In search of San Francisco soul

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By Bruce B. Brugmann

Carl Nolte is the Chronicle writer who I think is the carrier of the Herb Caen tradition of finding soul in San Francisco.

Carl confirmed this for me in his Saturday May 5 Chronicle story aptly headlined "Gorgeous houses with 'soul.'" Carl, who was born and raised on Potrero Hill and is now hunkered down in a house on Bernal Heights, wrote about Arthur Bloomfield, a 76-year old retired music and food critic for the old Hearst Examiner, and his passion for the stately mansions and Victorian houses of Pacific Heights.

Bloomfeld took Carl on a tour of Pacific Heights for a book that he and his late wife Anne wrote, "Gables and Fables: a Portrait of San Francisco's Pacific Heights." He told Carl that "houses can have soul, you know. Like a good concert or a good meal, something like a house can be exciting and have soul."

I know that Bloomfeld and his wife knew about San Francisco soul, even though I never met them. My wife Jean and I, and our two children, shared for years with the Bloomfelds a wonderful housekeeper named Rose Zelalich. She was a lady with real San Francisco soul. She was born six months before the earthquake and taken by her Yugoslav parents to live in a tent in Golden Gate Park. She never left San Francisco and had endless fascinating stories about her life in the city's neighborhoods, the families she worked for, her two children and grandchildren, her cast of character friends, and her favorite haunts like Adeline's Bakery in West Portal and Woolworth's on Market Street.
She claimed that, if you couldn't find it at Woolworth's or the Emporium across Market Street, you didn't need it. She was a Democrat with a Big D and loved FDR and hated William Buckley Jr.

Rose came to us one day from the Bulgo household across the street in West Portal and announced that she was available to help us and our family. She was our secret weapon to keep us and the Guardian going, helped us with our two children and, after they left, cooked our evening meal and kept the conversation lively. She stayed with us until she died in l986. She was also working for the Bloomfelds on the other end of town and came back and forth by bus. Her signature pink hat still sits proudly on its perch on our front closet shelf.

There is still, I am happy to add to the Nolte and Bloomfeld reports, lots of soul left in San Francisco. You just have to know where to look for it. And so I am going to report now and then on San Francisco soul that I find. I encourage others to do the same and add to the blog.

I think a piano concert by George Michalski has soul. He displayed this in full flower at his 50th anniversary concert in April at Fat City/Transmission club and in his album on the sounds of San Francisco neighborhoods. (See his website.) The All Star Jams with Train Wreck has soul and their venue at El Rio, 3l58 Mission Street, has soul and the result is a real San Francisco treat. The hotly talented group is headed by Kathi Kamen Goldmark at the mic and her sidekick Sam Barry on the piano and attracts a bevy of talented amateurs and professionals for the jams, full of rollicking good fun and country western music, every Tuesday of every month at El Rio. Tonight is the night, 8:00- ll:30 p.m. at El Rio. Click here for details.

I'm off to Istanbul for an assembly of the International Press Institute, an international free press group. I'll try to keep you posted.

P.S. Carl, perhaps in a nod to his past as an (old) Chronicle reporter, did not identify Bloomfeld as an (old) Examiner critic. Back in the old days, the Chronicle family and Hearst papers were "competitive" and neither mentioned the other by name. B3