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The colors of jazz

By JASON OLAINE
Artistic Director, Fillmore Jazz Festival

What is the sound of jazz? And can jazz mean different things to different people, perhaps even different things to the same person?

Since its birth in New Orleans near the end of the 19th century, jazz was a hybrid: a mixed-up, beautiful child of Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and South America. The self-described inventor of jazz, pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton, said: “If you can’t manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right ‘seasoning’ to call it jazz.”

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Third home’s the charm for St. John’s

St. John’s Presbyterian Church at Lake Street and Arguello Boulevard.

By BRIDGET MALEY

Sometimes mistaken for an Episcopalian church, St. John’s Presbyterian, the eclectic Shingle Style landmark at the corner of Lake Street and Arguello Boulevard, does indeed have its architectural roots in the Episcopal building tradition. And it has a rich history.

The story begins in March 1870, when a newly established Presbyterian assembly acquired a building on Post Street between Mason and Taylor: the former St. James Episcopal Church, built in 1867. Not much is known of this earlier building, and no architect has been linked to its design. Historic images depict a small, wooden frame structure with a swirl of English country church, Tutor Revival and American Carpenter Gothic influences. It had an almost rural character, sharing a lot with a residence and small yard in what was an increasingly urban San Francisco.

The Episcopalian priest who was the rector of St. James apparently defected to the Catholic church in 1870, leaving the building available for another congregation.

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Fillmore al Fresco

Sidewalk seating, like that at Peet’s on Fillmore, is a recent — and growing — trend.

By SUSAN SWARD

Up and down Fillmore, sidewalk spots keep springing up.

Noosh, the new restaurant at Pine and Fillmore, has three four-tops outside with heat lamps at the ready. Blue Bottle Coffee finally has its outside tables back at Fillmore and Jackson. The Snug, at Clay and Fillmore, is considering putting in for a permit. And established sunny sidewalk terraces at Chouquet’s, at Washington, and Harry’s and The Grove, between Pine and California, host a crush of people, often with baby carriages and dogs along for the party.

Slowly, since 1993, when they were first blessed by the city, sidewalk tables and chairs have proliferated. Now there are more than 450 permitted sites citywide — with 19 alone on Fillmore Street. Chestnut Street has 19 as well, Columbus Avenue has 21 and Clement Street has 10. All across the city, people gather outside, chatting, hanging out, drinking and eating. Streets that once felt cold and dead bustle with activity and life, particularly on the days when sunshine blesses San Francisco.

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At home in Lafayette Square

In 1919, looking west into Lafayette Square from the intersection of Gough and Clay Streets, the St. Regis apartment building is on the left and a long-gone single-family residence on the right. Through the trees at the crest of the hill is Samuel Wirt Holladay’s compound he called Holladay Heights. OpenSFHistory photograph.

LOCAL HISTORY | CHRISTOPHER POLLOCK

Of the 220 public spaces the city’s Recreation and Park Department administers in San Francisco, Lafayette Park is unique: It has a privately owned six-story apartment building cut right into its municipal landscape on the side bordering Gough Street.

In the city’s early days, several parks had issues over real estate title, including Alamo Square, Holly Park, Jackson Park and Lafayette Square, as the park was originally known. The city usually won its legal actions to wrest public properties from squatters, some of whom were shrewd and persistent through years of litigation.

Spaces for 11 city parks were designated by the Van Ness Ordinance of 1855-56 and confirmed by the state legislature in 1858. Like Lafayette Square, many of the spaces reserved for public use consisted of foursquare blocks. Some of the parks were patriotically named for past presidents or others important in the country’s creation — in this case the Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman who fought for the U.S. during the American revolution.

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24 years on retreat

“What I like about it most is I’m really in charge of my own ship,” says Judith Skinner.

FILM | JESSICA BERNSTEIN-WAX

My mother’s friend Judith Skinner started a Tibetan Buddhist retreat in her Pacific Heights apartment in 1995. At the time, she thought it would last the traditional three years, three months and three days.

Almost 24 years later, she remains on retreat, a Buddhist practice that involves solitude, meditation and introspection — and can take place anywhere from a remote cave to a rent-controlled studio apartment in San Francisco.

I have known Judith almost all of my life. As a child, I visited her at the Ewam Choden Tibetan Buddhist Center near Berkeley, where she lived for many years. When Judith started her retreat, I thought three years sounded like a long time to lead a mostly solitary existence.

As her retreat extended for more and more years, I started to get curious. What did she do all day? And why had she dropped out of “normal life”?

