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.

His baton is at rest

Ever-playful music man Alden Gilchrist with a sculpture by Ralph O'Neill

Ever-playful music man Alden Gilchrist with a sculpture by Ralph O’Neill

JUST AFTER MIDDAY an email message went out: Alden Gilchrist, the widely beloved music director who served Fillmore’s Calvary Presbyterian Church for more than 60 years, had died the night before, on September 1, Labor Day, at age 83.

A few hours later, as dark descended, several dozen of Gilchrist’s friends and admirers instinctively gathered at the church for music and an informal memorial.

“He had that unique ability to make everyone feel like his best friend,” said pastor John Weems.

Gilchrist first came to the historic church at Jackson and Fillmore in 1951 to play the organ. Except for a brief study tour in France, he never left. He was named director of music in 1965, and in the decades since he has been widely acclaimed for his commitment to enlightened and enduring music. He initiated a community concert series, which brings professional musicians to perform at the church and benefits local charities. He led the church choir on three European tours, including performances at Notre Dame in Paris and at the historic cathedral in Chartres. More recently he pioneered a popular Sunday evening jazz service at Calvary.

“He survived six different pastors,” said choir member and church historian Joe Beyer, a friend of Gilchrist’s for more than 50 years.

In October 2011, a concert honored Gilchrist on his 60th anniversary at the church. He remained at the podium through the annual Christmas concert last year, when he conducted the choir and accompanying orchestra in two major works, the Gloria by Francis Poulenc followed by the equally famed Gloria by Antonio Vivaldi.

Shortly afterward, he suffered an illness that kept him in and out of hospitals for much of this year. Gilchrist’s friends and the church staff kept rigid rules in place to limit visitors. “Those who know him — which includes most of greater San Francisco — know also that the gregarious musician would have had nonstop visitors partying with him if the choice were left to him,” said his friend Fran Johns.

Gilchrist’s public sentiments were mostly musical. Weems recalled asking Gilchrist to pray at a staff meeting. He promptly responded: “I already did.”

EARLIER: “60 years of making music

‘I don’t see anything to pull it back’

Patrick Barber

Patrick Barber


REAL ESTATE | PATRICK BARBER

WE’RE PLEASED to welcome Patrick Barber, a native of the neighborhood and president of the Pacific Union brokerage, as our new real estate columnist.

So you’ve lived in the neighborhood a long time. Yep, 48 years. I grew up on Clay Street not far from Fillmore. I went to Stuart Hall and St. Ignatius. It was quite a bit different than today. As parents, we’re so hard-wired to be worried about our children. In those days, there was a roll of nickels near where we kept the mail. We’d grab a nickel and walk up to Presidio to catch the 3-Jackson and go to school. It was a wonderful neighborhood to grow up in.

And you knew you wanted to come back after college? I went to UC San Diego, then moved back. I’ve been in real estate for 26 years. I started at TRI and was on the sales side for 9-plus years. Then I started Sotheby’s, their 11th office in the world, because I felt the local real estate companies weren’t offering clients enough marketing and reach. I was there for 12 years before we took Pacific Union back private and teamed up with Christie’s. I’m happy to have a local company with international reach.

What have you observed during three decades in the real estate market in this neighborhood? The old adage “location, location, location” has always held true and still holds true today. Houses in this neighborhood — Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights, Cow Hollow, the Marina — they’ve all held their values very well. Even in the face of adversity like the earthquake in ’89, most people held on through the rebuilding and reconstruction, and the values came back strong.

After the economic crash in ’08 there wasn’t a big decline. There certainly was a pullback and a slowdown. But it probably lasted only about 12 months in Pacific Heights. The way you make money in real estate is by holding it, not selling it. And many people in this neighborhood didn’t have to sell. We were fortunate. We also had interest rates trending down during that time.

The demand has been pretty constant. There’s been a lot of construction and reinvestment over the 26 years. People have sometimes invested well beyond what their home in the near term will ever be worth. They’re invested in building a place to live in one of the best neighborhoods in one of the best cities in the best country in the world. People often have built what they wanted, without concern for what price it would bring. It was intrinsic value they were building, not just an investment. We’ve seen that so many times, where people build beyond today’s property values. They’re doing it for themselves, particularly in this neighborhood.

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A familiar face is missing

Karen Pearson (second from left in photo) is remembered in a posting at Peet’s.

Karen Pearson (second from left in photo) is remembered in a posting at Peet’s.

THE VENERABLE Victorian building at 2550 California Street had already seen its share of troubles. A fire a few years ago had done significant damage and left its tenants in temporary quarters during a lengthy top-to-bottom renovation. They finally moved back in a few months ago, but the fire trucks were back again on Sunday afternoon, July 6, when one of the tenants, Karen Pearson, was found dead in her apartment.

