RIP Bernice Van Eckhardt, 99, Elsie Neighbor and Expert Practitioner of the San Francisco High Life



Neighbor Bernice Van Eckhardt lived on Cortland at Elsie for 40+ years. She died on January 11, just a few months short of her 100th birthday.

Neighbor Bernice moved to Bernal in 1972, when she was in her 60s. By the time she settled down in a former farmhouse here, she had already spent the previous 40 years living the high-life in San Francisco, most notably in the secret penthouse apartment hidden atop the fabulous Phelan Building on Market Street at O’Farrell downtown. (More on that in a moment.)

Because Neighbor Bernice lived on the corner of Elsie, and because the close-knit residents of Elsie near Cortland take great pride in calling themselves the “Best Block in Bernal,” Elsie-ians naturally embraced Neighbor Bernise as a neighborhood institution. The photo all the way up top above shows Neighbor Bernice at center stage during the fabulous Elsie Street Block Party last September.

Elsie Neighbor Michael Nolan wrote this wonderful bio and obituary for her:

Bernice Margaret Menasco Van Eckhardt
Born June 21, 1915
Died January 11, 2015

She was born in 1915 in Oregon in a town called Wendling, outside of Eugene. She died at her home in San Francisco in 2015, about five months short of her 100th birthday.

Her maiden name was Menasco. Her parents were Henry Clay and Mattie Menasco from Texas and Oklahoma respectively. In the 1920 Census when they lived in Portland, Henry was a street car conductor. On Jan. 15, 1920 when the census was taken of their family, Henry was 38, Mattie was 36, Lois was 15 and Bernice was 4 1/2.

Bernice came to San Francisco at age 22, about 1937. She lived on or near Stanyan Street and then Danvers Street. Her first marriage ended after 4 1/2 years. Then she met Frank Van Eckhardt, 20 years her senior, at a wedding. He was an advertising photographer for The Emporium. They
moved into her apartment at that time at Clement & 5th. They were married at the Presbyterian Church on Van Ness. Bernice worked as a hat check girl at the Palace Hotel.

About 1955, they moved into the Phelan Building Penthouse and lived there for 25 years. Various articles were written about their lovely abode, its outdoor garden and great views of the City. The Penthouse was built by Senator Phelan as a place where he could entertain visiting dignataries. It may have been the Fire Department that finally made the Van Eckhardts move because there was no fire escape.

Frank was born in Holland and came from a prominent family. One of his uncles was the Governor of Borneo when that nation was a Dutch possession.

Bernice bought her home on Cortland, at the corner of Elsie, in Bernal Heights in 1972.

Here’s a photo of Neighbor Bernice and her husband Frank Van Eckhardt enjoying the view from their bungalow penthouse atop the Phelan Building during the 1950s:


Here’s a shot of the Van Eckhardts living large inside the small penthouse, which they shared with four cats, a Collie, five parakeets, two goldfish, and a large turtle:


In 1963, The San Francisco Examiner did a glamorous article and photo spread (PDF) about the couple’s schwanky pad. The article notes that closet and kitchen space was extremely limited, but the couple enjoyed a 1200 square-foot outdoor garden on the deck that Bernice maintained. That’s Bernice, in the photo on the left side:


The Examimer’s style critics were impressed with Neighbor Bernice’s proto-Ikea interior design acumen:


In 2010,  a few decades after Neighbor Bernice settled into her Bernal Heights low-rise, Neighbor Michael Nolan took her to visit the Phelan Building penthouse for the first time since the 1970s:


Neighbor Bernice was clearly an expert at the fine art of living, and her decision to settle down in a Bernal Heights farm house was just the final chapter in a lifetime spent living well.

Her awesome neighbors on Elsie already miss her…

PHOTOS: Block party and 2010 photos courtesy of Michael Nolan and Elsie Street Neighbors. Penthouse photos via this and this, with special thanks to Marcin Wichary.

Explore Bernal History With This Awesome Photo-Map Tool Thingy



At the present moment, at the cusp of the fifteenth year of the new millennium, we are enjoying a golden age for two disciplines that have previously been confined to the far fringes of geography geekdom: Cartography and Archival Photography.

