His baton is at rest

Ever-playful music man Alden Gilchrist with a sculpture by Ralph O'Neill

Ever-playful music man Alden Gilchrist with a sculpture by Ralph O’Neill

JUST AFTER MIDDAY an email message went out: Alden Gilchrist, the widely beloved music director who served Fillmore’s Calvary Presbyterian Church for more than 60 years, had died the night before, on September 1, Labor Day, at age 83.

A few hours later, as dark descended, several dozen of Gilchrist’s friends and admirers instinctively gathered at the church for music and an informal memorial.

“He had that unique ability to make everyone feel like his best friend,” said pastor John Weems.

Gilchrist first came to the historic church at Jackson and Fillmore in 1951 to play the organ. Except for a brief study tour in France, he never left. He was named director of music in 1965, and in the decades since he has been widely acclaimed for his commitment to enlightened and enduring music. He initiated a community concert series, which brings professional musicians to perform at the church and benefits local charities. He led the church choir on three European tours, including performances at Notre Dame in Paris and at the historic cathedral in Chartres. More recently he pioneered a popular Sunday evening jazz service at Calvary.

“He survived six different pastors,” said choir member and church historian Joe Beyer, a friend of Gilchrist’s for more than 50 years.

In October 2011, a concert honored Gilchrist on his 60th anniversary at the church. He remained at the podium through the annual Christmas concert last year, when he conducted the choir and accompanying orchestra in two major works, the Gloria by Francis Poulenc followed by the Gloria by Antonio Vivaldi.

Shortly afterward, he suffered an illness that kept him in and out of hospitals for much of this year. Gilchrist’s friends and the church staff kept rigid rules in place to limit visitors. “Those who know him — which includes most of greater San Francisco — know also that the gregarious musician would have had nonstop visitors partying with him if the choice were left to him,” said his friend Fran Johns.

Gilchrist’s public sentiments were mostly musical. Weems recalled asking Gilchrist to pray at a staff meeting. He promptly responded: “I already did.”

EARLIER: “60 years of making music

Iyengar: a different kind of yoga

Yogis celebrate the opening of the Iyengar Yoga Institute on Sutter Street.

Yogis celebrate the opening of the Iyengar Yoga Institute on Sutter Street.

By Barbara Kate Repa

THE IYENGAR YOGA INSTITUTE of San Francisco, a venerable organization with an imposing moniker, moved to the neighborhood recently in search of an updated space, better access to the community — and a new image.

Iyengar yoga, a style developed by Indian yogi, teacher and author B.K.S. Iyengar, now 95, emphasizes precision and alignment. But the nuances that distinguish it from other forms of yoga are largely lost on much of the public, and sometimes puzzling even to practitioners.

The students in Iyengar classes generally skew older, less outfitted, less frenetic, less apt to text while on their mats awaiting class.


Making a joyful noise — and maybe a healthier life

Members of the Community of Voices choir sing at the Western Addition Senior Center.

Members of the Community of Voices choir sing at the Western Addition Senior Center.

By Judy Goddess

MANY AGREE THAT choir music can be a joyful noise. And choir members often find singing fulfilling and fun. But a new study recently launched locally aims to uncover whether singing in a choir can actually help older adults have longer and healthier lives.

As part of the study, the 15-member Community of Voices choir gave a lively gospel performance on March 20 at the Western Addition Senior Center at Fillmore and Turk led by Maestro Curtis and his wife, Nola Curtis. Maestro Curtis, a renowned San Francisco Bay Area music legend, producer and author, has a background in classical music as well as jazz, gospel, R&B, funk, folk and country. Haruwn Wesley on upright bass and Larry Douglas on trumpet accompanied the choir at the concert.

“I know singing in the choir makes people happier,” says the center’s director, Robin Bill. “People who were quiet when they first came to our center in September are now stepping up. You can see the improvement in the choir from when they first met to now.” The Western Addition choir previously performed at the City Hall celebration of Kwanzaa and at the Parc 55 hotel, and another performance is planned for the fall.


The golden years: contemplating a move

FIRST PERSON | Hazel Reitz

My husband and I lead active lives and are in pretty good health. But the years are marching on, and to our surprise we suddenly find ourselves in our 70s. A barrage of mail and phone calls pushing medical alert devices, walk-in bathtubs and lifetime care establishments underscores that sobering thought. While not eager to leave our comfortable home, the responsible thing seems to be to examine our options. So together with friends of a similar age, we recently embarked on a series of visits to local “life care communities.”


Women’s clinic gets a new mission

CARLINA HANSEN — executive director of the Women’s Community Clinic at 1833 Fillmore — might seem an unlikely cheerleader for the onrushing changes in health care reform, which are ostensibly aimed at doing away with her clinic’s client base of uninsured and underinsured women.

But rather than close its doors and declare its mission accomplished, the clinic is expanding beyond its previous brief of providing free or low-cost reproductive and sexual health care services to offer primary care as well.

“It’s a big exciting change,” Hansen says of the Affordable Care Act. “I hear a lot of folks who are critical — mostly that it didn’t go far enough. But it sends a message to people who were overlooked that their health is valuable and that they deserve good medical care.”

To gear up, the clinic is adding a medical director and primary care nurse practitioner to its staff of 30, which is complemented by 150 volunteers. And beginning next month, the clinic will add an additional staff member to begin helping clients enroll in newly available insurance plans.

