Then and Now: Remembering Wild Days at the Motorcycle House on Moultrie


The Big Old Goofy World blog recently shared some vivid memories about the residents who used to live in this storied house on Moultrie, south of Cortland:

What a difference two or three decades makes. We called this “the Hell’s Angels house” or “the Cheech and Chong house.” On the top we see it c. 1980s, and on the bottom today.

This house had so much drama that my brother and I, who didn’t have a TV, would often turn out the lights in our living room and watch the fighting and drunkenness. Guns, knives, family disputes, and high speed chases ended up here. These guys were straight from the cast of Sons of Anarchy. But they were also good neighbors, when they were sober. Dave, the main occupant in the 80s, was handy with motors and installed our garage door, still in use today. And we were told to knock on his door if we were in trouble. After the 89 quake, when portions of the city were burning, he rustled up a flat bed truck, big TV, and generator, and the whole block watched the news there on Moultrie Street.

Sadly, Dave was murdered in a drug deal a few blocks away in the early 90s. The house remained a haunt of motorcycle enthusiasts until the early 2000s, I think. It then went through a series of improvements that gradually made it look a lot more respectable (such as removing that big chained dog visible in the lower left of the top photo).

Hat tip: MissionMission

PHOTO: Big Old Goofy World

Vicky Walker Stars in New Podcast About Bernal Heights History


The fabulous Vicky Walker is no stranger to Bernalwood readers; she’s a co-founder of the Bernal Heights History Project and an intrepid seeker of artifacts about the people and places that made our neighborhood what it is today.

As befits her status as Bernal’s Minister of History, Neighbor Vicky was recently invited to be a celebrity guest on the Outside Lands Podcast, an audio show created by Woody LaBounty and (former Bernal neighbor) David Gallagher of the Western Neighborhoods Project, to talk about the history of Bernal Heights.

Listen and learn, right here!

PHOTO: Bernal Hill, circa 1925

Bernal Writer Ponders the Fate of the California Dream


In case you missed it over the weekend, Bernal neighbor Dan Duane had a very prominent, very thoughtful piece about the fate of the California Dream on the front page of the Sunday Review section in Sunday’s New York Times.

Neigbor Dan writes:

All over Northern California, there is a profound mood of loss: Oakland, long a bastion of African-American cultural life, has seen housing rental rates jump 20 percent this past year; San Francisco’s lesbian bars are closing, and the Castro gets less gay by the year.

Then there’s the shock of raising kids with public schools ranked among the worst in the nation, and public universities that have more than doubled in cost since 2007. Most of my outdoor pleasures are still available, but it’s getting scary with the desertification of subalpine ecosystems, Sierra snowpack at a historic low, as much as 20 percent of California’s once-majestic forests at risk of dying, and freeway traffic so ubiquitous that it can be soul-destroying just getting out of town to see all this stuff.

The real estate market, in the meantime, has become so bizarre that my funky little neighborhood is already beyond the reach of young doctors and lawyers — techies only need apply.

This may sound like the stuff of yet another nostalgic lament about the unsettling pace of change in California, but Neighbor Dan is too self-aware to fall into that dead-end trap; He knows people have been writing “California is over” essays for as long as there’s been a California.

Instead, he comes to a more nuanced realization: that the same dyanamism that makes California so unique is also what makes it so heartbreaking. As Dan puts it, “California has been changing so fast for so long that every new generation gets to experience both a fresh version of the California dream and, typically by late middle-age, its painful death.”

Whoa. Here’s Neighbor Dan’s essay. Don’t miss it.

Oh, also, Star Sighting!!! As destiny would have it, Bernalwood ran into Neighbor Dan on Sunday afternoon on the other side of town. We’d read his essay in the morning, so it was a locavore privilege to be able give him a big Bernal high five-later that same day:


If you see Neighbor Dan out and about, we encourage you do the same.

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

Saturday: Celebrate at the Bernal Heights Library’s Gala 75th Anniversary Party


Bernal Heights Library Dedication, October 20, 1940

Bernal Heights Library Dedication, October 20, 1940

Its not hyperbole to say that the Bernal Heights Branch Library is a pillar of our community, and we are incredibly lucky to have it. The building is lovely, the role it plays is invaluable, and the library staff work hard to make it all happen.

