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When Gorbachev stopped by Dino’s

Photograph of Fillmore & California by Daniel Bahmani

FLASHBACK | RICHARD SPRITZER

IT WAS ONLY a few months after the 1989 earthquake when Mikhail Gorbachev, still president of the still superpowerful Soviet Union, made a swing through San Francisco in early June of 1990.

It was a brief 22-hour stay, which included sleeping late on Monday morning, June 4. Gorbachev and his wife Raisa had flown in late the night before, after stops in Washington and Minneapolis, and stayed in the neighborhood at the Soviet consul general’s residence at 2820 Broadway. Gorbachev was behind schedule all day, but still feted like a visiting rock star in appearances at Stanford University and with the local business elite. The Gorbachevs even worked in a reunion with old friends Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

“The Bay Area basked in the afterglow of a visit by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev,” reported the Los Angeles Times, “happy to show the world it has rebounded from last fall’s earthquake.”

Late in the afternoon, Gorbachev and his retinue headed back to the consul general’s mansion on Outer Broadway. Their motorcade of fierce-looking Zil limousines came barreling down the hill headed west on California Street toward Fillmore.

When he spotted a group of two dozen people waving on the corner, the procession came to a halt. Gorbachev bounded out of the big boxy Zil and started shaking hands like a veteran American pol. 

The Chronicle reported the next day: 

Gorbachev stopped only once to mingle with a crowd of ordinary people — at about 6:15 p.m. at California and Fillmore streets. He walked toward the people on the street, and they surged toward him. Others ran out of Dino’s pizza parlor, the corner liquor store and the neighborhood copy center.

“Usually you don’t have occasion to see somebody so important so close,” said Felix Nager, who works at the copy center. “He’s like a normal man.”

Norm Newman, a 30-year-old ex-U.S. Marine, was so overcome he screamed, “I love you, Gorby!” Later, after he had shaken Gorbachev’s hand, he said, “What I did for 10 years in the Marines was completely opposite to what that man stands for. But he’s opening the doors. He’s a very likeable guy.”

Dino Stavrikikis, who owns the pizza shop, said Gorbachev was the most famous man he had ever met — and he’s met Ronnie Lott, the famous 49er, Sleepy Floyd, the basketball player, and Jerry Brown, the politician. 
“I would have liked it if he would have come in for a piece of pizza,” Dino said.

Inevitably, there were T-shirts for sale all over the city. At Broadway and Divisadero, two blocks from the Soviet consular residence, shirts portrayed Gorbachev as Bart Simpson, with the words “Radical Dude” underneath.

Not far from the Soviet consular residence where the Gorbachevs made their headquarters, a large house displayed a pre-revolutionary Russian flag and a picture of the last czar.

Although Gorbachev and his wife went separate ways for most of the day, they met again at 6:33 p.m. at the consular residence on Broadway.

The stop at Dino’s had lasted only a few minutes. The return to 2820 Broadway didn’t last much longer. A visit to the Golden Gate Bridge was called off because of the tight schedule.

“I always wanted to come here,” Gorbachev told reporters as his motorcade started to leave for the airport. “You’re very fortunate to live here. President Bush should tax the people for living in such a beautiful place.”