Empty lot becomes an orchard

Rendering of the orchard of apple, pear and fig trees growing at Divisadero and Geary.

Rendering of the orchard of apple, pear and fig trees growing at Divisadero and Geary.

“LET A thousand flowers blossom,” Chairman Mao supposedly said.

Kaiser Permanente has taken a similar approach with the block-long empty lot at Divisadero and Geary it fought — and paid dearly — to clear for a new medical building, now delayed.

Just beginning to bear first fruit in the summer sun is a new orchard with four kinds of apple trees, three varieties of plum trees, plus a few figs, all chosen for this microclimate. They’re planted in four huge stone planters and surrounded by hundreds of other plants and vines growing along an estate-quality fence. [View the landscape plans.]

“We needed a solution that everyone, including the city, was going to be happy with,” says Randy Wittorp, a spokesman for Kaiser.

The orchard grew out of a collaboration between Kaiser and Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF), urged on by a community task force. Kaiser bought the property years ago with an eye to future expansion. It reportedly paid more than six figures each to get longtime tenants out of a deteriorating 21-unit pink apartment building and, with a group of local ministers, built 21 replacement apartments across O’Farrell Street.

“Kaiser came up with a lot of money — a lot of money,” says Bush Street resident Jan Bolaffi, a member of the task force. “By the time all that was done, the demographics of the city had changed.”

Kaiser decided its new medical building should be in Mission Bay and put off plans to expand at Geary and Divisadero. But what to do with the empty lot?

“We’d heard that FUF was going to be planting these urban orchards,” says Jay Murphy, manager of capital projects for Kaiser, who served on FUF’s board of directors for three years. “We thought, what if instead of traditional landscaping we gave the community an orchard?”

The trees will likely be moved at some point when construction proceeds.

Marcus Books locked out

Eviction notice on the locked door of Marcus Books at 1712 Fillmore Street.

Eviction notice on the locked door of Marcus Books at 1712 Fillmore Street.

THE LONG FIGHT to keep Marcus Books in its historic home on Fillmore Street reached another milestone — and perhaps its conclusion — when the new owners of the building locked out the owners of the bookstore May 6. An eviction notice was posted by Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.

In an open letter emailed to supporters, the owners of the bookstore wrote:

“It was difficult to know what to tell you about our struggle to stay in our building, its winding path of lawyers and judges and protests and promises, hopes and gravities made it difficult to report our status on a curved road. But the current property owner has changed the locks to the door of 1712 Fillmore Street.”

Read the full letter

EARLIER: “We are refusing to let Marcus Books close

Shell station may lose garage

The Shell station and garage at California and Steiner Streets.

The Shell station and garage at the corner of California and Steiner Streets.

PLANS HAVE BEEN UNVEILED to demolish the Shell station at 2501 California Street and replace it with a new high-end convenience store called Loop.

Loop is the next evolution in service station retail,” said Nick Goyal, one of California’s largest operators of Shell service stations, who now controls the local station and more than 100 others. During the past year he has opened six Loop stores at Shell stations in the Bay Area, with more on the way.

Loop stores offer groceries and fresh foods along with wine, espresso, smoothies, frozen yogurt, sushi and a soup and salad bar. “It will change your expectation of what you can purchase at your next fill-up,” Goyal said.

Shell Auto Repair would be eliminated and the fuel pumps reconfigured and rebuilt, if the project is approved by the city.

EARLIER: “50 years at the Shell station

Fillmore a case study on chain stores

The Kooples, now under construction at 2241 Fillmore, has more than 300 clothing boutiques worldwide but only six free-standing stores in the U.S. and therefore is not considered a chain.

The Kooples, now under construction at 2241 Fillmore, has more than 300 clothing boutiques worldwide but only six free-standing stores in the U.S. and therefore is not considered a chain.

FILLMORE STREET CONTINUES to remake itself into a mecca of high-end fashion labels from around the world, despite the city’s professed intent to limit chain stores in neighborhood shopping districts.

Partly that is because the rules limiting “formula retail” — defined as companies with 11 or more stores — do not include stores outside the U.S.

An attempt to change the rules to include international stores and spinoffs of existing chains was put on hold last year when the Planning Department commissioned a study of the issue. Now the Berkeley consulting firm conducting the study, Strategic Economics, has produced a draft of its final report, which will be the basis of policy recommendations to be presented to the Planning Commission on May 22.

