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.

History Reveals Checkout Lines at Bernal Safeway Have Been Ridiculously Long Since 1972


Remember how the Citizens of Bernalwood recently took up cyber-pitchforks and -torches to complain about the ridiculously long lines at the Bernal Heights Safeway on Mission Street at 29th?  And remember how we hoped — naively, perhaps — that perhaps maybe someone at Safeway corporate might hear our gnashing of teeth, and take pity upon our sad souls, and remedy the situation?

Well, don’t count on it.

Recently, while browsing through a back issue of the Bernal Journal from 1972, your Bernalwood editor was darkly entertained to find an impassioned article complaining about… the ridiculously long lines at the Bernal Heights Safeway!

I wish I was kidding about this, but I am not. Behold, a time capsule from 43 years ago, written by Bernal Journal reporter “Vera Disgruntla” (click to embiggen):

1972_Souvenier Edition

The similarities between this Bernal Journal article from 1972 and the comments section of Bernalwood’s recent post about the Bernal Safeway are comical in their utter sameness.  Here’s a depressing excerpt pulled from the 1972 article shown above:

One man has vowed never to shop there — he gets his meat at the Pioneer Market dry good at 30th and Mission Market, and fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmers Market at the foot of Bernal Hill. Another man goes once a week to the Marina Safeway. A woman told me she and her husband always drive the five minutes further to get to the Diamond Heights Safeway, where, because they never have to wait to check out there, they actually save time! These may be the only real alternatives.

But I am still mad – for me, and everyone around here who continually has this frustrating time waste wait at our store. The faces in the lines seem to say, “it’s always been like this; we’ve ALWAYS had to wait.”

So there you have it. Long lines have been a fixture at our local Safeway since even before 1972, and after 40+ years, it would seem that Safeway management still does not give a flying Fig Newton about the problem. But hey, at least they’re consistent.

In light of these facts, Bernalwood would now like to officially propse the following:

1) Let’s bulldoze this Safeway, since it so obviously suffers from intergenerational corporate indifference.

2) Let’s save that cool Taoist Safeway mosaic, for posterity, or for use in a replacement structure (see below).

3) Let’s build a few hundred units of much-needed housing on this long-neglected site, with the new ground-floor space dedicated to a more modern supermarket (something kind of like that new mixed-use building that was recently erected on Ocean).

4) While we’re at it, let’s get serious about asking BART to build that 30th Street infill station they’re thinking about again. Hurry up, please.

… because really, after banging our Bernalese heads against the walls at this Safeway for five decades, it may just be time to give up and try something else.

And in the meantime, you can read the rest of that 1972 issue of the Bernal Journal (PDF). Here’s another blast from the past from that same issue, featuring a shout-out to all the party people on Mullen and a handy guide to your Precita Park merchants of yesteryear:


IMAGE: Bernal Heights Safeway, via Google Earth


Can You Identify the Bernal Heights Locations in this Vintage Home Movie?


Neighbor Vicky, the archival queen of the Bernal Heights History Project, invites Bernalese to help identify the Bernal locations shown in a newly digitized vintage home movie from the 1940s(?):

Home video mystery! The family in this clip sets off to the baths from Bernal Heights, but we can’t figure out what street — can you help us ID it? We see down Ellsworth Street to St. Kevin’s Church at one point, so they’re probably somewhere in NoCo (North of Cortland).

The Bernal scenes are in the first minute of the video. Up above is the view on Eugenia, looking east from Gates (vs. contemporary street view). Neighbor Vicky says:

Heading east on Eugenia — in the video you’ll see a whole lot of nothing down on Bayshore in the distance.

Here’s a grab of St. Kevin’s from the corner of Ellsworth and Eugenia (vs. contemporary street view):


You know how the game is played, fellow Bernal history dorks: In the comments, please help identify the Bernal houses or locations shown in the film, using time-markers in the video to indicate what you see. (Oh, and the footage of Sutro Baths is pretty sweet too!)

Fishy Love: Neighbors Tim and Erin Archuleta from Ichi Sushi Recall How It All Began


If you were paying attention to all the local “Best of 2014″ restaurant lists floating around the Interwebs over the Xmas/New Years holiday, you may have noticed that Bernal’s own Ichi Sushi + Ni Bar appeared on just about all of them.

