Noe Valley Voice March 2002

Noe This 'n' That

By Laura McHale Holland

Hill to hill, year to year, life in Noe Valley transcends the often-maligned, upwardly mobile price of housing we face as neighbors. Here are some gems that reflect the less visible, personal side of life in our midst.

First a birth. Making a small family 6 pounds, 11 ounces bigger, and immeasurably happier, Penelope Anna Alioshin joined the world on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, at 9:22 p.m. A joy for her mom and dad, Kat and Paul Alioshin -- as well as for her brother Desmond Dmitri, 21/2, and for a slew of tight-knit, doting relatives -- Penny, as she is known, is also a bright spot for a wider community.

"When people find out her birth date, they tend to say, 'Oh, I'm sorry,' like it's a bad thing," says Kat. "But many, many people called me that day to tell me they were so happy to get great news on a day full of bad news. It lifted their spirits."

Kat says her little girl, who lacks locks, looks "like a little garden gnome, or an elf, but her features are a good combination of her father and me."

With a second child, Kat and Paul have zero downtime in their Jersey Street home. But Penny's "little singsong voice, with special tones just for Daddy," makes the family feel like a complete unit.

"It's nice having a boy and a girl so we can see what the differences are. It also seems easier the second time around. We're less afraid. Penny goes everywhere with us -- on hikes, bike rides, into the snow. We're doing all sorts of things we want to do and just bringing the children with us," says Kat.

* * *

Miriam Blaustein didn't take children with her last April when she moved from her home of 30 years, an apartment on Cesar Chavez Street, to the Jewish Home for the Aged, at Mission and Silver streets. But this former president of Friends of Noe Valley (and grandmother-in-residence at the Noe Valley Nursery School) took just about everything else.

"My whole apartment's here. Everything's just a little closer together. My room is full of clutter that is meaningful to me," Blaustein says. "But it's light and airy, and I look out on a garden, and I can see sky and trees and lots of action outside my window."

A tireless advocate when it came to preserving the character of 24th Street or rescuing the Noe Valley Library when it was slated for closure, Blaustein, at 88, misses Noe Valley. But she says her friends stay in touch and keep her informed. She still belongs to Friends of Noe Valley, the Gray Panthers, and San Francisco Tomorrow. She is also a member of a mind-body class, a book club, and the food committee at her new home. She gets her aerobic workout each day by strolling the halls she shares with more than 400 new neighbors. She uses a walker, she says, but dresses in bright colors like yellow and black. "I look like a goldfinch!"

* * *

It was gold, not goldfinches on the mind of local musician and Noe Valley Voice distributor Misha Yagudin the last time he saw Blaustein at the Jewish Home for the Aged. Yagudin has been entertaining residents there for the past 15 years, and has had an extra spring in his step since watching his cousin, Alexei Yagudin, win the gold medal in men's figure skating in the Salt Lake City Olympics.

"His teammate Evgeny Plushenko was really strong too," says Misha, who emigrated from the former Soviet Union a few years before cousin Alexei was born. "But when Plushenko fell doing a jump in the short program, he went to fourth place, and Alexei was in first. Alexei was almost perfect, so after that, I was pretty sure he would win [in the long program]. Still, it was exciting," says Misha, to see Alexei score four perfect 6.0s, the most ever awarded a male figure skater.

Another relative of a big star is Church Street resident and longtime St. Paul's parishioner Terry Brady. She was in San Mateo, watching TV with family and friends cheering as her nephew, New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady, led his team to victory, garnering Super Bowl rings for all.

* * *

There's more to winning than medals and rings, though. Local architect and Castro Street resident Beverly Prior was named Small Business Owner of the Year for 2001 by the San Francisco Small Business Network. Two small businesses are selected each year for the honor. Prior, who heads a staff of 24, was selected in the category of businesses with 25 employees or less.

"This award really recognizes the entire Beverly Prior Architects network, including employees, clients, associates, business advisers, and friends," notes Prior. "It takes much more than the founder to run a successful firm."

The firm specializes in design and construction of public and community-based architecture. When asked what kind of project she would design for Noe Valley if she had the opportunity, Prior replied, "My fantasy would be a small community art house that also has a daycare center in it. That way, it would be a valued asset to families during the weekday and then support vibrant cultural expression during the evenings and weekends. The art house portion would accommodate visual arts, live performance, and the screening of documentary, art, and foreign films.

"Of course, the building would be scaled to Noe Valley's human scale, maybe even a remodel of an existing building. Hmmm ... I think I just described something very similar to the Noe Valley Ministry!"

* * *

One building that won't become a community art house in the near future is the Axford House (the landmark Victorian with lampposts and rose garden at the corner of 25th and Noe streets). That's because it's a love house. Sharonann ("S.A.") Kushinka and Mike Underhill met in September 1998, when he sold her the house. On New Year's Eve 2001, the pair were married, in a 12th-century castle in Spoleto, Italy.

Reveals Kushinka: "I was living on 26th and Sanchez for the previous six years and would pass by the [Axford] house thinking, Wow, that is my dream house. When it came on the market and I saw that the interior was as spectacular as the exterior, I orchestrated a very complicated deal to acquire it. The purchase was contingent upon the sale of my place, so after I made the offer on the Axford House, Mike wanted to come by and check out my place. When he walked in my door, I fell in love instantly."

No romance ensued, however, since each was involved with another at the time. Kushinka and her now 4-year-old daughter Juliana moved into the Axford House, and Underhill moved to the South of Market area. But in time, each became single again, and when Underhill moved into a building he owns across the street from the Axford House, hearts and flowers began to bloom.

