Sherith Israel completes retrofit

A crane hoists roofing material to the temple's historic dome.

A crane hoists roofing material to the temple’s historic dome.

ESPECIALLY SWEET MUSIC will rise up into the freshly repainted and retrofitted dome atop Congregation Sherith Israel’s historic home at California and Webster on June 9 at a special Shabbat service celebrating the end of a long-running renovation.

“We did it!” exclaimed David Newman, co-chair of the seismic retrofit campaign. “The Sherith Israel community has risen to the occasion.”

“We are in compliance with all of the city’s seismic requirements,” said former congregation board member Ellen Schumm, who has been involved with the project since its inception. “This building is so stable, it’s awesome.”

The $16 million project to strengthen the 1905 building — which survived the earthquake and fire the next year and served as a temporary courthouse during the rebuilding — was spurred by new standards established after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

The first phase of the project, completed in 2011, included an innovative engineering plan to reinforce the exterior walls of the sanctuary without affecting the elaborately painted interior walls. It also stripped away the salmon-colored paint that had been unwisely applied to the sandstone walls half a century earlier.

The second phase, just completed, involved reroofing, repainting and waterproofing the dome, removing the last vestiges of salmon paint and returning the dome to the color of the sandstone on the base. It also added solar panels on the roof and included work on nearly every other part of the building.

“Our beautiful sanctuary will be here — and be strong — for generations to come,” said senior rabbi Jessica Graf.

EARLIER: In a video from January 2011, the retrofit project was underway.

A classic cake lives on

Photographs of the legendary Coffee Crunch Cake by Frank Wing

Coffee Crunch Cake photographs by Frank Wing

CLASSICS | FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

Ask any true San Franciscan with a serious sweet tooth what tops the list of local culinary delights and the answer you’ll likely hear: Coffee Crunch Cake.

For more than three decades, customers have found this delicacy at Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop, tucked away inside Super Mira Market at 1790 Sutter Street in Japantown.

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The art of neighborliness

Suzanne, wearing a hat from her collection by a local milliner, and George Burwasser.

Suzanne, wearing a hat from her collection by a local milliner, and George Burwasser.

LOCALS | BARBARA KATE REPA

Longtime locals Suzanne and George Burwasser practice the fine and gentle art of neighborliness.

Together for more than half a century, most of that time only a few doors from Fillmore Street, they have made it a priority to shop local and get to know the people who live and work around them.

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Cottage Row Zen garden moves forward

Issei

A PLAN TO CREATE a Japanese Zen rock garden at the foot of Cottage Row has been green-lighted by the Planning Department and is scheduled for a go-ahead vote on June 15.

The garden would honor the first generation of Japanese residents in San Francisco, the Issei, who established Japantown in its current location 110 years ago after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

The memorial was proposed last year by leaders and supporters of the nearby Japanese Cultural and Community Center, who enlisted renowned gardeners Shigeru Namba and Isao Ogura to create a garden on the Sutter Street side of Cottage Row that would honor the Issei generation.

“Cottage Row is the only place in Japantown they would recognize,” said Paul Osaki, director of the center, because the rest of the neighborhood was torn down and remade during redevelopment in the 1960s.

Osaki presented the proposal last year at a series of five sometimes raucous neighborhood meetings. Some neighbors disputed the Japanese heritage of Cottage Row and insisted that any memorial should honor everyone who had lived in the area.

A subsequent review of census records showed that Cottage Row was in fact occupied almost entirely by Japanese-Americans until they and the other residents of Japantown were interned during World War II.

After committee review on June 1, the Cottage Row proposal is slated to come before the city’s Recreation and Park Commission on June 15. The commission agenda describes the plan as “an in-kind grant valued at approximately $56,000.”

A staff report notes that the garden plan is supported by 100 nearby residents, 23 community organizations and 463 people who signed petitions, in addition to supervisors London Breed and Aaron Peskin. Five nearby residents and one other person registered their opposition to the plan.

EARLIER: “Zen garden sparks a fight

A view of the bay helped lure the maestro

Photograph of San Francisco opera music director Nicola Luisotti by Cory Weaver

Photograph of San Francisco Opera music director Nicola Luisotti by Cory Weaver

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

Maestro — and neighborhood resident — Nicola Luisotti opens the San Francisco Opera’s summer season this month, conducting eight performances of Verdi’s heart-wrenching Rigoletto.

Italian to his core, Luisotti, who’s been music director of the opera company since 2009, is particularly renowned for conducting the works of his most famous musical countrymen. He will open the fall season conducting Puccini’s beloved Turandot in early September and Verdi’s romantic La Traviata later that month.

