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History Stop - 441 Clement

The Bitter End
This story stop is part of a self-guided history walk of Clement Street made available by Western Neighborhoods Project (WNP), a 501(c)(3) community history nonprofit founded in 1999 that preserves, interprets, and shares the diverse history and culture of San Francisco’s west side. Unless otherwise indicated, photographs used on this walk are from WNP’s OpenSFHistory Program, launched in 2014 to digitize and make accessible online thousands of historical images from throughout San Francisco.
Posters were laid out by Drew Moss and designed and printed by John Lindsey at The Great Highway gallery. Histories were modified by Nicole Meldahl, Drew Moss, and Chelsea Sellin, from WNP’s Clement Street Pub Crawl held in April 2023. They’ve been installed to celebrate new banners designed by artist Risa Culbertson and sponsored by the Clement Street Merchants Association (CSMA) in August 2023, thanks to funding from Avenue Greenlight.
View east on Clement Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, 1943.
View east on Clement Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, 1943. (Jack Tillmany Collection; courtesy of a Private Collector / wnp67.0292)
Constructed in 1923, the building at 441 Clement Street you can see at the far right of the above photo was briefly home to the Superior Upholstering Company, operated by Joseph Goldberg and his wife, Ida. William Eichner opened an electronics and radio store at this location in 1926 and lived in the neighborhood with his wife, Hedwig. By 1928, the business was called Park Presidio Radio Electric Company and a 1929 holiday advertisement touted them as the “Richmond District’s Leading Radio Store.” However, by September 1933 the business was liquidated at a bankruptcy sale. The storefront may have been empty for a few years until 441 Clement, as well as 443 Clement next door, were taken over by Milton K. and Anne E. Harris in the late 1930s.
San Francisco Examiner, December 1, 1929.
The husband and wife team imported and distributed wine, liquors, and other goods, as did other members of Milton’s family. Originally from Warsaw, Poland, Milton came to the United States in the 1890s and began working for M. Harris & Co., an import and distribution outfit operated by his brother, Morris. That company sold wines, liquors, teas, coffees, etc. on Fillmore Street. Milton was working there when he married Anne Ellen Van Garick, an immigrant from London, England, in January 1917.
In 1920, Milton started the Universal Candy Company on Polk Street with Charles Weiner, although no record of the company was found after that date. The Harrises seemed to have weathered the 1920s well. Anne was pictured in the San Francisco Examiner with a brand new car in 1928, and she opened her own bottlers’ supply shop at 443 Clement Street in 1929. The couple lived nearby, first at 5224 Geary Boulevard and later at 4005 California Street. In 1933, Milton went into business with an outer-Clement Street resident named Hyman Tragan, forming the Western Liquor Import Co.
San Francisco Examiner, August 19, 1928.
Milton helped form the San Francisco Retail Liquor Dealers’ Association in 1934 to combat illegal bootlegging, a byproduct of recently-ended Prohibition. He was in business under his own name, as the Milton Distributing Co., operating out of 441 Clement Street in 1937, next to his wife’s store. They held onto both sites through the 1940s until Milton died in June 1949 at Mount Zion Hospital (where his brother, Franklin, worked) after a prolonged illness. His obituary in the San Francisco Examiner referred to Milton as a “Richmond district business leader.”
Anne continued to run A.E. Harris wine and liquor, which alternated addresses between 441 and 443 Clement. Wine press and bottling supplies went up for sale “very cheap” at 441 Clement the same month Milton died. By 1955, A.E. Harris was managed by Leo D. Tomsky, who was married to Milton’s sister, Stella. Anne died in February 1962, Leo in March 1963, but A.E. Harris continued on without them and was an anchor business at 443 Clement Street until its sale in 1984.
Haig’s Delicacies at 441 Clement Street. (Source unknown; please contact us if you have information about this photo!)
In 1964, Haig’s Delicacies opened in a “new larger location” at 441 Clement, serving its beloved hummus and so much more here until 1973, when the business moved to 642 Clement. See our History Stop at 642 Clement (Richmond Republic) to learn more!
When Haig’s moved up the street, Jack Anderson moved in and converted 441 Clement into the Open Theater. Jack was a Richmond District native who lived on 7th Avenue, and whose family owned and operated the Anderson Sisters School of Dance on 6th Avenue. He was a graduate of Lowell High School, a radio talk show host, and an involved citizen of San Francisco, working with Belva Cottier’s Native American Health Center on Julian Street. In an interview with the Santa Cruz Sentinel in 1974, Jack called the Richmond District “one of the last cosmopolitan neighborhoods in San Francisco.”
Jack took out a ten-year lease on the building, with a goal to “create a theater that will involve everyone from ethnic groups to children to sophisticated theater goers.” The theater was to use every possible square foot in its productions, including the street, Jack’s house on 7th Avenue (where costumes were made), the balcony, and the lobby. This immersive type of theater was part of the Open Theater movement, which began in New York and spread across the country. An adaptation opened in Berkeley where they staged Happenings in good DeadHead hippy fashion.
Open Theater’s first production in January 1974 was Arthur Kopit’s play Indians, and Jack brought in Director Lee Sankowich to stage the play. Lee was well known at the time for staging successful productions of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Israel. He later went on to be the Artistic Director of the Marin Theater Company for sixteen years.
Named one of the best ten plays in New York, Indians was conceived as a statement on the Vietnam War, but was allegorically placed in the Wild West during the Massacre at Wounded Knee. It was first staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London because Kopit feared adverse reaction from the U.S. government.
Jack said “the action will happen all around the audience, because the play is allegorical and operates on four levels: vaudeville, circus, as a serious statement done with humor and at the same time says something politically important in an aesthetical way.” The production included 37 cast members (50 total, including backstage), most of whom starred as Indians that frequently scaled the balcony on four rope ladders.
By 1975, the theater was referred to as the Clement Cultural Center by local newspapers and was staging a variety of productions, including a one-woman show titled Isadora Duncan: A Unique recital (1975), and Moonchildren (1976). Moving into the 1980s, the business was known as the Open Theater & Cafe, but closed after Jack’s lease expired.
A 1985 permit shows that a second staircase and a fireplace were installed, perhaps making the building more accessible and inviting to a restaurant crowd. Taiwanese Restaurant opened for business the next year, serving the neighborhood a delicious dim sum lunch according to a Richmond ReView assessment at the time.
By the 1990s, The Bitter End was a fixture in the neighborhood.
Like history itself, this research is ongoing and always evolving. If you have something to add to this story, we would love to learn it! Please contact Chelsea Sellin, our Director of Programs: chelsea@outsidelands.org.
More by Nicole Meldahl and Drew Moss
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