How Pacific Heights got a 40-foot height limit

One of the flyers distributed during the fight for a 40-foot height limit.

By SUSAN SWARD

On a Friday in April of 1972, Charlotte Maeck got a purple postcard in the mail at her Pacific Heights residence that she initially thought was a hosiery advertisement from the I. Magnin department store.

On closer look, she saw it was a city announcement of a hearing the following Tuesday on a proposal to rezone the areas between Van Ness to Steiner and Union to Washington to permit structures of up to 160 feet — or 16 stories. Before then, height limits of 65 feet and 105 feet existed in various parts of Pacific Heights.

Maeck, who was busy raising her four children with her husband, orthopaedic surgeon Benjamin Maeck, in their home on Pacific Avenue, knew nothing about planning codes and had never been involved in the brawling political fights over development in San Francisco.

She came from Staten Island, where her grandfather founded a marine hardware company. “We were concerned about neighborhoods, and families watched what went on,’’ Maeck recalls. But “I knew nothing about zoning.”

That was about to change.

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Zinc Details is calling it quits

Photograph of Vasilios Kiniris at Zinc Details by Daniel Bahmani

ONE OF THE best-known and longest-operating businesses on Fillmore Street is shutting its doors at the end of April. Zinc Details, at 1633 Fillmore, will end its 27-year run and its space is expected to become an outpost of Orange Theory, a nationwide fitness club.

“I’ve met amazing people through our store,” says Vasilios Kiniris, who owns the design shop with his wife and fellow architect, Wendy Nishimura Kiniris. “But it’s time.”

Vas Kiniris, who has been vice president, president and now executive director of the Fillmore Merchants Association, intends to devote himself fully to small business affairs in San Francisco. In addition, he has recently become executive director of the West Portal Merchants Association and executive secretary of the citywide District Council of Merchant Associations.

“I think it’s perfect timing,” says Kiniris. “Retail is morphing into a new reality, and I’m parlaying my knowledge of small business and what makes a vibrant street.”

At one point Zinc had three shops and 20 employees on Fillmore Street.

“There’s a real sense of community on Fillmore,” he says. “I want to share that.”

Vas and Wendy Kiniris in their first Zinc Details store, opened in 1990.

EARLIER: “Still modern after all these years

A buying trip to Southeast Asia

Condos under $1 million increasingly rare

Rare: A unit at 3330 Clay Street is currently on the market for $629,000.

REAL ESTATE | PATRICK BARBER

Continuously tight supplies and robust buyer demand have pushed up real estate prices in San Francisco’s most desirable neighborhoods over the past few years, making properties that sell for less than $1 million an endangered species.

Between mid-February and mid-March, 19 condominiums changed hands in Lower Pacific Heights, Pacific Heights, Cow Hollow and Presidio Heights. More than half sold for more than the original price and only two sold for less than $1 million. Compare that with the same period last year, when six of the 22 condominiums — 27 percent — sold for less than $1 million.

Patrick Barber is president of Pacific Union.

Japan Center turns 50

The Japanese Cultural and Trade Center when it opened in 1968. SF Public Library photo.

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

Major portions of the Western Addition were wiped out in the name of redevelopment in favor of new plans that began to take shape in the late 1950s. This is reflected in the complex history of Japan Center, bounded by Laguna, Geary, Fillmore and Post, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Japanese families first migrated to the area after the 1906 earthquake. Census records from 1920 reveal a remarkable concentration of Japanese-American families living in the area between Bush and Geary. By 1940, this thriving community, with more than 200 businesses owned by Japanese Americans, was comparable only to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed everything. With the American entry into World War II, all people of Japanese ancestry were removed from coastal locations to inland internment camps. This left storefronts, houses and apartments vacant in what had been a prosperous and active Japantown.

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Empowering youth to get involved

BOOKS | SABRINA MOYLE

When I was a teen I loved being creative, but I didn’t think creativity could change the world. We were told that the arts were frivolous. I didn’t think my voice mattered and, as a result, I didn’t speak up.

