Community leaders along with actor Danny Glover held a press event Monday morning at the long defunct Fillmore Heritage Center complex, calling on the City of San Francisco to donate the center to a new non-profit representing the local community.
The latest call from the community to reclaim the building is being framed in light of national discussions about reparations for Black communities, and the city's own, recently formed Reparations Advisory Committee.
"The Fillmore was the vibrant hub of San Francisco’s Black community before it was destroyed by inherently racist programs designed to remove Black families and culture,” said Rev. Amos C. Brown, a former city supervisor, the pastor of the Third Baptist Church and the president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP. “Turning over the Fillmore Heritage Center to the local Black community is an extremely important first step in righting that immense historic wrong.”
The Fillmore Heritage Center was built in the middle of the last decade and opened in 2007, with Yoshi's — the famed Oakland jazz club and restaurant — serving as its primary tenant. The space includes a nightclub/music venue in back, as well as a large restaurant space, and other smaller spaces — one of which had been occupied by the Church of John Coltrane, until that organization was evicted for non-payment of rent. There is also the former 1300 on Fillmore restaurant at the corner of Fillmore and Eddy streets, which has sat vacant for three years, and a condo tower above it.
Brown and other community leaders now say that the city should deed all the leasable parts of the complex — not including the residential units — to a non-profit that can revive it as something the community needs.
"Reparations cannot be confined to big national or statewide actions,” said Brown in a statement. "Structural racism has had a devastating effect on people’s neighborhoods, homes, businesses and daily lives, so reparations also must include significant actions on a local level. Returning the Fillmore Heritage Center to the community to which it rightfully belongs is exactly that kind of action."
Brown called specifically on Mayor London Breed, who represented the neighborhood as supervisor before becoming mayor, to jumpstart the process of transferring ownership.
Breed was noncommittal in her response on Monday, as the Chronicle notes.
"I would like to see the venue open. I would like to see the venue become a huge success," Breed said, per the Chronicle. "I don’t want to see the venue continue to be a financial drain on the city. And so that’s one of the things that we need to work towards, but ultimately a lot of the guiding principles are how we make good decisions about them and have everything to do with state law."
Breed suggested that it might not be possible, under state law, to "provide it to the community... without financial support being attached to it in some capacity."
Glover, who attended George Washington High School and said he came to the neighborhood as a child, said Monday, "I was born here and came here with my dad when there was magic on this street," and he added that the city has "not delivered on their promise" with regard to revitalizing the neighborhood.
In a statement released about the press event, Glover said, “San Francisco City leaders have a moral obligation to right the racist wrongs that destroyed that culture and that community and allow the Fillmore Heritage Center to live up to the full meaning of its name.”
Prior to the pandemic halting all plans to bring new tenants to the space, while it sat mostly dormant the Center was rented out for a funeral reception in March 2019 that turned violent. The sidewalk shootout, which followed a funeral for local, self-described drug kingpin Ron Newt, injured five people and took the life of a 25-year-old San Leandro man.
Back in April, the Chronicle reported on a virtual meeting and the two non-profits who were previously granted contracts to revive the space in 2018 — which they tried to do with some 200 events. The main restaurant space, though, has been mostly quiet, with just a couple of pop-ups and a failed effort called The Addition over the last six years since Yoshi's shuttered.
As District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston said at the time, "There is a level of acceptance in city departments of inaction when it comes to the Fillmore that I think would not be acceptable in other neighborhoods. It is the sad reality."
The empty spaces add to a lack of vibrancy in the area — and former 1300 on Fillmore chef David Lawrence also abandoned a barbecue restaurant that he briefly operated across the street called Black Bark BBQ, which opened in late 2015 and closed about two years later. That space has been vacant since another restaurant closed there last year.
Photo: Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development