Bernal Artist Leah Rosenberg Uses Our City as Her Palette

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It’s hard to comprehend how Bernal Heights squeezes so many remarkable artists into one not-so-big neighborhood. But apparently, we do it.

7×7 tells us about a new show by Leah Rosenberg, the same Bernal artist who created the fabtastic color wall inside Pinhole Coffee on Cortland. Pinhole’s wall represents various colors found around Bernal Heights, and Neighbor Leah’s current project explores similar ideas about riffing on colors found in the city around us. But in a rather different way. 7×7 says:

For the last two months, Bernal Heights-based artist and California College of the Arts graduate Leah Rosenberg has been painting a small storefront—three walls, a floor, a desk, a chair, and a vase—a different color every day. The whole thing, covered in a single solid hue. It’s out on Irving Street, a block from Outerlands and Trouble Coffee in the Outer Sunset, and Rosenberg decides which colors to use based on what she finds in the neighborhood: an acid yellow fence, the pistachio exterior of the Francis Scott Key Elementary School Auditorium, a light purple crab on Ocean Beach.

“I keep thinking of this one line I like, ‘And you call yourself a painter,’” Rosenberg says with a laugh, “because painting as a verb, the actual act of applying color to a surface, that is fundamentally what it is.” And yet the installation, part of Kelly Falzone Inouye’s residency space Irving Street Projects, has become something more. Locals who might otherwise walk down Judah, stroll Irving instead to see what the color of the day is (Rosenberg keeps a handy sandwich board out front). Kids come by after school to help. ol to help. Recently, Rosenberg took everyone on an “inspiration walk” to all the spots that sparked her creativity. In a way, she’s been painting the landscape of the Outer Sunset.

Check out the amazing photos of Neighbor Leah’s “Everyday, A Color”, and watch her in action at Irving Street Projects (4331 Irving St.) before the show closes on May 29. She’s also installed a new site-specific piece inside The Mill (736 Divisadero) that will be up until early July.

Bonus Linky Linky: Here is a good interview with Neighbor Leah that has terrific photos taken inside her Bernal home.

PHOTOS: “Everyday, A Color” by Leah Rosenberg. HAT TIP: Neighbor Leila

Bernal History Gets the Celebrity Treatment in The SF Chronicle

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In case you missed it, there was a fun article in the fashionable Home and Garden section of last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle celebrating Bernal Heights, and the local tribe of enthusiasts from the Bernal Heights History Project who bring our neighborhood’s past into the present.

Chronicle writer Charlene Prince Birkleland begins by introducing us to Neighbor Michael Nolan, the spiritual guru of the Elsie Street Glee Club:

Michael Nolan’s home on a rolling block in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights is filled with the past. Black-and-white photos from his youth hang on the walls and family keepsakes sit on shelves, but they’re mixed in with neighborhood artifacts, like railroad tools from the late 1800s found buried in Nolan’s backyard.

A passionate genealogist and the convenor of his family reunions, Nolan is now focused on building a different kind of family tree: the genealogy of his house.

Nolan, 73, is one of many Bernal Heights residents hooked on recording the history of their homes and the neighborhood. Some homeowners might conduct this type of research during a renovation, to replicate the design features original to the property. But these self-made historians want to connect the present with the past, when neighbors were close friends and felt a strong sense of community.

“We’re pretty tight on this block,” said Nolan, who helps organize annual block parties and regular potluck dinners. “We try to support one another in times of celebration and need. It’s not easy to do. … People lead very busy lives. We do what we can on this little piece of earth.”

Bernal Heights lies between highways 101 and 280 near San Francisco’s Mission District. More than 24,000 residents live in this colorful community filled with coffee shops, restaurants and views from every hilltop. The area contained few homes until the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, when many were drawn to build on its stable bedrock. Now a dozen earthquake shacks, which were used as temporary housing after the 1906 quake, sit near modern, contemporary homes interspersed with updated Victorians and smaller, old cottages built in the late 1800s.

