Hip ice cream shop on the way



By Chris Barnett

SMITTEN, a made-to-order ice cream venture that opened its first shop in a converted shipping container in Hayes Valley, is scooping up the small space recently vacated by Copynet at 2404 California Street.

Copynet relocated to 2174 Sutter Street  at the end of September as its 20-year lease was about to expire and the rent was to increase by $4,000 a month.

Selling just four to six flavors of ice cream at any one time, Smitten’s founder, Robyn Sue Fisher, is in the final stages of signing a lease with the landlord, Russell Flynn of Flynn Investments. The longtime San Francisco property investor owns the venerable Preston Apartments on the corner of Fillmore and California, which includes six street-level storefronts.

Flynn hoped to rent the 960-square-foot storefront on California Street to Wells Fargo Bank as a limited service branch filled with automated teller machines. Wells Fargo, which theoretically could easily pay the $10 to $12 per square foot asking price for monthly rent, is in a dispute with the city over claims its two ATMs embedded in the exterior wall of the bank building facing California Street violate local disability codes because the sidewalk is too steep.

But the deal fell through.

Flynn said he approached First Republic, his longtime bank, with a similar offer but was turned down.

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Alamo Square and the families who lived there


Very soon after I moved to the historic and architecturally rich Alamo Square neighborhood in 1979, the untold stories of its vintage housing stock piqued my curiosity. When I could discover very little photographic or written material, I began my own research and eventually composed old house profiles for the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association newsletter from the 1990s on. By personally contacting descendents of the early owners and occupants of these antique residences and institutional buildings, I was able to secure a wonderful trove of previously unpublished photos and family stories.

The sequence of the profiles was dictated by whichever homeowner in the neighborhood would agree to host an association meeting in their home. In exchange the owners would receive a house history by me and a drawing by former architect Jack Walsh.

Now I have gathered these profiles, drawings and photographs into a new book called The Storied Houses of Alamo Square.

Many of the homes in the Alamo Square Historic District were designed by some of the city’s most prominent architects and contractor-builders for a clientele that included a number of the downtown’s prosperous businessmen. Several families residing here were listed in the pages of Our Society Bluebook. Except for the handful of large 20th century apartment buildings, our housing inventory shows a similarity of scale and building materials that evokes a pedestrian-friendly, residential atmosphere.

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A life in leather

Photograph of Peter James and Susanne Rundberg by Susie Biehler

Photographs of Fog City Leather’s Peter James and Susanne Rundberg by Susie Biehler

By Barbara Kate Repa

PETER JAMES STILL REMEMBERS when he got smitten by leather. He was about 10 years old, living in San Francisco, having immigrated with his family from Sweden four years earlier.

“I sat in my dad’s new 1955 Studebaker, and when I shut the door I was instantly intoxicated with the leather aroma,” he says. “It just knocked me out. It had black and white checkerboard upholstery — and it hit me like a thunderbolt. I was hooked.”

Becoming an artisan and a leathercrafter wasn’t on his radar screen back then, growing up in a family where the mantra repeated each night at dinner was: “Be willing to work a little harder.”

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To G or not to G


A two-unit home for sale at 2905 Bush Street would be affected if Proposition G passes.

A two-unit home for sale at 2905 Bush Street could be affected if Proposition G passes.

A significant slowdown in the number of multi-unit building sales in San Francisco’s northern neighborhoods suggests that Proposition G may be having an impact on the local real estate market months before city residents cast their votes.

On the ballot for the upcoming November 4 election, Proposition G is designed to discourage property flipping by levying a substantial tax on homes with two or more units that are resold within five years of purchase. Essentially, the proposed legislation could force home sellers to pay up to 24 percent of the sale price in taxes — a substantial sum in a city where the median single-family home price has hovered around the $1 million mark for most of this year.

The uncertainty surrounding Proposition G appears already to have cooled investor interest in multi-unit properties. From mid-August to mid-September 2013, eight multi-unit buildings sold in the Cow Hollow, Lower Pacific Heights, Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights neighborhoods, while four went into contract. In that same time period in 2014, only two multi-unit buildings sold and two went into contract.

And since Proposition G applies to single-family homes with in-law units, its effects could be felt beyond the multi-unit property market if voters choose to approve it.

Patrick Barber is president of Pacific Union.

Happier hour on Fillmore



A fresh wave of happiness is flooding Fillmore as boulevard bars and restaurants are pouring newly discounted drinks and offering bargain-priced appetizers during afternoon happy hours. Some thirst parlors are more generous than others.

The Elite Cafe, at 2049 Fillmore Street, the one-time sporting house, gambling den and Chinese restaurant turned New Orleans fine dining spot, with a long bar and discreet private booths, has extended its happy hour — now from 3 to 6 p.m. — with $2 off all cocktails, wine and beer and a new daily “bartender special.”

Heading a list of discounted appetizers on a new happy hour menu is a choice of oysters or its signature stuffed deviled eggs. Owner Peter Synderman has shaken up the kitchen and brought in new chef James London, who is catering to early birds with pulled pork sliders, mustard sauce and green apple slaw, $4 apiece; charred skirt steak with smoky potato salad, $8; shrimp cocktail, $8; and a smoked trout kale salad with onions, $8.

