They gave Calvary a social conscience

Photograph of the Rev. Dr. Laird J. Stuart by Alvin Johnson

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

The Rev. Dr. Laird J. Stuart followed the Rev. Dr. James G. Emerson as pastor of the Calvary Presbyterian Church at Fillmore and Jackson, both chronologically and in a determination to bring to the historic church a greater awareness of social justice issues. On December 19, 2018, he followed Emerson, who died three months earlier, on September 12, to the heavens.

Emerson was a powerful preacher and a pioneering pastor of Calvary in the 1980s. And he practiced what he preached about equality and justice, even getting arrested while participating in a 1987 interracial civil rights “march for brotherhood” in Forsyth County, Georgia.

In 1988, he was one of the founders of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, which brought together leaders of different faith traditions in the city. He traveled to India and met with Mother Teresa. “I told her, ‘We’re Protestants, but we pray for you,’ ” Emerson remembered. She told him: “Well pray more. We are all one people.”

Photograph of the Rev. Dr. James G. Emerson by Sara Butz

Stuart built on the social consciousness Emerson had brought to what was then a sometimes staid, largely affluent, almost entirely white congregation.

Stuart served from 1993 to 2010 and led the fight against homophobia in the Presbyterian church. He was the first president of a nationwide group that lobbied what he called “the radical middle” in the Presbyterian church, urging that people be ordained as ministers, deacons and elders regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Today Calvary has a diverse group of ministers and a banner hanging outside with a rainbow flag proclaiming it a sanctuary church and declaring that “Black Lives Matter” — suggesting that both men made their mark.

Birth and rebirth at the ballet

Sharonjean Leeds returned to the stage in the finale of Smuin’s Christmas Ballet.

CULTURE BEAT | FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

The New Year was still a couple of weeks away when a unique celebration of birth, rebirth and family joy took place at Smuin Ballet’s annual Christmas Ballet at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Sebastian-Alexander Gottschalk, age one month, was in the audience when dancer Sharonjean Leeds, age 70+, spun her way across the stage in the traditional White Christmas finale.

Each had overcome more than a few odds to be there.

Sebastian arrived at Kaiser Hospital on November 14, eight weeks ahead of schedule. His mom,  Shaunte Gipson Gottschalk, is a nurse and was quick to get to the hospital when things indicated he might make an early appearance. His dad, Georg, who works with MuleSoft, a Salesforce company, was inconveniently on a plane in London, about to take off for India. “If you’re headed to India,” the doctor texted, “you’re going the wrong direction.” Several trips through international security and one Chicago connection later, Georg got home to meet his new son at one minute before midnight. Sebastian, who weighed in at 2 lbs., 2.7 oz., then spent his first few weeks in Kaiser’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit on Geary.

Baby and mom at his first ballet.

Soon after they got him home, the new parents looked at their tickets to the Christmas Ballet, a long family tradition, and decided to introduce Sebastian to Smuin. Bundled in a baby wrap, mittens and blanket, he snuggled his way happily through the performance.

Onstage in the finale was dancer Leeds, longtime ballet teacher at the University of San Francisco, who several years ago might have seemed unlikely to walk again. A fall in her Presidio Heights basement in 2016 left her with a pelvis broken in five places and a badly broken left arm. Once out of the hospital, she spent five weeks in rehab and two months with in-home care — but then set about getting back to dancing.

Leeds had last danced onstage in New Shoes, Old Souls, a piece for three women and one man choreographed by the late Michael Smuin and performed in the spring of 1999. She continues to take classes with the company. So when her husband, local dentist Rick Leeds, bid on a walk-on Christmas Ballet appearance at Smuin’s 2018 gala, artistic director Celia Fushille created a feature role in the finale instead.

Septuagenarian dancer and tiny audience member didn’t meet at the event. But both (with his parents speaking for Sebastian) agreed the event was a spectacular way to usher in the new year.

Pop-up gifts from Gwyneth

Goop Gifts offers a 24-karat golden dildo named Olga.

POPPING UP at 2241 Fillmore, next door to the Clay Theatre, and slated to remain there only until Christmas Eve, is a hot new spot for holiday shoppers: Goop Gifts. Shop curator and company founder actress Gwyneth Paltrow is both revered for her attention — and reviled for her overattention — to self-care.

She’s stocked the Fillmore shop with a collection from this year’s Goop Holiday Gift Guide — part of the lifestyle brand she started, she says, “as just sort of a way to share information.” One of her suggestions: a doctor-supervised treatment involving bee venom injections. “I had it done on my cesarean scar,” says Paltrow. “I had some buckling in the scar, and it really evened it out.” Outfitted with a moving conveyor belt laden with wrapped and displayed gifts, the Fillmore pop-up offers many quintessentially Paltrow items: dietary supplements, bath salts, makeup remover pads, edible pre-probiotic skin refiner and lots of things in pink and gold.

It also has on hand some gifts you might not have realized that person on your list really needs: a sneaker cleaning kit, a gold champagne cork puller, a digital luggage scale for those prone to overpacking, 24-karat gold rolling papers, as well as a 24-karat golden dildo named Olga, available for $3,490.

A test of faith

Rev. Debra Low-Skinner is vicar of Christ Church Sei Ko Kai on Alta Plaza Park.

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

“Our congregation reflects San Francisco,” says Senior Warden Gordon Park-Li of historic Christ Episcopal Church Sei Ko Kai, which graces the corner of Pierce and Clay Streets across from Alta Plaza Park’s grand staircase.

On any given Sunday, its small, warm sanctuary welcomes Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans and Americans of assorted other heritages. In a neighborhood where houses sell in the multiple millions, the stately Victorian home of Christ Church offers a unique link to the good and the bad of San Francisco’s past, as well as its constantly changing future.