Fast forward to today: We’re riding a rising wave of youth activism. In Parkland, Florida, youth leadership has thrived on strong school arts programs in theater, music, journalism and debate. Like so many others, I am inspired by these youth, and now more convinced than ever that creativity can empower positive social change.

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The dancer is a designer

Photograph of Susan Roemer and her costumes by Leslie Irwin for Smuin Ballet

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

Susan Roemer’s second act began before she completed act one. A dancer for nine years with Smuin Ballet, she started designing and sewing costumes for dancers, collaborating with choreographers within and outside the group, even before she retired from the company in 2016.

This month her work is on view in two world premiere ballets: Val Caniparoli’s “If I Were a Sushi Roll,” in Smuin’s season finale program at the Yerba Buena Center from April 20 to 29; and David Dawson’s “Anima Animus,” in S.F. Ballet’s Unbound B program at the War Memorial Opera House from April 21 to May 4.

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‘I will not be seen in polka dots!’

The ever-fashionable fashion designer Mary Kuei Boyer.

By BARBARA KATE REPA

I met Mary Kuei Boyer a decade ago at an art exhibition at the Sequoias, the high-rise senior community on Geary near Gough.

“I think you would like to get to know me,” she said, and she was right. We shared many long lunches and talks. She provided the entertainment, with her fast-paced stories that sped along ever faster as she became more and more excited. I was there to receive her wisdom and marvel at her ability to clean her plate.

This wisp of a woman with an outsized appetite was an enigma in many ways. She was impish but thoughtful, modest but proud, outgoing but intensely private. She had a lot to teach about being alive.

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Lazy Bear founder taking over Thai Stick

“We want to take advantage of the great corner location,” says new owner John Litz.

By CHRIS BARNETT

Ending months of rumors and speculation, new owners have confirmed they are taking over the former Thai Stick — once the site of the legendary Pacific Heights Bar and Grill, and before that a hippie plant store — on the choice corner of Fillmore and Pine.

Three partners — one of them John Litz, co-owner and co-creator of the Michelin two-star Lazy Bear in the Mission — have signed a lease and hired an architect for the space at 2001 Fillmore and hope to open their new restaurant in the fall.

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The Elite Asia Lincoln Grill Cafe

Inside the Lincoln Grill, circa 1940s.

BEFORE IT WAS the Elite Cafe, it was the Asia Cafe. And before it was the Asia Cafe, it was the Lincoln Grill.

The building at 2049 Fillmore that now houses the Elite Cafe was built in 1932 in exuberant Jazz Age style, with no shortage of Art Deco detailing, as the home of the Lincoln Grill, which had first opened across the street in 1928.

Inside the Asia Cafe in the 1970s.

The neon sign out front originally announced the Lincoln Grill. Then, in the 1950s, the name — and the marquee — were changed to the Asia Cafe.

In 1981, when serial restaurateur Sam DuVall beat out fast-rising chef Jeremiah Tower for the space and created the Elite Cafe, the sign was reworked and reworded again.

The dining room and booths in the Elite Cafe in 2008.

Peter Snyderman took over the Elite Cafe in 2005 and had the neon sign refurbished, but kept the interior largely as it had always been. In 2016, Snyderman passed the Elite on to current owner Andy Chun, who made it modern, removing the historic Deco fixtures and painting the woodwork shades of black and battleship gray. Exterior details also were cloaked under a coat of black paint.

The Elite Cafe made modern in 2017.

But the vintage neon sign remained a brilliant beacon of Fillmore Street. Then one morning last February the sign caught fire. Flames shot out of the top, and the neon went dark for almost a year.

Now, at last, it again lights up the night sky.

Still no one has come up with photographs of the sign when it fronted the Lincoln Grill or the Asia Cafe. But once again it has been rewired, repainted and re-lit, proudly proclaiming the Elite Cafe.

EARLIER: “An Art Deco treasure is diminished