Doubling down with Black Bark

Photograph of Black Bark chef David Lawrence by Daniel Bahmani

Black Bark chef David Lawrence: “We might as well go for it.”

By BARBARA KATE REPA

When David Lawrence and Monetta White announced plans to open their high end but homey restaurant, 1300 on Fillmore, eight years ago, friends cautioned against it. “They said, ‘You’re going down to lower Fillmore? Are you nuts?’ ” says White, whose mother and grandmother both grew up in the neighborhood.

But soon after the doors opened, the joint was jumping, fueled by foot traffic brought in by the adjacent Yoshi’s restaurant and jazz club. The club was part of the Fillmore Heritage Center — a 240,000-square-foot mixed-use complex that included Yoshi’s, 1300 on Fillmore and a nonprofit art gallery, with 80 condominiums rising above — all constructed in an ambitious attempt to revitalize Fillmore south of Geary.

For a few years, the $75 million bet seemed to pay off, as the new businesses and residents brought a vibrancy, unity and goodwill to the nascent jazz district, along with new patrons and customers. Then suddenly things changed. Fingers pointed at various culprits: a lagging economy, changing neighborhood demographics, bad management, the new SF Jazz Center in the Civic Center. The Lush Life Gallery closed first. Then Yoshi’s declared bankruptcy. An attempt to revive the club as The Addition quickly failed. For the last year, it has sat empty — an eerily silent space nearly a block long. Many people assumed 1300 on Fillmore was no longer in business, either.

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The Fillmore getting a jazzier sign

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A NEW MARQUEE is in the works for the legendary Fillmore Auditorium at Geary and Fillmore.

The Planning Commission has unanimously approved changes to the city’s sign ordinance that would permit a 60-foot-tall vertical blade proclaiming both the storied rock ’n’ roll venue and the surrounding neighborhood. Currently signs can be no higher than 24 feet. The proposal now goes before the Board of Supervisors.

The new marquee would replace both the existing Fillmore sign, which rarely functions, and the illuminated check cashing signs below it. Drawings of the new sign considered by the Planning Commission report were said to be placeholders while the law is changed. The final design of the new sign is expected to be more artistically exciting.

Planning staff noted that because the building opened as the Majestic — a dance hall — it never had a historic marquee. It became the Fillmore Auditorium in 1954.

Coming home rattled

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FIRST PERSON | ROGER BOAS

I’ve been a resident of Pacific Heights for almost a century. I grew up in the 1920s, living with my folks in an apartment on Pacific Avenue. Then I bought my own place on Washington Street in 1959, raised four kids there with my wife Nancy — and we’ve lived in that home ever since.

There were really only two major interruptions to my neighborhood residency: going to Stanford, and going to war. While college attendance had expanded my horizons and given me new perspectives, going to war changed everything.

“The war has changed me in ways that will take the better part of my life to understand, let alone make peace with. Don’t ask me how. If you have to ask, you’ve never been to war.”

Those are the opening lines of my just-published book, Battle Rattle: A Last Memoir of World War II.

Being in WWII was the major event of my life. The experience still haunts me to this day — even 70 years after the fact. This is why I spent countless hours in my study on Washington Street sitting in front of a computer to write my memoir.

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A designer finds her niche

Photograph of Isabelle McGee at Regard Interiors by Daniel Bahmani

Isabelle McGee, owner of Regard Interiors: “I work to simplify lives and add a little zest.”

SHE’D WORKED FOR THE RITZ in Paris and other international corporations, mostly designing hotels, but French designer Isabelle McGee wanted something different — something more intimate — when she set out to establish her interior design atelier in San Francisco.

One day she was walking on Sutter Street, just a block from Fillmore, when she struck up a conversation with Joan O’Connor, longtime proprietor of Timeless Treasures at 2176 Sutter and a notorious neighborhood networker.

“I need a space like this,” McGee told her. So O’Connor promptly called upstairs and introduced her to the landlord of a nearby vacant storefront.

She had found her home. In late 2013 McGee opened her consultancy and showroom called Regard at 2182 Sutter.

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An icon gets more authentic

Photograph of the Haas-Lilienthal House by Jim Simmons Photography

Photograph of the Haas-Lilienthal House by Jim Simmons Photography

THE HAAS-LILIENTHAL HOUSE at 2005 Franklin Street has a new paint job that returns the historic Victorian to its original, more subdued color palette.

