Plan for Alta Plaza: ‘Go lightly’

Improvements at Alta Plaza Park can proceed now that a plan has been adopted.

Improvements at Alta Plaza Park can proceed now that a master plan has been adopted.

A MASTER PLAN for Alta Plaza Park was approved by the Recreation and Park Commission on April 21, clearing the way for long-awaited improvements.

The plan would repair crumbling asphalt pathways, replace aging furnishings and replant, with new drought-resistant landscaping, the entrances to the hilltop park created more than a century ago by John McLaren, the visionary who also guided the creation of Golden Gate Park.

“Go lightly,” said landscape architect Jeffrey Miller, who developed the plan at the behest of the Friends of Alta Plaza Park, a neighborhood group founded in 2004. “This was the message: Maintain the park as it is. Maintain the beauty and simplicity of this park.”

A decade ago, the Friends raised the money to renovate the playground and tennis courts atop the park. Then, to conserve water and stop leakage onto the sidewalks, the city installed a new irrigation system and replanted the terraces on the south side of the park.

“It became apparent there has to be a sequence of things,” said Judith Maxwell, who lives near the park. “We learned that when the no-mow grass was put in but the leaks weren’t fixed.”

Commission president Mark Buell recused himself from the hearing “because I live within about five feet of the park.” Buell and his wife Susie Tompkins Buell live in the penthouse of the 2500 Steiner Street tower on the northeast corner of the park.

Others lauded the Friends for their extraordinary public outreach during the last decade while the plan was being developed.

“You set a new standard,” said commissioner Meagan Levitan, a real estate agent who is active in the neighborhood.

“It’s been a long road for the Friends of Alta Plaza Park,” said Phil Ginsburg, director of the Recreation and Park Department. “It is not lost on us how much you care about this piece of open space.”

VIEW THE MASTER PLAN

Fillmore shops empty, but leased

The former home of Paolo Shoes at 2000 Fillmore will eventually become Space NK.

The former home of Paolo Shoes at 2000 Fillmore will house Space NK cosmetics.

W ITH THE CONTINUING onrush of national and international fashion and cosmetics brands onto upper Fillmore Street, retail space has become so sought after that corporate tenants are willing to pay rent for months while their storefronts sit empty, waiting for city permits to be approved.

A dozen storefronts north of Bush Street are now vacant, but almost all are already leased.

“It looks terrible,” said Lynne Newhouse Segal, new president of the Pacific Heights Residents Association, whose group has expressed concerns about the empty shops.

Among the stores in the works:

• Intermix, the Gap’s newest acquisition, is taking over Brooks Brothers’ Black Fleece space at 2223 Fillmore.

• 45rpm, a Japanese clothing brand, got the go-ahead April 14 from the Planning Commission to open at 1905 Fillmore.

• Space NK, a cosmetics company based in London, won approval for its plans to open at 2000 Fillmore, former home of Paolo Shoes, from the commission on April 28.

All are considered “formula retail” chain stores and require a conditional use permit to open on Fillmore. It can take many months to get the permit, although none has ever been rejected. Then building permits must be arranged and approved.

“Everything’s taking longer,” said commercial real estate broker Pam Mendelsohn, who has leased many of the Fillmore storefronts. “There’s a lot of things in process. It just takes a lot longer to get permits.”

Two of the empty spaces housed businesses owned by Starbucks Coffee. Starbucks still controls the vacant corner at 2201 Fillmore. “Unfortunately, we still have no additional details to share at this time,” a Starbucks spokesperson said. The space at 2043 Fillmore that housed Starbucks’ La Boulange has reverted to founder Pascal Rigo, who said he is contemplating a pizzeria, a rotisserie or another Boulangerie.

“We should be making a final decision within the next two weeks,” Rigo said. “We should be reopen by midsummer if everything goes well.”

Among the other businesses with leases on the street are Frye Boots at 2047 Fillmore and Ardis Coffee at 1903 Fillmore. The Mac cosmetics shop at 2011 Fillmore is being remodeled and will reopen. Blue Bottle Coffee is coming to 2455 Fillmore.

