From Fillmore to Tanzania

FIRST PERSON | ERIN LEMOINE

I’ve lived in this neighborhood for eight years, so I tend to make a lot of decisions when hanging out on Fillmore Street. Dino’s or the Elite for dinner? Yoga at International Orange or Mindful Body? Recently, while having coffee and surfing the web at Jane, I made a bigger decision: to quit my job, leave the safe confines of the neighborhood and go to Africa on a humanitarian project.

I’ve enjoyed a successful career as an event planner in the entertainment, tech and sports marketing industries. It’s been fun and rewarding. But the last couple of years have left me wanting more. I’ve always wanted to make a more significant impact by doing work that helps people help themselves. I realized it was now or never.

Erin LeMoine on Fillmore Street

Erin LeMoine on Fillmore Street

I had been searching for a project for some time and that morning at Jane I discovered the website for Mama Hope, an organization working with African organizations to build schools, health clinics, children’s centers, clean water systems and food security projects. I was so excited about the opportunity that I hiked half a block up to Peet’s and completed the online application.

Mama Hope isn’t the usual volunteer opportunity; you must apply and interview for the fellowship program. Luckily, I made the cut. Now I must raise $20,000 to help build a student dining hall and community center in Tanzania. This new structure will provide a space for children to eat meals together, and will also serve as a gathering place for meetings, events and celebrations.  Most importantly, the community center will attract more paying students, which means more poor and vulnerable children can get a free education.

Soon I’ll board a flight for Moshi, Tanzania, and live there for three months, collaborating with community leaders to begin the project. When I come back to San Francisco, I’ll spend three months doing a mixture of monitoring and evaluation, reporting and public speaking.

Even though I’m leaping into the unknown, the move aligns with my passion for service. Maybe it’s innate; my father was a firefighter and my sister is a teacher. I intended to get a graduate degree in public health after college and I almost joined the Peace Corps. Instead, I ended up planning elaborate tech parties. However, I’ve reconnected to my passion over the years with some volunteer yoga teaching and a two-year tutoring stint at Rosa Parks Elementary School on Webster Street.
Now it’s time to really go for it.

Fundraising hasn’t been easy. The last time I asked for money, I pleaded with my parents for cash for Duran Duran concert tickets. Yet I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the generosity of people and businesses in the neighborhood and throughout the city. NARS Cosmetics, Yoga Works, Caryn Cohen at Secret Agent Salon, massage therapist Wendy Parker, International Orange, Soul Cycle, Equinox and Prana are just some of the local merchants that have stepped up to the plate. With their support, we’re connecting our community with the community in Tanzania.

I’ll miss my friends who sit on the bench at Peet’s every day. I’ll miss fall, my favorite San Francisco season. But the sacrifice will be worth it. And perhaps my work in Tanzania will open doors to a career in international development.

And to think, it all started on Fillmore.

Learn more about Erin LeMoine’s project and follow its progress.

Spice Ace makes the neighborhood tastier

Photograph of Spice Ace by Daniel Bahmani

Photograph of Spice Ace by Daniel Bahmani

FIRST PERSON | Arthur Stone

ROAMING THE NEIGHBORHOOD as a boy in the 1940s, I searched for small critters to join the ranks of the quacking, barking and croaking things my mother barely tolerated in her home.

Today my nose leads the way as I wander about gathering things for our evening meal. My wife marvels at her good fortune to have a husband who cooks — who actually loves to cook. Even the postal carrier has been spotted at the door slot, enjoying an olfactory break.

Before Spice Ace moved in around the corner at 1821 Steiner Street, I was more of a beans and weenies guy, but always wanting a tastier meal. (I did manage to get my wife’s attention with my mother’s salmon croquettes, however.) An enticing sign finally led me in the direction of the new neighborhood spice shop.

The go-to guy there, Ed, loves Mexican flavors; I want the oxtail dishes of my childhood. Out of that discussion came the idea of oxtail chili. My first attempt was too salty. Ed suggested I throw in a potato. Bingo — it worked.

I’ve gone into the shop several times to ask technical cooking questions. Spice Ace owner Olivia has explained how to use canola oil safely. Aces Louise and Susan seem to read my mind as I enter the store, handing me just the spices I need.

