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.