Seriously. It got so intense that your Bernalwood editor joked that I needed to create a Best Of list to keep track of all the Best Of lists that included Ichi Sushi. It was funny because it was true.

I never did create that list, but the accolades are well deserved. Ichi really is the schizz. And it’s a great story about local kids who made good, because, Ichi got its start in Bernal Heights, and the tag-team duo of Chef Tim Archuleta and his wife Erin Archuleta are still Bernal neighbors, to this day.

Last week, in an interview with OpenTable, Neighbor Tim and Neighbor Erin recalled how it all began… in the days before the restaurant, and all the Best of Lists, and all the Best of Best of Lists:

How did you two meet?

Tim: We met at a friend’s birthday at a karaoke bar. It was my karaoke and dance skills that blew her away.

Well before you opened ICHI you worked together in a couple of different food businesses. Tell me about that and how you got started.

Erin: Tim really started as a caterer in 2006, but we met in 2005. We were already living together (racy!) when he started catering, which meant that I would pitch in from time to time as he built the brand.

Tim: In the beginning it was just me. Erin gave me a lot of support. But that’s how we came up with the name, because ICHI means one and it was just me.

Erin: The catering really took off. I had consistently worked for a literacy nonprofit locally at 826 Valencia and 826 National, and I stepped away from my work full-time and just worked as a consultant for them so that I could help Tim get the catering business off the ground. We built out a catering kitchen and went to town in that direction, and then the stock market crashed. We began social catering and doing pop-ups in bars that had kitchens. That’s how a lot of people encountered us — we catered all sorts of things.

One day I was walking down Cortland and saw a food incubator space that was looking for tenants, and Tim had the idea of doing a Japanese deli. So we did that in the incubator space, and we loved it. During that time, right next to where we live Yo’s Sushi Club was leaving and he offered us the opportunity to take over the restaurant. Tim opened ICHI Sushi in 2010.

And the rest, as they say, is Best of History…

PHOTO: Tim and Erin Archuleta of Ichi Sushi

Remember That Rainy Day When Cesar Chavez Boulevard Was Surfable?


While doing some digital archaeology on an old hard drive recently, I re-discovered an image I took during a very rainy day at the corner of Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Shotwell on February 25, 2004 — almost exactly 11 years ago. Since it’s raining today, this seems like a good time to look back.

Of course, the 2004 image was captured a decade before the installation of all the sexy infrastructure upgrades that gave us a brand new sewer main beneath Cesar Chavez, as well as a tropical-themed median strip. But on that wet February morning in 2004, the old Army Street sewer pipes were overwhelmed, filling the street with so much riverine water that the old concrete medians were completely submerged.

I crossed Cesar Chavez in four-wheel-drive on that day — nervously but successfully.

Later that morning, when I showed my photo to a graphic designer I worked with at the time, she decided to have some fun with the image. Let the Cesar Chavez Surf Competition Begin!


PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics


Pinhole Coffee Connects With Bernal’s Filipino Community


A few weeks ago, Bernalwood’s search robots brought an interesting headline to our attention: “Enterprising Filipina opens hip cafe in hot San Francisco neighborhood.” The accompanying article tells a very cool story about JoEllen Depakakibo, the fashionably caffeinated Filipina entrepreneur who opened Pinhole Coffee on Cortland Avenue., a news site for Filipinos, describes how Miss JoEllen from Pinole has connected with the Filipino community in Bernal Heights:

“[Bernal Heights] was the type of neighborhood I was looking for, a mix of the old and modern, giving me the feel of the 1950s,” Depakakibo related.

“Here, you see amazing people walking and talking to each other,” she added. […] Bernal Heights has had its share of woes because of the rapid gentrification occuring in San Francisco. Before the tech surge, it was a more diverse mix of working class residents, artists and activists. Buck Bagot one of the founders of the Occupy Bernal Movement, was quoted in a piece in Bernalwood blog, saying, “When I moved here, every house on my block had a different ethnicity. There were Latinos, Blacks, American Indians, Samoans and Filipinos. … Now they’re all gone.”