Digital networks have liberated both maps and historical photos from the musty confines of academia and libraries, with generally euphoric results. Happily, its never been easier to visualize a place both as it is today — and as it was in the past.

HistoryPin is a very cool website that brings maps and historic photos together in a wonderfully intuitive way, but placing historical photos on a map that shows where the images were captured. It’s simple and fun, and at the moment, HistoryPin is featuring a special collection about Bernal Heights:


It was in this way, for example, that I discovered the fantastic 1941 photo from the corner of Andover and Cortland that’s shown above.

First, check out the Farmer’s Market store! With Acme Beer! So gorgeous.

Also, now we know the answer to a minor mystery I’ve wondered for a long time: What’s up with the narrow little lot that now serves as the Good Life parking lot? How did that happen? Answer: It used to be the side-yard of a residence that’s now incorporated into the structure of 461 Cortland. Who knew???

There’s lots more geek-pleasure to be derived from exploring the HistoryPin map. Do check it out!

Here’s a parting shot. Can you guess what business now occupies the 1956 location of John Anconi’s Accordion Studio?


Answer: Zante’s Pizza, at 3489 Mission, near the corner of Cortland! Who knew?


Bernal Filmmakers Creating Documentary About Emperor Norton

In the late nineteenth century, back when he was alive and well and enjoying worldwide fame as the self-proclaimed sovereign of all the United States, his Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I did not (as far as I know) live in Bernal Heights. Nevertheless, Bernal has today become the nexus for a devoted cadre of Emperor Norton aficionados.

First and foremost, of course, is one of America’s premier Nortonologists, Bernal Neighbor Joseph Amster, who channels the spirit and dress of Emperor Norton as he leads tourists and history geeks on guided tours of San Francisco:

And who could forget that in 2013, La Lengua rebel propagandist Burrito Justice helped orchestrate a spirited (if unsuccessful) effort to name the Bay Bridge in honor of Emperor Norton.

Now, to complete Bernal’s trifecta of Nortonphilia, Neighbors Jesse Chandler and Kat Shreve have just launched an effort to create a proper, feature-length documentary about Emperor Norton.

Neighbor Kat tells us:

Jesse and I are proud Bernal residents! We reside at Cortland and Prospect (in Cortlandia). We’re writing you today to announce the launch of our Kickstarter campaign to fund a feature-length documentary about Emperor Norton.

The Kickstarter funding will pay for editing, research, illustration, animation, audio mixing, and a musical score to help re-create the world of 1860s San Francisco. We’ve gathered the talent to create an amazing film about the Emperor but now we need your help to tell the story properly.

Thank you for taking the time to check out the project!

Of course, all this Bernal-based Nortonmania doesn’t really require much explanation. From the vantage point of 2014, it would seem that the original Emperor Norton was a very Bernal sort of oddball — whether or not he ever spent much time here. And besides, a proper documentary on Emperor Norton is long overdue, so we raise our imperial champagne flutes to Neighbors Jessie and Kat for making it happen.

Here’s their promo video, in which you will notice that Bernal neighbor and Emperor Norton impersonator Joseph Amster features rather prominently:

So far so good —  Neighbors Jessie and Kat are off to a great start. Don’t forget; you can donate to the Kickstarter here.

Midcentury Bernal Shoebox House Flips After 21st Century Makeover


Somewhere relatively high up on Bernalwood’s List of Things We Really Want to Cover Someday is an item called “What’s Up with Those Bernal Shoebox Houses?”

You know the type, because it is very common here. The Bernal Shoebox is what I call those vaguely modern inflill homes that were built all over Bernal Heights in the 1950s and 1960s. Rectangular shapes. Double-wide garage door on the bottom. Residential space above. Standardized construction. Raise and Repeat… all over Bernal Heights (and San Francisco’s southern neighborhoods) during those heady postwar years.

