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Cole Valley Miscellany


There's a "hidden" Japanese restaurant at 100 Carl Street - Hama Ko Sushi. No sign; you wouldn't even notice it unless you were looking for it, but it's been in business since 1983. The food's not as good as Grandeho's, but the owners treat you like family once you've been a few times.

There are photos of the neighborhood at the turn of the century hanging on the walls of Kezar Bar and Grill, at the corner of Cole and Carl. One of them is of the farm that used to be at the corner of Parnassus and Cole , complete with a pond. The pond was filled in and built on, which is why there was so much damage to the buildings at that corner during the 1989 earthquake.

Neighborhood celebrities: Armistead Maupin lives on Belmont Street in Parnassus Heights. And Craig Newmark of "Craig's List" lived on Cole Street for 10 years, but now lives on Woodland Avenue. As for former inhabitants, Benjamin Bratt, actor and former beau of Julia Roberts, used to live on Ashbury Street. Mark Bingham, who died on Flight 93 on 9/11, lived on Shrader Street. Sue Bierman, former SF supervisor, lived on Shrader near Carmel. Going back aways, 436 Belvedere is the former home of Eldridge Cleaver, 425 Belvedere nearby is the former Russian consulate; 651 Belvedere was home to several members of the Grateful Dead in the 1970s; Terence Hallinan, the City's DA, lived on Grattan between Belvedere and Cole; Pat and Bernice Brown (father and mother of Jerry Brown) lived at 1461 Shrader; Marshall McLuhan lived at 264 Downey; William Saroyan lived at 348 Carl; "Buffy" of TV show "Family Affair" died of an overdose at 652 Cole; and Harry Bridges, famous union organizer, lived at 1541 Shrader (and reputedly also in the last block of Willard Street, near Woodland Ave).

The 1989 earthquake didn't cause much damage in the neighborhood, except at the corner of Parnassus and Cole. At that corner, the Tassajara Bakery was severely damaged and was closed for weeks, the building kitty-corner from the Tassajara lost most of its brick facade, and many of the buildings on or near the corner were damaged. Why? The corner is built on fill -- there used to be a pond on the site (you can see a photo of the pond in an old photo that hangs on one of the walls in Kezar).

In the 1500 block of Shrader, there's a wooden sculpture at 1591 Shrader, built by philanthropist Pat Montandon when she lived here. A sculpture of an angel, which Pat titled "Angel of Hope", has been carved out of the trunk of a *huge* Monterrey Cypress at the edge of Pat's driveway by sculptor Jack Mealy. The tree had to come down after the tree's neighbor on the other side of the driveway fell over in a 1997 windstorm, and Pat decided to have the carving done. Pat at the time was in the process of writing a book about angels, which explains the reference.

The former church at 601 Belvedere (used to be St. Aiden's Episcopal) was built in 1907. It was deconsecrated in the early 1960s, and was temporarily used by the Grateful Dead as a practice space until finally converted to become a home in the mid-60s. It's now a beautiful 3-bedroom home with a loft-like giant room. You can still see the old sign for the church just inside the front window.

Want to help out the neighborhood? Try something I do from time to time: next time you're headed down to Cole Street for an errand or to grab a bite, try picking up litter on your way there. Dump it in the public garbage cans on Cole Street when you arrive. It'll give your journey "purpose", and you can probably nullify four or five slobs who've dumped on the neighborhood in just the few minutes it takes you to get down to the strip.

The building where Crepes on Cole is now used to be a locally famous comedy club called The Other Cafe . (In fact, the sign is still there on the Carl Street side.) Long before I ever lived here, I remember going to "that neighborhood near the Haight where it's impossible to park", because my friends and I would go whenever Dana Carvey would headline. Robin Williams also performed here.

Although the neighborhood has no gay bars , it used to have two -- Finnegan's Wake at 937 Cole used to be Maude's, one of the first lesbian bars in the country and a place of legend for the girls. It closed in 1989 after almost 25 years. If you're interested, see the documentary "Last Call at Maude's", a great movie about the bar and gay liberation from the 60s to the 80s. Kezar (900 Cole) was also a gay bar ("Charlie's") until it closed in the mid-80's.

If you go up the hill on Willard (west of Stanyan off of Parnassus), take a right on Belmont, and then hang a left on Edgewood, following the brick-lined street to the very end, you'll find a very cool hiking trail . Follow it into the Sutro Forest, keeping left at every fork in the trail, and you'll eventually find yourself on Clarendon Road in the Twin Peaks area. If you want to make a loop of it, you can continue left on Clarendon, staying left until Clarendon turns into Twin Peaks Boulevard, left on Carmel, right on Cole, down to Parnassus and then left again to where you started.

And while we're in Parnassus Heights (where I live now, on Woodland Avenue), which sort of overlaps with parts of Cole Valley (see below), be sure to check it out in early to mid-February. Virtually the entire mini-neighborhood (Willard, Edgewood & Belmont) is planted with plum trees, which put on an incredible show then.

The wild parrots of Telegraph Hill are regular visitors to Cole Valley and Parnassus Heights in summer. Listen for them as early as 7AM most summer days -- they are extremely noisy, and travel in flocks as large as 20-25 birds. The Telegraph Hill flock began in 1989 and are mostly Cherry-headed Conures, small parrots native to South America. They visit our neighborhood in the summer to take advantage of the food sources available then (such as plum trees and several large backyard hawthorne trees). Click here for a CNN story on the parrots.

For such a geographically cohesive neighborhood (it's hemmed in (almost) on three sides -- on the west by Stanyan Street and the Sutro Forest, on the south by Tank Hill, and on the west by Belvedere or Clayton), Cole Valley doesn't seem to have a neighborhood association . The Cole Valley Improvement Association is really a Haight-Ashbury-wide organization.

Some miscellany on Tank Hill: This 600 foot high (Twin Peaks is 920 feet high, as a comparison) outcropping got its name in 1894 when a 500,000 gallon water tank was built there. The tank was removed in 1957, leaving the still-visible cement base. The ring of eucalyptus trees on the hill were planted after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, in an effort to camouflage the water tank from enemy bombers. The City of San Francisco sold the hill (2.8 acres of land) to private developers for $250,000 in 1961, only to repurchase it for open space in 1977 for 650,000.

Cole Valley has its share of interesting homes . At the corner of Belvedere and 17th is a former Episcopal church (St. Aiden's) that's been converted into a residence. The firehouse at the corner of Clayton and Carmel was recently renovated into two condominiums. Only in San Francisco could you have a million dollar *condo*. They've kept the brass firepoles that connect the two floors. And at the corner of Rivoli and Shrader is a home designed by Ira Kurlander, a well-known architect. The first floor of the house, which dates to 1908, was built by Bernice Lane Brown -- the mother of Governor Brown.

What do you think the boundaries of the neighborhood are? *I'd* say Cole Valley goes no farther north than Waller, no farther east than Clayton (maybe Ashbury), on the south to Carmel and Belgrave, and no farther west than Willard.