Who are the real movers and shakers in North Beach? Let’s see if we can run down a few of them for you. And I believe it’s important to realize that not all movers are shakers. And, it figures, that not all shakers are movers. There are movers and shakers who move and shake and get things done. Then there are shakers who shake like hell but don’t move a damned thing. And, of course, there are movers who simply move things forward by their presence and don’t need to do any frantic shaking.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS
Here are a few examples of North Beach movers and shakers, and those of various combinations, that come to mind.
John Duggan Jr., proprietor of Original Joe’s, has brought considerable economic and social vitality to the old neighborhood in a quiet and understated manner. John is six-foot-seven and he’s a mover — but doesn’t shake things up with false authority.
Stefano Cassolato is big and bluff and hearty with a friendly, bear-paw handshake. When I use the word “bluff” to describe Stefano, I don’t use it in the sense of “pretense” or “subterfuge,” but rather in the sense of being frank, and at times outspoken. Stefano is a registered lobbyist — a fixer — who specializes in gaining the necessary city business permits for clubs in North Beach and mostly small, mom-and-pop restaurants. A while back Jane T. Robe made Stefano a drawn-from-life character in her novel, Panther Resurrection. In the book, another character describes Stefano this way: “It’s not what he knows. It’s not who he knows. It’s that everyone knows him.” That’s Stefano.
Francis Ford Coppola is a mover without doubt. But he avoids being a shaker. He quietly restored a great San Francisco building, the old Sentinel Building, now Coppola’s Columbus Tower. He also created the powerful North Beach service organization, North Beach Citizens, which addresses the needs of the homeless and the low-income.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the eminent poet and painter, is both a mover and a shaker. He moves us with his poetic vision and that in turn shakes things up. A quiet man who strides among us with his eyes looking into the future.
Angela Alioto, devout Catholic who believes the Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi on Vallejo Street is her rumpus room, is definitely a mover and shaker of seismic proportions. But sometimes she confuses shaking the hell out of things with movement.
Nancy Shanahan, spouse of big shot Aaron Peskin, is a major force in the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Association, a group of pouting children with Spandex brains who have formed a cult-like club and won’t let you into their sandbox. Shanahan has a reputation as a stopper of the projects proposed by the real movers and shakers. She and her buddies and her husband stopped Alioto’s original façade design for the Porziuncola, hindered the opening of the Piazza Market, and then hounded them out of business, delayed and complicated the construction of parklets throughout North Beach, and the replacement of the North Beach library. Her influence is a spinoff of being the spouse of Aaron Peskin.
Aaron Peskin, the powerful former president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. After a veritable amateur career as a North Beach project stopper, Peskin surfed the change to district-only supervisors — until he termed out and then proved unelectable to a City Hall executive office. He still blasts you with his brio.
Adolph Capurro, major commercial property owner in the 400 block of Columbus, the hottest block on the big thoroughfare. Add to this the quiet community of Chinese commercial property owners in North Beach who over the years have gained a foothold in the old Italian neighborhood.
Joe Carouba, owner of BSC Management, consultants to the entertainment industry — largely Broadway strip clubs. Carouba has embedded himself in the civic fabric of North Beach. He practices community philanthropy by donating to such causes as the firefighters toy drive for kids, the St. James Infirmary Clinic for sex workers, and the Top of Broadway Community Benefit District, whose mission statement includes making Broadway a “safe, beautiful, diverse place to live, work and visit.” Carouba employs the strippers on Broadway for various club operators. And if that doesn’t make you a mover and shaker, I don’t know what does.
And finally, when talking about movers and shakers it is important to remember this old adage: A peacock today, a feather duster tomorrow.
Unless you were around in 1901, you wouldn’t remember the old Palace Theater on Broadway. Or perhaps other movie houses like the Verdi Theater in 1915 or the World Theater that came along a few years later. But I’m going to give you another chance to show off your San Francisco history chops. Do you remember the Peppermint Tree at 660 Broadway? It opened in 1964 as a rock ‘n’ roll club, and featured Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Byrds, Little Richard, and sometimes-amateur topless dancers. It finally closed in 1975. What a lustrous history.
More recently that block of Broadway between Columbus Avenue and Stockton Street, has a mish-mash of small Chinese groceries, hole-in-the-wall restaurants — some surprisingly good, others of dubious quality — and storefronts selling baseball caps, plastic wash basins, and toilet brushes.
But now, there is something afoot that could lead to a neighborhood renaissance — specifically China Live, a 20,000-square-foot Chinese marketplace after the fashion of those found in Hong Kong or Shanghai. Well-known San Francisco restaurateurs George Chen and his wife, Cindy Wong-Chen (think Shanghai 1930 and Betelnut), plan to open China Live in February next year. It will occupy 640 and 660 Broadway and feature food stalls, exhibition kitchens, and local and imported Chinese products. An upscale Chinese restaurant called Eight Tables is planned for the second floor. Architect is David Hecht, whose North Beach office is over by Saints Peter and Paul Church. Cypress Properties Group of Lafayette, which owns the site, tells me the San Francisco Film Society has committed to space on the fifth floor of 640 Broadway for its local filmmakers’ project. And there’s a 437-seat theater in the basement that once showed films from Hong Kong and elsewhere — as well as live Chinese opera. I’m looking forward to more Chinese opera.