Your Official Guide to the Real Microhoods of Bernal Heights


Yesterday, realtor Eileen Bermingham posted an article about the geographic subregions that exist in Bernal Heights:

Bernal Heights has many distinct areas within its neighborhood. From the hip enclave of Precita Park to the winding streets on the East Slope, the price of real estate literally varies depending upon which part of Bernal you’re in. So it’s important to lean heavily on sales in your particular part of the neighborhood when you’re accurately trying to determine property values in Bernal.

To help buyers and sellers with that task, I’ve deconstructed Bernal Heights into seven unofficial microhoods, complete with their respective price averages and low/high prices, as well as recent sales volume.

In this way, we are introduced to the comparative charms (and average home prices) of such areas as “The North West Slope,” and “Precita Park,” and “South of Cortland.” Unfortunately, it made us feel so… commodified. Ew.

That said, the idea that Bernal Heights consists of several distinct microhoods actually makes a lot of sense. After all, Bernal is a neighborhood defined by its topography — Remember, our last name is “Heights!” — so there’s an intuitive logic to the notion that different parts of the hill have very different subcultures and identities. Yet we are far more than our cost per-square-foot; we are a federation of nooks and crannies shaped by timeless geological features, historical quirks, and neighborly idiosyncrasies.

So please allow us to propose this homegrown draft guide to the Subdistricts of Bernal Heights, produced in collaboration with Burrito Justice, chief spokesblogger for the La Lenguan separatists. To wit, and roughly clockwise from the map shown above:

Precitaville – With the Mission as a front yard, Precita Park as the living room, and Bernal Hill as a backyard playground, Precitaville is perhaps the most cosmopolitan part of Bernal Heights. Perhaps.

Santana Rancho – Carlos Santana used to live here; Janis Joplin used to party here. The steep slopes and meandering streets of Bernal’s northeast corner have made it a secret haven for generations of local artists, musicians, and eccentrics.

The Sutrito Canine Republic – Located atop Bernal Hill in a public park, The Sutrito Canine Republic is patrolled by packs of very happy dogs who frolic off-leash and worship the microwave antenna array mounted atop Sutrito Tower.

The Hill People of Powhattan – With their homes clustered around Powhattan Avenue in the high-altitude reaches of Bernal Hill’s southeastern quarter, the Hill People of Powhattan are easy to recognize: Just look for their massive, hill-toned calves and slightly elevated demeanor.

Alemanistan – Dry, rocky, and sun-baked, Alemanistan retains a wild, untamed feel. Perched in the shadow of the Spaghetti Bowl, at the crossroads of two major highways, this  is Bernal’s frontier borderland.

Cortlandia – The heart of Bernal’s historic commercial district has now become the ideal setting for a contemporary situation comedy about bourgoise-bohemian urban culture in the early years of the 21st century. Which is funny, except that it’s also rather lovely, and we are very lucky to have it. The residents of Cortlandia are justifiably quite proud of this.

Baja Cortlandia – Perhched just south and slightly below Cortland Avenue, Baja Cortlandia is scrappy place of haphazard hills, multigenerational residents, and intense, superhyperlocal pride.

The Crescent – This area of Bernal Heights  is anchored by both Crescent Street and the Islamic Center and Mosque on the corner of Andover. So many Crescents.

St. Mary’s Park – Developed during the 1920s on the site of the former St Mary’s College campus, this self-contained, bell-shaped enclave feels like a little slice of the Sunset District, right in our own corner of Bernal Heights.

Lost Tribe of College Hill – Separated from the Bernal heartland by Mission Street, yet isolated by freeways from Glen Park, College Hill’s de facto independence is symbolized by a recent redistricting that saw the area transferred to Supervisor Scott Wiener’s District 8.

Holly Park – This ancient district of Bernal Heights is home to one of San Francisco’s oldest parks and a covered reservoir that has long been the setting for much local scandal and drama.

Foggy Vista – Rising above Mission Street on Bernal’s west slope, the groovy people who live here enjoy a commanding view of Nature’s own lava lamp: the massive banks of fog that cascade over Twin Peaks. Residents eagerly await construction of the Esmeralda Funicular to facilitate transit to and from the bustling Mission Street corridor.

La Lengua Autonomous Zone – This territory has been an integral part of the Dominion of Bernalwood since the 19th century, but today the uppity people of La Lengua enjoy limited autonomy under the terms of the 2010 Proclamation to the Vassals of La Lengua.

The Principality of Chicken John – Though located within the territorial boundaries of Bernal Heights, Chicken John’s warehouse residential complex and bus depot on Cesar Chavez functions as a world unto itself. Operating under its own sovereign codes, aesthetics, and social norms, and with it’s own 4.5 star rating on Yelp, The Principality of Chicken John is, in effect, Bernal’s version of the Vatican.

