets, the New York-based fashion retailer Rag & Bone finally on February 20 got the blessing of the city Planning Commission to open a store there.

Rag & Bone will occupy the two spaces that were home for decades to Royal Ground Coffee and the laundromat next door. It plans to offer both men’s and women’s clothing.

By a 4-3 vote, the commission decided that while Rag & Bone may technically qualify as a chain store in San Francisco, it nonetheless will be a good addition to the neighborhood.

The city’s formula retail ordinance defines a chain store as any company with 11 or more retail outlets in the U.S. Currently Rag & Bone has 12 stores and leases on four more locations.

Local residents and merchants lined up to testify that there are already too many chain stores on Fillmore and an overabundance of fashion boutiques. Others said Rag & Bone was unique and would be a good neighbor, especially given its vow to support a local school and set up a loan fund for independent businesses.

“I don’t think it rises to the level of some of the other formula retails we’ve seen,” said commissioner Rich Hillis, who voted for Rag & Bone.

“The street looks great right now,” said commissioner Rodney Fong, another Rag & Bone supporter. “It’s alive. There’s a good mix.”

Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya disagreed. “I used to live on Webster Street back in the ’80s,” he said. “It was really different then. It’s rapidly turning into an apparel and cosmetics and restaurant row.”

Rag & Bone has enlisted a local design firm to help build what it promises will be a special store worthy of its prominent location. It opens this summer.

Getting the boot

Photograph of Paolo Iantorno, proprietor of Paolo Shoes, by Daniel Bahmani

Photograph of Paolo Iantorno, proprietor of Paolo Shoes, by Daniel Bahmani

By Chris Barnett

SCIONS OF TWO San Francisco real estate dynasties are racing toward a costly collision on Valentine’s Day after seven months of legal jousting. The prize: the storefront on the prime northeast corner of Fillmore and Pine occupied for the last 10 years by Paolo Shoes.

The lease there is officially up on February 14 and the landlord, Webco Group LLC, wants to give the stylish handmade Italian shoe retailer the boot. The store owner claims his lease gives him an option to extend for another five years at today’s prevailing rental rate — which he is willing to pay even though a number hasn’t been put on the table. Webco insists the tenant didn’t exercise his lease option on time and in the proper manner.

The combatants are:

• Paolo Iantorno, 37, the tenant and sole owner of Paolo Shoes, who grew up in tony St. Francis Wood, graduated from prestigious St. Ignatius High School, a third generation member of an Italian family whose father, Sergio Iantorno, and grandfather, Clarence Dahlberg, run San Francisco–based companies that build custom homes throughout the Bay Area.

• Patrick Szeto, 39, the landlord’s representative, raised in San Francisco, and graduated from equally prestigious Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep, a second generation member of the large and powerful Szeto family, owners of Webco Group and American Realty & Construction Inc. led by Patrick’s father, Kwok Szeto, also known as Richard Szeto, with major commercial real estate holdings throughout the city, including 2000 Fillmore Street, home of the shoe store.

Another major player in the drama is Pamela Mendelsohn, a commercial real estate broker with the San Francisco office of Collier’s International. For years, she’s been the leasing queen of Fillmore Street, a confidante of landlords and tenants alike. Mendelsohn leased the Paolo Shoes space to Iantorno a decade ago. And in 2011, she brokered the sale of the entire classic 1928 Mediterranean Revival style building — which includes Paolo Shoes, the Grove restaurant next door, 15 apartments upstairs and parking downstairs — to Webco.

Among its other holdings, Webco also owns the six-acre, 300,000-square-foot parcel encompassing more than 200 commercial and residential units surrounding the Safeway store and bordered by Webster, Geary and Fillmore.

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When the cowgirls came to town

Peggy Smith and Sue Conley opened Artisan Cheese in 1999.

Peggy Smith (left) and Sue Conley opened Artisan Cheese at 2413 California Street in 1999.

By Laura Werlin

WHEN THEY CREATED the Cowgirl Creamery in 1997, Sue Conley and Peggy Smith sold their cheeses exclusively at farmers markets and out of their barn in Point Reyes Station. But their focus at the time on making fresh cheeses with inherently short shelf lives — fromage blanc, quark, crème fraîche and cottage cheese — meant they had to sell them quickly, a tricky prospect given their remote location.

