For sale: our house



AUGUST 2013: I take our younger son, Zachary, to New York, where he will be a freshman in college. While I’m there my husband, David, calls to tell me we must sell our house. I promise to have this accomplished by October 1.

This may sound rash, but on our block of Pacific Heights, houses regularly sell before going on the market. One house sold in half a day. Nothing seems to last more than a week. This was true all through the financial crisis. Prices for homes in our area kept steadily increasing. I bet on this three years earlier, taking the last of our line of credit and renovating the kitchen and reshaping the interior to create two new bathrooms and a bedroom. It was frightening to the core to spend that money. But one reason we bought the house in 1994 was to improve it.

I am still hoping we’ll find a way out of selling. David and I love living here — even more after the improvements. We both work freelance — he a writer and I a photographer — which is another way of saying we practice the art of the long shot. Still, we both work every day as many hours as we have in us and have taken maybe four vacations since our children were born. Every time we went to Europe. A friend suggested we could go away more if we lowered our expectations.

Of course that could also be applied to our buying a home. Perhaps instead of settling in San Francisco we should have moved to a place with great public schools. Or maybe it would have been smarter to sell when we lost our sons’ college fund in one month during the tech bubble. We were still strong earners when our older son, Nicholas, got into the University of Chicago and they told us we made too much for financial aid, while banks told us we didn’t make enough to refinance.
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Walking away from a place you love


FIRST PERSON | Chuck Smith

Strange. I feel as if I’ve always been a San Franciscan, even though we’ve only lived here for 16 years. The city was in me before I was in it.

As soon as my wife, Lorna, and I arrived in San Francisco, we were drawn to this neighborhood, and a few years after we got here we were able to buy a condo on Sutter Street. We moved in on the Fourth of July weekend in 2000 during the Fillmore Jazz Festival. What a welcome.

From there we made friends up and down the street, never tiring of trekking down the hill to the bay and then back up. Along the way we stopped in every restaurant and shop, new and old — Fillamento, we still miss you! — never passing up a chance to sit outside in the sunshine at The Grove. 
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Feng Schwartz on Fillmore


FIRST PERSON | John Maccabee

I recently moved to the East Bay and had to leave behind an office I had rented for 20 years upstairs at 2001 Fillmore Street. Leaving the neighborhood was wrenching, although I joked that I was ready to go; I had wrung every cubit of creativity from my 200-square-foot studio. The space had a bay window that faced Pine Street. From where I sat, I could see the Boulangerie sign — not the entire sign, because trees overhung it in a way that revealed only the letters a n g e r. I tried not to take that personally, although my chosen field, writing and game design, does offer plenty of opportunities for anger.

But I was productive there. I wrote two novels, dozens of screenplays and treatments — a dozen sold into the LA film and television markets. And I began a game design practice, CityMystery, creating what is referred to as transmedia games for the Smithsonian, for parks, schools and brands. While that much productivity increases the odds of selling projects, it also comes with a fair share of rejections, which brings me back to a n g e r.

Rejections, although inevitable, are frequently fraught with rage or despair. And early in my tenancy, during a protracted raging, despairing span of bad luck, I was persuaded that the space itself was at fault. Someone close to me recommended that I have it cleared of bad spirits by two practitioners from Berkeley she knew who were experienced in Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement.
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‘A casual place for a good slice’

Presidio Pizza offers three kinds of pies — including Frankie's, with sausage and broccoli raab

Presidio Pizza offers three kinds of pies — including Frankie’s, with sausage and rapini

WHAT BEGAN as a brainstorming session among bar room buddies about what the neighborhood needed most has just come to life: its newest eatery, Presidio Pizza Co.

Chef Frank Bumbalo recently partnered with Kevin Kynoch and John Miles, who own the Fishbowl, the popular watering hole two doors south, to transform the former Frankie’s Bohemian Cafe on the corner of Divisadero and Pine.

“We’re here every day. We live and work here. We know what the neighborhood needs: a casual place where people can get a good slice,” says Bumbalo, who lives and manages a building just blocks away from the new pizza parlor.