Serpentinia – Named after a long-gone street that used to mirror Precita on the northern side of Army/Cesar Chavez,  Serpentinia is today defined by the major thoroughfare that now slices through its center. After decades of indifference and neglect, recent  infrastructure upgrades on Chavez may bring new cultural vitality to this region.

So there you have it. Neighborly comments, suggestions, rants, and proposed revisions  are most welcome, with an eye toward future iteration of this map.

REVISION NOTE: March 20: Based on comments provided by Bernal neighbors, the former “Outer Cortlandia” was  renamed “Baja Bernal,” and then renamed again to “Baja Cortlandia.” The map has also been updated to include this change.

Clever Infographic Shows Where Runners Run in Bernal Heights


The FlowingData website just posted a set of spiffy infographics that visualize where people go running in a variety of fabulous cities:

A lot of people make their workouts public on a variety of services, so there’s definitely accessible data. I use RunKeeper for cycling. I sampled from there.

The maps below are what I got, mostly for American cities, but there are a few European cities in there too (alphabetical order). If there’s one quick (and expected) takeaway, it’s that people like to run by the water and in parks, probably to get away from cars and the scenery.

So, this is New York City:


And this is Paris:


Bernalwood is vain and narcissistic, so we just had to zoom and enhance to create a map that’s all about us.  So where do people who like to run like to run in Bernal Heights?


Mostly, around Bernal Hill, via Folsom from Cesar Chavez. Some enjoy the Esmeralda stairs. Precita carries a lot of east-west traffic. The hardcores loop around both Holly Park and Bernal Hill.

MAPS: via FlowingData

UPDATED: New Merchant Association: “We Don’t Know What to Call It Yet, But It Will Certainly Not Be La Lengua”

Well, this is awkward.

The initial seed of discontentment over the nomenclature used to describe the flat portion of the Dominion of Bernalwood along Mission Street has now become an outright counter-rebellion. MissionLocal reports that business-owners along Bernal’s Mission corridor are in the process of creating a merchant’s association, and the group’s first task is to settle upon a name for the area that is something other than “La Lengua”:

Every revolution has its line-in-the-sand moment. For one architect south of Cesar Chavez, the moment came when locals — and even allegedly some city officials — started using “some hipster name” to refer to the neighborhood: La Lengua.

That translates to “The Tongue” in English, and it left a bad taste in the merchants’ mouths. In fact, they are forming their own merchants association — first meeting today — to rebrand themselves and define their commercial interests in the microhood where Bernal Heights and the outer edges of the Mission meet.

“That stupid name really got everyone listening,” said Harlan Hoffman, an architect with an office and a building on Mission Street, who is one of the main members of the association’s formation committee. “In a good way, that kind of spurred us on, and we decided to go ahead with this plan.”

Harlan Hoffman goes on to say:

 “It’s not the Inner Mission, it’s not the Outer Mission — it’s its own thing,” Hoffman said. “We don’t know what to call it yet, but it will certainly not be La Lengua.”

See? Ouch. Awwwwwwkwaaaaaard.

Since the disputed area is, and always shall be, an integral part of the Dominion of Bernalwood, we have no stake in the nomenclature controversy, except to treat it is a local matter that requires local resolution among the indigenous people.

However, we would remind the merchants in the disputed region that there is precedent for what they seek to accomplish, as Bernalwood revealed in this old storefront decal:

Hiding in plain sight on a vacant Mission Street storefront just north of 30th Street, [Neighbor Ben] found a vintage decal which pledges fealty to the “South of Army – Mission Merchants Association.”

Who were these proto-La Lenguans? What can we infer about the people who roamed the flatlands in the days before Army Street became Cesar Chavez Boulevard? The decal’s intimation that “He Knows You – You Know Him” suggests they were a paternalistic tribe that was closely bound by kinship ties and sharply-defined notions of geographic solidarity.

Unfortunately, since Army Street is indeed now called Cesar Chavez, the new merchants association is unlikely to embrace its historic antecedent in toto — which is sort of too bad, because that old graphic is ridiculously fabulous. (Memo to Secession Design: That logo. On a t-shirt. PLEASE!)

Bernalwood has reached out to rebel spokesblogger Burrito Justice, leader of the La Lenguan autonomy movement, for comment on this matter. He promised to release a statement soon, but in the meantime, his activity on Twitter suggests there will be more to come in the days ahead:



UPDATE: 1/14/14, 10 am: Burrito Justice has released a statement, and meme-ready image, regarding the burgeoning nomenclature controversy:

Harlan, here’s what you don’t get — La Lengua doesn’t care what you think. La Lengua just… is. We didn’t try very hard, and La Lengua took off. We are having fun.

You seem angry, Harlan. But the more you try to hate on La Lengua, the stronger it will become.


