The loneliness of being black in San Francisco

Signs on the long-shuttered Muni substation on Fillmore Street.

Signs on the long-shuttered Muni substation on Fillmore Street. New York Times photo.

By THOMAS FULLER
The New York Times

Gerald Harris was walking along Ocean Beach, the blustery coastline at the western edge of the city, when he passed Danny Glover, a star of Hollywood action movies and a San Francisco native. The men exchanged glances.

“We were the only two black people in the area,” Mr. Harris said.

San Francisco was once a national beacon of African-American culture, home to a thriving jazz scene that had so many clubs it was known as the Harlem of the West. But these days, blacks say they take notice when they see another African-American in affluent and middle-class neighborhoods.

The jazz clubs of the Fillmore neighborhood have been replaced with upscale shops. Marcus Books, a cultural anchor of the black community and one of the first bookshops in the nation to focus on African-American topics, closed in 2014. Other black landmarks that have long since disappeared are commemorated with remembrances embedded in the sidewalk like tombstones to a forgotten culture.

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Conjuring a musical moment

ROCK & ROLL impresario Bill Graham helped launch a new era in both music and performance when he began presenting shows at the Fillmore Auditorium in the ’60s. He also helped launch a new art form by commissioning artists to create posters to promote and commemorate the shows, a practice that continues today.

MORE: The art of the Fillmore

It’s our 30th

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IN MAY 1986, founding editor and publisher David Ish published Volume 1, Number 1, of the New Fillmore — the premiere issue.

The name was a bit of a joke. The Fillmore had forever been reinventing itself, from its roots as a Jewish neighborhood, then a Japanese neighborhood, then the Harlem of the West, which sported the New Fillmore Hotel and the New Fillmore Theater. The early ’80s brought another new era as upper Fillmore began to emerge as a bustling shopping and dining district and the surrounding area became an ever more desirable place to live.

We took over the newspaper in June 2006, so this issue also marks our 10th anniversary. It has been an eventful decade. As Fillmore Street has been transformed into a coveted location for international fashion and cosmetics brands, many of the one-of-a-kind shops and essential services that made it so attractive have been squeezed out. The street, in some ways, has become a victim of its own success.

Yet this neighborhood remains a wonderful place to live, with a rich history, a vibrant economy and many tales to tell. Thank you for inviting us into your homes every month.

Barbara Kate Repa
Thomas R. Reynolds

At Soko Hardware, it’s the mix that works

Eunice Ashizawa and her nephew Aaron Katekaru help run Soko Hardware in Japantown.

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

After Masayasu Ashizawa came from Japan to San Francisco nearly a century ago, he opened a hardware store in 1925 in the heart of bustling Japantown and named it Soko — Japanese for “that place.” Soko Hardware’s founder could not have imagined the family business would be thriving in that place today under the management of his grandson Philip, born years after his grandfather died.

Soko Hardware, at 1698 Post Street, thrives not just as a local hardware store, but also as a destination for Bay Area residents and visitors who come for the paper lanterns or the authentic teapots or the delicate china — sometimes even for the hardware.

“I think of going to Soko as a special treat, like going to a museum and finding things I didn’t know existed,” says Mill Valley resident Sue Steele. (more…)

Bagels with a side of history

WISE SONS Bagel & Bakery opened its doors at 1520 Fillmore on February 26 and enthusiastic crowds were waiting. Again there is an authentic Jewish bakery in a neighborhood where many were located a century ago, when the Fillmore was home to a large Jewish community.

San Francisco muralist Amos Goldbaum captured the era in a mural on the north wall after Wise Sons co-owner Evan Bloom told him about the neighborhood’s Jewish heritage.

Says Goldbaum: “I researched historic photos and found some that included street cars and the iconic metal arches over each intersection, which were erected by the Fillmore merchants, many of them Jewish, to promote business. They were eventually removed to use as scrap metal for World War II. I wanted to add more to the street scene, so I also looked at historic photos of the Lower East Side, Jewish mecca and birthplace of my late grandfather. I was happy to find pictures of pushcart vendors selling challa, pickles and, of course, bagels. The resulting scene is Lower East Side on Fillmore, an amalgam of New York street life and San Francisco streetscape.”

