The wedding cake that wasn’t

A drawing of 2302 Steiner Street from 1896, when it was built.

A drawing of 2302 Steiner Street from 1896, when it was built. From the Chronicle.

LOCAL HISTORY | LIV JENKS

Sunnie Evers had been living at 2302 Steiner Street for nearly a decade. One day while she was standing in front of her house, a woman stopped to talk. She told Evers that Adolph Sutro — land magnate, capitalist, philanthropist and short-lived mayor of San Francisco — had built her house for his mistress. The woman, who Evers believes was Sutro’s granddaughter, pointed across the street to Alta Plaza Park and said Sutro designed the park to look like the wedding cake his mistress would never have.

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Cottage Row Zen garden moves forward

Issei

A PLAN TO CREATE a Japanese Zen rock garden at the foot of Cottage Row has been green-lighted by the Planning Department and is scheduled for a go-ahead vote on June 15.

The garden would honor the first generation of Japanese residents in San Francisco, the Issei, who established Japantown in its current location 110 years ago after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

The memorial was proposed last year by leaders and supporters of the nearby Japanese Cultural and Community Center, who enlisted renowned gardeners Shigeru Namba and Isao Ogura to create a garden on the Sutter Street side of Cottage Row that would honor the Issei generation.

“Cottage Row is the only place in Japantown they would recognize,” said Paul Osaki, director of the center, because the rest of the neighborhood was torn down and remade during redevelopment in the 1960s.

Osaki presented the proposal last year at a series of five sometimes raucous neighborhood meetings. Some neighbors disputed the Japanese heritage of Cottage Row and insisted that any memorial should honor everyone who had lived in the area.

A subsequent review of census records showed that Cottage Row was in fact occupied almost entirely by Japanese-Americans until they and the other residents of Japantown were interned during World War II.

After committee review on June 1, the Cottage Row proposal is slated to come before the city’s Recreation and Park Commission on June 15. The commission agenda describes the plan as “an in-kind grant valued at approximately $56,000.”

A staff report notes that the garden plan is supported by 100 nearby residents, 23 community organizations and 463 people who signed petitions, in addition to supervisors London Breed and Aaron Peskin. Ten nearby residents and one other person registered their opposition to the plan.

EARLIER: “Zen garden sparks a fight

Harlem of the West revisited

Harlem-new

LONG BEFORE they met, Lewis Watts and Elizabeth Pepin Silva had something in common: Both had wandered into Red’s Shoe Shine Parlor at 1549 Fillmore to inquire about the extensive collection of vintage photographs of Fillmore’s jazz joints that lined his walls.

And both had been kicked out.

Before he could return to try again, Watts learned that Red Powell had died and his treasure trove of photographs had apparently been lost. Only years later would he learn they had in fact been saved — and were in the back room of Reggie Pettus’s New Chicago Barbershop.

Those photographs became the backbone of a remarkable neighborhood history, Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era, co-authored by Silva and Watts and published by Chronicle Books in 2006. The photographs were widely exhibited and the book sold out. A second edition was published in 2008. But by 2010 the book was out of print and hard to find.

“I couldn’t go on Fillmore without somebody asking about the book,” says Watts. “So we decided to republish it ourselves” — and do it the way they had always thought it should be done.

The third edition, which premiered April 29, is bigger and better in every way. It is larger, with more prominent photographs, and it includes a hundred more pages, more elegantly designed, and many more photographs and oral histories.

Among the most significant additions: photographs and oral histories from exotic dancer Lottie “the Body” Claiborne, discovered living in Detroit, and club owner Leola King, who had initially refused to participate.

“When she saw the book, she realized we were being respectful,” says Silva.

Distribution of the new edition is still being arranged. For now, copies are available online. An exhibition of photographs from the book is now showing at the African American Arts and Cultural Complex at 762 Fulton Street.

“I’m already thinking of things I could look into further,” says Silva. “I never thought this was a lifetime project. This neighborhood has gotten into me.”

MORE: Jazz clubs in the Fillmore

Finding ‘Lotte the Body’

“Lottie the Body” and T-Bone Walker on stage at Fillmore’s Champagne Supper Club.

“Lottie the Body” and T-Bone Walker on stage at Fillmore’s Champagne Supper Club.

LOTTIE CLAIBORNE studied dance as a teen in New York. While modeling, she was given the name “Lottie the Body” and quickly became known as an accomplished dancer, sharing the bill with well-known musicians and singers, including Carmen McRae, and entertainer Redd Foxx.

