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When Gorbachev stopped by Dino’s

Photograph of Fillmore & California by Daniel Bahmani

FLASHBACK | RICHARD SPRITZER

IT WAS ONLY a few months after the 1989 earthquake when Mikhail Gorbachev, still president of the still superpowerful Soviet Union, made a swing through San Francisco in early June of 1990.

It was a brief 22-hour stay, which included sleeping late on Monday morning, June 4. Gorbachev and his wife Raisa had flown in late the night before, after stops in Washington and Minneapolis, and stayed in the neighborhood at the Soviet consul general’s residence at 2820 Broadway. Gorbachev was behind schedule all day, but still feted like a visiting rock star in appearances at Stanford University and with the local business elite. The Gorbachevs even worked in a reunion with old friends Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

“The Bay Area basked in the afterglow of a visit by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev,” reported the Los Angeles Times, “happy to show the world it has rebounded from last fall’s earthquake.”

Late in the afternoon, Gorbachev and his retinue headed back to the consul general’s mansion on Outer Broadway. Their motorcade of fierce-looking Zil limousines came barreling down the hill headed west on California Street toward Fillmore.

When he spotted a group of two dozen people waving on the corner, the procession came to a halt. Gorbachev bounded out of the big boxy Zil and started shaking hands like a veteran American pol. 

The Chronicle reported the next day: 

Gorbachev stopped only once to mingle with a crowd of ordinary people — at about 6:15 p.m. at California and Fillmore streets. He walked toward the people on the street, and they surged toward him. Others ran out of Dino’s pizza parlor, the corner liquor store and the neighborhood copy center.

“Usually you don’t have occasion to see somebody so important so close,” said Felix Nager, who works at the copy center. “He’s like a normal man.”

Norm Newman, a 30-year-old ex-U.S. Marine, was so overcome he screamed, “I love you, Gorby!” Later, after he had shaken Gorbachev’s hand, he said, “What I did for 10 years in the Marines was completely opposite to what that man stands for. But he’s opening the doors. He’s a very likeable guy.”

Dino Stavrikikis, who owns the pizza shop, said Gorbachev was the most famous man he had ever met — and he’s met Ronnie Lott, the famous 49er, Sleepy Floyd, the basketball player, and Jerry Brown, the politician. 
“I would have liked it if he would have come in for a piece of pizza,” Dino said.

Inevitably, there were T-shirts for sale all over the city. At Broadway and Divisadero, two blocks from the Soviet consular residence, shirts portrayed Gorbachev as Bart Simpson, with the words “Radical Dude” underneath.

Not far from the Soviet consular residence where the Gorbachevs made their headquarters, a large house displayed a pre-revolutionary Russian flag and a picture of the last czar.

Although Gorbachev and his wife went separate ways for most of the day, they met again at 6:33 p.m. at the consular residence on Broadway.

The stop at Dino’s had lasted only a few minutes. The return to 2820 Broadway didn’t last much longer. A visit to the Golden Gate Bridge was called off because of the tight schedule.

“I always wanted to come here,” Gorbachev told reporters as his motorcade started to leave for the airport. “You’re very fortunate to live here. President Bush should tax the people for living in such a beautiful place.”

Honoring Japantown’s founders

The new Zen garden at Cottage Row and Sutter Street.

NEARLY FOUR YEARS after it was first proposed, a new garden honoring the founders of Japantown will be dedicated this weekend at the foot of Cottage Row, near Fillmore and Sutter.

It began as a celebration of the creation of Japantown in 1906 after the earthquake and fire. Cottage Row was occupied primarily by the first, or Issei, generation of Japanese-Americans in the early 20th century, making it an apt location. But some neighbors objected, and the garden became the topic of contentious community meetings.

The idea prevailed. On August 19, master Japanese gardener Shigeru Namba began arranging a truckload of stones according to traditional Zen principles intended to inspire peace and tranquility.

The garden will be dedicated on September 21 at 6:30 p.m., with neighbors invited to attach multicolored origami cranes — a symbol of peace — to bamboo sticks in the garden.

