How Pacific Heights got a 40-foot height limit

One of the flyers distributed during the fight for a 40-foot height limit.

By SUSAN SWARD

On a Friday in April of 1972, Charlotte Maeck got a purple postcard in the mail at her Pacific Heights residence that she initially thought was a hosiery advertisement from the I. Magnin department store.

On closer look, she saw it was a city announcement of a hearing the following Tuesday on a proposal to rezone the areas between Van Ness to Steiner and Union to Washington to permit structures of up to 160 feet — or 16 stories. Before then, height limits of 65 feet and 105 feet existed in various parts of Pacific Heights.

Maeck, who was busy raising her four children with her husband, orthopaedic surgeon Benjamin Maeck, in their home on Pacific Avenue, knew nothing about planning codes and had never been involved in the brawling political fights over development in San Francisco.

She came from Staten Island, where her grandfather founded a marine hardware company. “We were concerned about neighborhoods, and families watched what went on,’’ Maeck recalls. But “I knew nothing about zoning.”

That was about to change.

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Zinc Details is calling it quits

Photograph of Vasilios Kiniris at Zinc Details by Daniel Bahmani

ONE OF THE best-known and longest-operating businesses on Fillmore Street is shutting its doors at the end of April. Zinc Details, at 1633 Fillmore, will end its 27-year run and its space is expected to become an outpost of Orange Theory, a nationwide fitness club.

“I’ve met amazing people through our store,” says Vasilios Kiniris, who owns the design shop with his wife and fellow architect, Wendy Nishimura Kiniris. “But it’s time.”

Vas Kiniris, who has been vice president, president and now executive director of the Fillmore Merchants Association, intends to devote himself fully to small business affairs in San Francisco. In addition, he has recently become executive director of the West Portal Merchants Association and executive secretary of the citywide District Council of Merchant Associations.

“I think it’s perfect timing,” says Kiniris. “Retail is morphing into a new reality, and I’m parlaying my knowledge of small business and what makes a vibrant street.”

At one point Zinc had three shops and 20 employees on Fillmore Street.

“There’s a real sense of community on Fillmore,” he says. “I want to share that.”

Vas and Wendy Kiniris in their first Zinc Details store, opened in 1990.

EARLIER: “Still modern after all these years

A buying trip to Southeast Asia

‘Don’t you think I owe her?’

Photograph of Nancy and David Conte at the Carlisle by Frank Wing

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

“MOM!” the pianist says with some concern as he launches into their favorite song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and a photographer begins to click away. “You can’t cry on camera.”

Though not usually with a photographer in tow, composer David Conte often drops by the Carlisle, the retirement community at 1450 Post, to visit his mother, Carlisle resident Nancy Conte. He often plays her favorite classics or show tunes before or after he goes to work at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he is a professor of composition and head of the composition department. Other Carlisle residents are treated to regular impromptu mini-concerts.

Performing and composing are nothing new for David Conte. At 7, he and a friend wrote songs and gave concerts in their suburban Cleveland neighborhood. Music education in the public schools was at its zenith, and his father played the trumpet. By 8, he had started piano lessons, and by the time he reached 13, he knew music would be his life. At 19, he moved to Paris for three years, where he became one of the last pupils of world-renowned teacher Nadia Boulanger.

Conte, the eldest of his mother’s three children, has composed more than 100 published works, including six operas and works for orchestra, chamber groups and chorus. His work has drawn critical praise, and aspiring composers arrive at the conservatory to study with him.

But to Nancy Conte — herself a former choral conductor and an encyclopedia of musical texts and tunes — he’s still the son she started driving to piano lessons back in Ohio when he was 8 years old. “It was a lot of schlepping around for a lot of years,” she says. Her son smiles as he launches into a Schubert sonata and says: “Don’t you think I owe her?”

VIVA VIVANDE!

Photograph of Carlo Middione at Vivande by Daniel Bahmani

By CHRISTOPHER BRUNO

“Smell this!”

Carlo Middione said, as he thrust two handfuls of fresh, limp, uncooked spinach fettucine in my face.

I was the newest hire in the spring of 1985 at his gastronomical time machine, Vivande Porte Via, which masqueraded as a restaurant on Fillmore Street. I inhaled deeply and was shocked at the sweet, earthy smell of the uncooked strands. “It smells like…” Dare I say it? Am I crazy? Was this a test? “It smells like…” I looked at Carlo, unable to speak — and he burst out laughing.

