Bids Due, Tensions High as Trustee Says Precita Eyes Seeks to “Force Family to Sell to Them”

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It’s been a big week for 348 Precita Avenue, the multi-unit building on Precita Park that’s long been home to the Precita Eyes mural studio. 348 Precita is for sale, and Precita Eyes hopes to avoid possible eviction by deterring would-be buyers from bidding on the property. (For more backstory, read Bernalwood’s item about this from  Monday.)

Here at week’s end, let’s catch up on where thing stand.

Neighbor Ledia dropped by Precita Eyes during a Protest Art Class for kids on Tuesday, where she learned more about Precta Eyes, their history in Precita Park, their other property holdings, and their (at times confusing) arrangement with the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA). Neighbor Ledia tells Bernalwood:

Went to the free art class and talked to Precita Eyes today: Now I understand.

So Precita Eyes wants the owners [of 348 Precita] to accept MEDAs offer to buy the building, which has 3 residential units plus the commercial Precita Eyes space, for $1 million.

It’s obviously “worth” more. MEDA would then be the owner/landlord, with the possibly of current tenants being able to buy their spaces in some way.

348 is the original Precita Eyes space. Precita Eyes has been around since 1977, and in this space since 1982. In 1998, [Precita Eyes founder Susan Cervantes] bought the Precita Eyes space on 24th St., so the organization also has that.

The goal of the free art class/gathering is to discourage offers on the building, other than MEDA’s lowball offer.

This provides helpful context. Precita Eyes uses 348 Precita as a satellite facility, and in the comments to Monday’s post, several Bernal neighbors noted that the studio at 348 is rarely occupied. (As a neighbor, Bernalwood can confirm this.) The Precita Eyes branch at 2981 24th Street is the organization’s main office, but we did not know (and Mission Local confirms) that Precita Eyes actually owns the 24th Street building. That means the future of Precita Eyes on 24th Street is secure.

Of course, there are two sides to every transaction, and in the comments to Bernalwood’s Monday post, a member of the family that’s selling 348 Precita shared some details (which are merged here for clarity):

My name is Michael Silva. I am not the owner of 348 Precita (certainly not the only owner), but only the trustee of my late mom’s estate.

I am a member of the family that owns this property. Our presence in SF dates back to before the 1906 earthquake (they camped out in the park during the repairs). It has been in our family for a hundred years. Look up August &Minnie Schmidt in the 1915 online directory.

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1915 San Francisco Directory, via Bernalwood

One of the owners is the 83 year old granddaughter of August and Minnie. Another is a great-grandson who worked all his life in SF until he had to retire under medical disability, and who has had multiple surgeries to help the back injuries he suffered while working as a printer. His entire life savings consists of $11,000.

These are the owners to whom Precita Eyes is trying to dictate sale terms. This is the one and only commercial property the family owns, in SF or anywhere else. We are not “big investors” by any stretch of the imagination.

I am actually just the Trustee of my mom’s estate (born in SF in 1932). She and her twin sister co-owned the property until she passed away a few years ago. Now my mom’s estate, along with her twin sister, are trying to sell the property. And Precita Eyes is trying to make sure we do not receive fair market value for a property that has been in our family for at least 100 years.

What Precita Eyes is trying to do is to force the family to sell to them, on their terms and on their terms alone, and obviously below market value (or else they would just submit their bid along with any other potential buyers). Who thinks this is moral behavior on their part?

This sets up a curious dynamic. In a town where one’s standing on questions of housing policy and social entitlement often correlates to how long you’ve lived here, the story of 348 Precita now contrasts a nonprofit arts organization that’s been in Bernal for 30+ years with a multigenerational family that’s been in Bernal for 100.

Last Tuesday, there was a open house at at 348 Precita for potential buyers to view the property. Precita Eyes put signs in the windows, brought in some local kids for an ad hoc protest art class, invited a few journalists from around town to drop by, and launched their campaign to ward off potential bidders.

Sarah Hotchkiss from KQED Arts was there:

As toddlers covered in tempera paint plastered their hand prints all over sheets of paper, community members surrounded the building holding their own pieces of paper, printed with the message, “Please do not BUY this building!! This is a community space!”

PEWindow

Photo: KQED

The organization staged the protest after landlords posted a brand-new For Sale sign on the studio center’s exterior the week before. Though Precita Eyes owns its arts and visitors center at 2981 24th St, they have rented the 348 Precita Ave space since 1977.