But if not for the charms of the neighborhood, he might not be in San Francisco at all.

You’ve worked in opera companies all over the world. What brought you to San Francisco?

I will never forget that important moment of my artistic life. I was in L.A. in 2005 conducting Pagliacci, by Leoncavallo. I’d been invited to conduct La Forza del Destino, by Giuseppe Verdi, in San Francisco, and I had to start the rehearsals. But I was so tired, I was close to canceling my engagement.

I decided to come here for two days; my wife, Rita, remained in L.A. When I entered the apartment S.F. Opera had arranged for me in Pacific Heights, the windows provided a spectacular view of the bay and Alcatraz — a view I couldn’t have had in any other neighborhood. I immediately called Rita and said: “You will love this city!”

And it was one of the best musical experiences in my life. The S.F. Opera orchestra and chorus were just amazing. Four years later, when I was asked to become music director, I was in paradise.

And back in Pacific Heights.

I fell in love with what the neighborhood first gave me — that view. Our apartment building in Pacific Heights was built in 1932, and I thought it was truly fate, since that was the year the Opera House opened. And Pacific Heights is so quiet, beautiful and elegant — just a perfect place for a musician to be inspired.

You began your career at age 10, playing the organ in your village church in Tuscany, learning to read music by watching the priest — and a year later you were conducting the church chorus. How did you become an opera conductor?

The first time I attended an opera, it was Madama Butterfly, when I was 12. But the first time I fell in love with an opera was La Bohème, when I was 21. When I saw it, I understood that one day, I could become an opera conductor. For sure, a bit of talent, a lot of work and some luck can contribute to achievement. Perhaps being Italian is why many theaters ask me to conduct Italian works, and so it can be said that I bring my Italian traditions to the music.

What exactly does an opera conductor do?

My colleagues in the orchestra pit and on stage each knows his or her own role intimately. But the conductor brings his knowledge of the entire opera, acting almost like a medium, channeling the composer through the score. When everything works, we have magic.

What do you enjoy on your time off?

Rita and I love to cook and we do not eat out very often, although we have been many times, either on our own or with visiting friends and family, to Pizzeria Delfina. We walk all over Pacific Heights and shop at Sur La Table on Union, the Apple store and Lucca Deli on Chestnut, and go to Whole Foods on California several times a week. We love the services of Deluxe Cleaners on Laguna, and Rita attends Pilates classes at the Dailey Method in Cow Hollow. We bike from home to Crissy Field and beyond and like to hike in the Marin Headlands.

Alas, you’ll be moving on after next season. What are your plans?

I have just been named director asociado at the Teatro Real in Madrid. I will also conduct a lot in New York at the Met, and in Paris, London, Munich, Rome, Turin and many other places around the world.

What you will miss?

I will simply miss everything about this fantastic, charming city that gave me so much. But I will come back here as a guest, and sooner than expected. Remember that all who have lived in this city have left their hearts in San Francisco!

Flowers for Prom

B-RedWristlet

Text & Photographs by BARBARA WYETH

Every year in the late spring, we florists at Bloomers, over on Washington Street near Broderick, get to share in the time-honored, all-American ritual of prom.

For 40 years, Bloomers has been providing flowers for families in the neighborhood and beyond. The mother who got her wedding flowers may call for her son’s corsage, the same son whose mom received a sweet bouquet the day he was born. Her daughter, who needs a boutonniere for her date, probably got a charming little nosegay for her ballet recital not that long ago. Or so it sometimes seems.

Now the son and daughter are ordering flowers, perhaps for the first time, to honor this special occasion in their own lives. Some of these high-schoolers are nervous about ordering wristlets and boutonnieres. Others are so self-assured that we marvel at their sophistication.

Making the boutonnieres and especially the wristlet corsages is labor intensive and time consuming, but the results are beautiful. And the parade of young women and young men — many with proud moms and dads — who come to pick up the prom flowers is endearing and great fun.

Flowers for prom — a sweet tradition that endures.

B-PromCollage

New novel born on old Fillmore

magicwar

BOOKS | MARK MITCHELL

Walking down Fillmore Street, I often run into people who have lived here for a while, most of whom know me from my many years here. We’ll chat about the Giants and the weather and then they’ll ask, “How’s the writing going?” Anyone who has spent any time around me knows that I am a writer.

Right now, I get to answer, “Just great!” My new novel just came out, and it’s called The Magic War. If I have one with me, I hand them a flyer with the cover and a link to Amazon. (We’re still working on getting into Browser Books.)

