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Frank Lloyd Wright tiles created here

ARCHITECT Aaron Green, who lived in a neighborhood apartment overlooking Lafayette Park for many years, helped Frank Lloyd Wright establish a San Francisco office in 1951 at 319 Grant Avenue.

Green’s mother-in-law, Jeannette Pauson Haber, lived at 2510 Jackson Street, on Alta Plaza Park, with her sister, Rose Pauson, who was a former client of Wright’s. In 1940 she had built the Pauson House in Arizona, which had been destroyed by fire in 1943. 

Rose was a painter, and Jeannette a ceramicist. When Wright decided to create red tiles, inscribed with his initials, to be affixed to a select number of his buildings, he asked Jeannette to fabricate them. Wright provided a drawing of what he wanted; Jeannette formed the tiles; Aaron Green inscribed the initials — FLLW — into each one; and Jeannette produced the “Taliesin red” glazed surface that Wright specified. 

Among the Bay Area buildings that Wright designated as worthy of bearing the tiles were the V.C. Morris shop on Maiden Lane — his only building in San Francisco and a precursor to the circular Guggenheim Museum in New York — and the Marin County Civic Center, which was completed by Aaron Green after Wright’s death.

— From Frank Lloyd Wright and San Francisco, by Paul V. Turner, published by Yale University Press.

Inside the Palace Cafe

LOCAL HISTORY | THOMAS REYNOLDS

For decades local residents have walked down the block of Fillmore between Bush and Sutter and wondered about the sign hanging out over the sidewalk: Palace Cafe, it says, above a bright red Dr Pepper logo.

The cafe has been closed at least 30 years. For many of those years the sign was mostly obscured by the overgrown ficus trees that lined the block. After the trees came down a few months ago, the question came more frequently: “What’s up with the Palace Cafe?” It was said to be set up just as it was when it was last open for business back in the 1970s. But nobody seemed to know for sure.

Then one recent Saturday morning, while walking up the street from the Fillmore Farmers Market, a neighbor noticed the door to the long-shuttered cafe ajar. He knocked while pushing it open. Inside he met Dr. Jan Dickey, one of the grandchildren of the couple who bought the building back in the 1940s when they were part of the wave of black migration from the South. Some of their descendants still live in the flats upstairs. 

Dickey had come over from his home in the East Bay to the building where he grew up to finally start clearing out the cafe. He said his family had decided, with encouragement from the city’s new crackdown on vacant storefronts, they should empty the space and offer it for rent, perhaps as an office or a shop. They wanted to honor his grandfather, he said, and his grandmother, who willed — and prayed — the building into the family’s fold as its home in the heart of the Fillmore.

“May I take photos?” the visitor asked. They offer a glimpse of the old Fillmore untouched by time.

EARLIER: “Frozen in time

Watching San Francisco burn

Watching the fire after the 1906 earthquake from Lafayette Square.

LOCAL HISTORY | BRIDGET MALEY

A series of photographs taken during and just after the 1906 earthquake and fire reveals the sense of the fear and dread neighborhood residents must have felt at the time. The fire, which crossed to the west side of Van Ness Avenue between Sutter and Clay Streets, was halted by the U.S. Army’s defensive dynamiting, which included purposefully destroying some of the city’s most elaborate mansions. 

The photographs illustrate just how the marching fire must have raised the alarm near Lafayette Square. The images, all in the collection of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and taken by either Frank or Gregory Padilla. The Padillas apparently had a studio on Washington Street, but not much is known about the family of photographers. 

Looking east on Washington Street after the 1906 earthquake.

When the earthquake hit, there were only three houses facing the square on the block of Gough Street between Washington and Clay. One image, looking east down Washington Street, shows a mishmash of fencing and billboard advertising at the corner of Washington and Gough. A portion of the three houses peek out from behind the park’s hilly terrain. While all three dwellings survived the earthquake, only two remain; the third was replaced in 1912.

The remarkable images taken from Lafayette Square during those fateful days in April of 1906 provide a glimpse of events as they were happening. The photographers captured spectators watching the fire consume the city. The images hold the event frozen in time with a backdrop of what the blocks around the square would have looked like as it all unfolded.

Watching the fire from Lafayette Square. Bancroft Library photographs.

The ’89 quake in the Fillmore

St. Rose Academy, at Pine and Pierce, was torn down after the 1989 earthquake.

ON OCTOBER 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the Fillmore and the rest of the Bay Area. The neighborhood was spared major damage, but felt the effects of the quake in ways large and small. The most visible local damage was at St. Dominic’s Church, where the top of the tower was lost and the historic home of St. Rose Academy was razed.  

