Then and Now: 111 Years of History on Virginia at Mission


If you’re planning to attend the fashionable Bernal Heights history show-and-tell tonight, you’ll likely hear mention of the SFMTA Photography Department & Archive. That’s the wonderful, searchable online photography collection that documents various infrastructure and public works projects in San Francisco dating back to the earliest years of the 20th century. It’s a gold mine.

The photo above is a sample from the SFMTA archive, and it’s a gem. It’s a view of Virginia Avenue at Mission, looking west, as it looked on June 8, 1904. To help you get oriented, today, this is the view looking toward the Bernal Safeway. The old Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack would be on the left, and the Pizza Hut-that-shall-not-be-spoken-of is on the right.

But in this photo, all that was still a century away. In this photo, we can clearly see the spires of St. Paul’s church off in the background, along with the pre-Sutro Tower nakedness of Twin Peaks:


Let’s take a closer look at those fantastic advertising billboards on the fence:


Zoom and enhance:

1904billboards copy

J. Noonan Furniture! Overalls! Amazing!

And check out the kid laborer working at the corner of the building on a left! And his ladyfriend admirer:

mission.Virginia.1904 copy

Just three years after the SFMTA’s 1904 photo was taken, development came to the parcel behind the billboard fence… in the form of the Lyceum Theater:


Bernalwood wrote about the Lyceum in 2013:

The photo above was taken in the 1920s, and a brief history of the 1400-seat Lyceum lives on at the Cinema Treasures website:

The Lyceum Theatre opened in mid-1907, with vaudeville and motion pictures. By the late-1920’s it was featuring Vitaphone Talking Pictures, and remained a popular low priced, late run house for patrons of the outer Mission district for the next twenty-five years.

Like so many other secondary houses, it was one of the first to feel the impact of television in the early-1950’s, and, after several closings and re-openings, became the temporary home of the San Francisco Revival Center [church], before they moved to the former State/Del Mar (q.v.) which they then made their permanent home.

The Lyceum was torn down and replaced by our Taoist Safeway in the 1960s(?). And ever since, Bernal residents have been waiting on long, long checkout lines there. Here’s the view from the very same spot today:


Notice how much parallelism there is between then and now. We can still see the spires of St. Paul’s church. Twin Peaks are still there, of course, having now sprouted a Sutro Tower. Fortuitously, they were even doing some work on the street last weekend — although that laborer kid has now been replaced by a tracked mini-excavator. After 111 years, this is what progress looks like.

PHOTOS: Top, Virginia at Mission, June 1904 via SFMTA Photography Archive. 2015 photo by Telstar Logistics

Wednesday: Bernal Heights History Show and Tell


Your time-sleuthing neighbors from the Bernal Heights History Project are having an open-mic night for history geeks at the Bernal library tomorrow night, and you should geek-out with them:

Our regular monthly show-and-tell meeting is on Wednesday, April 15, at 7 p.m., downstairs in the Bernal library meeting room. Bring your photos and stories to share.

We’re hoping to have a mini-slideshow of our latest finds, including details on the artist who painted the mural at the Cherokee bar (now The Lucky Horseshoe) and some more Bernal Mystery Project pictures via the SFMTA Photography Department and Archive. If you have pics you’d like us to include and talk about, email them to us at

PHOTO: Folsom at Precita, 1943, via SFMTA

Flashback: Easter in Holly Park, 1959


Just in time for this Sunday’s Rogue Easter Egg Hunt in Holly Park, Neighbor Allison shares a lovely slice of family history that took place in the very same spot:

My husband and I just recently bought a home in Bernal (Elsie St.) after living 11 years in the Haight. We absolutely love it here… the people, the sense of community, the weather, and the great restaurants are just some of the things that make us happy to now call Bernal Heights our home.

While my husband and I are new to the hood, the hood isn’t new to me. In fact, some of my life’s happiest memories were made right here in Bernal. My grandparents owned their home on Holly Park Circle for nearly 60 years. My grandmother (Mercedes) was from El Salvador and my grandfather (Donald) was a San Francisco native who served in the Navy and worked as a house painter, a taxi driver and finally a longshoreman. My great aunt (Rosita), also from El Salvador, lived on Coleridge for nearly as many years.