They knew most chefs would not make the foray out to Point Reyes to taste cheese, and soon realized they’d have to bring the cheese to the chefs. So they decided to open a store in San Francisco — and in October 1999 they opened Artisan Cheese just off Fillmore Street at 2413 California, in what had long been the California Street Creamery.

In doing so, they made a connection that would extend from West Marin and Sonoma County into San Francisco and far beyond.

“The Fillmore was such a great neighborhood,” says Peggy Smith. “It was such a crossroads of people. The California Street Creamery was there, and we thought, ‘Well, this could be a good place.’ ”

Smith and Conley had recruited respected San Francisco restaurant public relations professional Eleanor Bertino and native San Francisco food writer Peggy Knickerbocker to help them search for a San Francisco location for a cheese shop. The Fillmore got their unanimous vote.

They converted the tiny 400-square-foot space into Artisan Cheese, a well-stocked but intimate space. With enough room for just two employees and a little space for customers, buying cheese there was a personal experience. Customers were invariably offered tastes of cheeses before buying, were educated about the cheeses’ provenance and gained exposure to a lot of cheeses they hadn’t known. A bonus for some — and maybe a little off-putting to the uninitiated — was the co-mingling of cheese aromas, the inevitable byproduct of the riot of cheeses on the counter and in the case.

For Peggy Smith, it provided an invaluable education.

“It was the best job I ever had,” she says. “It was fun talking with people, having them taste. I got really close to the cheeses we sold. It was a learning opportunity for me as well as the customers.”

In 2005 their California Street lease was up and a significant rent raise was in the offing. By then, the newly revamped Ferry Building was thriving, as was the Cowgirl Creamery outpost they had opened there — among the first four businesses to sign up, along with Acme Bread, Peet’s Coffee and McEvoy Olive Oil. So they decided to close Artisan Cheese and concentrate on the Ferry Building.

A visit to the Ferry Building confirms their business decision. For Fillmore turophiles, though, their departure was bittersweet. But even if the one-on-one buying experience and the cheese aromas in their tiny California Street shop are long gone, many of the Cowgirl Creamery cheeses are still available just down the block at Mollie Stone’s.

Laura Werlin, a neighborhood resident, is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on cheese and the author of six books on the subject, including The All American Cheese and Wine Book and Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials.

book
BACK IN THE
NEIGHBORHOOD

Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, owners of Cowgirl Creamery, will return to the neighborhood to talk about cheesemaking and their new book, Cowgirl Creamery Cooks — and to offer a guided cheese tasting — on February 25 at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center at 3200 California Street.

Appearing with them will be Albert Straus, president and owner of the Straus Family Creamery in Point Reyes Station, whose organic milk the cowgirls use to make many of their cheeses.

When the Victorians moved

The house formerly at 773 Turk being eased into its new location at 1737 Webster.

The house formerly at 773 Turk being eased into its new location at 1737 Webster.

“THESE DAYS you don’t have to move away from your neighborhood; it moves away from you.” So said a longtime local resident to the Chronicle in the early 1970s, when some of the splendid survivors in the path of the Redevelopment Agency’s wrecking ball were loaded up by house movers and rolled to new locations.

Many came from the block now occupied by Opera Plaza, including the home originally located at 773 Turk Street, which was moved to 1737 Webster Street. Even though several inches had been cut from its side bay window before the move, the house didn’t fit into its new lot. So workers shaved off several more inches and shoe-horned the house into place using a two-by-four to squeeze it past the house next door. Utility crews stood by to raise power lines, cut bus wires and turn aside streetlights reaching out into the path.

One person on the scene remembered watching the move in the middle of the night while sipping brandy to keep warm. “It was a kick, watching houses rolling down the streets,” he said.

A classic Victorian being moved from Turk Street to 1737 Webster, where it stands today.

A classic Victorian being moved from Turk Street to 1737 Webster, where it stands today.

MORE PHOTOGRAPHS of the moving Victorians from SF Heritage

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