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

Bernal Streets Offer Guidance in Confederate Flag Debate

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The Moultrie Flag

In South Carolina, legislators are struggling as they reconsider the public display of the Confederate battle flag. Hey, better late than never, right?

But what about a replacement? On this matter, Bernal Heights can offer some guidance. We know of a lovely alternative flag design, stemming from the fact that many of our streets here in Bernal are named after American military heroes.

People of South Carolina, we, the Citizens of Bernalwood, here provide a polite tap on the shoulder to remind you about… The Moultrie Flag!

Yup. The Moultrie Flag, as shown above. And no, this isn’t an oddball Bernalwood flag design exercise. Neighbor Glenda tells us the Moultrie Flag, like our own Moultrie Street, is named after William Moultrie, whom the Bernal History Project describes as follows:

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Although William Moultrie (1730-1805) led troops against Native Americans in 1761 and won election to the colonial assembly, the general is remembered chiefly for his surprising defense of a South Carolina fort (now Fort Moultrie) on Sullivan’s Island. It blocked the British in 1776 from capturing Charleston, his birthplace. Captured in 1780 and released after the war, he was elected governor of South Carolina in 1785.

Ah, but that’s the short version of the story. Blogger Juan Cole explains why the Moultrie Flag should make any South Carolinian proud:

If Southerners want a regional symbol of pride and valor, why not go back to the Moultrie or Liberty flag?

It was flown by South Carolinians in the fight against the Redcoats during the Revolutionary War and was the first American flag to fly over the South.

Best of all, the flag has the word “Liberty” written into the crescent moon, underscoring this key American value, so important for all peoples living in the South. It is better than the Gadsden flag (with the “Don’t Tread on Me” snake) because it expresses a positive value and emotion rather than a negative, reactive one.

So true. Here’s what the Wikipedia sayeth about the Moultrie Flag:

In 1775, Colonel William Moultrie was asked by the Revolutionary Council of Safety to design a flag for the South Carolina troops to use during the American Revolutionary War. Moultrie’s design had the blue of the militia’s uniforms and the crescent. It was first flown at Fort Johnson.[2] This flag was flown in the defense of a new fortress on Sullivan’s Island, when Moultrie faced off against a British fleet that had not lost a battle in a century.

However, there is much debate about the significance of the crescent. In 1775 Colonel William Moultrie was asked by the “Revolutionary Council of Safety” to design a flag for the South Carolina troops. In his memoirs, Colonel Wiliam Moultrie tells us: “A little time after we were in possession of Fort Johnson, it was thought necessary to have a flag for the purpose of signals: (as there was no national or state flag at that time) I was desired by the council of safety to have one made, upon which, as the state troops were clothed in blue, and the fort was garrisoned by the first and second regiments, who wore a silver crescent on the front of their caps; I had a large blue flag made with a crescent in the dexter corner, to be in uniform with the troops …”In the 16-hour battle on June 28, 1776, the flag was shot down, but Sergeant William Jasper ran out into the open, raising it and rallying the troops until it could be mounted again. This gesture was so heroic, saving Charleston, South Carolina, from conquest for four years, that the flag came to be the symbol of the Revolution, and liberty, in the state and the new nation.

Soon popularly known as either the Liberty Flag or Moultrie Flag, it became the standard of the South Carolinian militia, and was presented in Charleston, by Major General Nathanael Greene, when that city was liberated at the end of the war. Greene described it as having been the first American flag to fly over the South.

Raise the Moultrie Flag, people of South Carolina! Raise the Moultrie Flag, people of Moultrie Street!

But wait! There is another Bernal street connection to today’s Confederate flag removal debate. Neighbor Richard reminds Bernalwood about the namesake of Ellsworth Street:

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Fascinated by military history and panoply, Colonel Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth (1837-1861) was a friend of Lincoln’s. He raised a regiment of volunteers from New York firefighters, who invaded Virginia the day after it seceded. When he cut down a Confederate flag atop a hotel, the owner killed him with a shotgun blast and was shot dead in return. “Remember Ellsworth” became a rallying cry of a regiment known as the Ellsworth Avengers.

Oh my. Ellsworth was killed while removing a Confederate flag! Even more, in the process of doing so, the Wikipedia sayeth that Ellsworth actually became “the first conspicuous casualty of the American Civil War.”

Woooa!  Mind. Blown.

Anyway, to the People of South Carolina, we, the Citizens of Bernalwood send our sincere hope that you will make a wise choice.

HAT TIPS: Neighbors Glenda Brewer and Richard Everett

New Map Reveals the Lost Waterways of Bernal Heights

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In his amazing new Seep City map of San Francisco’s lost creeks, springs and waterways, natural history researcher Joel Pomerantz reveals the places where groundwater once flowed in Bernal Heights.

