Andrew Hoyem steps down at Arion Press

Andrew Hoyem at Arion Press in 1978.

By JEROME TARSHIS

The announcement from Arion Press arrived on the Friday before Thanksgiving: Andrew Hoyem, the company’s founder and one of the most distinguished fine printers in the world, had retired. So had his wife, Diana Ketcham, Arion’s editorial director.

Arion, located in the Presidio, is reported to be up for sale. Pending further developments, the existing staff of 10 will carry on the business.

The last book Arion published before Hoyem’s retirement, Exit Ghost, a novel by Philip Roth with illustrations by R. B. Kitaj, is itself valedictory; it suggests that sooner or later it is time to say goodbye. Exit Ghost is the last of nine novels featuring the controversial Jewish writer Nathan Zuckerman, widely thought to be Roth’s alter ego. Roth, who announced his retirement from fiction writing in 2012, lived long enough to authorize the publication of Exit Ghost. But he died in May of this year, before he could see printed pages.

Hoyem and Ketcham are, happily, still alive and in good health. Hoyem’s retirement was long anticipated; he had been a printer in San Francisco for more than 50 years. From relatively modest beginnings, Arion grew to be America’s — and arguably the world’s — pre-eminent publisher of fine limited editions.

Its sumptuous edition of Moby-Dick and its folio Bible, probably the last Bible to be printed from metal type, may be considered Arion’s largest efforts. But the company hasn’t disdained the popular: It has also reprinted Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, with archival photographs of San Francisco in the 1920s, paired with a newer look at the same locations by photographer Edmund Shea.

Although not all Arion books are set entirely by hand and printed by letterpress, the kind of publishing Arion does ultimately depends on metal type, increasingly hard to come by in the age of digital typesetting and offset printing. In 1989, Arion bought Mackenzie & Harris, America’s oldest and largest surviving type foundry, with origins dating back to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. The foundry still sells type to letterpress printers all over the world.

Arion is not only a business. Together with its type foundry, it has become a living museum of printing history and a school for young printers. In October 2000, Hoyem created the Grabhorn Institute, an umbrella nonprofit meant to preserve and expand his integrated printing and publishing operation. With his retirement he leaves behind an enterprise designed to have a hopeful future as well as a celebrated past.

VIDEO: Anthony Bourdain at Arion Press

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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.

It is available at Browser Books at 2195 Fillmore Street, or order by mail here.

PREVIEW THE BOOK

My electric journey

By KATHY JOSEPH BALISTRERI

It all started during lunch at La Mediterranee last year. I had written the rough draft of a novel about the crazy, particular, sometimes heroic and sometimes downright despicable people who discovered electricity, but I was stumped on what to do next. Should I try to get a publisher? Start a blog? Hire an editor?

Luckily, I was having lunch with my friend Kim Nalley. Kim has been the headliner at the Fillmore Jazz Festival almost every year for the last 15 years, so she knows about entertaining. I was lucky enough to meet her through parenting. Our older kids went to the Sherith Israel’s preschool on California Street, and now our younger kids go there together.

Kim immediately knew what to do: “Kathy, you like to talk. Start a vlog, a video series.”

That started a quest to transform my ideas onto the screen, albeit a small one. Luckily, my book is composed of a series of vignettes about one remarkable person or idea, each leading to the next. So I learned how to edit video and started recording in my house on Washington Street. Kim helped me out by recording an original version of “Electricity” from a “Schoolhouse Rock” video for my theme song.

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The final days of Kelly Johnson

In the final minutes of his life, Kelly Johnson was surrounded by friends and family.

By ARASH MALEKZADEH

A month ago, I was offered the opportunity to film the last days of Kelly Johnson’s life. I did not know him. I did not know how or why his death was predetermined.

I was told to meet the next morning at Peet’s for coffee. Then I’d walk half a block with my equipment to a beautiful blue Victorian overlooking Fillmore Street where he’d lived since 1969. After climbing two flights of stairs, each step creaking with antiquity, I entered the top flat. I followed an oxygen tube strewn across the carpet.

Kelly Johnson sat on his red couch, calmly staring out the window, as I approached with my camera in hand. A smile stretched across his face as he greeted me. He was ready for his close up.

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Growing up at Browser Books

Browser Books owner Stephen Damon with young Catie Damon.

FIRST PERSON | CATIE DAMON

Browser Books, the literary landmark on Fillmore near the corner of Sacramento, was originally located one block north, beside the Clay Theatre, in a building that had also been a head shop and a recording studio for Carlos Santana’s first album, called simply Santana and released in 1969.

How my dad, Stephen Damon, came to own Browser in 1978 is, as he acknowledges, a curious and incredible story.

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Two Fillmore locals

Kelly Johnson, who established the S.F. Dance Theater on Fillmore Street, remembers his onetime neighbor around the corner, coppersmith Armenac Hairenian.

