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Bouquets to art: the local edition

The calendar entry for October 2020 features Tom Killion’s “Above Stinton Beach” and a floral arrangement by Candiece Milford.

EVERY SPRING the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park celebrates the season by hosting its annual Bouquets to Art exhibition, pairing beautiful floral creations with the museum’s artistic treasures.

It didn’t happen this year, given the lockdown. So staffers at a local senior residence, Rhoda Goldman Plaza at Post and Scott, have picked up the mantle. Every fall, Rhoda Goldman Plaza produces a calendar that features its residents — and usually a bit of humor. This year the lockdown has sequestered the residents and made that impossible. So the calendar instead features the residence’s extensive art collection, accentuated by floral creations by its staff.

“We do this for residents and their families and people who are on our wait list,” said Candiece Milford, director of marketing at Rhoda Goldman Plaza, to “carry the joy throughout the year.”

Milford and her colleague Corey Weiner, director of food and beverage, created the interpretive floral arrangements featured in the calendar. As it happens, in addition to their day jobs Milford has a master of fine arts degree from UCLA and Weiner is a painter.

“While the floral artists [at the museum] are given at least a week to prepare their amazing concoctions, the ones in our calendar were created in one to two hours because the creators have other roles,” Milford said. “We squeezed this project in between other tasks over the course of two weeks.”

Also unlike the exhibition at the museum, this one lasts all year.

November 2020 features John Arbuckle’s “Persimmon” and an arrangement by Candiece Milford.

Harry’s comes alive outside

Harry’s Bar’s expansive new parklet announces itself streetside.

SALOONS | CHRIS BARNETT

As Fillmore Street continues to come alive again, Harry’s Bar has reopened with a palatial new parklet for outside drinking and dining, a revised menu and an expanded happy hour — now from 4 to 6 p.m. seven days a week, rather than five.

And the owners hope to make the outside expansion permanent.

Harry’s has created “a socially distanced beer garden,” mused Dan Max, the congenial retired globetrotting professor of art, a regular at Harry’s who has lived across the street from the popular sports saloon for more than 50 years.

The parklet has 38 chairs and tables for two and four, separated from the street by a nicely stained wooden enclosure topped with plexiglas to shield guests from the wind. Five tall heaters throw off a flame when lit, providing warmth, and a new exterior sound system pumps out the music, but not so loud it drowns out conversations. There’s even a big-screen television hanging in the window facing outside.

The parklet has 38 seats at tables for two and four.

On a recent Friday afternoon around 5 p.m., the al fresco incarnation of Harry’s Bar was practically full as patrons ducked in. Two locals — Mecca, who works for a fashion store, and her friend Rhea, a personal trainer — were soaking up the sunshine and sipping Aperol spritzers. Said Rhea: “They’ve done an excellent job. We love the classic Harry’s vibe and the Aperol is the best I’ve ever had.”

They were also eating. City reopening rules allow eating and drinking establishments to have outside seating and service, but patrons must also have food with their drink.

Harry’s new general manager, Charles Johnson, formerly sous chef and GM of Fred’s, the restaurant in the late Barney’s New York  department store near San Francisco’s Union Square — and a former U.S. naval officer who once ran the legendary officers’ club at Subic Bay in the Philippines — has created eight new house cocktails for $12 to $13.

Examples: The North Beach — with gin, Cointreau, limoncello, sweet vermouth with a lemon twist — and The Fillmore, with cucumber vodka, lemon juice, fresh watermelon and a cucumber garnish. Other drinks feature Ving Kale Vodka, Gold Bar San Francisco Bourbon and Hendricks Midsummer Solstice Gin, and some have bell pepper and cilantro garnishes.

Photographs by Jean Collier Hurley

For suds lovers, Johnson has added Screaming Hand Red IPA, Hell or High Watermelon Wheat, El Sully Mexican Lager and the Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA from Oregon, all on draught, at $9 for a 15-ounce glass. A slew of other beers in cans and bottles start at $6.

The menu also has new offerings, including a smoked salmon crostini, a chef’s select cheese plate and a bacon-wrapped hickory hot dog, all $13; an impossible meatball sub at $15, smoked salmon salad, $15, and a Mediterranean chicken salad, $16, plus two new pasta dishes. The tater tots and Harry’s deluxe cheeseburger remain.

Harry’s has also been remodeled inside, although not drastically, with a new ceiling, mural, bathrooms and a tricked-out kitchen, plus new finishes.

“Being shut down gave us an opportunity to make all these improvements,” said co-owner Rick Howard. “We would like to keep the new outside area permanently, but we don’t know what the city’s position will be.”