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St. Dominic’s plans 5 new buildings

Viewed from Pine and Steiner Streets, the plan calls for new church facilities over a parking garage.

The proposed view from Pine and Steiner Streets, with new buildings over a parking garage.

LEADERS OF St. Dominic’s Church are embarking on an ambitious building program that would demolish the 1929 school building on Pine Street and add five new buildings atop a 130-car parking garage.

Three of the new buildings would house church administrative offices, a pre-school and a much larger parish hall. They would be built on an above-ground podium over a one-level, mostly underground garage.

The church building, built in 1928, would not be altered beyond completion of an ongoing $20 million restoration project.

“It’s the parish hall that’s driving this whole thing,” said parishioner-developer Bill Campbell, who presented the plans to three dozen neighbors at an April 5 hearing. “This is the most active parish in San Francisco. And there’s a great need for pre-schools.”

The first phase of the “pastoral center and residential project” is expected to cost $10 million and take 18 months.

The church has begun an environmental impact report for a second phase — “We don’t know when or how,” Campbell said — which would build about 120 residential rental units in two buildings on the corner of Pine and Pierce, with two levels of parking underneath.

The rentals will generate revenue to support the church, said Campbell.

“We appreciate that you spent 30 minutes talking about how wonderful this will be for the parish,” one local resident told Campbell. “But it will be a catastrophe for the neighborhood.”

Architectural renderings from Field Paoli

Architectural renderings from Field Paoli, courtesy of SocketSite

A world premiere on Fillmore

Michael Conley: Strip mining "is a tragedy that diminishes us all."

Composer-conductor Michael Conley: Strip mining is “a tragedy that diminishes us all.”

“APPALACHIAN REQUIEM,” a new work for chorus and orchestra responding to the environmental consequences of strip mining in Appalachia, will have its world premiere on Sunday, May 7, at 3 p.m. It will be performed by the Calvary Presbyterian Church choir and orchestra at the church at 2515 Fillmore.

Composer Michael Conley is also the music director at Calvary. He assumed the position in 2015, succeeding Alden Gilchrist, who served the church for more than 60 years until his death in 2014.

“I went to college on the outskirts of Appalachia and my parents still live there,” says Conley. “It was important for me to give voice to the farmers and miners whose homes, lives, hopes, traditions and physical environments have been permanently erased,” Conley says. “It is a tragedy that diminishes us all.”

He says of his new composition: “The piece follows the normal order of a Latin requiem mass, but I draw its texts from Appalachian poets and inspiration from traditional Southern hymns, folk music and Native American chants.”

The concert, entitled “From These Mountains,” will also include performances of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and “Southern Grace” by  Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon.

A pre-concert talk, “Of Mountains, Mines and Music: Appalachia in Crisis” will be presented on Saturday, May 6, at 3 p.m. at Calvary by Conley and Earthjustice attorney Marie Logan. The talk is free. The suggested donation for the concert is $20.

Harlem of the West revisited

Harlem-new

LONG BEFORE they met, Lewis Watts and Elizabeth Pepin Silva had something in common: Both had wandered into Red’s Shoe Shine Parlor at 1549 Fillmore to inquire about the extensive collection of vintage photographs of Fillmore’s jazz joints that lined his walls.

And both had been kicked out.

Before he could return to try again, Watts learned that Red Powell had died and his treasure trove of photographs had apparently been lost. Only years later would he learn they had in fact been saved — and were in the back room of Reggie Pettus’s New Chicago Barbershop.

Those photographs became the backbone of a remarkable neighborhood history, Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era, co-authored by Silva and Watts and published by Chronicle Books in 2006. The photographs were widely exhibited and the book sold out. A second edition was published in 2008. But by 2010 the book was out of print and hard to find.

“I couldn’t go on Fillmore without somebody asking about the book,” says Watts. “So we decided to republish it ourselves” — and do it the way they had always thought it should be done.

The third edition, which premiered April 29, is bigger and better in every way. It is larger, with more prominent photographs, and it includes a hundred more pages, more elegantly designed, and many more photographs and oral histories.

Among the most significant additions: photographs and oral histories from exotic dancer Lottie “the Body” Claiborne, discovered living in Detroit, and club owner Leola King, who had initially refused to participate.

“When she saw the book, she realized we were being respectful,” says Silva.

Distribution of the new edition is still being arranged. For now, copies are available online. An exhibition of photographs from the book is now showing at the African American Arts and Cultural Complex at 762 Fulton Street.

“I’m already thinking of things I could look into further,” says Silva. “I never thought this was a lifetime project. This neighborhood has gotten into me.”

MORE: Jazz clubs in the Fillmore