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

Highland Street Bridge Now Closed Until Further Notice

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Last time we warned you about this, it turned out to be a false alarm. But for reals this time, the Highland Street Bridge across the Bernal Cut is closed for repairs. Bill Hamilton writes:

The Highland Avenue bridge has been completely closed off for the foreseeable future … so please plan or alter routes accordingly. No vehicular OR pedestrian thru-traffic between Mission and Arlington at this time. The Bernal Cut Path, of course, remains open, and you can cross Highland, you just can’t get to Arlington. Should be a nice little nightmare for those of us in the immediate area!

If the infrastructure gods look favorably upon the project, the Highland Bridge should reopen toward the end of the year, at which point the Citizens of Bernalwood look forward to renewing our ties with our ancestral kin from Glen-Bernal.

PHOTO (and hat-tip): Neighbor Reed

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

Where Should Some Bernal Bike-Sharing Stations Go?

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Bike-sharing programs are supercool, but why should bike-sharing be confined to downtown? Neighbor Matte calls our attention to an opportunity to create some bicycle-sharing locations right here in Bernal Heights:

 San Francisco is getting 4,500 new shared bikes in the next couple years. Currently, Bernal’s closest station is at 7th and Townsend in SOMA, and I think we should change that.

They’re now accepting proposals for new locations and there’s currently about 13 proposed locations in Bernal up for vote.

As a resident of Santana Rancho, I’m partial to the the two proposed on Precita Park (east endwest end), but there are plenty of great options on Mission and in Cortlandia as well.

I urge Bernal residents to check out the selection process and vote to bring bike sharing to Bernal.

 

Help a Bernal Neighbor Working to Beautify Part of Mission Street

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One of the most conspicuous things you notice when you look at older (pre-1970) photos of San Francisco is that there were far fewer trees in our open spaces and along our streets. The city looks somewhat more harsh, and vastly more naked. Tree-planting has done a lot to make our glamorous urban lifestyles more lovely, but some parts of Bernal Heights have not yet received an arboreal upgrade.

Neighbor Erik Williams is leading the charge to get some trees planted along the College Hill stretch of Mission Street, and he could use your help. Neighbor Erik writes:

I live on Mission Street in Bernal Heights, very close to St Mary’s Pub.

I’m currently working with the SF Department of Public Works to have trees planted along Mission between Crescent and Park streets. I feel this would improve the look of the neighborhood. The city is supportive, and we have a good advocate within the department. However, we need other residents to contact the DPW to show support in order to get the plantings funded.

Mission Street is a vital corridor for Bernal Heights, and we have an opportunity to convince the city to invest in making Mission Street more beautiful. DPW will evaluate the corridor for tree planting, provided those of us in the neighborhood write in to show our support.

Although much of Mission Street is tree-lined as it runs through Bernal Heights, there are no trees along the 3800 block, from Crescent Ave to Park St. This area is the top of College Hill, where the Bernal subregions of Holly Park, St Mary’s Park, and College Hill border each other. This area includes many local business such as St Mary’s Pub, Giovanni’s Pizza Bistro, and Balompie Café.

We want to make this a better neighborhood for families and children, and we need your support. Please write in support of this tree planting for the 3800 block of Mission St by emailing the SF department of Public works at: urbanforestry@sfdpw.org.

I’ve created some images to show how the plantings could look. As I’m sure Bernalwood readers will agree, the addition of the trees would add appeal and vibrancy to the neighborhood.

Please take a few minutes to write in and support the tree planting. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

PHOTOS: via Neighbor Erik

Glen Park Neighbors Propose Plans to De-Uglify the Bernal Cut

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Once upon a time, during the Age of the Ancient Druids, the peoples of southwestern Bernal Heights and northeastern Glen Park were united as one. During that time, our Bernal lands extended continuously to the west, and the Lost Tribe of College Hill was not yet lost. Bernal soil filled the void that divides us today.

The void that divides Bernal from Glen Park today is called the Bernal Cut, and it now carries a streetcar line and auto traffic that speeds along San Jose Avenue to and from I-280. It is very unlovely:

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Originally, the Bernal Cut was a Southern Pacific railroad line carved out of a low shoulder of Bernal Hill’s west slope during a series of late ninteeenth century excavations. Here’s a view of the Bernal Cut during the railroad days, looking north toward modern-day La Lengua from the Richland-Miguel overpass in April 1922:

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Throw in some smokey steam locomotives, and you can see why The Cut became particularly daunting to cross. This is a train chugging through the Bernal Cut in 1905:

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Then came the age of the automobile, and in the late 1920s, the cut was widened and expanded to create an arterial road into San Francisco’s urban core. Here’s another north-facing view, this time from 1929, when the construction of the roadway was almost complete:

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The vision at the time was that the Bernal Cut would become the first stage of a new Mission Freeway that would carry high-speed traffic into downtown San Francisco. Here’s a crop from a 1948 planning map that shows how all that would have worked, in rather horrifying detail:

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Basically, in much the same way that Army/Cesar Chavez used to suck because it was designed to feed a freeway that never actually got built, so too the Bernal Cut now sucks because it too designed to serve a future that never really materialized. The Bernal Cut has been dominated by vehicular traffic for more than 100 years. That may have been a necessary and worthwhile thing, yet it also divided the neighborhoods on either side, and for the neighbors who live there, it’s a big bummer.

