Heart of the City Archives



It's not the sourdough- it's the ngihborhoods
by Hank Donat

"You're too young to be so corny," a friend of mine heaves through cigarette smoke every time I write about the jasmine on Russian Hill.

I was in Park City, Utah recently for only a few days. The feeling of relief that comes with the descent into San Francisco International Airport never fails to reach a zenith of kiss-the-ground excitement. It's true whether you're returning from Rome or Reno. I never met a local who wasn't corny enough to know that feeling, and that includes cigarette smokers.

The San Franciscan returns with a grateful heart and a full calendar. With them I offer this collection of items dedicated to the City's neighborhoods. They are the ground we kiss.

From Hayes Valley comes good news from gospel singer Emmit Powell, who announced recently that his Powell's Place soul food restaurant had been priced out of its Hayes and Octavia location after 31 years. Now Powell says he's signed a lease for a new joint at Fillmore and Eddy Streets and expects to open there in May after only a few weeks of down time. Halleluiah and pass the salt! (Update 04/14/04: Mr. Powell now says it may take a little bit longer to get the new place just right. Heart of the City will keep you posted.)

Fans of Miz Brown's Feed Bag in Laurel Heights are not so lucky as to have a favorite joint reprieved from closing. Miz Brown's - which only last week was celebrated by the Bay Guardian along with other businesses that have survived since the 1950s - is closed for good.

Telegraph Hill dwellers are elated that Judy Irving's documentary "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" is up for a Golden Gate Award at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival. "Wild Parrots" screens on April 16 and 24 at the Kabuki. The Golden Gate Awards will be presented at the Brava Theatre Center at 24th Street and York on April 28. For more information, visit the San Francisco Film Society's website, www.sffs.org.

The Randall Museum, a natural sciences museum in Corona Heights, welcomed the addition of several works by San Francisco's famed sculptor Beniamino Bufano. The eight pieces include a 1,700-pound butterfly and equally massive and elegant cats, bears, seals, and a bunny. Bufano created the granite sculptures under the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. They had been at the Valencia Gardens housing project since 1945.

In a 1989 essay, arts writer Thomas Albright says of Bufano's animal sculptures, "Their forms, stripped down to the barest essentials, mirror perfectly the innocence and serenity that Bufano sought to express."

In North Beach, the Purple Onion is back at 140 Columbus Avenue. Sylvester, the late disco queen of the Castro and beyond, returned - if not in the flesh, then in celebration - at the Opera House at Civic Center. Performances by Martha Wash, Chanticleer, Emmit Powell and the Gospel Elites and others marked the 25th anniversary of Sylvester's own historic Opera House performance.

Now comes word that the Trocadero Transfer is back, too. Today's Glas Kat, the former Troc venue at 520 Fourth Street, hosts a tea dance and Trocadero celebration on April 18. The DJ is Robbie Leslie, aka "The Gentleman of Disco." For more information visit remembertheparty.com.

On Potrero Hill, the Thick Space hosts the newest great performance by the Eastenders Repertory Company. Charles E. Polly directs "Three Hotels," a series of monologues about the marketing of baby formula in the Third World. For more information visit eastenders.org.

The Union Square hotel community is buzzing with excitement these days. The Westin St. Francis celebrated its 100th anniversary with a bash focused not on the endless parade of movie stars and international dignitaries that have stayed at the hotel over the century, but on the employees who continue to make it one of the friendliest places to stay in town.

A paparazzo stationed outside the hotel's legendary Mural Room treated each arriving housekeeper, associate, and custodian as though they themselves were royalty. Jan Wahl was a star-quality emcee, retelling the scandal that destroyed the career of silent comedian Fatty Arbuckle after a starlet died following a party in Arbuckle's room at the St. Francis.

General Manager Joseph Berger introduced veteran bellmen Pete Petri and George Cross. Before retiring, Petri worked at the St. Francis for 63 years, Cross for 52 years. Marsha Monro, the sparkling Westin publicist, wanted me to know that Petri and Cross were acquainted with Herb Caen. "Were you both friends with Mr. Caen?" I asked. "Friends?" said Cross, "We don't like to commit."

Petri remembered the knock-down, drag-outs that were audible throughout the hallways of the hotel when Bette Davis and Gary Merrill began their turbulent relationship while filming scenes from "All About Eve" around the corner on Geary Street.

Sad news from the Marina district that 54 year-old neighborhood activist Betty White was the pedestrian struck and killed by a 30 Stockton bus on March 11.

White organized the first Neighborhood Emergency Response Team program following the Loma Prieta Earthquake. She founded Magnolia Street Neighbors, which prevented Rite Aid from opening a 12,000 sq. ft. store at Lombard and Buchanan, a district zoned for retailers half that size. White was also instrumental in obtaining funding for the new Moscone Playground. These are just a few of the many accomplishments of a neighbor who is deeply missed by her community.

At a memorial service, some of White's out-of-town relatives, who knew only the basics about White's life in San Francisco, were honored to hear of her achievements from leaders such as Assemblyman Leland Yee and former Supervisor Angela Alioto.

If the Vaillancourt Fountain is eventually removed from Justin Herman Plaza on the waterfront, Claire Sagardahl will be among the last kids who fell in the icy water there. Claire, who was born in San Francisco but lives in Sacramento, was six years old when she fell in, a week or so before the fountain was unplugged in the name of energy conservation. She was drenched but otherwise unharmed. The moral of Claire's soaking is two-fold. One, maybe you can't fight progress; and two, don't let me baby sit your kids

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Copyright 2004 Hank Donat
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