Celebrating the neighborhood

WE ARE DELIGHTED to announce the publication of a lavish new book of stories and photographs celebrating one of the world’s great neighborhoods: our own.

This collector’s edition pulls together favorite articles and images from our pages of some of the people and places that make the neighborhood special. We hoped to create a book worthy of the neighborhood, but may have gotten a little carried away: This is a 268-page oversize extravaganza published by a meticulous local publisher, Norfolk Press.

Join us for the launch party — and pick up a copy — at Browser Books on Friday, December 7, at 6:30 p.m.

PREVIEW THE BOOK

Three temples on Geary

At rear, tops of the Fillmore Auditorium, Beth Israel temple and Masonic temple in 1946.

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

Since 1904, the south side of Geary between Fillmore and Steiner has been graced with a series of temples: a fraternal temple, a temple of worship and a majestic temple of entertainment. It’s a tale of three buildings, two earthquakes and one dangerously zealous religious leader, along with many other characters and stories. Only one of the temples remains today.

(more…)

Jonestown started here

The Peoples Temple was located in a former Scottish Rite temple on Geary Boulevard where the post office now stands.

FORTY YEARS AGO this month, on November 18, 1978, 909 men, women and children — many of them members of the Peoples Temple from the Fillmore neighborhood — died in the jungle of South America after ingesting a mix of cynanide, sedatives and Flavor Aid fruit drink at the urging of their leader, Rev. Jim Jones.

It was set in motion here, and two programs this month commemorate the tragedy with local roots:

• On Wednesday, November 7, the California Historical Society will present a program featuring historians, academics and survivors at its headquarters at 678 Mission Street. “Discussing Peoples Temple: Understanding the Social, Cultural and Political Influences on the Peoples Temple Movement” starts at 6 p.m.

• On Sunday, November 18, a “Day of Atonement in the Fillmore” is planned, beginning at 1:45 in front of the U.S. Post Office on Geary near Fillmore, where the Peoples Temple once stood. It includes a march down Fillmore to the mini park between Turk and Golden Gate and numerous guest speakers.

A LAUDED RECENT BOOK by journalist Jeff Guinn, The Road to Jonestown, aims to tell the definitive story of Jim Jones and Jonestown. Guinn reports that Jones and his followers first came to the Fillmore in 1968 from their compound in Redwood Valley, up in Mendocino County, where they had earlier relocated from Indiana.

“Stories about an upcoming event in San Francisco caught Jones’s eye,” Guinn writes. “Macedonia Baptist, one of the city’s major black churches, announced a memorial service honoring Martin Luther King Jr.”

About 150 of Jones’s followers came with him to San Francisco to attend the service, all entering the church on Sutter Street near Steiner together, a sea of white faces in a black church. Friendships were formed and visits exchanged. Jones was later invited to offer guest sermons at the church, which were widely advertised.

“Beginning in 1970,” Guinn writes, “Jones conducted San Francisco services that were no longer directly affiliated with Macedonia Baptist. His preferred venue was the auditorium at Franklin Junior High on Geary Boulevard and Scott Street.”

Then, Peoples Temple “acquired an old multistory building at 1859 Geary Boulevard in San Francisco, a yellow-brick structure in the Fillmore District. The building had a large auditorium with a seating capacity of about 1,800. . . . The Temple paid $122,500, and renovation cost an additional $50,000 to $60,000.”

“It was in the right location,” Guinn writes. “Jones set up for business there.”

A business from the Old Fillmore

The Neuhaus Brothers clothing store at 1806 Fillmore Street.

By HOWARD FREEDMAN

At age 95, neighborhood resident Jerry Neuhaus is one of the last surviving business owners who operated in the Fillmore District before it was demolished by the Redevelopment Agency in the 1960s. And he’s still nearby — only four blocks from the clothing store he and his family ran for decades at Fillmore and Sutter.

Neuhaus was born in 1922 in Spangenberg, a small town in central Germany, where his father ran a department store. As conditions deteriorated rapidly for Jews in Hitler’s Germany, an aunt and uncle who had earlier come to San Francisco urged his family to join them here.

Neuhaus managed to leave Germany with his mother, father and sister in 1937, bringing along a sacred Torah scroll. Jews who were able to escape could bring little money with them. But some people in the know suggested they bring Leica cameras, which were in high demand in the United States.

Once in San Francisco, they were able to sell the cameras and use the proceeds to get established. His uncle helped Jerry’s father start a clothing store, Neuhaus Brothers, at 1806 Fillmore, just north of the corner of Sutter Street.

(more…)

A test of faith

Rev. Debra Low-Skinner is vicar of Christ Church Sei Ko Kai on Alta Plaza Park.

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

“Our congregation reflects San Francisco,” says Senior Warden Gordon Park-Li of historic Christ Episcopal Church Sei Ko Kai, which graces the corner of Pierce and Clay Streets across from Alta Plaza Park’s grand staircase.

