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What went wrong at Noosh?

It was on top of the world, but then Noosh, at 2001 Fillmore, went dark.

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

Noosh, the hot new California-inspired Mediterranean restaurant at Fillmore and Pine, rocketed off the launch pad in February and soared to great heights, only to explode the week before Thanksgiving when the money partner suddenly announced he was firing and suing his two highly lauded chef partners.

CEO John Litz on November 21 locked out the chefs and staff and posted a sign on Noosh’s front door saying the restaurant was “cooking up something new” and would be “closed for a couple of days.” By early December, he was still trying to re-open, now with a new “culinary advisor” — prominent pastry chef Emily Luchetti.

Chefs Sayat and Laura Ozyilmaz, the husband and wife team who have cooked in five of the world’s top 50 restaurants and were christened “rising stars” by the Chronicle in September, declared themselves “devastated to have been separated from their fans, customers and the family they have built with the employee team at Noosh.”

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Frank Lloyd Wright tiles created here

ARCHITECT Aaron Green, who lived in a neighborhood apartment overlooking Lafayette Park for many years, helped Frank Lloyd Wright establish a San Francisco office in 1951 at 319 Grant Avenue.

Green’s mother-in-law, Jeannette Pauson Haber, lived at 2510 Jackson Street, on Alta Plaza Park, with her sister, Rose Pauson, who was a former client of Wright’s. In 1940 she had built the Pauson House in Arizona, which had been destroyed by fire in 1943. 

Rose was a painter, and Jeannette a ceramicist. When Wright decided to create red tiles, inscribed with his initials, to be affixed to a select number of his buildings, he asked Jeannette to fabricate them. Wright provided a drawing of what he wanted; Jeannette formed the tiles; Aaron Green inscribed the initials — FLLW — into each one; and Jeannette produced the “Taliesin red” glazed surface that Wright specified. 

Among the Bay Area buildings that Wright designated as worthy of bearing the tiles were the V.C. Morris shop on Maiden Lane — his only building in San Francisco and a precursor to the circular Guggenheim Museum in New York — and the Marin County Civic Center, which was completed by Aaron Green after Wright’s death.

— From Frank Lloyd Wright and San Francisco, by Paul V. Turner, published by Yale University Press.

Inside the Palace Cafe

LOCAL HISTORY | THOMAS REYNOLDS

For decades local residents have walked down the block of Fillmore between Bush and Sutter and wondered about the sign hanging out over the sidewalk: Palace Cafe, it says, above a bright red Dr Pepper logo.

The cafe has been closed at least 30 years. For many of those years the sign was mostly obscured by the overgrown ficus trees that lined the block. After the trees came down a few months ago, the question came more frequently: “What’s up with the Palace Cafe?” It was said to be set up just as it was when it was last open for business back in the 1970s. But nobody seemed to know for sure.

Then one recent Saturday morning, while walking up the street from the Fillmore Farmers Market, a neighbor noticed the door to the long-shuttered cafe ajar. He knocked while pushing it open. Inside he met Dr. Jan Dickey, one of the grandchildren of the couple who bought the building back in the 1940s when they were part of the wave of black migration from the South. Some of their descendants still live in the flats upstairs. 

Dickey had come over from his home in the East Bay to the building where he grew up to finally start clearing out the cafe. He said his family had decided, with encouragement from the city’s new crackdown on vacant storefronts, they should empty the space and offer it for rent, perhaps as an office or a shop. They wanted to honor his grandfather, he said, and his grandmother, who willed — and prayed — the building into the family’s fold as its home in the heart of the Fillmore.

“May I take photos?” the visitor asked. They offer a glimpse of the old Fillmore untouched by time.

EARLIER: “Frozen in time

Finding the poetry in the Fillmore

Neighborhood poet Mark Mitchell has a new book of poems.

FIRST PERSON | MARK J. MITCHELL

I arrived in the neighborhood in September 1978, following the woman I’m still lucky enough to love. I had dreams of being a San Francisco poet. 

We moved into the Preston Apartments above what is now Santino’s Vino, but was Uncle Vito’s in those days. I was fresh out of UC Santa Cruz with not-quite-a-degree in aesthetic studies and creative writing, with an emphasis on poetry. So I needed a job. I’d been unemployed a week and the rent was due. I decided to head downtown to apply at a new Walden Books that was about to open. But on the way I stopped in at Bi Rite Liquors, on the other corner of Fillmore and California, and asked if they needed any help. I was working there by the end of the day. 

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Harlem of the West, revised

The new and earlier editions of Harlem of the West.

A PUBLIC APPEAL

In the late ’80s, Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts began an archival journey to resurrect a piece of San Francisco’s cultural history that had been bulldozed into oblivion. The Harlem of the West Project sought to make visible the rich history of the Fillmore District — one of the few neighborhoods in the Bay Area where people of color could go for entertainment in the 1940s and ’50s.

