Little Free Library lives on

The Little Free Library (and doghouse) at 2418 Pine Street.

To our dear little neighborhood:

When a disturbing event occurs, it’s the ordinary, everyday heroes who step up to save the day.

Our neighborhood’s Little Free Library was violently attacked and toppled on May 29. It stood in front of our home at 2418 Pine Street, on one of the city’s bustling public sidewalks. While the destruction may not qualify as a true tragedy, the Little Free Library served an entire neighborhood — and beyond — in our big little town of San Francisco, and was a true loss.

The library’s grand opening took place last fall, accompanied by a ceremonial ribbon-cutting and all-around good cheer among our neighbors and friends. For months, the library worked its magic on children and adults who wanted to share what they had read and borrow what others submitted: mysteries, spy novels, romances, the adventures of Harry Potter, science, psychology — you name it. It became a meeting place for exchanging ideas as well as books. Kids and parents stopped by daily to peruse the latest titles, and dog walkers paused to grab a biscuit from the library’s little doghouse.

The Little Free Library on Pine Street had become part of the connective tissue helping to bind our neighborhood together, and its absence was felt immediately. Neighbors began commiserating with us and with each other. Our front door bell rang steadily, with people offering encouraging words of support and expressing their sympathy for the loss of the beloved lending library. Neighbors and anonymous well-wishers left notes and sent emails explaining their personal feelings of loss — and volunteered their time, help and funds to once again raise our book house. Some passersby actually broke into tears as they viewed the fallen library and tried to make sense out of the senseless.

“I was so saddened to see your library broken on the ground this morning,” a neighbor wrote. “The little library added beauty to our neighborhood and it is shameful that people are not respectful.” Another said: “Hi, neighbor. I saw what happened when I walked by and was tearful. I am so sorry this happened.”

The outpouring of concern, caring and love was inspiring, unexpected in its volume, and so heartwarming.

A crisis, even a relatively small one such as this, has a way of giving a clean window through which to view the world — a kind of reset button in a cosmic sense. The cement pedestal that secured the Little Free Library appeared strong, but it turned out to be vulnerable and capable of being destroyed. In contrast, our neighbors — even from beyond our familiar few blocks — turned out to be the real pillars of strength, resilience and fortitude. The human spirit rose above the tragedy and wound up strengthening our bonds and furthering a sense of community.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who expressed their love and support. It is the people who make this world go around. Evil recedes and love wins.

THE MEYERS FAMILY

P.S. The Little Free Library is back up and ready for book and conversation sharing once again.

P.P.S. Library hours are: “Always open.”

A concert series in an Arts & Crafts treasure

Photograph of the Swedenborgian Church by Laurie Passey

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

Andrew Dodd lives nowhere near the neighborhood, but he’s brought something special to it. Dodd created the Second Sunday Concert Series at the Swedenborgian Church, at Washington and Lyon Streets, offering live music in the stunning 1895 Arts & Crafts-style church.

You live in Concord. How did you get involved with a small church more than 30 miles away?

After I got divorced, someone I dated in San Francisco showed it to me, and I couldn’t believe it. It’s more like a meetinghouse than a church — the original design didn’t even have a cross anywhere near the altar. Everyone who experiences it comes away amazed at its beauty and humility and simplicity and authenticity. I wanted more people to have that kind of experience.

It sounds more peaceful than religious.

The best way to explain it might be John Muir’s statement that, to him, a grove of redwoods was a cathedral. This church was conceived of and designed by a friend of his, Joseph Worcester, and it embodies in a very humble way that feeling of being in a natural, very intimate, personal place to explore one’s spirituality — much like Muir did in the wilds of California. You know, the trunks of madrone trees from the Santa Cruz mountains hold up the roof.

What about other Arts & Crafts elements, like the chairs?

The chairs were handmade by a friend of Worcester’s of hard maple with no screws or nails, just perfect craftsmanship. The rush-woven seats are from reeds in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The notion is that handmade things are imbued with the spirit of the maker. One of the prototypes of the chairs is in the Smithsonian collection.

So the idea of adding beautiful music to this beautiful place….

Yes, it seemed like a natural recipe for the experience I wanted. I came up with the idea because many people living in the neighborhood, with a National Historic Landmark right in their front yard, were not aware of it.

How do you select the performers?

I want to, as is often quoted in scripture, cast a wide net. Emanuel Swedenborg felt that all faiths are equally important in heaven, so all are valuable paths to the divine. And so many musicians are drawn to San Francisco because so many styles are appreciated here. I enjoy doing my own crossover. I find the musicians, negotiate the fees, schedule the shows and produce the advertising.

What’s your background?

I had a career in advertising for almost 30 years. I organized photo shoots, supervised copywriters and illustrators and designers. I was responsible for budgets and a year-long calendar. So I had all the tools I needed.

