An old world craftsman

Yury’s Lights & Beyond offers up a warm evening glow of light at 1849 Divisadero.

Yury’s Lights & Beyond offers up a warm evening glow of light at 1849 Divisadero.

LOCALS | FRANCINE BREVETTI

A customer walked in to the lighting shop on Divisadero with a vintage lamp from England shaped as a young boy flying. It had been crudely repaired. Each hand held a socket. The arms had been amputated to rewire the lamp, then glued back badly, with wiring pasted on the outside.

The Ukrainian impresario of Yury’s Lights & Beyond, Yury Budovlya, took on the miserable specimen, detaching the arms and removing the unsightly adhesive. He rewired the lamp, soldered the arms back to the body, leaving the surface seamless and with a seasoned patina.

When the customer returned, she was so astonished to see her prized lamp beautifully restored that she erupted in grateful dance and song. Not wanting to offend, Yury mirrored her with a song and a dance of his own, thinking perhaps it was the appropriate American response.

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Farewell to two of our finest

Carol and John Field

Carol and John Field, longtime neighborhood residents.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD lost two of its outstanding citizens and creative minds in recent weeks when architect John Field and author Carol Field died within a few days of each other.

John Field was noted for the homes he designed in Pacific Heights and especially for his enlightened approach to shopping centers, including the Stanford Shopping Center and downtown Santa Barbara. He was also a filmmaker and a photographer.

Carol Field was a prolific author who became an authority on Italian food, even though she acknowledged she was “the first Italian in my family tree.” After trips to Italy to make The Urban Preserve, John’s first architectural documentary, Carol made it her mission to learn everything about Italian baking. They later owned a home there, and many more books and a novel followed. Earlier she had been a co-owner of the beloved Minerva’s Owl bookstore on Union Street.

Shortly after John died of cancer, Carol suffered a stroke and never recovered.

“She couldn’t make it without him,” neighboring chef and cookbook author Joyce Goldstein told the Chronicle. ”They were a blessed couple.”

“She seemed to listen as much with her eyebrows as her eyes,” wrote Corby Kummer in The Atlantic. He told the Fields he enjoyed visiting them “to observe at close range your utter companionability. You were and will remain my models for the complete and caring civility with which two people can treat each other.”

EARLIER: “Fillmore to Italy and back again

A younger Carol and John Field.

A younger Carol and John Field: always utterly companionable.

MORE: “She tied tradition to captivating stories

The New York Times
The Washington Post

Anne Bloomfield’s archives go to Heritage

Anne Bloomfield's research was the foundation of Gables & Fables.

Anne Bloomfield’s research was the foundation of Gables & Fables.

By BRIDGET MALEY

My predecessor in writing about neighborhood architecture for the New Fillmore, the respected architectural historian Anne Bloomfield, was an amazing researcher and a passionate advocate for maintaining the character of Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights. She died in December 1999, but her life’s work of helping preserve San Francisco’s past lives on.

Anne collected vital information on individual buildings, architects, and builders that led to the designation of many landmarks and historic districts. Her ground-breaking detective work on the building collaborative called The Real Estate Associates, who in 1875 claimed to have built more detached houses than any other company in the U.S., revealed a sophisticated San Francisco building practice.

Her research was the foundation for Gables & Fables: A Portrait of San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, the book her husband Arthur Bloomfield published after her death.

Recently I had the opportunity to review and organize Anne’s research files on Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights for inclusion into the collection of San Francisco Heritage at its headquarters in the Haas-Lilienthal House. The files will be invaluable to future researchers and aficionados of San Francisco’s early architecture.

“This place is magic”

Fred Martin has worked there for 36 of Browser Books' 40 years.

Fred Martin has worked at Browser Books on Fillmore for 36 of its 40 years.

“LOVE WAS IN THE AIR,” says Fred Martin of the days when he and Browser Books were both young.

And on many nights, it still is.

“This place is magic,” he says of the bookstore, where he has worked for 36 of its 40 years as it grew into a landmark on Fillmore Street. “People love this place. They get caught up in interesting conversations.”

And sometimes more. Many lasting connections have been made in Browser Books: couples on dates uncovering mutual interests, spouses returning to a favorite haunt, chance meetings that grow into romance.

The store is filled with love stories — from the stacks of Neruda that sell out on Valentine’s Day, to Romeo and Juliet on high school reading lists, and the middle-aged professional proudly unembarrassed to ask for Fifty Shades of Grey.

“It’s the most realistic portrait of the romantic idea of working in a bookstore I’ve ever had,” says Jordan Pearson, the newest of the Browser clerks. “It’s being a bartender without the liquor — and sometimes I wish I had a bouncer late at night.”

“I always feel like I’m the party host,” says Fred Martin. “I want the store to be a place where people can be at home and talk about anything. I love being part of that.”

Browser Books opened in 1976 a block north next door to the Clay Theatre.

“It was a real artist hangout,” says Martin. He recalls a couple who met in the old store and got married under the avocado tree in the garden out back, near the fountain with a sculpture of brass instruments. Just recently they stopped by, back in town from Oregon, and talked about moving back.

