A life in leather

Photograph of Peter James and Susanne Rundberg by Susie Biehler

Photographs of Fog City Leather’s Peter James and Susanne Rundberg by Susie Biehler

By Barbara Kate Repa

PETER JAMES STILL REMEMBERS when he got smitten by leather. He was about 10 years old, living in San Francisco, having immigrated with his family from Sweden four years earlier.

“I sat in my dad’s new 1955 Studebaker, and when I shut the door I was instantly intoxicated with the leather aroma,” he says. “It just knocked me out. It had black and white checkerboard upholstery — and it hit me like a thunderbolt. I was hooked.”

Becoming an artisan and a leathercrafter wasn’t on his radar screen back then, growing up in a family where the mantra repeated each night at dinner was: “Be willing to work a little harder.”

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To G or not to G

REAL ESTATE | PATRICK BARBER

A two-unit home for sale at 2905 Bush Street would be affected if Proposition G passes.

A two-unit home for sale at 2905 Bush Street could be affected if Proposition G passes.

A significant slowdown in the number of multi-unit building sales in San Francisco’s northern neighborhoods suggests that Proposition G may be having an impact on the local real estate market months before city residents cast their votes.

On the ballot for the upcoming November 4 election, Proposition G is designed to discourage property flipping by levying a substantial tax on homes with two or more units that are resold within five years of purchase. Essentially, the proposed legislation could force home sellers to pay up to 24 percent of the sale price in taxes — a substantial sum in a city where the median single-family home price has hovered around the $1 million mark for most of this year.

The uncertainty surrounding Proposition G appears already to have cooled investor interest in multi-unit properties. From mid-August to mid-September 2013, eight multi-unit buildings sold in the Cow Hollow, Lower Pacific Heights, Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights neighborhoods, while four went into contract. In that same time period in 2014, only two multi-unit buildings sold and two went into contract.

And since Proposition G applies to single-family homes with in-law units, its effects could be felt beyond the multi-unit property market if voters choose to approve it.

Patrick Barber is president of Pacific Union.

Happier hour on Fillmore

elite

SALOONS | CHRIS BARNETT

A fresh wave of happiness is flooding Fillmore as boulevard bars and restaurants are pouring newly discounted drinks and offering bargain-priced appetizers during afternoon happy hours. Some thirst parlors are more generous than others.

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Fillmore gets more neighborly

benches-wide

WHEN DINO’S became Dino and Santino’s last year at Fillmore and California, owner Dino Stavrakikis wanted to make his — and his son’s — prime corner a little friendlier. So he bought a black metal bench and bolted it to the sidewalk, inviting the neighbors to stop and sit in the sunshine, even if they weren’t ordering a slice of pizza.

His good example has now brought more benches to the stretch of Fillmore between Bush and Jackson Streets. In mid-August the city’s Department of Public Works, encouraged by the Fillmore Merchants Association, put additional benches like Dino’s on the street — only shorter, so no one is tempted to take a nap. The original 60 locations under consideration were whittled down to 19 spots acceptable to the various authorities from the city’s transit, utility, parking and disability departments.

The drive to add benches on Fillmore began 14 years ago. It took a politically savvy young DPW staffer, Ahmad El-Najjar, and funding secured by Supervisor Mark Farrell’s office to make it finally happen.

Initial reaction was mixed. Some merchants complained about smokers, and high-end fashion boutiques and restaurants feared undesirables would sit in front of their high-rent shops. But the reaction from residents has been mostly positive.

The benches are being touted as a pilot project that may be adjusted or expanded. Already several other business owners have asked for benches.

“I want one right out front,” said Dino. “The last one I had to buy myself.”

Rising rent moves more shops south

Fillmore and California, Labor Day 2014 | Photograph by Dickie Spritzer

Fillmore and California, Labor Day 2014 | Photograph by Dickie Spritzer

FILLMORE STREET is “the hot retail spot in San Francisco” for fashion and beauty brands, Women’s Wear Daily proclaims, and the rent on commercial storefronts is rising rapidly to reflect the neighborhood’s newfound favor.

This year has already brought Ella Moss and The Kooples to the street, joining dozens of other clothing and beauty boutiques. Soon Rag & Bone will open its new showplace on the prime corner of Fillmore and California. And Rebecca Minkoff is bringing its designs to the former Pure Beauty store at 2124 Fillmore, the only empty storefront on upper Fillmore.

Now two more longtime neighborhood shops are packing up and moving south, where the rent is significantly less expensive.

• Copynet, the printing and graphic design firm that has occupied 2404 California Street for 20 years, will move this month to 2174 Sutter Street — a few doors from Jet Mail, which made a similar move earlier this year.

• Zinc Details, the home furnishings store that has been on Fillmore near Bush Street for 20 years, will move in October three blocks south into the empty National Dollar Store space at 1603 Fillmore, next door to the Boom Boom Room at the Geary
bridge.

