Neighbor Goes for Walk on Lost Streets of Bernal’s Yesteryear

Bernal neighbor Michael Nolan has been here for many hundreds of moons, but he recently went for a short walk around west Bernal that sent him even farther back in time:

I walked down Heyman this morning en route to boot camp. It’s a block long street stretching from Prospect Ave. to Coleridge (formerly California), and just south of Virginia. We live here in West Bernal in the Heyman Subdivision of the Cobb Tract of Precita Valley Lands, once part of Jose Bernal’s rancho. I live on Elsie Street (formerly Cherubusco) which lies between and parallel to Bonview (formerly Buena Vista) and Winfield (formerly Chapultepec). Your corrections and amplifications of this history will be appreciated and acknowledged.

A quick comparison of maps old and new verifies many details of Neighbor Michael’s stroll down History Lane(s).

Here’s a west Bernal detail from the 1869 map. Notice Cobb Tract superimposed above the western end of Cortland (which, oddly, is spelled “Courtland,” but only east of North Ave., or modern-day Bocana):


Compare that with 2014, courtesy of the Google:

2014map.westbernal What’s up with the Cobb’s Tract business? The lovely Tramps of San Francisco blog ‘splains for us:

The first land sold in Bernal Heights had been transferred by auction at the real estate offices of H.A. Cobb and R.H. Sinton, 102 Montgomery Street, on July 14, 1860. The property consisted of “4, 5, and 6 acre lots on the ‘Bernal Heights’ …  within 15 minutes drive from City Hall … for sale at a very low rate … The lands, for beauty of locality, commanding scenery and fertility of soil, are not surpassed in the county of San Francisco.” In August 1865, another 66 homestead lots were offered in on the “Cobb Tract” of Bernal Heights and buyers were to receive title and a U.S. patent.

Verified!  Here’s an advert from the March 16, 1865 edition of the Daily Alta California:

In contemporary parlance, some might call H.A. Cobb a “speculator.” And the people who bought those homestead lots were “gentrifiers.” Especially if you were a displaced cow.

Anyway, It’s just a good thing Neighbor Michael wasn’t trying to meet his boot camp group at one of our many former California Avenues. He might never have found them.

If you enjoy fun with street history, our friends at the (awesome) Bernal History Project have complied a handy guide that explains where many of today’s Bernal streets got their names. To go even farther back, you’ll want peruse the top-secret spreadsheet Neighbor Michael keeps to track which of today’s Bernal streets used to be called something else. Want to see it? Just face toward Sutro Tower, chant the secret Bernalese password three times, and click here.

VINTAGE MAPS: 1869 map from the David Rumsey Map Collection, via Burrito Justice

Let’s Explore Life Magazine’s Mysterious 1969 Photo from Bernal Hill


We don’t know much about what’s going on here, because the caption doesn’t provide any context. (“Above San Francisco, 1969″ is all it says. Thanks!) Still, it was nifty to stumble across this image in an online round-up of vintage LIFE magazine photographs of San Francisco.

While the activity taking place here is mysterious, there are nevertheless a few cool things to notice. Let’s use our special combination of algorithms to zoom and enhance the eastern side of the background:


There’s Cogswell Polytechnical College, on Folsom between 26th and (then) Army Street. Just south of that, the original St. Anthony’s church still stands, before it was destroyed by fire in 1975. And of course, the infamous Bernal Dwellings housing project, built in 1952, with its fortress-like residential tower, dominates the block on Army between Folsom and Harrison.

Now let’s look a little to the west…


There are lots of new cars lined up outside the Lesher-Muirhead Oldsmobile dealership on the corner of Army and South Van Ness, while just a little farther west we can see the big sign for Kerry’s Restaurant — open 24 hours a day, with ample parking! — rising above Army Street.

Bernalwood hasn’t geeked-out about Kerry’s Restaurant before, so let’s digress. Here’s a rather awesome 1986 (!!) shot of Kerry’s taken from street level, courtesy of the Chronicle:


Here’s an advertisement for Kerry’s from a 1964 copy of the Bernal Heights Pictorial, which was an “antecedent to New Bernal Journal”:


Even more tasty, perhaps, is this 1960s menu from Kerry’s that we found in a dusty corner of the interwebs:



Crab Louie! Cottage Cheese Salad! Breaded Veal Cutlet! Kerry’s was obviously a classy joint.

Meanwhile, if you happen to know anything about those two gentlemen frolicking in the foreground, please do chime in…

The Evolution of Bernal’s Lesbian Community, as Viewed from Wild Side West

Wild Side West

There’s an interesting story on the cover of SF Weekly this week that looks at the changing geography of San Francisco’s lesbian community.

It describes how “San Francisco’s lesbian enclave has shifted four times in the last 30 years, from Valencia Street to Noe Valley to Bernal Heights, and now, to Oakland, moving around in response to or anticipation of the next economic upheaval.” The Bernal Heights portion of that history turns out to be rather interesting — while providing a useful reminder that many of today’s venerable old-timers were once bizarre newcomers as well:

Bernal Heights was still largely an immigrant neighborhood [in the mid-1970s], so lesbians who moved there during the ’80s and ’90s were often perceived as perpetrators, rather than victims, of an early gentrification wave.