The wait is over

BBFlowers

FIRST PERSON | BARBARA WYETH

For us early morning folk, the long awaited opening of Blue Bottle Coffee on the busy Jackson and Fillmore corner is a blessing. In my mind, a strong cup of coffee is always a good thing, any time of day. That bracing dark, sweet shot of warmth and energy is one of life’s simple pleasures. Sometimes it’s also a necessity, a predictably effective motivator if I am going to accomplish anything the rest of the day.

We in the Jackson and Fillmore pro-coffee faction mourned the day the friendly, patient staff at Tully’s closed their doors. Once a beacon of light, warmth, and caffeine — especially in the winter months — the corner remained dark for two years. I would often see  members of our tribe looking wistfully at the closed doors and the posted notices on the papered-over windows. It was especially difficult this last very cold and very wet winter. Sloshing through puddles to a distant cafe early in the dark morning was not an ideal way to start the day. I would occasionally catch the eye of a former Jackson-Fillmore regular scurrying up the hill with soggy paper cups and trays.

When the sparkly new Blue Bottle Cafe opened, I saw many of those same folks standing patiently in the line, looking relieved, and eager to enjoy the much-acclaimed coffee. The cafe is modern, bright and open, with wrap-around windows to watch the comings and goings on that lively intersection. The cheerful staff seems eager to make friends of all the neighborhood folk. And those meticulously prepared espressos and macchiatos and pour overs are are gradually clouding my memory of the long wait for that early morning elixir. Truth be told, they take a little too long for me, at least most mornings — but damn, it is mighty fine coffee!

Sherith Israel completes retrofit

A crane hoists roofing material to the temple's historic dome.

A crane hoists roofing material to the temple’s historic dome.

ESPECIALLY SWEET MUSIC will rise up into the freshly repainted and retrofitted dome atop Congregation Sherith Israel’s historic home at California and Webster on June 9 at a special Shabbat service celebrating the end of a long-running renovation.

“We did it!” exclaimed David Newman, co-chair of the seismic retrofit campaign. “The Sherith Israel community has risen to the occasion.”

“We are in compliance with all of the city’s seismic requirements,” said former congregation board member Ellen Schumm, who has been involved with the project since its inception. “This building is so stable, it’s awesome.”

The $16 million project to strengthen the 1905 building — which survived the earthquake and fire the next year and served as a temporary courthouse during the rebuilding — was spurred by new standards established after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

The first phase of the project, completed in 2011, included an innovative engineering plan to reinforce the exterior walls of the sanctuary without affecting the elaborately painted interior walls. It also stripped away the salmon-colored paint that had been unwisely applied to the sandstone walls half a century earlier.

The second phase, just completed, involved reroofing, repainting and waterproofing the dome, removing the last vestiges of salmon paint and returning the dome to the color of the sandstone on the base. It also added solar panels on the roof and included work on nearly every other part of the building.

“Our beautiful sanctuary will be here — and be strong — for generations to come,” said senior rabbi Jessica Graf.

EARLIER: In a video from January 2011, the retrofit project was underway.

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

“This place is magic”

Fred Martin has worked there for 36 of Browser Books' 40 years.

Fred Martin has worked at Browser Books on Fillmore for 36 of its 40 years.

“LOVE WAS IN THE AIR,” says Fred Martin of the days when he and Browser Books were both young.

And on many nights, it still is.

“This place is magic,” he says of the bookstore, where he has worked for 36 of its 40 years as it grew into a landmark on Fillmore Street. “People love this place. They get caught up in interesting conversations.”

And sometimes more. Many lasting connections have been made in Browser Books: couples on dates uncovering mutual interests, spouses returning to a favorite haunt, chance meetings that grow into romance.

The store is filled with love stories — from the stacks of Neruda that sell out on Valentine’s Day, to Romeo and Juliet on high school reading lists, and the middle-aged professional proudly unembarrassed to ask for Fifty Shades of Grey.

“It’s the most realistic portrait of the romantic idea of working in a bookstore I’ve ever had,” says Jordan Pearson, the newest of the Browser clerks. “It’s being a bartender without the liquor — and sometimes I wish I had a bouncer late at night.”

“I always feel like I’m the party host,” says Fred Martin. “I want the store to be a place where people can be at home and talk about anything. I love being part of that.”

Browser Books opened in 1976 a block north next door to the Clay Theatre.

“It was a real artist hangout,” says Martin. He recalls a couple who met in the old store and got married under the avocado tree in the garden out back, near the fountain with a sculpture of brass instruments. Just recently they stopped by, back in town from Oregon, and talked about moving back.

In 1989 Browser gave up used books and moved south to its smaller current location.

“We’re not just a little library, like a lot of other places,” says Martin. “People have always been friendly and outspoken here.”

The Beat poet Latif Harris worked at the old Browser for a time and lived upstairs above the shop. He met his wife when she came browsing into the store one day. Fred Martin also met his spouse there. And so have others.

 MORE: “Book Lovers