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

Bernal Heights Needs a Flag, So How About This One?

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There’s been a lot of thinking about flag design lately: What are the elements of a good flag? What’s wrong with bad flags? How great a really great flag can be, and how sad and useless a bad flag is.

Much of the current thinking about flag design traces back to celebrity audio person and design aficionado  Roman Mars, who recently introduced us to the very geeky subculture of vexillology  (the study of the history, symbolism, and usage of flags) in a very geeky episode of his 99% Invisible podcast. You can check it out here.

The key lesson from Roman’s crash-course in Vexillology 101 is that good flag design follows five basic rules:

1. Keep it simple
2. Use meaningful symbolism
3. Use two to three basic colors
4. No lettering or seals of any kind
5. Be distinctive

That kicked off a national conversation about flag design; a conversation that grew even more urgent when Roman Mars was invited to give a TED Talk on the subject:

The crux of his TED Talk was that the flags of American cities are generally rather terrible, and San Francisco is a clear case in point. Very few people are familiar with San Francisco’s flag, because San Francisco’s flag is a hot steaming mess that breaks all the rules of vexillological good taste. It looks like this:

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In the spirit of civic improvement, Roman Mars has kicked off a new effort to redesign San Francisco’s flag. But in the meantime, that got your Bernalwood editor thinking: What about a flag for Bernal Heights? Don’t we deserve a flag too?

Of course we do.

So after internalizing the design rules recommended by vexillologists, I took the liberty of developing a flag for Bernal Heights. I hope you might entertain the idea of rallying around it. Fellow citizens, I propose that all Bernalese should live in peace under this banner, the (Proposed) Great Flag of the Dominion of Bernal Heights:

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Rather sporty, eh? Dynamic! Bold! Distinctive! Let’s walk through its symbolism:

  • The diagonal fields of green and yellow represent the two annual phases of Bernal Hill: green (winter wet) and golden yellow (summer dry).
  • The four sides of the red border represent the four roads that define the boundaries of our Bernal territory: I-280, San Jose Avenue, Cesar Chavez Boulevard, and US 101.
  • The star at the center is of course Bernal Hill, shown as a compass rose to represent the 360-degree views of San Francisco visible from the summit. The red color symbolizes both the beloved chert which stabilizes us, and the long tradition of social activism which is an important part of our neighborhood history.

That’s my proposal. I think it’s not too shabby, at least as a first stab at a flag for Bernal Heights. Plus, it would do the trick if you wanted to quietly represent Bernal in your workplace or favorite coffee shop:

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This design travels well too. No matter where you go, or whatever distant lands you conquer, you can take your Bernal Heights pride with you:

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That said, there are some other designs to consider. Bernalwood’s Cub Reporter rose to the challenge, beginning with some small-scale drawings (which are recommended as a starting place to simulate the view of a flag from a distance):

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Bernalwood’s Cub Reporter developed two designs. The first is a simplified view of Bernal Hill and Sutrito Tower, with tiny houses nestled along the slopes:

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Her second concept is more bold. It’s a colorful interpretation of a perspective she loves; the view looking toward the sunset as you stroll west along the north side of Bernal Heights Boulevard toward Folsom in the evening:

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Always game for a goofy graphic design problem, Burrito Justice, rebel spokesblogger for the La Lenguan separatists, also rallied to embrace the Bernal flag design challenge. Picking up on some of the themes in my design, he came up with a clever interactive concept:

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The symbolic logic? Burrito Justice explains:

Green hill, yellow hill, chert background… You turn the flag over depending on the season.

Nice! To bring some further innovation to the idea, Burrito Justice then proposed the world’s first animated GIF flag:

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Burrito Justice calls it “a flag for all seasons.”

Your Bernalwood editor called it “hard to sew.”

Burrito Justice explained, “Yeah but imagine the sales, people would need a new one every two weeks!” (Which is actually rather diabolical and brilliant.)

But of course, he couldn’t stop there. Next, Burrito Justice created a few more versions of his flag to celebrate Bernal’s most iconic residents:

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Sigh.

Bet hey, maybe you have a better idea for a Bernal flag?

If so, send it to us here at the Bernalwood Office of Vexillological Research or drop it in the comments, and we’ll share any additional ideas for Bernal Heights flags with the Citizens of Bernalwood soon.
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IMAGES: Bernalwood Office of Vexillological Research

Neighbor Finds Vintage Valentine in Bernal Heights Home

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Neighbor Tom found something mysterious and wonderful hidden in the rafters of his Bernal Heights:

Look what I found while renovating my house!

It’s an olde-stylee valentine card. From some brief googling, I think it is:

  • Circa 1920s, maybe 1930s
  • From a woman with a German name (Jizella)
  • To a man with a German name (Helme ?)
  • Made in America

I found it in the ‘side attic’ in our 1907 house on Mullen Ave, under some insulation.

The question is, was it lost there? Or squirreled away for safe keeping? Or left for future generations to find?