My mom (Sylvia) and her siblings grew up here, and in many respects so did I, along with my brothers and cousins. Grandma’s house was where we made our Christmas tamales. It was where we spent our summer, winter and Easter breaks… where we celebrated holidays, birthdays, and other important milestones. It was where we all came to truly understand the importance of family. When we sold my grandparents’ house in 2009, I never imagined that I would ever be back in the neighborhood that meant so much to me.

With Easter coming up, I thought I would share a photo of my mom (center) and her siblings on Easter Sunday 1959. The photo was taken on the steps of Holly Park at Highland across the street from their house. Another Easter friendly fact: Each of these smiley-faced kids received their first holy communion at St. Kevin’s on Cortland.


Tonight: Grand Opening for Bernal Historical Photo Show at Pinhole Coffee


Neighbor Michael Nolan, team captain of the Elsie Street Glee Club, brings some cool news about a new photo exhibit opening this evening at the fabulous Pinhole Coffee on Cortland:

Why Worry About the Future When You Can Wallow in the Past is my mantra for March.

Please join me for the Grand Opening of “Through a Cortland Avenue Looking Glass (1898-1941)” photo exhibit this Friday, March 20 from 5:30pm to 8pm at Pinhole Coffee, 231 Cortland Avenue, corner of Bonview (nee Buena Vista). It’s been a delight to work with the Bernal Heights History Project in selecting the historic photos, and with Mullen Brothers Imaging who donated their printing, mounting and installation services.

Just Added!: The World Premiere of “What Ruthie Hoarded” a 2005 video portrait of the interior of 231 Cortland made by neighbors Edward & Amy Huson that shows the former owner’s amazing collection of junk.

Editor’s Note: I’ve seen that What Ruthie Hoarded video, and it is truly jaw-dropping. Don’t miss it.

PHOTO: By neighbor Jack Pitts. From left: Tim Mullen with son Marnix, JoEllen Depakakibo, Pinhole owner, Vicky Walker of the Bernal History Project, and Mike Mullen.

KQED: Lama Family Feud Lies at Heart of Big Bocana Rent Increase


Veteran reporter Dan Brekke knows how to do the legwork required to crack a story open. These days he works for KQED, where he just published a remarkably detailed report on the Lama family dispute that lies at the heart of the now-infamous 355 Bocana rent-increase controversy.

Brekke’s reporting largely confirms rumors that have been rippling through Bernal Heights for the last few days, to the effect that as a result of the family feud, Bernal neighbor and 355 Bocana property owner Nadia Lama hoped to evict Neigbor Deb Follingstad, because Neighbor Nadia herself needs a place to live.

Brekke reports:

Superior Court filings show that Nina Gelfant and Gayle Worrell alleged they were forced from their one-bedroom, one-bathroom, 720-square-foot Cortland Avenue apartment [in 2013] after the Lamas raised the rent from $1,650 to $4,250 — 157 percent.

The suit argued that the rent increase was far above market rate and designed to get Gelfant and Worrell to leave so that Lamas could sell the property.

That sale, [tenant-rights lawyer Joe] Tobener suggested in a trial brief that outlined more than $1 million in potential damages, was triggered by a battle among Shukry Lama’s heirs over the property he’d left behind when he died in 2012.

“Chuck Lama’s heirs were fighting over their share of the inheritance which demanded selling properties or having the heirs occupy them as residences,” Tobener’s brief says.

That alleged squabble also appears to have played a role in Nadia Lama’s dramatic increase of Deb Follingstad’s rent.

In September 2013, she filed a probate petition in Superior Court seeking to compel her sister Claudia, the overseer of several family trusts set up by [deceased family patriarch] Chuck Lama, to account for the family’s assets. Assets named in the petition and exhibits include a small Cortland Avenue market, Chuck’s Store, the store’s liquor license, eight residential properties in San Francisco, one in Burlingame, and unspecified real estate in Chile.

The court proceeding resulted in an agreement last Dec. 31 in which the three Lama sisters and their three brothers, along with some of their children, agreed to close the family trusts and distribute their assets.

The property Nadia Lama was to receive includes a 2006 Toyota Avalon; $25,000 to pay the legal bills she’d incurred; a little more than $750,000 in cash due upon the sale of two of the family’s properties; and finally, the Bocana Street residence occupied by Deb Follingstad and the $7,500 to hire a lawyer to evict her.

