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Yet Another Hole in the Head

FILM | ANDREA CHASE

The 16th Annual Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, brought to you by the fine people at SFIndieFest, gathers a scintillating collection of the best of the genres of sci-fi, horror, fantasy and just plain odd films currently out there, along with the now traditional rescoring of a classic.

The fest is running now through December 15 at the New People Cinema in Japantown, and there’s not a dud in the program.

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Watching San Francisco burn

Watching the fire after the 1906 earthquake from Lafayette Square.

LOCAL HISTORY | BRIDGET MALEY

A series of photographs taken during and just after the 1906 earthquake and fire reveals the sense of the fear and dread neighborhood residents must have felt at the time. The fire, which crossed to the west side of Van Ness Avenue between Sutter and Clay Streets, was halted by the U.S. Army’s defensive dynamiting, which included purposefully destroying some of the city’s most elaborate mansions. 

The photographs illustrate just how the marching fire must have raised the alarm near Lafayette Square. The images, all in the collection of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and taken by either Frank or Gregory Padilla. The Padillas apparently had a studio on Washington Street, but not much is known about the family of photographers. 

Looking east on Washington Street after the 1906 earthquake.

When the earthquake hit, there were only three houses facing the square on the block of Gough Street between Washington and Clay. One image, looking east down Washington Street, shows a mishmash of fencing and billboard advertising at the corner of Washington and Gough. A portion of the three houses peek out from behind the park’s hilly terrain. While all three dwellings survived the earthquake, only two remain; the third was replaced in 1912.

The remarkable images taken from Lafayette Square during those fateful days in April of 1906 provide a glimpse of events as they were happening. The photographers captured spectators watching the fire consume the city. The images hold the event frozen in time with a backdrop of what the blocks around the square would have looked like as it all unfolded.

Watching the fire from Lafayette Square. Bancroft Library photographs.

Bidding wars and other myths

REAL ESTATE | NINA HATVANY

There are many myths about the San Francisco real estate market — many of them not true.

MYTH #1: Homes are still going for 10 to 15 percent above asking in bidding wars.

The truth is, the competition for San Francisco condominiums and homes has drastically slowed down as inventory has increased. “Bidding wars,” while they still exist, are less common, and if there is competition, it is more likely two or three other offers rather than 10. The market in the fall tends to dip slightly in prices because of the glut of inventory that hits right after Labor Day and then is slow to get absorbed as the holidays approach.

There is still a good amount of inventory sitting, and buyers become less motivated over the holidays to deal with finding a home between their travels and hosting family. In the spring, prices historically tend to rise again as the market picks up. While we can’t predict what will happen next year, the current combination of low interest rates, higher inventory and economic uncertainty makes this a great time to jump into the usually hyper-competitive San Francisco market.

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Fillmore Street: Retail Mecca?

The new boutique ADAY has just opened at 2011 Fillmore Street. 

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

Despite the fierce turnover among well-heeled retailers, is Fillmore Street still Mecca for merchants? Jon Levy, an exec with Leap — a New York-based firm that creates and launches traditional retail stores for web-based digital brands — is convinced of it. He just snapped up a second storefront on the street for a client and is gunning for a third — all in the same block.

Leap just soft-opened the women’s fashion shop ADAY at 2011 Fillmore, after the cosmetic emporium MAC vanished suddenly last month. A few months earlier, Leap opened Koio, a hip sneaker company, a few doors north at 2029 Fillmore in what was previously the Lilith women’s boutique. Now Leap has its sights on the space nearby at 2033 Fillmore being vacated by Modcloth, the Walmart-owned apparel startup that flopped as a brick-and-mortar venture but lives on online. 

Leap is neither an angel investor nor a venture capitalist. Its gig: Match online retail concepts with hot locations nationwide and get them off the brick and mortar launching pad. And even with the high casualty rates on Fillmore among solidly financed, often globally owned retailers, Levy feels the street has an irresistible appeal to tech-smart, savvy-spending millennials who aren’t afraid to disrupt rules and flout traditions.

Levy maintains that ADAY is aimed at the “fashion forward yet practical” woman who looks for simplicity and versatility in her wardrobe. “This is comfortable yet technical apparel — think high-end fabrics made of recycled materials,” he says. The premise is that customers can wear the same outfit to work, a party, a job interview and a club.

“These buyers are found in cities like San Francisco, L.A. and New York,” Levy says. “The place to be for retailers targeting those buyers is on Fillmore. Just look at Noosh. Filled. That’s our market.”

Levy, who kicks off all his new store grand openings with a music, food and drink party and invites the neighborhood — none of those “friends and family” insider-only private bashes — is doing the same with ADAY. A do-good shopping incentive: 10 percent of all proceeds will be donated to the California Fire Foundation to aid in wildfire relief.