For example, here’s tony Nebraska Street, just north of Cortland, as seen through Google Earth Street View:


As a genre, Bernal Shoebox houses are now found in various states of repair, upkeep, originality, adaptation, and/or disrepair. There’s even one in the Bernal Heights Architectural Coloring Book:


Some Bernal Shoeboxes look rather Midcentury Chic…


…which is why clever graphic artists have even created new posters like this:


Space Age grooviness aside, these types of houses have some notable advantages as a residential resource. They’re plentiful, they are structurally uncomplicated, they usually offer a generous amount of interior space, and they’re relatively easy to reconfigure and remodel to accommodate our fabulous 21st century lifestyles.

So someday, Bernalwood hopes to tell you more about this particular building type. Where did the basic design come from? Who did it? How were these homes built? And by whom? And for how much? And who bought them? That kind of stuff. Stay tuned. (Have insights on the topic? Share them in the comments or via email)

In the meantime, our cyberpals at the CurbedSF real estate blog recently found this example of a Bernal Shoebox for sale at 357 Franconia after a full makeover:



CurbedSF writes:

Back in March, flippers purchased a worn-out Bernal fixer for $770K and set about transforming it into a super-slick contemporary box. Out front, the forlorn white siding was switched out for a new stucco facade with lava stone cladding and black metal trim. Inside, the kitchen is all new, an unwarranted third bedroom seems to have gone legit, and a second bath was added, along with some welcome skylights. At $1.395M, the new ask is a more than 80 percent boost over the sale price eight months ago. Looks like the sellers are getting their money’s worth, too—the property went into contract after only five days on the market.

OK, so, that’s obviously a rather dizzyng bump in price. And yes, it’s obviously a reflection of our wacky-doodle, supply-constrained real estate market. Blah blah blah.

Yet it’s also, likely, a reflection of what will become of more and more Bernal Shoeboxes, and how many of them will evolve in the fabric of Bernal’s streetscape during decades to come. Shall we call them DwellBoxes?

PHOTOS: 357 Franconia via Redfin and CurbedSF. Bernal Shoeboxes by Telstar Logistics

Is Wild Side West Now San Francisco’s Last Lesbian Bar?

Wild Side West

Last week, the operators of the Lexington Club on 19th Street in The Mission announced that the bar will soon shut down. High rents and changing demographics were cited as the causes for the Lexington’s demise.

The announcement triggered some earnest soul-searching around San Francisco, because the Lexigton was, arguably, The City’s last true lesbian bar. Writing for the HuffPo, Jen Jack Gieseking says:

The only bar dedicated to serving lesbians in San Francisco, the Lexington Club, announced that it is closing after 18 years. You may be shocked that the bar is closing and/or that there is only one lesbian bar in that gay metropolis. As a researcher of lesbian-queer spaces and economies, I am not surprised at all.


But wait! Is that true? Is the Lexington Club San Francisco’s last true lesbian bar? Or, is it the case, as a wise Jedi once said, “No. There is another.”

The Bold Italic points to Bernal Heights:

[The Lexington] has been a Mission staple for almost two decades, and when it goes so goes one of the city’s last lesbian bars in the city (Wild Side West in Bernal still stands, but it’s arguable whether it’s actually a “lesbian bar” anymore)

Journalist-about-town Steve Silverman is on the same page:

SFist replies, Yes but only sort of and not really so much:

Some may argue the case for Wild Side West, which remains a LGBT-friendly neighborhood bar in Bernal Heights, open since 1962, with a historic link to the lesbian community, but anecdotally we understand it is more of a mixed bar these days.

Bernalwood has considered this question of Wild Side West’s sexual credentials before, in the context of a larger discussion of the changing political economy of the Bay Area lesbian community.

Yet with the closure of The Lex, the subcultural role of Wild Side West is now a bit more of an urgent question. Please discuss.

PHOTOS: Wild Side West by Telstar Logistics. Lexington Club sign by Vintageroadtrip on Flickr

Saturday: Share Your Memories of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake

Crowds in Candlestick Park after the earthquake

Where were you when the last big earthquake struck?

