San Francisco of the Early 1990s Is Alive and Well and Open for Business at Thrillhouse Records

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Amid all the current whinging about gentrification, The Change, tech buses, and coffee boutiques, it’s good to know the “real” San Francisco of bohemian memory is alive and well — if you know where to look for it.

Thrillhouse Records is such a place. Hiding in plain sight on Mission Street at Kingston right here in Bernal Heights, Thrillhouse is an enduring monument to underground San Francisco, circa 1991.

Want to know what counterculture looked like in the analog days before Tim Berners-Lee unleashed his Prometheus on our unsuspecting planet? What were the sensibilities of a young and alienated generation in an age of ascendant Reaganism, cassette tapes, and desktop publishing euphoria? What were the totems and signifiers of this edgy, halcyon time?

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What did it look like?  What did it smell like??

Wonder no more: It looked and smelled exactly like Thrillhouse Records.

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BONUS: This is what Reddit looked like way back then:

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A woman named Caitlin was behind the counter when Bernalwood visited Thrillhouse on a recent afternoon, and she told us that the place is run by volunteers. They’re open from noon to 8 pm on most days, unless things are really really slow, in which case they may close a little earlier.  Stop by soon, before the 21st century reasserts itself.

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

Posted in History, Merchants, Music | 10 Comments

After That Earthquake, Have You Hugged Bernal’s Chert Today?

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Last weekend’s dramatic 6.0 earthquake was centered around American Canyon, but it caused substantial damage in the nearby town of Napa. Get well soon, drinky Wine Country neighbors!

But did you feel the quake here in Bernal when the earth shook at 3:20 am? The answer to that question seems to vary depending on a) the precise location of your home, and b) how heavy (or light) a sleeper you are, and c) if you have dogs.

Regardless, this earthquake provided a vivid demonstration of the importance of personal earthquake preparedness, and even better, NERT training.

It also provides yet another opportunity for all Bernalese to give thanks for the blessed chert that has endowed our neighborhood with such a stable foundation of earthquake-resistant bedrock. As Julian Lozos, our Senior Seismologist, previously explained:

Geologically speaking, Bernalwood is actually closer to the San Andreas than downtown, but the solid chert bedrock that makes up Bernal Hill didn’t shake nearly as hard as the soft sediment and artificial fill of the Financial District, Mission, or SoMa. That same chert explains why Bernal residents often miss smaller quakes that rattle people in other parts of the City.

(SIDE NOTE: If you’re not following Julian on Twitter, you’re missing his awesome guided tour of last weekend’s quake.)

But what exactly is this blessed chert, for which we all should be so grateful? Where did it come from? And how did it end up in Bernal Heights? Here’s a basic 411 on chert from Gelology.com:

Chert can form when microcrystals of silicon dioxide grow within soft sediments that will become limestone or chalk. In these sediments, enormous numbers of silicon dioxide microcrystals grow into irregularly-shaped nodules or concretions as dissolved silica is transported to the formation site by the movement of ground water. If the nodules or concretions are numerous they can enlarge and merge with one another to form a nearly continuous layer of chert within the sediment mass. Chert formed in this manner is a chemical sedimentary rock.

Some of the silicon dioxide in chert is thought to have a biological origin. In some oceans and shallow seas large numbers of diatoms and radiolarians live in the water. These organisms have a glassy silica skeleton. Some sponges also produce “spicules” that are composed of silica. When these organisms die their silica skeletons fall to the bottom, dissolve, recrystallize and might become part of a chert nodule or chert layer. Chert formed in this way could be considered a biological sedimentary rock.

Bernal’s chert is a local type called (…wait for it...) Franciscan chert, and Franciscan chert comes from compacted sediments formed by zillions and zillions of  tiny protozoa critter skeletons. Over the course of zillions and zillions of years, these sentiments hardened into layers on the bottom of the ocean, and today those layers are clearly visible in the cross-section of our chert.

The Wikipedia page for Bernal Hill explains how our chert became our hill, and why it’s that stylish reddish color:

Bernal Hill, along with the other hills in the San Francisco area, is a folded hill, created by the “wrinkling up” effect of the Pacific plate subducting under the North American plate, when the North American and Pacific plates were converging, around 150 million years ago. Near the summit you will find folded layers of very hard rock called radiolarian chert. It is a sedimentary sillicate rock which gets its sillica content from the shells of microscopic creatures called radiolaria. The red color comes from iron oxide.

So that’s how Bernal ended up with all our chert, and how it got its coloring. And here’s how our chert is distributed, as seen through the spiffy Google Earth Geology layer:

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The red areas are Franciscan chert, purple is Franciscan volcanic rock, green is Franciscan serpentine rock, blue is Great Valley serpentine rock, and yellow is rock fragments in the form of hillslope deposits. The yellow-gray and lighter yellow are alluvium soil. The light gray is (eek!) artificial fill.

Here’s the reverse angle, looking at Bernal Hill from the north:

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As Julian explained a little while back, our beloved chert anchors Bernal Heights and absorbs much of the energy created by seismic waves.  So if you happen to be on Bernal Hill in the next few days, go ahead and find one of our rakish exposed chert formations. Then, approach the chert reverently, and give it a big wet kiss. Someday, the home that chert saves could be your own.

