Marcus Books locked out

Eviction notice on the locked door of Marcus Books at 1712 Fillmore Street.

Eviction notice on the locked door of Marcus Books at 1712 Fillmore Street.

THE LONG FIGHT to keep Marcus Books in its historic home on Fillmore Street reached another milestone — and perhaps its conclusion — when the new owners of the building locked out the owners of the bookstore May 6. An eviction notice was posted by Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.

In an open letter emailed to supporters, the owners of the bookstore wrote:

“It was difficult to know what to tell you about our struggle to stay in our building, its winding path of lawyers and judges and protests and promises, hopes and gravities made it difficult to report our status on a curved road. But the current property owner has changed the locks to the door of 1712 Fillmore Street.”

Read the full letter

EARLIER: “We are refusing to let Marcus Books close

Songbird in the Swedenborgian choir

Ronstadtbook

BOOKS | Barbara Kate Repa

The versatile and iconic singer Linda Ronstadt has mostly kept a low profile since moving back to San Francisco from her native Arizona about eight years ago.

But all that changed recently with a huge media blitz touting her new book, Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir. Her appearances these days are made more poignant by the recent revelation that Parkinson’s disease has stilled Ronstadt’s searing singing voice.

She now maneuvers mostly unrecognized throughout the neighborhood: buying her “sensible shoes” at Crosswalk on Fillmore, dining with friends at A-16 or taking walks through the Presidio, sometimes aided by hand canes.

That easy anonymity wasn’t possible back in the day when she ruled the music world with her belting voice and siren-shy demeanor, innocent dark eyes and pouty lips, all hoop earrings and prairie skirts. “That was my ’70s persona,” she told a local crowd recently at a City Arts & Lectures interview. “We were all hippies then.”

Ronstadt lived in Los Angeles at the time, but claims she found the place “mentally exhausting.” So in 1987, she bought the four-level house at 2518 Jackson, overlooking Alta Plaza Park, with its seven bedrooms, music room and sweeping views of the bay. She promptly painted it a controversial shade of lavender and outfitted it with the Victorian decor that’s close to her heart.

And she got to know some of the neighbors.

“She wandered into the Swedenborgian church one day and I asked her if she wanted to join the choir,” recalls Garrett Collins, who then served as the musical director of the historic church at the corner of Lyon and Washington. He asked Ronstadt to audition first, just as he did any other choir member.

“I found out she did not read music, so I offered to give her private lessons on how to do it,” says Collins, who says their time together helped forge a friendship between them.

“She was musically very disciplined — not pompous, not at all what you’d think of as a big star,” he says, fondly recalling the singer’s big easy laugh and the duet of “White Christmas” they performed together for a fundraiser at the Waldorf School. “She was focusing on the two children she had adopted during those years, Mary Clementine and Carlos, and jealously guarding their privacy.”

Ronstadt sold the purple Victorian in 1997 — it was listed for $5.85 million — and moved back to Tucson to be closer to family. But she came back to San Francisco again in 2005, craving its open-minded culture.

She says she took pains to make sure Simple Dreams was not a “kiss and tell” book. It isn’t. She makes scant mention of her past romantic involvements — including several years with Gov. Jerry Brown, who also lived in the neighborhood for a time, when she became known as the First Lady of California. She concentrates instead on the Southern California music scene during the 1960s and ’70s, during which she was dubbed the Queen of Rock, a title she says now makes her cringe.

She’ll likely keep San Francisco her primary residence rather than return to Tucson, where she still maintains another home. “There’s too much cactus there,” she says. “It can make your tires flat.”

Finding love later in life

Viagra-Diaries

BOOKS | Barbara Kate Repa

“I was facing the stereotype that all women over 70 look like that picture on the See’s candy box,” laments San Francisco author Barbara Rose Brooker.

That led Brooker to write The Viagra Diaries, a novel chronicling the life and times of Anny Applebaum, an older woman pursuing a writing career, financial independence and undying love — after divorcing her husband when she discovered Viagra in his pocket clearly intended for extramarital escapades.

While not every detail is strictly autobiographical, a painful number come directly from life imitating art. Brooker says men she dated would offer backhand compliments: “You look good — for your age.” And some would make unsubtle age-related inquiries: “You sound like fun. How old are you?”

She was writing a column called “Boomer in the City” for JWeekly, a local Jewish paper, and looking for fodder about finding companionship and love. Her research extended to online dating, although the first service she contacted informed her it didn’t deal with people over age 50. Eventually, her cursor landed on JDate, a site for the Jewish singles community — with a home page peppered with pictures of smiling couples trumpeting their engagements or marriages.

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Trying to talk about abortion

Perilous-Times

BOOKS | Fran Moreland Johns

One chilly afternoon not long ago I pulled on an anorak jacket and walked over to San Francisco’s Laurel Village to pick up some groceries. A young woman who appeared to be about 15 or 16 years old was standing on the sidewalk in front of the Starbucks on the corner of Spruce and California. She was dressed in sandals, jeans and a short-sleeved pink T-shirt with Planned Parenthood emblazoned across the front. She was holding a clipboard with a few papers on it and attempting, presumably, to enlist supporters in the fight against a congressional proposal that would have eliminated funding for the organization.

But she was too cold or too shy to be having much success. She smiled at everyone who came her way, but no one seemed to be stopping. So I did. “Good for you,” I said. “I think defunding Planned Parenthood is a pretty bad idea.”