On any given Sunday, its small, warm sanctuary welcomes Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans and Americans of assorted other heritages. In a neighborhood where houses sell in the multiple millions, the stately Victorian home of Christ Church offers a unique link to the good and the bad of San Francisco’s past, as well as its constantly changing future.

(more…)

The Brown Bag served up an eclectic mix

Treasures from the Brown Bag, the emporium and office supply store at 2000 Fillmore.

FLASHBACK | BARBARA WYETH

Every time I walk past the corner of Fillmore and Pine, I am transported back to the Brown Bag, the stationery store that was a mainstay on the northeast corner for many years.

Back in the day, I owned a small business in North Beach, but was struggling. I met Dawn, one of Brown Bag’s owners, when I was helping out on weekends at the nearby California Street Creamery. We had become friendly, and when I decided to quit my store, Dawn offered me a job at the Brown Bag.

I’d had ongoing connections with the Fillmore neighborhood since moving to San Francisco, so working at the Brown Bag seemed like a good fit. I loved its eclectic mix of practical supplies and wildly impractical baubles. It reminded me of the old-fashioned 5 & Dime in my Midwestern hometown. The place even included the smell of bacon wafting in from the Chestnut Cafe next door.

(more…)

The mystery of the three lamp posts

Three old-style lamp posts on Fillmore are dedicated to Katie Flavel. But who was she?

LOCAL HISTORY | JOE BEYER

For nearly a century, three lamp posts on the sidewalk in front of Calvary Presbyterian Church have added enlightenment on the busy corner of Fillmore and Jackson.

The two on either side have plaques attached dedicating them to the memory of Katie Flavel, who apparently died on August 19, 1910. But there is no record she was ever a member of Calvary.

(more…)

Curbside Cafe turns 40

THE CREW AT Curbside Cafe had no idea, but they were about to celebrate the restaurant’s 40th anniversary with the person who started it all. Lee Burns came for dinner on Saturday night, May 26, just as he had 20 years earlier, and 20 years before that, when he and partner Manuel Pena (above) opened the restaurant at 2417 California Street, just around the corner from Fillmore.

When they took over what had been the Maison Aji (below), the rent went from $150 to $300 a month. Two years later when the rent went up to $450, they sold the restaurant to concentrate on a second Curbside in Napa. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” Burns said.

How Pacific Heights got a 40-foot height limit

One of the flyers distributed during the fight for a 40-foot height limit.

By SUSAN SWARD

On a Friday in April of 1972, Charlotte Maeck got a purple postcard in the mail at her Pacific Heights residence that she initially thought was a hosiery advertisement from the I. Magnin department store.

On closer look, she saw it was a city announcement of a hearing the following Tuesday on a proposal to rezone the areas between Van Ness to Steiner and Union to Washington to permit structures of up to 160 feet — or 16 stories. Before then, height limits of 65 feet and 105 feet existed in various parts of Pacific Heights.

Maeck, who was busy raising her four children with her husband, orthopaedic surgeon Benjamin Maeck, in their home on Pacific Avenue, knew nothing about planning codes and had never been involved in the brawling political fights over development in San Francisco.

She came from Staten Island, where her grandfather founded a marine hardware company. “We were concerned about neighborhoods, and families watched what went on,’’ Maeck recalls. But “I knew nothing about zoning.”

That was about to change.

(more…)

The Elite Asia Lincoln Grill Cafe

Inside the Lincoln Grill, circa 1940s.

BEFORE IT WAS the Elite Cafe, it was the Asia Cafe. And before it was the Asia Cafe, it was the Lincoln Grill.

The building at 2049 Fillmore that now houses the Elite Cafe was built in 1932 in exuberant Jazz Age style, with no shortage of Art Deco detailing, as the home of the Lincoln Grill, which had first opened across the street in 1928.

Inside the Asia Cafe in the 1970s.

The neon sign out front originally announced the Lincoln Grill. Then, in the 1950s, the name — and the marquee — were changed to the Asia Cafe.

In 1981, when serial restaurateur Sam DuVall beat out fast-rising chef Jeremiah Tower for the space and created the Elite Cafe, the sign was reworked and reworded again.

The dining room and booths in the Elite Cafe in 2008.

Peter Snyderman took over the Elite Cafe in 2005 and had the neon sign refurbished, but kept the interior largely as it had always been. In 2016, Snyderman passed the Elite on to current owner Andy Chun, who made it modern, removing the historic Deco fixtures and painting the woodwork shades of black and battleship gray. Exterior details also were cloaked under a coat of black paint.

The Elite Cafe made modern in 2017.

But the vintage neon sign remained a brilliant beacon of Fillmore Street. Then one morning last February the sign caught fire. Flames shot out of the top, and the neon went dark for almost a year.

Now, at last, it again lights up the night sky.

Still no one has come up with photographs of the sign when it fronted the Lincoln Grill or the Asia Cafe. But once again it has been rewired, repainted and re-lit, proudly proclaiming the Elite Cafe.

EARLIER: “An Art Deco treasure is diminished