There’s a new Sherith in town

New cantor David Frommer and new senior rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf.

New cantor David Frommer and new senior rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf.


I grew up in this neighborhood. I used to go to Gino’s grocery store at Fillmore and Jackson after school to get gummy worms in the ’80s when they were all the rage. I’ve walked around this neighborhood for years — decades, in fact. And now, I’m delighted to be back here in a new capacity.

Last month, a new clergy team was installed at Congregation Sherith Israel, at the corner of California and Webster Streets. Friends and congregants gathered for a Sabbath service on September 16, followed by festivities and food that honored the different cultures of San Francisco. About 600 people participated.

Who would have thought, just shy of 30 years after I became bat mitzvah in this community, that I would stand in the same spot being installed as the 10th senior rabbi of Congregation Sherith Israel?

• I am the first senior rabbi who proudly hangs a Sunday School diploma on the wall.

• I am the first senior rabbi who interned here as a rabbinical student.

• And I am the first senior rabbi to wear a dress for installation — at least as far as I know.


Throwback to a bohemian past

The Center SF is a sanctuary for artists and healers in the former Sacred Heart rectory.

The Center SF is a sanctuary for artists and healers in the former Sacred Heart rectory.


Visible from several points across the city, the former Sacred Heart parish at 548 Fillmore near Fell Street today provides another type of spiritual guidance.

Instead of bingo, signs promote the Church of 8 Wheels, a weekly roller-skating party and yoga classes. A membership gets you all the tea you can drink in the subterranean teahouse that will celebrate its one-year anniversary this month.

If the idea seems like a throwback to a bohemian past, that’s because it is.

In a real estate market that has become surreal, artists, healers and makers are seeking ways to continue living and working in the city. Tucked into the former parish rectory, The Center SF represents one option.


‘Eternal life condos’ at St. Dominic’s

The columbarium is behind the grand main altar of the church.

The columbarium is behind the grand main altar of St. Dominic’s Church.


For devout Catholics who plan ahead and believe in eternal life, a meeting with Judie Doherty might be wise. She is the overseer of the most desirable property of its kind in San Francisco — a final resting place in the columbarium at St. Dominic’s Church at 2390 Bush Street.

Inside the Gothic-style church, with its flying buttresses and roots that date back to 1873, are the final 48 of the original 320 niches reserved for the cremated remains of parishioners of St. Dominic’s.

The placement of the columbarium in the church makes it prime property. “It’s within the Friars Chapel behind the grand main altar of the church and along the ambulatory walkway that encircles the altar,” says Father Michael Hurley, the pastor of St. Dominic’s. “It’s where the Dominican brothers would meet and say the different daily prayers.”


Meditating at the bookstore

Gregory Wood, owner of Forest Books, is also a student and teacher of Zen Buddhism.

Gregory Wood, owner of Forest Books, is also a student of Zen Buddhism.


A magic act of sorts happens in the neighborhood every weekend.

Forest Books, a small treasure house of used and rare books at 1748 Buchanan, on Japantown’s Buchanan Mall, transforms itself every Saturday morning into a quiet spot for Soto Zen meditation. From 9:30 to noon, bookshelves are rolled back, shoji screens set up, pillows brought out of the children’s reading nook — and proprietor Gregory Wood, a student and teacher of Zen Buddhism, leads a zazen, or seated meditation, in the dimly lit space.


Survival of the fittest

PACIFIC HEIGHTS HEALTH CLUB has always been a harbinger of the times. The club, at 2356 Pine Street, just off Fillmore, opened in 1984 to men only. The entranceway was plastered with a 12-foot tickertape — a nod to owner Ken Lapan, who was also an attorney and stockbroker. Members were given free half-hour massages — and attendants opened the lockers and handed out towels. There were only six health clubs in all of San Francisco then.


A sign — and a promise — outside Pacific Heights Health Club.

In 1990, David Kirk, a former fitness trainer and sales manager at the club, bought the place, refashioning the front to include an all-women facility. It wasn’t  until 2002 that the exercise spaces were combined and members of all genders were allowed to sweat and roam freely.

In the late ’80s, John Kennedy Jr. set many local hearts atwitter when he worked out in the club while he was staying in the neighborhood. It was around the same time he was named People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive.” (He also reportedly benchpressed 225.)

In 2004, Kirk sold the club to Amy Lang, a refugee from the corporate world. The place retained its quirkiness, including a weight room with a retractable ceiling for al fresco fitness. Under Lang’s stewardship, locals soon regarded it as a place they could slip in to work out without designer workout wear or already-bulging biceps.

This month, Lang announced still another metamorphosis of the club. She’s doing away with yoga and Zumba classes and focusing on small group training and Pilates — a combo she hopes will attract the burgeoning crowd of residents in the “50 and older” range.