While impending doom lingers in the air, the building’s residents are not without hope. The Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), with advice from the San Francisco Community Land Trust (SFCLT), plans to make a bid on the property, which, if successful, will safeguard Precita Eyes and the residential tenants against eviction by forming a cooperative.

The dispatch from Mission Local’s reporter captured the kabuki-like flavor of the scene, as the participants performed familiar roles:

“We’re hoping to dissuade other prospective buyers from outbidding MEDA,” explained Nancy Pili Hernández, a Precita Eyes muralist.

Several prospective buyers came and went without comment. Some stopped to talk with the activists and neighbors standing outside. In some cases, the exchanges became heated.  Pili Hernández said one potential buyer became incensed when a woman approached him asking his intentions for the building. Pili Hernández said the man told the woman he would put in an offer for $2 million and evict her.

That’s the kind of possibility that makes Randy Odell, an upstairs resident of 30 years, uneasy.

“It’s no fun having your home threatened.” Odell said. “When you have no right to keep people from coming in and looking at your home, and sussing out the value, it’s very hard to keep my dignity.”

Other potential buyers took a more diplomatic approach.

Micheal Zook, a San Francisco native and former building manager who was once evicted from a building he lived and worked in for 20 years, now works as a realtor but was considering the building as a potential home for himself, his wife and his children. He talked at length with community organizers about the property and how displacement could be avoided.

So what happens next?

Although the drama of 348 Precita is playing out in 2015, this story is really a flashback to the proto-gentrification tensions of 1970s Bernal Heights, when a young generation of activist Baby Boomers arrived and set out to transform Bernal in their own image, sometimes to the dismay of the older, blue-collar families who already lived here.

Back then, however, San Francisco’s population was in decline, and Bernal Heights was considered a faded part of town.  Homes were cheap,  rents were cheaper, Precita Park was rough, and Bernal was a funky bohemian backwater. Today, San Francisco’s population has grown by almost 200,000 since 1980, Bernal is a prime location, Precita Park is a four-star destination, countercultural lifestyles are difficult to afford, and the median home price in the neighborhood hovers around $1.4 million. A big property like 348 Precita could obviously fetch more.

But should it? Will it? We’ll find out soon; Mike Silva tells Bernalwood the last bids for the property are coming in today.

PHOTOS: Top, Precita Eyes studio by Telstar Logistics

Emperor Norton Is Still Alive, Still Well, and Still Living in Bernal Heights

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Last week, the Wall Street Journal published a front page (!!!) story about the odd history of Emperor Norton I, the 19th century San Francisco eccentric who declared himself “Emperor of the United States,” and Neighbor Joseph Amster, the Bernal Heights resident who re-enacts him today.

The WSJ writes:

Wearing a top hat festooned with multicolored feathers, Joseph Amster stopped in front of a Ghirardelli Chocolate Co. store on bustling Market Street and began shouting at the shop’s bemused clientele through its large glass windows.

“Look at them! Ignoring me! Mocking me! They have not heard the last of me!” Mr. Amster exclaimed, the feathers quivering with his wild gesticulations. “I will issue a special proclamation demanding they bring back my sundae!”

Patrons likely had no idea what he was talking about. But Mr. Amster was playing the role of this city’s most celebrated 19th-century eccentric: Norton I, the self-styled “Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.”

Mr. Norton’s was once a household name here. Numerous things were named after him, including Ghirardelli’s Emperor Norton Sundae. But the sundae, like Mr. Norton in general, has since faded from view.

Now some San Franciscans are pushing to return the emperor to prominence. Mr. Amster, 59 years old, who conducts tours dressed as Emperor Norton, is among those trying to bring him back, to rekindle the city’s celebration of society’s oddballs and outcasts.

PHOTO: Joseph Amster as Emperor Norton, holding a print copy of the Wall Street Journal, via Joseph Amster

Wednesday: Learn How to Learn About the History of Your Bernal Heights Home

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Tomorrow night, Wednesday, August 19, those intrepid time-travelers from the Bernal Heights History Project will share some tips on how to research the history of your Bernal Heights home:

“How to Research Your Bernal Home”
Aug 19, 2015 7:00pm-8:30pm (Wednesday) at Bernal Heights Branch Library

We have an admittedly ambitious plan: We want to research and record the history of every building on the hill, and we’d love your help.

