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?”

Bringing life into the present tense

Kelly Johnson composed and performed the music on his new CD.

FIRST PERSON | KELLY JOHNSON

In the sunset years of my life, I sometimes realize that many of my friends don’t see me as I see myself. They see just an old guy on the corner outside Peet’s. But inside my head, I know I’ve had an interesting life — even if the interesting parts all seem to be in the past.

Recently I took on a new project that involved writing original music for ballet class, publishing a CD and developing a website. It was life changing.

And it turned out to be the glue that holds together all of the disparate parts of my life: as a child performer in vaudeville, later at the S.F. Dance Theater, which started on Fillmore Street; then as executive director of the Berkeley Symphony, followed by my years as a concert pianist and now my newest work as a composer.

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Teaching human kindness

Photograph of Deb Anaya and friends by Suzie Biehler

Photograph of Deb Anaya and friends by Suzie Biehler

By LIV JENKS

On the corner of Fillmore and Jackson stands the imposing edifice that is home to Calvary Presbyterian Church, moved there from the western side of Union Square just in time to open with a community Thanksgiving service in 1902.

Often overlooked is the warm, bright preschool located on the top floor of the adjacent education building, with its rooftop playground, which has been welcoming and shaping 3- and 4-year-olds since 1956.

Deborah Anaya has been director of Calvary Nursery School for 19 years. As she walks through the six mini classrooms that divide the preschool’s open, inviting space, she points with pride to the reading corner, the student artwork that hangs on the walls, the portfolios tracking the progress the children made in learning how to write their names.

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‘It’s made a huge difference’

Chuck Louden is a longtime lifeguard at the neighborhood’s Hamilton Recreation Center.

Chuck Louden is a longtime lifeguard at the neighborhood’s Hamilton Recreation Center.

By DANIEL SCHILLER

If there’s a story that needs telling, you’d want Neil Hart to tell it. That became apparent one bright recent morning when, after a 3,000 yard swim, he turned to one of his favorite topics: San Francisco Tsunami Aquatics, the gay, lesbian, trans and straight-friendly adult swim league that has been a fixture at Fillmore’s Hamilton Recreation Center for three decades.

Hamilton’s dedicated aquatics community helped launch the team in 1986 and, in the aughts, helped renovate and reshape the multigenerational facility at 1900 Geary Boulevard the neighborhood’s diverse population enjoys today.

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