No more Polo in Pacific Heights

Polo Ralph Lauren opened on Fillmore Street in 2008.

FASHION DESIGNER Ralph Lauren’s elegant emporium at 2040 Fillmore — which replaced a former Goodwill store and paved the way for the street’s transformation into an upscale shopping strip of clothing and cosmetics boutiques — is now permanently closed.

The Polo shop had reopened only a few weeks ago, along with other Fillmore retailers, when the city gave the go-ahead for limited shopping and sidewalk dining after a three-month shutdown. August 22 was the final day of business at the shop, which has now been emptied.

A staffer referred questions to corporate headquarters in New York, which did not respond to repeated inquiries. The Fillmore store survived an earlier round of closings in 2015 and 2016, when Polo shuttered nearly 100 other stores.

When Polo Ralph Lauren opened in 2008, it was the first international brand to get a permit under San Francisco’s new formula retail ordinance, intended to limit chain stores in the city’s neighborhoods. Polo was first rejected, but later approved unanimously after it worked out a written agreement with local groups promising to play an active role in the neighborhood and be a role model for other retailers.

Most of Polo’s promises went unfulfilled, and no other formula retail business seeking to open on Fillmore was ever rejected by the city’s Planning Commission. More than two dozen more international fashion and personal care brands followed during the next decade.

The legacy of Fillmore jazz

Local favorite pianist Tammy Hall is featured in a new video on Fillmore jazz.

SAN FRANCISCO’S Fillmore District — known as the “Harlem of the West” in the 1940s and ’50s — was once a cathedral of jazz, its dozens of clubs inhabited by celestial beings such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker.

The Fillmore’s heyday marked an important chapter not only in jazz history but also in the Black American experience; its legacy lives on in the work of passionate artists who believe jazz — its freedom, movement and expression — is a state of mind, a way of life.

In a new video in its “Currents” series, the San Francisco Symphony tells the story of the Fillmore’s rich jazz history and explores its legacy.

CURRENTS: Bay Area Blue Notes from San Francisco Symphony on Vimeo.

Farewell to the Artists Inn

The Artists Inn at 2231 Pine Street, near Fillmore.

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

Even during the first weeks of the virus lockdown in early April, the Artists Inn at 2231 Pine Street was at full occupancy, brimming with love and laughter. But it was a bittersweet time.

Beloved owner Denise Shields had recently returned from her second home in Mexico with an ache that turned out to be pancreatic cancer. The cozy little blue house half a block from Fillmore, behind a white picket fence, quickly filled with her two sons, Will and Jason, daughter-in-law Lily and five granddaughters. Will’s partner Elisabeth was home in San Diego awaiting the birth of grandchild No. 6. “We’re sort of hoping for a boy,” Denise said during a brief break from a family Parcheesi game, “but we’ll be delighted with any healthy baby.”

Two months later, on June 6, the family welcomed a sixth granddaughter into the world. Three days after that, Denise died.

Now the Artists Inn, in one of the oldest houses in the neighborhood, is ending an era as a center of warmth and hospitality for guests from around the globe. Following the death of their mother on June 9, Denise’s sons reluctantly decided to permanently close the four-room inn. They will host a garage sale — masked and socially distanced — from August 14 to 16.

Read more »

‘We’re seeing a huge retail fallout’

Palmer’s and other restaurants, now serving outside, may lead the recovery.

STREET TALK | THOMAS REYNOLDS

Almost a dozen Fillmore businesses have permanently closed, and more are likely to follow.

“It’s a tumultuous time for Fillmore Street right now,” said Vas Kiniris, executive director of the Fillmore Merchants Association. “We’re seeing a huge retail fallout.”

Kiniris listed numerous businesses that are permanently closed: Frye Boots, Samovar Tea, Prana, Illesteva, Lip Lab, CBD Garin, Aday, Asmbly Hall and Repeat Performance, the S.F. Symphony resale shop.

“I’ve been on the street for 25 years and I’ve never seen so many closings,” Kiniris said. “It’s a little bit alarming.”

A leader and close observer of businesses citywide, Kiniris said he expects the recovery of neighborhood commercial districts to be sparked by restaurants and bars.

“These businesses really pull traffic to the corridors,” he said. “They give rebirth to those corners.” Bars remain closed for now, and indoor restaurant service has been pushed back, but eateries are now allowed to serve outside, in addition to the takeout and delivery service that has kept them alive for the past four months.

“We see this right now with Noosh,” he said. “Noosh opened, then Kiehl’s opened, Glaze is opening, so there’s activity there” at the corner of Fillmore and Pine.