"I would make up transparent excuses to call him about gardening advice or other nonsense and then save his reply messages on my voicemail. I just loved the sound of his voice," muses Kushinka.

Still, Underhill was clueless. "S.A. and I occasionally would cross paths and talk, with me in total ignorance that we'd eventually share our lives, and houses. It took a slow learner like me a while to figure out that our interest in each other went beyond gardening, but we made up for lost time in a hurry," Underhill says.

* * *

A different kind of love entered the picture at the Jan. 26 release party for Noe Venable's new CD Boots. The concert was sold out, with folks craning their necks on the stairs leading up to the Noe Valley Ministry's sanctuary just to get a glimpse of this musician who has been described as a cross between Jewel and Bjork.

Venable has also been nominated again this year for a California Music Award (Outstanding Female Vocalist, alongside such stars as Macy Gray and Melissa Etheridge). While packing for a 13-state U.S. tour as a guest artist with Ani DiFranco, Venable paused long enough to offer a few thoughts to fans in the neighborhood after which she was named.

"[The nomination] was all really exciting, and a little bewildering, just because I've been such a hermit this past year, tinkering away at my new record. It was kind of like making music in a cave," she says. "I'm really ready to make the next record, and I'm pretty hungry to start performing again too."

Tour she must, but for our wandering singer/songwriter, there's no place like home. "I just want to say what a great city we live in. There's so much great local music here, spanning so many genres and scenes. Most people are way more into making music than they are into 'making it.' For me, anyway, that's really the only way to stay sane these days," she adds.

* * *

Venable is in good company when it comes to accolades. S.F. Chronicle music critic Joshua Kosman gave composer Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking CD, a live recording of the opera of the same name, a glowing review at the time of its January release. And the raves have continued by major media nationwide.

"Best of all, during the first week of sales, the CD was number 10 on the Billboard classical music chart. A new American opera! That's amazing," says Heggie.

A film about the making of the opera Dead Man Walking was also telecast nationally on PBS, and several opera companies are mounting productions this year. "Plus, a new suite of orchestral music from the opera will be premiered by the Dallas Symphony in June," adds Heggie. "All of that from my living room in Noe Valley. And more to come: I'm already at work on my next opera. Thank goodness I've got a very patient and understanding landlord and great neighbors here in the place I love best."

* * *

Valley Street resident Carol Kerner is at work too -- on her paintings. Her landscapes will be on display at MikeyTom Market at the corner of Church and Day streets from March 6 through May 6. The paintings range from 59 by 79 up to 489 by 489, and depict scenes from all over the Bay Area.

And she gets around on a bicycle. "I often ride my bike up to Twin Peaks and paint there. I pull a trailer to carry my supplies if I'm working larger, or if I'm working on a smaller piece, I have a small box in my backpack," Kerner says.

Kerner also paints close to home doing house portraits commissioned by her neighbors, as well as scenes from neighborhood parks and streets many of us pass by each day. Done in oils, acrylics, or alkyds, the paintings vary in style. "Some are more imaginative than others," she says. "Some depict what's there, and some are what could be there if this were a perfect world."

* * *

If a perfect world seems impossible, how about a perfect crepe? If you stop in to see Kerner's show between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on any Saturday or Sunday, Antoine Kaufman, Kerner's neighbor and fellow artist who doubles as a caterer, makes crepes to order for MikeyTom customers. You can't miss him. He'll be dressed in a black beret, black-and-white-striped French sailor shirt, and black pants.

"I do sweet and savory crepes, and I use buckwheat for the savory ones. People seem to really like them," says Kaufman.

His paintings, which he describes as somewhere between Chagall and Matisse, were also on display at MikeyTom's several years ago. When asked how he feels about mixing art and crepe making, this native of France said, "I feel like what I'm doing when making crepes is art, so it's pretty much the same thing. It's just that you adapt to a different material."

* * *

Rev. Robert Cromey is adapting to a different routine at his 20th Street home. On Feb. 17, the day after his 71st birthday, he retired as rector of Trinity Episcopal Church (at Bush and Gough streets), a position he held for 20 years.

A longtime activist who marched in the Selma Civil Rights March with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cromey was one of the founders of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual in 1964, and has been an outspoken champion of gay rights since that time. He challenged the Episcopal Diocese of California to ordain homosexuals and has been in the forefront of demanding legalization of same-sex blessings, performing the first Episcopal marriage of a lesbian couple, at St. Aidan's Church in Diamond Heights in 1983.

Just before embarking on a short trip to Puerto Vallarta with his wife Ann, Cromey said, "While I retire from parish life, I continue as a lesbigay rights, African-American rights, women's rights advocate. I am a happy liberal/radical in a conservative, sleepy society that lets the wealthy dominate the citizens they are elected to protect and defend."

The author of In God's Image: Christian Witness to the Need for Gay/Lesbian Equality in the Eyes of the Church, Cromey is now writing his memoirs, tentatively entitled "Sexuality and the Priesthood." He is also a family therapist and plans to devote more time to his practice.

* * *

And that's a wrap, not a crepe. Thanks to everyone who shared their triumphs this month. All of you who haven't sent in your news -- of your beautiful babies and charming pets, graduations and academic honors, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, professional awards, book publishing parties, art show openings, web site launches, extraordinary gardens -- even encounters with neighborhood skunks -- please get in touch.

E-mail your leads to or mail them to the Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114. Again, we eagerly await your news.