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Palace Cafe: frozen in time

The Palace Cafe at 1843 Fillmore Street has been shuttered for decades.

By CHRIS BARNETT

Frozen in time, the Palace Cafe at 1843 Fillmore Street has been shuttered for decades. It’s said still to be set up just as it was the last time the door opened many years ago, but it seems a safe bet the tiny cafe will not re-open any time soon.

Now that the big ficus trees out front have been chopped down, the sign for the cafe is visible again, complete with its bright Dr Pepper logo. People are taking notice — and city officials are, too. A sign was posted on the front door of the cafe a few weeks ago by the Department of Building Inspection declaring it “unsafe and/or a public nuisance.” A new city ordinance penalizes property owners who leave storefronts empty — and this one has been empty for decades.

In the 1940s, it was the Fillmore Chop Suey Cafe, a hotspot with a towering neon blade. By the ’50s, Dr. Leonal V. Dickey had acquired the building, which housed three apartments plus his dental practice over the cafe. His family still owns it, and his son, also a dentist, still has a dental office there. Family members still live in the flats upstairs, but are private about past and present. 

When the Fillmore was ravaged by urban renewal in the 1960s and ’70s, the neighborhood “was desolate with windblown empty tracts of land,” the younger Dr. Dickey told a visiting reporter last year. He said the Palace Cafe “became a meeting place for healthcare professionals and community stakeholders whose goal was the improvement of health, education and housing for the underserved population,” including displaced residents, small business owners and public school children in the Western Addition.

Today, neglected and tomb-silent, the cafe, with its old-style slatted glass windows, looks like days gone by. Dr. Dickey said the family had thought of remodeling and reopening the cafe, but the cost and effort of getting it up to code derailed the idea. Perhaps the new city ordinance tightening the screws on empty storefronts will change that. 

Francine Brevetti contributed to this report.

It was still the Palace Chop Suey Cafe in 1964. Photo: SF Public Library

Moving the Victorians

The Redevelopment Agency engineered the move of Victorians to new locations.

By CARLO MIDDIONE

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, I worked at San Francisco’s Redevelopment Agency in my desire to conquer the world’s ills and to help make people safer, happier and more comfortable.

Long before my wife Lisa and I opened our restaurant Vivande on Fillmore Street, which we operated for three decades, I was the supervisor of community relations for the A-2 project in the Western Addition. My primary job was to make friends with the community and garner support for Redevelopment Agency programs — and to make sure residents knew what the programs were for and what they were supposed to do for them, even though this proved to generate plenty of conflict at times. 

Some programs were good, like homemaking, which included learning to sew so that new curtains could be made at a fraction of the cost of buying them; learning furniture refinishing; learning nutritious cooking methods and selecting food to reflect the highest yield of nutrition for the money spent, with easier and more cheerful ways to cook that removed the drudge factor. 

Child care was always at the fore. There were so many children, and parents at risk of being too tired and frustrated raising them that they had no time or energy for anything else. Then there were programs to encourage folks to attend classes day or night at local schools to improve their job prospects or simply to study subjects that might interest them.

As time wore on and my interplay with many families and agencies and entities increased, along came The Move. 

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Celebrating Fillmore as ‘the new Market Street’

Collection of Iris Fuller/Fillamento

FLASHBACK | BARBARA KATE REPA

After the 1906 earthquake and fire, when Fillmore Street was hailed as the “new Market Street of the municipality,” local officials marked its newfound celebrity with a ribald 10-day Fillmore Street Carnival in the fall that stretched from Fulton to Sacramento. 

Heartened by the successes of the first few carnivals, the sponsoring Fillmore Street Improvement Association vowed to make the 1913 event the biggest yet. Metal arches with elaborate lighting crossed the intersections, and local storekeepers were exhorted to decorate their windows and storefronts.

The carnival kicked off with an evening parade that began at Market and New Montgomery Streets, then came down Golden Gate to Fillmore. The processional was complete with bands and floats “constructed with the same lavish disregard for expense that marked the street decorations” — including one float featuring a Hawaiian scene with an active volcano.

“The spirit of the fiesta took complete possession of those who had come from many parts of town to pay their respects to Fillmore Street, and the fun was not long reaching the point of hilarity,” the Chronicle reported. “Midnight arrived all but unnoticed and the dance went on and on until the musicians finally packed their instruments and left the bandstand.”

There was behind-the-scenes drama in the hotly contested race to become Fillmore Street Queen and reign over the event. Though the winner would not be announced until opening day, a first-time competitor, Miss Ray Leake, considered herself a shoo-in. “Miss Leake has a host of friends working for her and they are all as confident that she will be returned the winner,” the Chronicle reported.