The city’s shared space program, which has let stores and restaurants serve on the sidewalks and in parking spaces, has been helpful, Kiniris said. “It’s another revenue stream for the merchants,” he said. “But it’s also very important to the visual well being and the rebirth of our street. It makes the street visually more enticing, and it makes it more sticky, so people want to linger — and therefore they’ll go to other stores as well.”

At least one new business is preparing to open. Liberty Cannabis, after two and a half years, finally has the permits for its new shop in the former Unity Church space at 2222 Bush Street, near Fillmore, and plans to open in the fall.

Formerly bustling upper Fillmore Street still “is pretty healthy overall,” Kiniris said. But he added: “It’s gonna be a rough ride. We’re all in startup mode now.”

Fillmore restaurants finding a way

There’s a new takeout window and new offerings at Noosh.

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

Fillmore’s restaurants are morphing into sidewalk dining and drinking spots as they find a way forward, with the eateries on one key block — between Pine and California — showing different recipes for creating the al fresco experience.

• At the corner of Pine and Fillmore, NOOSH has reinvented itself and opened a window counter with adjacent menus that spell out its new offerings. Patrons punch in their order on a computer terminal that feeds straight into the kitchen. Noosh will soon unveil a breakfast menu, a bakery with pastries and a deli-charcuterie with cured meats. In September, a small grocery will be added.

Noosh and Bun Mee share a stylish parklet on Fillmore.

• To create a large outdoor cafe, Noosh has teamed up with its neighbors at BUN MEE, the popular Vietnamese restaurant two doors down, and jointly created a large area filled with socially distanced tables along Fillmore and wrapping around to Pine. It extends into the street, taking several parking spaces and guarded by a stylish protective barrier.

Colorful tables now spill out onto the sidewalk at Apizza.

• A few doors up the block, APIZZA has set up sidewalk tables and the straight-from-Paris manager, Pierre Laugha, is pumping out amazing thin-crust 9-inch gluten-free pies made with organic dough and toppings for prices starting at $3.75. (Yes, the original insanely inexpensive $2.75 margherita pizza has gone up a buck.) Apizza now has interesting salads starting at $3.45, up to $7.75 for a large kale Caesar salad.

Tacobar has a takeout window and tables on Fillmore and California.

• At the corner of California and Fillmore, TACOBAR’s personable Guadalajara-born general manager Antonio Solano works the corner like a skilled maitre d’, with outdoor dining on both sidewalks and usually a line at the take-out window. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tacobar has its signature $4.85 tacos, $11 quesadillas, salads, burritos and sides, plus plenty of salsas. Brightly colored, both the decor and the food are authentically Mexican, with the menu items more gourmet than just to-go. For al fresco diners, service is swift.

Curbside Cafe has added more sidewalk tables, and a parklet is coming.

 • Around the corner, CURBSIDE CAFE owners Olivier and Gwyneth Perrier have perhaps the most authentic outdoor bistro setting, now with eight tables dressed in white properly spaced on California Street just east of Mollie Stone’s. Perrier promotes what he calls a “contactless menu” on his website, rather than handing out a paper menu. The tiny restaurant, a neighborhood fixture since 1978, serves a French-American breakfast, lunch and dinner, and soon will be adding a covered parklet that will allow two more tables.

• Elsewhere between California and Pine, HARRY’S BAR is getting an extensive upgrading, from new front awning to an up-to-date kitchen. THE GROVE still hopes to reopen, but has set no date. And the former ELITE CAFE is completely boarded up and quiet as a tomb.

Photographs by Jonathan Pontell

EARLIER: “Fillmore al Fresco” — Sidewalk tables have proliferated since 1993, when they were first blessed by the city.

No jazz on Fillmore this year

Fillmore’s own Kim Nalley performing at the Fillmore Jazz Festival.

FOR THE FIRST TIME in decades, there will be no jazz on Fillmore Street this Fourth of July weekend.

The annual Fillmore Jazz Festival has been canceled due to the coronavirus and the ban on large gatherings of people.

“Sister! I just want to cry because there’s no festival this weekend,” said jazz vocalist Kim Nalley, who got her start on Fillmore Street and has been a perennial headliner at the festival. “It doesn’t even seem like the Fourth of July without the Fillmore Jazz Festival. I can barely remember when I haven’t sung at this festival.”

Jason Olaine, the festival’s artistic director for the last decade — and also the director of programming and touring at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York — also lamented the cancellation of this year’s event.

