Charlie’s Cafe on Precita Park Is For Sale


It’s sometimes hard to remember how much Precita Park has changed in just the last five years.

Think back, however, and you may recall that the Precita Park of 2010 was lovely, but rather lifeless. The eastern side of the park near the playground was home to two beer-and-chips corner stores, one of which was frequently shut down because of run-ins with the law. On the western side, along Folsom, Cancilla’s Market was yet another corner store offering beer and chips. Cafe Cozzolino was sometimes open and always empty, in no small part because it offered some of San Francisco’s most disappointing Italian food. The Park Bench Cafe coffee shop was also sad and empty, which left Charlie’s Cafe as Precita Park’s only real restaurant and community gathering place.

Fast-forward to today, and the landscape is transformed. The Precita Park Cafe now occupies one of the former corner stores across the street from the playground, and it’s such an institution that it already feels like it’s always been there. Hillside Supper Club moved into Cafe Cozzolino, Harvest Hills Market is a walkable alternative to schlepping to a supermarket, and Neighbor Eliza is building a new pizza shop inside the former Park Bench Cafe.

Now Charlie’s Cafe proprietor Charlie Harb writes Bernalwood to tell us that his cafe has just been listed for sale, and he wants Bernal neighbors to have first dibs:

After over 14 years in the neighborhood, it’s time for me to sell my beloved cafe. Adam, the current manager, is leaving town after running Charlie’s for 2 years, and I now have other interests. If you are interested, or know of someone who is interested in purchasing the cafe, feel free to contact me at charliescafesf AT gmail DOTCOM.

All the particulars are in this Craigslist ad.

A personal footnote: Your Bernalwood editor would like to extend my gratitude to Charlie for running his cafe. When I first landed in Bernal Heights after moving from the alien shores of The Mission, all the way on the other side of Cesar Chavez, Charlie was one of the very first people to welcome me here, and his kitchen fed the construction crews that rebuilt my home during two grayhair-producing years of renovations. In so many ways, he was the first person to teach me about the strength of the Bernal Heights community. Thank you Charlie!

PHOTO: Charlie’s Cafe on August 10, 2015 by Telstar Logistics

Welcome to the Bedrock District, Bernal Heights, USA


Two of the most retro-distinctive homes in Bernal Heights are even more so because they sit side-by-side together.

We’re talking about the two houses with the faux-stone facades located on Florida between Precita and Cesar Chavez in theEven  flatlands of northeast Bernal Heights. Each is totally over-the-top, because each looks like it could be home to Fred and Wilma Flintstone, if Fred and Wilma Flintstone lived in mid-century Bernal Heights. But there are actually two of these houses, so you can also imagine  Barney and Betty Rubble living right  next door.


How did this happen?

Well, to understand that, you need to imagine yourself owning one of these homes in the 1950s or early 1960s. Each of these houses was built during the early decades of the 20th century, so by the time the ’50 rolled around, each was already 40 years old. That means the original wooden facades were likely faded, aging, and in need of repair.  That’s probably about when Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner opened up their newspaper and saw an ad that looked something like this:


You can practically see the lightbulbs going off: YES! We can Perma-Stone!  We can Add Beauty, Permanence, and Strength to our Home at Low Cost! We can Eliminate Painting Forever!

The Noe Valley SF blog recently wrote a capsule history of Perma-Stone:

Perma-Stone – and several other variations of the artificial molded stone such as FormStone, FieldStone, Dixie Stone, and yes, Stone of Ages were popular in the 1930s, 40s and 50s and applied like vinyl siding to existing homes. Perma-Stone was invented in Columbus, Ohio and [was] most popular in places like Baltimore and the East Coast, but found a foothold in San Francisco too, mostly in the Avenues. According to this article in SF Gate from 2010, film director John Waters dubbed Perma-Stone “the polyester of brick.”

So how did both of these houses, side-by-side, end up getting the faux-stone treatment? It’s not to hard to envision the scenario:

THE SCENE: Fred and Barney are grilling brontosaurus burgers in Barney’s Florida Street back yard. Eisenhower is president, and in the distance, a radio is tuned to the baseball game that’s underway at Seal Stadium on 16th and Bryant.

BARNEY: Hey Fred, have you noticed our houses are looking a little shabby? They’re starting to show their age.

FRED: Careful with the brontosaurus Barney. You know Wilma likes hers medium rare.

BARNEY: Yeah yeah. Look, did you see that ad in the paper for the Perma-Stone? They put it up once, and the house never needs painting again.

FRED: Can you hand me another Rolling Rock?

