Survival of the fittest

PACIFIC HEIGHTS HEALTH CLUB has always been a harbinger of the times. The club, at 2356 Pine Street, just off Fillmore, opened in 1984 to men only. The entranceway was plastered with a 12-foot tickertape — a nod to owner Ken Lapan, who was also an attorney and stockbroker. Members were given free half-hour massages — and attendants opened the lockers and handed out towels. There were only six health clubs in all of San Francisco then.

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A sign — and a promise — outside Pacific Heights Health Club.

In 1990, David Kirk, a former fitness trainer and sales manager at the club, bought the place, refashioning the front to include an all-women facility. It wasn’t  until 2002 that the exercise spaces were combined and members of all genders were allowed to sweat and roam freely.

In the late ’80s, John Kennedy Jr. set many local hearts atwitter when he worked out in the club while he was staying in the neighborhood. It was around the same time he was named People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive.” (He also reportedly benchpressed 225.)

In 2004, Kirk sold the club to Amy Lang, a refugee from the corporate world. The place retained its quirkiness, including a weight room with a retractable ceiling for al fresco fitness. Under Lang’s stewardship, locals soon regarded it as a place they could slip in to work out without designer workout wear or already-bulging biceps.

This month, Lang announced still another metamorphosis of the club. She’s doing away with yoga and Zumba classes and focusing on small group training and Pilates — a combo she hopes will attract the burgeoning crowd of residents in the “50 and older” range.

Read more »

The Grabhorn brothers were master printers

A plaque at 1335 Sutter Street notes the building’s history.

A plaque at 1335 Sutter Street notes the building’s history.

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

Brothers Edwin and Robert Grabhorn founded their Studio Press in 1916 in Indianapolis. They moved to San Francisco in 1919, and a few years later their enterprise formally became known as Grabhorn Press. During that time, California was becoming a hub for small, craft-driven print houses. The Grabhorn brothers soon became among the state’s most respected specialty printers.

Read more »

It’s our 30th

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IN MAY 1986, founding editor and publisher David Ish published Volume 1, Number 1, of the New Fillmore — the premiere issue.

The name was a bit of a joke. The Fillmore had forever been reinventing itself, from its roots as a Jewish neighborhood, then a Japanese neighborhood, then the Harlem of the West, which sported the New Fillmore Hotel and the New Fillmore Theater. The early ’80s brought another new era as upper Fillmore began to emerge as a bustling shopping and dining district and the surrounding area became an ever more desirable place to live.

We took over the newspaper in June 2006, so this issue also marks our 10th anniversary. It has been an eventful decade. As Fillmore Street has been transformed into a coveted location for international fashion and cosmetics brands, many of the one-of-a-kind shops and essential services that made it so attractive have been squeezed out. The street, in some ways, has become a victim of its own success.

Yet this neighborhood remains a wonderful place to live, with a rich history, a vibrant economy and many tales to tell. Thank you for inviting us into your homes every month.

Barbara Kate Repa
Thomas R. Reynolds

Plan for Alta Plaza: ‘Go lightly’

Improvements at Alta Plaza Park can proceed now that a plan has been adopted.

Improvements at Alta Plaza Park can proceed now that a master plan has been adopted.

A MASTER PLAN for Alta Plaza Park was approved by the Recreation and Park Commission on April 21, clearing the way for long-awaited improvements.

The plan would repair crumbling asphalt pathways, replace aging furnishings and replant, with new drought-resistant landscaping, the entrances to the hilltop park created more than a century ago by John McLaren, the visionary who also guided the creation of Golden Gate Park.

“Go lightly,” said landscape architect Jeffrey Miller, who developed the plan at the behest of the Friends of Alta Plaza Park, a neighborhood group founded in 2004. “This was the message: Maintain the park as it is. Maintain the beauty and simplicity of this park.”