A tiny plant store on tony Fillmore

Organic forms and abundant greenery mark Plants and Friends at 1906 Fillmore.

A NEIGHBOR, out for a walk one night soon after Plants and Friends opened its new shop at 1906 Fillmore in early October, stopped to admire the greenery in the window.

“It’s fun,” she said to another neighbor walking by. “It makes you smile.”

And so it does. Who would think — in the age of international fashion boutiques and cosmetics salons — that a tiny plant store could sprout on tony Fillmore Street?

Owner Nick Forland, that’s who. Suggest to him that he’s a dreamer for opening a petite plant store in a high-rent district and he seems completely surprised anyone could think he’s taking a risk.

“We’ve made a plant store work for two years in Hayes Valley,” he says with a toothy grin. “We had a test run.”

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More than a few of her favorite things

Chandler Tang’s new shop Post Script has just opened at 2413 California.

CHANDLER TANG is living her dream — curating and stocking what she describes as “very fun things” for Post Script, a new shop she’s just opened in a neighborhood she knows and loves. 

Tang describes her new endeavor at 2413 California Street, near Fillmore — most recently habited by the women’s clothing boutique De Novo — as a “lifestyle store” that focuses on small goods.

The offerings are an eclectic mix of mostly handcrafted items including pillows, throws, soap, candles, planners, bowls, art books, towels and jewelry, along with greeting cards ranging from nice to naughty. Somehow the mix seems unified, no doubt due to Tang’s buying philosophy: “I really just look for a sense of colors and designs that can enrich your every day,” she says. 

Days before opening, Tang wanders about the space, newly brightened by refinished floors and a coat of white paint on the walls, one of them adorned with a mural by local artist Katie Benn. 

It’s also clear there’s another unifying force: She’s stocked the shop with more than a few of her favorite things.  

“Just look at this!” she marvels, plucking a stylized toothbrush with aqua bristles off one of the newly constructed shelves. “It’s by an amazing brand called Hay. They just strip everything and focus on great design.”

Post Script is slated to be open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tang plans to be on site most of the time. “For now, I want to be the face of the store — to meet my customers, to get that personal touch,” she says.

New life for an old library

The library’s majestic former reading room is now available as an event space.

By CHRIS BARNETT

 One of the neighborhood’s enduring architectural treasures has been resurrected and a mystery is solved — almost. 

The 107-year-old Beaux Arts four-story Health Sciences Library on the corner of Webster and Sacramento — which gave refuge to the smart and studious for decades, but has stood empty collecting cobwebs in recent years — is being reborn as a venue for “mission based” organizations and groups looking for conference and symposium space.

A designated San Francisco landmark once known as the Lane Library, the building at 2395 Sacramento Street is now owned by entrepreneurial software executive-turned-humanitarian Kamal El-Wattar and his wife, Anya, a Michelin-starred chef, restaurateur and wellness advocate. The couple bought it more than two years ago for a reported $9.5 million, but have been silent on their plans for the property. Until now.

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Pacific Heights Health Club ends its 35-year run

A retractable roof in the weight room has been one of the club’s distinctions.

PACIFIC HEIGHTS HEALTH CLUB, with its lofty-sounding name and low-key vibe — where designer workout garb is not required — will close its doors for the last time on November 27, the day before Thanksgiving, at precisely 3 p.m. 

Amy Lang, who took ownership of the club 15 years ago and appointed herself chief motivating officer, announced the move in a letter to members on November 1.

“San Francisco has changed. Retail has changed. The fitness industry has changed,” Lang said in an interview. 

The club’s personal training program will continue in the fitness center of the nearby 2000 Post Street apartments, between Steiner and Pierce.

Lang intends to focus, mostly in online sessions, on coaching women from 45 to 55 interested in weight loss — especially those in tech, who share her work roots.

A longtime neighborhood institution, the urban gym at 2356 Pine, just west of Fillmore, has gone through a number of incarnations. It opened in 1984 — when the city had only six health clubs — as a men-only club that offered massages, a hot tub, and was staffed with locker room attendants. It was frequented by a number of celebrity clients, including, for a time, John F. Kennedy Jr.

David Kirk opened the front part of the club to women when he took ownership in 1990. A dozen years later he opened the entire club to all. 

Fleeing a worklife in finance and tech, Amy Lang took over as owner in 2004, adding a cheeky sense of marketing along with yoga, Zumba and Pilates classes. Later she discontinued the classes and focused on small group training for older people, a change that didn’t sit well with some of the regulars. 

“It created a bit of a kerfuffle,” Lang acknowledges, but also revealed a deeper truth. “It was then that I realized the club is a better place for a person who is a do-it-yourself type of exerciser,” Lang says. “I didn’t know you don’t morph a health club into what you want it to be. But what I’ve learned now allows me to do what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Farmers market loses a pioneer

Albert Terry’s son-in-law Ephriam Walters on his final day at the Fillmore market.

