The thin red line

Photograph of the Pelosi home in Pacific Heights by Jonathan Pontell

NEIGHBORHOOD RESIDENT and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — much in the news during the fight over funding a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border — came under fire for having a “high perimeter wall” and “gun-toting security” around her home in Pacific Heights. A group called President Trump Fans posted: “Walls for her house are OK … but not us.”

In fact, there’s no wall around Pelosi’s longtime family home, although the red curb prohibiting parking near her house does have a fresh coat of paint.

POLITIFACT: “No, Nancy Pelosi’s home doesn’t sit behind a high wall

Music at the market

Budding musicians from the SFJazz High School All-Stars perform at the Fillmore market.

MIA SIMMANS, manager of the Fillmore Farmers Market since last May, is a true believer — both in farmers markets and in the music that makes the Fillmore market unique.

Her cred on both scores is impeccable: For the last seven years, she’s been both a vendor and musician at several of the farmers markets in the area. “It’s a great way for a musician to make a living,” she says. “You get to play during the day, and then go home and sleep in your own bed.”

In fact, two of the combos that regularly perform at the Fillmore market — the Dave Parker Sextet and the group now headed by Kenny Rhodes — have been playing at the Saturday morning market at Fillmore and O’Farrell for more than a decade.

But it can be a tough way to make a living. Most markets can’t pay musicians anywhere near what they’re worth. The mothership organization, the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association, is a nonprofit and is typically strapped for funds. The Fillmore market currently pays nothing at all; musicians only pocket the tips from grateful listeners and passersby.

But Simmans is determined to change that. She takes inspiration from the pluck and perseverance of Tom Nichol, who founded and managed the Fillmore market for a dozen years until shortly before his death in 2015. The two were friends.

“Tom was able to raise money to pay the musicians from within the community,” Simmans says. “And I want to keep that going in his memory.”

With some help from market headquarters, Simmans recently applied for two grants, and at least one of them looks promising. “If we get that grant, we may be able to pay something — maybe $25 to each musician,” she says. “And if we get that second grant, well, then we could be talking about something real.”

Simmans still makes music, playing and singing under the stage name Mama Mia d’Bruzzi when she’s not out managing markets. She also manages the Castro and Alameda markets. “But the Fillmore is my favorite,” she confesses. “It’s got the music — and, really, some of the greatest vendors.”

Says she: “I really believe in the farmers. These are the guys sweating in the fields. And I really believe farmers markets are an important way to take back the country from the big corporations. It’s a peaceful revolution.”

‘From the girl to the dial’

Photograph of the telephone exchange at 1930 Steiner Street by Shayne Watson

ARCHITECTURE | BRIDGET MALEY

The imposing and somewhat out-of-place building at the southeast corner of Steiner and Pine Streets was completed in 1932 as a Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co. switching station, a function that continues today.

Designed by architect Edwin V. Cobby, the building both blends in to the streetscape, with its neutral terra cotta cladding, and also stands out for its scale and Art Deco-influenced architecture. It is especially radiant on sunny days when the terra cotta tiles glow in the afternoon light.

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Lawsuits multiply over Fillmore Heritage Center

Opening night of the Fillmore Heritage Center in November 2007.

NEIGHBORHOOD BUSINESSMAN Agonafer Shiferaw has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging fraud and deceit at the Fillmore Heritage Center. It charges that Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Vallie Brown and other city officials violated laws and engaged in other wrongdoing that has cost roughly $100 million in failed public and private investments — and “contributed to the stagnant economic conditions that continue to plague the city’s historic Fillmore District.”

Shiferaw, who owns local commercial real estate and formerly operated the Rasselas Jazz Club at 1534 Fillmore, alleges the city’s attempt to find a new owner of the center — including the vast space once occupied by Yoshi’s jazz club and restaurant — “was characterized by irregularities that side-stepped procedural safeguards.”

Four days before Christmas, he filed for an injunction to prevent the city from further leasing or selling the center. The issue is scheduled to be heard on February 13.

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Zuri pops up to stay

Zuri owners Ashleigh Miller and Sandra Zhao found a home on Fillmore Street.

By SHELLEY HANDLER

After popping up for four months at 2029 Fillmore, the just-one-dress women’s boutique Zuri has now put down permanent roots a block south at 1902 Fillmore in the small storefront that was home to Narumi Japanese Antiques for nearly four decades.

The clothing company sells mainly one style: a loose-fitting, below-knee-length frock with three-quarter-length sleeves that can be worn as a dress, jacket or duster. Fashioned from African wax fabric, Zuri’s signature fashion item proved to be a hit with locals.

Owners and founders Ashleigh Miller and Sandra Zhao say they carefully sought out their setting. The two were looking for a shopping street both eclectic and active enough to bring the devoted and the curious their way. They methodically searched for a location that would be both showcase and gathering place, much like their flagship shop on Bleeker Street in New York.

They found what they were looking for on Fillmore Street.

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Farewell to a Fillmore local

Lisa and Carlo Middione at a tribute dinner celebrating Vivande Porta Via in 2015.

By BETTY MEDSGER

Elizabeth Derby Middione — Lisa to her many friends on Fillmore, where she and her husband Carlo owned Vivande Porta Via for many years — died early on Christmas Eve after a long illness. She was two weeks shy of her 96th birthday.

She was a member of two noted American families. Her father, Roger Alden Derby, was descended from one of America’s first millionaires, Elias Haskett Derby, who, in the 18th century, was a privateer for the United States who carried news of the American Revolution back and forth from America and England. Her mother, Elizabeth Palmer Harlan, was the elder sister of John Marshall Harlan II, a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Her great grandfather was the first Justice John Marshall Harlan, considered one of the Supreme Court’s greatest justices.