Here’s the story it tells:

[On the map] today’s land forms are shown with 5-foot-interval contour lines. At this level of detail, we can easily see where human activity has filled extensive portions of the bay and where streets, highways, reservoirs and railroad grades cut into hills.

Our city had significantly more water before it was developed. Consequently, most of the water shown is from historical sources. The purple squiggles are bedrock springs found today. Natural and artificial lakes present today are outlined in white. Creeks of today are highlighted yellow.

Only a couple creeks still flow on the surface today. Finding them can be a challenge without this map. Some are virtually unknown.

The detail is remarkable. Here’s a close crop of northeast Bernal, with Precita Creek running along the upper part of the map and draining into the intricate Islais Creek watershed (where Bayshore stands today). Notice also the two active springs on the northern slope of Bernal Hill:

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And when you pull back to look at the city as a whole, you see how Bernal fits in to a much larger ecosystem:

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Want a copy of Joel’s maptastic creation? Visit his Kickstarter page, where you can order a map in your favorite size.

IMAGES: Courtesy of Joel Pomerantz

YES! City Funds Secured to Restore Esmeralda Mini-Park

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Nice work, people.

Thanks in no small part to your vigorous nagging activism, Supervisor David Campos’s office reports that City funds will be made available to restore the endangered trellis at the Esmeralda-Winfiend Mini Park:

We are thrilled to report that we were able to secure funding for replacement of the Trellis through the City’s budget process. Thank you so much for bringing this issue to our attention. It has been a pleasure to see to the neighborhood so united over a common treasure and we really appreciate your advocacy. DPW has assured us that as soon as the funding is allocated to the department, it will replace the Trellis. The original structure is set to come down next week. The final City Budget is approved on July 21st. We will be working closely with DPW to make sure the replacement structure is built as soon as possible.

That’s fantastic news, so let’s all join hands for a collective woo-hoo:

Wooooo-HOOOOOOOO!!!!!

This is also a fitting tribute to the scrappy group of Bernal neighbors who rallied to build the trellis (and the secret Esmeralda slides!) in the first place, almost 40 years ago.

But who were these energetic Bernal ancestors? Who created the gift that is the Esmeralda-Winfield Mini-Park?

That’s them, in the world-famous photo up above.

Many Bernalese will recognize the photo, because to this day it stands as a defining symbol of Bernal Heights activism, engagement, volunteerism, and neighborly solidarity. The image is a magnificent time-capsule, so Bernalwood encourages you to zoom and enhance it at your leisure from the safety and comfort of your own computer screen to explore all the wonderful details it reveals.

The photo was taken in 1978, just as work on the slide and mini-park was wrapping up. Back then, Neighbor Michael Nolan was one of the chief organizers of the project, and you can see him in the photo on the far left:

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Today Neighbor Michael still lives in Bernal, where is often seen leading the pom-pom squad for the Elsie Street Glee Club and contributing to the Bernal Heights History Project (among many other things):

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To help modern-day Bernalese understand all the dedication and bureaucratic wrangling it took to create the Esmeralda Mini-Park in the first place, Bernalwood nagged asked Neighbor Michael to give us a behind-the-scenes view of the project’s creation-story:

In the wake of a fun-filled though unsuccessful run for District Supervisor in 1977, I threw my surplus civic energy into making the Esmeralda Mini-Park happen.

I won that campaign. The Northwest Bernal Block had worked mightily for years on the project, believing that between Precita and Holly Parks, there was no area for children to play. But various bureaucratic and legal snafus had stymied the project, even though there was sufficient city funding and support.

Getting the Board of Supervisors to “vacate” what was still officially a “street” and turn it into a park was crucial, because that’s what was required to limit the potential liability of adjoining homeowners and win their okay.

I convened a dedicated crew of nearby neighbors who worked with landscape architect Andrew Butler and Planning Department liaison Lu Blazej .  Tom Chiosso of DPW brought tools, materials, and community development grants from the City.

Bernal neighbors volunteered to prepare the land, build the double slide, erect a play structure, and install the planter boxes and trellis on the Winfield Landing.

We’d hoped that our popular Mayor George Moscone would inaugurate the double slide, but we lost him and Harvey Milk in the tragic assassinations of that fall. In early 1979, Mayor Dianne Feinstein and District 9 Supervisor Lee Dolson did the honors.

Here’s what that moment looked like, when Di-Fi took an inaugural slide:

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So that brings us to today.

Though our funds are (fingers-crossed) secured, we still have a ways to go until the Esmeralda-Winfield Mini-Park is restored to its proper glory. Let’s stay focused, let’s stay engaged, and let’s do whatever it takes to make sure this mini-park remains glorious for another 40 years.

City Plans to Demolish Trellis at Esmeralda/Winfield Mini Park, Has No Plan to Rebuild

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Uh-oh.