Later in the piece, we meet Neighbor Vicky Walker, high priestess of the Bernal Heights History Project, who was thrilled to learn that her home came with a spookiness pre-installed:

Walker lives on Ellsworth Street just a few blocks from Nolan […] and she’s equally immersed in learning about her home. Walker has traced the name of every owner of the Ellsworth Street residence, which was built in 1927. Her first bit of data came in 2003 on the day she moved into the home. Her husband, Wade Walker, was unloading the moving van when a neighbor came by and shared an unexpected gruesome detail: The property was the site of a 1976 husband-wife murder-suicide.

Vicky Walker was fascinated. “I’m kind of a gore hound, and I’m interested in ghosts and crimes and stuff,” she says. She later visited the library where she researched The San Francisco Chronicle archives and located stories about the crime. She learned that the wife, Lovera “Jodie” Satava, was fond of cats, just like Walker. “I’d be talking out loud to Jodie and saying, ‘I hope you like the cats.’ It’s like having ghosts you can talk to.”

Read the whole article right here.

PHOTO: Above, Vicky Walker and Michael Nolan at Pinhole Coffee last February, via Michael Nolan. Below, Holly Park Meat Market at 231 Cortland Ave, current site of Pinhole Coffee, date unknown. 

After 30+ Years, Departing Bernal Neighbor Breaks Up with San Francisco

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Neighbor David lives on Coleridge, but he won’t be there much longer. He’s has lived in San Francisco since the 1970s, yet soon Neighbor David moving to Japan. It will be a big change, he says, but after all these many years it also feels like it’s time. To explain why, Neighbor David recently wrote a “break-up letter to San Francisco,” and we invited him to share it here with Bernalwood:

Dear San Francisco,

I am so breaking up with you.

When I first met you it was love at first sight. I have been with you longer than anyone I’ve ever known. You loved live music, funky art, and sideways culture. You loved to have drinks late at night. You loved late night gallery openings and performance art. You loved to play music. Funky ass music. You used to be a blues lady that was bluer than the sky right before dawn after a foggy night. “Only in San Francisco’ used to mean a black Jewish leather transvestite doing the funky chicken to Sylvester, with a straight guy wearing a jock strap at the Stud on a Friday night.

We would go out for cheap eats at Sparky’s or the Grubsteak after the bars closed. We would walk home because you couldn’t find your late night transfer and the bus would take forever anyway. We could go places. We could hang out. The Fab Mab, Nightbreak, I beam, All night dancing at the Trocadero or the deaf club (181 Club), Oasis, The farm, Wolfgangs, The Stone, Chi Chi, Nickie’s BBQ, Kennel Club, Covered wagon, Blue Lamp, Paradise. Most of them put to sleep.

We both know where you are now. As the drought tightens its grip, the water (coughcough housing) shortage serves as a metaphor for the grassroots cultural and artistic drought. Authorities give it a year before there is no more water. I am afraid that the artistic scene is pretty much parched. Unless of course you have 65 million dollars for a “members only” jazz venue. “Only in San Francisco” now means valet parking for potential buyers of the house next door. Clubs closed because it was noisy at night. Business after business closed down by jacked up rents and greed. A down payment was made for cultural indifference and it’s about paid off. Diversity diversified and moved to the east bay . Or further east. People of color are being squeezed out. Imagine the Bayview and 3rd Street as a boutique destination. Soon the bay area will be called LANO. LA of the north. The cultural landscape has changed so that there really is no place here for the likes of me. I’m not sure if I ever fit in here but for a while that was the beauty of it.. I can’t watch the SF version of the zombie techster apocalypse any longer. It’s too painful. (There is no hip in hipster)

By the way, I got a call from an old friend the other day. Her name is Japan. She said she may still have a thing for me and asked me to move in. So I am going. I will miss Bernal Heights something fierce and the friends I have made here over the years. Alas, It is time. Don’t wait up for me. I’ll leave the key under the mat. See you around.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

One Year After Alex Nieto’s Death, Bernal Family Is Transformed by Tragedy

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One year ago, on March 21, 2014, Bernal neighbor Alex Nieto was killed in an officer-involved shooting on Bernal Hill.

