Heart of the City Archives

Swensen's, 1999 Hyde Street.





Here's the password to a city's heart
by Hank Donat

Unbeknownst to Jim Reid, the Bernal Heights building contractor and unsuccessful mayoral candidate, it was a moment when the credits could start rolling over the screen.

You may remember Reid as the candidate who wanted to build little houses for the homeless and got commensurately little support.

There was Reid in a used Saab, sputtering up Van Ness Avenue near Turk Street only moments after Mayor Gavin Newsom had sworn in Heather Hiles as a school board member a few doors down at the Tenderloin School.

In the school's library, a crowd of over a hundred - large for such an occasion - had gathered to witness Hiles' oath of office. Hiles, also of Bernal Heights, is a respected member of the political community and a rising star. Interest was also great because Newsom was conducting his first swearing-in as mayor.

On the street, Jim Reid sputtered along in a straight line, the picture of perseverance in a scene directed by the imagination.

San Franciscans are familiar with such contrasting images and impulses. We're accustomed to places where you can get Chinese take-out and donuts under one roof.

Swensen's Ice Cream, on Hyde Street since 1948, is one of Russian Hill's oldest neighborhood institutions. Recently I was fooled by a blogger from the neighborhood who announced, wrongly, that Swensen's now serves Vietnamese pho along with rocky road.

Last week's opening of a Whole Foods supermarket at the corner of Harrison and Fourth in SoMA solidifies a southern shift to the city's center of gravity. (That, in addition to trees, is what makes Yerba Buena Gardens the real "new Union Square.")

Supervisor Chris Daly now supports the construction of residential towers in his District 6 neighborhood at Rincon Hill.

For a suggestion as to what the skyline would look like with towers there, take a look at Irwin Allen's 1974 disaster epic "The Towering Inferno." Two tall towers, including the one that burns in the film, appear in the approximate setting via pre-digital special effects.

Grief! Outrage! Reaction to the news that signage for Pacific Bell Park was being removed in order to rename the downtown stadium SBC Park proves that San Francisans become unusually attached to things. If you can't handle a name-change for a four year-old ballpark, how are you going to deal with pho - even faux pho - at Swensen's?

More food for thought: Ranjey Dey, the award-winning chef and owner of New Delhi on Ellis Street has taped an Indian cooking series for PBS titled, "My India." It airs in the fall.

Further cultural swirl: Why was Jewish lesbian comedian Lisa Geduldig walking briskly up Guerrero Street carrying a lute last Sunday? "I have to return it to my instructor before I leave for Brazil," says Geduldig. But of course.

Washington Square Bar & Grill barkeep Mike McCourt confirms that it was his brother, Mallochy, appearing as a priest on a recent episode of the soap opera "All my Children." Mallochy McCourt is the raconteur, author and frequent Merv Griffin guest whose most recent book is "Harold be thy Name: Lighthearted Daily Reflections for People in Recovery." On the soap opera, McCourt's Father Clarence teaches a life lesson to the daughter of Susan Lucci's character, Erica Kane.

Rolling Stone photographer Robert Altman was elated by the first-time appearance of Warren Hinkle at Lee Houskeeper's dinner group known as "BNO," at Tommy's Joynt last Monday.

The group, now in its fifth year, was originally - unfortunately says Bruce Bellingham - called Boy's Night Out. However, women have always been members of this loose collective of Bay Area cultural, political, and media legends.

Frequent flyers at BNO include cartoonist Phil Frank, Dr. Hip Gene Schoenfeld, comedians Bob Sarlatte, Will Durst and Brian Copeland, Paul "The Lobster" Wells, Herb Gold, Chet Helms, Dr. Celia Rabinovitch, Ed Rosenthal, Wavy Gravy, Jackie Holzman and Dick Hongisto.

Monday's rousing chow-and-jaw was one of warmth and fellowship. Altman honored Hinkle as one of the first contemporary publishers to give photographers bylines equal in size to those of writers.

The Rowan Brothers, Chris and Peter, sang in perfect harmony; Herb Gold, a literary statesman, reflected on Herb Caen and Willie Brown; Dr. Lawrence Brilliant simply is.

All ears were on Dick Hongisto, who talked turkey about Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

In the late 1970s, Hongisto served as police chief under Kucinich, then mayor of Cleveland, Ohio. The relationship was brief and tumultuous. At that time, Hongisto had made sweeping reforms to law enforcement in San Francisco with progressive policies in hiring and management. He opened doors for African Americans, gays, and women. Hongisto says Kucinich was only ready to talk the talk.

Since Kucinich invoked the history during a recent debate, Hongisto has been candid in his disdain for Kucinich. "The only terms I had for going to Cleveland," Hongisto said, "were; one, that I be given the proper authority when it comes to making decisions; and two, that I not be asked to, say for example, promote someone to detective just because they drove the mayor around during the campaign or something like that.

"On my first day, they argued with me over business cards. A week later they asked me to make someone detective because he drove the mayor around during the campaign."

Kucinich fired Hongisto on the nightly news on a Good Friday. The incident helped galvanize support for a recall election that Kucinich won by a whisker - 236 votes.

What San Francisco dinner klatch would be complete without just one more story?

Wavy Gravy, the clown activist, regaled his friends with tales of Janis Joplin. Wavy emceed at Woodstock and says at last it can be revealed. The password for backstage access was, "I don't remember

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Copyright 2004 Hank Donat
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