“We really love the neighborhood and the people here,” he adds, “but it’s not always a family-friendly place.” Bumbalo wants to change that by creating a place where parents can have a beer or a glass of wine alongside kids having their birthday parties.
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Just another day at the Fillmore

FLASHBACK | Honey Green

It was October 1966, just a few days before my birthday. Bill Graham had booked an amazing show. Headlining was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, with Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Mark Naftalin, Elvin Bishop and a host of many others. The second band was the Jefferson Airplane — Marty, Jorma, Jack, Spencer and Signe Anderson.

Fillmore posterThere were two shows and, if memory serves me right, I believe this first one was Signe’s last show, because Grace Slick did the second show. The third act on the bill was Big Mama Mae Thornton. What a show this was going to be.

The day was hectic with musicians running here, running there, sound checks, lighting checks for the light booths and Bill checking every, I mean every thing. The excitement was palpable and continued all afternoon. When, oh no, the piano for Big Mama did not show up. Bill was on the phone calling all over town and, to his chagrin, could not find a piano to rent. Now here’s the good part: I had a piano at home.

Bill sent a crew over to my house to get the piano and even had a piano tuner come in. Pianos need to be tuned. Well, this was so exciting. There was my piano on the stage in all its shining glory. Paul Butterfield’s band was outstanding, as was the Airplane.

Then Big Mama came on stage, sat down at the piano and played “Heartbreak Hotel” such as it was never played before or since. It brought the house down. Then she wanted accompaniment on the piano, and Mark Naftalin sat down and tinkled those keys.

I never looked at that piano the same way again.

A footnote: After the show was over, Bill had my piano beautifully restained, had it delivered to my house and sent the piano tuner along with it.

Honey Green was promoter Bill Graham’s secretary back in the day.

A modern taste of France

Nicolas Delaroque, chef and owner, with his wife Andrea, of Nico.

Nicolas Delaroque, chef and owner, with his wife Andrea, of Nico.

Story & Photograph by Susie Biehler

THE NEIGHBORHOOD has a classy and intimate new spot for dinner at 3228 Sacramento Street: Nico, a restaurant that reflects the renaissance currently happening in Paris, where high profile chefs are taking a step to the side and opening accessible bistros.

The restaurant is named for classically French trained chef Nicolas Delaroque, who fell in love with San Francisco while vacationing here several years ago. Originally from Rueil-Malmaison, a town on the outskirts of Paris, he developed his passion for cooking as a teenager. He credits his mother as a major influence and also honed his food skills at a family friend’s butcher shop in Paris. And his pedigree includes working with such Bay Area masters as Dominique Crenn at Luce and David Kinch of Manresa.

Delaroque and his wife Andrea spent 18 months traveling through Europe gathering ideas for the restaurant. She put her law practice on hold so the couple could launch their new venture together. She manages the business side and can also be seen at the restaurant nightly, expediting and greeting customers.

“My wife is the planner. I am the visual one,” says Nicolas. “I go to the walk-in daily and stare at the goods and decide what will be on the menu that night. I have to see it to create it.”
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New face in an old place

Photograph of Wild Hare by Daniel Bahmani

Photograph of Wild Hare by Daniel Bahmani

SALOONS | Chris Barnett

The classic neighborhood bar is an endangered species in our parts. While there is no shortage of drinking dens, most are either ear-splitting sports saloons or relegated to being parts of restaurants.

But a new face in a familiar spot just might deliver the closest thing we have to the ideal neighborhood bar. Wild Hare is the latest libational hangout to occupy the big, airy, high-ceilinged space on the southwest corner of California and Divisadero.

The address has been a saloon of some sort for the past 75 years, according to the landlord. He can call the roll back to the ’60s, when San Francisco went psychedelic and the bar was known as the Pharmacy. From there, it morphed into the Old Waldorf, Major Ponds, Rasselas (before a move to the Fillmore Jazz District) and then, until last March, Solstice.
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Made locally and beautifully

Photograph of Kristen van Diggelen by Dana Harel

Photograph of Kristen van Diggelen, creator of vanIvey Ceramics, by Dana Harel

WHEN SHE MOVED to the neighborhood six years ago, Kristen van Diggelen was an aspiring art student who had her sights set on a career as a painter.