Dinnertime is the best time of the day in our home. My wife is a sucker for salmon, and I am still a sucker for oxtail chili. Do we still have beans and weenies? You bet. But these days, I add a neighborhood touch: Spice Ace’s barbecue seasoning.

EARLIER: “Marco Polo comes to the Fillmore

The golden years: contemplating a move

FIRST PERSON | Hazel Reitz

My husband and I lead active lives and are in pretty good health. But the years are marching on, and to our surprise we suddenly find ourselves in our 70s. A barrage of mail and phone calls pushing medical alert devices, walk-in bathtubs and lifetime care establishments underscores that sobering thought. While not eager to leave our comfortable home, the responsible thing seems to be to examine our options. So together with friends of a similar age, we recently embarked on a series of visits to local “life care communities.”

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For sale: our house

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FIRST PERSON | Lucy Gray

AUGUST 2013: I take our younger son, Zachary, to New York, where he will be a freshman in college. While I’m there my husband, David, calls to tell me we must sell our house. I promise to have this accomplished by October 1.

This may sound rash, but on our block of Pacific Heights, houses regularly sell before going on the market. One house sold in half a day. Nothing seems to last more than a week. This was true all through the financial crisis. Prices for homes in our area kept steadily increasing. I bet on this three years earlier, taking the last of our line of credit and renovating the kitchen and reshaping the interior to create two new bathrooms and a bedroom. It was frightening to the core to spend that money. But one reason we bought the house in 1994 was to improve it.

I am still hoping we’ll find a way out of selling. David and I love living here — even more after the improvements. We both work freelance — he a writer and I a photographer — which is another way of saying we practice the art of the long shot. Still, we both work every day as many hours as we have in us and have taken maybe four vacations since our children were born. Every time we went to Europe. A friend suggested we could go away more if we lowered our expectations.

Of course that could also be applied to our buying a home. Perhaps instead of settling in San Francisco we should have moved to a place with great public schools. Or maybe it would have been smarter to sell when we lost our sons’ college fund in one month during the tech bubble. We were still strong earners when our older son, Nicholas, got into the University of Chicago and they told us we made too much for financial aid, while banks told us we didn’t make enough to refinance.
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Walking away from a place you love

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FIRST PERSON | Chuck Smith

Strange. I feel as if I’ve always been a San Franciscan, even though we’ve only lived here for 16 years. The city was in me before I was in it.

As soon as my wife, Lorna, and I arrived in San Francisco, we were drawn to this neighborhood, and a few years after we got here we were able to buy a condo on Sutter Street. We moved in on the Fourth of July weekend in 2000 during the Fillmore Jazz Festival. What a welcome.

From there we made friends up and down the street, never tiring of trekking down the hill to the bay and then back up. Along the way we stopped in every restaurant and shop, new and old — Fillamento, we still miss you! — never passing up a chance to sit outside in the sunshine at The Grove. 
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Feng Schwartz on Fillmore

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FIRST PERSON | John Maccabee

I recently moved to the East Bay and had to leave behind an office I had rented for 20 years upstairs at 2001 Fillmore Street. Leaving the neighborhood was wrenching, although I joked that I was ready to go; I had wrung every cubit of creativity from my 200-square-foot studio. The space had a bay window that faced Pine Street. From where I sat, I could see the Boulangerie sign — not the entire sign, because trees overhung it in a way that revealed only the letters a n g e r. I tried not to take that personally, although my chosen field, writing and game design, does offer plenty of opportunities for anger.

But I was productive there. I wrote two novels, dozens of screenplays and treatments — a dozen sold into the LA film and television markets. And I began a game design practice, CityMystery, creating what is referred to as transmedia games for the Smithsonian, for parks, schools and brands. While that much productivity increases the odds of selling projects, it also comes with a fair share of rejections, which brings me back to a n g e r.

Rejections, although inevitable, are frequently fraught with rage or despair. And early in my tenancy, during a protracted raging, despairing span of bad luck, I was persuaded that the space itself was at fault. Someone close to me recommended that I have it cleared of bad spirits by two practitioners from Berkeley she knew who were experienced in Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement.
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Just another day at the Fillmore

FLASHBACK | Honey Green

It was October 1966, just a few days before my birthday. Bill Graham had booked an amazing show. Headlining was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, with Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Mark Naftalin, Elvin Bishop and a host of many others. The second band was the Jefferson Airplane — Marty, Jorma, Jack, Spencer and Signe Anderson.