On Saturday afternoon from 2 – 4 pm at the Bernal Heights Library, the Bernal Heights History Project and the SF Public Library are hosting a jello-fueled earthquake event called “Shaken Not Stirred: Your Story 25 Years Later”

It’s a neighborly remembrance of the October 17, 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Share your earthquake stories. Learn how to prepare for the Next Big One. Talk about your deep fondness for chert in a supportive, like-minded environment.

The Bernal History Project brings this announcement:

In tandem with our friends at the Bernal Heights Branch Library, we’re proud to present “Shaken But Not Stirred: Remembering the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake”on Saturday, October 18. We want to hear what you remember about the earthquake that hit the Bay Area on October 17, 1989!

Come to the library at 2 p.m. for an extended slideshow of historical images of San Francisco earthquakes and earthquake refugee cottages (a large number of which survive in Bernal) in the downstairs meeting room.

We’ll give you a replica Red Cross meal ticket you can exchange for a Jell-O treat (our favorite shaky quakey snack!), and then you can visit a “ghost” refugee cottage and take a shelter selfie. We’ll be inviting kids of all ages to build shake-proof houses out of Legos. Meanwhile, SFPL volunteers will be standing by to record your memories of the Loma Prieta earthquake for our archives. We’ll have representatives from San Francisco Fire Department Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) on hand to talk about earthquake preparedness and what you need to do to be ready for the next big quake — because you know it’s going to come someday.


PHOTO: Top, Candlestick Park on October 17, 1989, shortly after the earthquake. 

Victorian NIMBYs Were Very Annoyed by Stinky Stockyards in Bernal Heights


Solomon’s Stockyards, as illustrated by The San Francisco Call, 1893

Neighbor Vicky Walker from the Bernal Heights History Project shared this gem with Bernalwood. It’s an 1893 tale of angry Bernal neighbors, forlorn cows, miserable horses, “foul smells,” and “noxious odors.” Oh, and lots and lots of health code violations.

The story catches Bernal Heights at an awkward moment in the late nineteenth century, as the neighborhood is completing its transition from livestock pastureland to proto-gentrified residential enclave.

At the time, neighbors along present-day Coledridge Street (then called California Ave) were rather annoyed that several legacy property-owners nearby were continuing to operate livestock businesses, in clear violation of prevailing laws which, at the time, allowed no more than two cows to reside on any property in Bernal.

It’s sort of a Victorian version of squabbling over street parking etiquette and illegal sublets or soccer fields, only with lots more animal manure and rotting offal.

The noxious-smelling properties in 1893 were Solomon’s Stockyard on Mission at Fair Street (roughly the site of today’s Taqueria Cancun), and the Kahn & Levy stockyard at the corner of Mission and Cortland (approximately the site of Zante’s).

To help you get oriented, here are the approximate locations,  annotated on an 1889 map of Bernal Heights:


And here’s the tale of “A Real Nuisance,” as it appeared in the Saturday, July 29, 1893 edition of the San Francisco Morning Call.

It’s an awesome read with some wonderful characters (viva Neighbor Seculovich! You go, Precita Valley Improvement Club!!) so… enjoy:



Salomon’s Stockyard at the Mission
The Owner Arrested Three Times for Violating a Provision of the Board of Health

The Board of Health is determined to check the nuisance in the Western Mission known as Salomon’s stockyard. The proprietor has been arrested three times on the charge of menacing the health of the neighborhood, but still the foul smell place spreads its noxious odors itbout, and offends the nostrils of residents. The stockyard in question is situated on Mission street, and runs back along Fair avenue to California avenue. It has a frontage of about 200 feet on Mission Street, and presents an unbroken line on Fair avenue.

The large space is divided into corrals, and partially occupied by rickety sheds, while forlorn cows and distressed-looking horses wauder about the little spaces. Goats scramble over the fences and join in the general search for something to eat.

There are great piles of manure in the enclosures, and the contracted stalls are damp and odorous. In one of the small stables there were four cows crowded, while others ambled about the lot. The horses were confined in the lot that corners on Fair and California avenues, but the cows are directly on the Mission street front, nearly opposite the turn-table of the Valencia street cable road.

In spite of the unhealthful surroundings Mr. Salomon denies that the place is a nuisance, though he confesses that he has been arrested on such a charge. “It is all spitework,” he said, “and is caused by this man Seculovich, who lives right next my cow stables .”