It’s a sweet and tangy neighborhood

spiceace

WHEN PERUSING THE floor-to-ceiling offerings at Spice Ace at 1821 Steiner Street, don’t overlook the one inspired by and named for your own front yard: Pacific Heights Blend. Its complex citrusy Asian flavoring comes from a mélange of the unexpected: lemon, ginger, orange, coriander, garlic, Aji Amarillo, chives and cardamom.

Sales associates at the spice emporium wax rhapsodic about its dual sweet and tangy qualities, its lingering ginger notes and its unique ability to brighten chicken, fish and vegetables. “It’s particularly good on broccoli,” claims one. “If you weren’t a fan of broccoli and you put some Pacific Heights Blend on it, you’d come away loving broccoli.”

Another attests the spicy blend was prompted by the flavors of the Pacific Ocean, with a nod to the historical context of the Barbary Coast.

But Spice Ace co-owner Olivia Dillon reveals that the true inspiration for the blend came considerably closer to home. “For many years, my mother (and best friend) and I lived in a penthouse in Pacific Heights with unobstructed views of the bay from almost every room,” Dillon recalls. “We had many wonderful dinners with friends and family over the years, enjoying great food as well as the view of the Golden Gate Bridge.”

And thus was born and named “Pacific Heights Blend.”

At Soko Hardware, it’s the mix that works

Eunice Ashizawa (right) and her nephew Aaron Katekaru help run Soko Hardware, a fixture in the heart of Japantown since 1925.

Eunice Ashizawa and her nephew Aaron Katekaru help run Soko Hardware in Japantown.

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

After Masayasu Ashizawa came from Japan to San Francisco nearly a century ago, he opened a hardware store in 1925 in the heart of bustling Japantown and named it Soko — Japanese for “that place.” Soko Hardware’s founder could not have imagined the family business would be thriving in that place today under the management of his grandson Philip, born years after his grandfather died.

Soko Hardware, at 1698 Post Street, thrives not just as a local hardware store, but also as a destination for Bay Area residents and visitors who come for the paper lanterns or the authentic teapots or the delicate china — sometimes even for the hardware.

“I think of going to Soko as a special treat, like going to a museum and finding things I didn’t know existed,” says Mill Valley resident Sue Steele. Read more »

Paying a premium for Presidio Heights

200 Laurel Street sold for almost $10.3 million, or 114 percent of the listing price.

The home at 200 Laurel Street sold for almost $10.3 million, or 114 percent of the listing price.

REAL ESTATE | PATRICK BARBER

Bidding wars remain a fact of life for San Francisco home shoppers. Single-family homes in the city sold for 108 percent of original listing price in the first quarter of 2016, according to data from the multiple listing service. This trend has been dominant in Presidio Heights, where a shortage of homes for sale is ensuring that sellers in the neighborhood get a premium.

Through April 15, there have been three single-family home sales in Presidio Heights this year, including two on April 8: 3737 Jackson and 200 Laurel. The Jackson Street home sold for $4.5 million — 104 percent of the listing price — while the Laurel Street home fetched nearly $10.3 million, or 114 percent of the listing price. Even with those big price tags, both homes quickly found buyers: 3737 Jackson in 15 days, 200 Laurel in 10 days. The only other Presidio Heights single-family home sale this year sold in two weeks for 140 percent of its original listing price.

It’s worth noting that there were twice as many home sales in Presidio Heights last year from January through mid-April. Even so, given the neighborhood’s relatively small size and high desirability, four of those six homes sold for more than the listing price.

Patrick Barber is president of Pacific Union.

First look: 2016 jazz festival

FJF2016

NOTED SAN FRANCISCO graphic artist John Mattos has been selected to create the poster for the 2016 Fillmore Jazz Festival, coming on July 2 and 3, and this week he revealed his design.

“Like good jazz, it’s unexpected,” said Mattos. “There isn’t a guy with a horn in this, so it’s not replicating the experience of the festival. After all, the real function of the poster is to get attention, and a complete departure like this might get more attention than visually interpreting the aural experience — plus, it’s kinda light-hearted.”

Mattos follows other top poster artists who have offered their take on the Fillmore festival in recent years, including Michael Schwab, Craig Frazier and David Lance Goines.