WALKING TOUR: “Jews of the Fillmore

The Fillmore getting a jazzier sign

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A NEW MARQUEE is in the works for the legendary Fillmore Auditorium at Geary and Fillmore.

The Planning Commission has unanimously approved changes to the city’s sign ordinance that would permit a 60-foot-tall vertical blade proclaiming both the storied rock ’n’ roll venue and the surrounding neighborhood. Currently signs can be no higher than 24 feet. The proposal now goes before the Board of Supervisors.

The new marquee would replace both the existing Fillmore sign, which rarely functions, and the illuminated check cashing signs below it. Drawings of the new sign considered by the Planning Commission report were said to be placeholders while the law is changed. The final design of the new sign is expected to be more artistically exciting.

Planning staff noted that because the building opened as the Majestic — a dance hall — it never had a historic marquee. It became the Fillmore Auditorium in 1954.

Facing the future in Japantown

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By TOMO HIRAI
Nichi Bei Weekly

At the dawn of its 110th year, San Francisco’s Japantown faces challenges in maintaining its identity as a regional hub of Japanese and Japanese American culture. About five decades since the Japan Center was built, many of the neighborhood’s longtime business owners have come of retirement age. As these businesses close, the neighborhood faces questions on how it should promote itself and preserve its legacy.

Read more: “The state of Japantown’s businesses

When the P.O. was on Post

The neighborhood post office was located at 1949 Post Street circa 1950.

The neighborhood post office was located at 1949 Post Street (right) circa 1950.

FLASHBACK

Before the neighborhood post office moved to 1849 Geary, where it stands today, it was around the corner on Steiner. And before that, it was at 1949 Post. The building now houses Ace Hardware. A cleaners remains next door, but with a new name.

The 1900 block of Post Street today.

The 1900 block of Post Street today.

Diary paints life as an internee

Daisy and Yonekazu Satoda in their apartment in Japantown.

Daisy and Yonekazu Satoda in their apartment in Japantown.

By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN
The New York Times

Until recently, Yonekazu Satoda says, he did not recall the diary he had written in neat cursive in the laundry building of an internment camp in Arkansas. He would eke out his entries at night amid the washboards and concrete sinks, the only private space in the camp with light.

Satoda, who gives his age as “94½,” was 22 when he and his family were uprooted from their home in San Francisco and sent to an assembly center in Fresno, and then to the Jerome Relocation Center in the mosquito-ridden Arkansas Delta. They were among an estimated 120,000 people of Japanese descent, about two-thirds of them United States citizens, who were regarded as enemy aliens and incarcerated after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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An Argonaut in Cow Hollow

The Pixley estate occupied the entire wooded block bounded by Green, Steiner, Union and Fillmore Streets.

In this view from Vallejo and Scott Streets, circa 1893, Frank Pixley’s estate occupied the entire forested block bounded by Green, Steiner, Union and Fillmore Streets.

LOCAL HISTORY | SANDY STADTFELD

More than 120 years after Frank Pixley — California pioneer, businessman, former state Attorney General and longtime editor and publisher of The Argonaut — enabled the construction of a church on his family’s property at Union and Steiner Streets, it remains the vibrant home of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin.

Yet Pixley was an unlikely benefactor. Openly hostile toward churches and churchmen of any denomination,  he described himself as “an agnostic with a touch of atheism.”

Frank Pixley

Frank Pixley

After studying law in his home state of New York and practicing briefly in Michigan, Pixley came to California in 1849 in pursuit of gold. Learning quickly there were easier and more prestigious occupations than placer mining, Pixley entered legal practice and civic life in San Francisco. In 1853, he married Amelia van Reynegom, daughter of a merchant sea captain with extensive property in Marin County in what would become Corte Madera. Gaining stature as an attorney and politician, Pixley was elected California’s Attorney General in 1861 and later served as a regent of the University of California.

Pixley inherited land just east of San Francisco’s Presidio and was among the earliest gentrifiers of Cow Hollow, until then a bucolic enclave of laundries, vegetable gardens, breweries, tanneries and dairy farms. The Pixleys built their estate on the block bounded by Union, Steiner, Green and Fillmore Streets. The entire block was a forested compound, the gracious Pixley mansion screened from the outside world in a central grove.

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