Alas, Miss Leake’s hopes were dashed in the early morning hours of September 26, 1913, when Miss Maxine Hutchinson, a resident of Fillmore and O’Farrell, was named queen, handily winning the race by more than 12,000 votes. Miss Leake was not mentioned in the top 10 finalists.

Succeeding queens were tarnished by bad luck and perfidy. The 1914 queen, Manilla Matney, who later became an actress, was reportedly injured in an accident at a local hotel. In 1915, Annie Rosenwein of Buchanan Street, a candidate for queen at age 16, pressed “statutory charges” against Henry J. Kearney, a carnival committee member described as “33 years old and married.”

Only one local home sold last month

REAL ESTATE | PATRICK BARBER

Single-family home sales in the neighborhood reached a decade low during the last month, with only one single-family home selling in Pacific Heights, Lower Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights and Cow Hollow from mid-June to mid-July.

The summer months are traditionally the slowest time for real estate activity in San Francisco. But even by seasonal standards, market activity this summer has slowed considerably, with single-family home sales in the neighborhood declining to the lowest level since the housing market bust in 2008. The prolonged shortage of offerings on the market in the city is largely to blame for declining sales.

The one property that did change hands is an impressive example of modern architecture and amenities. The home at 2833 Vallejo Street (above and below) sold for $17 million in late June. Just completed this year, the ultramodern residence also offers picture-perfect views from its roof deck of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts.

2833 Vallejo Street

A Fillmore pioneer

M.J.Staymates (right) with fellow WANA leaders Sharon Bretz and Brett Gladstone in 1989.

LOCALS | CALVIN LAU

She was the quintessential little old lady in white tennis shoes — at least that’s how relentless neighborhood activist Mary Jane Staymates, known to all as M.J., liked to fashion herself.

My first encounter with M.J., who died a few months ago, was at a Western Addition Neighborhood Association (WANA) meeting held in the basement of St. Dominic’s Church. M.J. was presiding, and I was immediately struck by her love of the neighborhood and her mission to improve it.

M.J. stood ready to confront the real estate developers who were already circling the area like hawks. That was in 1979, the year my partner and I moved into an 1877 Victorian fixer-upper on Pine Street. In those days no one would ever have thought of calling our neighborhood by the oxymoron Lower Pacific Heights. It was plainly and simply the Western Addition, with all of its good and bad connotations.

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Modern designs for foggy dogs

A new firm based in the neighborhood manufactures premium dog beds and accessories.

PEOPLE OFTEN JOKE that there are more dogs than children in San Francisco. Statistics show it’s true: There were about 115,000 children under age 18 living in the city in 2016, according to the American Community Survey. San Francisco Animal Care and Control estimated that at the same time, there were about 120,000 to 150,000 dogs.

One local, Rose Shattuck, has launched a new business she hopes will make good on that reality.

Shattuck is the founder of The Foggy Dog, a two-year-old brand of premium goods for dogs headquartered in the neighborhood. She got the idea for the company when she couldn’t find a dog bed for her goldendoodle, Utah. “I couldn’t understand why every dog bed had paw prints or was khaki colored,” she says. “So I found some upholstery fabric that I loved and hired a seamstress from Craigslist to make my dream dog bed.”

Then she realized she was on to something. So Shattuck left her role as vice president for merchandising at Minted — an online design marketplace for stationery and art with a shop at 1919 Fillmore — to focus full time on The Foggy Dog. The product line now includes dog beds, collars, leashes, toys and accessories. Her passion is to make pet products that are not only functional, but also beautiful. “At Minted, I was surrounded by amazing design every day,” she says. “I wanted to bring that same level of fresh, modern aesthetic to the pet industry.”

Living in the neighborhood, Shattuck was surrounded by other “dog moms” in their 20s and 30s who were dissatisfied with the choices they had when it came to their pets. She realized there was a market for attractive, made-in-the-U.S. pet products that appeal to a more modern customer. “People are having children later in life, and their dogs are their babies. Pet parents want the best for their fur kids,” she says. “And there isn’t another brand right now that seems to serve their needs.”

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She rose to the occasion

Camille Martinelli’s garden is a meandering landscape of many levels in a parklike setting.

STORY & PHOTOGRAPHS BY BARBARA WYETH

From the first step into the garden behind a welcoming house on Clay Street, I was enchanted — and surprised, too, by its size and parklike feeling.