In 1989 Browser gave up used books and moved south to its smaller current location.

“We’re not just a little library, like a lot of other places,” says Martin. “People have always been friendly and outspoken here.”

The Beat poet Latif Harris worked at the old Browser for a time and lived upstairs above the shop. He met his wife when she came browsing into the store one day. Fred Martin also met his spouse there. And so have others.

 MORE: “Book Lovers

BOOK LOVERS

By FRED MARTIN, KEN SAMUELS and ERIN MESSER
of the Browser Books staff

Browser Books, a neighborhood fixture since 1976, has no doubt sparked countless anonymous instances of romance. The store’s staff, however, has been especially susceptible to this phenomenon. Perhaps it’s because we spend so much time in the store — or perhaps it’s because there’s just something a little different about the kind of person who chooses to work in a bookstore.

Fred Martin (right) and William Weber in 1988 in their beloved Yosemite National Park.

Fred Martin (right) and William Weber in 1988 in their beloved Yosemite National Park.

FRED’S STORY

It was 1981, back in the funky, colorful days of the neighborhood, when Browser Books was still in its old location next to the Clay Theatre. I had been at the store less than a year, working nights mostly, when I met William Weber, a psychiatrist with an office nearby. William was taking some free time between appointments one day to browse the bookstore in the company of a woman friend, a flamboyant personality from Texas. William — from Yazoo City, Mississippi — was less flamboyant, but seductive, with his big brown eyes and that low bedroom voice.

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Kelly’s Corner

Kelly on Fillmore, a portrait of Kelly Johnson by Anne Ruth Isaacson

Kelly on Fillmore, a portrait of Kelly Johnson by Anne Ruth Isaacson

LOCALS | ANNE RUTH ISAACSON

After a long walk back home from the Hardly Strictly Blue Grass Festival, I stopped at Fillmore and Sacramento for coffee. Outside on the corner there were no free tables, but a gentleman signaled that I could join him and his friend.

That was the day I met Kelly Johnson. I found him instantly likable and engaging. Soon I would learn what many locals already knew: that he can usually be found on that corner, nursing a coffee, available for interesting conversation.

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From the Fillmore to the stratosphere

The artist Bruce Conner ran an unconventional campaign for city supervisor.

The artist Bruce Conner ran for supervisor in 1967.

ART | JEROME TARSHIS

During the early and middle ’60s, when I was thinking about moving from New York to San Francisco, one of the inducements was that Bruce Conner lived here. My avant-garde film friends thought his first film, A Movie (1958), was an instant classic, followed by one success after another.

The objects he made — assemblage sculptures — were being shown at major galleries in New York, London, Paris, Rome and Mexico City. He was in great collections on both sides of the Atlantic. Not bad for a 30ish artist born and brought up in Kansas.

A more complicated Bruce Conner is the subject of “It’s All True,” his fullest retrospective so far, almost worshipfully received earlier this year at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and now at SFMOMA through January 22.

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TV for a desert island

tvcover

BOOKS | DAVID THOMSON

In writing my new book, Television: A Biography, I revisited a lot of shows that were old favorites. Some stood the test of time; some did not. What follows is a list of 10 shows I’d like to have on a desert island — not my top 10, you must understand, just an assortment of good stuff. I hope the island has a sofa.

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Mom and pop shop bucks the trends

Asmbly Hall’s Ron Benitez (center) offers Mayor Ed Lee fashion advice

Asmbly Hall’s Ron Benitez (center) offers Mayor Ed Lee some fashion advice.

By BARBARA KATE REPA

Five years ago, when many saw the neighborhood becoming inhospitable to mom-and-pop businesses as ever more corporate chains moved in, Tricia and Ron Benitez turned a deaf ear to the naysayers and opened their one-of-a-kind clothing boutique at 1850 Fillmore Street.

They stocked it with pieces for men and women by indie designers for the customer they described as a “sophisticated prepster” and named it Asmbly Hall, a moniker they said “describes a gathering place for the community that brings fashion, art and music together.”

Five years later, it’s all come true — even the mom and pop part, since the couple welcomed daughter Harlow 21 months ago. Mayor Ed Lee recently chose Asmbly Hall to kick off the “Shop and Dine in the 49” campaign, a holiday initiative to encourage spending in to the city’s neighborhoods. And Ron this year became president of the Fillmore Merchants Association.

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An artist on Cottage Row

Sutter Marin’s Sister, Dear Sister, There’s a Rabbit in Your Garden, painted on Cottage Row.

Sutter Marin’s Sister, Dear Sister, There’s a Rabbit in Your Garden.

By BUD JOHNS

The recent news of a possible Zen rock garden on Cottage Row brought back memories of the late Sutter Marin, the Beat era artist and poet who was a garden lover and the only Cottage Row resident I’ve known.

My wife and I live with one of Marin’s paintings, Sister, Dear Sister, There’s a Rabbit in Your Garden. After years of hearing little about him, we learned recently of “The Beat Went On: Late Works by Sutter Marin,” an exhibition featuring his work and others of his milieu at Santa Rosa’s Calabi Gallery, with a ruth weiss poetry reading and jazz accompaniment.

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