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CPMC scaling back local plans

The hospital finally relented to neighborhood pressure and relocated a generator at its entry.

CONTRARY TO EARLIER PLANS, California Pacific Medical Center now says it will scale back its operations in the neighborhood when a new state-of-the-art hospital opens next year on Van Ness Avenue.

Patients are expected to move into the new hospital in early March. The current hospital will then concentrate on ambulatory care for patients who do not require overnight hospitalization. That will bring a reduction from 2,100 to fewer than 500 employees at the existing hospital on Buchanan Street, administrators say, and an expected 30 percent reduction in the number of people who visit the current complex. There will be fewer doctors, too, and the emergency room will move to the new hospital.

Earlier plans had called for an expansion of facilities in the neighborhood, including a new building for ambulatory care on Sacramento Street, where the aging Stanford building now stands, and a new parking garage.

No more. “No new construction is planned,” said Ameet Nanda, a hospital administrator. “We’ve scaled back our plans.”

After the new Van Ness building opens, the hospital will close its facilities out on California Street, near Laurel Village. Some of those operations, including women’s health and breast cancer specialists, will move to 2333 Buchanan, along with some outpatient surgery. But the fourth, fifth and sixth floors of the current hospital will be left empty, administrators said.

Neighbors who attended a community hearing at the hospital on July 11 were skeptical that hospital administrators were telling the full story. “To think that three floors of prime property in this neighborhood are going to be left empty defies belief,” said one.

The final days of Kelly Johnson

In the final minutes of his life, Kelly Johnson was surrounded by friends and family.

By ARASH MALEKZADEH

A month ago, I was offered the opportunity to film the last days of Kelly Johnson’s life. I did not know him. I did not know how or why his death was predetermined.

I was told to meet the next morning at Peet’s for coffee. Then I’d walk half a block with my equipment to a beautiful blue Victorian overlooking Fillmore Street where he’d lived since 1969. After climbing two flights of stairs, each step creaking with antiquity, I entered the top flat. I followed an oxygen tube strewn across the carpet.

Kelly Johnson sat on his red couch, calmly staring out the window, as I approached with my camera in hand. A smile stretched across his face as he greeted me. He was ready for his close up.

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Empowering youth to get involved

BOOKS | SABRINA MOYLE

When I was a teen I loved being creative, but I didn’t think creativity could change the world. We were told that the arts were frivolous. I didn’t think my voice mattered and, as a result, I didn’t speak up.

Fast forward to today: We’re riding a rising wave of youth activism. In Parkland, Florida, youth leadership has thrived on strong school arts programs in theater, music, journalism and debate. Like so many others, I am inspired by these youth, and now more convinced than ever that creativity can empower positive social change.

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The dancer is a designer

Photograph of Susan Roemer and her costumes by Leslie Irwin for Smuin Ballet

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

Susan Roemer’s second act began before she completed act one. A dancer for nine years with Smuin Ballet, she started designing and sewing costumes for dancers, collaborating with choreographers within and outside the group, even before she retired from the company in 2016.

This month her work is on view in two world premiere ballets: Val Caniparoli’s “If I Were a Sushi Roll,” in Smuin’s season finale program at the Yerba Buena Center from April 20 to 29; and David Dawson’s “Anima Animus,” in S.F. Ballet’s Unbound B program at the War Memorial Opera House from April 21 to May 4.

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‘I will not be seen in polka dots!’

The ever-fashionable fashion designer Mary Kuei Boyer.

By BARBARA KATE REPA

I met Mary Kuei Boyer a decade ago at an art exhibition at the Sequoias, the high-rise senior community on Geary near Gough.

“I think you would like to get to know me,” she said, and she was right. We shared many long lunches and talks. She provided the entertainment, with her fast-paced stories that sped along ever faster as she became more and more excited. I was there to receive her wisdom and marvel at her ability to clean her plate.

This wisp of a woman with an outsized appetite was an enigma in many ways. She was impish but thoughtful, modest but proud, outgoing but intensely private. She had a lot to teach about being alive.

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‘Don’t you think I owe her?’

Photograph of Nancy and David Conte at the Carlisle by Frank Wing

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

“MOM!” the pianist says with some concern as he launches into their favorite song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and a photographer begins to click away. “You can’t cry on camera.”

Though not usually with a photographer in tow, composer David Conte often drops by the Carlisle, the retirement community at 1450 Post, to visit his mother, Carlisle resident Nancy Conte. He often plays her favorite classics or show tunes before or after he goes to work at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he is a professor of composition and head of the composition department. Other Carlisle residents are treated to regular impromptu mini-concerts.

Performing and composing are nothing new for David Conte. At 7, he and a friend wrote songs and gave concerts in their suburban Cleveland neighborhood. Music education in the public schools was at its zenith, and his father played the trumpet. By 8, he had started piano lessons, and by the time he reached 13, he knew music would be his life. At 19, he moved to Paris for three years, where he became one of the last pupils of world-renowned teacher Nadia Boulanger.

Conte, the eldest of his mother’s three children, has composed more than 100 published works, including six operas and works for orchestra, chamber groups and chorus. His work has drawn critical praise, and aspiring composers arrive at the conservatory to study with him.

But to Nancy Conte — herself a former choral conductor and an encyclopedia of musical texts and tunes — he’s still the son she started driving to piano lessons back in Ohio when he was 8 years old. “It was a lot of schlepping around for a lot of years,” she says. Her son smiles as he launches into a Schubert sonata and says: “Don’t you think I owe her?”