A half-century of lies - Page 3

Thousands of Fillmore residents lost homes and businesses to redevelopment - and were promised a chance to return. 50 years later, Leola King is still waiting
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Smaller venues abounded up the street on Divisadero, he said, save mostly for King's Blue Mirror and the Booker T. Washington Hotel.

"[King] didn't only have a personality" said Webb, who now airs a show Tuesdays on 89.5 KPOO, "she was a beautiful lady. Personality just spoke for itself. All she had to do was stand there."

But like virtually everyone in the neighborhood at that time, King rented the place where the Blue Mirror operated. Redevelopment again reached her business in the early 1960s. State booze enforcers, she says, claimed to have witnessed a bartender serving alcohol to a minor and her liquor license was taken away. When the Redevelopment Agency showed up shortly thereafter to sweep the block away, she was ejected without compensation because she wasn't at that time technically in business.

Two more commercial and residential properties she owned on Post and Webster streets respectively were also eventually taken under redevelopment.

She pressed on, encouraged by Jewish business owners in the area she'd befriended, including liquor wholesaler Max Sobel and Fairmont Hotel operator Benjamin Swig.

"Whenever I'd lose something, they'd say, 'Keep on moving. Don't stop, because you'll lose your customers. When you open back up, they won't know who you are.' They're the ones who told me, 'Go get another spot.'"

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By the time King began work on her third business in the Fillmore, urban renewal projects had wreaked havoc on minority communities across the nation, including neighborhoods in west-side Boston, downtown Atlanta, the celebrated 18th & Vine District of Kansas City and elsewhere.

King opened the Bird Cage Tavern at 1505 Fillmore St. in 1964 near O'Farrell complete with a jukebox, 30-foot mahogany bar, a piano and a gilded birdcage. Then-police chief Thomas J. Cahill tried to block her liquor-license renewal by complaining to the state about "winos" and "prostitutes" in the neighborhood, records show, but regulators dismissed the claims.

"We had viable businesses all around us," King said. "I had one fellow I worked with a lot named Willie Jones. He was a blues singer. The interesting thing was, I had music in the daytime at the Bird Cage. I specialized in afternoon jazz."

Despite a triumphant resettlement, nonetheless, the redevelopment agency arrived yet again and bought her building during the expansion of it's A-2 redevelopment phase and served as landlord for the Bird Cage, a barber shop and a liquor store as it waited for another two years deciding what to do with the building.

On the agency's watch, a fire broke out next door to the Bird Cage that led to water damage in her space. Federal Housing and Urban Development records show that no insurance claim was ever filed by the Redevelopment Agency. King says the agency removed some of the bar's contents, mostly kitchen supplies, and made only stopgap repairs to the building anticipating that she would later be ousted anyway. The items they took, she says, were never returned.

The agency then evicted all of the building's tenants in 1974. This time, King stood fast and had to be forced out by the sheriff. The agency promised relocation assistance, but those empty assurances became her biggest headache yet. In fact, she would spend the next 25 years quarreling with the agency over relocation terms.

King and the agency searched fruitlessly until 1977 for a suitable replacement building before King purchased her own out of desperation at 1081 Post St. She was then forced to begin another endurance test of working to actually extract money from the agency owed to her for properly outfitting the new building.

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