BARNEY: Sure thing, Freddy-Boy. [Tosses can of beer]  But you know, I’ve gotta tell you, I kind of like that “Modern Stone Age” look.

FRED: Yeah, Wilma won’t shut up about it ever since we got that subscription to Dwelling magazine. No painting, ever again, huh?

BARNEY:  Never again.  [Pokes a burger tepidly with a spatula, then flips it over] Whaddya say we do both our houses at the same time? Maybe we can get a package deal. Plus, we could split the cost of the construction parking permit.

FRED: Now you’re talking, Barney-Boy! You know, I do kind of like that Bernal Boulder treatment they have.

BARNEY: Betty said she likes the Manor Flagstone. I’ll have guy come by to do an estimate for both of us.

FRED: Dammit, Barney, keep an eye on those burgers! [long pause] Oh hey I’m ready for another Rolling Rock.

… and the rest, as they say, is pre-history.

PHOTOS: Permastone ad, courtesy of Eric Fisher

Six Timely Thoughts About Bernal Heights from Neighbor Darcy of Heartfelt


Neighbor Darcy Lee, a resident of Alemanistan and owner of Heartfelt on Cortland, recently shared some miscellaneous thoughts about the July 21 Epicurean Trader vandalism incident and several other matters of topical concern to the people of Bernal Heights:

I read all these comments when [the vandalism] first happened and I just read them again. Because this vandalism hit retail I am chiming in:

1. Retail takes long hours and many days a week. I have worked 7 days a week for years and am now down to 6 days. There is no whine tone here, because I love what I do. I have thought long and hard at what the graffiti person was trying to express, and it seems that it was aimed at the customer that shops at these posh shops, and the storefront or what the business symbolized got caught in the crossfire. Thus I loved the comments that said ‘Hey I do not make a ton of money but I appreciate a business that is selling food from the little makers that are concerned with how we farm and manufacture stuff affects the environment and our bodies.’ Same with Pinhole Coffee; I think we could not have landed a more kindcontributor to the neighborhood, or a more concerned-with-the-world kind of person. (ie. JoEllen) My mantra here, bear with me, is that it is important to not assume new is bad.

2. Random vandalism to prove a misdirected point is lame.

3. Change happens within a city. I know a family that lives in the ‘burbs and rent out their family home in Bernal. They inherited it from working class parents and grew up in the small Bernal house. They maintain it, but they have not remodeled, and they rent it out at less than market rent (not way less, but less). Their mildly disabled sister lives in an inlaw unit in the back. The three kids feel this extra income has allowed them to buy their own homes outside of the city. They have no desire to live here, and they do not get why it is appealing. But they are respectful of what the changes in the neighborhood have brought them. The son told me that their parents, both from Mexico and now deceased, would be very surprised if they knew.

4. The other day on the radio I heard a short clip about Japan and why they are now in financial trouble. Excuse my summary if I got the facts wrong, but as I heard it, Japan loved itself too much. Japan thought it was invincible, and that it would always be the leader in selling the world shiny, modern stuff. (think Walkman) I think we in Bernal love ourselves too much, and we are trying to hold onto something that is already gone. Thus we stay in this sort of negative rant-mode. And SF, too. This way of thinking lets us hold to an ideal in our minds instead of looking around us. Walk the streets of Bernal. We are not just shiny dark grey and black homes; there are lots of different stories within our midst. Volunteer at the local public schools, visit our library, go to the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, visit the farm on Alemany, chat with your neighbor who is elderly and ask if they ever need help. I find this much more productive towards preserving what you miss as opposed to constantly whining what you loved is gone. I found this article Todd posted on Facebook to be fascinating.

5. Some say Airbnb is bad, because it takes apartments off the market.  Some say Airbnb is good, because it allows folks to get extra income to rent out rooms and stay in the ‘hood. Regulations are good, they make it so landlords cannot rip off tenants. Some tenants take advantage of this, so some landlords do not want to get anywhere near the rental market after a bad tenant. As a person who works on the street in Bernal, the stories we hear are endless and every point of view is expressed.

6. If you insist you are right, then someone else has to be wrong. Perhaps it is more important to take a breath and listen. I hear you Cortland graffiti person, I am curious about you, and I hate that you expressed yourself this way, but I hear your frustration. There are so many stories out there.

PHOTO: Neighbor Darcy Lee outside Heartfelt, December 13, 2014. Photo by Telstar Logistics

Remembering Karen Huggins, Holly Courts Advocate


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


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:

Moultrie Street
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:

Ellsworth Street
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


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:


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


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


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:


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:


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):


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:


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.