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Green Apple buys Browser Books

Browser Books has been a fixture at 2195 Fillmore for decades.

THE DEAL IS DONE: Green Apple Books — the new and used bookseller on Clement Street, which added a second store five years ago on 9th Avenue — has bought Browser Books on Fillmore Street.

Green Apple will take over on October 1, but promises that the name and the staff will stay the same.

“We’re proud to help shepherd the beloved Browser Books into the future,” said Green Apple co-owner Pete Mulvihill. “Thanks to Browser’s 43-year successful run on Fillmore Street, a reasonable landlord and lease, an enthusiastic and well-read staff, a loyal customer base and a successful GoFundMe campaign [in 2018], the store is healthy.”

MORE ON BROWSER BOOKS

MY FILLMORE

Like any street in any great city, Fillmore is always changing, always dying, always being awakened

Photograph of Richard Rodriguez on Fillmore Street by Frank Wing

By RICHARD RODRIGUEZ

Growing old on Fillmore Street has taught me how much a city can change, how much I have changed — and how a city continues despite it all. 

Lately, if I have any sort of errand on Fillmore, I will most often take a digressive route. I leave my apartment on Clay Street, climb the Aztec steps into Alta Plaza, then circle around Pacific Heights. I climb back up the hill on Pierce. 

So much of my life has been consumed by exercise. When I could still jog, I used to run through Pacific Heights on my way to the Presidio. The great houses were blurred landmarks in those days. 

Now, exercise offers more of an opportunity to pause. I have favorite houses. Many mansions have had their facades lifted. After being swathed in netting or shrink-wrapped in white plastic for months, even years, exteriors are revealed to the street in pristine turn-of-the-century clarity. I have long admired the novels of American wealth — Wharton, James, Fitzgerald — and the interior secrets they revealed. Walking along Vallejo or up Steiner, however pleasant, is not like reading novels. There is no discernible narrative. 

I know the Getty house. I know the confectionary palace where Danielle Steel lives. I can tell when Nancy Pelosi is in town from the assembly of black security cars. I know the Whittier mansion, which was briefly the consulate of the Third Reich. I even know where a bitten Apple executive lives. I never see anyone in a window. 

I do see Mexican construction workers feverishly employed, or lounging in the manner of Manet, following their noonday meals. The sidewalks are empty except for the occasional Filipina housekeeper walking a joyless dog. 

One late Saturday afternoon, I came upon a friend of my sister’s, who lives on a block I admire, and mentioned that I never see any of these houses lit up for dinner parties. “Nowadays, people entertain at their clubs,” she said. As we talked, a garage door creaked open; a grey sedan soundlessly rolled into the street. 

Yesterday, on Scott Street, a car parked at the curb as I walked by, and two young men got out. “Mom took the Mercedes,” one of them said. The other said nothing. They entered a large brick house through the front door. 

Fillmore Street is the opposite. There are people about. In mid-afternoon, girls from neighboring prep schools begin the parade, their skirts hiked as high as those of majorettes. Tourists follow. Then come the Mexican and Central American women, pushing prams and speaking Spanish to their comprehending charges. A man dressed in a rubber speedsuit straddles his mount at the corner of Pacific. He barks a command to his cell phone: “Find Blue Bottle!” 

I meet an assistant professor from North Carolina at a cafe. He tells me a wonderful story: He had lived in New York, loved New York, then moved away for a job. A few years after, he returned to the city. As he sat in a taxi on Third Avenue, he realized how much he missed streets crammed with life and distraction. His fond realization was followed immediately by dismay. New York hadn’t noticed his absence in the least. 

Fillmore Street doesn’t notice my presence, much less my absence. I am fading from the street because I am old. In Pacific Heights, a security camera will focus briefly upon my interest if I stop to admire a mansion. On Fillmore, the procession of shops that cater to the insecurities of young women has no designs on me. A beautiful Indian couple studies the young people waiting in line for ice cream cones; I study the beautiful Indian couple. 

You expect an old man to complain about how much Fillmore Street has changed. Any street in any great city is always changing, always dying, always being awakened. If you look at photographs of Fillmore Street from 100 years ago, you can still orient yourself — architecturally, I mean — so much of Fillmore remains. It is with a certain poignance, the poignance of being alive, that you imagine yourself — your little errand — among the ghostly pedestrians of 1919. 