St. Rose Academy, a Catholic high school for girls, was completed only a few months before the 1906 earthquake, but survived — only to be torn down after the 1989 earthquake when seismic concerns were raised.

Katherine Petrin, an architectural historian, San Francisco native and St. Rose graduate, class of ’81, observes: “The feeling at the start of the 1989-90 school year was that St. Rose was experiencing some uncertainty. This was spurred in part by St. Ignatius College Prep becoming coeducational a few years earlier and the desire of the Dominican order to focus its educational mission at other facilities in Marin. After the October ’89 earthquake, many St. Rose alumnae were none too pleased when the Dominican Sisters claimed the building could not be seismically retrofitted.”

Soon several alumnae formed Save St. Rose!, a group advocating not necessarily for continued educational use, but that a compatible new use could be found for the building, generating income to pay for the project. Partnering with San Francisco Architectural Heritage, the Save St. Rose! group put forward a study, confirmed that federal and state funds were available and presented preservation alternatives to the city Planning Commission and the community.  However, on June 26, 1991, the San Francisco Board of Permit Appeals upheld the Planning Commission’s approval of a permit to demolish St. Rose. 

An earlier St. Dominic’s Church building was heavily damaged by the 1906 earthquake and later torn down and replaced by a new Gothic building in 1928. The highly decorative lantern that extended for decades from the top of its tower was damaged and removed after the ’89 quake. Flying buttresses were later added to strengthen the walls of the church and support its stained glass windows.

— Bridget Maley

The top of the tower at St. Dominic’s Church was damaged and removed.

READ MORE: Locals drew together after the quake at the Pacific Heights Bar & Grill, then a key community gathering place, which never recovered from the earthquake.

Reminders of a local pharmacy empire

The tiles from Shumate’s Pharmacy remain at Blue Bottle Coffee on Fillmore.

LOCAL HISTORY | Story & Photographs by JOAN HOCKADAY

On the southwest corner of Fillmore and Jackson, the modern new home of Blue Bottle Coffee serves long lines of coffee lovers from early morning through late afternoon. 

Customers enter by stepping over vintage black and white tiles that spell out Shumate’s — a reminder that this was once a Shumate’s Pharmacy, one of 30 that for a time were spread throughout the city.

Each of the Shumate family pharmacies was located on a visible corner site in the city beginning in 1900, when the state issued a business license to Dr. Thomas Shumate.

The first pharmacy was at the corner of Divisadero and Sutter, only three blocks from the Shumate family home on a large corner lot at Pine and Scott Streets. The restored Shumate home and garden still remain at 1901 Scott Street. Thomas Shumate’s son, Dr. Albert Shumate, lived there until his death in 1998 at age 94.

The firm grew quickly after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

“Father was only a struggling doctor, so to speak, a physician, and owned one drugstore,” Dr. Albert Shumate said in an oral history recorded in 1978 for the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. “The fire and earthquake in a way aided him. His store was not touched. Some of the drugstores downtown that were well established were destroyed. Some of them didn’t rebuild. Father said the earthquake really helped him financially because Divisadero Street, like Fillmore, became quite a center of the city after the earthquake.”

By 1933, the city directory listed 30 Shumate pharmacies on corners throughout the city, with a general office at 1640 Divisadero. All have since closed.

Recently two more new businesses have opened with vintage Shumate’s tiles intact.

Owner Claudio Villani at AltoVino at Mason and Pacific.

At the southeast corner of Mason and Pacific, along the cable car line, Italian wine connoisseur Claudio Villani recently purchased the corner site and christened his restaurant AltoVino. He soon connected the Shumate legacy in the tiles on his doorstep to his own mission. “We give you medicine and pleasure, too,” Villani said while watching cable cars grinding uphill outside his shop. “Food — that is medicine, and good and healthy, too.”

On the southwest corner of California Street and 23rd Avenue, another new eatery also retained the Shumate tiles on its doorstep.  

The entry tiles at Pearl 6101 at 6101 California Street.

Inside Pearl 6101 — the name a convenient reminder of the address at 6101 California Street — the decor is a throwback to the 1930s and 1940s. A wooden balcony remains from the original pharmacy.

“We designed it that way,” co-owner John Heffron said. As for saving the Shumate tiles, he says: “We liked it as a reminder of the history of San Francisco.”

Shumate’s Pharmacies listed in a 1933 city directory.

When Gorbachev stopped by Dino’s

Photograph of Fillmore & California by Daniel Bahmani

FLASHBACK | RICHARD SPRITZER

IT WAS ONLY a few months after the 1989 earthquake when Mikhail Gorbachev, still president of the still superpowerful Soviet Union, made a swing through San Francisco in early June of 1990.