Members of the Occupy Bernal movement are currently fighting to save homes from foreclosures and maintain diversity in the neighborhood. When Depakakibo chose Bernal Heights for her venture, she was not yet aware of the history of Filipinos in the neighborhood.

The late Filipino American Bill Sorro, a longtime resident and beloved civil rights and housing activist, was one of the leaders of the movement in the 1970s that struggled for nine years to prevent the eviction of low-income senior citizens, including Filipinos, from the International Hotel in San Francisco’s Chinatown. (The International Hotel Manilatown Center now stands on the site, a testament to the early organizing for affordable housing rights in the city.)

The number of Filipinos in Bernal Heights spiked starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s because of the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which paved the way for immigrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East to become permanent residents in the U.S.

Gloria Carvajal, one of the beneficiaries of the law, has lived in the neighborhood since she arrived in the US in 1968 and worked for Pacific Bell Telephone Company (now AT&T) for almost 30 years until her early retirement in 1996. She was active in Saint Kevin Church’s close-knit Fil-Am Association, which no longer exists, but she continues to keep in touch and care for housebound members of the group. […]

One afternoon, Carvajal went to Pinhole to have a cup of java, and as soon as Depakakibo saw her, she bowed, took Carvajal’s hand, and put it against her forehead, a sign of respect for elders among Filipinos. In turn, Carvajal gave her a blessing and welcomed her to the neighborhood, immediately proceeding to tell the young Pinay about Filipinos living and working in Bernal Heights. While decades separated their ages, respect for an age-old tradition and love for coffee and community bonded them instantly.

Read the whole thing on, here.

PHOTO: JoEllen Depakakibo (right) gives longtime Bernal Heights resident Gloria Carvajal a traditional Filipino greeting at Pinhile Coffee. Photo my Mila De Guzman for

Tile Mosaic Reveals Catto Family’s Lost Marble Empire on Mission Street


Somewhat by accident, Bernal neighbor Michael Nolan has been doing a bit of historical sleuthing about our stretch of Mission Street near 29th Street. Here are some results from his recent geekery:

I’ve long been fascinated by the social spaces in our neighborhood – where folks used to gather for fun or faith, politics or performance. I was researching the history of Dance Mission Theater at 3316 24th & Mission and mistakenly found myself at 3316 Mission Street, which I discovered was Columbus Hall a century ago.

Here’s how the building looks today; Columbus Hall was the space above the current Cole Hardware:


Meetings of the South of Army Street Improvement Club were held here. Mayor Rolph and City Engineer O’Shaughnessy came to speak on various issues.

But before that, it was the office of John Catto and his granite & marble business, where he made tombstones and church altars in the yard behind the building.

In 1900, John Catto owned lots 2 and 25 in Block 6635, where Cole Hardware and the apartments above now stand, and where his office was at 3316 Mission:


John Catto’s Granite & Marble Monumental Works was around the corner on 29th Street (where the cinder-block plumbing supply building is currently located, and probably including the up-ramp to Safeway).

Here’s how his facility looked in 1904, on 29th Street looking east toward Mission Street and Bernal Hill:


Zoom and enhance:


Peek inside 3316 Mission today, and you can see “Catto’s” spelled out in the marble inlay of the entrance.

In 1900, John and Elvira Catto were living at 351 California Ave. (now Coleridge), just a block from Catto’s office and marble works. Here’s John & Elvira Catto in 1920, after they’d moved to San Mateo:


Some genealogical research led me to John Catto’s great-grandchildren. Earlier this month, they dropped by to see their family name memorialized.

This is Marc Catto, great-grandson of John Catto, and his daughter, Erin Colbert, great-great granddaughter, standing in the lobby of 3316 Mission St. Marc now lives in Santa Cruz County, and Erin lives in San Francisco:

Neighbor Michael says they were surprised to see the mosaic. Yet there it was: Their name, a permanent fixture on Bernal’s portion of Mission Street.

PHOTOS: via Michael Nolan. Cotto Marble Works enhanced detail, via SFMTA photo archive