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

Wednesday: Learn How to Learn About the History of Your Bernal Heights Home

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Tomorrow night, Wednesday, August 19, those intrepid time-travelers from the Bernal Heights History Project will share some tips on how to research the history of your Bernal Heights home:

“How to Research Your Bernal Home”
Aug 19, 2015 7:00pm-8:30pm (Wednesday) at Bernal Heights Branch Library

We have an admittedly ambitious plan: We want to research and record the history of every building on the hill, and we’d love your help.

On Wednesday, August 19, we’ll present a slideshow that explains how to investigate your own home and all the resources you can use, including city directoriestap recordsSanborn (fire insurance) mapsneighborhood newspapers, and many more free databases.

We’ll be using several examples of Bernal homes and businesses in our show, but this is an interactive presentation, so feel free to come with stories and photos of your own, especially if you want to find out more about your street and the people who lived in your home before you did.

PHOTO: Left, Anita Nieto, cousin Betty Reyes, and a friend outside the Reyes and Nieto grocery store at Crescent and Anderson, late 1940s; Right, 1905 Sanborn map. (Family photo courtesy Anita Nieto; map courtesy David Rumsey) — at 511 Crescent Avenue, San Francisco.

Earthquake Rattles Bernal Heights; Chert Defenses Hold, Matt Nathanson Predicted It

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So, didyafeelit?

We definitely felt it in the Bernalwood Action Newsbedroom. It was a quick jolt, and the house creaked a little bit, and then it was over. The US Geological Survey says it was a magnitude 4.0, centered near Piedmont.

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Once again, we are reminded to give thanks for our blessed Bernal Heights chert:

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Although, things still got pretty gnarly at Neighbor Arno’s house:

Meanwhile, you may recall that the weather last weekend was rather conspicuously hot. And the air was rather conspicuously still.  And then this morning, the ground shook. Coincidence? Well, let’s just say that neighbohood rockstar and accidental seismologist Matt Nathanson wasn’t surprised:

IMAGE: Top, Seismic shake map from the 4.0 earthquake, 14 August, 2015.

Tonight! Celebrate the 8th Anniversary of Secession Art & Design

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Secession Art & Design is a Bernal Heights treasure, and tonight it’s proud proprietor, Ms. Eden Stein, is celebrating her store’s eighth anniversary.

It’s hard to emphasize how hard she’s worked to make this happen. Secession has always been awesome, but when she lost her lease in the space across from Safeway in 2014, Ms. Eden had to scramble to keep Secession alive. Thankfully, through lots of hustle and a little good luck, Secession was able to re-open in the former SoCha Cafe space at 3235 Mission (near Valencia). Today, the store is bigger and more vibrant than ever, Ms. Eden is a pillar of the glamorous Mission-Bernal Merchants Association, and Secession become an  integral part of La Lengua’s increasingly lively (and delicious) Mission Street corridor.

Ms. Eden writes:

I am hosting our 8th anniversary on Friday night!

Secession is throwing a party to celebrate 8 years in the Mission Bernal neighborhood. Please join us this Friday, August 14 6:30 to 9:30 pm to honor what we’ve all built. Meet our featured artists Andreina Davila, Heather Robinson, as well as many others who’ve been part of our community over the past eight years.

Sometimes you have to dream big and just go for it. Thank you to everyone who helped us on our journey to our new home when we lost our lease a year ago. Thanks to your support, we were able to stay in the neighborhood and relocate to our beautiful 3235 Mission Street gallery and boutique. You rock!

Many of you have asked how you can help us to make sure Secession is part of the arts community and the changing San Francisco retail landscape. If you’d like to support us, the best way is to shop in-store (we’re open Tuesday-Sunday, noon to 7pm), shop online, or donate to our ongoing fundraiser.

Hope to see you tonight.

Congratulations, Eden, and best wishes for 800 more fabulous years!