Lisa Middione was a serious student of the piano. She completed studies at Julliard and pursued her career for a short period, but was forced to give it up because of a family tragedy.

After Middione came to California, she became an impresario, sometimes presenting 350 events per year, including Marion Anderson and Marlene Dietrich. She was also a publicist for many arts organizations, including the San Francisco Symphony, Ballet and Opera, and helped create the Stern Grove Music Festival, which she directed for 10 years, and where she met her future husband.

“Carlo loves music,” she once said of her partner in life and business. “We got together because of my involvement in music. Somebody brought him to Stern Grove. The story is that he saw me and announced: ‘That’s the woman I’m going to marry.’ ”

He did, in 1968, and he remained devoted to her until the end of her life.

Lisa and Carlo Middione at Vivande.

EARLIER: “It was inspiring

His greatest creation was his own home

Photograph of bronze lion head fountain in the garden by Mark Evans

WHEN BUSH STREET resident Palmer Sessel still wore a tie and worked in the Financial District, he liked to get out of the office midday and think things over.

One day he walked by the historic Monadnock Building on Market Street and was struck by the cast of notable San Franciscans looking down at him from the trompe l’oeil mural above the marble cornice. The guard told him the artists who created it had a studio upstairs. He went up and engaged them to create a mural of a winged bulldog on the ceiling of the living parlor in his classic Victorian near Cottage Row.

“They tried to dissuade me” on the flying bulldog, Sessel says. But Mark Evans and Charley Brown took the commission, and also painted a Bacchanalian scene for the dining parlor, and nudes above the bed. In the process, they also fell for the neighborhood, and decided they wanted to live here.

“I told them,” Sessel recalls: “You may be in luck. The guy next door to me is dying.”

The 1880s Victorian needed work, and required resisting a committee of bureaucrats from the Redevelopment Agency, but the bones were all there. They managed to buy the house before it went on the market. “We went to Stars restaurant to celebrate,” Evans remembers. “We thought, ‘This is the last good meal we’ll ever eat.’ ”

Over the next three decades, they set about making it their greatest art project, bounteously filled with their own work and layers of treasures from around the world. On the ground level, overlooking a south-facing garden, were studios for both artists. In 1984 they established Evans & Brown, a fount of their ever-expanding creative output: murals, paintings, objets d’art, wall coverings, fabric, carpet and more. They found artistic and commercial success, and an enduring business and personal partnership.

“We were in the right place at the right time,” Evans says. “No one was doing murals and trompe l’oeil on our level. And it was mostly because of Charley’s painting.”

Only days after they returned from a final grand tour of the splendors of Venice and Paris, Robert Charles Brown died of prostate cancer on November 21, 2018, at home on Bush Street. His husband of 41 years, Mark Evans, and their schnauzer, Jack, survive him.

— Thomas Reynolds

They gave Calvary a social conscience

Photograph of the Rev. Dr. Laird J. Stuart by Alvin Johnson

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

The Rev. Dr. Laird J. Stuart followed the Rev. Dr. James G. Emerson as pastor of the Calvary Presbyterian Church at Fillmore and Jackson, both chronologically and in a determination to bring to the historic church a greater awareness of social justice issues. On December 19, 2018, he followed Emerson, who died three months earlier, on September 12, to the heavens.

Emerson was a powerful preacher and a pioneering pastor of Calvary in the 1980s. And he practiced what he preached about equality and justice, even getting arrested while participating in a 1987 interracial civil rights “march for brotherhood” in Forsyth County, Georgia.

In 1988, he was one of the founders of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, which brought together leaders of different faith traditions in the city. He traveled to India and met with Mother Teresa. “I told her, ‘We’re Protestants, but we pray for you,’ ” Emerson remembered. She told him: “Well pray more. We are all one people.”

Photograph of the Rev. Dr. James G. Emerson by Sara Butz

Stuart built on the social consciousness Emerson had brought to what was then a sometimes staid, largely affluent, almost entirely white congregation.

Stuart served from 1993 to 2010 and led the fight against homophobia in the Presbyterian church. He was the first president of a nationwide group that lobbied what he called “the radical middle” in the Presbyterian church, urging that people be ordained as ministers, deacons and elders regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Today Calvary has a diverse group of ministers and banners hanging outside with a rainbow flag declaring that “Black Lives Matter” and proclaiming it a sanctuary church — suggesting that both men made their mark.

Farewell to one of the regulars

Justice William Newsom administering the oath to his son Gavin, California’s new governor.

WE WILL MISS Justice William Newsom at Chouquet’s on Fillmore. He had two preferred tables that we’d set aside for him after he became a regular in recent years. We simply referred to him as “the judge.”

When he came in, he’d lovingly hold the hand of whichever pretty French waitress was on duty and recite the French poem La Cigale et la Fourmi (The Cricket and the Ant) in its entirety.

Since I am not a pretty French waitress, he would always greet me respectfully with a long handshake. As I’d open a half bottle of his favorite Chateauneuf du Pape, he would sometimes confide, “Gavin’s doing well.” The judge’s death came just weeks before his son — another former neighborhood resident — was to be sworn in as governor of California, serving the state his father served as a justice on the First District Court of Appeal.

Farewell, judge. Thank you for your kindness and style.

— Mark Fantino

When a cemetery became an office park

Laurel Hill Cemetery entrance gate and monuments.

ARCHITECTURE | BRIDGET MALEY

In 1940, after years of efforts to ban cemeteries in San Francisco, workers began exhuming bodies from the Laurel Hill Cemetery for reinterment outside the city limits. The cemetery occupied a large site bounded by California Street on the north, Presidio and Parker at the east and west and an angled edge along the southern boundary. A landscape of meandering paths and ornate headstones and mausoleums, Laurel Hill was a picturesque, park-like final resting place for the city’s most influential residents.

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