I check the marquee at the Clay Theatre because it is Friday. I lean into the bookstore to greet Fred, in his black T-shirt. Dino sits outside his cafe.
I nod to the fine mystic poet who worked so many years at D&M Wines and Liquors. 

We are still alive. 

I wave to Maria; she’s on break from Mollie Stone’s; she passes, speaking urgently into her phone to someone she calls mi amor. She doesn’t notice me waving. I miss the bird shop near Pine where an enlightened grey cat slept through decades of the jungle din. Across the street, when I pass the cosmetics shop that used to be Mrs. Dewson’s Hats, I am entering the street of the dead. 

Ruth Dewson is standing at the checkout line at Mollie Stone’s. Mrs. Dewson greets the cashier, “How you doin’ today, darling?” The cashier shrugs. “Breaking even, I guess,” he replies. Then she: “Oh, honey, you’ve got to do better than that. It’s the homeless who are breaking even.”  

I recall Gloria, the woman who stood outside the donut shop, now a Mexican cafe. Gloria would ask for a quarter, but only from people she recognized. She became alarmed if one dredged up a handful of spilling change from a pocket. She’d only take a quarter. 

I am walking south now. When I cross Post Street, the $25 burger and the high decibel ambience are replaced by Burger King and Goodwill. The Boom Boom Room still stands sentry to the memory of jazz. There is a handsome new marquee on the Fillmore Auditorium. Long before Bill Graham’s legendary tenancy in the ’60s, the Fillmore had been an African-American dance and music hall. 

In the late 1950s, San Francisco urban planners conceived a scheme for an ethnic and racial cleansing they called “redevelopment.” Blocks of the Western Addition were erased. Lives that urban planners imagined as unruly were relegated into uniform, rectangular spaces. 

For several blocks, you will see names incised in cement like tombstones — names of bakeries and delicatessens and bars. This stretch of Fillmore was Jewish and Japanese and African American. At 935 Fillmore, a stone plaque remembers Leola King’s Blue Mirror. Louis Armstrong played there when Fillmore was the “Harlem of the West.”

In the plaza leading to Safeway’s parking lot, embedded on the pavement are names of people with some association with the neighborhood: Isaac Stern, Ernest J. Gaines, Mel Blanc, African-American pastors, educators, Japanese-American community leaders. 

Once a year on the first weekend in July, Fillmore Street recalls itself as music. In an inversion of the Dia de los Muertos, the dead return to serenade us. As much as anyone, Mrs. Dewson was responsible for the Fillmore Jazz Festival — music flowing uphill, from Eddy to Jackson Street. 

Recently, just about where Leola King once held sway, I was shoved from the sidewalk by a teenager in a blue sweater who said not a word. Another time, on a bright afternoon, one block south of the police station, several teenagers pulled another boy out of a car. The captive broke free and ran. The others gave chase. Then shooting. I hid behind a light pole. One boy spied me as I peered from my hiding place. Our eyes met. For maybe two seconds he deliberated whether I mattered or not. Apparently not. He turned and ran.

I came upon a man in a straw hat among the mansions. He looked very old, very pale. He wore a sort of summer-in-the-city linen jacket over a checkered shirt. He was resting his body against a railing. I asked if he needed help. He didn’t say yes, but he resumed his climb at my side. We walked together up Broadway, past tourists happily snapping each other in front of the house where Mrs. Doubtfire was filmed. We passed the home where Francis Ford Coppola lived years ago. The old man dragged his cane behind him. 

At the top of the hill, the old man said he was alright. I left him there, catching his breath and leaning on his cane. I turned around and followed behind a gaggle of majorettes from the girls’ school. I descended Fillmore, all the way to Louis Armstrong.

© 2019 Richard Rodriguez

Photograph of Richard Rodriguez in Alta Plaza by Frank Wing

Lucky Clay Street!

CLAY STREET HAS BEEN MY LUCKY STREET. I’ve written four books in an Italianate Victorian house on Clay Street. 

My first book, Hunger of Memory, remains controversial for its political objections to affirmative action and bilingual education. But a front page notice in The New York Times Book Review meant that I was suddenly a writer — which is how I found myself, one winter morning, in the green room of the Today show, listening to Rod Steiger declaim on his latest divorce.

