His greatest creation was his own home

Photograph of bronze lion head fountain in the garden by Mark Evans

WHEN BUSH STREET resident Palmer Sessel still wore a tie and worked in the Financial District, he liked to get out of the office midday and think things over.

One day he walked by the historic Monadnock Building on Market Street and was struck by the cast of notable San Franciscans looking down at him from the trompe l’oeil mural above the marble cornice. The guard told him the artists who created it had a studio upstairs. He went up and engaged them to create a mural of a winged bulldog on the ceiling of the living parlor in his classic Victorian near Cottage Row.

“They tried to dissuade me” on the flying bulldog, Sessel says. But Mark Evans and Charley Brown took the commission, and also painted a Bacchanalian scene for the dining parlor, and nudes above the bed. In the process, they also fell for the neighborhood, and decided they wanted to live here.

“I told them,” Sessel recalls: “You may be in luck. The guy next door to me is dying.”

The 1880s Victorian needed work, and required resisting a committee of bureaucrats from the Redevelopment Agency, but the bones were all there. They managed to buy the house before it went on the market. “We went to Stars restaurant to celebrate,” Evans remembers. “We thought, ‘This is the last good meal we’ll ever eat.’ ”

Over the next three decades, they set about making it their greatest art project, bounteously filled with their own work and layers of treasures from around the world. On the ground level, overlooking a south-facing garden, were studios for both artists. In 1984 they established Evans & Brown, a fount of their ever-expanding creative output: murals, paintings, objets d’art, wall coverings, fabric, carpet and more. They found artistic and commercial success, and an enduring business and personal partnership.

“We were in the right place at the right time,” Evans says. “No one was doing murals and trompe l’oeil on our level. And it was mostly because of Charley’s painting.”

Only days after they returned from a final grand tour of the splendors of Venice and Paris, Robert Charles Brown died of prostate cancer on November 21, 2018, at home on Bush Street. His husband of 41 years, Mark Evans, and their schnauzer, Jack, survive him.

— Thomas Reynolds

They gave Calvary a social conscience

Photograph of the Rev. Dr. Laird J. Stuart by Alvin Johnson

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

The Rev. Dr. Laird J. Stuart followed the Rev. Dr. James G. Emerson as pastor of the Calvary Presbyterian Church at Fillmore and Jackson, both chronologically and in a determination to bring to the historic church a greater awareness of social justice issues. On December 19, 2018, he followed Emerson, who died three months earlier, on September 12, to the heavens.

Emerson was a powerful preacher and a pioneering pastor of Calvary in the 1980s. And he practiced what he preached about equality and justice, even getting arrested while participating in a 1987 interracial civil rights “march for brotherhood” in Forsyth County, Georgia.

In 1988, he was one of the founders of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, which brought together leaders of different faith traditions in the city. He traveled to India and met with Mother Teresa. “I told her, ‘We’re Protestants, but we pray for you,’ ” Emerson remembered. She told him: “Well pray more. We are all one people.”

Photograph of the Rev. Dr. James G. Emerson by Sara Butz

Stuart built on the social consciousness Emerson had brought to what was then a sometimes staid, largely affluent, almost entirely white congregation.

Stuart served from 1993 to 2010 and led the fight against homophobia in the Presbyterian church. He was the first president of a nationwide group that lobbied what he called “the radical middle” in the Presbyterian church, urging that people be ordained as ministers, deacons and elders regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Today Calvary has a diverse group of ministers and banners hanging outside with a rainbow flag declaring that “Black Lives Matter” and proclaiming it a sanctuary church — suggesting that both men made their mark.

Farewell to one of the regulars

Justice William Newsom administering the oath to his son Gavin, California’s new governor.

WE WILL MISS Justice William Newsom at Chouquet’s on Fillmore. He had two preferred tables that we’d set aside for him after he became a regular in recent years. We simply referred to him as “the judge.”

When he came in, he’d lovingly hold the hand of whichever pretty French waitress was on duty and recite the French poem La Cigale et la Fourmi (The Cricket and the Ant) in its entirety.

Since I am not a pretty French waitress, he would always greet me respectfully with a long handshake. As I’d open a half bottle of his favorite Chateauneuf du Pape, he would sometimes confide, “Gavin’s doing well.” The judge’s death came just weeks before his son — another former neighborhood resident — was to be sworn in as governor of California, serving the state his father served as a justice on the First District Court of Appeal.

Farewell, judge. Thank you for your kindness and style.

— Mark Fantino

When a cemetery became an office park

Laurel Hill Cemetery entrance gate and monuments.

