Big Nate: a good neighbor

Nate Thurmond and his Silver Shadow were familiar sights in the neighborhood when he owned a restaurant on Fillmore Street.

Nate Thurmond and his Silver Shadow were familiar sights in the neighborhood when he owned a restaurant at 2020 Fillmore Street.

LOCALS | MARK J. MITCHELL

Sports fans mourned the death of Nate Thurmond, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, who died on July 16 at the age of 74. He was the first player ever to score a quadruple-double in the history of the game and the only player to have his number retired by both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.

He will be remembered as an immortal of the game, and many San Franciscans will also think of him as the man behind Big Nate’s Barbecue for 20 years.

Those of us with deep roots in the Fillmore have other memories.

Back in the 1970s — when Pacific Heights started strictly on the north side of California Street and everything south was still the Western Addition — Nate the Great roamed our little corner of San Francisco.

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It’s our 30th

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IN MAY 1986, founding editor and publisher David Ish published Volume 1, Number 1, of the New Fillmore — the premiere issue.

The name was a bit of a joke. The Fillmore had forever been reinventing itself, from its roots as a Jewish neighborhood, then a Japanese neighborhood, then the Harlem of the West, which sported the New Fillmore Hotel and the New Fillmore Theater. The early ’80s brought another new era as upper Fillmore began to emerge as a bustling shopping and dining district and the surrounding area became an ever more desirable place to live.

We took over the newspaper in June 2006, so this issue also marks our 10th anniversary. It has been an eventful decade. As Fillmore Street has been transformed into a coveted location for international fashion and cosmetics brands, many of the one-of-a-kind shops and essential services that made it so attractive have been squeezed out. The street, in some ways, has become a victim of its own success.

Yet this neighborhood remains a wonderful place to live, with a rich history, a vibrant economy and many tales to tell. Thank you for inviting us into your homes every month.

Barbara Kate Repa
Thomas R. Reynolds

At Soko Hardware, it’s the mix that works

Eunice Ashizawa and her nephew Aaron Katekaru help run Soko Hardware in Japantown.

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

After Masayasu Ashizawa came from Japan to San Francisco nearly a century ago, he opened a hardware store in 1925 in the heart of bustling Japantown and named it Soko — Japanese for “that place.” Soko Hardware’s founder could not have imagined the family business would be thriving in that place today under the management of his grandson Philip, born years after his grandfather died.

Soko Hardware, at 1698 Post Street, thrives not just as a local hardware store, but also as a destination for Bay Area residents and visitors who come for the paper lanterns or the authentic teapots or the delicate china — sometimes even for the hardware.

“I think of going to Soko as a special treat, like going to a museum and finding things I didn’t know existed,” says Mill Valley resident Sue Steele. (more…)

The jewelry bros

Gary Mureta and Eric Trabert operate side-by-side shops on Fillmore.

Gary Mureta and Eric Trabert operate side-by-side shops on Fillmore.

LOCALS | JENNIFER BLOT

“He can sell ice to an Eskimo,” says Eric Trabert of Gary Mureta, his next-door neighbor at the top of Fillmore Street.

But Mureta doesn’t hear his friend’s admiring endorsement. He’s busy juggling the demands of what appears, at first, to be a small and sleepy antique store. But the store phone is ringing. Then his cell phone rings. A customer comes in to pick up a massive — and heavy — bronze sculpture. His only employee is due to go on a break. And Trabert, owner of Trabert Goldsmiths, has popped in to say hello.

Mureta walks out the door to talk to someone on the street and leaves Trabert to hold down the fort. But Trabert doesn’t seem to mind. Inevitably he’ll spot something in the golden glow of the store he’s never seen before. There’s a massive vintage silver and enamel Margot de Taxco cameo pendant, a Scottish agate silver buckle bracelet and numerous Victorian gold insect brooches with semi-precious eyes and bellies. Beyond jewelry, the store is brimming with an eclectic assortment of decorative pieces, silverware, sets of pastel colored stemware and oil paintings by 19th century California artists.

Trabert’s shop next door is a contrast in both ambience and inventory. Brightly lit, with high ceilings, its cases sparkle with contemporary baubles: stackable rings, pieces anchored with unusual pastel sapphires, pearl chokers and thin gold bangles. Trabert offers his own designs as well as pieces from about a dozen contemporary jewelry lines.

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Dog mauling conviction affirmed again

The attack occurred on the sixth floor of the apartment building at Fillmore and Pacific.

CRIME | BARBARA KATE REPA

A federal appellate court has denied the latest challenge to a second-degree murder conviction in a case that rocked the neighborhood 15 years ago when a horrific attack by two large dogs in a Pacific Avenue apartment building left one local resident dead and landed two others in prison.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on February 3 affirmed a lower federal court’s denial of habeas corpus relief for Marjorie Knoller, a former neighborhood resident.