My second book, Days of Obligation, about California and Mexico, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction, but never found an audience. One of its chapters, “Late Victorians,” concerns the architecture of Victorian houses in San Francisco in the Age of AIDS. 

My third book, Brown, about racial mixture and forbidden love in America, was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. 

My last book, Darling, is a series of essays about the “desert religions” — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Lucky Clay Street! Lucky Victorian house! Publication comes with a certain irony: I live as a writer in an age of declining mass literacy. Many of my friends have never read a book I have written.

I wrote an essay for The New York Times a few years ago about a naked old man walking down Divisadero Street toward the Castro. “Nakedness in a Digital Age” is about being a writer in a city that doesn’t read. Or see. Most of the people who passed the naked man didn’t bother to look, and didn’t notice the old dude had glorified his body with golden glitter.

On Clay Street, I began writing for newspapers before newspapers began to fold for lack of advertising. I wrote for lots of newspapers, all over the place. I wrote for magazines that don’t exist anymore, and others that still do.

In 1990, I was invited by the PBS NewsHour to perform — that’s the verb I intend, perform — short essays at the close of the evening’s news. I appeared on the NewsHour for nearly two decades, which is longer than the tenure of I Love Lucy.

There are still mornings, fewer now that I am in my mid-70s, when I am picked up at 5 o’clock for an early flight. As the car passes the Fillmore Street Bakery, I can see the windows are steamed up — the beginning of a new day. Already I feel a homesickness for my apartment on Clay Street. The bakery will open in a few hours and no one will notice my absence on Fillmore Street. I will wake up tomorrow far away.

— Richard Rodriguez

Painting the ladies

SAN FRANCISCO ARTIST Kit Haskell has established herself as the gold standard for pen and ink drawings of the city’s Victorian homes. The newest book to feature her drawings lets children of all ages choose their own favorite Crayola colors for the Painted Ladies.

It’s a coloring book featuring 20 of Haskell’s meticulously accurate drawings of some of San Francisco’s finest vintage homes, many of them located in the neighborhood. Each one comes with a history lesson, naturally, given Haskell’s long involvement in the Victorian Alliance and the San Francisco History Association.

Her book is available at Browser Books on Fillmore.

‘The book is a must’

WHAT A TREAT — a visual treat of exquisitely reproduced photographs and a textural declaration of the reproduction of numerous articles from the neighborhood newspaper, the New Fillmore.

Publisher, attorney and gallery owner Thomas Reynolds and co-author Barbara Kate Repa have compiled a compelling book that offers a smorgasbord of vignettes of San Francisco’s Fillmore District, from its earliest days to the present: individuals who inhabit the area, business and institutions that give the neighborhood its character, and the changes to its principal street.

The book is a must, not only for denizens of the Fillmore District, but also for any San Franciscan who wishes to have an intimate look at one of the city’s most vibrant areas. It’s available online from the publisher and at Browser Books on Fillmore.

— San Francisco historian Charles Fracchia, writing in Panorama

Little Free Library lives on

The Little Free Library (and doghouse) at 2418 Pine Street.

To Our Dear Little Neighborhood:

When a disturbing event occurs, it’s the ordinary, everyday heroes who step up to save the day.

Our neighborhood’s Little Free Library was violently attacked and toppled on May 29. It stood in front of our home at 2418 Pine Street, on one of the city’s bustling public sidewalks. While the destruction may not qualify as a true tragedy, the Little Free Library served an entire neighborhood — and beyond — in our big little town of San Francisco, and was a true loss.

The library’s grand opening took place last fall, accompanied by a ceremonial ribbon-cutting and all-around good cheer among our neighbors and friends. For months, the library worked its magic on children and adults who wanted to share what they had read and borrow what others submitted: mysteries, spy novels, romances, the adventures of Harry Potter, science, psychology — you name it. It became a meeting place for exchanging ideas as well as books. Kids and parents stopped by daily to peruse the latest titles, and dog walkers paused to grab a biscuit from the library’s little doghouse.

The Little Free Library on Pine Street had become part of the connective tissue helping to bind our neighborhood together, and its absence was felt immediately. Neighbors began commiserating with us and with each other. Our front door bell rang steadily, with people offering encouraging words of support and expressing their sympathy for the loss of the beloved lending library. Neighbors and anonymous well-wishers left notes and sent emails explaining their personal feelings of loss — and volunteered their time, help and funds to once again raise our book house. Some passersby actually broke into tears as they viewed the fallen library and tried to make sense out of the senseless.