An inspection of the premises of Mr. Seculovich showed that the rear end of Salomon’s cow stables was within a few feet of his kitchen door, and the stench of the offal was almost unendurable. Seculovich has a comfortable though unpretentious home, and his yard is filled with flowers and fruit trees. He says that the odor from the lining cowsheds has caused him no end of annoyance and that he proposes to insist upon the abatement of the nuisance.

Dr. Kseney, the nominal head of the Board of Health, said that Salomon was arrested the last time on the 26th inst., the charge being that he maintained a nuisance. “This is the third time Salomon has been arrested,” continued Dr. Keeney, “and we propose to continue our tactics, as defined by the health laws and the Board of Supervisors. The law very plainly prescribes that no person is permitted to maintain more than two cows within the city limits. There are exceptions to this law, inasmuch as the prohibitory district is not carefully defined. Its inner limits are far beyond the corner of Mission street and Fair avenue, and it is upon this definition of the law that we propose to make Mr. Salomon abate the nuisance created by his stockyard.”

The first time Salomon was arrested he’ was fined $100 by Judge Low. He appealed from this decision, and the case was carried to the Superior Court, but it has not yet been placed upon the calendar. Pending the appeal Salomon was again arrested, He was to have been tried on the 4th prox., but there was some question as to the legality of the complaint, and, upon the advice of our attorney, the case was dismissed. However, another complaint was properly drawn and he was arrested on the 4th inst.

“I have personally visited the premises and I am convinced of the justice of the complaints made against the place. The Precita Valley Improvement Club has also entered a protest against the nuisance, and we have received numerous complaints from individuals other than Mr. Seculovich.

“The slope of Salomon’s stockyard is a particularly bad feature. It drains directly into Mission Street and befouls the cellars and yards on the lower side of the street. On damp, foggy days the stench of the stockyards clings closely to the ground, and the breezes carry it directly into houses, to say nothing of offending the nostrils of every person within a radius of a mile or more. The place is a counterpart of the Seventh street dumps, though there is no occasion for its existence. The enforcement of the local health laws is all that is necessary to cause Solomon to seek other quarters, and we propose to compel him to vacate.”

I.L. Salomon, the son of the proprietor, said: “We only keep cows here occasionally. We buy ana sell and the stock is never here more than a day or two at a time.”

“But then you get fresh stock in its place, don’t you?”

“Oh yes, that’s our business. We buy and sell and use this yard as a place of inspection for purchasers. Our plane is no worse than lots of others, and I am going to fight the law in the Superior Court.”

Kahn & Levy, another firm of stockdealers, have a large yard at the corner of Mission street and Cortland avenue, about three blocks above Solomon’s place. It has precisely. the same slope of drainage and sends its filth and slime down to the residence portion of the Western Addition. Yesterday the yards were fairly filled with horses and cows, in plain violation of the sanitary laws. A sickening stench pervaded thn atmosphere, and the animals in” the corrals tramped about with a hungry air.

Dr. Keeney was asked about trie Kahn & Levy place, and he replied: “The owners have decided to lenve there, and in about two weeks the stock and buildings will all be removed. This course will practically abate the nuisance. That portion of the Mission is not very thickly populated, and consequently the complaints against this particular yard were not very numerous. However, we took prompt action when the first notice was served, and the owners at once concluded that it was to their interest to remove from the neighborhood. We will compel this man Salomon to reach the same conclusion.”

“Is there any special law against the I maintenance of stockyards in the city?” was asked of Dr. Keeney.

“No, not aside from the ordinance which I says that no person shall maintain more than two cows within certain limits. Residents at the Mission have been long enough annoyed by infractions of this law, and we propose io arrest and fine every person who continues such a course after a warning has been served. There are no exceptions inside the limits, and any person having a grievance in this respect should at once notify the Health Office.”

The hearing of the third charge against I. L. Salomon will be set this morning in Judge Low’s department of the Police Court.

ILLUSTRATION: Top: Solomon’s Stockyards, from the The Call