More than a dozen clubs dotted the 20-block radius, cheek by jowl with independent restaurants, pool halls, theaters and stores, many of them owned and run by African Americans, Japanese Americans, and Filipino Americans.

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A murder mystery in Pacific Heights

FIRST PERSON | SUSAN McCORMICK

The first book in a planned San Francisco Cozy Murder Mystery series, The Fog Ladies features a group of spunky older women and one overworked, overtired, overstressed medical intern who live in an elegant apartment building in San Francisco — and then the older ladies start to die. 

The story is set in Pacific Heights in a building similar to the one I lived in years ago, minus the dying ladies. The neighborhood is as much a character in the story as the Fog Ladies themselves — with its beautiful 1920s and ’30s apartment buildings, nearby shopping streets, hills, views and pruned trees in winter. 

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An opera star on the fast track

Countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen at Glaze on Fillmore Street.

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

At only 25, opera singer and neighborhood resident Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen has already had a head-spinning career. 

Cohen graduated from Princeton in 2015. Just two years later, he was one of 12 artists to join S.F. Opera’s prestigious two-year, performance-oriented Adler Fellowship Program, which is what brought him to San Francisco. 

He made his S.F. Opera debut this summer in a major supporting role in Handel’s Orlando. By then, he’d already held the limelight in an important tryout for future stars: the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions Grand Finals, in March 2017. New York Times critic Zachary Woolfe saw several good singers onstage, but “only one complete artist,” noting that Cohen “stood clearly apart from the pack.” He was one of six winners.

Cohen is a countertenor. Singing above the vocal terrain of a tenor, he and the other 50-some quality countertenors working today perform music written in the 17th and 18th centuries for castrati — men castrated before puberty so their voices would remain high. After the practice was banned, much of that music lay dormant for a couple of centuries. When Baroque music made a comeback, the high, pure, sonorous countertenor tradition was born.

Among its most lauded practitioners, Cohen will be performing here early this month in two programs: “The Future Is Now,” his final Adler Fellows concert, with the S.F. Opera orchestra, at Herbst Theatre on December 6; and as a soloist in Handel’s Messiah, with the S.F. Symphony, at Davies Hall on December 13 and 14.

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Yet Another Hole in the Head

FILM | ANDREA CHASE

The 16th Annual Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, brought to you by the fine people at SFIndieFest, gathers a scintillating collection of the best of the genres of sci-fi, horror, fantasy and just plain odd films currently out there, along with the now traditional rescoring of a classic.

The fest is running now through December 15 at the New People Cinema in Japantown, and there’s not a dud in the program.

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Watching San Francisco burn

Watching the fire after the 1906 earthquake from Lafayette Square.

LOCAL HISTORY | BRIDGET MALEY

A series of photographs taken during and just after the 1906 earthquake and fire reveals the sense of the fear and dread neighborhood residents must have felt at the time. The fire, which crossed to the west side of Van Ness Avenue between Sutter and Clay Streets, was halted by the U.S. Army’s defensive dynamiting, which included purposefully destroying some of the city’s most elaborate mansions. 

The photographs illustrate just how the marching fire must have raised the alarm near Lafayette Square. The images, all in the collection of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and taken by either Frank or Gregory Padilla. The Padillas apparently had a studio on Washington Street, but not much is known about the family of photographers. 

Looking east on Washington Street after the 1906 earthquake.

When the earthquake hit, there were only three houses facing the square on the block of Gough Street between Washington and Clay. One image, looking east down Washington Street, shows a mishmash of fencing and billboard advertising at the corner of Washington and Gough. A portion of the three houses peek out from behind the park’s hilly terrain. While all three dwellings survived the earthquake, only two remain; the third was replaced in 1912.

The remarkable images taken from Lafayette Square during those fateful days in April of 1906 provide a glimpse of events as they were happening. The photographers captured spectators watching the fire consume the city. The images hold the event frozen in time with a backdrop of what the blocks around the square would have looked like as it all unfolded.

Watching the fire from Lafayette Square. Bancroft Library photographs.

Bidding wars and other myths

REAL ESTATE | NINA HATVANY

There are many myths about the San Francisco real estate market — many of them not true.

MYTH #1: Homes are still going for 10 to 15 percent above asking in bidding wars.

The truth is, the competition for San Francisco condominiums and homes has drastically slowed down as inventory has increased. “Bidding wars,” while they still exist, are less common, and if there is competition, it is more likely two or three other offers rather than 10. The market in the fall tends to dip slightly in prices because of the glut of inventory that hits right after Labor Day and then is slow to get absorbed as the holidays approach.

There is still a good amount of inventory sitting, and buyers become less motivated over the holidays to deal with finding a home between their travels and hosting family. In the spring, prices historically tend to rise again as the market picks up. While we can’t predict what will happen next year, the current combination of low interest rates, higher inventory and economic uncertainty makes this a great time to jump into the usually hyper-competitive San Francisco market.

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