The news traveled quickly to her wide network of neighborhood friends, centered around a coffee group that convened early most mornings at Peet’s on Fillmore. Pearson was a regular, quick to say hello and make introductions, or smile at a child, or pat a dog. She was one of those familiar faces often seen around the neighborhood.

Many of her friends gathered at Peet’s for an impromptu memorial a week later, on Sunday, July 13, and remembered her as a kind neighbor and friend, one who sometimes asked the baristas for “just an extra splash” of coffee, as if Peet’s were a local diner.

“Life had dealt Karen some particularly hard blows in the last 10 years,” her friend Fiona Varley wrote in an email to more than 125 of her friends, “from being diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer, being homeless for five years when her building was struck by fire, being unemployed for many years and now finally going through the eviction process.”

Yet friends remembered her as relentlessly upbeat. Several recalled her frequent invitations to events at the Mechanics’ Institute at 57 Post Street, where she was a longtime member and a dedicated volunteer. A more formal memorial will be held there on Friday, August 22, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Businesses blooming on Sutter Street

Photograph of Jet Mail co-owner Kevin Wolohan by Kathi O'Leary

Photograph of Jet Mail co-owner Kevin Wolohan by Kathi O’Leary

By Barbara Kate Repa

THE ONCE SLEEPY 2100 block of Sutter Street, stretching from Steiner to Pierce, would seem an unlikely spot for an urban renaissance.

But in recent years the area has quietly remade itself. Even as it lost a few longstanding businesses, it has attracted an eclectic assortment of independent shops — including Jet Mail, which moved down last year from a prime location on Fillmore Street, the newly relocated Iyengar Yoga Institute and gourmet destinations Song Tea and Spice Ace — that have begun to draw increased notice and foot traffic.

sutterstdomOne of the first of the new wave to locate in the area was Olivia Dillan, who with her husband Ben Balzer opened the spice shop of their dreams in October 2012 at 1821 Steiner, two doors from Sutter, and called it Spice Ace.

“When I first looked at this space the landlord warned me away, saying there’s absolutely no foot traffic here,” she says. “But I just had the feeling it would work, that people would find us.”

As she was recalling the conversation, right on cue, several customers filtered in at once, one searching for a specific type of smoky cumin, another looking for a gift for a friend who looks to cook, a third — a recent transplant from Chicago — hoping to find a store that would live up to the specialty spice shop she recalls fondly there. All left with their needs fulfilled.

Dillan, who lives near the shop, remains a loyal booster of the neighborhood and is proud of the Sutter Street surge. “We’re bringing back the small business owners to the area,” she says. “That’s especially important with all the brand name, high-end stores on Fillmore.”

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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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Getting the boot

Photograph of Paolo Iantorno, proprietor of Paolo Shoes, by Daniel Bahmani

Photograph of Paolo Iantorno, proprietor of Paolo Shoes, by Daniel Bahmani

By Chris Barnett

SCIONS OF TWO San Francisco real estate dynasties are racing toward a costly collision on Valentine’s Day after seven months of legal jousting. The prize: the storefront on the prime northeast corner of Fillmore and Pine occupied for the last 10 years by Paolo Shoes.

The lease there is officially up on February 14 and the landlord, Webco Group LLC, wants to give the stylish handmade Italian shoe retailer the boot. The store owner claims his lease gives him an option to extend for another five years at today’s prevailing rental rate — which he is willing to pay even though a number hasn’t been put on the table. Webco insists the tenant didn’t exercise his lease option on time and in the proper manner.

The combatants are:

• Paolo Iantorno, 37, the tenant and sole owner of Paolo Shoes, who grew up in tony St. Francis Wood, graduated from prestigious St. Ignatius High School, a third generation member of an Italian family whose father, Sergio Iantorno, and grandfather, Clarence Dahlberg, run San Francisco–based companies that build custom homes throughout the Bay Area.

• Patrick Szeto, 39, the landlord’s representative, raised in San Francisco, and graduated from equally prestigious Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep, a second generation member of the large and powerful Szeto family, owners of Webco Group and American Realty & Construction Inc. led by Patrick’s father, Kwok Szeto, also known as Richard Szeto, with major commercial real estate holdings throughout the city, including 2000 Fillmore Street, home of the shoe store.

Another major player in the drama is Pamela Mendelsohn, a commercial real estate broker with the San Francisco office of Collier’s International. For years, she’s been the leasing queen of Fillmore Street, a confidante of landlords and tenants alike. Mendelsohn leased the Paolo Shoes space to Iantorno a decade ago. And in 2011, she brokered the sale of the entire classic 1928 Mediterranean Revival style building — which includes Paolo Shoes, the Grove restaurant next door, 15 apartments upstairs and parking downstairs — to Webco.

Among its other holdings, Webco also owns the six-acre, 300,000-square-foot parcel encompassing more than 200 commercial and residential units surrounding the Safeway store and bordered by Webster, Geary and Fillmore.

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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

chuck

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

2001A-Fillmore

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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