It was a brief 22-hour stay, which included sleeping late on Monday morning, June 4. Gorbachev and his wife Raisa had flown in late the night before, after stops in Washington and Minneapolis, and stayed in the neighborhood at the Soviet consul general’s residence at 2820 Broadway. Gorbachev was behind schedule all day, but still feted like a visiting rock star in appearances at Stanford University and with the local business elite. The Gorbachevs even worked in a reunion with old friends Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

“The Bay Area basked in the afterglow of a visit by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev,” reported the Los Angeles Times, “happy to show the world it has rebounded from last fall’s earthquake.”

Late in the afternoon, Gorbachev and his retinue headed back to the consul general’s mansion on Outer Broadway. Their motorcade of fierce-looking Zil limousines came barreling down the hill headed west on California Street toward Fillmore.

When he spotted a group of two dozen people waving on the corner, the procession came to a halt. Gorbachev bounded out of the big boxy Zil and started shaking hands like a veteran American pol. 

The Chronicle reported the next day: 

Gorbachev stopped only once to mingle with a crowd of ordinary people — at about 6:15 p.m. at California and Fillmore streets. He walked toward the people on the street, and they surged toward him. Others ran out of Dino’s pizza parlor, the corner liquor store and the neighborhood copy center.

“Usually you don’t have occasion to see somebody so important so close,” said Felix Nager, who works at the copy center. “He’s like a normal man.”

Norm Newman, a 30-year-old ex-U.S. Marine, was so overcome he screamed, “I love you, Gorby!” Later, after he had shaken Gorbachev’s hand, he said, “What I did for 10 years in the Marines was completely opposite to what that man stands for. But he’s opening the doors. He’s a very likeable guy.”

Dino Stavrikikis, who owns the pizza shop, said Gorbachev was the most famous man he had ever met — and he’s met Ronnie Lott, the famous 49er, Sleepy Floyd, the basketball player, and Jerry Brown, the politician. 
“I would have liked it if he would have come in for a piece of pizza,” Dino said.

Inevitably, there were T-shirts for sale all over the city. At Broadway and Divisadero, two blocks from the Soviet consular residence, shirts portrayed Gorbachev as Bart Simpson, with the words “Radical Dude” underneath.

Not far from the Soviet consular residence where the Gorbachevs made their headquarters, a large house displayed a pre-revolutionary Russian flag and a picture of the last czar.

Although Gorbachev and his wife went separate ways for most of the day, they met again at 6:33 p.m. at the consular residence on Broadway.

The stop at Dino’s had lasted only a few minutes. The return to 2820 Broadway didn’t last much longer. A visit to the Golden Gate Bridge was called off because of the tight schedule.

“I always wanted to come here,” Gorbachev told reporters as his motorcade started to leave for the airport. “You’re very fortunate to live here. President Bush should tax the people for living in such a beautiful place.”

Honoring Japantown’s founders

The new Zen garden at Cottage Row and Sutter Street.

NEARLY FOUR YEARS after it was first proposed, a new garden honoring the founders of Japantown will be dedicated this weekend at the foot of Cottage Row, near Fillmore and Sutter.

It began as a celebration of the creation of Japantown in 1906 after the earthquake and fire. Cottage Row was occupied primarily by the first, or Issei, generation of Japanese-Americans in the early 20th century, making it an apt location. But some neighbors objected, and the garden became the topic of contentious community meetings.

The idea prevailed. On August 19, master Japanese gardener Shigeru Namba began arranging a truckload of stones according to traditional Zen principles intended to inspire peace and tranquility.

The garden will be dedicated on September 21 at 6:30 p.m., with neighbors invited to attach multicolored origami cranes — a symbol of peace — to bamboo sticks in the garden.

EARLIER: “Zen garden back on again

Palace Cafe: frozen in time

The Palace Cafe at 1843 Fillmore Street has been shuttered for decades.

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

Frozen in time, the Palace Cafe at 1843 Fillmore Street has been shuttered for decades. It’s said still to be set up just as it was the last time the door opened many years ago, but it seems a safe bet the tiny cafe will not re-open any time soon.

Now that the big ficus trees out front have been chopped down, the sign for the cafe is visible again, complete with its bright Dr Pepper logo. People are taking notice — and city officials are, too. A sign was posted on the front door of the cafe a few weeks ago by the Department of Building Inspection declaring it “unsafe and/or a public nuisance.” A new city ordinance penalizes property owners who leave storefronts empty — and this one has been empty for decades.

