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 a banner hanging outside with a rainbow flag proclaiming it a sanctuary church and declaring that “Black Lives Matter” — 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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Birth and rebirth at the ballet

Sharonjean Leeds returned to the stage in the finale of Smuin’s Christmas Ballet.

CULTURE BEAT | FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

The New Year was still a couple of weeks away when a unique celebration of birth, rebirth and family joy took place at Smuin Ballet’s annual Christmas Ballet at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Sebastian-Alexander Gottschalk, age one month, was in the audience when dancer Sharonjean Leeds, age 70+, spun her way across the stage in the traditional White Christmas finale.

Each had overcome more than a few odds to be there.

Sebastian arrived at Kaiser Hospital on November 14, eight weeks ahead of schedule. His mom,  Shaunte Gipson Gottschalk, is a nurse and was quick to get to the hospital when things indicated he might make an early appearance. His dad, Georg, who works with MuleSoft, a Salesforce company, was inconveniently on a plane in London, about to take off for India. “If you’re headed to India,” the doctor texted, “you’re going the wrong direction.” Several trips through international security and one Chicago connection later, Georg got home to meet his new son at one minute before midnight. Sebastian, who weighed in at 2 lbs., 2.7 oz., then spent his first few weeks in Kaiser’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit on Geary.

Baby and mom at his first ballet.

Soon after they got him home, the new parents looked at their tickets to the Christmas Ballet, a long family tradition, and decided to introduce Sebastian to Smuin. Bundled in a baby wrap, mittens and blanket, he snuggled his way happily through the performance.

Onstage in the finale was dancer Leeds, longtime ballet teacher at the University of San Francisco, who several years ago might have seemed unlikely to walk again. A fall in her Presidio Heights basement in 2016 left her with a pelvis broken in five places and a badly broken left arm. Once out of the hospital, she spent five weeks in rehab and two months with in-home care — but then set about getting back to dancing.

Leeds had last danced onstage in New Shoes, Old Souls, a piece for three women and one man choreographed by the late Michael Smuin and performed in the spring of 1999. She continues to take classes with the company. So when her husband, local dentist Rick Leeds, bid on a walk-on Christmas Ballet appearance at Smuin’s 2018 gala, artistic director Celia Fushille created a feature role in the finale instead.

Septuagenarian dancer and tiny audience member didn’t meet at the event. But both (with his parents speaking for Sebastian) agreed the event was a spectacular way to usher in the new year.

‘Noosh is creating a new model’

A private party on November 30 hosted by designer Eden Wright offered a preview of Noosh.

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

A soft opening of Noosh — the much-anticipated new restaurant coming to the corner of Fillmore & Pine — is coming soon, and private parties are already underway. Co-owner John Litz, who has been promising high concept but thus far has been tight-lipped on details, is finally opening up about what we can expect from the “Eastern Mediterranean Inspired, California Made” restaurant and bar.

To recap: The corner Victorian storefront has been a hippie plant store, the legendary Pacific Heights Bar and Grill and, most recently, the Thai Stick. Earlier this year Litz and his partners, the acclaimed chefs Sayat and Laura Ozyilmaz, signed a lease, slapped butcher paper on the windows and called in the designers and contractors. For starters, they painted the faded yellow building a classy rich blue.

Litz and his chef-partners say Noosh will approach casual dining differently, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks late into the evening every day offered “at the most affordable prices we can to remain profitable.”

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Pop-up gifts from Gwyneth

Goop Gifts offers a 24-karat golden dildo named Olga.

POPPING UP at 2241 Fillmore, next door to the Clay Theatre, and slated to remain there only until Christmas Eve, is a hot new spot for holiday shoppers: Goop Gifts. Shop curator and company founder actress Gwyneth Paltrow is both revered for her attention — and reviled for her overattention — to self-care.

She’s stocked the Fillmore shop with a collection from this year’s Goop Holiday Gift Guide — part of the lifestyle brand she started, she says, “as just sort of a way to share information.” One of her suggestions: a doctor-supervised treatment involving bee venom injections. “I had it done on my cesarean scar,” says Paltrow. “I had some buckling in the scar, and it really evened it out.” Outfitted with a moving conveyor belt laden with wrapped and displayed gifts, the Fillmore pop-up offers many quintessentially Paltrow items: dietary supplements, bath salts, makeup remover pads, edible pre-probiotic skin refiner and lots of things in pink and gold.

It also has on hand some gifts you might not have realized that person on your list really needs: a sneaker cleaning kit, a gold champagne cork puller, a digital luggage scale for those prone to overpacking, 24-karat gold rolling papers, as well as a 24-karat golden dildo named Olga, available for $3,490.