The owners of both businesses see fresh opportunities in their new locations, but both acknowledge they were facing big rent increases that made it impossible to maintain their longtime homes.

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Who shot the Mayor of Fillmore?

Charles Sullivan (center left, with Fats Corlett sitting beside him) in the Booker T. Washington Hotel at Fillmore and Ellis.

Charles Sullivan (center left, with Fats Corlett sitting beside him) in the Booker T. Washington Hotel at Fillmore and Ellis. Photograph courtesy of the Hall family.

LOCAL HISTORY | GARY CARR

On August 2, 1966, the “Mayor of Fillmore” was found shot to death in the area south of Market Street. He was sprawled on the street next to the open door of a rental car. A revolver lay beside his right hand. Police said it was a suicide.

The dead man was Charles Sullivan, the most influential — and controversial — figure in the mostly African-American Fillmore District. From the late 1940s until his death, Sullivan was probably the richest man in the neighborhood. He was tall, handsome and imposing, dressed in finely tailored suits worthy of Duke Ellington. A local merchants group bestowed his title on him, complete with an oversize key to the city.

The San Francisco coroner dismissed the idea of suicide, declaring the death of “unknown circumstances.” Also disagreeing with the initial police report is Harry Richard Hall, Charles Sullivan’s nephew and the creator of a new one-man show, Blues for Charles.

“BLUES FOR CHARLES”
Harry Hall performs Blues for Charles, his one-man tribute to his uncle Charles Sullivan, the one-time Mayor of Fillmore, at the Exit Theatre at 156 Eddy Street on September 7, 13, 16 and 17 as part of the 23rd annual San Francisco Fringe Festival.

Blues for Charles is a murder mystery, and also Hall’s tribute to Charles Sullivan, his family and the Fillmore. But Hall would be the first to admit his uncle was no saint.

“Charles never would have committed suicide,” Hall says. “He was too selfish.”

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Images that tell a story

David Johnson and his iconic 1946 photograph in the 1300 on Fillmore lounge.
Photograph by Rory Earnshaw

A CONVERSATION with photographer David Johnson and his old friend and new wife, author Jacqueline Sue, as a new exhibition of his photographs of the Fillmore during the “Harlem of the West” era opens.

Jackie: In November we will have known each other for 58 years. Just a few weeks ago we celebrated your 88th birthday and our fifth wedding anniversary. Do you remember how we met?

David: Well, my wife Lucy and I and our two children were attending the Westside Christian Church at Bush and Divisadero. The mostly white congregation was interested in bringing more African-Americans to their church. A black pharmacist named Wayman Fuller who was a member invited my family, and we met you there.

Jackie: New in town, age 21, no friends, I was there because it was my family denomination in Kentucky and that was the only Christian Church in San Francisco.

David: You and Lucy bonded quickly and became friends because you were both among the first African-American long distance operators in the 1950s.

Jackie: When your son Michael was born in 1957 and I became his godmother, you were already an established photographer, but I didn’t realize it.

David: Yes, by then, I had photographed many of the historical photographs that are now being exhibited. My studio was on Divisadero Street not far from our church.

DAVID JOHNSON RETROSPECTIVE
David Johnson’s photographs are on view at the Harvey Milk Photo Center at 50 Scott Street from September 6 to October 19.

You see, as a youth growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, I found that I was curious about the neighborhood and environment where I lived. We were poor and living on the edge. However, my foster mother provided a good place for me to grow up.

After my discharge from the Navy following World War II, I decided to come to San Francisco and study photography with Ansel Adams at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). While Ansel and other students photographed Yosemite and nature, it was a natural fit for me to photograph people and the Fillmore community I lived in.

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The art of the Arctic

Soapstone sculpture by the renowned Inuit artist Jonas Faber is featured at Images of the North.

Soapstone sculpture by Inuit artist Jonas Faber is featured at Images of the North.

By Judy Goddess

IMAGES OF THE NORTH gallery at 2036 Union Street may be small in size, but its collection is rich in artistry and giant in vision.

“Inuit art is magical,” says owner Lesley Leonhardt of the art she presents capturing the Arctic landscape and culture. Her Union Street gallery houses one of the country’s most extensive collections of Inuit art by established and emerging artists from all over the Arctic. Sculpture fills the floor; smaller pieces are stored in narrow cabinets along the walls; jewelry and prints are hung on the walls and displayed in cabinets and racks in the back of the gallery.

From September 13 to October 9, the gallery will showcase soapstone sculpture by Jonas Faber, its third exhibition of the internationally heralded artist known for his bold, personal style and his creative treatment of Inuit cultural themes and myths.