PHOTO: Chert on Bernal Hill, by Telstar Logistics

Posted in Calamity, Geology, History | 18 Comments

Nieto Family Files Wrongful Death Complaint in Federal Court

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Grieving families. Medical examiner reports. Demands to release the names of the officers involved.

There is a grim parallelism to many of the recent officer-involved deaths across the country, including the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York City, and Alex Nieto here in Bernal Heights. But there are also important differences. In Ferguson and New York, medical examiners’ reports have been completed and released, and the identity of the officers involved in the incidents has been made public. But that hasn’t happened in San Francisco.

Against that backdrop, last Friday’s memorial for Bernal resident Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill was noteworthy not just because it was entirely peaceful, tightly focused, and well-organized, but also because it underscored the fact that, even after five months, Alex Nieto’s family still seeks the kind of basic information about their son’s death that has already been made public in high-profie cases elsewhere.

Friday’s march coincided with the Nieto family’s filing of a wrongful death complaint in federal court regarding the officer-involved shooting of Alex Nieto on March 21.

KQED reports:

The parents of a 28-year-old man shot and killed by San Francisco police officers on March 21 filed a federal lawsuit against the city and its police chief Friday.

The lawsuit disputes statements SFPD Chief Greg Suhr made just days after the shooting, and supporters of the slain Alejandro Nieto are suggesting a cover-up. Attorneys for Refugio and Elvira Nieto say witnesses came forward to dispute the assertion that Nieto pointed a Taser stun gun at officers just before he was shot.

A crowd of about 150 marched from the site of Nieto’s shooting to San Francisco’s federal courthouse Friday. Protesters’ chants referenced several controversial shootings by Bay Area police and the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri that has recently dominated national news.

Nieto’s death sparked anger in San Francisco’s Mission District. He was well known in the neighborhood and a criminal justice student at City College of San Francisco where he was studying to become a juvenile probation officer. He had been an intern with the city’s probation department.

He also worked as a security guard at a nightclub near the Mission and carried a Taser for the job. Nieto stopped to eat a burrito atop the city’s Bernal Heights Park on his way to work the evening he was shot.

Someone saw the holstered Taser and called police, according to Suhr’s statements and SFPD scanner traffic from the night of the shooting.

Suhr told an angry crowd at a March 25 town hall meeting that officers approached Nieto and asked him to show his hands. He said Nieto drew his Taser, which automatically emits a laser sight. Officers only shot after they noticed the red dot “on them, tracking,” Suhr said.

“They believed it to be a firearm, and they fired at Mr. Nieto,” Suhr said. “Mr. Nieto went to the ground. He assumed a prone position, again he acquired the dot, continued to track as other officers arrived.”

Suhr said at the time Nieto was prohibited from owning a firearm “for mental health reasons,” a statement also disputed by his supporters.

Oakland-based attorneys John Burris and Adante Pointer are representing Nieto’s parents. Pointer said sustained protests in the Mission District compelled witnesses to contact their office.

“The notion that he was waving a Taser, displaying a Taser, acting out violently with this Taser in any way toward the officers just flies in the face of what independent parties have come forward to say,” Pointer said.

SFPD Chief Suhr’s March 25 community meeting stands as the most up-to-date official account of the events that culminated in Nieto’s death, but it beggars belief that the City still cites that meeting as its official version of events. The problem is not that the March 25 meeting was chaotic and emotional — which it was. The problem is that it was preliminary and unverified. In the five months that have elapsed since the meeting, its credibility has been undermined by the City’s failure to complete the medical examiner’s report in the Nieto case and the unconfirmed nature of the SFPD’s accounting of what happened on Bernal Hill during the evening of March 21.

The City and the SFPD are doing themselves no favors here.

This is Elvira and Refugio Nieto, in the right foreground, carrying a banner during Friday’s march to the Federal Courthouse. Neighbors Refugio and Elvira live on Cortland Avenue, and Alex Nieto was their son:

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In the absence of a more complete and credible set of facts about the March 21 incident, it’s not hard to understand why Alex Nieto’s grieving family and friends — our Bernal neighbors — are using whatever means possible to develop their own narrative about how and why his life was taken.

PHOTOS: Alex Nieto Memorial on Friday, August 22, 2014 by Telstar Logistics

Posted in Calamity, Government, Politics | 19 Comments

This Is What Bernal Heights Looks Like from Atop Sutro Tower

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Every citizen of Bernalwood knows what it’s like to gaze out to the west from Bernal Hill and feel the sculptural, sci-fi presence of Sutro Tower standing proud above the City, Twin Peaks, and even Karl the Fog. For example, yesterday.

But have you ever wondered what it’s like to stand on Sutro Tower and look back at Bernal Hill?

Well, now you know, courtesy of the screengrab image above. From way up there, we look… unbig.