Our library turns 75 this weekend, and Bernal branch manager Valerie Reichert wants you to come to the birthday party:

We are having our 75th Anniversary on Saturday!

Celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Bernal Heights Branch!
Saturday, October 10th 1:30- 4:00 pm

The Bernal Heights Branch is 75 years old. Come share stories and help celebrate our beautiful WPA branch built in 1940. Activities include : San Francisco Mandolin Orchestra, crafts making in the Children’s Room, refreshments and history slide shows. Volunteers and staff will invite you to record your “Hot Bernal Minute” which will be captured on iPads.

Fun! But let’s back up. Where did our glamorous library come from?

Here’s the basic history:

The Bernal Branch as a “library deposit station” was established in 1920 at 303 Cortland Avenue. As the neighborhood and library grew, it was moved, in 1936, to 324 Cortland. When that proved inadequate the neighbors lobbied for a new building.

The one floor branch library at 500 Cortland, was the 21st in the system and built on the site of the original Bernal School at a cost of $94,600. It was designed by Frederick H. Meyer, one of the most prolific and versatile architects in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century, funded by the Work Projects Administration and dedicated on October 21, 1940.

After 68 years of use, the branch closed for renovation, as part of the Branch Library Improvement Project, in February 2008. The renovation, with a budget of $5.7 million, was designed by staff of the City’s Bureau of Architecture under the supervision of Andrew Maloney. His design is an intelligent and elegant response to Meyer’s building which originally devoted only the upper level to library purposes, and incorporates such modernizations as ADA accessibility, and seismic and technological upgrades.

Thank you, FDR! See you on Saturday.

PHOTOS: Top, Bernal library, circa 1940, via SFPL Online Historical Photo Archive. Below, parade on Cortland for the Bernal Heights Library, October 20, 1940. Via Living New Deal

Meet the Community from the Mosque and Islamic Center on Crescent



The Mosque and Islamic Center of San Francisco Waqf on Crescent and Andover has long been a fixture in South Bernal, but we seldom hear much about it.  In fact, it’s the oldest mosque in the Bay Area, as well as the second-oldest mosque in all of Northern California. Plus, four stars on Yelp! Who knew?

David Young, Bernalwood’s newest correspondent, recently reached out to Zishan Safdar, a Bernal native and lifelong attendee of the mosque, to learn more about this unassuming neighborhood institution:

Bernalwood: How long the mosque has been around?

Zishan: The Islamic Center of San Francisco (ICSF) was founded in 1959. It was founded when many brothers of the community decided that they, as Muslims, needed a place to pray and establish a foundation for the future generations. It’s the first mosque in the City of San Francisco, the first mosque in the Bay Area, and the second mosque in the entire Northern California. (The first is in Sacramento.)

The Islamic Center is a waqf. What does that mean?

Taken from Google, Waqf is defined as, “an endowment made by a Muslim to a religious, educational, or charitable cause.” Waqf in the Arabic language means to stop, contain, or preserve. So when this word is attached to the mosque or any religious institution, it also means that specific building can never be donated as a gift, inherited, or sold.

What about the community of Muslims who make up the mosque? Where are they from?

The community members who attend the mosque are from various backgrounds — including myself. I was born and raised in Bernal Heights on Cortland and Nebraska!

We have other members from India, Pakistan, Palestine, Yemen, and even Saudi Arabia. A majority of the members are San Francisco residents, including a good handful from Bernal Heights; a lot of commuters also drop by throughout the day to offer their prayers. There are a lot of converts who attend the mosque as well, including a few African-American converts and a Latino convert.

Besides daily prayers, what sort of events are held at the mosque?

Other than daily prayers, the mosque also hosts weddings, classes for both adults and children, Taraweeh prayers (prayers offered only during the month of Ramadan, the month Muslims fast in), the two Eid prayers, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, and also funeral services.

The mosque is also a hangout spot, especially for commuters who choose to come in and relax while waiting for the traffic to die-down, or who simply want to hang out between the prayers to enjoy some tea. There are also many youth programs, including monthly trips, dinners, and sporting events.

How would you describe the mosque’s place in the local Islamic community?

