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.

Farewell to two of our finest

Carol and John Field

Carol and John Field, longtime neighborhood residents.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD lost two of its outstanding citizens and creative minds in recent weeks when architect John Field and author Carol Field died within a few days of each other.

John Field was noted for the homes he designed in Pacific Heights and especially for his enlightened approach to shopping centers, including the Stanford Shopping Center and downtown Santa Barbara. He was also a filmmaker and a photographer.

Carol Field was a prolific author who became an authority on Italian food, even though she acknowledged she was “the first Italian in my family tree.” After trips to Italy to make The Urban Preserve, John’s first architectural documentary, Carol made it her mission to learn everything about Italian baking. They later owned a home there, and many more books and a novel followed. Earlier she had been a co-owner of the beloved Minerva’s Owl bookstore on Union Street.

Shortly after John died of cancer, Carol suffered a stroke and never recovered.

“She couldn’t make it without him,” neighboring chef and cookbook author Joyce Goldstein told the Chronicle. ”They were a blessed couple.”

“She seemed to listen as much with her eyebrows as her eyes,” wrote Corby Kummer in The Atlantic. He told the Fields he enjoyed visiting them “to observe at close range your utter companionability. You were and will remain my models for the complete and caring civility with which two people can treat each other.”

EARLIER: “Fillmore to Italy and back again

A younger Carol and John Field.

A younger Carol and John Field: always utterly companionable.

MORE: “She tied tradition to captivating stories

The New York Times
The Washington Post

Carol Field tied tradition to captivating stories

Carol Field at home in her kitchen on Washington Street.

Carol Field at home in her kitchen on Washington Street.

By MARK FANTINO

My introduction to Carol Field came in the spring of 1997, in the weeks preceding the release party for her book In Nonna’s Kitchen. An informal dinner was planned with dishes from the book, which was at least one part investigative journalism into the secrets and traditions of Italian grandmothers.

The dinner was to be held at Vivande Ristorante in Opera Plaza, and all of us cooks were to page through the house copy of In Nonna’s Kitchen and select recipes that spoke to us. I chose Tuscan Chicken Liver Pâté (Crostini di Fegatini), which was a bewitching concoction of soft-cooked onions, capers, anchovies and chicken livers, all moistened with Vin Santo.

I remember testing a batch. My coworker peered into my pot, squinched up his face and declared: “That’s everything I hate all mixed together.” I disagreed. But livers, like anchovies, will forever fall firmly into two dividing camps: those who think it must be an acquired taste and those, like me, who insist it is instead a required taste. It remains one of my favorite ways to prepare chicken livers, though difficult to talk about without causing some kind of reaction.

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“This place is magic”

Fred Martin has worked there for 36 of Browser Books' 40 years.

Fred Martin has worked at Browser Books on Fillmore for 36 of its 40 years.

“LOVE WAS IN THE AIR,” says Fred Martin of the days when he and Browser Books were both young.

And on many nights, it still is.

“This place is magic,” he says of the bookstore, where he has worked for 36 of its 40 years as it grew into a landmark on Fillmore Street. “People love this place. They get caught up in interesting conversations.”

And sometimes more. Many lasting connections have been made in Browser Books: couples on dates uncovering mutual interests, spouses returning to a favorite haunt, chance meetings that grow into romance.

The store is filled with love stories — from the stacks of Neruda that sell out on Valentine’s Day, to Romeo and Juliet on high school reading lists, and the middle-aged professional proudly unembarrassed to ask for Fifty Shades of Grey.

“It’s the most realistic portrait of the romantic idea of working in a bookstore I’ve ever had,” says Jordan Pearson, the newest of the Browser clerks. “It’s being a bartender without the liquor — and sometimes I wish I had a bouncer late at night.”

“I always feel like I’m the party host,” says Fred Martin. “I want the store to be a place where people can be at home and talk about anything. I love being part of that.”

Browser Books opened in 1976 a block north next door to the Clay Theatre.

“It was a real artist hangout,” says Martin. He recalls a couple who met in the old store and got married under the avocado tree in the garden out back, near the fountain with a sculpture of brass instruments. Just recently they stopped by, back in town from Oregon, and talked about moving back.

In 1989 Browser gave up used books and moved south to its smaller current location.

“We’re not just a little library, like a lot of other places,” says Martin. “People have always been friendly and outspoken here.”

The Beat poet Latif Harris worked at the old Browser for a time and lived upstairs above the shop. He met his wife when she came browsing into the store one day. Fred Martin also met his spouse there. And so have others.

 MORE: “Book Lovers

BOOK LOVERS

By FRED MARTIN, KEN SAMUELS and ERIN MESSER
of the Browser Books staff

Browser Books, a neighborhood fixture since 1976, has no doubt sparked countless anonymous instances of romance. The store’s staff, however, has been especially susceptible to this phenomenon. Perhaps it’s because we spend so much time in the store — or perhaps it’s because there’s just something a little different about the kind of person who chooses to work in a bookstore.

Fred Martin (right) and William Weber in 1988 in their beloved Yosemite National Park.

Fred Martin (right) and William Weber in 1988 in their beloved Yosemite National Park.

FRED’S STORY

It was 1981, back in the funky, colorful days of the neighborhood, when Browser Books was still in its old location next to the Clay Theatre. I had been at the store less than a year, working nights mostly, when I met William Weber, a psychiatrist with an office nearby. William was taking some free time between appointments one day to browse the bookstore in the company of a woman friend, a flamboyant personality from Texas. William — from Yazoo City, Mississippi — was less flamboyant, but seductive, with his big brown eyes and that low bedroom voice.

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Meditating at the bookstore

Gregory Wood, owner of Forest Books, is also a student and teacher of Zen Buddhism.

Gregory Wood, owner of Forest Books, is also a student of Zen Buddhism.

By FRAN JOHNS

A magic act of sorts happens in the neighborhood every weekend.

Forest Books, a small treasure house of used and rare books at 1748 Buchanan, on Japantown’s Buchanan Mall, transforms itself every Saturday morning into a quiet spot for Soto Zen meditation. From 9:30 to noon, bookshelves are rolled back, shoji screens set up, pillows brought out of the children’s reading nook — and proprietor Gregory Wood, a student and teacher of Zen Buddhism, leads a zazen, or seated meditation, in the dimly lit space.

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Things are really cooking at Browser Books

PERHAPS YOU HAVE noticed something unexpected coming out of Browser Books lately — the smell of soup cooking, or shrimp scampi sauteeing, or fragrant onions softening in a skillet.

That’s an added benefit of the new cooking demonstrations Browser Books is now sponsoring each month. Randy Denham, a retired caterer who two years ago began working in the bookstore on weekends, is in charge, cooking in the store and serving up samples.

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Coming home rattled

Battle-Rattle-Cover

FIRST PERSON | ROGER BOAS

I’ve been a resident of Pacific Heights for almost a century. I grew up in the 1920s, living with my folks in an apartment on Pacific Avenue. Then I bought my own place on Washington Street in 1959, raised four kids there with my wife Nancy — and we’ve lived in that home ever since.

There were really only two major interruptions to my neighborhood residency: going to Stanford, and going to war. While college attendance had expanded my horizons and given me new perspectives, going to war changed everything.

“The war has changed me in ways that will take the better part of my life to understand, let alone make peace with. Don’t ask me how. If you have to ask, you’ve never been to war.”

Those are the opening lines of my just-published book, Battle Rattle: A Last Memoir of World War II.

Being in WWII was the major event of my life. The experience still haunts me to this day — even 70 years after the fact. This is why I spent countless hours in my study on Washington Street sitting in front of a computer to write my memoir.

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