Against that backdrop, we then take a look at Bernal’s lesbian community, as seen through the prism of The Wild Side West on Cortland:

Domestic proclivities, compounded by the gender wage gap, are undermining the notion of a lesbian district. Younger, artsy people are descending on Oakland, but they don’t have the density, or the urgency, to create their own township. And there aren’t enough left in San Francisco to maintain a cultural critical mass.

Fritz, a gravelly voiced woman in a hooded sweatshirt, considers herself the “ambassador” of the Wild Side West, a historic lesbian bar in Bernal Heights. She offers tours to all variety of interlopers: ogling tourists, straights from the neighborhood, correspondents from local newspapers. Many are first-time patrons; some aren’t sure whether to treat the place as a neighborhood watering hole, or a shrine to Bernal’s past.

In fact, it’s a little of both.

The Wild Side West seems frozen in time, even as the city transforms all around it. And, on a balmy Thursday afternoon in May, it’s still packed with regulars: old men hunched over frothy beers, coarse-haired women unfolding crinkled newspapers, a large dog who lies, panting, in the corner. Fritz is unloading a bag of hot dog buns for anyone who wants to stick around later and watch the Giants game; she’s also taken it upon herself to lead another tour.

Sure, the neighborhood is changing, she acknowledges, strutting through the bar’s ample backyard and pausing to point out various amenities — the wood swing, the barbecue grill, the mannequin with a bottle-cap bikini. Fritz sits down at a picnic table and bunches her mouth studiously, taking mental stock of the new elements.

“When they got rid of the pay phones, that’s when the property values went up,” she says. Bernal used to be a working-class area with a small but noticeable population of drug dealers; now it’s dotted with organic tea houses and Pilates studios. In January, the online real estate brokerage Redfin crowned it the hottest neighborhood in the US, based on property listings searches; the median home price is just shy of a million dollars.

Fritz and her partner, June (not her real name), want to partake in the boom, too — they’re eyeing a $1.3 million house with two bedrooms upstairs and a studio on the ground floor. They think that by pulling together their savings, and June’s salary as a lawyer, they’ll be able to scrounge up the money.

Looking toward the future, she has few reservations about joining a new class of well-heeled startup workers and “couples pushing strollers” — even if she becomes the old-timer who doesn’t quite fit in anymore. A Long Island native, Fritz works at the Inlandboatmen’s Union and considers herself staunchly blue collar — making her part of an ever-dwindling population.

“I’ve seen younger gay women move in, but they’re mostly in the tech field,” Fritz says. The lesbians who came to drive forklifts or paint houses can’t afford their rent anymore.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics


Meet the Sneaky Bernal Kid Who Earned a Cameo in the Famous “Bullitt” Car Chase Scene



Our glamorous neighborhood’s most famous Hollywood moment took place in 1968, when Bernal Heights served as the gritty starting point for the classic Steve McQueen car chase sequence in the movie Bullitt.

Writing for the SF Weekly,  Joe Eskenazi tells a sweet “Where are they now?” story about a Bernal kid who scored some cameo screen time during the first moments of the famous Bullitt car chase (at about the 0:24 mark in the video below):

Joe writes:

It all starts with that turn off of Cesar Chavez and a slow cruise up York. And — blink and you’ll miss it — a pair of kids runs across the street where York meets Peralta.

Last week, your humble narrator’s cellphone rang. “This is Angel Sanchez Jr.” said the voice at the other end.

He was one of those kids. [ ... ]

A movie like Bullitt offers the chance to look through the window and see an entire city we will never see again.

Sanchez, the boy who ran across the street in front of the movie villains’ Dodge Charger, will be 54 next week. His cameo in city lore was not scripted. Loren Janes, the stuntman who, in reality, drove like Steve McQueen, recently recalled how tightly choreographed the seemingly chaotic scenes were. The repetitious Volkswagen was, in fact, driven by a stuntman (or stuntmen). So was every car on the street, even the cable cars on Filbert. Film crews kept an eye out for vehicles backing out of garages and intervened to prevent pedestrians from becoming hood ornaments. But no one lifted a finger to stop those Bernal Heights kids from running across the street every time the director shouted “action.”

“He’d yell ‘Cut! Cut!’ But, finally, to hell with it. He left it in there,” recalls Sanchez. “We must have run across the street three, four times. We didn’t know any better.”

Sanchez didn’t even realize he was in a movie until many years later. And, by that time, both he — and the neighborhood — had changed.

There’s lots more goodness where this came from, so take a moment to enjoy all of Joe’s article — and the (somewhat melancholy) picture it paints of  life in Bernal Heights during the closing years of the postwar era.

Then and Now: Folsom at Precita, 1943

New Track Work and Repairs L.V. Newton Negative 6

When they are not giving you expensive parking tickets or botching your commute, our friends at the San Francisco Municipal  Transportation Agency (SFMTA) also maintain a historical photo archive that’s accessible via a spiffy photo website for blissful procrastination focused browsing by members of the general public.