The Elite is also kicking with live music Monday through Wednesday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m. No cover charge and no drink minimum.

Harry’s on Fillmore, at 2020 Fillmore Street, has a long list of special prices and different times and caveats for its happy hours. But with patience and persistence, you can score some real deals.

For starters, there’s a 4 to 6 p.m. happy hour weekdays only with well drink prices cut to $5, draft beers trimmed to $4 and house wine going for $6. On Tuesday, a bottle of premium wine is half price. All night long on Wednesday, there is a “shot and a beer” special with a choice of Jameson Irish Whisky, Jack Daniels, Fireball, Cazadores or Fernet Branca and any draft beer for $10.

On Thursday and Friday, Harry’s has Chinese-Hawaiian Martini Nights from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. closing for $8. While a cocktail purist would dispute its authenticity, a recent concoction mixed pineapple juice, lychee juice and vodka.

The longstanding Monday burger special offered from 5 to 10 p.m. has been modified, too. It was previously a basic hamburger, fries and a drink for $10.95. Now the drink has been dropped and so has the price, to $5.95 — except when a legal holiday falls on a Monday.

Palmer’s, at 2298 Fillmore, has a daily happy hour that runs from 4 to 6 p.m. that includes a draft beer for $4, a basic well drink for $5 and a glass of select white or red wine or a bartender’s special cocktail for $7.

The $5 appetizer list includes a choice of spicy meatballs, mussels in a fume blanc sauce, dry rub pork ribs and burrata cheese. Curry or plain French fries are $3 and deviled eggs are a buck apiece.

Thai Stick, at 2001 Fillmore, has redesigned its happy hour, and while the time remains from 4 to 7 p.m. every day, the bargains are scaled back. On Monday, draft beer is $4 and on Tuesday, beer and wine are $1 off and there’s a 20 percent savings on any bottle of wine. A bottle of beer is $3 on Wednesday. Gone is the daily generous pour of a house chardonnay or cabernet for $5. It’s now $6 every day but Tuesday. Also, there is no break on cocktails, either well or call brands.

Still, Thai Stick retains its happy hour appetizer prices of $5 each, led by the six grilled chicken satays with peanut sauce and a cucumber salad.

The small, sophisticated bar at Florio, at 1915 Fillmore, has not pared its prices to woo imbibers. However, on weekends it now opens at 3:30 p.m. instead of 5:30 with a new game it’s calling Dealer’s Choice.

“You just choose a spirit and I will create a cocktail for you,” explains the congenial and smartly turned out Reuben Aguirre, who has joined the bartending team.

Florio is known for its serious cocktails that at $11 are fairly priced considering the ingredients and ambiance. They range from “classics” (a Pegu Club Cocktail with gin, Cointreau, lime, Angostura bitters) to “moderns” (Fillmore Fizz: bourbon, mint, lemon, ginger syrup and Champagne).

Fillmore gets more neighborly


WHEN DINO’S became Dino and Santino’s last year at Fillmore and California, owner Dino Stavrakikis wanted to make his — and his son’s — prime corner a little friendlier. So he bought a black metal bench and bolted it to the sidewalk, inviting the neighbors to stop and sit in the sunshine, even if they weren’t ordering a slice of pizza.

His good example has now brought more benches to the stretch of Fillmore between Bush and Jackson Streets. In mid-August the city’s Department of Public Works, encouraged by the Fillmore Merchants Association, put additional benches like Dino’s on the street — only shorter, so no one is tempted to take a nap. The original 60 locations under consideration were whittled down to 19 spots acceptable to the various authorities from the city’s transit, utility, parking and disability departments.

The drive to add benches on Fillmore began 14 years ago. It took a politically savvy young DPW staffer, Ahmad El-Najjar, and funding secured by Supervisor Mark Farrell’s office to make it finally happen.

Initial reaction was mixed. Some merchants complained about smokers, and high-end fashion boutiques and restaurants feared undesirables would sit in front of their high-rent shops. But the reaction from residents has been mostly positive.

The benches are being touted as a pilot project that may be adjusted or expanded. Already several other business owners have asked for benches.

“I want one right out front,” said Dino. “The last one I had to buy myself.”

Rising rent moves more shops south

Fillmore and California, Labor Day 2014 | Photograph by Dickie Spritzer

Fillmore and California, Labor Day 2014 | Photograph by Dickie Spritzer

FILLMORE STREET is “the hot retail spot in San Francisco” for fashion and beauty brands, Women’s Wear Daily proclaims, and the rent on commercial storefronts is rising rapidly to reflect the neighborhood’s newfound favor.

This year has already brought Ella Moss and The Kooples to the street, joining dozens of other clothing and beauty boutiques. Soon Rag & Bone will open its new showplace on the prime corner of Fillmore and California. And Rebecca Minkoff is bringing its designs to the former Pure Beauty store at 2124 Fillmore, the only empty storefront on upper Fillmore.