ICSF plays a major role in the Muslim community. Not only is it a place of worship, it’s also a community center for its attendees. Along with religious classes, which are offered to adults and children, we also have people from different professions who act as guidance counselors for anyone seeking advice. The mosque is a means for people to stay in touch as well; knowing you’ll have a shoulder to lean on when you’re in need is one of the most beautiful things we have to offer.

We focus a lot on the youth, too, and do our best to guide them to get the best of educations, be the best person they can be, and help them out if they’re facing any problems, whether it be family trouble, drugs, etc. We recently added a basketball court in the back of the mosque, too. There have also been tutoring sessions for students who need help with homework and we, as the elders in the community, try our best to guide the upcoming generation, both in terms of secular studies and religious studies.

What about the mosque’s role in Bernal?

The mosque plays a major role in the Bernal community as well. One of things I love most about San Francisco is how diverse it is, and, aside from all the awesome cultural food you’ll find in the city, you have people from many religious backgrounds here.

There are many churches in the Bernal Heights community and, as part of cultural diversification, it’s crucial to have a mosque to show the rest of the world how welcoming we are, regardless of one’s background.

ICSF  —or any mosque for that matter — isn’t only limited to the people who follow the Islamic faith. Mosques are open to everyone, regardless of their background or religion, and at ICSF we always welcome everyone with open hearts.

I’d like to stress: We’d love to have more people from the Bernal community drop by the mosque to learn more; we’re always open to visitors! We’d love to have a “community night” at ICSF if the Bernal Height community is interested. I think it would be an amazing event where everyone could get to know each other and just have a good time.

PHOTOS: Top, Zishan Safdar. All photos by David Young for Bernalwood

High Bridge Arms in Bernal Heights, San Francisco’s Last Gun Shop, Set to Close


This story has been generating lots of buzz around town and on conservative media organs across the nation: High Bridge Arms at 3185 Mission Street in Bernal Heights, San Francisco’s last remaining gun shop, plans to close by the end of October.

High Bridge has been a fixture in Bernal since the 1950s, when it was opened by Bob Chow, a Chinese-American who had represented the US shooting team in the 1948  London Olympics. Chow died in 2003, but the store carried on under owner Andy Takahashi and manager Steven Alcairo until a Sept. 11 Facebook post announced that closure was imminent:

Dear friends and family, it’s with tremendous sadness and regret that I have to announce we are closing our shop. For many reasons I cannot get into at this moment, it appears our final days will be through to the end of October of 2015. We will clearance out what ever inventory we have in the shop and offer sale prices for anything you would like us to order. This is not a joke. For any of you Vultures, (you know who you are) please don’t bother us. For if you do, I give you my solemn promise that we will make it a very unpleasant experience for you. For all our true friends and followers, I would like to sincerely thank you for all your support, likes, positive feedback and best of all, your friendship. Hopefully, we’ll see you soon. It has been a long and difficult ride, but a great pleasure to be you’re last San Francisco Gun shop. Our warm regards, High Bridge Arms.

If this sounds like ripe fodder for Fox News, well, rest assured, they’re on it.

Ever since it was opened in the 1950s by a celebrated Olympic shooter, High Bridge Arms has been a defiant fixture in San Francisco’s Mission District, (sic) but a coming wave of new firearms restrictions has prompted the last gun shop in the liberal City by the Bay to pack it in.

The proposed new city regulations, which could only be aimed at High Bridge Arms, would have required the shop to take and preserve video of all transactions and turn customers’ personal data over to police on a weekly basis. General Manager Steven Alcairo said the shop’s owners finally threw in the towel after years of what they consider being unfairly targeted with burdensome rules and regulations. Past regulations have required the shop to bar ads and displays from its windows and install cameras and barriers around its exterior. The shop has 17 cameras as it is, and turns video over to police on request, he said.

“This time, it’s the idea of filming our customers taking delivery of items after they already completed waiting periods,” Alcairo said. “We feel this is a tactic designed to discourage customers from coming to us.

To be sure, a great many Bernalese will be glad to hear High Bridge Arms is closing. That’s understandable; the gun shop has long been an incongruous part of our local landscape, and gun violence is a disease that plagues our city and our nation.