One day she wandered into Cottage Industry, the eclectic emporium at 2328 Fillmore, seeking inspiration. But she found far more. The building, with two street-level storefronts and four flats above, is one of the more artistically historic structures in the city, having been home to many of the Bay Area’s best-known artists and poets of the Beat generation in the 1950s and ’60s.

She found not only subjects to paint and an artistic legacy, but also an apartment and a studio — and even an opportunity to be something of a saloniste for a couple of years in one of the vacant shops, where she held monthly gatherings to show her work and that of other emerging artists.

She found opportunities she was seeking and some she never dreamed of. But like many artistic pursuits, they didn’t pay very well. So after she graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute with a master of fine arts degree, she began teaching a high school ceramics class at Cornerstone Academy in 2010.

“Ceramics was one of the highlights of my arts education,” she says, “but I went to graduate school on a painting scholarship, so I felt like everything else had to take a back seat.”

Then when she found herself around clay again, her old flame flickered anew.
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Fillmore loses its mayor

Ruth Garland Dewson (1939-2013)

Ruth Garland Dewson (1939-2013)

SHE CAME TO California from Paris, Texas, and worked for the telephone company in Los Angeles for many years. But it was only when Ruth Garland Dewson moved north to San Francisco and opened a hat shop on Fillmore Street that she found her true home.

She ran Mrs. Dewson’s Hats at 2050 Fillmore for four decades, closing only reluctantly last year at the end of April. She had already moved herself into AgeSong, a home for seniors in Hayes Valley. Vigorous and opinionated until the end, she died early on Monday morning, October 28, soon after being taken to Kaiser Permanente Hospital, just a few blocks from Fillmore. She was 74.

Ruth Dewson gave full meaning to the phrase larger than life. A full-throated statuesque black woman — and proud of it — she was not shy about claiming her place in the forefront of San Francisco’s parade of colorful personalities. Former Mayor Willie Brown was a walking billboard for her hat shop. And her final Christmas card included her picture with a beaming President Obama.

“I’m not known for not knowing the right people,” she said in an interview a few months ago, recalling how she started the Fillmore Jazz Festival and then got her friends in City Hall to put a parking lot on California Street. She called herself the Mayor of Fillmore Street, and so did many others.

“Fillmore Street for me has been a wonderful, wonderful thing,” she said. “I just can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed Fillmore.”



April 2012: “End of an era: Mrs. Dewson’s Hats closes

September 2010: “The hat lady

April 2008: “A force of nature

Women’s clinic gets a new mission

CARLINA HANSEN — executive director of the Women’s Community Clinic at 1833 Fillmore — might seem an unlikely cheerleader for the onrushing changes in health care reform, which are ostensibly aimed at doing away with her clinic’s client base of uninsured and underinsured women.

But rather than close its doors and declare its mission accomplished, the clinic is expanding beyond its previous brief of providing free or low-cost reproductive and sexual health care services to offer primary care as well.

“It’s a big exciting change,” Hansen says of the Affordable Care Act. “I hear a lot of folks who are critical — mostly that it didn’t go far enough. But it sends a message to people who were overlooked that their health is valuable and that they deserve good medical care.”

To gear up, the clinic is adding a medical director and primary care nurse practitioner to its staff of 30, which is complemented by 150 volunteers. And beginning next month, the clinic will add an additional staff member to begin helping clients enroll in newly available insurance plans.

“It’s very exciting for our clients,” says Hansen. “People are so happy coming here. Now we’ll be able to meet their broader needs.”

In operation since 1999, the Women’s Community Clinic relocated from Hayes Street to new and expanded offices on Fillmore in March 2011.

“The thing is that change is hard,” says Hansen. “There will be bumps. But the base message is: It’s for the patients — and a step in the right direction.”

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