Now two more longtime neighborhood shops are packing up and moving south, where the rent is significantly less expensive.

• Copynet, the printing and graphic design firm that has occupied 2404 California Street for 20 years, will move this month to 2174 Sutter Street — a few doors from Jet Mail, which made a similar move earlier this year.

• Zinc Details, the home furnishings store that has been on Fillmore near Bush Street for 20 years, will move in October three blocks south into the empty National Dollar Store space at 1603 Fillmore, next door to the Boom Boom Room at the Geary

The owners of both businesses see fresh opportunities in their new locations, but both acknowledge they were facing big rent increases that made it impossible to maintain their longtime homes.

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Who shot the Mayor of Fillmore?

Charles Sullivan (center left, with Fats Corlett sitting beside him) in the Booker T. Washington Hotel at Fillmore and Ellis.

Charles Sullivan (center left, with Fats Corlett sitting beside him) in the Booker T. Washington Hotel at Fillmore and Ellis. Photograph courtesy of the Hall family.


On August 2, 1966, the “Mayor of Fillmore” was found shot to death in the area south of Market Street. He was sprawled on the street next to the open door of a rental car. A revolver lay beside his right hand. Police said it was a suicide.

The dead man was Charles Sullivan, the most influential — and controversial — figure in the mostly African-American Fillmore District. From the late 1940s until his death, Sullivan was probably the richest man in the neighborhood. He was tall, handsome and imposing, dressed in finely tailored suits worthy of Duke Ellington. A local merchants group bestowed his title on him, complete with an oversize key to the city.

The San Francisco coroner dismissed the idea of suicide, declaring the death of “unknown circumstances.” Also disagreeing with the initial police report is Harry Richard Hall, Charles Sullivan’s nephew and the creator of a new one-man show, Blues for Charles.

Harry Hall performs Blues for Charles, his one-man tribute to his uncle Charles Sullivan, the one-time Mayor of Fillmore, at the Exit Theatre at 156 Eddy Street on September 7, 13, 16 and 17 as part of the 23rd annual San Francisco Fringe Festival.

Blues for Charles is a murder mystery, and also Hall’s tribute to Charles Sullivan, his family and the Fillmore. But Hall would be the first to admit his uncle was no saint.

“Charles never would have committed suicide,” Hall says. “He was too selfish.”

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Images that tell a story

David Johnson and his iconic 1946 photograph in the 1300 on Fillmore lounge.
Photograph by Rory Earnshaw

A CONVERSATION with photographer David Johnson and his old friend and new wife, author Jacqueline Sue, as a new exhibition of his photographs of the Fillmore during the “Harlem of the West” era opens.

Jackie: In November we will have known each other for 58 years. Just a few weeks ago we celebrated your 88th birthday and our fifth wedding anniversary. Do you remember how we met?

David: Well, my wife Lucy and I and our two children were attending the Westside Christian Church at Bush and Divisadero. The mostly white congregation was interested in bringing more African-Americans to their church. A black pharmacist named Wayman Fuller who was a member invited my family, and we met you there.

Jackie: New in town, age 21, no friends, I was there because it was my family denomination in Kentucky and that was the only Christian Church in San Francisco.

David: You and Lucy bonded quickly and became friends because you were both among the first African-American long distance operators in the 1950s.

Jackie: When your son Michael was born in 1957 and I became his godmother, you were already an established photographer, but I didn’t realize it.

David: Yes, by then, I had photographed many of the historical photographs that are now being exhibited. My studio was on Divisadero Street not far from our church.

David Johnson’s photographs are on view at the Harvey Milk Photo Center at 50 Scott Street from September 6 to October 19.

You see, as a youth growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, I found that I was curious about the neighborhood and environment where I lived. We were poor and living on the edge. However, my foster mother provided a good place for me to grow up.

After my discharge from the Navy following World War II, I decided to come to San Francisco and study photography with Ansel Adams at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). While Ansel and other students photographed Yosemite and nature, it was a natural fit for me to photograph people and the Fillmore community I lived in.

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The art of the Arctic

Soapstone sculpture by the renowned Inuit artist Jonas Faber is featured at Images of the North.

Soapstone sculpture by Inuit artist Jonas Faber is featured at Images of the North.

By Judy Goddess

IMAGES OF THE NORTH gallery at 2036 Union Street may be small in size, but its collection is rich in artistry and giant in vision.

“Inuit art is magical,” says owner Lesley Leonhardt of the art she presents capturing the Arctic landscape and culture. Her Union Street gallery houses one of the country’s most extensive collections of Inuit art by established and emerging artists from all over the Arctic. Sculpture fills the floor; smaller pieces are stored in narrow cabinets along the walls; jewelry and prints are hung on the walls and displayed in cabinets and racks in the back of the gallery.

From September 13 to October 9, the gallery will showcase soapstone sculpture by Jonas Faber, its third exhibition of the internationally heralded artist known for his bold, personal style and his creative treatment of Inuit cultural themes and myths.

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