“We will miss — terribly — the mass of humanity in all its colors and generations, tastes and sounds, that make up the Fillmore Jazz Festival,” Olaine said. “We take solace in knowing that when we do come back, we’ll all be safe and strong and seriously ready to party. That will be quite a weekend — when we can all truly embrace one another without fear and dance all day.”

Fillmore saxman Sonny Lewis performing at the street fair in 1992.

The festival was begun in 1986 as a way to keep jazz alive on Fillmore Street, once a thriving mecca of music known during the ’40s and ’50s as the Harlem of the West. Most of its clubs and joints were lost during the 1960s as part of an ambitious but ultimately misguided redevelopment plan, which bulldozed large swaths of the neighborhood.

The annual jazzfest began as a modest street fair called “Jazz and All That Art on Fillmore” and sponsored by the Fillmore Merchants Association. It was spurred by the self-proclaimed Mayor of Fillmore Street, Ruth Dewson, longtime proprietor of Mrs. Dewson’s Hats. She recalled approaching promoter Terry Pimsleur, who had earlier started the Union Street Festival, about creating a similar street fair on Fillmore, where new businesses were opening and trying to improve the struggling commercial strip. But she was rebuffed, told there weren’t enough people or merchants on Fillmore at that time to make a street fair successful.

“I told her, ‘Honey, you got one of me, that’s enough,’” Dewson recalled in 2011. “Right from the beginning, it was a success.”

Ruth Dewson helped start the Fillmore Jazz Festival.

After being held the first two years in the fall, the festival moved to the weekend nearest the Fourth of July. It has remained there since, until this year. It was expanded and renamed the Fillmore Jazz Festival in 1999, and grew with the neighborhood into the largest free jazz festival on the west coast, drawing more than 100,000 people and shutting down Fillmore from Jackson to Eddy Streets.

“Let’s celebrate in our own socially responsible ways this weekend,” said Olaine, “and look forward to the future. Here’s to us — the Fillmore community. I just love us!”

Kim Nalley has headlined the Fillmore Jazz Festival for years.

‘The death of my youth’

FIRST PERSON | KIM NALLEY

This Fourth of July has been a very emotional day for me. For the first time since I started singing professionally, there is no Fillmore Jazz Festival. I have headlined at this festival consecutively on the California Street stage for more than a decade, and before that I played at the festival here and there on non-consecutive years.

As one of the last and largest remaining free jazz festivals, it was very special because I saw people who otherwise might not necessarily have been able to afford to come to some of my concerts, as well as people who have been following me from the very beginning, plus other friends and family who planned their trips to San Francisco around this festival. I really looked forward to seeing everyone every year, and to seeing the babies in the front row grow up to be dancing toddlers and then sitting and listening as big kids.

I loved seeing all the dancers at the Fillmore festival — not just the Lindy and swing and blues dancers, but also the Jamaican man who jumped on the stage to dance with me when we did an Etta James song with a ska beat. I loved singing “America the Beautiful” or “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as the yearly anthem. And of course I loved working my way up and down the street to see and hear my friends perform on the different stages.

I have enjoyed the largesse of the Fillmore merchants for my entire career. My first paying gigs were in the Fillmore, I got married in the Fillmore, I shop in the Fillmore, my kids went to daycare and preschool in the Fillmore, and many of my closest friends I either met in the Fillmore or they live in the Fillmore. My first album was produced by Michael Tilson Thomas at the Alta Plaza on Fillmore and Clay. I got the news that my mother died while singing on Fillmore Street.

Little did I know, when singing last Fourth of July, what would be in store for 2020. I have no idea if the Fillmore Jazz Festival will be able to continue in the future given the challenges of the coronavirus, and the need for sponsors and production, and all the many people responsible for producing any outdoor festival.

It almost feels like the death of my youth. And it certainly doesn’t feel like the Fourth of July without the Fillmore Jazz Festival. I know as a country we are facing much more difficult problems than this, but I cannot help but mourn.

Happy Fourth of July! I hope better days are ahead and that I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places.

Musically yours,
Kim Nalley
July 4, 2020

‘My tree’ on California Street

The unusual tree outside the market on California Street.

FIRST PERSON | BARBARA CORFF

I don’t know exactly why the tree in front of Mollie Stone’s first caught my attention.

Perhaps it was the tiny, palmate-shaped leaves sprouting at the base of the tree that seemed unusual. Having worked with naturalists in the Presidio developing tours for the National Park Service, I want to understand the natural world.

I looked up into the canopy to try and identify the basic shape, which has been spread by years of pruning to remain below the overhead lines running down the sidewalk on California Street. I stood back to grasp the size and see if it looked like any other trees I had seen.

I was stumped. And now I was on a hunt for an answer.

