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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My electric journey

By KATHY JOSEPH BALISTRERI

It all started during lunch at La Mediterranee last year. I had written the rough draft of a novel about the crazy, particular, sometimes heroic and sometimes downright despicable people who discovered electricity, but I was stumped on what to do next. Should I try to get a publisher? Start a blog? Hire an editor?

Luckily, I was having lunch with my friend Kim Nalley. Kim has been the headliner at the Fillmore Jazz Festival almost every year for the last 15 years, so she knows about entertaining. I was lucky enough to meet her through parenting. Our older kids went to the Sherith Israel’s preschool on California Street, and now our younger kids go there together.

Kim immediately knew what to do: “Kathy, you like to talk. Start a vlog, a video series.”

That started a quest to transform my ideas onto the screen, albeit a small one. Luckily, my book is composed of a series of vignettes about one remarkable person or idea, each leading to the next. So I learned how to edit video and started recording in my house on Washington Street. Kim helped me out by recording an original version of “Electricity” from a “Schoolhouse Rock” video for my theme song.

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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.

UPDATE: The campaign to raise $75,000 to retire the debts of Browser Books and help keep it in business was overwhelmingly successful and topped its goal within a month.

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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