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Doubling down with Black Bark

Photograph of Black Bark chef David Lawrence by Daniel Bahmani

Black Bark chef David Lawrence: “We might as well go for it.”

By BARBARA KATE REPA

When David Lawrence and Monetta White announced plans to open their high end but homey restaurant, 1300 on Fillmore, eight years ago, friends cautioned against it. “They said, ‘You’re going down to lower Fillmore? Are you nuts?’ ” says White, whose mother and grandmother both grew up in the neighborhood.

But soon after the doors opened, the joint was jumping, fueled by foot traffic brought in by the adjacent Yoshi’s restaurant and jazz club. The club was part of the Fillmore Heritage Center — a 240,000-square-foot mixed-use complex that included Yoshi’s, 1300 on Fillmore and a nonprofit art gallery, with 80 condominiums rising above — all constructed in an ambitious attempt to revitalize Fillmore south of Geary.

For a few years, the $75 million bet seemed to pay off, as the new businesses and residents brought a vibrancy, unity and goodwill to the nascent jazz district, along with new patrons and customers. Then suddenly things changed. Fingers pointed at various culprits: a lagging economy, changing neighborhood demographics, bad management, the new SF Jazz Center in the Civic Center. The Lush Life Gallery closed first. Then Yoshi’s declared bankruptcy. An attempt to revive the club as The Addition quickly failed. For the last year, it has sat empty — an eerily silent space nearly a block long. Many people assumed 1300 on Fillmore was no longer in business, either.

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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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A designer finds her niche

Photograph of Isabelle McGee at Regard Interiors by Daniel Bahmani

Isabelle McGee, owner of Regard Interiors: “I work to simplify lives and add a little zest.”

SHE’D WORKED FOR THE RITZ in Paris and other international corporations, mostly designing hotels, but French designer Isabelle McGee wanted something different — something more intimate — when she set out to establish her interior design atelier in San Francisco.

One day she was walking on Sutter Street, just a block from Fillmore, when she struck up a conversation with Joan O’Connor, longtime proprietor of Timeless Treasures at 2176 Sutter and a notorious neighborhood networker.

“I need a space like this,” McGee told her. So O’Connor promptly called upstairs and introduced her to the landlord of a nearby vacant storefront.

She had found her home. In late 2013 McGee opened her consultancy and showroom called Regard at 2182 Sutter.

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Uncle Nick takes charge at Dino’s

Photograph of Nick Nickolas by Daniel Bahmani

Photograph of Nick Nickolas by Daniel Bahmani

By CHRIS BARNETT

Nick Nickolas could be the poster boy for a happy retirement. A tanned 78-year-old who looks and sounds 20 years younger, he built and ran a fine dining empire of 30 restaurants that stretched from Honolulu to Miami, is madly in love with his new fiancee and has all his hair and his buttons.

But he simply can’t stop working.

For the last four years, Nickolas has been managing, maitre’d-ing, setting and bussing tables at Dino & Santino’s at Fillmore and California, spelling his nephew, Dino Stavrakikis, on Thursdays and Saturdays so the single-dad owner could have time with his young son, Santino.

Now, with Santino turning 5 and heading to kindergarten, Dino might be expected to spend more time at his pizza palace, with his Uncle Nick backing off to take a cruise for two and play couples golf. But Nickolas isn’t one to sit on the sidelines.

In fact, he is taking the reins of the 28-year-old restaurant and ramping up to five days a week. Stavrakikis has given him carte blanche to change the menu, with some exceptions: Uncle Nick can’t touch “Mama’s meatballs or her spinach pie,” he says, or a few other house signature items.

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Back home for the holidays

LOCALS | THOMAS REYNOLDS

He’d lived in the flat on California Street near Steiner for 37 years. Suddenly late one afternoon Jim Scott realized something was wrong.

He called 911 and tried to answer all the dispatcher’s questions. Finally he told her: “Look, I have to get out of here. My room is full of black smoke.”

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Sparks from a welder working next door had started a fire. The squadrons of firefighters soon on the scene flooded the blaze before it reached Scott’s apartment — but only after they had bashed in his ceiling and windows, leaving his home a soggy and sooty mess.

In his new book, The Al Tarik, Scott, now 93, gently unfolds the story of the three years that followed and landed him in a residential hotel on Sutter Street he describes as “a century-old San Francisco pile” that is “a refuge for those like myself who in their last years have been roughed up and tossed on the rocks and shoals.”

At first his landlord assured Scott he would be back in his apartment within a few months. He moved in temporarily with a neighbor across the alley. But as the renovation of the building languished, he needed another place to stay, and found no good options. So he moved back into his charred apartment.

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