A tunnel under Fillmore

A drawing of the south portal to the Fillmore Street Tunnel at Fillmore and Sutter Streets.

A drawing of the south portal to the Fillmore Street Tunnel at Fillmore and Sutter Streets.

LOCAL HISTORY | PEGGY ZEIGLER

As San Francisco celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts is decked out in new paint and the Ferry Building is illuminated as it was in 1915. Re-creations of the expo grounds flash in the windows of the California Historical Society announcing its exhibition of City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair.

But the neighborhood connection to the exposition — that of the Fillmore Tunnel — is yet to be told. For that we must look back more than a century, to the fall of 1911.

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New life for an old garden

The house and garden at 1901 Scott Street in San Francisco circa 1980.

The house and garden at 1901 Scott Street in San Francisco circa 1880.

GARDENS | JOAN HOCKADAY

The cow is gone, the windmill torn down, the pharmacy delivery trucks missing from the garage behind the house. The gas pump and the water well no longer pump at all. But some reminders of the storied past of the historic Shumate house and garden at the corner of Pine and Scott remain — including the cobblestones.

Unearthing hidden cobblestones in any San Francisco garden is an instant reminder of the city’s Gold Rush days, when ships with cobblestones used as ballast sat in the harbor after sailors rushed for the gold fields. The heavy stones weighted down the ships during long voyages west, but after 1849 the ships — and the wood and the cobbles — were there for the taking.

After the city took its share to pave dusty or muddy streets, the abandoned stones were commandeered by treasure hunters of a different sort — and now adorn gardens around San Francisco, a link to the early days of the rush to gold.

One of the city’s oldest and largest gardens harbored just such a stash of stones when new owners purchased 1901 Scott Street in 1999. Fifteen years after moving in, they have kept the cobbles and the best of the old while adding modern essentials — and opening the house to the south-facing garden.

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Barry for Pets closing after 60 years

Mark Ulriksen's Dogs Only, set in Alta Plaza Park, is featured in his new book.

Mark Ulriksen’s Dogs Only, set in Alta Plaza Park, is featured in his new book.

By BARBARA KATE REPA

Barry for Pets at 1840 Fillmore, reputedly the oldest independent pet supply store in the city, is closing at the end of April after six decades on Fillmore Street.

“It comes to a point, with the demographic changes on the street, that this business just doesn’t pencil out anymore,” says owner Gary Collings.

“Now the big box stores have just done us in,” adds co-owner Alice Barkley. “If you look at the pet industry, the same thing is happening to us that happened to the pharmacy industry a while back: The small independent drug stores were put out of business by the big chains like Walgreen’s.”

Barry for Pets opened in the early 1950s up the street in the building in which original owner Janet Barry lived, at 2328 Fillmore, now occupied by Cottage Industry.

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Benevolent spinsters’ home now Allyne Park

Remnants of the Allyne house and gardens remain in Allyne Park.

Remnants of the Allyne house and gardens remain in what is now Allyne Park.

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

A llyne Park, at the corner of Green and Gough Streets, is a San Francisco gem for which I have a strong affection. It’s across the street from our home. The park, adjacent to the historic Octagon House, is a little plot of green that is a daily gathering place for neighborhood dogs and their human friends. While there is no playground, the park is a favorite hide-and-seek haunt for local kids, who mostly manage to co-exist with the dogs.

Named for the longtime owners of this large lot, the park includes the remnants of a garden landscape that once surrounded a grand Victorian-era house built sometime before 1886. A 1905 map of the property shows a large house with a rambling footprint and several small greenhouses.

At one point, the Allyne family owned all of the lots stretching from Green to Union along the west side of Gough Street, and several parcels along Green Street as well.

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Farewell to a Fillmore icon

BlueMirror

By ROCHELLE METCALFE

Independent, strong, a fighter, bold and daring, the Fillmore’s Leola King was a phenomenal woman — and a beautiful, sophisticated lady. The high yella Sepia Queen turned heads when she entered a room, divine in her furs, jewelry and glamorous outfits that fitted her style and personality. The lady was a star.

She passed away on February 3 in Palm Springs, where she moved in 2010 to be near her son. She was 96.

Leola King came to San Francisco in 1946. She was a fixture in the Fillmore District and contributed greatly to it becoming the “Harlem of the West.” She was one of the first women of color to own a nightclub and to build a real estate empire in the Bay Area. 

Leola King with her mother in the 1950s.

Leola King with her mother in the 1950s.


Her popular Blue Mirror club opened in 1953 on Fillmore near McAllister, featuring the likes of Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Dinah Washington. Pianist-crooner Earl Grant would fly up from L.A. to perform on Monday nights.

Goldie, as she was affectionately known by her friends, was also the name of her last nightclub, on Post Street near Van Ness. 

She lost most of her property during redevelopment. Like others, she received a voucher promising she could return. Unlike many, who could not afford to wait 10 years or more, Leola King had the fight and the money to hang on — but still did not get a piece of the action in the new Fillmore.

During the construction of the Jazz Heritage Center in 2006, she dreamed of reopening the Blue Mirror. When she learned the name would be used for a restaurant in the center without her permission or consultation, she threatened a lawsuit. Instead, the restaurant opened as 1300 on Fillmore.

At her homegoing on February 13 in the heart of the Western Addition at Third Baptist Church, Leola King was passionately eulogized by Rev. Amos Brown, former mayor Willie Brown and others.