In the 1940s, it was the Fillmore Chop Suey Cafe, a hotspot with a towering neon blade. By the ’50s, Dr. Leonal V. Dickey had acquired the building, which housed three apartments plus his dental practice over the cafe. His family still owns it, and his son, also a dentist, still has a dental office there. Family members still live in the flats upstairs, but are private about past and present. 

When the Fillmore was ravaged by urban renewal in the 1960s and ’70s, the neighborhood “was desolate with windblown empty tracts of land,” the younger Dr. Dickey told a visiting reporter last year. He said the Palace Cafe “became a meeting place for healthcare professionals and community stakeholders whose goal was the improvement of health, education and housing for the underserved population,” including displaced residents, small business owners and public school children in the Western Addition.

Today, neglected and tomb-silent, the cafe, with its old-style slatted glass windows, looks like days gone by. Dr. Dickey said the family had thought of remodeling and reopening the cafe, but the cost and effort of getting it up to code derailed the idea. Perhaps the new city ordinance tightening the screws on empty storefronts will change that. 

Francine Brevetti contributed to this report.

It was still the Palace Chop Suey Cafe in 1964. Photo: SF Public Library

Moving the Victorians

The Redevelopment Agency engineered the move of Victorians to new locations.

By CARLO MIDDIONE

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, I worked at San Francisco’s Redevelopment Agency in my desire to conquer the world’s ills and to help make people safer, happier and more comfortable.

Long before my wife Lisa and I opened our restaurant Vivande on Fillmore Street, which we operated for three decades, I was the supervisor of community relations for the A-2 project in the Western Addition. My primary job was to make friends with the community and garner support for Redevelopment Agency programs — and to make sure residents knew what the programs were for and what they were supposed to do for them, even though this proved to generate plenty of conflict at times. 

Some programs were good, like homemaking, which included learning to sew so that new curtains could be made at a fraction of the cost of buying them; learning furniture refinishing; learning nutritious cooking methods and selecting food to reflect the highest yield of nutrition for the money spent, with easier and more cheerful ways to cook that removed the drudge factor. 

Child care was always at the fore. There were so many children, and parents at risk of being too tired and frustrated raising them that they had no time or energy for anything else. Then there were programs to encourage folks to attend classes day or night at local schools to improve their job prospects or simply to study subjects that might interest them.

As time wore on and my interplay with many families and agencies and entities increased, along came The Move. 

(more…)

Celebrating Fillmore as ‘the new Market Street’

Collection of Iris Fuller/Fillamento

FLASHBACK | BARBARA KATE REPA

After the 1906 earthquake and fire, when Fillmore Street was hailed as the “new Market Street of the municipality,” local officials marked its newfound celebrity with a ribald 10-day Fillmore Street Carnival in the fall that stretched from Fulton to Sacramento. 

Heartened by the successes of the first few carnivals, the sponsoring Fillmore Street Improvement Association vowed to make the 1913 event the biggest yet. Metal arches with elaborate lighting crossed the intersections, and local storekeepers were exhorted to decorate their windows and storefronts.

The carnival kicked off with an evening parade that began at Market and New Montgomery Streets, then came down Golden Gate to Fillmore. The processional was complete with bands and floats “constructed with the same lavish disregard for expense that marked the street decorations” — including one float featuring a Hawaiian scene with an active volcano.

“The spirit of the fiesta took complete possession of those who had come from many parts of town to pay their respects to Fillmore Street, and the fun was not long reaching the point of hilarity,” the Chronicle reported. “Midnight arrived all but unnoticed and the dance went on and on until the musicians finally packed their instruments and left the bandstand.”

There was behind-the-scenes drama in the hotly contested race to become Fillmore Street Queen and reign over the event. Though the winner would not be announced until opening day, a first-time competitor, Miss Ray Leake, considered herself a shoo-in. “Miss Leake has a host of friends working for her and they are all as confident that she will be returned the winner,” the Chronicle reported.

Alas, Miss Leake’s hopes were dashed in the early morning hours of September 26, 1913, when Miss Maxine Hutchinson, a resident of Fillmore and O’Farrell, was named queen, handily winning the race by more than 12,000 votes. Miss Leake was not mentioned in the top 10 finalists.

Succeeding queens were tarnished by bad luck and perfidy. The 1914 queen, Manilla Matney, who later became an actress, was reportedly injured in an accident at a local hotel. In 1915, Annie Rosenwein of Buchanan Street, a candidate for queen at age 16, pressed “statutory charges” against Henry J. Kearney, a carnival committee member described as “33 years old and married.”