Earlier this month, the ever-awesome Exploratorium released a short documentary that provides a very satisfyingly geeky tour of the Sutro Tower complex, as well as lots of satisfyingly geeky history about how the tower works and how it came to be.

Of particular note to local YIMBYs will be the section at the end where the Sutro Tower spokesman considers the structure in the broader context of San Francisco’s other landmarks— while backhandedly suggesting that each generation’s Enemies of Progress should get over themselves:

“Everything that gets built in San Francisco is generally a problem when it gets built. The Transamerica Pyramid, certainly, and Sutro Tower very soon thereafter. Both have become icons of the City. People opposed the Golden Gate Bridge when it was built. But over time, people come to recognize it, and cherish it, and it’s become an icon and a real symbol of the City.”

Amen, and Hail Lord Sutro!

Here’s the video. The Bernal Hill cameo comes at around 02:15…

Posted in History, Infrastructure | 3 Comments

Science Says Awesome Neighbors Have Fewer Heart Attacks

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There are many good reasons to be a fantastic neighbor, not the least of which is that fantastic neighbors are fantastic. Not coincidentally, Bernal Heights is famous for being fantastic, in no small part because Bernal Heights has a long tradition of highly engaged neighborliness.

That’s great for Bernal Heights, of course. But it may also be good for you. A new study suggests that people who feel more connected to their neighbors are less likely to experience a heart attack.

Writing for The Atlantic, James Hamblin explains:

According to new research published today from psychologists at the University of Michigan, I’m less likely to die of a heart attack than I would be if I gave in to my more introverted tendencies.

Social connection at the neighborhood level has long been known to be associated with good mental health, and some aspects of physical health. But this is the first study to look specifically at neighborhood social cohesion and heart attacks, which hit more than 700,000 Americans every year and cost everyone billions of dollars.

“There’s evidence suggesting that negative factors of the neighborhood, things like density of fast food outlets, violence, noise, and poor air quality impact health,” lead researcher Eric Kim, a psychologist in his final year of doctoral work at the University of Michigan, told me. I’d add broken windows. One 2003 study found that “boarded-up housing” predicts high rates of gonorrhea in a neighborhood, as well as premature death due to cancer or complications of diabetes. (And murder.) More recently, researchers from University of Pennsylvania looked at the health detriments associated with vacant land. By their understanding, abandoned buildings lead to isolation and erosion of social relationships, mutual trust, and collective efficacy, which leads to poor physical health.
Kim’s team is focusing on the other side of things: the positive elements of a neighborhood that “might perhaps be protective or even enhancing of health.” For a young scientist, Kim is precociously well versed in the language of hedging.

The study du jour, published in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, is based on assessments of social connectedness in 5276 adults in urban, suburban, and rural areas. The subjects rated how strongly they agreed with the following four prompts:

  • “I really feel part of this area.”
  • “If [I] were in trouble, there are lots of people in this area who would help.”
  • “Most people in this area can be trusted.”
  • “Most people in this area are friendly.”

The responses landed the participants on a seven-point Likert scale. And then they were followed. Four years later, 148 of them had experienced heart attacks.

“On the seven-point scale,” Kim explained, “each unit of increase in neighborhood social cohesion was associated with a 17 percent reduced risk of heart attacks.”

“If you compare the people who had the most versus the least neighborhood social cohesion,” Kim continued, “they had a 67 percent reduced risk of heart attacks.”

Citizens of Bernalwood, you now know know what to do.  Sally forth, be fantastic, be neighborly, and live longer.

PHOTO: Fantastic Elise Street neighbors in 2011 demonstrating how to reduce the risk of heart attack. Photo by Adrian Mendoza

Posted in Neighborhoods, People, Science | 3 Comments

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

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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):

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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

Posted in Geography, History | 10 Comments

Starting Tonight: Vigils and March to Remember Alex Nieto

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Friends and family of Alex Nieto have organized a series events, starting today and culminating tomorrow, to honor the young Bernal resident who was killed in an officer-involved shooting on March 24.

Adriana from Justice for Alex Nieto wrote to Bernalwood to extend an invitation:

The Justice & Love for Alex Nieto Committee invites Bernal Heights to come support their neighbors The Nieto Family at the following events that will take place tomorrow Thursday and Friday at the Alex Nieto Memorial, on the north slope of Bernal Hill:

  • Thursday Aug. 21st, 7PM-Midnight: Sunset Vigil on Alex’s 5th month anniversary of killing by SFPD (ceremony, poets, musicians, speakers)
  • Friday Aug. 22nd, 5AM-7AM: Sunset Ceremony (danzantes, Buddhist Mesha Irizarry, mother of Idriss Stelley, killed by SFPD in 2001, will lead us in calling the names of those killed by SFPD in past decades)
  • Friday Aug. 22nd at 12 Noon: Alex Rises! March for Civil Rights against Police Killings! (Starting from Alex Nieto Memorial on Bernal Hill)

Additional details at the Justice for Alex Nieto website, and the poster below:

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PHOTO: Top, Alex Nieto memorial on Bernal Hill, this morning August 5, 2014 at 8:22 am, by Telstar Logistics

Posted in Activism | 19 Comments