To find out, I spent about a year and a half filming her on my days off and weekends. The resulting short documentary, On Retreat, will screen at this year’s SF DocFest, the San Francisco Documentary Film Festival. It screens on June 8 at 12:15 p.m. and on June 11 at 7 p.m. at the Roxie Theater.

You might think documentary footage of someone on a meditation retreat would be about as visually exciting as watching paint dry. But Judith is an engaging San Francisco character.

To help finance her retreat, she worked as a gardener for many years. Now in her 70s, she follows a simple daily routine involving Buddhist practice, writing and trips to Cal-Mart in Laurel Village.

She has almost no belongings and owns just one fork, but still manages to look sharp every day. She goes for regular haircuts at Patrick Richards Salon on Sacramento Street, where she tended the flower boxes for years.

Rather than focus primarily on the logistics of Judith’s retreat, my film explores her reasons for going on retreat in the first place and why she’s continued for so long.

“My friends tease me that retreat is the all-purpose excuse: I get out of everything,” Judith told me laughingly during one of our interviews. “On a deep level, what I like about it most is I’m really in charge of my own ship.”

Judith truly does seems to be content with her quiet, somewhat isolated life. She credits Buddhist practice and her retreat with making her a calmer, less reactive person.

Despite her solitary lifestyle, Judith says she hasn’t felt lonely these last 24 years. The retreat and the city of San Francisco have been her constant and familiar companions.

La Med turns 40

Photograph of La Mediterranee founder Levon Der Bedrossian by Daniel Bahmani

WHEN LA MEDITERRANEE founder Levon Der Bedrossian moved from Lebanon to California in 1967 to attend Chico State University, he lived in the neighboring town of Paradise, which was devastated by the recent Camp Fire.

Then he moved to San Francisco and opened La Mediterranee on Fillmore Street on May 11, 1979, serving the Middle Eastern meza dishes from Lebanon and the Armenian family recipes he had begun experimenting with for his fellow students in Chico. They were unique on the culinary scene in San Francisco at the time.

So it should come as no surprise to those who know Der Bedrossian and his special restaurant — which has consistently been voted the best Mediterranean restaurant in the Bay Area — that he would celebrate its 40th anniversary by donating all of the proceeds to support survivors of the Camp Fire in Paradise.

The 40th anniversary party will be held on Saturday, May 11 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the restaurant at 2210 Fillmore.

Der Bedrossian is still involved with the business, but his son Vanick and longtime managing partners Alicia Vanden Huevel and Trevor Lederberger have taken the helm. In addition to the flagship on Fillmore, La Mediterranee also has locations in the Castro and in Berkeley, plus a catering kitchen in North Beach.

EARLIER: “Still cozy after all these years

How I helped my dad die

Kelly Johnson and his daughter Leda Meredith as he was dying on May 7, 2018.

FIRST PERSON | LEDA MEREDITH

When I landed at SFO in mid-April of last year, the first change to hit me was that my dad, Kelly Johnson, couldn’t pick me up at the airport. He wasn’t able to drive anymore. The reason for the visit to my hometown was that he had gone into hospice care. I’d canceled everything on my schedule and come to be with him. We didn’t know how much time we would have together.

Seeing the elevator chairs that had been added to the two flights of stairs in his Victorian building was a jolt, as were the tubes in his nose; he was on full time oxygen at that point.

But every detail of the home was familiar — from the books on the shelves to the ceramic owl container that he used to hide an Easter egg in when I was a kid.

Neither of us knew then that he would choose to die in less than a month, embracing California’s End of Life Option with gratitude, courage and relief. As he sat hunched over his desk trying to summon up the appetite to finish a piece of toast, we couldn’t have imagined the next few weeks would become a nonstop musical and gustatory celebration with friends.

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Brown Bag broke all the rules

Michael May took the owner’s ideas and turned them into windows.

FLASHBACK | JO MANCUSO

The windows at the Brown Bag, the quirky office supply store long on the corner at 2000 Fillmore Street, were the topic of an item in Image magazine in 1991:

This is the store that breaks all the rules. Its Fillmore Street windows are really shadow boxes, maybe 4 feet square but only about 6 inches deep, so the displays look more like collages. The employees, all collectors of various kinds, bring their own stuff in to use as props. The store itself, which is supposed to be a stationery shop, sells dishes and tiny plastic eyeballs.

“We don’t want to be commercial,” says owner Dawn Christensen. “There’s nothing I won’t buy.” She is considering a “national mammogram week” window this spring using greeting cards with voluptuous Victorian women.

