His greatest creation was his own home

Photograph of bronze lion head fountain in the garden by Mark Evans

WHEN BUSH STREET resident Palmer Sessel still wore a tie and worked in the Financial District, he liked to get out of the office midday and think things over.

One day he walked by the historic Monadnock Building on Market Street and was struck by the cast of notable San Franciscans looking down at him from the trompe l’oeil mural above the marble cornice. The guard told him the artists who created it had a studio upstairs. He went up and engaged them to create a mural of a winged bulldog on the ceiling of the living parlor in his classic Victorian near Cottage Row.

“They tried to dissuade me” on the flying bulldog, Sessel says. But Mark Evans and Charley Brown took the commission, and also painted a Bacchanalian scene for the dining parlor, and nudes above the bed. In the process, they also fell for the neighborhood, and decided they wanted to live here.

“I told them,” Sessel recalls: “You may be in luck. The guy next door to me is dying.”

The 1880s Victorian needed work, and required resisting a committee of bureaucrats from the Redevelopment Agency, but the bones were all there. They managed to buy the house before it went on the market. “We went to Stars restaurant to celebrate,” Evans remembers. “We thought, ‘This is the last good meal we’ll ever eat.’ ”

Over the next three decades, they set about making it their greatest art project, bounteously filled with their own work and layers of treasures from around the world. On the ground level, overlooking a south-facing garden, were studios for both artists. In 1984 they established Evans & Brown, a fount of their ever-expanding creative output: murals, paintings, objets d’art, wall coverings, fabric, carpet and more. They found artistic and commercial success, and an enduring business and personal partnership.

“We were in the right place at the right time,” Evans says. “No one was doing murals and trompe l’oeil on our level. And it was mostly because of Charley’s painting.”

Only days after they returned from a final grand tour of the splendors of Venice and Paris, Robert Charles Brown died of prostate cancer on November 21, 2018, at home on Bush Street. His husband of 41 years, Mark Evans, and their schnauzer, Jack, survive him.

— Thomas Reynolds

Farewell to Narumi

For 37 years, Jiro Nakamura’s jewel box of a shop has been at 1902 Fillmore.

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

“You have to say: ‘This is the end. It’s time to go home,’ ” says Jiro Nakamura, with a shy smile.

Sadly for the neighborhood, that means the end of Narumi Japanese Antiques, Nakamura’s tiny jewel box of a shop at 1902 Fillmore Street. Narumi has been the go-to place for antique Japanese dolls, imported kimonos, essentials for a proper tea ceremony and a unique collection of Japanese antiques and art — including many of Nakamura’s own stained glass creations and hand-painted works — since it opened in 1981.

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Copy art had roots in the Fillmore

“Big Bucks,” a color Xerox work by Barbara Wyeth

By BARBARA WYETH

There was a brief time on the San Francisco art scene when artwork done on color Xerox copy machines was hot — the latest thing, de rigueur for experimental and accomplished artists, and for novices as well. The Fillmore was right at the center of all the excitement.

The neighborhood had a long tradition of welcoming musicians and artists. That had begun to change with redevelopment, the Geary expressway and gentrification, as Fillmore Street became an upscale shopping district for residents of Pacific Heights. Painterland, a loose collection of artists who gathered in and around 2322 Fillmore in the 1950s, was essentially over when Jay DeFeo and her behemoth painting The Rose moved out of the building in 1965.

In the mid-70s, however, some remnants of that bohemian spirit remained. The street was still eclectic and diverse, with small service businesses, one-of-a-kind boutiques, art galleries and framers, Japanese sushi shops and bars with live music. It was in this milieu that Barbara Cushman, a native New Yorker, opened A Fine Hand at 2404 California Street, now home to Smitten Ice Cream. Initially, her shop offered fine writing implements and supplies for lefties — the proprietor being one — as well as handcrafted goods and fine art. Cushman had worked in ceramics and collage art and had an avid interest in all forms of artistic expression.