That’s where Bernalwood found this retrolicious photo of Folsom Street at Precita in 1943, looking north from the western end of Precita Park.

Here’s how it looks now, 71 years later, on May 3, 2014:


So many details to appreciate in that older view! Behold, the annotated version:


As you can see, the Palermo Bakery is now home to Precita Clean laundromat, while the Yosemite Meat Market on the corner is the location of today’s Charlie’s Cafe.

Providentially, Bernalwood previously shared a view of the same building from the opposite direction, as captured from the intersection of Folsom and Army (Cesar Chavez) looking south just one year earlier, in 1942:


And when we zoom and enhance that photo, we get a terrific view of the Yosemite Meat Market sign that was hiding just around the corner in the 1943 perspective:



If you’ve enjoyed this trip down the rabbit hole historical interlude, you’ll also enjoy this recent post from La Lengua rebel leader Burrito Justice, who explored the intersection of Mission Street at 29th using photos from the same SFMTA archive.

Here’s a teaser, showing the site of today’s Pizzahacker:

29th Street and Mission Street, Claims Department Case 5800

And of course, there’s no substitute for going to the original source. So if you don’t mind kissing your productivity goodbye, you can also explore the SFMTA photo archive yourself. It’s fun, it’s mega-informative, and it may even help you feel good about paying off your next parking ticket, since you’ll know that at least some part of that money will be put to good use.

PHOTOS: 1943 photos by SFMTA. 2014 photo by Telstar Logistic. 1942 photo via San Francisco Public Library

Former Neighbor, Now Living in NYC, Remembers Us Fondly


Until late last year, Hilary Pollack lived in Bernal’s La Lengua Autonomous Zone. Then she moved to New York.

Now, as an esteemed member of the Bernal Heights Alumni Network, San Francisco remains on her mind, and she recently shared some memories on her blog:

I moved to New York on September 1st, 2013. I often get asked, by people both here and in California, whether or not I like it. And I feel like I should be completely sure how to answer them, but I’m not.

My coworkers, my parents, or my friends back in California (many of whom I still text or Gchat with on a near-daily basis, one of the few plus-sides of contemporary tech-communication norms) usually pose this question as well-meaning small talk, but I’ve yet to come up with a confident answer. I feel 100-percent sure that I needed to move here at some point my life, and 110-percent sure that I chose the perfect time to do it. But whether I think that New York is patently better to live in than San Francisco or any other decent metropolis? Well, I’m just not sure about that, no matter how many people tell me that the colloquial Big Apple is the best city in the world. There’s so much to it, I know, but it lacks trees (especially of the palm variety), decently priced avocados, and underdog charm (something that’s rapidly and violently being sucked out of my beloved San Francisco).

The house that I left behind was at the base of Bernal Hill. I would take 6-minute hikes from my front door to its peak, where I could ogle all of the Australian Shepherds in the city as they chased each other in circles around its slopes. Once, some local do-gooder mischief-makers dragged a stand-up piano up to the top of it, and people would play concertos and shit while others would sit in circles around them like hungry first-graders. Another time, someone made an expansive crop circle at its base out of red rocks. It was magical.

That’s just a taste; to finish the thought, read the whole thing.

PHOTO: via Hilary Pollack

Violent Tales from Pre-Gentrification Bernal Heights During the Eighties


Bernal Heights was a tough place during the Eighties. It was a time of rampant lawlessness, violent crime, substance abuse, and lots of un-neighborly behavior.

Burrito Justice, chief spokesblogger for the La Lenguan separatists, recently posted a series of tales that vividly captures the sordid underbelly of life in Bernal Heights during the dark days of the 1880s. Thus we meet Proto-Neighbor Jeremiah Buckley, who appears to have had some issues:


MEMO TO HOLY WATER: Put “Goat Chasers Great Internal Tonic and Stomach Reviver” on the cocktail menu, please, and make ours a double.

In any event, after concluding that “Twenty-seventh and Alabama” likely refers to the corner of today’s Precita and Alabama, Burrito Justice cites this sordid chapter of Bernal Heights history as justification for the cause of La Lenguan independence. “All La Lenguan residents should consider this fair warning when traversing Precitaville, as Consular services may not be available,” he writes.

Yet this strains credibility. After all, as he himself has documented, one of the most infamous hives of crime and scandal in the Dominion of Bernalwood was the Cable House, which once stood at the corner of Tiffany and Duncan, smack in the middle of the La Lenguan heartland.

The “Railroad Hotel” [was] a 30 room boarding house. Built in the 1880s, it was once known as the “Cable House”, and was torn down in the 1920s… All sorts of crazy-ass things happened at 24 Tiffany. Seriously, they could have made a reality TV show about it. If you ever time travel and stay at the Railroad Hotel, it’s best to not leave your things out:


Likewise, at La Lengua’s Cable House, it was best to avoid the liquor:


IMAGES: 1884 Bernal Heights from the David Rumsey Historical Collection. Press clippings via Burrito Justice.