On Wednesday, August 19, we’ll present a slideshow that explains how to investigate your own home and all the resources you can use, including city directoriestap recordsSanborn (fire insurance) mapsneighborhood newspapers, and many more free databases.

We’ll be using several examples of Bernal homes and businesses in our show, but this is an interactive presentation, so feel free to come with stories and photos of your own, especially if you want to find out more about your street and the people who lived in your home before you did.

PHOTO: Left, Anita Nieto, cousin Betty Reyes, and a friend outside the Reyes and Nieto grocery store at Crescent and Anderson, late 1940s; Right, 1905 Sanborn map. (Family photo courtesy Anita Nieto; map courtesy David Rumsey) — at 511 Crescent Avenue, San Francisco.

Charlie’s Cafe on Precita Park Is For Sale

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It’s sometimes hard to remember how much Precita Park has changed in just the last five years.

Think back, however, and you may recall that the Precita Park of 2010 was lovely, but rather lifeless. The eastern side of the park near the playground was home to two beer-and-chips corner stores, one of which was frequently shut down because of run-ins with the law. On the western side, along Folsom, Cancilla’s Market was yet another corner store offering beer and chips. Cafe Cozzolino was sometimes open and always empty, in no small part because it offered some of San Francisco’s most disappointing Italian food. The Park Bench Cafe coffee shop was also sad and empty, which left Charlie’s Cafe as Precita Park’s only real restaurant and community gathering place.

Fast-forward to today, and the landscape is transformed. The Precita Park Cafe now occupies one of the former corner stores across the street from the playground, and it’s such an institution that it already feels like it’s always been there. Hillside Supper Club moved into Cafe Cozzolino, Harvest Hills Market is a walkable alternative to schlepping to a supermarket, and Neighbor Eliza is building a new pizza shop inside the former Park Bench Cafe.

Now Charlie’s Cafe proprietor Charlie Harb writes Bernalwood to tell us that his cafe has just been listed for sale, and he wants Bernal neighbors to have first dibs:

After over 14 years in the neighborhood, it’s time for me to sell my beloved cafe. Adam, the current manager, is leaving town after running Charlie’s for 2 years, and I now have other interests. If you are interested, or know of someone who is interested in purchasing the cafe, feel free to contact me at charliescafesf AT gmail DOTCOM.

All the particulars are in this Craigslist ad.

A personal footnote: Your Bernalwood editor would like to extend my gratitude to Charlie for running his cafe. When I first landed in Bernal Heights after moving from the alien shores of The Mission, all the way on the other side of Cesar Chavez, Charlie was one of the very first people to welcome me here, and his kitchen fed the construction crews that rebuilt my home during two grayhair-producing years of renovations. In so many ways, he was the first person to teach me about the strength of the Bernal Heights community. Thank you Charlie!

PHOTO: Charlie’s Cafe on August 10, 2015 by Telstar Logistics

Welcome to the Bedrock District, Bernal Heights, USA

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Two of the most retro-distinctive homes in Bernal Heights are even more so because they sit side-by-side together.

We’re talking about the two houses with the faux-stone facades located on Florida between Precita and Cesar Chavez in theEven  flatlands of northeast Bernal Heights. Each is totally over-the-top, because each looks like it could be home to Fred and Wilma Flintstone, if Fred and Wilma Flintstone lived in mid-century Bernal Heights. But there are actually two of these houses, so you can also imagine  Barney and Betty Rubble living right  next door.

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How did this happen?

Well, to understand that, you need to imagine yourself owning one of these homes in the 1950s or early 1960s. Each of these houses was built during the early decades of the 20th century, so by the time the ’50 rolled around, each was already 40 years old. That means the original wooden facades were likely faded, aging, and in need of repair.  That’s probably about when Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner opened up their newspaper and saw an ad that looked something like this:

Permastone

You can practically see the lightbulbs going off: YES! We can Perma-Stone!  We can Add Beauty, Permanence, and Strength to our Home at Low Cost! We can Eliminate Painting Forever!

The Noe Valley SF blog recently wrote a capsule history of Perma-Stone:

Perma-Stone – and several other variations of the artificial molded stone such as FormStone, FieldStone, Dixie Stone, and yes, Stone of Ages were popular in the 1930s, 40s and 50s and applied like vinyl siding to existing homes. Perma-Stone was invented in Columbus, Ohio and [was] most popular in places like Baltimore and the East Coast, but found a foothold in San Francisco too, mostly in the Avenues. According to this article in SF Gate from 2010, film director John Waters dubbed Perma-Stone “the polyester of brick.”