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Neon on Fillmore, then and now

Photograph of the refurbished Elite Cafe sign by Daniel Bahmani

By RANDALL ANN HOMAN

The sign for the Elite Cafe, glowing again after a fire left it damaged and dark for months, is a beacon from a time when Fillmore Street was awash with neon signs announcing the street’s vibrant nightlife.

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He has his own quartet

Michael Schwab’s four street banners celebrating the Fillmore Jazz Festival.

Q & A | MICHAEL SCHWAB

The poster for the 2018 Fillmore Jazz Festival is the fourth jazz image Michael Schwab has created for the Fillmore festival. All four now hang as banners on the street.

Are you a jazz fan?

Sure. I’m not an aficionado, but as a kid, back in southern Oklahoma, I remember hearing my dad playing cool jazz albums on the hi-fi in our living room — a lot of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. In high school, I’ll never forget being introduced to Mose Allison: “You know a young man … ain’t nothin’ in this world these days.” Wow.

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The mystery of the three lamp posts

Three old-style lamp posts on Fillmore are dedicated to Katie Flavel. But who was she?

LOCAL HISTORY | JOE BEYER

For nearly a century, three lamp posts on the sidewalk in front of Calvary Presbyterian Church have added enlightenment on the busy corner of Fillmore and Jackson.

The two on either side have plaques attached dedicating them to the memory of Katie Flavel, who apparently died on August 19, 1910. But there is no record she was ever a member of Calvary.

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Zinc Details is calling it quits

Photograph of Vasilios Kiniris at Zinc Details by Daniel Bahmani

ONE OF THE best-known and longest-operating businesses on Fillmore Street is shutting its doors at the end of April. Zinc Details, at 1633 Fillmore, will end its 28-year run and its space is expected to become an outpost of Orange Theory, a nationwide fitness club.

“I’ve met amazing people through our store,” says Vasilios Kiniris, who owns the design shop with his wife and fellow architect, Wendy Nishimura Kiniris. “But it’s time.”

Vas Kiniris, who has been vice president, president and now executive director of the Fillmore Merchants Association, intends to devote himself fully to small business affairs in San Francisco. In addition, he has recently become executive director of the West Portal Merchants Association and executive secretary of the citywide District Council of Merchant Associations.

“I think it’s perfect timing,” says Kiniris. “Retail is morphing into a new reality, and I’m parlaying my knowledge of small business and what makes a vibrant street.”

At one point Zinc had three shops and 20 employees on Fillmore Street.

“There’s a real sense of community on Fillmore,” he says. “I want to share that.”

Vas and Wendy Kiniris in their first Zinc Details store, opened in 1990.

EARLIER: “Still modern after all these years

A buying trip to Southeast Asia

New gallery has the baraka

Photograph of Shiffen, owner of Baraka Gallery at 1230 Fillmore, by Suzie Biehler.

Photograph of Shiffen, owner of Baraka Gallery at 1230 Fillmore, by Suzie Biehler

By FRANCINE BREVETTI

If you are a tribal man of Niger intent on wooing a lady, you will likely wear a Wodaabe tunic at the Geerewol festival. “That’s where the handsome men of the tribe compete in a contest of endurance and beauty,” explains Shiffen Melaku.

Your sister would have embroidered this ritual robe for you to wear at the weeklong festival where young people meet to find mates among the other cattle-herding nomads.

Here in the neighborhood, you can buy such a garment at Shiffen’s Baraka Gallery, formerly of Oakland, and newly installed at 1230 Fillmore.

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LOVING HIS COLOR

“Tribute to Romare Bearden,” a 2007 mixed media painting by Rhonel Roberts

“Tribute to Romare Bearden,” a 2007 mixed media painting by Rhonel Roberts

By KEITH HOWELL

Rhonel Roberts’ first love was music. But painting is his passion.

The two came together for the Fillmore resident in a series of artworks he created celebrating great jazz musicians — Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. His career took off when his painting of Masekela was chosen in 2011 for the Fillmore Jazz Festival poster. It was one of Roberts’ particular favorites because he remembered the trumpeter’s rendition of “Grazing in the Grass” playing at his 13th birthday party.

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