EARLIER: “The Arts & Crafts movement started here

No more Mr. Hands

Photograph of Zema Daniels on Fillmore Street by Kathryn Amnott

A FAMILIAR FACE on Fillmore Street is missing. Zema Daniels has retired.

For most of his 90 years, he was part of the Fillmore scene. In recent decades, Fillmore merchants hired him to help battle litter on the street. With his bucket and brooms, he was a familiar sight up and down Fillmore. He was also the caretaker of the parking lot behind the Victorians relocated during redevelopment to the block of Fillmore between Sutter and Post, and lived nearby.

He got his nicknames — One Hand to his friends, or Mr. Hands to others — because of his phenomenal ability to shoot pool with only one hand. It was a talent he began developing as a young boy with a chopped-off cue at his father’s pool hall in Florida. He was also said to be an excellent poker player.

After an illness that kept him in the veteran’s hospital for two months, he has now settled into a nearby retirement home. During his long life, he has made a visible difference in this neighborhood.

Fighting as a metaphor for peace

An Israeli and a Palestinian spar in local filmmaker Pietro Pinto’s “Jerusalem in Between.”

FILM | ANDREA CHASE

Italian-born neighborhood resident Pietro Pinto didn’t set out to make a film about boxers. After winning a place in the Jerusalem Film Workshop a few years back, he arrived in Israel for the first time in his life with less than two weeks to find a subject for his short film, which will screen at the upcoming San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Pinto had been one of the Bay Area’s young and emerging filmmakers between the ages of 19 to 27 chosen to participate in a six-week summer filmmaking workshop in Israel and produce a short to be screened at the festival. Fate led him to the Jerusalem Boxing Club, and to Nur and Arthur, the two protagonists of “Jerusalem in Between,” his visually poetic, philosophically dense consideration of Palestinian-Israeli relations.

Pinto acknowledges the irony of using boxing when talking about detente. “It’s the perfect metaphor,” he says. “Of course, it’s fighting — but it’s also training together, instead of just looking for a victory.”

In fact, he says the first time he saw Nur and Arthur, they were sparring together in the only boxing club in Jerusalem in which a Palestinian and an Israeli could do so.

He knew it was the film he wanted to make, but convincing the Jewish Film Workshop was another matter. He persevered, introducing the young men to the producers, who finally agreed the story should be told. Thus began a four-week shoot and, for Pinto, two new friendships.

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The colors of jazz

By JASON OLAINE
Artistic Director, Fillmore Jazz Festival

What is the sound of jazz? And can jazz mean different things to different people, perhaps even different things to the same person?

Since its birth in New Orleans near the end of the 19th century, jazz was a hybrid: a mixed-up, beautiful child of Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and South America. The self-described inventor of jazz, pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton, said: “If you can’t manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right ‘seasoning’ to call it jazz.”

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Third home’s the charm for St. John’s

St. John’s Presbyterian Church at Lake Street and Arguello Boulevard.

By BRIDGET MALEY

Sometimes mistaken for an Episcopalian church, St. John’s Presbyterian, the eclectic Shingle Style landmark at the corner of Lake Street and Arguello Boulevard, does indeed have its architectural roots in the Episcopal building tradition. And it has a rich history.

The story begins in March 1870, when a newly established Presbyterian assembly acquired a building on Post Street between Mason and Taylor: the former St. James Episcopal Church, built in 1867. Not much is known of this earlier building, and no architect has been linked to its design. Historic images depict a small, wooden frame structure with a swirl of English country church, Tutor Revival and American Carpenter Gothic influences. It had an almost rural character, sharing a lot with a residence and small yard in what was an increasingly urban San Francisco.

The Episcopalian priest who was the rector of St. James apparently defected to the Catholic church in 1870, leaving the building available for another congregation.

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Fillmore al Fresco

Sidewalk seating, like that at Peet’s on Fillmore, is a recent — and growing — trend.

By SUSAN SWARD

Up and down Fillmore, sidewalk spots keep springing up.

Noosh, the new restaurant at Pine and Fillmore, has three four-tops outside with heat lamps at the ready. Blue Bottle Coffee finally has its outside tables back at Fillmore and Jackson. The Snug, at Clay and Fillmore, is considering putting in for a permit. And established sunny sidewalk terraces at Chouquet’s, at Washington, and Harry’s and The Grove, between Pine and California, host a crush of people, often with baby carriages and dogs along for the party.

Slowly, since 1993, when they were first blessed by the city, sidewalk tables and chairs have proliferated. Now there are more than 450 permitted sites citywide — with 19 alone on Fillmore Street. Chestnut Street has 19 as well, Columbus Avenue has 21 and Clement Street has 10. All across the city, people gather outside, chatting, hanging out, drinking and eating. Streets that once felt cold and dead bustle with activity and life, particularly on the days when sunshine blesses San Francisco.