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A poet and now a novelist, too

KnightPrisoner

BOOKS | Mark J. Mitchell

I’ve lived and worked in the Fillmore since before it was new. Old-timers might remember me as the philosopher of beer behind the counter at Bi-Rite Liquors at California and Fillmore before it closed its doors. More recent arrivals might recall me as the Champagne advisor and single malt Scotch whisky guru holding forth at D&M Wines and Spirits for 15 years.

Before moving to the neighborhood, I studied writing and medieval literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz. And even while working all those years in the spirits business, I supported a serious writing habit.

I am primarily a poet, but every now and again poetry is interrupted by prose. My first novel, Knight Prisoner, was published by Vagabondage Press in June. It’s a historical adventure story set in 1470 in London relating the early criminal adventures of two masters of writing and crime imprisoned together, as told through the eyes of their servant.

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Finding fate – and faith – near Fillmore

Photograph of Maya Angelou by Dwight Carter

Photograph of Maya Angelou by Dwight Carter

AUTHOR, SINGER, poet, orator, actress and civil rights activist Maya Angelou has had many jobs in her storied life — including, when she was growing up in the Fillmore, a stint as a calypso dancer at the Purple Onion in North Beach.

Recently Angelou recalled her first job: as a San Francisco streetcar conductor.

“I liked the uniforms,” she says. So the 6-foot-tall 16-year-old applied for a job. “I had seen women on the street cars,” she says. “I just had not noticed they were all white. It hadn’t occurred to me.”

When they wouldn’t even give her an application, “I was crestfallen,” she says. Then her mother put steel in her spine. “Go get the job,” her mother told her. “You want it, then go get it.” She went back to the office, taking along “a big Russian novel” to read while she waited.

“By the third day, I wanted to return home,” she says. “But I didn’t want my mother to know I wasn’t as strong as she thought I was. So I sat there for two weeks. And finally a man came out and asked me in.”

Her tenacity won him over — along with her claim of experience working as a “chauffeurette for Mrs. Annie Henderson in Stamps, Arkansas” — her grandmother.

“He accepted me and I got the job,” she says. “That was really my mother’s doing. She was so strict — and so sure about me.”

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‘We are refusing to let Marcus Books close’

IT HAD BEEN WHISPERED on the street for weeks: The venerable New Chicago Barbershop had closed and another black Fillmore institution, Marcus Books, would soon be closing, too.

Roots run deep for both the bookstore and its building. Before the historic lavender Victorian at 1715 Fillmore that houses Marcus Books was moved from its original location a few blocks away at 1690 Post, it was home to Jimbo’s Bop City, a legendary after-hours joint that features prominently in the neighborhood’s jazz legacy. Before that — before neighborhood residents of Japanese descent were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II — the building had housed the Nippon Drug Co. in the heart of Japantown.

“Perhaps no other structure in San Francisco has such an extraordinary story,” the Chronicle reported in a splashy feature story in mid-May. But the article did not mention that the building had changed hands at a bankruptcy sale a few weeks earlier, and that its street-level tenant, the oldest black bookstore in the country, was endangered.

That story went public on Sunday, June 9, when the front page of the Examiner proclaimed “Closing Chapter” and a headline inside reported: “Marcus Books on brink of closure.”

The next day a phalanx of black leaders assembled at Marcus Books before a group of reporters and television cameras to decry the events that had endangered the bookstore.

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A bookstore blossoms in Japantown

Photographs of Forest Books by Kathi O'Leary

Photographs of Forest Books at 1748 Buchanan by Kathi O’Leary

By Mark Mitchell

IN A TIME when so many people live nose deep in their electronic devices, opening a bookstore seems almost like a subversive act.

Still more subversive is opening a used bookstore. No screaming bestsellers. No fresh off the presses celebrity memoirs or political apologies from disgraced officials. Just a room full of books that have already passed through someone else’s hands.

Nonetheless, Forest Books is now open in Japantown at 1748 Buchanan Street.

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Photographer made his mark on Fillmore

A new book tells David Johnson's story and includes many of his photographs.

A HANDSOME NEW BOOK — melodiously titled A Dream Begun So Long Ago — chronicles the life of photographer David Johnson from his childhood, shuffling through the care of various adults in segregated Jacksonville, Florida, through his on-and-off relationship with the art of photography. Now it’s firmly on again as the 86-year-old relishes his recognition as one of the foremost historical chroniclers of black life in San Francisco and the Fillmore community in particular.

In the book, told in the first person and written with his wife Jacqueline Annette Sue, Johnson reminisces about his early days under the tutelage of Ansel Adams — and the day in 1946 he climbed up on a scaffold to take what would become an iconic photograph of the neighborhood called Looking South on Fillmore. Excerpts from the book follow.

I work in the darkroom alongside Ansel Adams as he produces very large black and white landscape murals. As I watch him working, we have a conversation about print quality as he applies some developer to a print. I say laughingly, “I thought you were a purist,” meaning showing the photograph just as it was taken. Ansel chuckles and says, “Yes, but I am not an absolute purist.”
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Little library now lending

The Little Free Library on Suttter Street: It's a neighborhood thing.

A MINI-TREND to establish individual Little Free Libraries, begun in the Midwest in 2009, has led to the creation of thousands of libraries throughout the United States and in at least 17 other countries.

And now there’s a Little Free Library in the Fillmore.

Bibliophiles who pass by 2223 Sutter Street, near Scott, will find a hinged wooden cabinet bearing a sign: “Little Free Library. Take a book or leave a book.” Many do.

Local resident Michael Scdoris built the library, which can hold up to 50 books, from material scavenged during morning walks with his dog.

“I’ve gotten a great response and numerous letters from people,” he says. “I’m finding out what people in the neighborhood like. Children’s books are gone instantly — and so is any how-to book.”
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