A designer finds her niche

Photograph of Isabelle McGee at Regard Interiors by Daniel Bahmani

Isabelle McGee, owner of Regard Interiors: “I work to simplify lives and add a little zest.”

SHE’D WORKED FOR THE RITZ in Paris and other international corporations, mostly designing hotels, but French designer Isabelle McGee wanted something different — something more intimate — when she set out to establish her interior design atelier in San Francisco.

One day she was walking on Sutter Street, just a block from Fillmore, when she struck up a conversation with Joan O’Connor, longtime proprietor of Timeless Treasures at 2176 Sutter and a notorious neighborhood networker.

“I need a space like this,” McGee told her. So O’Connor promptly called upstairs and introduced her to the landlord of a nearby vacant storefront.

She had found her home. In late 2013 McGee opened her consultancy and showroom called Regard at 2182 Sutter.


Local Anglican archbishop resigns

Archbishop James Provence at St. Thomas Anglican Church in San Francisco

Archbishop James Provence at St. Thomas Anglican Church in San Francisco

JAMES PROVENCE, the longtime rector of St. Thomas Anglican Church at 2725 Sacramento Street — who advanced to become archbishop of his entire breakaway province in 2007 — has resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct with a former parishioner of St. Thomas.

In a July 20 letter to the church’s governing body, Provence wrote that he had been advised  for reasons of my health and chronic medical condition to step down from my ecclesiastical duties. I am therefore submitting to you my resignation as archbishop. I am relinquishing my seat on the council of bishops, resigning as ordinary of the diocese of western states and as rector of St. Thomas Anglican Church, San Francisco.”

His resignation followed a formal complaint alleging “pastoral misconduct within a counseling relationship” submitted for the parishioner by attorney Charles H. Nalls, who is also an Anglican priest and executive director of the Canon Law Institute in Washington, D.C.

“We regard the matter closed,” Nalls told Virtue Online, a website that bills itself as “the voice for global orthodox Anglicanism,” after Provence resigned.

“We presented a detailed complaint with exhibits including photographic evidence,” Nalls later commented on the website. “Mr. Provence resigned shortly after the complaint and accompanying evidence were presented without availing himself of procedure or even offering a defense.”

The former parishioner, Kathy Webb, alleged in a public letter that Provence had engaged in improper sexual behavior with her and with another woman.

Calls and messages to Provence and St. Thomas Church seeking comment were not returned.

EARLIER: “Archbishop of the neighborhood

A grand tour of St. Dominic’s

Photograph of St. Dominic's Church by Alex Mizuno

Photograph of St. Dominic’s Church by Alex Mizuno

THE DOCENT PROGRAM at St. Dominic’s Church at Steiner and Bush is sponsoring “The Grand Tour: An Overview of Church Art & Architecture” on Saturday, August 22, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Docents will lead visitors on a tour of treasures in wood, stone and stained glass inside and outside the church. The event — a “drop in and stay for as little or as much as you like” tour — is free and open to the public. For more information, call 415-517-5572, or email

VIDEO: “Restoring St. Dominic’s”

At Nagata, doing more than dance

Photograph of Corinne Nagata in her dance studio in Japantown by Erik Andreson

Photograph of Corinne Nagata, owner of Nagata Dance in Japantown, by Erik Anderson


“I taught my very first dance class half a block away, at the Japanese Community Center, when I was still in college,” says Corinne Nagata, owner of Nagata Dance, a second-floor studio in Japantown with a bird’s eye view of the Peace Plaza pagoda. “And my grandfather had a frame shop about five blocks away on Fillmore Street. He’s 103 now — incredibly witty and somebody who’s influenced me a lot. He was actually my landlord’s Boy Scout leader.”

Nagata, a San Francisco native, says she “went away to New York and did all the dance stuff there,” including stints at Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theatre, the National Dance Institute and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

“But I came back here because it’s my hometown and my family is here. It’s nice to be back in this neighborhood again,” she says. “I also came back to make my home a better place and I think the way I can do that is by teaching dance — and not just teaching it, but sharing it with more people.”


Credo gets its first store — on Fillmore

Credo's first store is located at 2136 Fillmore — and not by accident.

Credo’s first store is located at 2136 Fillmore, near many other beauty brands.

SHASHI BATRA, founder of the new natural beauty emporium Credo, was up a ladder taking a hands-on approach a couple of days before his first store finally opened on June 4. But he seemed happy to climb down for a few minutes to explain why he decided to locate his first shop at 2136 Fillmore.

“Look around,” he said. “In recent years five or six other beauty stores came to Fillmore — and none of those are natural. The whole category is unregulated, and much of it is harmful.”

Batra and his team helped build Sephora into an international juggernaut of traditional cosmetic brands and beauty supplies. Now, “with a much more conscientious attitude,” they hope to do the same for natural products.

“There’s a lot of natural out there,” he said, “but it’s not beautiful. We decided to create a new concept.”

Some day there may be hundreds of Credo shops.