The report includes detailed case studies of three neighborhoods, including the Upper Fillmore Neighborhood Commercial District, stretching from Bush to Jackson Streets. The other neighborhoods included in the study are Ocean Avenue and a portion of outer Geary Boulevard.

“Upper Fillmore . . . is a rapidly changing district that in recent years has seen a significant shift in the types of retailers occupying local storefronts,” the report says, including “a growing number of new high-end formula clothing stores and other chain retail establishments.”

The report notes: “As the mix of retail in the district has changed, residents have raised concerns about a loss of neighborhood-serving businesses, while some independent retailers have expressed unease over competition from national brands.”
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Businesses blooming on Sutter Street

Photograph of Jet Mail co-owner Kevin Wolohan by Kathi O'Leary

Photograph of Jet Mail co-owner Kevin Wolohan by Kathi O’Leary

By Barbara Kate Repa

THE ONCE SLEEPY 2100 block of Sutter Street, stretching from Steiner to Pierce, would seem an unlikely spot for an urban renaissance.

But in recent years the area has quietly remade itself. Even as it lost a few longstanding businesses, it has attracted an eclectic assortment of independent shops — including Jet Mail, which moved down last year from a prime location on Fillmore Street, the newly relocated Iyengar Yoga Institute and gourmet destinations Song Tea and Spice Ace — that have begun to draw increased notice and foot traffic.

sutterstdomOne of the first of the new wave to locate in the area was Olivia Dillan, who with her husband Ben Balzer opened the spice shop of their dreams in October 2012 at 1821 Steiner, two doors from Sutter, and called it Spice Ace.

“When I first looked at this space the landlord warned me away, saying there’s absolutely no foot traffic here,” she says. “But I just had the feeling it would work, that people would find us.”

As she was recalling the conversation, right on cue, several customers filtered in at once, one searching for a specific type of smoky cumin, another looking for a gift for a friend who looks to cook, a third — a recent transplant from Chicago — hoping to find a store that would live up to the specialty spice shop she recalls fondly there. All left with their needs fulfilled.

Dillan, who lives near the shop, remains a loyal booster of the neighborhood and is proud of the Sutter Street surge. “We’re bringing back the small business owners to the area,” she says. “That’s especially important with all the brand name, high-end stores on Fillmore.”

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Spice Ace makes the neighborhood tastier

Photograph of Spice Ace by Daniel Bahmani

Photograph of Spice Ace by Daniel Bahmani

FIRST PERSON | Arthur Stone

ROAMING THE NEIGHBORHOOD as a boy in the 1940s, I searched for small critters to join the ranks of the quacking, barking and croaking things my mother barely tolerated in her home.

Today my nose leads the way as I wander about gathering things for our evening meal. My wife marvels at her good fortune to have a husband who cooks — who actually loves to cook. Even the postal carrier has been spotted at the door slot, enjoying an olfactory break.

Before Spice Ace moved in around the corner at 1821 Steiner Street, I was more of a beans and weenies guy, but always wanting a tastier meal. (I did manage to get my wife’s attention with my mother’s salmon croquettes, however.) An enticing sign finally led me in the direction of the new neighborhood spice shop.

The go-to guy there, Ed, loves Mexican flavors; I want the oxtail dishes of my childhood. Out of that discussion came the idea of oxtail chili. My first attempt was too salty. Ed suggested I throw in a potato. Bingo — it worked.

I’ve gone into the shop several times to ask technical cooking questions. Spice Ace owner Olivia has explained how to use canola oil safely. Aces Louise and Susan seem to read my mind as I enter the store, handing me just the spices I need.

Dinnertime is the best time of the day in our home. My wife is a sucker for salmon, and I am still a sucker for oxtail chili. Do we still have beans and weenies? You bet. But these days, I add a neighborhood touch: Spice Ace’s barbecue seasoning.

EARLIER: “Marco Polo comes to the Fillmore

Iyengar: a different kind of yoga

Yogis celebrate the opening of the Iyengar Yoga Institute on Sutter Street.

Yogis celebrate the opening of the Iyengar Yoga Institute on Sutter Street.

By Barbara Kate Repa

THE IYENGAR YOGA INSTITUTE of San Francisco, a venerable organization with an imposing moniker, moved to the neighborhood recently in search of an updated space, better access to the community — and a new image.