EARLIER: “Zen garden back on again

Palace Cafe: frozen in time

The Palace Cafe at 1843 Fillmore Street has been shuttered for decades.

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

Frozen in time, the Palace Cafe at 1843 Fillmore Street has been shuttered for decades. It’s said still to be set up just as it was the last time the door opened many years ago, but it seems a safe bet the tiny cafe will not re-open any time soon.

Now that the big ficus trees out front have been chopped down, the sign for the cafe is visible again, complete with its bright Dr Pepper logo. People are taking notice — and city officials are, too. A sign was posted on the front door of the cafe a few weeks ago by the Department of Building Inspection declaring it “unsafe and/or a public nuisance.” A new city ordinance penalizes property owners who leave storefronts empty — and this one has been empty for decades.

In the 1940s, it was the Fillmore Chop Suey Cafe, a hotspot with a towering neon blade. By the ’50s, Dr. Leonal V. Dickey had acquired the building, which housed three apartments plus his dental practice over the cafe. His family still owns it, and his son, also a dentist, still has a dental office there. Family members still live in the flats upstairs, but are private about past and present. 

When the Fillmore was ravaged by urban renewal in the 1960s and ’70s, the neighborhood “was desolate with windblown empty tracts of land,” the younger Dr. Dickey told a visiting reporter last year. He said the Palace Cafe “became a meeting place for healthcare professionals and community stakeholders whose goal was the improvement of health, education and housing for the underserved population,” including displaced residents, small business owners and public school children in the Western Addition.

Today, neglected and tomb-silent, the cafe, with its old-style slatted glass windows, looks like days gone by. Dr. Dickey said the family had thought of remodeling and reopening the cafe, but the cost and effort of getting it up to code derailed the idea. Perhaps the new city ordinance tightening the screws on empty storefronts will change that. 

Francine Brevetti contributed to this report.

It was still the Palace Chop Suey Cafe in 1964. Photo: SF Public Library

Moving the Victorians

The Redevelopment Agency engineered the move of Victorians to new locations.

By CARLO MIDDIONE

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, I worked at San Francisco’s Redevelopment Agency in my desire to conquer the world’s ills and to help make people safer, happier and more comfortable.

Long before my wife Lisa and I opened our restaurant Vivande on Fillmore Street, which we operated for three decades, I was the supervisor of community relations for the A-2 project in the Western Addition. My primary job was to make friends with the community and garner support for Redevelopment Agency programs — and to make sure residents knew what the programs were for and what they were supposed to do for them, even though this proved to generate plenty of conflict at times. 

Some programs were good, like homemaking, which included learning to sew so that new curtains could be made at a fraction of the cost of buying them; learning furniture refinishing; learning nutritious cooking methods and selecting food to reflect the highest yield of nutrition for the money spent, with easier and more cheerful ways to cook that removed the drudge factor. 

Child care was always at the fore. There were so many children, and parents at risk of being too tired and frustrated raising them that they had no time or energy for anything else. Then there were programs to encourage folks to attend classes day or night at local schools to improve their job prospects or simply to study subjects that might interest them.

As time wore on and my interplay with many families and agencies and entities increased, along came The Move. 

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Celebrating Fillmore as ‘the new Market Street’

Collection of Iris Fuller/Fillamento

FLASHBACK | BARBARA KATE REPA

After the 1906 earthquake and fire, when Fillmore Street was hailed as the “new Market Street of the municipality,” local officials marked its newfound celebrity with a ribald 10-day Fillmore Street Carnival in the fall that stretched from Fulton to Sacramento. 

Heartened by the successes of the first few carnivals, the sponsoring Fillmore Street Improvement Association vowed to make the 1913 event the biggest yet. Metal arches with elaborate lighting crossed the intersections, and local storekeepers were exhorted to decorate their windows and storefronts.

The carnival kicked off with an evening parade that began at Market and New Montgomery Streets, then came down Golden Gate to Fillmore. The processional was complete with bands and floats “constructed with the same lavish disregard for expense that marked the street decorations” — including one float featuring a Hawaiian scene with an active volcano.

