Farewell to Narumi

For 37 years, Jiro Nakamura’s jewel box of a shop has been at 1902 Fillmore.

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

“You have to say: ‘This is the end. It’s time to go home,’ ” says Jiro Nakamura, with a shy smile.

Sadly for the neighborhood, that means the end of Narumi Japanese Antiques, Nakamura’s tiny jewel box of a shop at 1902 Fillmore Street. Narumi has been the go-to place for antique Japanese dolls, imported kimonos, essentials for a proper tea ceremony and a unique collection of Japanese antiques and art — including many of Nakamura’s own stained glass creations and hand-painted works — since it opened in 1981.

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She kept the neighborhood looking good

Lydia Ainsley: caught in the act of cleaning up Fillmore Street.

SHE WALKED the street incognito, just another neighbor, often bandannaed, with a shopping bag on her arm.

But Lydia Ainsley was on a mission every time she walked down Fillmore Street. For more than two decades, she made it her business to remove the signs and posters taped to utility poles on Fillmore and discreetly tuck them into her sack.

Nobody asked her to do it, but she approached her task diligently. Eventually the Fillmore merchants began paying her the princely sum of $150 every month, which she expected on time.

She resisted all praise and publicity, insisting it would only blow her cover.

She was also a faithful volunteer for Food Runners, delivering excess food from local businesses to shelters where it was needed. And she did it via Muni, or on foot.

Lydia Ainsley died on August 6 at age 91, still in her beloved apartment of more than 40 years at Fillmore and Vallejo, overlooking the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Still cozy after all these years

For four decades, La Mediterranee has attracted a mix of diners with its atmosphere and food.

By SHELLEY HANDLER

In the very affordable 1970s, the Fillmore was home to working artists, including photographer Edmund Shea. Best known for his collaboration with conceptual artist Bruce Conner and his book covers for neighbor and acclaimed writer Richard Brautigan, Shea’s work can still be seen in the neighborhood today.

Approach La Mediterranee restaurant at 2210 Fillmore, and hanging just to the right of the door is a large framed photograph of a champagne bottle on ice, with “open” splashed across it. On the reverse, the same bottle is shown upended in the ice bucket, with the message “closed” directly below.

Though champagne might seem a bit upscale for this simple neighborhood spot, it reflects both Shea’s quietly bon vivant lifestyle and owner Levon Der Bedrossian’s desire for a place at once humble and indulgent. Shea moved easily between his artistic friends and San Francisco society, where his innate charm was not lost on the ladies. In its own way, La Mediterranee has the same cross-cultural ease — still, after almost 40 years, drawing a mix of creative locals and tony denizens of Pacific Heights.

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Previewing “A Dance With Death”

Kelly Johnson and his daughter Leda Meredith in the final minutes of his life on May 7, 2018.

KQED TODAY OFFERS a preview of the New Fillmore documentary A Dance With Death, screening Wednesday night, August 15, at 7 p.m. at the Clay Theatre on Fillmore Street. It tells the story of longtime Fillmore resident Kelly Johnson’s decision — after a celebrated career as a dancer, musician and vaudeville performer — to end his life earlier this year.

PREVIEW ON KQED

A lesson in how to die
A podcast conversation with director Arash Malekzadeh

EARLIER: “The final days of Kelly Johnson

A Fillmore film premieres at the Clay

 

How a coffee shop saved my life

James DeKoven at Peet’s on Fillmore in 2007.

FIRST PERSON | JAMES DeKOVEN

On February 4, 2000, I arrived in the Fillmore under dire circumstances. Six months earlier, my fiancee had given the ring back — a devastating blow that occurred weeks after I gave up a well-paying job to write fulltime. Broken-hearted, half-mad and facing an uncertain financial picture, I fled from Santa Barbara to San Francisco.

At the time, it was more of an escape than any sort of plan for the future. For better or worse, I’ve never had many long-term goals. I just needed to get my head together. Once healthy, I could have clarity about the next step. But as I found out, sometimes destiny provides the relief. Who needs a personal coach, Jungian therapy, psychedelic journey, or self-help book when there’s Peet’s Coffee at Sacramento and Fillmore?

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That cat could write

She turned her newspaper articles into a book.

AFTER OUR FRIEND William died, we helped empty his house and put it on the market. His downstairs tenant was moving, and the pregnant cat that lived mostly under the house and on the street was left without a home.

It turned out no one wanted a pregnant cat — not the nearby Pets Unlimited, nor the SPCA, nor anybody else. So we took her home. Then she had 11 kittens — on 7/11, no less. This did not seem lucky, at least not for us, now with a dozen cats.

Although she was busy enough already, eating and nursing and grooming, again and again and again, we put her to work writing for the neighborhood newspaper. Her nametag — and byline — said simply Saralee. It turned out she was a talented writer with a gift for delicate phrasing and an eye for the wry detail.

“I’ve called this beautiful neighborhood home my entire life — more than two years now, although a proper lady never tells her age,” she began her first story.

These were not her first kittens. “A moment of ardor with an attentive tabby left me with eight kittens to tend — and me just a kitten myself,” she wrote. “No sooner had the kids left the nest than I was out the window again. A small partay with a cool gray long-haired tomcat and I soon found myself with nine little ones this time.”

A visit to the vet capped her prolific output at 28 kittens. Her stories in the New Fillmore made motherhood sound like a joy. “I have to say, this might be my most beautiful brood yet,” she wrote.

She told her story so well that all of her kittens found new homes — and, in the process, we became related by cat to many of our neighbors. Her kids would write on Mother’s Day and 7/11. It was a lucky day after all. Nearly everywhere we went — to a local restaurant, store, church or coffee shop — we’d get an update on Saralee’s kids.

She turned her stories into a book, available on Amazon. And she blossomed into a beautiful and classy Miss Lady, with a lipstick pink collar and heart-shaped nametag.

Saralee died on July 28 after a short illness. She will be missed by many in the neighborhood — and in the literary world.

— Thomas Reynolds

The Brown Bag served up an eclectic mix

Treasures from the Brown Bag, the emporium and office supply store at 2000 Fillmore.

FLASHBACK | BARBARA WYETH

Every time I walk past the corner of Fillmore and Pine, I am transported back to the Brown Bag, the stationery store that was a mainstay on the northeast corner for many years.

Back in the day, I owned a small business in North Beach, but was struggling. I met Dawn, one of Brown Bag’s owners, when I was helping out on weekends at the nearby California Street Creamery. We had become friendly, and when I decided to quit my store, Dawn offered me a job at the Brown Bag.

I’d had ongoing connections with the Fillmore neighborhood since moving to San Francisco, so working at the Brown Bag seemed like a good fit. I loved its eclectic mix of practical supplies and wildly impractical baubles. It reminded me of the old-fashioned 5 & Dime in my Midwestern hometown. The place even included the smell of bacon wafting in from the Chestnut Cafe next door.

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The final days of Kelly Johnson

In the final minutes of his life, Kelly Johnson was surrounded by friends and family.

By ARASH MALEKZADEH

A month ago, I was offered the opportunity to film the last days of Kelly Johnson’s life. I did not know him. I did not know how or why his death was predetermined.

I was told to meet the next morning at Peet’s for coffee. Then I’d walk half a block with my equipment to a beautiful blue Victorian overlooking Fillmore Street where he’d lived since 1969. After climbing two flights of stairs, each step creaking with antiquity, I entered the top flat. I followed an oxygen tube strewn across the carpet.

Kelly Johnson sat on his red couch, calmly staring out the window, as I approached with my camera in hand. A smile stretched across his face as he greeted me. He was ready for his close up.

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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