Harlem of the West revisited

Harlem-new

LONG BEFORE they met, Lewis Watts and Elizabeth Pepin Silva had something in common: Both had wandered into Red’s Shoe Shine Parlor at 1549 Fillmore to inquire about the extensive collection of vintage photographs of Fillmore’s jazz joints that lined his walls.

And both had been kicked out.

Before he could return to try again, Watts learned that Red Powell had died and his treasure trove of photographs had apparently been lost. Only years later would he learn they had in fact been saved — and were in the back room of Reggie Pettus’s New Chicago Barbershop.

Those photographs became the backbone of a remarkable neighborhood history, Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era, co-authored by Silva and Watts and published by Chronicle Books in 2006. The photographs were widely exhibited and the book sold out. A second edition was published in 2008. But by 2010 the book was out of print and hard to find.

“I couldn’t go on Fillmore without somebody asking about the book,” says Watts. “So we decided to republish it ourselves” — and do it the way they had always thought it should be done.

The third edition, which premiered April 29, is bigger and better in every way. It is larger, with more prominent photographs, and it includes a hundred more pages, more elegantly designed, and many more photographs and oral histories.

Among the most significant additions: photographs and oral histories from exotic dancer Lottie “the Body” Claiborne, discovered living in Detroit, and club owner Leola King, who had initially refused to participate.

“When she saw the book, she realized we were being respectful,” says Silva.

Distribution of the new edition is still being arranged. For now, copies are available online. An exhibition of photographs from the book is now showing at the African American Arts and Cultural Complex at 762 Fulton Street.

“I’m already thinking of things I could look into further,” says Silva. “I never thought this was a lifetime project. This neighborhood has gotten into me.”

MORE: Jazz clubs in the Fillmore

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