“It’s very exciting for our clients,” says Hansen. “People are so happy coming here. Now we’ll be able to meet their broader needs.”

In operation since 1999, the Women’s Community Clinic relocated from Hayes Street to new and expanded offices on Fillmore in March 2011.

“The thing is that change is hard,” says Hansen. “There will be bumps. But the base message is: It’s for the patients — and a step in the right direction.”

Fillmore’s new micro-boutique

Liz Fanlo's beauty boutique now occupies the tiniest storefront on Fillmore.

Liz Fanlo’s beauty boutique now occupies the tiniest storefront on Fillmore.


Hair and makeup specialist Liz Fanlo lives near Fillmore and already knew she loved the neighborhood. So when she decided to open a beauty boutique, she persuaded a friend to rent her the tiniest storefront on the street at 2335 Fillmore.

“Isn’t it cute?” she beams. “It’s tiny — 50 square feet, maybe less. But beauty products are small. That’s the advantage.”

It’s a one-seater, but then most of her work is done on location at weddings or events. She wanted a storefront to offer her preferred beauty products and tools and also to teach others her notable skills.

Her first window display features a new kind of hair extensions that don’t harm the hair. “People love ’em,” she says. She’ll change the display every month to feature “my favorite beauty product I’m currently obsessing over.”

“The other shops on the street are ones I want to be associated with,” she says. “It’s not too high-end. It’s a nice mix.”

A Dominican departs

Photograph of Father Xavier Lavagetto by Kathi O'Leary

Photograph of Father Xavier Lavagetto by Kathi O’Leary

IT’S AN ICON in the neighborhood, with its Gothic arches, soaring tower and flying buttresses. St. Dominic’s Catholic Church has stood proudly at the corner of Steiner and Bush Streets since 1928, when the stone sanctuary replaced an earlier brick building destroyed by the 1906 earthquake.

For nearly two decades — an unusually long time by Dominican standards — Father Xavier Lavagetto has been a part of the parish, the last 13 years as pastor. But his service will come to an end the first week of July when the church — and the neighborhood — bid farewell to the man with the familiar easy smile dressed in flowing white robes with sandals sticking out the bottom.


The goal: have fun

Photograph at San Francisco Gymnastics at 1405 Fillmore by Kathi O'Leary

Photograph at San Francisco Gymnastics by Kathi O’Leary

By Julia Irwin

AT SAN FRANCISCO GYMNASTICS at 1405 Fillmore, toddlers scramble over large geometric foam blocks, twirl colorful streamers and jump across a long trampoline track — all while waving to iPhone camera-wielding mothers. In recent months, the studio has made the move from its former location in the Presidio, re-establishing itself in the long-vacant ground floor of the Fillmore Center.

For owner Eric Van der Meer, the relocation has been well worth the effort: Its new home is easier to access both by car and public transportation and is also better maintained than the Presidio facility, which had no heat or running water.

And for Van der Meer, the atmosphere of Fillmore’s jazz district is another bonus.

“I feel very at home here,” he says. “I grew up in Holland, which is very diverse, and the middle of San Francisco reminds me of that. There are so many different nationalities, different cultures, and I think Fillmore represents that quite a bit, actually.”

Photograph at San Francisco Gymnastics by Kathi O'Leary

Photograph at San Francisco Gymnastics by Kathi O’Leary


New Chicago: more than a barbershop

Photograph of New Chicago Barbershop #3 by Kathryn Amnott

By Chris Barnett

SAM JONES, aka “I’m just a Joe named Sam,” wandered into the tiny three-chair Esquire Barber Shop at 1826 Geary one recent Saturday afternoon looking slightly stunned. Then Elijah Brown, a 21-year-old entrepreneur, stepped in the door with a quizzical look. A gent named Tim, a man of few words, came in a few minutes later, squinted, looked around, sat down in the porcelain and leather chair and asked, “Whazzup, whazzup?”

Good question.

All three men and a parade of others that day had gone first to the New Chicago Barber Shop #3, a fixture at 1515 Fillmore Street for 60 years, for their regular trims and were shocked to find it closed and the phone disconnected. But they weren’t left entirely in the lurch. Wired to a metal security curtain were hand-lettered signs announcing that Kevin had moved to a shop at 1315 Fillmore at Eddy, Bobby had relocated to 1045 Fillmore and, on a printed poster, Al and Gail announced they were now cutting hair around the corner at the Esquire.

Al Stephens, who worked at the now-shuttered shop for 47 years, and Gail Pace, who worked there for 28, say they can’t explain why the shop closed. Charles Spencer, the shop’s current owner, cannot be reached.

One-of-a-kind dolls in a one-of-a-kind shop

STORY & PHOTOGRAPHS by Carina Woudenberg

He’s been a San Francisco resident for more than 30 years, but Jiro Nakamura still makes a yearly trek home to Japan to search for treasures for his shop on Fillmore Street.

The treasures include dolls — crafted hundreds of years earlier in many cases — and puppets, tea ceremony gear and kimonos fit for all occasions. They are offered at Narumi, a tiny shop at 1902 Fillmore that Nakamura named for a bakery his parents started in Japan.

He says he prefers antique Japanese dolls because they contain far more detail, especially in the hands and faces. “In old times, they had more time to make each piece,” Nakamura says.