To restore the historic integrity of the house, which now serves as its headquarters, San Francisco Heritage commissioned architectural conservator Molly Lambert to conduct a paint study to determine the original colors, patterns and sheens of the house. Lambert took 40 paint samples for microscopic testing, which can differentiate layers of primer, glaze, dirt and paint to identify the original colors.

“We don’t choose colors,” said Lambert. “They are there for us to discover.”

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The shah’s consulate

Built as a home, 34-- Washington was later a flashpoint for Iranian protests.

Built as a home, 3400 Washington was later a flashpoint for Iranian protests.

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

Constructed in 1927 by insurance executive Henry Foster Dutton for his second wife, Violet, the classically inspired house at 3400 Washington Street was acquired by the Imperial Government of Iran to serve as its official San Francisco consulate in the mid-1950s.

The house was designed by architect Erle J. Osborne, who had a steady stream of wealthy clients and produced interesting houses in Presidio Terrace, St. Francis Wood and Atherton — in addition to a few Southern California commissions — throughout the ’20s and ’30s. His corner lot house for the Duttons replaced a house built there earlier by Judge James Monroe Allen.

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When the stars came out at the Clay

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IN THE SPRING of 1985, the Clay Theatre on Fillmore hosted the premiere of the spaghetti western parody Lust in the Dust. It starred Tab Hunter, Divine and Cesar Romero, who were at the Clay for the screening.

After years of tales about the event, photographic evidence has now surfaced, courtesy of Tab Hunter’s partner, producer Allan Glaser.

Hunter and Glaser came to the Clay last year for a Q&A session about the new film, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star. When he walked through the door of the theater, Hunter said: “I was here 30 years ago — what a great place.” During the interview, Hunter spoke about the years he lived in San Francisco’s Richmond District, including a stint working at the Bull Pup enchilada stand at Playland.

Glaser remembered they had photos from the premiere of Lust in the Dust at the Clay, and recently shared the images with the theater staff. They show the crowds lining Fillmore Street as the actors arrived in a black limo. Film lovers were excited to see Tab Hunter and Divine share the screen again; they had starred together four years earlier in John Waters’ film Polyester.

After introducing the film, the actors took seats in the back row and watched the movie with the audience. Beforehand, they planted their handprints and footprints in cement outside the theater in the style of the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

“We have no clue where the prints ended up,” says Michael Blythe, who works at the Clay. “We would love to find them.”

New plan to revamp the Clay

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A  NEW PLAN is in the works to remodel the historic Clay Theatre on Fillmore Street by expanding the concession area in the lobby and offering additional food and beverage options, including beer and wine.

The plan abandons earlier efforts to carve the Clay into three smaller screening rooms and build townhouses above the theater and an adjacent building, with a garage excavated underneath.

“We’ve been trying to figure out a way to get the theater revitalized and bring some life back to the boulevard,” said architect Charles Kahn, who is collaborating with the owner of the building, Blagobind Jaiswal. Jaiswal also owns the building next door housing the Alice + Olivia boutique and the Cielo clothing boutique a few doors south.

“This is all about saving the theater,” Kahn said. “It’s a much more modest project than where we started.”

A public hearing on the plans will be held on Monday, January 4, at 7 p.m. in Calvin Hall of the Calvary Presbyterian Church at 2515 Fillmore.

Kahn said the new plan calls for relocating the restrooms now in the lobby to the back of the theater behind the screen. That would free up space for an expanded food and beverage operation. Seating would also be upgraded and accessibility improved.

Kahn said no changes are planned to the facade of the theater.

UPDATE: The public hearing on January 4 left local supporters of the Clay Theatre optimistic about the future of the 110-year-old movie house. The owner of the building, Blagobind Jaiswall, and his architect, Charles Kahn, said they were “absolutely committed” to renovating and continuing the theater.

Film fans at the meeting questioned plans to move the restrooms inside the theater behind the screen, but no one objected to other renovations, including an expanded concession area serving beer and wine.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to increase the hours the building is open,” Kahn said after the hearing. “I collected some very valuable information.”

Staffers from the Clay attended the meeting and offered a number of suggestions. Afterward, the head of Landmark Theatres, which operates the Clay, said he was encouraged by his talks with the owner and architect.

