A tree of light

The tree atop UCSF is controlled from a room just underneath.

The tree atop UCSF is controlled from a room just underneath.

FOR DECADES it has been a familiar sight during the holidays for drivers headed west on Pine Street: a 40-foot Christmas tree in the sky made of lights — 3,000 lights, on 60 strands, with 50 lights each.

The tradition started when Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. built its four-story black glass headquarters in the 1950s on the site of the old Laurel Hill Cemetery, after the bodies were dug up and moved to Colma. The tree has continued to rise every year since the University of California-San Francisco took over the building in 1985.

As the university prepares to move this neighborhood campus to Mission Bay and development plans for new housing on the site proceed, the fate of the tree is in doubt.

Photographs © 2017 Jean Collier Hurley

Photographs © 2017 Jean Collier Hurley

Photographs © 2017 Jean Collier Hurley

Learning more about Santana

Santana book

BOOKS | LEWIS WATTS

I have always admired Carlos Santana, but I think I had begun to take him for granted. He made his career in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, starting in the Fillmore. I’ve always loved his music, especially his early albums, but I only knew a few particulars about his life. So I borrowed my wife’s copy of his autobiography, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light, which is well written and makes you feel as if you are sitting in a room with him having a conversation.

Santana was born in Autlán de Navarro, Mexico, the son of a professional Mariachi musician. He developed his blues chops playing guitar in strip clubs in Tijuana. He moved with his family to San Francisco in the early 1960s and formed the Santana Blues Band in 1966. I remember seeing him play with B.B. King at the Fillmore. His international reputation was sealed by his performance at Woodstock.

Santana always had a wide variety of influences in music. His unique style was formed by expanding his foundation in the blues to include Latin and jazz influences. One of his first big hits was “Oye Coma Va,” originally recorded by Tito Puente. I was fascinated to see that he was very tight with people like Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, John Lee Hooker and many others.

Santana was married for many years to Deborah Santana, the daughter of Saunders King, a prominent R&B guitarist during the heyday of the Fillmore District in the 40s and 50s, featured in Harlem of the West. He is now married to Cindy Blackman, a drummer who has played with Lenny Kravitz and many jazz ensembles. One of the notable qualities of Santana’s life is his deep spirituality, which has taken a number of forms, and which has sustained him and influenced his broad musical reach.

I was happy to learn more about Santana. The book made me break out his old albums in my collection — and then seek out some of his new music. It’s a good read.

Lewis Watts is co-author of Harlem of the West: San Francisco’s Fillmore Jazz Era.

Zen garden back on again

Renowned gardeners Shigeru Namba (right) and Isao Ogura are to create the Zen garden.

Renowned gardeners Shigeru Namba (right) and Isao Ogura are to create the Zen garden.

THE ON-AGAIN, off-again plan to create a memorial Zen garden at the foot of Cottage Row — once a Japanese enclave — is back on again.

On October 19, the Recreation & Park Commission approved the garden, a memorial to the founders of Japantown.

But approval on the commission’s consent calendar came only after another attempt to derail the project by the husband-and-wife team of Bush Street residents who have doggedly opposed the garden. Mary King and Marvin Lambert both argued again that honoring only the Japanese founders leaves out many others who have lived near Cottage Row.

So far they have managed to delay the garden, which was to be created last year in honor of the 110th anniversary of the founding of Japantown after the 1906 earthquake. At the October 19 hearing, Lambert repeatedly demanded that the issue be removed from the commission’s consent calendar. He said he has created his own memorial that would include all who have lived in the neighborhood.

But commission chair Mark Buell said the issue had already been discussed in a lengthy committee hearing and that only commission members could remove an item from the consent calendar. No one did. The garden passed unanimously.

EARLIER: “Cottage Row Zen garden sparks a fight

A gathering place in Japantown

Photo illustration of Benkyodo by Frank Wing

Photo illustration of Benkyodo by Frank Wing

BENKYODO, with its colorful counter and corner tables, for a century has been a gathering place in Japantown for local business people, tourists and generations of Japanese Americans who love mochi and manju.

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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.