Employee Michael May takes Christensen’s ideas and turns them into windows. A scissors window. A cowboy window. A magnet window. A recent gold window included crowns, swans, pencils, dice, stamp holders and doilies. “It’s a far cry from forming men’s suits,” says May, a former men’s retail display worker.

“We don’t just pull merchandise from the store — we buy things for the windows and then sell them,” says Christensen.

A window sometimes has a hidden message, she says, but “the people who would be offended don’t get it.”

EARLIER: “Practical supplies and wildly impractical baubles

A rabbi and a priest walk into a neighborhood

Rabbi Lawrence “Larry” Raphael at Congregation Sherith Israel.

A memorial service for Rabbi Lawrence Raphael will be held on May 4 at 6 p.m. at Congregation Sherith Israel, located at 2266 California Street. His friend Father Xavier Lavagetto recalls their time in the neighborhood.

I WELL REMEMBER when Rabbi Larry Raphael came to Sherith Israel. I was pastor at St. Dominic’s Church, and we had an immediate connection: We both faced the challenge of repairing buildings, while what we wanted most was to build up our people.

I admired greatly his courage; he stepped out of academia into the fray of leading a congregation that faced a daunting challenge. But it would never be enough to retrofit the synagogue; he wanted to strengthen his people.

From our first meeting, it was apparent that he had a passion for learning that shined, invited and blessed. Learning is not something static; Judaism is a living dynamic, a conversation ultimately with the God who always walks with his people. He shared his passion and set his people’s hearts and minds ablaze. He made Sherith Israel a light on the hill, and it shed light on this priest from St. Dominic’s in the valley below.

To be on a panel with him was an adventure. It was the insights that he brought that made every conversation a light in the darkness. His was a passion for people that welcomed even those on the margins. In a world that is too eager to build walls, he built bridges.

His care for the larger community was real. I pray he saw it in us, too. The rule at St. Dominic’s was simple: If Rabbi Raphael asks, the answer is yes!

— Fr. Xavier Lavagetto OP

From the ashes of St. Paul’s

Grand Central Market at 2435 California Street shortly after it opened in June 1941.

ARCHITECTURE | BRIDGET MALEY

Since it opened in June 1941, touted as the city’s “newest drive-in market,” the Grand Central Market, now Mollie Stone’s, at 2435 California Street, has been a bustling neighborhood grocery.

The News Call Bulletin declared that “a program of entertainment would signalize its opening.” A photograph appearing with the article showed a gleaming white building with a black tile base and a Streamline Moderne blade sign. There were two entrances on California Street and one facing west toward the parking lot, for customers who took advantage of the readily available parking. This modern grocery was inserted into a block that had once housed a stately Episcopal church.

The south side of the 2400 block of California Street looked drastically different in 1915 when it was mapped by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company. At the southwest corner of California and Fillmore Streets was a drugstore with apartments above it. Several other businesses, including a Japanese laundry, were west of the drug store along California Street. Mid-block there were several small single family dwellings and the imposing St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. At the southeast corner of California and Steiner were two additional small-scale store buildings.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

St. Paul’s, designed by the architect Samuel Newsom, was a small ecclesiastical building with a steeply pitched main gable and a red stone facade. The church, which was completed in 1896, burned in 1933, and several adjacent residences, also owned by the Episcopal Church, were damaged by the fire. The church was not rebuilt and the land then became available for commercial development.

The architect of the Grand Central Market was Albert W. Burgren, who was at the twilight of his career when he designed this modern grocery. Burgren, who was born in San Francisco in 1876 to Swedish parents, began a prolific partnership with T. Paterson Ross in 1900 that lasted until 1913. Their projects included a number of hotels and apartment buildings built after the 1906 earthquake, as well as the iconic Sing Fat Building in Chinatown. After his split with Ross, Burgren opened his own office, but continued some collaborative work until Ross was severely injured in 1922 at a construction site. Burgren served in Europe during World War I, returning to San Francisco and working mostly in commercial architecture until his death in 1951 after a long and prolific career.

The Grand Central Market included a meat counter run by the Petrini family, which also had counters at the Lick Super, Sunset Market and Manor Market. Petrini’s was established in 1935 by Frank Petrini, who immigrated from Lucca, Italy, at the age of 12, and was known to have the best meats in Northern California. Petrini’s advertisements are remembered for their inspiring quotes, which also appeared on walls and signs throughout the stores. The quotes were published in a collection in 1992 titled The Proverbs of Frank Petrini: Food for Thought.

The Grand Central Market became Mollie Stone’s in 1998, one of nine stores across the Bay Area. When the new owners remodeled the building, Mollie Stone’s kept the Grand Central blade sign, with some modifications.