“So far, so good,” said Landmark CEO Ted Mundorff. “I think it’s the beginning of a plan. If we can get a better theater out of this, then it’s a great plan.”

The question remains how to pay for it.

“That’s gonna be the rub,” said Mundorff. “There’s not this big cash cow that walks in the door when you sell beer and wine.”

Kahn said he will bring detailed plans for remodeling the Clay and expanding its offerings before the city Planning Commission in the coming months.

Landmark announced in August 2010 it would close the Clay, but a last-minute deal kept the theater in operation.

EARLIER: “How the Clay dodged a bullet

Wise Sons is coming, but not yet

The cafe is delayed, but Wise Sons Bagel is already baking at 1520 Fillmore (right).

The cafe is still to come, but Wise Sons Bagel is already baking at 1520 Fillmore (right).

By CHRIS BARNETT

The Wise Sons had planned to open their new bagelry at 1520 Fillmore in December, but it didn’t happen. Now it looks as if Wise Sons Bagel won’t woo the schmear set for another two months at least.

“If I were a betting man — and I’m not — I’d say two months into 2016, possibly longer,” says co-owner Evan Bloom. “We haven’t even created our bagel yet.”

But they’re already baking in their Fillmore location. The ovens are fired up, with bakers working two shifts pumping out rugelach and Wise Sons’ signature chocolate babka dessert for their deli on 24th Street in the Mission, a cafe in the Contemporary Jewish Museum and a Ferry Building outpost staffed three days a week.

“We want to open, but we don’t want to rush it,” says Bloom. “Right now we’re trying to find good people to mix the dough, bake the bread, interface with customers, toast the bagels, mix the coffee — and get our power upgraded. We’re still trying to figure the store layout while getting the bagels rolling. We haven’t even settled on the coffee supplier yet.”

But the fundamentals are in place. The long, narrow 2,000-square-foot space with 30-foot ceilings, previously occupied by Sushi Boom, will be mostly a bagel bakery, but it will also have cafe seating for 12 to 16 in the front, including a stand-up bar, and — they hope — sidewalk seating.

Customers may be schmoozing, but they won’t be noshing on the monstrous pastrami or corned beef sandwiches slathered in mustard or other deli fare served at the 24th Street mothership.

“We’ll be more of a grab-and-go shop and less of a hangout,” Bloom says. “You’ll be able to pick up a pound of pastrami, or lox and pickles, and take it all home. We just don’t make the sandwich.”

The pressure is on. The New York Times ran a long feature story in its Sunday magazine headlined “Why Is It So Hard to Get a Great Bagel in California?” that raised hopes for a bagel from Wise Sons. Bloom and co-owner Leo Beckerman also had a cameo appearance in Deli Man, the hit indie documentary love story on the slow but steady demise nationwide of real honest-to-God Jewish delis. Wise Sons was the only deli in the Bay Area included.

Deli Man definitely helped us,” Bloom says, “and we do get recognized — which is so ridiculous — but people trickle in because of it.”

A fire wiped out their new Mission commissary, delaying plans to add bagels. Now, on Fillmore, they’re hoping to bring back some of the flavor from the days a century ago when this was a Jewish neighborhood.

The Fillmore was mostly a Jewish neighborhood circa 1900, a legacy Wise Sons will honor.

The Fillmore was mostly a Jewish neighborhood circa 1900, a legacy Wise Sons will honor.

“We’re going to keep it simple,” says Bloom, “with just five types — a plain, an ‘everything,’ sesame seed, poppy seed and salt. It’ll be a good old-fashioned bagel starting with quality ingredients, with no additives, no extenders. It’ll be boiled with a good, crunchy chew on the outside and a soft interior with a good ratio of texture and flavor.”

Until then, the two pals and business partners who both went to UC-Berkeley have plenty of schlepping to get the doors open. And they’re keeping busy clarifying what Wise Sons is all about.

“We’ve been called Jewish fusion,” Bloom says. “We’re really Jewish soul food.”

Facing the future in Japantown

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By TOMO HIRAI
Nichi Bei Weekly

At the dawn of its 110th year, San Francisco’s Japantown faces challenges in maintaining its identity as a regional hub of Japanese and Japanese American culture. About five decades since the Japan Center was built, many of the neighborhood’s longtime business owners have come of retirement age. As these businesses close, the neighborhood faces questions on how it should promote itself and preserve its legacy.

Read more: “The state of Japantown’s businesses