“The spirit of the fiesta took complete possession of those who had come from many parts of town to pay their respects to Fillmore Street, and the fun was not long reaching the point of hilarity,” the Chronicle reported. “Midnight arrived all but unnoticed and the dance went on and on until the musicians finally packed their instruments and left the bandstand.”

There was behind-the-scenes drama in the hotly contested race to become Fillmore Street Queen and reign over the event. Though the winner would not be announced until opening day, a first-time competitor, Miss Ray Leake, considered herself a shoo-in. “Miss Leake has a host of friends working for her and they are all as confident that she will be returned the winner,” the Chronicle reported.

Alas, Miss Leake’s hopes were dashed in the early morning hours of September 26, 1913, when Miss Maxine Hutchinson, a resident of Fillmore and O’Farrell, was named queen, handily winning the race by more than 12,000 votes. Miss Leake was not mentioned in the top 10 finalists.

Succeeding queens were tarnished by bad luck and perfidy. The 1914 queen, Manilla Matney, who later became an actress, was reportedly injured in an accident at a local hotel. In 1915, Annie Rosenwein of Buchanan Street, a candidate for queen at age 16, pressed “statutory charges” against Henry J. Kearney, a carnival committee member described as “33 years old and married.”

A Fillmore pioneer

M.J.Staymates (right) with fellow WANA leaders Sharon Bretz and Brett Gladstone in 1989.

LOCALS | CALVIN LAU

She was the quintessential little old lady in white tennis shoes — at least that’s how relentless neighborhood activist Mary Jane Staymates, known to all as M.J., liked to fashion herself.

My first encounter with M.J., who died a few months ago, was at a Western Addition Neighborhood Association (WANA) meeting held in the basement of St. Dominic’s Church. M.J. was presiding, and I was immediately struck by her love of the neighborhood and her mission to improve it.

M.J. stood ready to confront the real estate developers who were already circling the area like hawks. That was in 1979, the year my partner and I moved into an 1877 Victorian fixer-upper on Pine Street. In those days no one would ever have thought of calling our neighborhood by the oxymoron Lower Pacific Heights. It was plainly and simply the Western Addition, with all of its good and bad connotations.

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‘The book is a must’

WHAT A TREAT — a visual treat of exquisitely reproduced photographs and a textural declaration of the reproduction of numerous articles from the neighborhood newspaper, the New Fillmore.

Publisher, attorney and gallery owner Thomas Reynolds and co-author Barbara Kate Repa have compiled a compelling book that offers a smorgasbord of vignettes of San Francisco’s Fillmore District, from its earliest days to the present: individuals who inhabit the area, business and institutions that give the neighborhood its character, and the changes to its principal street.

The book is a must, not only for denizens of the Fillmore District, but also for any San Franciscan who wishes to have an intimate look at one of the city’s most vibrant areas. It’s available online from the publisher and at Browser Books on Fillmore.

— San Francisco historian Charles Fracchia, writing in Panorama

At home in Lafayette Square

In 1919, looking west into Lafayette Square from the intersection of Gough and Clay Streets, the St. Regis apartment building is on the left and a long-gone single-family residence on the right. Through the trees at the crest of the hill is Samuel Wirt Holladay’s compound he called Holladay Heights. OpenSFHistory photograph.

LOCAL HISTORY | CHRISTOPHER POLLOCK

Of the 220 public spaces the city’s Recreation and Park Department administers in San Francisco, Lafayette Park is unique: It has a privately owned six-story apartment building cut right into its municipal landscape on the side bordering Gough Street.

In the city’s early days, several parks had issues over real estate title, including Alamo Square, Holly Park, Jackson Park and Lafayette Square, as the park was originally known. The city usually won its legal actions to wrest public properties from squatters, some of whom were shrewd and persistent through years of litigation.

Spaces for 11 city parks were designated by the Van Ness Ordinance of 1855-56 and confirmed by the state legislature in 1858. Like Lafayette Square, many of the spaces reserved for public use consisted of foursquare blocks. Some of the parks were patriotically named for past presidents or others important in the country’s creation — in this case the Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman who fought for the U.S. during the American revolution.