Iyengar yoga, a style developed by Indian yogi, teacher and author B.K.S. Iyengar, now 95, emphasizes precision and alignment. But the nuances that distinguish it from other forms of yoga are largely lost on much of the public, and sometimes puzzling even to practitioners.

The students in Iyengar classes generally skew older, less outfitted, less frenetic, less apt to text while on their mats awaiting class.

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The buzz on Divis: change is coming

Photographs of Divisadero Street by Erik Anderson

Photographs of upper Divisadero Street in San Francisco by Erik Anderson

By Chris Barnett

THE FOUR CORNERS of the dingy intersection of Divisadero and Bush won’t win any architectural awards today, but the location is increasingly prized by investors, and all four corners are in transition.

Bulldozers are rumbling over the dirt on the southwest corner, home for decades to the San Francisco Community Convalescent Home. More recently it has been a slot machine for speculators. Owner Jocelyn Carter cashed out seven years ago for $4.6 million from a San Francisco builder and his Manhattan money partner. Then, in foreclosure, they lost the location to a Mill Valley condo developer and investor who paid $14.6 million in 2012 — and quickly flipped it to Los Angeles-based megabuilder KB Home for a jackpot $38 million.

Now a six-story residential and retail complex with 81 condos is under construction, with a grand opening slated for early next year. Price tags on some units are sure to top a million apiece.

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Cottage Row loses its redwoods

Five redwoods were cut in the mini-park at Cottage Row.

Five redwoods were cut in the mini-park at Cottage Row.

THERE HAD BEEN TALK for years about cutting down the rapidly growing redwood trees in the park along Cottage Row. Suddenly one day in mid-February the five redwoods were felled, along with a massive eucalyptus tree and other smaller trees.

The howls of outrage among many neighbors now seem to be giving way to acceptance.

“I was opposed to cutting the trees when they could have been trimmed,” said Cottage Row resident Jeff Staben. “But now that you see the light and openness, it’s nice. If only people would stop using the park as a dog potty.”

cottage rowA crew from the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks has removed the trees and the redwood stumps and begun to refurbish the mini-park, which serves as a front yard for the historic Cottage Row homes. New Japanese maple trees — and perhaps cherry trees and magnolias — will be planted in a nod to the heritage of the row before its Japanese-American residents were ousted and interned during World War II. A few redwoods remain on private property.

“We’re stabilizing the park and updating the landscaping,” said Steve Cismowski, the manager from Rec & Park responsible for Cottage Row. “Those redwoods were always the wrong species for a park this size. We caught it just in the nick of time.”

He said the interim plan — what he called “shoestring and duct tape landscaping” — will make the park safer and more usable. “But it isn’t intended to be the end of the conversation — just the beginning,” he said.

Cismowski and his crew expect to work in the park every Monday for the next six weeks, completing their limited work by mid-May. They are widening the planters where the redwoods stood, building new steps and adding Japonesque touches. The eucalyptus stump — too big to grind out — will remain.

While Cottage Row has lost its redwoods, it has gained its own song — a lyrical melody by singer-songwriter Eve Fleishman, who lives nearby.

“Twice a week I could sing to the five small redwood trees that inspired the bridge lyrics of my song, City Light,” she said. “I felt like crying when I saw they were gone. Not much to sing about on Cottage Row right now.”

A salon offers help and hope

Photographs by Susie Biehler

Josh McGill gives a young client his first haircut. Photograph by Susie Biehler

GOOD WORKS | Barbara Kate Repa

On a sunny afternoon in late March, Christine Coppola pulled up to the Compass Family Shelter on Polk Street and opened the trunk of her car to unload an unlikely stash: a collection of combs, brushes, blow dryers, towels and hair potions and products.

Coppola has worked at Renaissance Salon, a block off Fillmore at 2600 Sacramento Street, for 19 years — and owned it for the last 15. For several months now, she has been leading a group of hair stylists who deliver the gift of grooming to the families living temporarily at the shelter.

Within moments of arriving at the shelter, she and two other stylists at Renaissance — Sara Nowacky and Josh McGill — transformed a basement area just off a communal kitchen into a makeshift salon. “It’s a little difficult not having the right chairs and all, but we make do,” Coppola explained cheerfully.

Her first haircutting session at the shelter was last September and she has returned every eight weeks or so since then, enlisting a group of hairdresser friends from Renaissance and elsewhere. Shelter residents sign up for a styling session in advance; there are usually 10 to 20 clients.

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