“I was so saddened to see your library broken on the ground this morning,” a neighbor wrote. “The little library added beauty to our neighborhood and it is shameful that people are not respectful.” Another said: “Hi, neighbor. I saw what happened when I walked by and was tearful. I am so sorry this happened.”

The outpouring of concern, caring and love was inspiring, unexpected in its volume, and so heartwarming.

A crisis, even a relatively small one such as this, has a way of giving a clean window through which to view the world — a kind of reset button in a cosmic sense. The cement pedestal that secured the Little Free Library appeared strong, but it turned out to be vulnerable and capable of being destroyed. In contrast, our neighbors — even from beyond our familiar few blocks — turned out to be the real pillars of strength, resilience and fortitude. The human spirit rose above the tragedy and wound up strengthening our bonds and furthering a sense of community.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who expressed their love and support. It is the people who make this world go around. Evil recedes and love wins.

THE MEYERS FAMILY

P.S. The Little Free Library is back up and ready for book and conversation sharing once again.

P.P.S. Library hours are: “Always open.”

Browser starts a new literary journal

WHEN MEMBERS of the staff at Browser Books launched a successful Go Fund Me campaign last year to help assure the future of the beloved bookstore, they promised new efforts were coming to bring renewed life to the 40-year-old Fillmore Street fixture. Already additional staffers have come on board, book readings have begun and a monthly book group has been formed.

Now Browser Books has launched its own literary journal called Stories from the Street. The inaugural issue is available at Browser for $12. It features poems, short stories, reviews, drawings and a photo essay.

“So many creative people walk through our doors every day,” says Catie Damon, editor of the journal, whose father Stephen Damon is the longtime owner of Browser Books. “We wanted to create an opportunity for our community to share their creative work. Fact or fiction, we’re interested in what our neighborhood has to say.”

Send submissions and inquiries to browserstories@gmail.com.

A love letter to Our Town

BOOKS | NORA JACKSON

When you compile a “best of” book from a neighborhood newspaper that’s outstanding to begin with, you’re bound to get an impressive result. Our Town: Best of the New Fillmore packs into one volume the New Fillmore’s shiniest nuggets, and the stunning final product leaves even a longtime resident like me feeling she never really knew the place.

It might seem an overwhelming task to capture the rich layers of history concentrated in this neighborhood, but this elegant, oversized volume covers it all nimbly and compellingly with first person stories, rare vintage photographs and striking modern images. Vanished eras come alive: the day electricity came to the street; the dark time leading up to World War II when the neighborhood’s Japanese citizens were taken from their homes and put in internment camps; the years when redevelopment leveled whole blocks and wiped out the Fillmore’s vibrant African American community. Here are Bill Graham’s Winterland stories, and the saga of the rise of the Peoples Temple cult that ultimately led to the Jonestown tragedy in Guyana.

The Fillmore neighborhood was a root-place for so much that shaped culture through the decades, and this book does a masterful job of embracing it all: Etta James ran through these streets in a girl gang. Carlos Santana’s studio was here. In an apartment above Fillmore Street the artist Jay DeFeo created a painting deemed one of the 10 greatest of the 20th century. Just around the corner was the studio of the photographer Ruth Bernhard.

Much of the power of the book comes from its first person stories: You’ll hear from the local landlord who rented an apartment to the Black Panthers and from the Beat poet who describes what it was like to read at Minnie’s Can Do Club in the ’60s.

The book is further enriched by stories told by locals of our own era, who talk of neighborhood legends and the secret lives of the street: the culture that flourished at the Donut Hole, long since replaced by a taco bar; the enigma known as Sugar’s Broiler — was it ever actually open? There’s the beloved hardware store manager who retired but still delivers eggs to a select few; the poet who sold exotic birds; the personal story of a woman who founded a legendary store: Iris Fuller, creator of Fillamento. The book includes her “love letter” to the store, written after it closed, and it captures sentiments that apply equally to the world made so vivid in Our Town: “You were an amazing place where people grew, loved, cried and died.”

The authors have captured and preserved the essence of this place, with all its eccentricity and complexity. I was swept into another world as I read it, a magical place I couldn’t pull myself out of for days after I put the book down.

Nora Jackson is a historical novelist and a longtime neighborhood resident. 