PRODUCE FROM Terry Farms, picked just the day before, made its final appearance at the Fillmore Farmers Market on November 2 after owner Albert Terry died earlier in the week.

He was one of the original vendors when the market started in 2003 in the parking lot at Fillmore and Eddy, later to become the site of the Fillmore Heritage Center.

“He was there from the beginning,” said his daughter Lisa Terry-Walters. He had learned about the new market as a board member of the sponsoring Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association. 

“After going himself for the first couple of years, he started sending employees,” she said, but they soon wanted to quit. “It wasn’t worth it because they weren’t making enough even to cover the cost of going.”

So Terry started coming to Fillmore again and established an easy rapport with customers and the other farmers.

“He always knew that Fillmore was a special deal, and it became a market that was very personal for him,” his daughter said. “This is the only market he attended regularly himself.”

Terry Farms specialized in peaches — especially white varietals and old-fashioned clings — and pluots. In the fall there were grapes, persimmons and pomegranates.

A decade ago, Terry asked his son-in-law, the tough ex-Marine Ephriam Walters, to come with him to Fillmore. “So I cancelled my fishing trip and came,” Walters said. For the past five years, Walters has been in charge, and has built a strong base of customers who return every week for his fresh fruit and no-nonsense approach.

“When I got out of the Marines, it was hard for me to transition,” Walters said on his final Saturday morning at the Fillmore market, as he bade farewell to his regulars. “This market has helped me. It has changed so much, but a lot of these people I’ve been dealing with for 10 years.”

Walters said the market paid Terry’s medical bills in recent years as he battled heart disease and had to stay close to the ranch he farmed for 51 years in Denair, in Stanislaus County.

Now the family is putting the farm on the market.

“Our family is very hopeful the farm will be purchased by another farmer who will continue to be as passionate about the products the farm produces as my dad was,” said Terry’s daughter, and Ephriam’s wife, Lisa. “With any luck, they will be able to attend the Fillmore market.”

OBITUARY: Albert Leroy Terry (1938-2019)

Buster Keaton on Divisadero

A still from the opening scene of The Navigator, filmed in the neighborhood.

FILM | CLASSICS SHOT LOCALLY

Atop the crest of the hill on Divisadero Street, looking north between Pacific and Broadway, a car slowly makes a U-turn, then stops on the opposite side of the street. Buster Keaton filmed almost exclusively on Hollywood lots, but traveled to San Francisco to get this one shot. 

The first five minutes of The Navigator, from 1924, are among the funniest in the entire film. The opening gag introduces Keaton’s character to us as the rich bachelor Rollo Treadway, who wakes up with the bright idea that he should get married — immediately. The caption card reads: “He had completed all the arrangements — except to notify the girl.”

Treadway instructs his chauffeur to take him at once to his girlfriend’s house. The car starts and does a U-turn and stops across the street. Treadway exits clutching a hopeful bouquet of flowers and marches up the brick-lined steps. His girlfriend, played by Kathryn McGuire, is caught off guard by Treadway’s epiphany and rejects his offer of “Will you marry me?” with a “Certainly not!”

Dejected, Treadway slinks back down the steps to the street below and quietly informs his chauffeur that he won’t be needing the car; instead what he chiefly needs is a nice long walk to clear his mind. He then walks back across the lonely street to his own mansion. 

The hilarity of this scene only works due to its extravagance. In seconds, we learn that Rollo Treadway is a young man with more dollars than sense, coupled with a keen inability to read a situation. The fact that the chauffeur is not surprised in the least to be instructed to drive his boss a mere 180-degree turn across the street paints a picture of the blissful wastefulness of the young millionaire. Keaton’s brilliance was his ability to create a character no one could relate to, but with whom everyone would instantly sympathize.

The casual viewer will laugh at the scene, but the extravagance goes past the joke. Keaton picked this spot on Divisadero Street purely because the northerly crest prevented other structures from cluttering the scope of the scene. His minimalist vision makes this scene that much more endearing. It’s as if these two giant mansions and a few others exist all by themselves. That makes the fairy tale of the two young lovers that much sweeter, even when she rejects him. 

The ivy-choked mansion on the right, which was meant to belong to Rollo Treadway, is now sadly long gone, demolished in the 1930s. But his girlfriend’s mansion is still in place at 2505 Divisadero. Built in 1899, it was more recently known as Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett’s residence. It sold for $10 million three years ago, a price at which Rollo Treadway might barely blink an eye.

There is something magical and unique about the top of Divisadero Street. Buster Keaton saw it in 1924, and we can see it still.

— Mark Fantino

VIDEO: Buster Keaton goes for a ride in The Navigator