A decade ago, the Friends raised the money to renovate the playground and tennis courts atop the park. Then, to conserve water and stop leakage onto the sidewalks, the city installed a new irrigation system and replanted the terraces on the south side of the park.

“It became apparent there has to be a sequence of things,” said Judith Maxwell, who lives near the park. “We learned that when the no-mow grass was put in but the leaks weren’t fixed.”

Commission president Mark Buell recused himself from the hearing “because I live within about five feet of the park.” Buell and his wife Susie Tompkins Buell live in the penthouse of the 2500 Steiner Street tower on the northeast corner of the park.

Others lauded the Friends for their extraordinary public outreach during the last decade while the plan was being developed.

“You set a new standard,” said commissioner Meagan Levitan, a real estate agent who is active in the neighborhood.

“It’s been a long road for the Friends of Alta Plaza Park,” said Phil Ginsburg, director of the Recreation and Park Department. “It is not lost on us how much you care about this piece of open space.”

VIEW THE MASTER PLAN

Fillmore shops empty, but leased

The former home of Paolo Shoes at 2000 Fillmore will eventually become Space NK.

The former home of Paolo Shoes at 2000 Fillmore will house Space NK cosmetics.

W ITH THE CONTINUING onrush of national and international fashion and cosmetics brands onto upper Fillmore Street, retail space has become so sought after that corporate tenants are willing to pay rent for months while their storefronts sit empty, waiting for city permits to be approved.

A dozen storefronts north of Bush Street are now vacant, but almost all are already leased.

“It looks terrible,” said Lynne Newhouse Segal, new president of the Pacific Heights Residents Association, whose group has expressed concerns about the empty shops.

Among the stores in the works:

• Intermix, the Gap’s newest acquisition, is taking over Brooks Brothers’ Black Fleece space at 2223 Fillmore.

• 45rpm, a Japanese clothing brand, got the go-ahead April 14 from the Planning Commission to open at 1905 Fillmore.

• Space NK, a cosmetics company based in London, won approval for its plans to open at 2000 Fillmore, former home of Paolo Shoes, from the commission on April 28.

All are considered “formula retail” chain stores and require a conditional use permit to open on Fillmore. It can take many months to get the permit, although none has ever been rejected. Then building permits must be arranged and approved.

“Everything’s taking longer,” said commercial real estate broker Pam Mendelsohn, who has leased many of the Fillmore storefronts. “There’s a lot of things in process. It just takes a lot longer to get permits.”

Two of the empty spaces housed businesses owned by Starbucks Coffee. Starbucks still controls the vacant corner at 2201 Fillmore. “Unfortunately, we still have no additional details to share at this time,” a Starbucks spokesperson said. The space at 2043 Fillmore that housed Starbucks’ La Boulange has reverted to founder Pascal Rigo, who said he is contemplating a pizzeria, a rotisserie or another Boulangerie.

“We should be making a final decision within the next two weeks,” Rigo said. “We should be reopen by midsummer if everything goes well.”

Among the other businesses with leases on the street are Frye Boots at 2047 Fillmore and Ardis Coffee at 1903 Fillmore. The Mac cosmetics shop at 2011 Fillmore is being remodeled and will reopen. Blue Bottle Coffee is coming to 2455 Fillmore.

It’s a sweet and tangy neighborhood

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WHEN PERUSING THE floor-to-ceiling offerings at Spice Ace at 1821 Steiner Street, don’t overlook the one inspired by and named for your own front yard: Pacific Heights Blend. Its complex citrusy Asian flavoring comes from a mélange of the unexpected: lemon, ginger, orange, coriander, garlic, Aji Amarillo, chives and cardamom.

Sales associates at the spice emporium wax rhapsodic about its dual sweet and tangy qualities, its lingering ginger notes and its unique ability to brighten chicken, fish and vegetables. “It’s particularly good on broccoli,” claims one. “If you weren’t a fan of broccoli and you put some Pacific Heights Blend on it, you’d come away loving broccoli.”