So how did both of these houses, side-by-side, end up getting the faux-stone treatment? It’s not to hard to envision the scenario:

THE SCENE: Fred and Barney are grilling brontosaurus burgers in Barney’s Florida Street back yard. Eisenhower is president, and in the distance, a radio is tuned to the baseball game that’s underway at Seal Stadium on 16th and Bryant.

BARNEY: Hey Fred, have you noticed our houses are looking a little shabby? They’re starting to show their age.

FRED: Careful with the brontosaurus Barney. You know Wilma likes hers medium rare.

BARNEY: Yeah yeah. Look, did you see that ad in the paper for the Perma-Stone? They put it up once, and the house never needs painting again.

FRED: Can you hand me another Rolling Rock?

BARNEY: Sure thing, Freddy-Boy. [Tosses can of beer]  But you know, I’ve gotta tell you, I kind of like that “Modern Stone Age” look.

FRED: Yeah, Wilma won’t shut up about it ever since we got that subscription to Dwelling magazine. No painting, ever again, huh?

BARNEY:  Never again.  [Pokes a burger tepidly with a spatula, then flips it over] Whaddya say we do both our houses at the same time? Maybe we can get a package deal. Plus, we could split the cost of the construction parking permit.

FRED: Now you’re talking, Barney-Boy! You know, I do kind of like that Bernal Boulder treatment they have.

BARNEY: Betty said she likes the Manor Flagstone. I’ll have guy come by to do an estimate for both of us.

FRED: Dammit, Barney, keep an eye on those burgers! [long pause] Oh hey I’m ready for another Rolling Rock.

… and the rest, as they say, is pre-history.

PHOTOS: Permastone ad, courtesy of Eric Fisher

Six Timely Thoughts About Bernal Heights from Neighbor Darcy of Heartfelt

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Neighbor Darcy Lee, a resident of Alemanistan and owner of Heartfelt on Cortland, recently shared some miscellaneous thoughts about the July 21 Epicurean Trader vandalism incident and several other matters of topical concern to the people of Bernal Heights:

I read all these comments when [the vandalism] first happened and I just read them again. Because this vandalism hit retail I am chiming in:

1. Retail takes long hours and many days a week. I have worked 7 days a week for years and am now down to 6 days. There is no whine tone here, because I love what I do. I have thought long and hard at what the graffiti person was trying to express, and it seems that it was aimed at the customer that shops at these posh shops, and the storefront or what the business symbolized got caught in the crossfire. Thus I loved the comments that said ‘Hey I do not make a ton of money but I appreciate a business that is selling food from the little makers that are concerned with how we farm and manufacture stuff affects the environment and our bodies.’ Same with Pinhole Coffee; I think we could not have landed a more kindcontributor to the neighborhood, or a more concerned-with-the-world kind of person. (ie. JoEllen) My mantra here, bear with me, is that it is important to not assume new is bad.

2. Random vandalism to prove a misdirected point is lame.

3. Change happens within a city. I know a family that lives in the ‘burbs and rent out their family home in Bernal. They inherited it from working class parents and grew up in the small Bernal house. They maintain it, but they have not remodeled, and they rent it out at less than market rent (not way less, but less). Their mildly disabled sister lives in an inlaw unit in the back. The three kids feel this extra income has allowed them to buy their own homes outside of the city. They have no desire to live here, and they do not get why it is appealing. But they are respectful of what the changes in the neighborhood have brought them. The son told me that their parents, both from Mexico and now deceased, would be very surprised if they knew.

4. The other day on the radio I heard a short clip about Japan and why they are now in financial trouble. Excuse my summary if I got the facts wrong, but as I heard it, Japan loved itself too much. Japan thought it was invincible, and that it would always be the leader in selling the world shiny, modern stuff. (think Walkman) I think we in Bernal love ourselves too much, and we are trying to hold onto something that is already gone. Thus we stay in this sort of negative rant-mode. And SF, too. This way of thinking lets us hold to an ideal in our minds instead of looking around us. Walk the streets of Bernal. We are not just shiny dark grey and black homes; there are lots of different stories within our midst. Volunteer at the local public schools, visit our library, go to the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, visit the farm on Alemany, chat with your neighbor who is elderly and ask if they ever need help. I find this much more productive towards preserving what you miss as opposed to constantly whining what you loved is gone. I found this article Todd posted on Facebook to be fascinating.

