“I Heard That” — The Battle to Save Powell’s Place

by Rochelle Metcalfe on October 31, 2007

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Rochelle Metcalfe was a beloved columnist for the Sun-Reporter newspaper for 31 years, covering San Francisco’s African-American community. She is now bringing her “I Heard That” column weekly to Beyond Chron.)

“STOP THE EVICTION!!!” Known for his passionate sermons preached from the pulpit of Third Baptist Church, dynamic San Francisco religious leader Rev. Amos Brown passionately pleaded the case to save the popular established soul food restaurant “Powell’s Place” from eviction. Overwhelmed, owner Emmit Powell — a longtime parishioner of the Third — got behind in his rent three months ago. Negotiations with his landlord broke down this past summer that resulted in a lawsuit levied against Mr. Powell. The good Rev. Brown soulfully preached that if Powell’s Place (located in the Fillmore District at 1521 Eddy St.) goes under, it’s another statement that the black community in San Francisco is going deeper and deeper away! The statement made in reference to black exodus from the City.

After years of decline, the once thriving Black community businesses on historic Fillmore Street until the ugly head of gentrification drove a stave in the hearts of black folks, destroying a neighborhood! For African Americans, Powell’s Place was the first hope of things to come!

The rebirth of the Jazz Heritage Center will revitalize the Lower Fillmore Jazz District (between Eddy and Geary) that will house two eateries “Yoshi’s San Francisco Jazz Nightclub and Restaurant,” and “1300 Fillmore” elegant Restaurant and Lounge owned by African American couple David Lawrence, Executive Chef/Managering Partner with his wife Monetta White, which opened last Thursday evening; Yoshi’s November 28.

Sadly, Emmit Powell, who had it all in his grip, fell on financial problems … If Rev. Brown is not successful in his pursuit to save the Restaurant, he may lose his restaurant, forfeited to new management!

Oh, Happy Day! Indeed a great historic day in the Fillmore when “Powell’s Place” opened February 12, 2005! Black folks beamed with pride to finally have a place to dine, gather with family! The first black-owned Restaurant since gentrification of the Fillmore over 20 years ago! The late community activist – mother of Da ‘Mo – Rogers was proud she had lived to see the day! There was so much potential and HOPE!

Despite the horse out of the barn months ago, Rev. Brown called an emergency meeting from the pulpit of his church, Sunday morning (October 21) before closing Prayer, urging the congregation to come together at West Bay Conference Center (on Fillmore around the corner from the restaurant), to save Powell’s Place!

Tuesday evening, October 23, Rev. Brown, flanked by a Task Force Committee to Save Powell’s Place, Doris Word, former San Francisco Supervisor and Assessor; Attorney Carl Williams, and Perry Lang, former Executive Director AIDS Coalition, on leave assisting Mr. Powell as part of his management team. Mr. Powell seated in the packed audience.

Laramar, owner Fillmore Center property, headquartered in Chicago, heeded the call to send representatives to the meeting – three Caucasian gentlemen, attired in suit and tie; spokesperson Steve Boyack, Asset Management ( former Fillmore Center General Manager during Emmit Powell’s process to be a retail tenant through The San Francisco Redevelopment agency, Mayor’s office , and the opening of Powell’s) joined by Paul Hyams, current Fillmore General Manager, and a company Attorney, listened intently (no choice) to Brown’s stunning sermon framed around Powell’s Place and the black community.

Rev. Brown, speaking in eloquent Sunday morning service, addressed the audience, many elderly seniors, elected to give a parable in which he compared the Fillmore district as a farm, stating “on this farm were African Americans, White Americans, Japanese and others. Fillmore Center is an equal ecological system – what happens to one, impact the other areas of the Farm!”

Continued, “a seed being sowed in the ground that dies that something may be born, this Black community DIED in order that the Fillmore Center might live – we SUFFERED – we were PUSHED OUT, and though you were not around but YOU are the recipients of the legacy of the death of black folks in this city!!!”

Earlier this year, Powell fell behind in his market-rate rent. Boyack explained they tried to help him survive, held several negotiation meetings that failed, threatened with lawsuit, Powell quickly filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy to give him time to reorganize and stave off creditors! As of October 23, dismissed for failure to comply!

Seems Brown and Task Force were not aware how long the process had been going on; they became involved late summer – by then Powell threatened with eviction months before – now facing the Midnight hour!

Rev. Brown urged Boyack to “put the brakes on – we (community) beg of you STOP the eviction NOW! We are not asking for any particular favor we just only want you to give us the time – we just want you to organize with us, work with us, work in tantamount as a team! Why? Because this thing isn’t just about Emmit Powell!!”

He pleaded “Powell’s represents a presence but right now if you go in the direction you’re going you are destroying the hopes, the opportunity we thought we had to have a place, a presence, a community, a gathering to eat and to be inspired. I beg you…I beseech you, stop this eviction!”

Rev. Brown felt so strong about the issue, he promised if they played ball, “here’s what we’re going to do – we’re going to come up with the money to pay you everything that you felt you deserved (applause) we got money around here – we just have not had the opportunity to mesh it and bring it together because we’ve been so divided and decimated by this redevelopment agency that pushed us out! (gentrification) Rev. told the representatives, “You’ve got to show fruits of repentance!”

The bottom line — money! The Good Minister stated If Boyack and company did their part, Powell’s Place would open under new management – “the ball is in your court!” Boyack, relented under advisement from the attorney to give the 10 days Rev. Brown requested, and his promise to come up with the money (about $125,000 to fulfill) if a plan is not put forth within the 10 days that will end this week to settle the enormous back rent doors will be padlocked!

Powell’s was scheduled to be shut down last week! Currently has been without one for several months. Stay tuned!

Among those attending the meeting were: distinguished San Francisco ministers – Rev. Edgar Boyd, Bethel AME Church; Rev. James McCray, Jones Memorial Methodist Church; The Godfather – Commissioner LeRoy King, San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Board; Dr. Caesar Churchwell, DDS; Joileen Hector-Richards, President, San Francisco Business and Professional Women; …and interested parties.

E-MAIL: Rochelle Metcalfe @ iheard@earthlink.net

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