Several times during the last few months — and as recently as just last week — I have seen Alex’s parents, Elvira and Refugio Nieto, walking along the sidewalks not far from their home on Cortland. There’s nothing particularly unusual about the affect of Neighbor Alex’s parents as they walk the streets of Bernal Heights. Yet while opinions may differ on the sequence of events that transpired on the evening Alex died, there can be no doubt whatsoever about the anguish they feel after having lost their son — and that comes to the forefront for me every time I see them.

It is heartbreaking.

Mission Local captures the Nieto family’s new reality:

About to retire from her long career as a housekeeper in a downtown hotel, Bernal Heights resident Elvira Nieto looked forward to her retirement. She and her husband, Refugio, had plans to surprise their son with a trip to the town of Tarimoro, in Guanajuato, Mexico, their shared birthplace.

But then on the evening of March 21, 2014, that son, Alejandro “Alex” Nieto, died during an officer-involved shooting in Bernal Heights Park. Neighborhood and police versions of the story conflict radically, but what’s painfully clear is that the Nieto family’s course has changed drastically.

Rather than ease into retirement, Elvira and Refugio Nieto have a new job—they’ve become full-time activists against police violence. Today marks the one-year anniversary of their son’s death and, for them, the work is far from over.

“[Alex] would ask me, ‘What are your plans for when you retire?’ I told him the only plan is to rest, but instead this happened,” said Elvira Nieto this week. “It’s all that we’ve done. I never imagined that this is what we’d be doing.”

There is a crowdfunding effort underway by Neighbor Alex’s family and friends to support the Alex Nieto Memorial Fund and create a memorial bench for him on Bernal Hill.

IMAGE: Top, Video still of Bernal neighbors Elvira and Refugio Nieto, parents of Alex Nieto, on Bernal Hill, December 16, 2014

Cara and Joey Just Got Married on Bernal Hill

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Okay, so we now know that Bernal Heights is for [all kinds of] lovers.  But rest assured: Not everyone who expresses their affections on Bernal Hill is batshit crazy.

Neighbor Abner from Alabama Street shares some lovely news about a romantic wedding that took place on Bernal Hill last weekend:

Cara is my sister-in-law, and her long time beau is Joey.  They lived in Bernal for most of the last 5 years, and the couple were married in a lovely, fairly impromptu wedding on the hill last Saturday.  As of last week, they’ve relocated to LA for a job opportunity, but they wanted to finally tie the knot — after a long engagement— with family and the great community they built here.

There was a raucous party at our place afterwards.

Big congrats and best wishes to the happy couple, and never forget

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PHOTO: The wedding of Cara and Joey on Bernal Hill, via Neighbor Abner

KQED: Lama Family Feud Lies at Heart of Big Bocana Rent Increase

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Veteran reporter Dan Brekke knows how to do the legwork required to crack a story open. These days he works for KQED, where he just published a remarkably detailed report on the Lama family dispute that lies at the heart of the now-infamous 355 Bocana rent-increase controversy.

Brekke’s reporting largely confirms rumors that have been rippling through Bernal Heights for the last few days, to the effect that as a result of the family feud, Bernal neighbor and 355 Bocana property owner Nadia Lama hoped to evict Neigbor Deb Follingstad, because Neighbor Nadia herself needs a place to live.

Brekke reports:

Superior Court filings show that Nina Gelfant and Gayle Worrell alleged they were forced from their one-bedroom, one-bathroom, 720-square-foot Cortland Avenue apartment [in 2013] after the Lamas raised the rent from $1,650 to $4,250 — 157 percent.

The suit argued that the rent increase was far above market rate and designed to get Gelfant and Worrell to leave so that Lamas could sell the property.

That sale, [tenant-rights lawyer Joe] Tobener suggested in a trial brief that outlined more than $1 million in potential damages, was triggered by a battle among Shukry Lama’s heirs over the property he’d left behind when he died in 2012.

