Help save Browser Books

Photograph of Browser Books at 2195 Fillmore by Daniel Bahmani

A PUBLIC APPEAL | CATIE DAMON

We need the help of the neighborhood to ensure that people continue to make memories at Browser Books, as they have for decades.

With the proliferation of online shopping and e-books, it has been challenging to keep Browser’s doors open. When the recession hit in 2008, we almost closed, and my dad, owner Stephen Damon, was forced to double down so that the shop could continue. Business has vastly improved since then, but the debt has accrued. And my dad can no longer sustain the debt and his medical bills.

This month, we begin running a Go Fund Me campaign to save Browser Books. The goal is to raise $75,000 to pay off the store’s debts. Any money received after the debt has been paid will go to building the store’s future. This will enable the bookstore to continue under the direction of its longtime employees.

If we cannot raise this sum, my dad will be forced to close Browser Books at the end of the year and the neighborhood will lose an important literary and cultural center.

For more details — and to donate to the campaign — please go HERE.

FIRST PERSON: “Growing up at Browser Books

Growing up at Browser Books

Browser Books owner Stephen Damon with young Catie Damon.

FIRST PERSON | CATIE DAMON

Browser Books, the literary landmark on Fillmore near the corner of Sacramento, was originally located one block north, beside the Clay Theatre, in a building that had also been a head shop and a recording studio for Carlos Santana’s first album, called simply Santana and released in 1969.

How my dad, Stephen Damon, came to own Browser in 1978 is, as he acknowledges, a curious and incredible story.

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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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Learning more about Santana

Santana book

BOOKS | LEWIS WATTS

I have always admired Carlos Santana, but I think I had begun to take him for granted. He made his career in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, starting in the Fillmore. I’ve always loved his music, especially his early albums, but I only knew a few particulars about his life. So I borrowed my wife’s copy of his autobiography, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light, which is well written and makes you feel as if you are sitting in a room with him having a conversation.

Santana was born in Autlán de Navarro, Mexico, the son of a professional Mariachi musician. He developed his blues chops playing guitar in strip clubs in Tijuana. He moved with his family to San Francisco in the early 1960s and formed the Santana Blues Band in 1966. I remember seeing him play with B.B. King at the Fillmore. His international reputation was sealed by his performance at Woodstock.

Santana always had a wide variety of influences in music. His unique style was formed by expanding his foundation in the blues to include Latin and jazz influences. One of his first big hits was “Oye Coma Va,” originally recorded by Tito Puente. I was fascinated to see that he was very tight with people like Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, John Lee Hooker and many others.

Santana was married for many years to Deborah Santana, the daughter of Saunders King, a prominent R&B guitarist during the heyday of the Fillmore District in the 40s and 50s, featured in Harlem of the West. He is now married to Cindy Blackman, a drummer who has played with Lenny Kravitz and many jazz ensembles. One of the notable qualities of Santana’s life is his deep spirituality, which has taken a number of forms, and which has sustained him and influenced his broad musical reach.

I was happy to learn more about Santana. The book made me break out his old albums in my collection — and then seek out some of his new music. It’s a good read.

Lewis Watts is co-author of Harlem of the West: San Francisco’s Fillmore Jazz Era.

Bodhisattva of Browser Books

Latif William Harris (1940-2017)

Latif William Harris (1940-2017)

By ERIN C. MESSER

Latif William Harris — post-Beat poet, seeker and Bodhisattva of Browser Books — passed away on October 15 in Watsonville, California. He was 76 years old.

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A man on a Mission

Mission-cover

FIRST PERSON  |  DICK EVANS

On the front cover of my new documentary photography book, The Mission, a young Latino mother and her daughter are pictured walking in front of a striking black and white mural of Carlos Santana.

Santana — born in Jalisco, Mexico, but raised in the city’s Mission District — also has a strong connection to the Fillmore neighborhood. He got his first big break from Bill Graham at the Fillmore Auditorium in 1966. For a time his studio was on Fillmore next door to the Clay Theatre. Those early years in the Fillmore launched him to international fame and iconic status that merits his bigger-than-life portrait by muralist Mel Waters at 19th and Mission Streets, only four blocks from where Santana attended high school.

My own interest in San Francisco, and especially in photographing it, had a decidedly different history. I was born on a ranch in western Oregon. It did not take many winters of feeding cattle at 5 a.m. for me to decide to go to college. That led to engineering at Oregon State University and a 48-year career in the global aluminum industry, the final years as ceo of Alcan with 75,000 employees in 63 countries. Photography became an appealing medium to record my ceaseless travels.

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New novel born on old Fillmore

magicwar

BOOKS | MARK MITCHELL

Walking down Fillmore Street, I often run into people who have lived here for a while, most of whom know me from my many years here. We’ll chat about the Giants and the weather and then they’ll ask, “How’s the writing going?” Anyone who has spent any time around me knows that I am a writer.