This tree stood out and felt special. It seemed old. San Francisco has a fairly routine palette of trees in our neighborhood: London plane trees, whose knobby branches are clipped back every year, a few magnolia trees, Victorian Box, with their fragrant white flowers, and a few others.

I have lived in San Francisco since 1979, first visiting the Fillmore to see movies at the Clay Theatre after eating savory cordon bleu crepes next door at Millard’s. I moved to the corner of California and Fillmore Streets in 1984. My local shop was the Bi-Rite, on the southeast corner, where the poet Mark Mitchell worked before he moved up the street to D&M Liquors.

I worked at home as a graphic designer and, for social interaction, sold designer men’s clothing for my friend Jon Stevenson at The Producer, which was next door to the fun group of Iris Fuller’s employees at Fillamento. We had customers from all over San Francisco and locals who just stopped by for conversation. I helped Robin Williams, John Traina and Steve Perry there, and became friends with many fascinating Fillmore personalities. We knew all the merchants and movers, as well as local characters like Gloria, who was often near the donut shop at Fillmore and California asking for a quarter.

I shopped for flowers at Kyo’s, the lovely Japanese flower shop just north of Sacramento Street, where I could practice my few words of Japanese, and ordered take-out sushi down the street at Maruya. With charming toys and gadgets, my go-to for graphics supplies was the Brown Bag, where I would grab a quick visit with busy employee and friend Barbara Wyeth. There were still local drug stores with racks of gift cards and sundries, as well as a pharmacy. My co-worker Michael Sabino at Button Down loved eating mayo-filled egg sandwiches in the mornings in the old fashioned booths at Lee’s diner on California Street. My artist friend Will Barker and I created window displays for the Beauty Store across the street each month. We had dinners with jeweler Marc Willner, and ran into Peter Tork of the Monkees while making copies at the Copy Center. I loved the candy array at Fletcher McLean, a lively place.

It was also a time of panhandlers and the beginnings of gentrification. I finally moved to quieter Presidio Heights when I tired of standing in line for restaurants and negotiating my way, as I did my errands, through tourists shopping on Fillmore. 

I still walk to Fillmore for pastries at La Boulangerie, a coffee at Peet’s, fish for our aquarium at Aqua Forest, some finds at Goodwill and groceries at the Grand Central Market, now Mollie Stone’s, where the friendliest cashiers in the universe work.

But back to “my tree” on the sidewalk outside the market. I posted photos of the tree online, but got no replies. Then a friend mentioned a book she carried along to learn about trees in the city as she was taking daily walks while sheltering in place. I sent her my photos, and she double-checked with a landscape architect friend.

Finally I discovered this may be an unusual tree some call a Field Maple or Hedge Maple. A website maintained by the Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute says there’s one in Strybing Arboretum, but I cannot find any other examples in San Francisco.

I searched to see who lived at this address before the grocery store was built, hoping to find an historic photo with my tree in front. “An elegant nine room house” was advertised at 2435 California in 1900. Names I found from this era were Cook, Colonel Sutherland, Thomas and Mary Gilbert, Butler Shaw. It seems this home rented rooms. In 1928, Senator and Mrs. Otis F. Glenn of Illinois made it their home for a short time. But the addresses may have changed.

Newspaper articles report that Grand Central Market opened at 2435 California in 1941, and there are earlier listings for a Grand Central Liquors. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was once on the block.

I’d love to know more about “my tree.”

The canopy of the tree on California Street.

It may be one of a kind

“You have a great eye!” says arborist Roy Leggitt, a longtime neighborhood resident.

“It is likely Acer platanoides, a Norway Maple. I nominated that very tree for Landmark Tree status, but the Department of Public Works didn’t want to encumber itself with street tree nominations. There used to be another one along California Street and two or three others on Dolores Street, which have since been removed. As far as I know, this is the only tree of this species left in San Francisco.”

Boom Boom Room on the ropes

Photograph of the Boom Boom Room by Susie Biehler

FILLMORE’S ONLY remaining joint — the Boom Boom Room, hard by the Geary Street bridge — is closed and may not reopen without an infusion of fresh cash.

“We are faced with permanent closure without emergency funding,” says owner Zander Andreas in a fundraising campaign seeking to raise $60,000. “The survival of our intimate and iconic San Francisco live music institution depends on you. Our rent is massive and compounding. Our vendors are breathing down our necks. Our repairs and utilities are unfunded.”

Andreas said the actual emergency need is $150,000, but that he hopes the GoFundMe campaign “will get people discussing the urgency of our need to keep this institution alive.”

EARLIER: “Was it really John Lee Hooker’s joint?