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At home in Lafayette Square

In 1919, looking west into Lafayette Square from the intersection of Gough and Clay Streets, the St. Regis apartment building is on the left and a long-gone single-family residence on the right. Through the trees at the crest of the hill is Samuel Wirt Holladay’s compound he called Holladay Heights. OpenSFHistory photograph.

LOCAL HISTORY | CHRISTOPHER POLLOCK

Of the 220 public spaces the city’s Recreation and Park Department administers in San Francisco, Lafayette Park is unique: It has a privately owned six-story apartment building cut right into its municipal landscape on the side bordering Gough Street.

In the city’s early days, several parks had issues over real estate title, including Alamo Square, Holly Park, Jackson Park and Lafayette Square, as the park was originally known. The city usually won its legal actions to wrest public properties from squatters, some of whom were shrewd and persistent through years of litigation.

Spaces for 11 city parks were designated by the Van Ness Ordinance of 1855-56 and confirmed by the state legislature in 1858. Like Lafayette Square, many of the spaces reserved for public use consisted of foursquare blocks. Some of the parks were patriotically named for past presidents or others important in the country’s creation — in this case the Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman who fought for the U.S. during the American revolution.

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24 years on retreat

“What I like about it most is I’m really in charge of my own ship,” says Judith Skinner.

FILM | JESSICA BERNSTEIN-WAX

My mother’s friend Judith Skinner started a Tibetan Buddhist retreat in her Pacific Heights apartment in 1995. At the time, she thought it would last the traditional three years, three months and three days.

Almost 24 years later, she remains on retreat, a Buddhist practice that involves solitude, meditation and introspection — and can take place anywhere from a remote cave to a rent-controlled studio apartment in San Francisco.

I have known Judith almost all of my life. As a child, I visited her at the Ewam Choden Tibetan Buddhist Center near Berkeley, where she lived for many years. When Judith started her retreat, I thought three years sounded like a long time to lead a mostly solitary existence.

As her retreat extended for more and more years, I started to get curious. What did she do all day? And why had she dropped out of “normal life”?

To find out, I spent about a year and a half filming her on my days off and weekends. The resulting short documentary, On Retreat, will screen at this year’s SF DocFest, the San Francisco Documentary Film Festival. It screens on June 8 at 12:15 p.m. and on June 11 at 7 p.m. at the Roxie Theater.

You might think documentary footage of someone on a meditation retreat would be about as visually exciting as watching paint dry. But Judith is an engaging San Francisco character.

To help finance her retreat, she worked as a gardener for many years. Now in her 70s, she follows a simple daily routine involving Buddhist practice, writing and trips to Cal-Mart in Laurel Village.

She has almost no belongings and owns just one fork, but still manages to look sharp every day. She goes for regular haircuts at Patrick Richards Salon on Sacramento Street, where she tended the flower boxes for years.

Rather than focus primarily on the logistics of Judith’s retreat, my film explores her reasons for going on retreat in the first place and why she’s continued for so long.

“My friends tease me that retreat is the all-purpose excuse: I get out of everything,” Judith told me laughingly during one of our interviews. “On a deep level, what I like about it most is I’m really in charge of my own ship.”

Judith truly does seems to be content with her quiet, somewhat isolated life. She credits Buddhist practice and her retreat with making her a calmer, less reactive person.

Despite her solitary lifestyle, Judith says she hasn’t felt lonely these last 24 years. The retreat and the city of San Francisco have been her constant and familiar companions.

La Med turns 40

Photograph of La Mediterranee founder Levon Der Bedrossian by Daniel Bahmani

WHEN LA MEDITERRANEE founder Levon Der Bedrossian moved from Lebanon to California in 1967 to attend Chico State University, he lived in the neighboring town of Paradise, which was devastated by the recent Camp Fire.

Then he moved to San Francisco and opened La Mediterranee on Fillmore Street on May 11, 1979, serving the Middle Eastern meza dishes from Lebanon and the Armenian family recipes he had begun experimenting with for his fellow students in Chico. They were unique on the culinary scene in San Francisco at the time.

So it should come as no surprise to those who know Der Bedrossian and his special restaurant — which has consistently been voted the best Mediterranean restaurant in the Bay Area — that he would celebrate its 40th anniversary by donating all of the proceeds to support survivors of the Camp Fire in Paradise.

The 40th anniversary party will be held on Saturday, May 11 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the restaurant at 2210 Fillmore.

Der Bedrossian is still involved with the business, but his son Vanick and longtime managing partners Alicia Vanden Huevel and Trevor Lederberger have taken the helm. In addition to the flagship on Fillmore, La Mediterranee also has locations in the Castro and in Berkeley, plus a catering kitchen in North Beach.

EARLIER: “Still cozy after all these years