5. Some say Airbnb is bad, because it takes apartments off the market.  Some say Airbnb is good, because it allows folks to get extra income to rent out rooms and stay in the ‘hood. Regulations are good, they make it so landlords cannot rip off tenants. Some tenants take advantage of this, so some landlords do not want to get anywhere near the rental market after a bad tenant. As a person who works on the street in Bernal, the stories we hear are endless and every point of view is expressed.

6. If you insist you are right, then someone else has to be wrong. Perhaps it is more important to take a breath and listen. I hear you Cortland graffiti person, I am curious about you, and I hate that you expressed yourself this way, but I hear your frustration. There are so many stories out there.

PHOTO: Neighbor Darcy Lee outside Heartfelt, December 13, 2014. Photo by Telstar Logistics

Remembering Karen Huggins, Holly Courts Advocate

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Neighbor Sarah Rogers tells Bernalwood about the passing of Neighbor Karen Huggins:

Neighbor Karen Huggins died of cancer in mid-June.

Karen was an activist who lived in Bernal’s Holly Courts public-housing development, and she was committed to social justice on behalf of both public-housing residents and the larger community. She frequently worked with the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, Supervisor David Campos and his staff, and many Bernal neighbors and groups. She served on the Ingleside Police Station’s community police advisory board and helped author the city’s 2011 ordinance on community policing. She was president of the Holly Courts Resident Council and a tireless advocate for residents of public housing.

Karen “fought fiercely for economic and racial justice, with a twinkle in her eye and great love and humor,” says neighbor Buck Bagot.

Karen “was one of the most incredible people I’ve met,” adds Supervisor Campos. “She was brilliant, driven, and passionate. She was also a character, with a great sense of style and class. She was the kind of person who made an entrance, someone you were bound to remember. She was one of a kind, a quintessential Bernal personality.”

“Karen had a vision,” recalls Bobby Cochran, a Holly Courts resident and sergeant-at-arms of the Holly Courts Residents Council. He first met Karen when he was sweeping up broken glass at Holly Courts, and she asked if he needed a push broom. “Everything you needed, she had,” he said. After he retired from his job, she persuaded him to join the Residents Council, even though he was reluctant at first, having never participated in local politics. “You’ll learn,” she told him, advice she gave many others at Holly Courts.

Soon, he found himself traversing San Francisco to attend and speak at hearings and “meeting people I never thought I’d meet.” Karen had a vision for making Holly Courts a place that was truly a part of the surrounding neighborhood, in its appearance and in its level of safety and civility. She worked tirelessly to get safety-related issues like broken lights and security gates repaired, and she helped get the units repainted. Karen had memorized all housing-related bylaws and knew how to navigate government departments and work with city officials and staff. “I learned a lot from her,” Cochran said. “I wish she was still here to teach me more.”

Karen was “a force to be reckoned with,” said Ailed Paningbatan-Swan, director of community engagement at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. But Karen also had “a nurturing and loving side that radiated from her, rejuvenating those around her. She shared with me her struggles with her sickness while also taking care of me while I was pregnant. She called me every week to check in and made sure I was doing okay with my pregnancy, and she couldn’t wait to meet my baby. I’m truly sad that she wasn’t able to meet my son.”

Nicole Hatfield, youth coordinator (and former youth participant) at the BHNC, attributed her career choice to Karen’s influence and said, “I will never forget her spirit and tenacity to continue working in public housing and striving for her communities to flourish.”

Karen did not want people to know how sick she was, so her death came as a shock to many who knew her. As her cancer progressed, she held an emotional meeting with the Residents Council, Cochran says, explaining that she wanted them to step up, to watch each others’ backs, to trust each other, and to always remember that “you’re not in it for personal gain. You’re in it for Holly Courts, the residents, and the greater community.”

“It’s hard to imagine the world without Karen,” Supervisor Campos said in a Facebook post after her death. “San Francisco certainly will not be the same without her. I feel lucky and blessed that I got to know Karen. And I know that the best thing we can do to honor her is to rededicate ourselves to social justice and to her passion — making sure that we do right by the residents of Holly Courts and all of public housing in San Francisco.”

PHOTO: Karen Huggins