He smiled at me with his bristling salt and peppered cheeks. It smelled like that vital life force, that injection of sweetly salted humanity from which all humanity is spun, betraying the true nature of my new place of employment: Vivande comes from the Latin vita, meaning life.

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On a Theme of Helgi

Photograph of S.F. Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson by Erik Tomasson

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

Just before Helgi Tomasson moved to San Francisco — and to the neighborhood — to become artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet, he wound up a stellar first act as an acclaimed principal dancer with George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.

In his 33 years here, Tomasson has turned a regional troupe into one of the most admired ballet companies in the world. The company’s 85th season showcases Tomasson’s skill in planning wonderfully varied evenings of story ballets and three-act programs of modern and neoclassical choreography — such as his own “On a Theme of Paganini,” beginning February 15.

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Quick end to a stickup at Sterling Bank

The Sterling Bank branch at Fillmore and Bush.

CRIME WATCH | DONNA GILLESPIE

Sterling Bank at 1900 Fillmore was the target of an alarming, if ultimately unsuccessful, robbery attempt on January 16. It happened at 4:50 p.m., just before closing time.

Some inside the bank were aware of a man in a blue rain poncho pacing up and down the sidewalk in front of the small, glassed-wrapped bank, but at first no one paid much attention. Then the man entered the bank, confronting manager James Rensch. Covering his face with one hand and wielding a gun with the other, the robber told Rensch: “Give me all your cash or I’ll shoot.”

In accordance with bank instructions, “I complied,” said a clearly shaken Rensch. He said the man was in the bank for a tense three minutes before he fled with the cash.

Rensch called 911, and two plainclothes policemen, along with beat cop Gordon Wong, were nearby. The plainclothes officers chased the suspect up Bush Street and caught him just past Webster. The apprehension was witnessed by the bank’s neighbor, HiHo Silver shop owner Victoria Dunham, who was leaving her flat as the arrest unfolded outside her front door.

Police dispatch had given the officers a description of the man, but during his short flight he had managed to shed his clothes and don new ones. Although the suspect was arrested, the police investigation is still ongoing and the FBI is now involved.

Fillmore 1996: a moment in time

TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS BY LUCY GRAY

Two decades ago, in the summer of 1996, I photographed shopkeepers and workers on Fillmore Street. I thought there were wonderful looking people in my neighborhood, people who looked like characters. They understood the performance aspect of small shops, the need to create a style.

I could see that the street was changing, as independent stores and thrift shops diminished and branding put a shellac over individual expression. I wanted to hold on to a moment when individuality was celebrated. The people in this series of photographs all owned or dreamed of owning their own shop, or they were living the dream of expressing themselves through their choices. There was an ideal of earning a modest living through self-expression that may have been sentimental, but it was an era when to be inimitable was prized.

I regret not taking a picture of Cheryl, who was given the dress shop Jim-Elle by its previous owner, which was true for several shops on the street. She was very funny and I can still hear her joking. She married the handsome Irish UPS driver we’d all known for years and she was gone in a snap. Lucky guy.

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Bringing life into the present tense

Kelly Johnson composed and performed the music on his new CD.

FIRST PERSON | KELLY JOHNSON

In the sunset years of my life, I sometimes realize that many of my friends don’t see me as I see myself. They see just an old guy on the corner outside Peet’s. But inside my head, I know I’ve had an interesting life — even if the interesting parts all seem to be in the past.

Recently I took on a new project that involved writing original music for ballet class, publishing a CD and developing a website. It was life changing.

And it turned out to be the glue that holds together all of the disparate parts of my life: as a child performer in vaudeville, later at the S.F. Dance Theater, which started on Fillmore Street; then as executive director of the Berkeley Symphony, followed by my years as a concert pianist and now my newest work as a composer.

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Teaching human kindness

Photograph of Deb Anaya and friends by Suzie Biehler

Photograph of Deb Anaya and friends by Suzie Biehler

By LIV JENKS

On the corner of Fillmore and Jackson stands the imposing edifice that is home to Calvary Presbyterian Church, moved there from the western side of Union Square just in time to open with a community Thanksgiving service in 1902.

Often overlooked is the warm, bright preschool located on the top floor of the adjacent education building, with its rooftop playground, which has been welcoming and shaping 3- and 4-year-olds since 1956.

Deborah Anaya has been director of Calvary Nursery School for 19 years. As she walks through the six mini classrooms that divide the preschool’s open, inviting space, she points with pride to the reading corner, the student artwork that hangs on the walls, the portfolios tracking the progress the children made in learning how to write their names.

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