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Brown Bag broke all the rules

Michael May took the owner’s ideas and turned them into windows.

FLASHBACK | JO MANCUSO

The windows at the Brown Bag, the quirky office supply store long on the corner at 2000 Fillmore Street, were the topic of an item in Image magazine in 1991:

This is the store that breaks all the rules. Its Fillmore Street windows are really shadow boxes, maybe 4 feet square but only about 6 inches deep, so the displays look more like collages. The employees, all collectors of various kinds, bring their own stuff in to use as props. The store itself, which is supposed to be a stationery shop, sells dishes and tiny plastic eyeballs.

“We don’t want to be commercial,” says owner Dawn Christensen. “There’s nothing I won’t buy.” She is considering a “national mammogram week” window this spring using greeting cards with voluptuous Victorian women.

Employee Michael May takes Christensen’s ideas and turns them into windows. A scissors window. A cowboy window. A magnet window. A recent gold window included crowns, swans, pencils, dice, stamp holders and doilies. “It’s a far cry from forming men’s suits,” says May, a former men’s retail display worker.

“We don’t just pull merchandise from the store — we buy things for the windows and then sell them,” says Christensen.

A window sometimes has a hidden message, she says, but “the people who would be offended don’t get it.”

EARLIER: “Practical supplies and wildly impractical baubles

From the ashes of St. Paul’s

Grand Central Market at 2435 California Street shortly after it opened in June 1941.

ARCHITECTURE | BRIDGET MALEY

Since it opened in June 1941, touted as the city’s “newest drive-in market,” the Grand Central Market, now Mollie Stone’s, at 2435 California Street, has been a bustling neighborhood grocery.

The News Call Bulletin declared that “a program of entertainment would signalize its opening.” A photograph appearing with the article showed a gleaming white building with a black tile base and a Streamline Moderne blade sign. There were two entrances on California Street and one facing west toward the parking lot, for customers who took advantage of the readily available parking. This modern grocery was inserted into a block that had once housed a stately Episcopal church.

The south side of the 2400 block of California Street looked drastically different in 1915 when it was mapped by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company. At the southwest corner of California and Fillmore Streets was a drugstore with apartments above it. Several other businesses, including a Japanese laundry, were west of the drug store along California Street. Mid-block there were several small single family dwellings and the imposing St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. At the southeast corner of California and Steiner were two additional small-scale store buildings.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

St. Paul’s, designed by the architect Samuel Newsom, was a small ecclesiastical building with a steeply pitched main gable and a red stone facade. The church, which was completed in 1896, burned in 1933, and several adjacent residences, also owned by the Episcopal Church, were damaged by the fire. The church was not rebuilt and the land then became available for commercial development.

The architect of the Grand Central Market was Albert W. Burgren, who was at the twilight of his career when he designed this modern grocery. Burgren, who was born in San Francisco in 1876 to Swedish parents, began a prolific partnership with T. Paterson Ross in 1900 that lasted until 1913. Their projects included a number of hotels and apartment buildings built after the 1906 earthquake, as well as the iconic Sing Fat Building in Chinatown. After his split with Ross, Burgren opened his own office, but continued some collaborative work until Ross was severely injured in 1922 at a construction site. Burgren served in Europe during World War I, returning to San Francisco and working mostly in commercial architecture until his death in 1951 after a long and prolific career.

The Grand Central Market included a meat counter run by the Petrini family, which also had counters at the Lick Super, Sunset Market and Manor Market. Petrini’s was established in 1935 by Frank Petrini, who immigrated from Lucca, Italy, at the age of 12, and was known to have the best meats in Northern California. Petrini’s advertisements are remembered for their inspiring quotes, which also appeared on walls and signs throughout the stores. The quotes were published in a collection in 1992 titled The Proverbs of Frank Petrini: Food for Thought.

The Grand Central Market became Mollie Stone’s in 1998, one of nine stores across the Bay Area. When the new owners remodeled the building, Mollie Stone’s kept the Grand Central blade sign, with some modifications.