Right now, I get to answer, “Just great!” My new novel just came out, and it’s called The Magic War. If I have one with me, I hand them a flyer with the cover and a link to Amazon. (We’re still working on getting into Browser Books.)

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Harlem of the West revisited

Harlem-new

LONG BEFORE they met, Lewis Watts and Elizabeth Pepin Silva had something in common: Both had wandered into Red’s Shoe Shine Parlor at 1549 Fillmore to inquire about the extensive collection of vintage photographs of Fillmore’s jazz joints that lined his walls.

And both had been kicked out.

Before he could return to try again, Watts learned that Red Powell had died and his treasure trove of photographs had apparently been lost. Only years later would he learn they had in fact been saved — and were in the back room of Reggie Pettus’s New Chicago Barbershop.

Those photographs became the backbone of a remarkable neighborhood history, Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era, co-authored by Silva and Watts and published by Chronicle Books in 2006. The photographs were widely exhibited and the book sold out. A second edition was published in 2008. But by 2010 the book was out of print and hard to find.

“I couldn’t go on Fillmore without somebody asking about the book,” says Watts. “So we decided to republish it ourselves” — and do it the way they had always thought it should be done.

The third edition, which premiered April 29, is bigger and better in every way. It is larger, with more prominent photographs, and it includes a hundred more pages, more elegantly designed, and many more photographs and oral histories.

Among the most significant additions: photographs and oral histories from exotic dancer Lottie “the Body” Claiborne, discovered living in Detroit, and club owner Leola King, who had initially refused to participate.

“When she saw the book, she realized we were being respectful,” says Silva.

Distribution of the new edition is still being arranged. For now, copies are available online. An exhibition of photographs from the book is now showing at the African American Arts and Cultural Complex at 762 Fulton Street.

“I’m already thinking of things I could look into further,” says Silva. “I never thought this was a lifetime project. This neighborhood has gotten into me.”

MORE: Jazz clubs in the Fillmore

Finding ‘Lotte the Body’

“Lottie the Body” and T-Bone Walker on stage at Fillmore’s Champagne Supper Club.

“Lottie the Body” and T-Bone Walker on stage at Fillmore’s Champagne Supper Club.

LOTTIE CLAIBORNE studied dance as a teen in New York. While modeling, she was given the name “Lottie the Body” and quickly became known as an accomplished dancer, sharing the bill with well-known musicians and singers, including Carmen McRae, and entertainer Redd Foxx.

In the early 1950s, she relocated to the Bay Area and became one of the most popular dancers in the Fillmore clubs. She met Harlem Globetrotter Goose Tatum at the Champagne Supper Club and the two became a fixture in the neighborhood.

“The club was big and beautiful,” Lottie remembers. “Mixed. The show started at midnight. The last show was at 5 in the morning. You know, it was like that in San Francisco. Exciting.”

She now lives in Detroit, and her oral history and photographs from her collection have been added to the new edition of Harlem of the West.

Author Elizabeth Pepin Silva meets Lottie Claiborne in Detroit.

Author Elizabeth Pepin Silva meets Lottie Claiborne in Detroit.

Harlem of the West is back

David Johnson’s photograph of the Melrose Record Shop in 1947 — or is it?

David Johnson’s photograph of the Melrose Record Shop in 1947 — or is it?

AFTER BEING out of print for more than seven years, a new and expanded second edition of Harlem of the West — along with a companion website and exhibition — will be unveiled at the end of the month.

The photo and history book celebrating Fillmore’s jazz era in the 1940s and ’50s was originally published by Chronicle Books in 2006 and captured a pivotal moment in neighborhood history.  It has been out of print since 2010, despite continuing demand.

Eventually authors Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts decided to launch the Harlem of the West Project to update and expand the book. They added newly discovered photographs and memorabilia, as well as additional interviews with those who lived and played in the Fillmore during its glory days.

The new book has a larger format and contains nearly 100 more pages and 200 rare images, many of them previously unpublished. It includes new firsthand accounts from musicians, nightclub patrons and former residents of the Fillmore when it was the city’s premier black neighborhood.

Among the new discoveries: A widely published photograph of the Melrose Record Shop at 1226 Fillmore — where author Maya Angelou worked as a youngster when she was known as Marguerite Johnson — was instead a photograph of Rhythm Records at 1980 Sutter, also owned by David Rosenbaum, next door to the Homestead Ravioli Factory at 1970 Sutter and just down the block from Jack’s Tavern.

Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era will be released on April 29 at a celebration from 3 to 7 p.m. at the African American Art & Culture Complex at 762 Fulton. An exhibition continues there through June 1.