Fortunately, there are a few armchair urban planners and civil engineers who live on the Glen Park side of the Bernal Cut — an area which they (quite revealingly, and charmingly) call “Bernal Glen.”  In recent years, our kin in Bernal Glen have hatched a few brilliant plans to re-unite the mainland people of Bernal Heights with our descedents from Bernal Glen. One such plan is described here by Bernal Glen neighbor Erika Ehmsen:

In 2013, a College Hill/Bernal Glen neighbors asked renowned landscape and urban design firm SWA Group to visit San Jose Ave. SWA designers and planners walked with neighbors along San Jose Ave., the Bernal Cut Path, the Arlington Path, and our bridges and pedestrian overpass to experience the grim current state of San Jose Ave.—from its freeway-like speeds to its trash-strewn and encampment-prone slopes and sidewalks.

SWA designers asked us to suspend our current reality in order to reimagine and reinvigorate our blighted speedway. We showed SWA the Glen Park Community Plan and asked them to envision an extension of that plan that could incorporate the slopes above San Jose Ave. while reflecting our College Hill Neighborhood Association’s greening and safety goals. And then SWA got to work sketching the plans in that above Google Doc presentation—all pro bono.

Here is that SWA presentation; it is rather trippy and mind-expanding. One proposed scenario would involve re-filling the Bernal Cut with soil after creating a tunnel for the tracks and roadway underneath. It’s just a simple “cut and cover” tunnel design, basically — but the cut part comes pre-excavated 150 years ago.

This idea would seamlessly re-unite Bernal with Bernal Glen by eliminating the trench between them, while also creating 13 acres of new land that could be used for a mixture of new housing and parks. And though the proposal itself doesn’t suggest this, in theory at least, the sale of land to build that much-needed new housing could actually go a long way toward paying for the whole thing.

Here’s what it might look like, as visualized by SWA:

bernalcuttunnelMind blown?

If a tunnel seems too sci-fi, another scenario envisioned in the exercise would narrow the roadbeds and terrace the walls to create land for urban agriculture. This is what tomorrow’s “Bernal Cut Farms” might look like:

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Innnnnnnnnteresting, no? We might quibble about some of the details, but the big breakthrough here is that it gets you thinking about the Bernal Cut in all sorts of crazy new ways. There’s a lot of land in there! And it’s really under-utilized! So many possibilities, even while retaining The Cut’s core transportation functionality. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Meanwhile, and more recently, Bernal Glen neighbor Mike Schiraldi decided to pick up on this basic idea and pare it back to the bare essentials to develop his own plan for how to heal the Bernal Cut. Mike says:

Well, the Glen Park Community Plan spends a couple paragraphs dreamily talking about undoing San Jose Avenue, but doesn’t get into any details or explain the benefits. So while I’m not the first to talk about ripping it out (duh), I tried to get down to brass tacks, to see how it could actually get done. And I wanted to illustrate how transformative it would be, since it can be hard to see that from the Glen Park Community Plan.

Inspired by the improvements that recently transformed the once-awful Cesar Chavez/Army into today’s much more glamorous boulevard, Mike’s let’s-do-this idea is to do the same basic thing to the speedway portion of San Jose. To slow traffic and make it easier to move between the two microhoods, he proposes re-connecting a few of the surrounding streets via new intersections with San Jose.

Specifically, his plan would create a new traffic light/intersection at Natick, Arlington, and Wilder Streets in Glen Park and one linking College Ave. in Bernal with Mateo Street in Glen Bernal. He calls this scenario “San Jose Boulevard”:

Both of the two new connections could be full intersections, with traffic lights, allowing traffic to flow in any direction between San Jose, Natick, Arlington, and Wilder, or between San Jose, College, and Mateo. There could be crosswalks too, so pedestrians and cyclists can get across without having to use an overpass, which is awkward, often dirty, and can be scary at night.

Oh, and to further activate the areas and create even more pedestrian activity, Mike also proposes adding a new J-Church stop along his new San Jose Boulevard, since the streetcar already runs there anyway:

Large sections of Glen Park which are currently underserved by transit would suddenly become extremely transit-accessible, both because of the new J-Church stop, and the new crossing opportunites.

You can read all about it in Mike’s brainstorming presentation, where he makes the case in a lot more detail. It’s clever. It’s not complicated. It may even re-activate the Bernal Cut as a shared space that joins the Dominion of Bernalwood with our kin from Bernal Glen. Let’s do (something kind of like) this!