ARCHITECTURE | BRIDGET MALEY

In 1940, after years of efforts to ban cemeteries in San Francisco, workers began exhuming bodies from the Laurel Hill Cemetery for reinterment outside the city limits. The cemetery occupied a large site bounded by California Street on the north, Presidio and Parker at the east and west and an angled edge along the southern boundary. A landscape of meandering paths and ornate headstones and mausoleums, Laurel Hill was a picturesque, park-like final resting place for the city’s most influential residents.

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Birth and rebirth at the ballet

Sharonjean Leeds returned to the stage in the finale of Smuin’s Christmas Ballet.

CULTURE BEAT | FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

The New Year was still a couple of weeks away when a unique celebration of birth, rebirth and family joy took place at Smuin Ballet’s annual Christmas Ballet at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Sebastian-Alexander Gottschalk, age one month, was in the audience when dancer Sharonjean Leeds, age 70+, spun her way across the stage in the traditional White Christmas finale.

Each had overcome more than a few odds to be there.

Sebastian arrived at Kaiser Hospital on November 14, eight weeks ahead of schedule. His mom,  Shaunte Gipson Gottschalk, is a nurse and was quick to get to the hospital when things indicated he might make an early appearance. His dad, Georg, who works with MuleSoft, a Salesforce company, was inconveniently on a plane in London, about to take off for India. “If you’re headed to India,” the doctor texted, “you’re going the wrong direction.” Several trips through international security and one Chicago connection later, Georg got home to meet his new son at one minute before midnight. Sebastian, who weighed in at 2 lbs., 2.7 oz., then spent his first few weeks in Kaiser’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit on Geary.

Baby and mom at his first ballet.

Soon after they got him home, the new parents looked at their tickets to the Christmas Ballet, a long family tradition, and decided to introduce Sebastian to Smuin. Bundled in a baby wrap, mittens and blanket, he snuggled his way happily through the performance.

Onstage in the finale was dancer Leeds, longtime ballet teacher at the University of San Francisco, who several years ago might have seemed unlikely to walk again. A fall in her Presidio Heights basement in 2016 left her with a pelvis broken in five places and a badly broken left arm. Once out of the hospital, she spent five weeks in rehab and two months with in-home care — but then set about getting back to dancing.

Leeds had last danced onstage in New Shoes, Old Souls, a piece for three women and one man choreographed by the late Michael Smuin and performed in the spring of 1999. She continues to take classes with the company. So when her husband, local dentist Rick Leeds, bid on a walk-on Christmas Ballet appearance at Smuin’s 2018 gala, artistic director Celia Fushille created a feature role in the finale instead.

Septuagenarian dancer and tiny audience member didn’t meet at the event. But both (with his parents speaking for Sebastian) agreed the event was a spectacular way to usher in the new year.

‘Noosh is creating a new model’

A private party on November 30 hosted by designer Eden Wright offered a preview of Noosh.

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

A soft opening of Noosh — the much-anticipated new restaurant coming to the corner of Fillmore & Pine — is coming soon, and private parties are already underway. Co-owner John Litz, who has been promising high concept but thus far has been tight-lipped on details, is finally opening up about what we can expect from the “Eastern Mediterranean Inspired, California Made” restaurant and bar.

To recap: The corner Victorian storefront has been a hippie plant store, the legendary Pacific Heights Bar and Grill and, most recently, the Thai Stick. Earlier this year Litz and his partners, the acclaimed chefs Sayat and Laura Ozyilmaz, signed a lease, slapped butcher paper on the windows and called in the designers and contractors. For starters, they painted the faded yellow building a classy rich blue.

Litz and his chef-partners say Noosh will approach casual dining differently, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks late into the evening every day offered “at the most affordable prices we can to remain profitable.”

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Pop-up gifts from Gwyneth

Goop Gifts offers a 24-karat golden dildo named Olga.

POPPING UP at 2241 Fillmore, next door to the Clay Theatre, and slated to remain there only until Christmas Eve, is a hot new spot for holiday shoppers: Goop Gifts. Shop curator and company founder actress Gwyneth Paltrow is both revered for her attention — and reviled for her overattention — to self-care.

She’s stocked the Fillmore shop with a collection from this year’s Goop Holiday Gift Guide — part of the lifestyle brand she started, she says, “as just sort of a way to share information.” One of her suggestions: a doctor-supervised treatment involving bee venom injections. “I had it done on my cesarean scar,” says Paltrow. “I had some buckling in the scar, and it really evened it out.” Outfitted with a moving conveyor belt laden with wrapped and displayed gifts, the Fillmore pop-up offers many quintessentially Paltrow items: dietary supplements, bath salts, makeup remover pads, edible pre-probiotic skin refiner and lots of things in pink and gold.

It also has on hand some gifts you might not have realized that person on your list really needs: a sneaker cleaning kit, a gold champagne cork puller, a digital luggage scale for those prone to overpacking, 24-karat gold rolling papers, as well as a 24-karat golden dildo named Olga, available for $3,490.

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

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.

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