OUR TOWN: Best of the New Fillmore is available at Browser Books on Fillmore Street or by mail from Norfolk Press.

Andrew Hoyem steps down at Arion Press

Andrew Hoyem at Arion Press in 1978.

By JEROME TARSHIS

The announcement from Arion Press arrived on the Friday before Thanksgiving: Andrew Hoyem, the company’s founder and one of the most distinguished fine printers in the world, had retired. So had his wife, Diana Ketcham, Arion’s editorial director.

Arion, located in the Presidio, is reported to be up for sale. Pending further developments, the existing staff of 10 will carry on the business.

The last book Arion published before Hoyem’s retirement, Exit Ghost, a novel by Philip Roth with illustrations by R. B. Kitaj, is itself valedictory; it suggests that sooner or later it is time to say goodbye. Exit Ghost is the last of nine novels featuring the controversial Jewish writer Nathan Zuckerman, widely thought to be Roth’s alter ego. Roth, who announced his retirement from fiction writing in 2012, lived long enough to authorize the publication of Exit Ghost. But he died in May of this year, before he could see printed pages.

Hoyem and Ketcham are, happily, still alive and in good health. Hoyem’s retirement was long anticipated; he had been a printer in San Francisco for more than 50 years. From relatively modest beginnings, Arion grew to be America’s — and arguably the world’s — pre-eminent publisher of fine limited editions.

Its sumptuous edition of Moby-Dick and its folio Bible, probably the last Bible to be printed from metal type, may be considered Arion’s largest efforts. But the company hasn’t disdained the popular: It has also reprinted Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, with archival photographs of San Francisco in the 1920s, paired with a newer look at the same locations by photographer Edmund Shea.

Although not all Arion books are set entirely by hand and printed by letterpress, the kind of publishing Arion does ultimately depends on metal type, increasingly hard to come by in the age of digital typesetting and offset printing. In 1989, Arion bought Mackenzie & Harris, America’s oldest and largest surviving type foundry, with origins dating back to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. The foundry still sells type to letterpress printers all over the world.

Arion is not only a business. Together with its type foundry, it has become a living museum of printing history and a school for young printers. In October 2000, Hoyem created the Grabhorn Institute, an umbrella nonprofit meant to preserve and expand his integrated printing and publishing operation. With his retirement he leaves behind an enterprise designed to have a hopeful future as well as a celebrated past.

VIDEO: Anthony Bourdain at Arion Press

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Celebrating the neighborhood

WE ARE DELIGHTED to announce the publication of a lavish new book of stories and photographs celebrating one of the world’s great neighborhoods: our own.

This collector’s edition pulls together favorite articles and images from our pages of some of the people and places that make the neighborhood special. We hoped to create a book worthy of the neighborhood, but may have gotten a little carried away: This is a 268-page oversize extravaganza published by a meticulous local publisher, Norfolk Press.

It is available at Browser Books at 2195 Fillmore Street, or order by mail here.

PREVIEW THE BOOK

Set at sea, but born on Fillmore

BOOKS | ANNE GROSS

When I graduated from high school, my mother gave me a mermaid pendant on a silver chain, told me I’d always be a fish out of water, and sent me out into the world. I’d never been much of a swimmer, but somehow that made the totem even more apt.

Anne Gross

Continuing in that same stream, six years ago my husband and I decided to leave our large home in a remote Colorado mountain town and move into a miniscule apartment in a massive building in the Fillmore neighborhood. The move, although exciting for my husband, who was joining a flood of engineers entering the city, left me gasping for breath. I’d decided to leave my nursing career and start writing, but hadn’t anticipated how isolated that choice would leave me in a new city. For months, fear and insecurity circled like sharks, and were my only companions.

The new apartment quickly became oppressive as I pounded on my keyboard, so I took to pounding the sidewalk on and around Fillmore Street. I explored narrow Orben, Perine and Wilmot alleys with plot twists and quirky characters whirling in my brain. I became that annoying person in the back pew of St. Dom’s who came in from the fog just to eat candy bought at Mollie Stone’s. I watched the dogs wrestle in Alta Plaza, tongues lolling happily, while distant sailboats on the bay drifted between the mansions. My hope was to find the best library chair, the perfect cafe, the softest tuft of grass in the park where I could comfortably write. Instead I became Elkin’s flaneuse, aimlessly wandering.

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