The delightful Esmeralda/Winfield Mini Park is suffering from old age, and an indifferent City bureaucracy has no plans to keep the mini-park in proper order. In fact, the City plans to tear down part of the park in coming days. Eeek!

This will be a great loss for Bernal Heights, so Neighbors Nancy and Joan catch us up on what’s happening, and how you can help:

The wooden structures at the MiniPark were built with community input in the late 1970s. The structures haven’t been maintained, leaving them to deteriorate into their current state.

Now the trellis is slated to be removed within a week! The planter box surrounding the big pepper tree is also due to be removed, timeline unknown. The remaining picnic table and benches haven’t been mentioned as part of the takedown, but they have rot as well.

With a kick-ass slide, a stairway that goes up to Bernal Hill, and a place to sit, rest and hang, the MiniPark is a real gem in our neighborhood. It needs a serious upgrade, but the City hasn’t committed any funds or created any plans other than a piecemeal teardown. SF Public Works sent out a memo to the neighborhood saying:

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Without our pressure on the City to make the rebuild a priority, the plaza will slowly disappear or be fixed in a haphazard fashion.

Please send an email NOW, to Supervisor David Campos at David.Campos@sfgov.org telling him his office needs to look into funding the replacement of the deteriorated structures at the Winfield/Esmeralda MiniPark.

Look for future Bernalwood posts to let you know how to stay involved.

This is sad and bad.

As a historical reminder, this announcement from 1979 tells us much about the community origins of the Winfield Mini-Park, and how the City once paired with Bernal neighbors to help make the park so lovely. Let’s hope that can happen again:

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PHOTO: Neighbors Nancy and Joan

Wednesday: Show and Tell About the History of Cortland Avenue

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If you’ve already picked out the outfit you’re planning to wear for tomorrow’s Summer Stroll (PRO TIPS: boas, seersucker, vintage Mork & Mindy rainbow suspenders), then here’s a perfect way to get in the strolling spirit …

Tonight, June 17 at 7 pm in the Bernal Heights Library, your time-traveling neighbors from the Bernal Heights History Project are holding a special show-and-tell about the history of Cortland Avenue:

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This month’s Bernal History Project meeting is a joint presentation with the good folks at our Bernal branch library. It’s a special evening dedicated to sharing the history of Cortland Avenue. We’ll be showing a selection of photos, ads, and news articles about Bernal’s main shopping thoroughfare. (Sorry, Precita and North Bernal neighbors — we promise we’ll do a slideshow about you very soon!)

We invite you to attend and bring your own memories of shopping and living on Cortland. If you’d like to say a few words on the night, please drop us a line beforehand — maybe we can get a real live show-and-tell going. Audience participation is positively encouraged!We’ll have volunteers from SFPL on hand to record your Cortland-related stories and memories. If you’d like to bring photos and news clippings to share, we can get those scanned for our archives, too.

Oh, in case you’re having a hard time getting oriented to that photo up top, it’s a pitcture of Cortland avenue on October 11, 1909, looking east from Bocana. Here’s an annotated guide:

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And because it’s de rigeur, let’s zoom and enhance:

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PHOTO: Cortland Avenue, 1909. From the SFMTA Photo Archive

Remember When Bernal Hill Was Naked and Treeless?

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Recently, when Bernalwood mentioned a proposal to add streetscape trees to our southern stretch of Mission Street around College Hill, we mentioned in passing that it wasn’t all that long ago when most San Francisco streets and open spaces were barren and treeless.

Take a close look at the view from Bernal Hill 1969, for example, and you’ll notice that Folsom Street is missing the graceful, willowy trees that now do so much to define its character. Likewise, the photo shown above is a view of Bernal Hill taken at about the same time, and it allows us to visualize how awkward our hill looked before all the trees were planted around Sutrito Tower.

The scene in today’s photo is a special day in August, 1970 when Mission District neighbors were invited to take a sneak peek at the just-completed, but not-yet-open 24th Street BART station. The long lines reflect the intense curiosity that surrounded the opening of BART after many unpleasant years of cut-and-cover construction chaos and disruption along Mission Street.

But let’s zoom and enhance for a closer look at Bernal Hill:

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Ah-HA! Upon closer inspection, it looks as if the big trees that now pair so gracefully with Sutrito Tower were actually present at the time, though just-planted. So in this photo we see the genesis of today’s glamorous Bernal Hill beautification, at the very moment when the trees were just taking root. Hurrah!

We’re sure a few Bernalwood readers had a hand in that tree-planting, so hopefully they’ll tell us more about how that happened in the comments.

In the meantime — and far more strangely — this photo also reveals that there was a fad for footwear-inspired cuisine on Mission Street in the dawning years of the 1970s:

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The Shoe Cafeteria?? Shoes??? As food??? Presumably served in a wide range of styles, with various a-la-carte sauces? Ugh. Goddamn hipsters, ruining the Mission — even back then.

PHOTO: via Eric Fisher