Smile! Look Happy! Google Street View Car Surveys Bernal


Hopefully you brushed your sidewalks and flossed your expansion joints recently, because several neighbors spotted the Google Street View car in Bernal Heights over the weekend, presumably to update our visual data to reflect our look in late 2013.

Fortunately, Neighbor Mark did his part to ensure we present a clean, well-groomed appearance to cyber-tourists and future historians:

PHOTO: Street View car on Alabama at Precita on Saturday, by Don Derheim.

Unbuilt Bernal Heights: Our Future That Never Was


The only thing Bernalwood loves more than a good local history lesson is a strong dose of local fantasy science-fiction. Luckily for us, some recent synchronicity has conspired to provide a tasty mixture of the two.  Here’s how it unfolds…

Part One: A few weeks ago, I took Bernalwood’s Cub Reporter to visit the new Exploratorium. While we were there, we wandered down a long hallway and into the Bay Observatory Gallery at the northeast corner of the museum. And in the Bay Observatory Gallery, we found a very cool collection of maps:


As you can see, the Cub Reporter was fascinated with a map visualization created by the amazing Eric Fischer (which quite speaks well of her).

Simultaneously, your Bernalwood editor was intrigued by a map of an ambitious redevelopment plan that envisioned San Francisco as a kind of Paris by the Bay, with grand boulevards and ornate gardens slicing through our familiar street grid. Naturally, I took a particular interest in the Bernal Heights portion of the map:


So much to absorb! To facilitate later study, I snapped a few quick photos, including one of the map legend:

1905MapDetailThe legend identified the map as:

Plan, showing system of highways, public places, parks, park connections, etc., to serve as a guide for the future development of the city, recommended in his report to the Association for theImprovement and Adornment of San Francisco, by D.H. Burnham – September 1905

Hmmmmmmmm. We’ll explore all the details of the map in a moment, but first, let’s consider that curious synchronicity, which arrived in the form of…

Part Two:  Have you heard of 99% Invisible? It’s a contemporary and wonderful radio documentary series created by producer Roman Mars here in San Francisco as a project of public radio KALW and the American Institute of Architects.

99% Invisible is a show “about design, architecture, and the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world,” with an emphasis on that 99% part — which is to say that 99% Invisible is about the history, personalities, and contextual quirks from which meaningful design and architecture emerges. This sounds heady and theoretical, but the show is anything but; it’s quirky and vibrant with an emphasis on people and great storytelling. Listen to it — it will make you see the world with shiny new eyes.

As fate (and synchronicity) would have it, the most recent episode of 99% Invisible is called “Unbuilt,” and it happens to be about unrealized urban master plans in general — and Daniel Burnham’s 1905 master plan for San Francisco in particular. So while listening to 99% Invisible this week, I finally got the backstory about Daniel Burnham’s vision for the future of San Francisco:

Daniel Burnham was the mastermind behind the White City at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago It was the pinnacle of “The City Beautiful” movement, with big civic centers and grand neo-classical structures to stir the soul.

Burnham was hired by big-time downtown business owners of San Francisco to turn this raggedy (if well-off) city into something majestic. Danial Burnham’s team shows up and they set up shop in a cottage on the summit of Twin Peaks so they can survey the city and craft the perfect plan…which was completed in the fall of 1905.

And the legend goes, all the books were delivered to city hall for distribution on April 17, 1906–the day before the great earthquake pulverized San Francisco.

Burnham’s grand master plan was derailed by the 1906 earthquake. The devastation of the quake might have seemed like a perfect opportunity to implement the more disruptive aspects of his urban design, but the reality was that traumatized San Franciscans simply wanted to rebuild quickly and in a manner that felt familiar. So they did.

Burnham’s San Francisco plan went unbuilt.

But what had he envisioned for the future of Bernal Heights? Let’s zoom and enhance the map I found at the Exploratorium:

burnhambernal2Burnham saw Bernal Hill as the grand southern terminus of two criss-crossing promenades, which presumably would have looked somewhat like The Mall in Washington DC.

The “Mission Parkway” promenade would have run east to west along an axis between 23rd and 24th Streets. Meanwhile, the north-south “Mission Arcade” promenade would supplant today’s South Van Ness Avenue, with a grand interchange crossing the Mission Parkway around 24th and South Van Ness.

Looking even more closely…


Precita Park survives in slightly modified form, but Burnham proposed creating a wide garden on the north face of Bernal Hill, roughly along the axis of contemporary Shotwell Street, running continuously from Army (Cesar Chavez) to Stoneman Street.

Burnham also wanted to erect a large, neo-classical building on Bernal Hill to overlook the Mission. He did not indicate what this monumental building would be used for, but we can safely assume it would have been Something Very Important, like a world-renowned collection of Dried Macaroni Arts and Crafts or the urban palace of Lord Mark Zuckerberg, the Duke of Facebook.