This is not a manicured plot behind a single home, but a meandering landscape of many levels that extends the length of several properties on the block. The garden is the creation of Camille Martinelli, developed over the years by her research, study, hard work and passion. Her husband Marco has caught that enthusiasm, too — especially in the last couple years, and especially for roses, which are Camille’s favorite.

But on this day, she offers an apology: “I’m afraid you’ve missed the roses; they’re pretty bloomed out.”

While walking up a series of brick steps, under an arch of climbing vines and onto a cobblestone path, she points out a huge old birch tree with moss encrusted bark. “We’re very proud of that tree,” Camille says. “They’re very hard to grow here.”

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Painting the ladies

SAN FRANCISCO ARTIST Kit Haskell has established herself as the gold standard for pen and ink drawings of the city’s Victorian homes. The newest book to feature her drawings lets children of all ages choose their own favorite Crayola colors for the Painted Ladies.

It’s a coloring book featuring 20 of Haskell’s meticulously accurate drawings of some of San Francisco’s finest vintage homes, many of them located in the neighborhood. Each one comes with a history lesson, naturally, given Haskell’s long involvement in the Victorian Alliance and the San Francisco History Association.

Her book is available at Browser Books on Fillmore.

‘The book is a must’

WHAT A TREAT — a visual treat of exquisitely reproduced photographs and a textural declaration of the reproduction of numerous articles from the neighborhood newspaper, the New Fillmore.

Publisher, attorney and gallery owner Thomas Reynolds and co-author Barbara Kate Repa have compiled a compelling book that offers a smorgasbord of vignettes of San Francisco’s Fillmore District, from its earliest days to the present: individuals who inhabit the area, business and institutions that give the neighborhood its character, and the changes to its principal street.

The book is a must, not only for denizens of the Fillmore District, but also for any San Franciscan who wishes to have an intimate look at one of the city’s most vibrant areas. It’s available online from the publisher and at Browser Books on Fillmore.

— San Francisco historian Charles Fracchia, writing in Panorama

Little Free Library lives on

The Little Free Library (and doghouse) at 2418 Pine Street.

To Our Dear Little Neighborhood:

When a disturbing event occurs, it’s the ordinary, everyday heroes who step up to save the day.

Our neighborhood’s Little Free Library was violently attacked and toppled on May 29. It stood in front of our home at 2418 Pine Street, on one of the city’s bustling public sidewalks. While the destruction may not qualify as a true tragedy, the Little Free Library served an entire neighborhood — and beyond — in our big little town of San Francisco, and was a true loss.

The library’s grand opening took place last fall, accompanied by a ceremonial ribbon-cutting and all-around good cheer among our neighbors and friends. For months, the library worked its magic on children and adults who wanted to share what they had read and borrow what others submitted: mysteries, spy novels, romances, the adventures of Harry Potter, science, psychology — you name it. It became a meeting place for exchanging ideas as well as books. Kids and parents stopped by daily to peruse the latest titles, and dog walkers paused to grab a biscuit from the library’s little doghouse.

The Little Free Library on Pine Street had become part of the connective tissue helping to bind our neighborhood together, and its absence was felt immediately. Neighbors began commiserating with us and with each other. Our front door bell rang steadily, with people offering encouraging words of support and expressing their sympathy for the loss of the beloved lending library. Neighbors and anonymous well-wishers left notes and sent emails explaining their personal feelings of loss — and volunteered their time, help and funds to once again raise our book house. Some passersby actually broke into tears as they viewed the fallen library and tried to make sense out of the senseless.

“I was so saddened to see your library broken on the ground this morning,” a neighbor wrote. “The little library added beauty to our neighborhood and it is shameful that people are not respectful.” Another said: “Hi, neighbor. I saw what happened when I walked by and was tearful. I am so sorry this happened.”

The outpouring of concern, caring and love was inspiring, unexpected in its volume, and so heartwarming.

A crisis, even a relatively small one such as this, has a way of giving a clean window through which to view the world — a kind of reset button in a cosmic sense. The cement pedestal that secured the Little Free Library appeared strong, but it turned out to be vulnerable and capable of being destroyed. In contrast, our neighbors — even from beyond our familiar few blocks — turned out to be the real pillars of strength, resilience and fortitude. The human spirit rose above the tragedy and wound up strengthening our bonds and furthering a sense of community.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who expressed their love and support. It is the people who make this world go around. Evil recedes and love wins.

THE MEYERS FAMILY

P.S. The Little Free Library is back up and ready for book and conversation sharing once again.

P.P.S. Library hours are: “Always open.”