Another attests the spicy blend was prompted by the flavors of the Pacific Ocean, with a nod to the historical context of the Barbary Coast.

But Spice Ace co-owner Olivia Dillon reveals that the true inspiration for the blend came considerably closer to home. “For many years, my mother (and best friend) and I lived in a penthouse in Pacific Heights with unobstructed views of the bay from almost every room,” Dillon recalls. “We had many wonderful dinners with friends and family over the years, enjoying great food as well as the view of the Golden Gate Bridge.”

And thus was born and named “Pacific Heights Blend.”

At Soko Hardware, it’s the mix that works

Eunice Ashizawa and her nephew Aaron Katekaru help run Soko Hardware in Japantown.

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

After Masayasu Ashizawa came from Japan to San Francisco nearly a century ago, he opened a hardware store in 1925 in the heart of bustling Japantown and named it Soko — Japanese for “that place.” Soko Hardware’s founder could not have imagined the family business would be thriving in that place today under the management of his grandson Philip, born years after his grandfather died.

Soko Hardware, at 1698 Post Street, thrives not just as a local hardware store, but also as a destination for Bay Area residents and visitors who come for the paper lanterns or the authentic teapots or the delicate china — sometimes even for the hardware.

“I think of going to Soko as a special treat, like going to a museum and finding things I didn’t know existed,” says Mill Valley resident Sue Steele. Read more »

Paying a premium for Presidio Heights

200 Laurel Street sold for almost $10.3 million, or 114 percent of the listing price.

The home at 200 Laurel Street sold for almost $10.3 million, or 114 percent of the listing price.

REAL ESTATE | PATRICK BARBER

Bidding wars remain a fact of life for San Francisco home shoppers. Single-family homes in the city sold for 108 percent of the original listing price in the first quarter of 2016, according to data from the multiple listing service. This trend has been dominant in Presidio Heights, where a shortage of homes for sale is ensuring that sellers in the neighborhood get a premium.

Through April 15, there have been three single-family home sales in Presidio Heights this year, including two on April 8: 3737 Jackson and 200 Laurel. The Jackson Street home sold for $4.5 million — 104 percent of the listing price — while the Laurel Street home fetched nearly $10.3 million, or 114 percent of the listing price. Even with those big price tags, both homes quickly found buyers: 3737 Jackson in 15 days, 200 Laurel in 10 days. The only other Presidio Heights single-family home sale this year sold in two weeks for 140 percent of its original listing price.

It’s worth noting that there were twice as many home sales in Presidio Heights last year from January through mid-April. Even so, given the neighborhood’s relatively small size and high desirability, four of those six homes sold for more than the listing price.

Patrick Barber is president of Pacific Union.

A modern cathedral celebrates 45 years

St. Mary's Cathedral soon after it opened in 1971.

St. Mary’s Cathedral soon after its opening, beyond the tower of St. Marks Lutheran Church. Photos: San Francisco History Center | San Francisco Public Library

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

May 2016 marks the 45th anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, a recognized masterpiece of religious architecture at 1111 Gough Street. Opening after an agonizing design process, the building was not immediately loved by many of San Francisco’s Catholics, who had previously worshiped in two very traditional churches.

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First look: 2016 jazz festival

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NOTED SAN FRANCISCO graphic artist John Mattos has been selected to create the poster for the 2016 Fillmore Jazz Festival, coming on July 2 and 3, and this week he revealed his design.

“Like good jazz, it’s unexpected,” said Mattos. “There isn’t a guy with a horn in this, so it’s not replicating the experience of the festival. After all, the real function of the poster is to get attention, and a complete departure like this might get more attention than visually interpreting the aural experience — plus, it’s kinda light-hearted.”

Mattos follows other top poster artists who have offered their take on the Fillmore festival in recent years, including Michael Schwab, Craig Frazier and David Lance Goines.

MORE: John Mattos nails it in London