That said, the store was popular among law enforcement officers, and I don’t recall hearing any stories that involved bad guys using guns that came from High Bridge. Awkward though it was, that incredible, faded GUNS sign out front provided a link to a lost time in San Francisco, and here in Bernal Heights. Here’s Bob Chow’s biography from the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California:

Bob Chow […] was born in 1911, in the U.S. to Chinese immigrant parents and passed away in 2003. He was a pioneer ham radio operator in his youth. He joined the Navy Reserve in the early 1930s. He became a noncommissioned officer, a rarity then for an Asian American.

Bob established 37 world pistol records, and in 1948 qualified for a place on the U.S. Olympic Team and competed in London. He was the first Chinese American to compete in pistol shooting in an Olympic game. Bob was the only U.S. rapid-fire shooter to score 60 hits in the match and placed 13th overall. After returning from the Olympics Bob coached young American shooters and raised the standard of American gunnery to competitive internationally.

bobchowaccuracyDuring his stint as a movie extra he taught John Wayne, Roy Rogers and others how to increase their accuracy in pistol firing. Bob was an all around sportsman and loved motorcycles. Bob played saxophone and banjo with American jazz groups during the Prohibition days following World War II. Eventually he and his wife Bobbie settled in San Francisco where he owned and operated a gun shop.

High Bridge was a juxtaposed holdover from the midcentury, working-class Bernal Heights that was here before almost all of us — before the Summer of Love, before Santana in the park, before the SLA, the Esmeralda Slides, BHNC, the Good Life, the coffee shops, the Subarus, the Priuses, and plenty of other events and symbols that reflect the sensibility Bernal Heights is known for today. High Bridge was an icon of diversity of a different sort, and even if you never liked it, or only barely tolerated it, it always provided a tangible reminder of different ways of looking at the world, and our own neighborhood.

PHOTO: High Bridge Arms sign, by Telstar Logistics

Greatest Hits from (Neighbor) Max Kirkeberg’s Historical Photo Collection


View from Holly Park, 1973

A few weeks ago, Neighbor Vicky Walker from the Bernal Heights History Project shared a URL with your Bernalwood editor, pointing me toward a wonderful collection of historical photos of Bernal Heights, mostly from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Several hours of blissful photo-procrastination and time travel ensued, after which I persuaded Neighbor Vicky to tell us more about the collection and its creator. So here is Neighbor Vicky Walker’s guided tour of the fabulous Max Kirkeberg Historical Photograph Collection:

Geography Professor Emeritus Max Kirkeberg of SFSU should also be known as Neighbor Professor Max, because he has lived on Peralta for decades. He’s now officially retired, but he taught urban geography and led countless field trips and walking tours around San Francisco for SFSU and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, taking what he estimates as 60,000 photographs of various city neighborhoods since the early 1970s.

The Bernal History Project knew about Max because he shared many of his photographs with us over the years.  But our more recent discovery that thousands of his pictures are available online for free was magical. So far, 2,770 of Max’s photos are available in the Max Kirkeberg collections as part of the DIVA archives at SFSU. There’s a whole section devoted to Bernal Heights South — and lots of the photos are in color, including a batch of earthquake cottages.

I called up Max to find out what other treasures he has. He says the online project began 9 years ago. He has 75 boxes of slides — around 60,000 photographs, he estimates — and SFSU wanted to use his pictures for DIVA, a pilot online archive project for other professors who might want to digitize their research collections.

Erin Olson of the DIVA digitization team says the project’s goal is to digitize analog collections like Max’s slides and, if necessary, help organize and catalog them, and make them available for the public to see. “Ultimately, with Max’s information, we hope that a full digitization of his collection will serve as a unique and important documentation of San Francisco’s vast geographical, architectural, and cultural history, as well as its development and progress,” she says.

Max has gone through 9 or 10 boxes so far and says he is finding photos he hasn’t seen in 20 years. He estimates that the 503 photos that are logged under South Bernal are maybe a quarter or a third of the Bernal Heights slides, which is one of his largest collections.

Other neighborhoods include the Castro and Ashbury Heights, with more to follow as the project progresses. The DIVA team are currently working on Eureka Valley, the Inner Mission, and the remainder of Bernal Heights, and will follow with other Mission-based sub-collections

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. “Lakas Sambayanan” (“People Power”), 1987


This was an anti-Ferdinand Marcos mural on the former Sun Valley Dairy building at 300 Alemany (at Crescent). Painted by Johanna Poethig (who recently did the “Story Cloud” mural on the back of the Bernal library), Vic Clemente, and Presco Tabios. Commissioned by the San Francisco Mural Resource Center, it commemorates the 1986 revolution in the Philippines. Facing south, it was allowed to fade before being painted over in 2006.