Fillmore posterThere were two shows and, if memory serves me right, I believe this first one was Signe’s last show, because Grace Slick did the second show. The third act on the bill was Big Mama Mae Thornton. What a show this was going to be.

The day was hectic with musicians running here, running there, sound checks, lighting checks for the light booths and Bill checking every, I mean every thing. The excitement was palpable and continued all afternoon. When, oh no, the piano for Big Mama did not show up. Bill was on the phone calling all over town and, to his chagrin, could not find a piano to rent. Now here’s the good part: I had a piano at home.

Bill sent a crew over to my house to get the piano and even had a piano tuner come in. Pianos need to be tuned. Well, this was so exciting. There was my piano on the stage in all its shining glory. Paul Butterfield’s band was outstanding, as was the Airplane.

Then Big Mama came on stage, sat down at the piano and played “Heartbreak Hotel” such as it was never played before or since. It brought the house down. Then she wanted accompaniment on the piano, and Mark Naftalin sat down and tinkled those keys.

I never looked at that piano the same way again.

A footnote: After the show was over, Bill had my piano beautifully restained, had it delivered to my house and sent the piano tuner along with it.

Honey Green was promoter Bill Graham’s secretary back in the day.

A seed of faith

The Rolling Pin — formerly the Donut Hole — at Fillmore and California.

The Rolling Pin — formerly the Donut Hole — at Fillmore and California.

FIRST PERSON | Ronald Hobbs

Aunt Beebee — Bertha — and I were no kin at all. She was “that nice old colored woman” who worked at the Donut Hole. Her niece, Bettye, called her Aunt Beebee. It caught on with us regulars. The joint must have served 500 cups of joe a day and a couple of thousand donuts. But for all of the in-and-outers, only a few of us knew her secret name.

Bettye was 300 pounds of a scorching-tongued negress who worked graveyard. There was no need for a bouncer at the Donut Hole on her shift. Besides, in the back room the bakers, Buck and Chuck, packed some serious heat.

We came bleary-eyed and loud after the clubs closed. It was sugar time. Sugar and caffeine not so discreetly spiked with Korbel brandy. Bettye fussed over us like we were her own children, as if we were the little crosses, cable cars and bridges on her charm bracelet.

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Lessons learned from downsizing

Bud and Fran Johns moved from a four-story 1905 Edwardian into a condo.

Bud and Fran Johns moved from a four-story 1905 Edwardian into a condo.

FIRST PERSON | Fran Johns

Beyond the pain, angst and despair of downsizing, there is always a story. And there are questions: How can I convince my parent or spouse or partner that it’s time? Who’s going to take care of the logistics and legalities, not to mention the tricky finances? Will I lose my independence? Can I ever replace the old familiar neighborhood? Where’s the best place for me? Can we afford what we need?

I stewed over them all.

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When I and thou were young

Photograph of Solstice by Daniel Bahmani

FIRST PERSON | Kevin Blum

It’s last call for Solstice Lounge.

After a successful 10-year run, the neighborhood favorite at 2801 California and Divisadero will be closing its doors for good on Saturday, March 2. The landlord, who also owns Rasselas and Sheba Piano Lounge on Fillmore Street, proposed to raise the monthly rent by several thousand dollars. Despite being a successful Pacific Heights fixture, Solstice would have to sell many more raspberry mojitos and Kobe beef sliders to cover the rent hike. Consequently, Matt Sturm and Leslie Shirah, who also own the Fly Bars on Divisadero and Sutter Streets, have decided to shutter Solstice.

For me personally, Solstice’s closing marks the end of an era. I moved to the neighborhood at the same time the restaurant and bar opened. I was in my mid-20s. City life was exciting and new. My friends and I were all young and carefree. Solstice immediately became our social nucleus. We would meet at the bar weekly without worrying about curfews, spouses or babysitters. We would go there on first dates, blind dates or last dates. Most of the time, we were just trying to find dates.
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