MORE: John Mattos nails it in London

Things are really cooking at Browser Books

PERHAPS YOU HAVE noticed something unexpected coming out of Browser Books lately — the smell of soup cooking, or shrimp scampi sauteeing, or fragrant onions softening in a skillet.

That’s an added benefit of the new cooking demonstrations Browser Books is now sponsoring each month. Randy Denham, a retired caterer who two years ago began working in the bookstore on weekends, is in charge, cooking in the store and serving up samples.

Read more »

Last call at the Elite

The Elite Cafe closed on Easter Sunday and will remain dark while new owners take over.

The Elite Cafe closed on March 27 and will remain dark while new owners take over.

By THOMAS REYNOLDS

Stop by the Elite Cafe on a Wednesday night in early March to meet a friend for a drink and the bartender asks: “Have you heard? The Elite’s been sold.”

It’s a shock. For 35 years a mainstay on Fillmore Street, its classic neon sign a beacon at the heart of the neighborhood, the Elite looks like a place that has always been there — and for nearly a century, it has. It opened in its Art Deco splendor in 1928 as the Lincoln Grill. In 1932, during the dry years of Prohibition, it became the Asia Cafe, which is what the neon sign spelled out for the next half century. It became the Elite Cafe in 1981.

Peter Snyderman took over a decade ago, after swearing he would never run another restaurant when he closed the Alta Plaza at Fillmore and Clay. “You don’t get an opportunity to own a place like the Elite very often,” he reminisces before heading in for the final brunch on Easter Sunday, March 27. “But I realized it was time to let someone else breathe new life into the Elite.”

The new owners will keep the name and the look and the New Orleans flavor, he promises. “It’s not part of the deal, but it’s part of the understanding,” Snyderman says. New owner Andy Chun, a rising restaurateur, confirms much will stay the same.

“It just means so much to so many people,” Chun says. “When an opportunity came up to do something with the Elite, we wanted to keep it the Elite and make it the best it can be.”

Read more »

The jewelry bros

Gary Mureta and Eric Trabert operate side-by-side shops on Fillmore.

Gary Mureta and Eric Trabert operate side-by-side shops on Fillmore.

LOCALS | JENNIFER BLOT

“He can sell ice to an Eskimo,” says Eric Trabert of Gary Mureta, his next-door neighbor at the top of Fillmore Street.

But Mureta doesn’t hear his friend’s admiring endorsement. He’s busy juggling the demands of what appears, at first, to be a small and sleepy antique store. But the store phone is ringing. Then his cell phone rings. A customer comes in to pick up a massive — and heavy — bronze sculpture. His only employee is due to go on a break. And Trabert, owner of Trabert Goldsmiths, has popped in to say hello.

Mureta walks out the door to talk to someone on the street and leaves Trabert to hold down the fort. But Trabert doesn’t seem to mind. Inevitably he’ll spot something in the golden glow of the store he’s never seen before. There’s a massive vintage silver and enamel Margot de Taxco cameo pendant, a Scottish agate silver buckle bracelet and numerous Victorian gold insect brooches with semi-precious eyes and bellies. Beyond jewelry, the store is brimming with an eclectic assortment of decorative pieces, silverware, sets of pastel colored stemware and oil paintings by 19th century California artists.

Trabert’s shop next door is a contrast in both ambience and inventory. Brightly lit, with high ceilings, its cases sparkle with contemporary baubles: stackable rings, pieces anchored with unusual pastel sapphires, pearl chokers and thin gold bangles. Trabert offers his own designs as well as pieces from about a dozen contemporary jewelry lines.

Read more »

A new outlook on the park

The home at 2570 Jackson (far left), built in 1924, has been completely renovated.

The home at 2570 Jackson (left), built in 1924, has been completely renovated.

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

A  flurry of recent renovations along the north side of Jackson Street facing Alta Plaza Park are nearing completion. The two blocks include a string of historic residences that have been home to many prominent San Franciscans. The exquisite French Revival style house at 2570 Jackson Street has been meticulously renovated and is again a private residence, after serving for decades as the official residence of the French consul general.
Read more »