Close-up detail. Notice all of Imelda Marcos’s shoes at bottom center:


2. Iglesia Cristiana Mahanaim storefront Spanish-language church at 451 Cortland, 1973


The church was sandwiched between Arrow Pharmacy and the Cherokee (today’s Lucky Horseshoe). Before the church moved in, the building’s history included a grocery store, a five-and-dime, and, briefly, artists from the National Center for Experiments in Television. Bald Eagle Sporting Goods replaced the church in 1977.

3. Goat Hill Printing, 400 Cortland, in 1973


This building was a hardware store for years, run by the McCoys and then the Thorsens. After the printers closed, it was a clay art workshop. Progressive Grounds has been here since 1996.

4. 424 Cortland in 1973


Before the Wild Side West moved here from its Broadway location in 1976, the building was used as an office by architect Stephen Roake. The building was constructed around 1900, and housed a bakery run by the Gennheimers, the Hagemanns, and then the Perottos for its first thirty years.

5. Bank of America in 1973


Northwest corner of Cortland Avenue and Wool Street. The Bank of America branch opened here in 1927 as the Bank of Italy; it has historically been the only bank on the street.

6. Aerial view of Cortland etc. 1975


You get a good idea of the topography of Bernal in this one, as well as the development on the south side. Cortland Avenue runs down the middle of the photograph; the large buildings visible are Paul Revere School, the Bernal Library, and St. Kevin’s Church. Holly Park is in the lower right corner. Just visible beyond St. Kevin’s is the Emmanuel Lutheran Swedish Church building at Cortland and Folsom, which was then the Community Church Assembly of God.

7. 800 block of Cortland/Ellsworth, 1973


There’s been a lot of change on this stretch of Cortland. Frank Favaloro ran a fish market and bait shop at 801 Cortland from the mid-1950s until his death in 1961, after which Woodrow and Winifred Gaumond ran the store as Hilltop Fish Market. City records say 801 Cortland was vacant from 1967 to 1977 (but we would love to hear otherwise). Deese’s Records at 803 Cortland, run by Maude Deese, was only open for about a year.

You can see the white steeple of the Assembly of God church at Folsom and Cortland, while the second building on the right is the former Capri Theatre, which closed in 1969. Behind the church in the brown building is Apex Cleaners and Dyers at 1000 Cortland, which opened in the early 1950s. Cutting Edge Salon has been in this spot since 1999.

8. 800 block of Cortland at Ellsworth in 1995


Sometime in the 1970s, the Capri Theatre building became the Victory Fellowship Bilingual Foursquare Church. The Assembly Church of God at Folsom and Cortland had a major fire in 1979 and is now gone. On the left side, Hilltop Sea Food has been replaced by Pay Little Market, which is still there today.

9. Cortland at Wool, 1973


On the left, Arrow Pharmacy and the Cherokee (now Discount Club Liquors and the Lucky Horseshoe, respectively).

10. West on Cortland at Ellsworth, 1973


Notable for being one of the few photos of Cortland Avenue’s gas station, which was replaced with lawyers’ offices in the early 1980s. On the corner of Ellsworth and Cortland is a self-service laundromat that will be replaced by Martha and Brothers in 1999. The Shoe Clinic next door is now part of Tacos Los Altos.

11. Cortland and Ellsworth 1995

barkingbassetAfter Deese’s Records closed in 1973, 803 Cortland saw a lot of activity, including a thrift store run by Larry Banks; Apex Realty; and the King Tut restaurant and deli. The Barking Basset restaurant lasted from 1993 to 2000. Today it is Red Hill Station. 

Not Cortland but still interesting:

1. Newman at Holly Park 1973:


2. Alemany public housing 1973


3. Alemany public housing, looking a bit more bleak: 


4. Banks and Tompkins 1973: Tree of Life Baptist Church:


Whew. Amazing. Thank you Neighbor Vicky, and super-thank you Neighbor Max!

And for the rest of us… good luck getting any work done for the rest of the day.

ALL PHOTOS: Max Kirkeberg Historical Photograph Collection. At top, view of Bernal Hill from Holly Park, 1973