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Now it’s Camellia Salon

Yuki Matsui now operates the salon at 1724 Fillmore, named for a favorite flower.


It might be called “The Little Salon That Could,” tucked away in the ground-floor retail space of an historic Victorian at 1724 Fillmore.

For decades it was called Citrine Salon, until the pandemic forced its closing. Beloved Citrine proprietor Rene Cohen, who had struggled to keep the business alive by adding racks of quirky fashion, shelves of high-end jewelry and outdoor haircuts — a complicated trick on cool San Francisco days — died during the shutdown and the shop was boarded up with sheets of plywood.

Enter Yukina Matsui, a soft-spoken hairstylist who moved here from her native Japan some 15 years earlier. “Yuki” saw the promise of the place. With the signing of a new lease a few months ago, Rene’s lively clutter metamorphosed into a spare, bright-lit salon now home to several stylists and Ukrainian nail artist Sofiia Pidlozna. The boards came down, a handsome wrought-iron fence went up, and a hand-painted — by Yuki — sign was hung announcing its resurrection as Camellia Salon.

“Rene had the camellia plant in the back yard,” Yuki says. “And my mom, who died over 10 years ago, loved camellias,” which flourish in Japan. It was a natural name for the new salon.

Its home has history. When veteran real estate agent Dona Crowder bought the three-level Victorian in the mid-1980s, the ground-level retail space housed a vacuum cleaner repair shop. A second-hand clothing shop followed before Citrine Salon opened in the early 1990s. The upper floors, also dark during the pandemic, continue to serve as office space for therapists.

Camellia is on the ground floor of Victorian Square in a building relocated there.

Crowder has been part of the metamorphosis — of building and neighborhood — for decades. Born into a storied Alabama family, she came west with her mother at age 16 and never looked back. Her mother, Dottie Crowder, the only daughter of a World War I widow, “knew one person in Burlingame,” according to her daughter. But she made up for any lack of California connections with wide-ranging intelligence, energy and determination. In the 1960s she founded an independent real estate business headquartered in the Fillmore neighborhood. Dona, after graduating from UC Santa Barbara, joined her mother in the business in 1976. 

Before its purchase by Dona Crowder the building and the block between Post and Sutter had metamorphoses of their own. “Carlo Middione had the idea of creating a Victorian Square here,” Crowder says. Before Middione became the celebrated chef and owner of Vivande Porta Via restaurant on Fillmore, he worked for the Redevelopment Agency. With the help of San Francisco Heritage, which was created in 1971, he engineered the relocation of 12 Victorian houses. Among them were the salon’s building and those nearby, one of which housed Marcus Books for decades — and before that was the home of the legendary Jimbo’s Bop City when it was in its original location on Post Street in Japantown.

For years the block was tended by nearby resident Zema Daniels, known in the neighborhood as “One Hand” for his talent for shooting pool with one hand, or sometimes as Mr. Hands. “For years, ‘One Hand’ kept the street clean,” says Crowder. “He would be out with his bucket and brooms, cleaning the sidewalks.”

“She was such a sweetheart,” Crowder says of her longtime friend and tenant Rene Cohen, owner of Citrine. Camellia owner Yuki and Rene never met. But so strong was the spirit of her predecessor that Yuki has taken pains to keep it alive. She moved Rene’s azaleas and other plants into freshly prepared new garden plots and relocated the lemon tree into a sunny corner where it now thrives. The backyard garden abuts a totally renovated parking lot, also managed by Crowder.

In early May, the block suffered a blow when a two-alarm fire broke out across the street in the Jones Senior Home building. That forced the evacuation of about 100 residents and shut down the Burger King on the corner. There were several injuries, but no fatalities.

Burger King quickly reopened, but no one is predicting when all of the apartments will again be habitable. Given the resilience of the renovated buildings in Victorian Square, however, and the quiet determination of Yuki and her friends at Camellia Salon and her nearby neighbors, the future of the block looks to be in good hands.