Emperor Norton Is Still Alive, Still Well, and Still Living in Bernal Heights

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Last week, the Wall Street Journal published a front page (!!!) story about the odd history of Emperor Norton I, the 19th century San Francisco eccentric who declared himself “Emperor of the United States,” and Neighbor Joseph Amster, the Bernal Heights resident who re-enacts him today.

The WSJ writes:

Wearing a top hat festooned with multicolored feathers, Joseph Amster stopped in front of a Ghirardelli Chocolate Co. store on bustling Market Street and began shouting at the shop’s bemused clientele through its large glass windows.

“Look at them! Ignoring me! Mocking me! They have not heard the last of me!” Mr. Amster exclaimed, the feathers quivering with his wild gesticulations. “I will issue a special proclamation demanding they bring back my sundae!”

Patrons likely had no idea what he was talking about. But Mr. Amster was playing the role of this city’s most celebrated 19th-century eccentric: Norton I, the self-styled “Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.”

Mr. Norton’s was once a household name here. Numerous things were named after him, including Ghirardelli’s Emperor Norton Sundae. But the sundae, like Mr. Norton in general, has since faded from view.

Now some San Franciscans are pushing to return the emperor to prominence. Mr. Amster, 59 years old, who conducts tours dressed as Emperor Norton, is among those trying to bring him back, to rekindle the city’s celebration of society’s oddballs and outcasts.

PHOTO: Joseph Amster as Emperor Norton, holding a print copy of the Wall Street Journal, via Joseph Amster

New Details Emerge About Circumstances Surrounding 2014 Alex Nieto Shooting

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The cover story of today’s San Francisco Examiner reveals new information about the circumstances surrounding the SFPD officer-involved shooting of Bernal neighbor Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill in March 2014.

The Examiner reports:

Supporters say Nieto was defenseless and never attempted to grab, or point at police, the stun gun holstered at his side. They also believe Nieto was brought to the ground by gunfire, and then shot until dead.

But previously unreported details included in a letter sent from the District Attorney’s Office to Chief Greg Suhr in February, when the DA decided not to press criminal charges against the four officers involved, contradict those claims. The case has since been referred to the FBI.

The San Francisco Police Department echoed the DA’s decision last week when it closed its investigation into Nieto’s death, determining that officers acted within department policy when they fatally shot him on March 21, 2014.

Nieto pulled the trigger on his stun gun three times within moments of police shooting at him, according to the DA.

Each trigger squeeze was recorded by the Taser’s memory. An analyst with Taser International reviewed the weapon’s clock and determined the trigger was first pulled at 7:18:45 p.m., again seven seconds later and then at 7:19:01 p.m., according to the DA.

“These times coincide with time the officers discharged their weapons, which can be heard on the audio recording of the 911 call beginning at 7:18:40 p.m.,” the letter read.

The article also reveals that Neighbor Alex had several disturbing mental-health incidents in the weeks preceding his death on Bernal Hill.

 IMAGE: Alex Nieto photo illustration by Telstar Logistics

Hear the New Single from Heartwatch (and Neighbor Eric!) Before You See Them at Outside Lands

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There’s a terrific new single from Heartwatch, the San Francisco indie-rock band that includes Neighbor Eric Silverman, a distinguished resident of Precita Avenue.

We wrote about Neighbor Eric & Co. last January, back when the group was called The Tropics. Since then, your Bernalwood editor has spent an awful lot of time listening to The Tropics, which recently changed its name to Heartwatch. Why the new name? We don’t know. Perhaps to confuse us. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because these months of listening to The Tropics Heartwatch  have turned your Bernalwood editor into a genuine fanboy. They’re really good. Plus, Neighbor Eric lives down the street, which is rockstar fun.

Here’s the 411 from the press kit:

Heartwatch. The name is new but the band – fka The Tropics – is no stranger to hoards of San Francisco’s young and beautiful.

In late 2014 the group released their inaugural EP, Wind House, to national acclaim, solidifying their status as the Bay Area’s favorite new band. Their critically adored live shows take a sonic victory lap through the very best of pop music from every decade since the 70’s, crossing the finish line in the present golden age of west coast music.

The band has been staying busy in 2015 with a sold out Noise Pop show at The Independent, an appearance at the Phono Del Sol Music Festival and the recent finishing of their forthcoming record.

You can catch Heartwatch in August at Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco.

Did you catch that? Outside Lands! So hot right now!

Heartwatch will play Outside Lands on Saturday, Aug. 8 at noon,  but before you go, Neighbor Eric offered us a special Bernal Neighbor Backstage Pass to hear their brand-new single, called “Faultlines.” Fall into it:

UPDATE: 3 August: Bonus!  Here’s a brand-new video of a recording session and band interview, recorded in Neighbor Eric’s Precita Ave. backyard. Loovley!

PHOTO: Courtesy of Heartwatch

Read This: Writerly Bernal Heights Couple Rocks Today’s NYTimes

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Oh hey! Need some great Sunday reading? The dynamic husband-and-wife duo of Ellsworth neighbors Elizabeth Weil and Daniel Duane have a terrific husband-and-wife pair of articles in today’s New York Times.

Read Neighbor Liz’s explanation of why San Francisco bagels suck, and why there’s hope for a better bagel future!

Read Neighbor Dan’s article on the growing popularity of rock climbing and climbing gyms!

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

Remembering Karen Huggins, Holly Courts Advocate

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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

Tosan Is a Bernal-Based Menswear Business For Rad Dads

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Neighbor Surya and Neighbor Nick live on stylish Ellert Street here in Bernal, in a house that has also become the headquarters for their new family-friendly menswear fashion business. Neighbor Nick wrote Bernalwood to say:

Shameless email, but that’s what husbands are for.

My wife and I met working for Old Navy HQ. She was a menswear designer there for over 7 years. After the birth of our first and (currently) only child Mikio, she made the very difficult decision to leave a career she loved and dedicate her time to raising our son.

Along this journey and specifically as I tried to find my way as a father who wanted to keep his personality but also have useful things for babies she came up with the idea to start a menswear line targeted at dads. Tosan is about celebrating great gear for the adventure of fatherhood.

100% made in America, 90% made in the Bay Area, and designed and curated right on Ellert Street in our very own beloved Bernal Heights.

The brand officially launched less than six months ago and recently had the incredible fortune of being featured on the Today Show with Carson Daly as part of a segment about 6 Father’s Day gifts that dad’s actually want.

Here’s a screen grab from that glamorous Today Show segment:

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Neighbor Surya adds:

This brand really was brought to life in the few blocks surround Cortland. We have a babysitter two mornings a week. I pack my computer and supplies up and make the block and a half hike up to the village. Almost every email has been sent from Progressive Grounds or Pinhole. The guys at Progressive know my order (Beet salad, no cheese, add avocado). Aziz asks after my son and I settle into the back room. And JoEllen from Pinhole has been my biggest neighborhood cheerleader. She is so inspiring as a fellow female business owner and person in general. Her positivity is infectious!

Very cool. Check out the sexxxy Tosan collection, for that special stone-cold sexxxy daddio in your life.

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PHOTO: Top, Neighbor Nick, Neighbor Surya and Jr. Neighbor Mikio, courtesy of Tosan

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