IMAGE: Courtesy of Secession Art &; Design

What Do You Call a Home Seller Who Accepts the Highest Offer?

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A few weeks ago, in the context of an update about bonkers Bernal Heights real estate trends, Neighbor Sarah posed a question about the behavior of home sellers, and the role they play in pushing prices upward.

Neighbor Sarah asked:

There are two parties involved in any sale, and there’s no rule that says you have to sell to the highest, all-cash buyer, but it seems that even many idealists become hard-core capitalists in that moment. Idea for Bernalwood: get data from real-estate agents in the area about how often the seller chooses a buyer who is offering materially less than the highest bidder (which, mind you, would still likely be a high price by normal standards). Sales to relatives would not count.

Put another way (and in the way we often hear this question posed), if a seller accepts the highest offer, is that greed? Or, if a Bernal seller declines an offer from an existing Bernal neighbor whose bid for a home was not the highest, is that greed too? What if the existing Bernal neighbor is going through a hard time, or is an artist? Or a teacher? What is it when the seller nevertheless takes a higher offer?

Bernalwood turned to Neighbor Danielle Lazier and Neighbor Michael Minson, both of whom are realtors, to provide some perspective. Neighbor Danielle writes:

In my experience, it’s quite rare for the seller NOT to take the highest-priced offer. For most of our seller-clients, their home is their retirement, their nest egg, their ability to go and pursue the next chapter of their lives, and they want to make every dollar possible. Occasionally, if offers are very close in price and terms (contingencies, length of closing, etc), they may then choose the buyer whose “story” they feel more akin to, but it’s just as likely that they’ll ask us about issuing a multiple counter offer to drive the price higher. This is the nature of the sale. The seller typically wants the most money for their home.

Prices (sales and rentals) have gone up in Bernal Heights because more people want to live here than we have housing for. I don’t think the buyers want to drive up prices and pay more than they have to. They just want to live here and are trying to figure out what it’ll take to make that happen.

Neighbor Michael adds some particulars:

The largest amount I’ve seen a seller leave on the table because of goodwill was $15,000 and that was mostly because the accepted offer had better terms (the buyer was more likely to close than their competitors). A little bit had to do with the fact that both the buyer and seller were “cat people”.

IMAGE: Bernal home sales price trend, by Neighbors Danielle Lazier and Michael Minson

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

Neighborhood Vineyards Is Making Locavore Wine in Bernal Heights

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Oh hey. Did you some folks are growing grapes and making wine in Bernal Heights? Well, it’s happening: Some folks are growing grapes and making wine in Bernal Heights, at America’s first urban vineyard.

Neighbor and celebrity wineblogger Alder Yarrow  pointed us toward this recent Chronicle article about Neighborhood Vineyards at Alemany Farm:

I found myself walking through dense rows of headstaked Pinot vines on an otherwise weedy hill just west of the Alemany Farmers’ Market, squeezed above a block of public housing and below a row of modern Bernal Heights townhomes. Hartshorn set out an old knit blanket and poured me a glass of Albariño.

Her vineyard dreams began in France, where she went in 2009 with hopes of becoming a cheesemaker. That plan fizzled, not least because she realized her social life in rural France mostly involved playing petanque with septuagenarians.

After some wine marketing work in France, she returned to California in 2012, but not before she had visited Clos Montmartre, the tiny vineyard planted on Paris’ outskirts. Hartshorn loved the notion of thousands of Parisians coming to help with the mostly symbolic harvest. It wasn’t about the wine; it was an affirmation of wine’s cultural importance. Could San Francisco, as much a spiritual wine capital as Paris, have something similar?

Well, you can probably guess the answer to that question. Watch this video about Neighborhood Vineyards to see how they planted their 349 pinot noir vines right here in the glamorous terroir of Bernal Heights:

Want to visit? There’s a special guest talk and wine tasting happening this Sunday, August 15.

PHOTOS: Michael Macor, The Chronicle