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From Fillmore to Tanzania

FIRST PERSON | ERIN LEMOINE

I’ve lived in this neighborhood for eight years, so I tend to make a lot of decisions when hanging out on Fillmore Street. Dino’s or the Elite for dinner? Yoga at International Orange or Mindful Body? Recently, while having coffee and surfing the web at Jane, I made a bigger decision: to quit my job, leave the safe confines of the neighborhood and go to Africa on a humanitarian project.

I’ve enjoyed a successful career as an event planner in the entertainment, tech and sports marketing industries. It’s been fun and rewarding. But the last couple of years have left me wanting more. I’ve always wanted to make a more significant impact by doing work that helps people help themselves. I realized it was now or never.

Erin LeMoine on Fillmore Street

Erin LeMoine on Fillmore Street

I had been searching for a project for some time and that morning at Jane I discovered the website for Mama Hope, an organization working with African organizations to build schools, health clinics, children’s centers, clean water systems and food security projects. I was so excited about the opportunity that I hiked half a block up to Peet’s and completed the online application.

Mama Hope isn’t the usual volunteer opportunity; you must apply and interview for the fellowship program. Luckily, I made the cut. Now I must raise $20,000 to help build a student dining hall and community center in Tanzania. This new structure will provide a space for children to eat meals together, and will also serve as a gathering place for meetings, events and celebrations.  Most importantly, the community center will attract more paying students, which means more poor and vulnerable children can get a free education.

Soon I’ll board a flight for Moshi, Tanzania, and live there for three months, collaborating with community leaders to begin the project. When I come back to San Francisco, I’ll spend three months doing a mixture of monitoring and evaluation, reporting and public speaking.

Even though I’m leaping into the unknown, the move aligns with my passion for service. Maybe it’s innate; my father was a firefighter and my sister is a teacher. I intended to get a graduate degree in public health after college and I almost joined the Peace Corps. Instead, I ended up planning elaborate tech parties. However, I’ve reconnected to my passion over the years with some volunteer yoga teaching and a two-year tutoring stint at Rosa Parks Elementary School on Webster Street.

Now it’s time to really go for it.

Fundraising hasn’t been easy. The last time I asked for money, I pleaded with my parents for cash for Duran Duran concert tickets. Yet I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the generosity of people and businesses in the neighborhood and throughout the city. NARS Cosmetics, Yoga Works, Caryn Cohen at Secret Agent Salon, massage therapist Wendy Parker, International Orange, Soul Cycle, Equinox and Prana are just some of the local merchants that have stepped up to the plate. With their support, we’re connecting our community with the community in Tanzania.

I’ll miss my friends who sit on the bench at Peet’s every day. I’ll miss fall, my favorite San Francisco season. But the sacrifice will be worth it. And perhaps my work in Tanzania will open doors to a career in international development.

And to think, it all started on Fillmore.

Learn more about Erin LeMoine’s project and follow its progress.

His baton is at rest

Ever-playful music man Alden Gilchrist with a sculpture by Ralph O'Neill

Ever-playful music man Alden Gilchrist with a sculpture by Ralph O’Neill

JUST AFTER MIDDAY an email message went out: Alden Gilchrist, the widely beloved music director who served Fillmore’s Calvary Presbyterian Church for more than 60 years, had died the night before, on September 1, Labor Day, at age 83.

A few hours later, as dark descended, several dozen of Gilchrist’s friends and admirers instinctively gathered at the church for music and an informal memorial.

“He had that unique ability to make everyone feel like his best friend,” said pastor John Weems.

Gilchrist first came to the historic church at Jackson and Fillmore in 1951 to play the organ. Except for a brief study tour in France, he never left. He was named director of music in 1965, and in the decades since he has been widely acclaimed for his commitment to enlightened and enduring music. He initiated a community concert series, which brings professional musicians to perform at the church and benefits local charities. He led the church choir on three European tours, including performances at Notre Dame in Paris and at the historic cathedral in Chartres. More recently he pioneered a popular Sunday evening jazz service at Calvary.

“He survived six different pastors,” said choir member and church historian Joe Beyer, a friend of Gilchrist’s for more than 50 years.

In October 2011, a concert honored Gilchrist on his 60th anniversary at the church. He remained at the podium through the annual Christmas concert last year, when he conducted the choir and accompanying orchestra in two major works, the Gloria by Francis Poulenc followed by the equally famed Gloria by Antonio Vivaldi.

Shortly afterward, he suffered an illness that kept him in and out of hospitals for much of this year. Gilchrist’s friends and the church staff kept rigid rules in place to limit visitors. “Those who know him — which includes most of greater San Francisco — know also that the gregarious musician would have had nonstop visitors partying with him if the choice were left to him,” said his friend Fran Johns.

Gilchrist’s public sentiments were mostly musical. Weems recalled asking Gilchrist to pray at a staff meeting. He promptly responded: “I already did.”

EARLIER: “60 years of making music