A set of smaller monument-style buildings would stand on the northeastern side of Bernal Hill, overlooking a huge playground, while the summit of the hill would feature several small gardens (with grand fountains, perhaps?) for leisurely recreation.

On the south side of Bernal, Burnham envisioned a continuous promenade linking Holly Park to the soutwest side of Bernal Hill, while a similar promenade would link Holly Park to Mission Street before continuing on to an expanded Glen Park open space:


Personally, what I like best about Burnham’s plan for Bernal Heights is how easy it is to visualize. For example, it’s not difficult to imagine the view looking south from 24th and South Van Ness, with that long carpet of green grass rolling toward Bernal, the manicured, European-style garden zig-zagging up Bernal’s north slope, and that neo-classical palace presiding over everything below as Bernal Hill’s feral summit looms proudly behind it.

It would have been magnificent.

It likely also would have been a disaster. The ambiguity surrounding the purpose of Burnham’s neo-classical palace on the north slope of Bernal pervades every aspect of his plan for San Francisco, and it’s unclear who would have actually used all the grand boulevards and promenades he proposed to build in the Mission District. After all, when you really stop to look, his promenades basically extend from Nowhere to Nowhere, and Burnham doesn’t provide much detail to indicate what kind of amenities or infrastructure would activate these sprawling public spaces to give them a reassuring urban bustle.

Indeed, Burnham doesn’t seem to have ever given much thought at all to the stuff that really matters in a city like San Francisco; namely, the myriad small exchanges and interactions that happen at street level, block-to-block, corner-to-corner, and doorstep-to-doorstep. Instead, his 1905 master plan was optimized for viewing from above, as I did when I saw it on the table at the Exploratorium, or as a satellite might see it while snapping photographs for Google Maps, high above, in the empty vacuum of space.

Burnham’s vision of Bernal’s future might have been lovely, but it wasn’t designed with us in mind.

IMAGES: Top: Daniel Burnham Plan, courtesy David Rumsey map collection, via 99% Invisible. All other images, Daniel Burnham 1905 Plan, as photographed at the Exploratorium.

Viva La Contra-Revolución! La Lengua Dissidents Dislike Funny Name, Seek to Rejoin Dominion of Bernalwood


Fellow Citizens of Bernalwood, this is a day we’ve long awaited.

We have endured years of rebellious bluster and seditious propaganda seeking to undermine the integrity of the Bernal Heights motherland. Yet we now have indications that the La Lengua separatist movement may be collapsing under the weight of its own geopolitical absurdity.

Last week, the Greater Bernalwood Signals Intelligence Unit received this encrypted communication from Neighbor Lisa, who resides deep within La Lenguan territory:

My neighbors and I have a problem. We have been saddled with an absolutely awful nickname for our little corner of San Francisco (La Lengua) and we don’t know how to get rid of it.

The blogosphere, including your esteemed and oft quoted blog, seems to think it is a great term, but the only person on our block who likes it is Burrito Justice himself. Every time someone shares a link to an article containing the hated term, our street mailing list fills up with emails suggesting alternatives. Even when the article is about a pot smoking bear, people get more excited about That Name.

We’d be happy to be referred to as Bernal Heights at this point.

So, how do we get people to use a different name for our microhood? I actually have some pretty strong feelings about what we should call my ‘hood, but unfortunately nobody likes my suggestion as much as I do. Anything but La Lengua.

And yes, every good revolution needs a splinter group.

Rest assured, Lisa, the Citizens of Bernalwood will be happy to welcome you back into our nurturing embrace!

IMAGE: Historic map from 1889 clearly includes the so-called La Lengua territories with the geographic boundaries of Bernal Heights. (On the other hand, this same map also includes six different streets named California Avenue, so draw your own conclusions.)

Beautiful New Map Shows Bernal Heights, Even More So

bernal.topourbanismFast Company Design carries a story about a new map of San Francisco that  happens to include a particularly tasty representation of Bernal Heights:

In San Francisco Contours, a topographical print by Abe Bingham … urbanity has been stripped away to highlight the hills of the city.

The piece was inspired by a combination of San Francisco’s unique landscape and the general failings of traditional topographical maps, which are, on one hand, a triumph of data visualization, and on the other, very difficult for the average person to decipher. As a fix, Bingham built his maps in full 3-D, exaggerating altitude by 2.5x to simulate the view of a pedestrian rather than a flyby.

The map is gorgeous, but the exaggerated proportions make it somewhat difficult to orient yourself to the image of Bernal Heights shown above. So here’s an annotated guide:


Abe Bingham is a SF-born graphic designer, and he wants to sell images of his maps, so you can find out more (and buy a copy) on his Kickstarter page. A $50 contribution qualifies you as a “Bernal Hill Level” donor, which is actually rather flattering.

IMAGES: Via Abe Bingham