Among those who came to express condolences were legendary Fillmore entertainers Sugar Pie DeSanto and Bobbie Webb, both still performing. A repast was held at West Bay Community Center on Fillmore, around the corner from her San Francisco apartment building on Eddy.

Read more: “Leola King: Queen of Fillmore

Millard’s took Fillmore dining upscale

Behind the counter at Millard's, which had one of Fillmore's first espresso machines.

Behind the counter at Millard’s, which had one of Fillmore’s first espresso machines.

LOCAL HISTORY | THOMAS REYNOLDS

Helen Brackley and Craig Silvestri were just another young neighborhood couple with dreams of starting their own restaurant.

“We both loved to cook,” says Silvestri. “So we just decided we’d open a little place with a limited menu and do crepes.”

But first they had to find a good location. It was a more innocent time — San Francisco in the mid-1970s — so they started sending out letters to different cafes and restaurants asking if the owners might be interested in selling or retiring.

“We looked all over,” Silvestri says, “in different neighborhoods and even up in St. Helena.”

They lived a few doors up Clay Street from Fillmore. One of the people who responded to their letters owned the Hob Nob cafe at 2197 Fillmore, a tiny sliver of a place that for decades was next door to the Clay Theater, which they could see from their front steps.

“The Hob Nob was pretty funky,” Silvestri remembers. “It had been there a long time and was not a very active place.”

The Hob Nob stood for decades by the Clay Theater in a sliver of a space.

Millard’s took over the Hob Nob cafe, which stood for decades next door to the Clay Theater.

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Forget Lower Pacific Heights — now it’s LoPa

By BARBARA KATE REPA

When Vasilios Kiniris opened a huge new home for Zinc Details, his upscale design and furniture emporium, last month at 1633 Fillmore in the former dollar store, he called it an “expansion” and a “remaking.”

Others called it brave. Or foolhardy.

But Kiniris, with 24 years of design and retail experience — most of it in the neighborhood — sees the move as a way to change with the times: to meet the needs of a changing demographic, to take his business in new directions and to build a sense of community among other independent business owners who call the area home.

“We’re stretching the goodness of Fillmore down the street,” he says.

It’s a tough stretch. Imbibing dudes hang out on the Geary bridge, chic by jowl with the line forming nearby for the best new restaurant in America, as the James Beard Foundation last year dubbed State Bird Provisions.

What was once the Western Addition is now Lower Pacific Heights, according to the real estate listings. But Kiniris has another idea. “We’re calling it LoPa,” he says.

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Alamo Square and the families who lived there

BOOKS | JOE PECORA

Very soon after I moved to the historic and architecturally rich Alamo Square neighborhood in 1979, the untold stories of its vintage housing stock piqued my curiosity. When I could discover very little photographic or written material, I began my own research and eventually composed old house profiles for the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association newsletter from the 1990s on. By personally contacting descendents of the early owners and occupants of these antique residences and institutional buildings, I was able to secure a wonderful trove of previously unpublished photos and family stories.

The sequence of the profiles was dictated by whichever homeowner in the neighborhood would agree to host an association meeting in their home. In exchange the owners would receive a house history by me and a drawing by former architect Jack Walsh.

Now I have gathered these profiles, drawings and photographs into a new book called The Storied Houses of Alamo Square.

Many of the homes in the Alamo Square Historic District were designed by some of the city’s most prominent architects and contractor-builders for a clientele that included a number of the downtown’s prosperous businessmen. Several families residing here were listed in the pages of Our Society Bluebook. Except for the handful of large 20th century apartment buildings, our housing inventory shows a similarity of scale and building materials that evokes a pedestrian-friendly, residential atmosphere.

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Who shot the Mayor of Fillmore?

Charles Sullivan (center left, with Fats Corlett sitting beside him) in the Booker T. Washington Hotel at Fillmore and Ellis.

Charles Sullivan (center left, with Fats Corlett sitting beside him) in the Booker T. Washington Hotel at Fillmore and Ellis. Photograph courtesy of the Hall family.

LOCAL HISTORY | GARY CARR

On August 2, 1966, the “Mayor of Fillmore” was found shot to death in the area south of Market Street. He was sprawled on the street next to the open door of a rental car. A revolver lay beside his right hand. Police said it was a suicide.

The dead man was Charles Sullivan, the most influential — and controversial — figure in the mostly African-American Fillmore District. From the late 1940s until his death, Sullivan was probably the richest man in the neighborhood. He was tall, handsome and imposing, dressed in finely tailored suits worthy of Duke Ellington. A local merchants group bestowed his title on him, complete with an oversize key to the city.

The San Francisco coroner dismissed the idea of suicide, declaring the death of “unknown circumstances.” Also disagreeing with the initial police report is Harry Richard Hall, Charles Sullivan’s nephew and the creator of a new one-man show, Blues for Charles.

“BLUES FOR CHARLES”
Harry Hall performs Blues for Charles, his one-man tribute to his uncle Charles Sullivan, the one-time Mayor of Fillmore, at the Exit Theatre at 156 Eddy Street on September 7, 13, 16 and 17 as part of the 23rd annual San Francisco Fringe Festival.

Blues for Charles is a murder mystery, and also Hall’s tribute to Charles Sullivan, his family and the Fillmore. But Hall would be the first to admit his uncle was no saint.

“Charles never would have committed suicide,” Hall says. “He was too selfish.”

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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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