“Chuck Lama’s heirs were fighting over their share of the inheritance which demanded selling properties or having the heirs occupy them as residences,” Tobener’s brief says.

That alleged squabble also appears to have played a role in Nadia Lama’s dramatic increase of Deb Follingstad’s rent.

In September 2013, she filed a probate petition in Superior Court seeking to compel her sister Claudia, the overseer of several family trusts set up by [deceased family patriarch] Chuck Lama, to account for the family’s assets. Assets named in the petition and exhibits include a small Cortland Avenue market, Chuck’s Store, the store’s liquor license, eight residential properties in San Francisco, one in Burlingame, and unspecified real estate in Chile.

The court proceeding resulted in an agreement last Dec. 31 in which the three Lama sisters and their three brothers, along with some of their children, agreed to close the family trusts and distribute their assets.

The property Nadia Lama was to receive includes a 2006 Toyota Avalon; $25,000 to pay the legal bills she’d incurred; a little more than $750,000 in cash due upon the sale of two of the family’s properties; and finally, the Bocana Street residence occupied by Deb Follingstad and the $7,500 to hire a lawyer to evict her.

The agreement also requires Nadia Lama to vacate her current home, a couple of doors up from Follingstad and still owned by her siblings, by the end of April. If she doesn’t, the document says, she’ll have to pay $4,000 a month rent to four of her siblings who will continue as owners; and if she does anything to interfere with their renting out the home she’s supposed to vacate, she’ll owe her siblings $10,000 in damages.

Kudos to Dan Brekke and KQED for the excellent work following the paper trail. Read Brekke’s full report on the KQED website, right here.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

Bernal Architect Designs Affordable Housing That’s Beautiful

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San Francisco needs more affordable housing. Much more.

But affordable architecture gets a bad rap. It’s ugly. It’s too institutional. It’s too homogeneous. It’s visual blight.

Often, those generalizations are true… which has the very unfortunate effect of making San Franciscans (even more) resistant to new affordable housing projects. That’s super extra-bad, because San Francisco really needs more affordable housing. Much more.

Architect Owen Kennerly is a resident of Holly Park, and he was the co-designer of a new affordable housing project in Mission Bay that’s so gorgeous it makes San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King swoon.

The building is 1180 Fourth Street, and here’s as taste of what The John King has to say about it:

Architecturally, the six-story wedge of 150 apartments adds an assertive spark in a young district with too many boilerplate buildings. At ground level it’s engaging, a pleasure even before the generous retail spaces are filled. There’s a social payoff as well: The units are reserved for low-income families, adding youth to the neighborhood scene.

None of this is by chance, and it shows how planning priorities can translate to good city building — especially when determination and creativity are added to the mix.

The first step was the decision long ago to reserve the site for affordable housing. It’s a prime location fronting a park where Mission Creek is crossed by Fourth Street, the entryway to the 200-acre-plus southern part of the Mission Bay redevelopment district established in 1998. Setting it aside for lower-income residents was a symbolic reminder that economic integration should be pursued when and where it makes sense. But a well-meaning gesture isn’t the same as a well-done piece of architecture. That’s where smart design comes in.

The architectural effort was led by Daniel Solomon and Owen Kennerly, whose relationship goes back to the 1990s when the latter was a UC Berkeley student and an employee of the former. Kennerly now has one of the most visually inventive small firms in the city.

This is not Neighbor Owen’s first rodeo. He’s created several cool buildings around San Francisco, including a gorgeous house that got the sexy treatment from The New York Times. Neighbor Owen’s design for the affordable housing at 1180 Fourth takes his work in a wonderful new direction, and it shows that his architectural kung-fu is extremely versatile.

Great work, Neighbor Owen, and thank you. Oh, if you have some spare time, could you please pull together some sketches for a mixed-use housing and supermarket retail project to go on the site of our managerially blighted Bernal Safeway? Mmmkay? That’d be great.

PHOTO: San Francisco Chronicle