In the early 1950s, she relocated to the Bay Area and became one of the most popular dancers in the Fillmore clubs. She met Harlem Globetrotter Goose Tatum at the Champagne Supper Club and the two became a fixture in the neighborhood.

“The club was big and beautiful,” Lottie remembers. “Mixed. The show started at midnight. The last show was at 5 in the morning. You know, it was like that in San Francisco. Exciting.”

She now lives in Detroit, and her oral history and photographs from her collection have been added to the new edition of Harlem of the West.

Author Elizabeth Pepin Silva meets Lottie Claiborne in Detroit.

Author Elizabeth Pepin Silva meets Lottie Claiborne in Detroit.

Harlem of the West is back

David Johnson’s photograph of the Melrose Record Shop in 1947 — or is it?

David Johnson’s photograph of the Melrose Record Shop in 1947 — or is it?

AFTER BEING out of print for more than seven years, a new and expanded second edition of Harlem of the West — along with a companion website and exhibition — will be unveiled at the end of the month.

The photo and history book celebrating Fillmore’s jazz era in the 1940s and ’50s was originally published by Chronicle Books in 2006 and captured a pivotal moment in neighborhood history.  It has been out of print since 2010, despite continuing demand.

Eventually authors Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts decided to launch the Harlem of the West Project to update and expand the book. They added newly discovered photographs and memorabilia, as well as additional interviews with those who lived and played in the Fillmore during its glory days.

The new book has a larger format and contains nearly 100 more pages and 200 rare images, many of them previously unpublished. It includes new firsthand accounts from musicians, nightclub patrons and former residents of the Fillmore when it was the city’s premier black neighborhood.

Among the new discoveries: A widely published photograph of the Melrose Record Shop at 1226 Fillmore — where author Maya Angelou worked as a youngster when she was known as Marguerite Johnson — was instead a photograph of Rhythm Records at 1980 Sutter, also owned by David Rosenbaum, next door to the Homestead Ravioli Factory at 1970 Sutter and just down the block from Jack’s Tavern.

Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era will be released on April 29 at a celebration from 3 to 7 p.m. at the African American Art & Culture Complex at 762 Fulton. An exhibition continues there through June 1.

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.

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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‘Pacific Nights’ at the Lion Pub

A stained glass window at the Lion Pub at 2062 Divisadero.

A stained glass window at the Lion Pub at 2062 Divisadero.

LONGTIME LOCAL business owner Kelly Ellis has died after a long illness and his Lion Pub at 2062 Divisadero is now closed after 48 years.

The Lion Pub holds a storied place in the city’s gay history, tucked discreetly off the beaten path in a jungle of greenery at Divisadero and Sacramento. More recently, it catered to a mixed neighborhood clientele.

In a 2015 bar column headlined “Pacific Nights,” the Bay Area Reporter recalled the Lion Pub as one of three gay bars in the neighborhood. In the 1980s, it was “the domain of that now rare commodity known as the sweater queen.” But after the onset of AIDS, “The decline of the gayborhood in Pacific Heights and environs was remarkably swift.”

lionpub1

MORE: “Pacific Nights: The Lion Pub and other lost gay dens

How Japanese was Cottage Row?

The 1930 U.S. Census shows Cottage Row occupied by Japanese-Americans.

SOME NEIGHBORHOOD CRITICS of a plan to create a memorial Zen rock garden on the Sutter Street side of Cottage Row have disputed historical sources that say Cottage Row was primarily occupied by Japanese-Americans before they were evacuated and interned during World War II.

The critics are wrong.

A review of census records and city directories shows that Cottage Row was almost exclusively occupied by residents of Japanese descent from 1920 until they were incarcerated in 1942.

The 1920 U.S. Census shows that five of the six cottages had residents with Japanese surnames. That was still the case when the 1930 census was taken.

The San Francisco Street Directory listings of Pacific Telephone Co. from 1933, 1936 and 1940 confirm the overwhelming Japanese presence on Cottage Row.

“The six cottages were almost exclusively Japanese,” said architectural historian Bridget Maley, who retrieved and reviewed the census records and city directories from the pre-war era.

“There are also lots of Japanese names in the adjacent blocks of Sutter, Webster and Bush,” Maley said.

EARLIER: “Cottage Row Zen garden sparks a fight