Weir cooking in the neighborhood

Joanne Weir's cooking shows on PBS are filmed in her home kitchen on Pine Street.

Joanne Weir’s cooking shows on PBS are filmed in her home kitchen near Fillmore.

NEIGHBORHOOD CELEBRITY CHEF and cooking teacher Joanne Weir is launching a new public television series — her eighth — focusing on complete menus from fresh, local ingredients. “Joanne Weir Gets Fresh,” like her two most recent series, “Joanne Weir’s Cooking Class” and “Joanne Weir’s Cooking Confidence,” will be filmed partly in the neighborhood.

“Many people don’t realize that kitchen is my home kitchen studio right here in the neighborhood,” she says. “For a few years, I shot in the studio at KQED and, though I liked it, I love being in my own kitchen. When I open a drawer, I know what I’m going to find inside. And if we run out of something, we can always run over to Mollie Stone’s or Whole Foods.”

In the new series, she will also step out of the kitchen to spots in Northern California and beyond searching for fresh ingredients, exploring organic tomato farms and walnut orchards, visiting fig growers and cheese producers — even fishing in Alaska. Using seasonings from Spice Ace, the neighborhood’s spice emporium, the show’s menus will be inspired by the farmers, butchers, fishermen and cheese makers featured along the way.

As in her previous shows, she will be joined in her kitchen by special guests, including several principal dancers from the San Francisco Ballet. For the broadcast schedule, visit her site.

Shell garage closing January 31

Owner Doug Fredell and his fellow mechanic Chelse Batti have built a loyal clientele.

Owner Doug Fredell and his fellow mechanic Chelse Batti have built a loyal clientele.

DESPITE AN OUTPOURING of support from its customers in the neighborhood, Shell Auto Repair at 2501 California will close January 31.

UPDATE: Just as they were preparing to pack up their tools and shut down, the mechanics at Shell Auto Repair got a three-month reprieve. The business will continue through April 30, giving its two mechanics extra time to find a new location.

“We’re going to see about lining up an alternative location for the shop,” said owner Doug Fredell. “If not, we’ll close. We at least have a fighting chance.”

The owners of the Shell station have submitted plans to the city that would eliminate the garage, add gas pumps and replace the current building with a two-story 24-hour Loop Marketplace convenience store and cafe. The proposal is expected to come before the Planning Commission early in the new year.

More than 200 people signed an online petition opposing the plans and dozens sent letters and emails to City Hall.

Mechanic Doug Fredell, who has leased the garage for the past decade, said he and fellow mechanic Chelse Batti have been overwhelmed by the support they received from the community.

“The neighborhood really stepped forward,” Fredell said. “It’s pretty incredible to know people care that much.”

Ultimately, that support appears to have backfired. When the owner of the station, Nick Goyal, learned that officials at City Hall were listening to neighborhood sentiment against his plans, he notified Fredell he had to be out by January 31.

“It’s a lot cleaner to have the space empty for whatever they want to do,” said Fredell, who had a month-to-month lease. He sought legal advice about his options and found he had none.

Fredell said he has hired a broker to look for another space, preferably nearby, but has found nothing so far.

“Anything that’s a car repair shop is being turned into something else,” he said. “Too bad there isn’t a nice little place on Sutter Street, where everybody else is going.”

Fredell said he remains hopeful a new location will surface — perhaps through a client — in the new year.

“We spent a lot of time building up a good business,” Fredell said. “We wanted to be that place in the neighborhood that is indispensible to people.”

He said telling customers the garage has a definite closing date has been tough.

“Customers get so outraged,” he said. “They found a good place they liked and could trust.”

The garage has operated continuously on that corner for decades. It was owned by Bud Martinez for nearly 60 years. After Fredell took over, Martinez continued to work part time until his death in 2012.

EARLIER: “This Bud’s for you

‘The city’s most charming theater’

Michael Blythe at his frequent post behind the Clay Theater concession stand.

Michael Blythe at his frequent post behind the Clay Theater concession stand.

Q & A | MICHAEL BLYTHE

Michael Blythe has worked at the venerable Clay Theater at 2261 Fillmore Street for nearly a decade. In that time he’s had the opportunity to lavish his love of old theaters on the Clay, which is now more than 100 years old.

On New Year’s Eve he helped launch a new venture as the Oasis nightclub on 11th Street began a new life. But he’s not entirely leaving the Clay behind.

What first attracted you to the Clay Theater?

I come from a lighting background. When I was a kid I was obsessed with lights, and still am. I was a nightclub lighting director in San Francisco before I moved to Minnesota, where I honed my craft running large moving rigs for a couple of clubs downtown, including shows I did at the legendary First Avenue nightclub.

When I returned to SF I got the job at the Clay that allowed me to have the freedom to work shows, but also get into one of my other longstanding obsessions: old theaters.

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He found his niche

HE’D HAD A successful and rewarding career as a bookseller and then settled comfortably into retirement in his book-filled flat on Bush Street across from St. Dominic’s Church.

Then disaster struck Richard Hilkert.

Richard Hilkert (1928-2014)

Richard Hilkert (1928-2014)

He was walking home from a 78th birthday massage early on the afternoon of August 29, 2006, when a rampaging driver ran him over in the crosswalk at Sutter and Steiner. More than a dozen local residents were injured and one died when the deranged driver’s spree came to an end. Hilkert had a broken shoulder, but recovered — and found himself more popular than ever, his plight having received wide news coverage.

“I think people had forgotten I was still alive,” he said a few weeks later. “Now they’re calling and inviting me for lunch.”

So his charmed life continued for eight more years, until he died on October 9, 2014, at age 86.

Hilkert had continued to live alone in his apartment, surrounded by books and art and music, tended to by a caring circle of friends and neighbors — including those across the street at St. Dominic’s, where he was a member.

He was delighted when St. Dominic’s built a columbarium behind its main altar and he secured a niche for himself.

“I only have to move across the street,” he would say, having prepared detailed instructions for how he wanted his final rites to unfold.

That will happen on November 14 at 1 p.m. when a memorial service will be held in the Lady Chapel at St. Dominic’s.

A life in leather

Photograph of Peter James and Susanne Rundberg by Susie Biehler

Photographs of Fog City Leather’s Peter James and Susanne Rundberg by Susie Biehler

By Barbara Kate Repa

PETER JAMES STILL REMEMBERS when he got smitten by leather. He was about 10 years old, living in San Francisco, having immigrated with his family from Sweden four years earlier.

“I sat in my dad’s new 1955 Studebaker, and when I shut the door I was instantly intoxicated with the leather aroma,” he says. “It just knocked me out. It had black and white checkerboard upholstery — and it hit me like a thunderbolt. I was hooked.”

Becoming an artisan and a leathercrafter wasn’t on his radar screen back then, growing up in a family where the mantra repeated each night at dinner was: “Be willing to work a little harder.”

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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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