The agreement also requires Nadia Lama to vacate her current home, a couple of doors up from Follingstad and still owned by her siblings, by the end of April. If she doesn’t, the document says, she’ll have to pay $4,000 a month rent to four of her siblings who will continue as owners; and if she does anything to interfere with their renting out the home she’s supposed to vacate, she’ll owe her siblings $10,000 in damages.

Kudos to Dan Brekke and KQED for the excellent work following the paper trail. Read Brekke’s full report on the KQED website, right here.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

This Coso Cowboy Was the Most Badass Buckaroo in Bernal Heights


We don’t know much about him — his tale has been lost in the foggy mists of Bernal Heights lore.

But while doing some archival research at the San Francisco Public Library, celebrity artist and Bernal native Amos Goldbaum recently uncovered this insanely adorable photo of a proud cowboy riding the range at the foot of the Coso Triangle in Precitaville.

We’ll call him the Coso Kid, and we’re confident his frontier spirit inhabits the mini-park there to this very day.


Bernal Neighbor Remembers Boyhood Sundays with Carlos Santana in Precita Park


Carlos Santana says Precita Park in Bernal Heights is “where it all started.”

Santana hailed from northeast Bernal Heights, and he launched his musical career during freewheeling weekend jam sessions that transformed Precita Park into an urban amphiteater.

Precita Park was where it all started for Bernal neighbor Orlando Galvez as well. Orlando was a young kid at the time, but he lived on Folsom, just up the street from Precita Park, and the scene that sprang up around Santana during those musical weekends left a lasting impression.

These are Neighbor Orlando’s memories:

I remember when I was a six year-old boy, watching Carlos Santana play his guitar. I thought he was the coolest kid in the Precita Park. When Santana was playing, I would even drift away from my beloved satellite spinner to get a better view.

Precita Park was a weekend mecca where hippies, Black Panthers, Symbianese Liberation Army radicals, and neighborhood Chicanos with their spectacular, sparkling lowriders would all gather around the playground right near where the satellite spinner still spins today.

“Oye Como Va” always got the party started.

The whole park smelled like cannabis and fried chicken. It didn’t matter where you stood or what spot you claimed for your picnic; there was no escaping the foggy clouds going Up In Smoke. I remember it looking sort of like a gigantic outdoor steam room. Bongs traveled around the park as all the different tribes shared the “weefer” (that’s what they used to call it) from their pipes. In-between were dozens of Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets, half emptied of deep-fried original recipe wings, drumsticks, and buttered sourdough rolls. Along the street, dozens of customized lowriders parked bumper to bumper, stealthily showing off their power by competing for the highest hop near the mound in Precita Park where Carlos liked to play his guitar.


That’s how I remember Precita Park in the late sixties and very early seventies. I feel fortunate to have been a part of that era. This was before America declared war on the poor through Reagan’s “war on drugs.” It was also way, way before LAPD chief Daryl Gates began using gangster tactics to antagonize non-white, non-affluent neighborhoods. It was before the Black Panther raids, and before Gates-inspired SWAT teams were given the “go ahead” to begin terrorizing citizens.

In hindsight though, I realize I’m also fortunate to have had the unique opportunity to grow up in Bernal Heights, one of San Francisco’s most unique and profound neighborhoods, at a time when it was so rich in culture, politics, art, and (most of all) controversy. Where else on this planet could a six year-old boy hear Santana’s electric guitar on any given Sunday, free of charge, in seventy-ish degree weather, before an evening mist of Pacific fog rolled in?

A six year old boy pays attention to the adults around him, because those adults seem like godly giants. As I write of these remembered moments, I feel incredible gratitude for all the care and love I received from everyone who was in the park in those days. Listening to Santana in Precita Park had a big influence on me, but only now do I realize how much it shaped me into the person I have become.

Such awesomeness. Have a Bernal memory to share? Email your story to us:  bernalwood at gmail dotcom.

PHOTOS: Top, “Inspire To Aspire,” a Carlos Santana tribute mural (now effaced) painted in 1987 by Michael Rios at South Van Ness at 22nd Street. Below, Precita Park in 1973. Santana played on the mound in the foreground, and on a patch of concrete just to the left. Orlando called this play structure The Octopus., “That thing was so hard to climb,” he says. “The pegs were too short, and they were made of iron, so they were super slippery.” Photo by Max Kirkeberg via the Bernal Heights History Project.