RIP Robert Nygard, a Familiar Character on Cortland Avenue


We’re sad to report that Robert Nygard has passed away. Neighbor Robert was a familiar face on Cortland Avenue, but he died last weekend after he was struck by a car near Mission and 29th streets, a few days short of his 61st birthday.

Valerie Reichert, manager at the Bernal Heights Library, recalls:

Robert was part of the neighborhood’s old guard, and those of us working on Cortland chatted with him daily. When I came to work, Robert was always sitting with his coffee on the Neighborhood Center bench. He would shout across the street “Hey Lady! “and then give me the weather report.

Robert used the library pretty much every day and was a favorite with the staff. He was a teller of tall tales (which I fell for lock stock and barrel), convincing me last year it was his 80th birthday, when in fact he had added 20 years in order to ice the cake. Mr. Robert Nygard was definitely part of our Bernal landscape.

Neighbor Stacie from Little Bee Baking adds:

Robert was one of the older guys who hung out most every day at the Neighborhood Center or the library, and he came in to my shop regularly for ice cream. He also used to play the blues on his guitar outside the Neighborhood Center while I was getting my shop ready to open. (He was always really proud that he taught himself to play the guitar!) It’s just weird not seeing him after having seen him almost everyday for the past two-plus years.

PHOTO: Robert Nygard at the opening day for Little Bee Baking. Photo courtesy of Stacie Pierce.

Neighbor Jeanne Carstensen Reports on the Refugee Crisis on Lesbos


Journalist Jeanne Carstensen just returned home to Mullen Ave. in Bernal Heights, but not long ago she was on the Greek island of Lesbos, reporting on the Middle Eastern refugee crisis. A sample of the experiences she had there:

Asas doesn’t have enough money to pay the smugglers and worries how he will be able to work in Turkey, where Syrians have no legal status. Nour checks his cell phone frequently looking for a message from his contact. He shows me the life jacket under the table. He had expected to take a bus to the boat the night before but the hook up was called off due to iffy weather. Now he doesn’t know for sure when he will leave.

Yet they both insist on inviting me to tea. This detail — of hospitality offered in a moment of extremis — sticks with me. I had gone to the Basmane neighborhood with some trepidation. After all, it’s the center of human trafficking, as it’s called, the business of moving people illegally across borders. Looking around me I wondered who was who, who was a trafficker, or a middleman, or a refugee. But when I sat down to interview Asas and Nour and others with my microphone held close to their faces I quickly felt at ease.

I offered to pay for the tea but they would not accept. And when beggars came by our table, the refugees reached into their pockets for coins. No one was turned down.

In this video filmed on Lesbos, Neighbor Jeanne explains how the refugee situation there has unfolded:

Hat Tip: Neighbor Mark

PHOTO:  Scene at the Sindad Cafe in Lesbos, by Jeanne Carstensen

Saturday: You’re Invited to the Bernal Mosque and Islamic Center’s First-Ever Open House


Ask and ye shall receive! Thanks to the the amazing response we received for Bernalwood’s interview with Zishan Safdar about South Bernal’s Mosque and Islamic Center, the mosque is holding an open house for the Bernal community this Saturday, November 14.

Zishan extends the invitation:

This is going to be ICSF’s first open-house event since it was founded in 1959. Better late than never, right?

We’re all super-excited and hope you are, too! During the event, there will be background history about the mosque, the events that go on there, Q&A, and most importantly, some mouth-watering snacks.

We look forward to seeing all of you at the event on Saturday, November 14th, 2015.

EVERYONE is welcome! :)

The open house will go from 12pm to 2pm at the mosque on the corner of Crescent and Andover. If you plan to attend (and you should!), please RSVP to Full details below:


His Highness Emperor Norton Is Getting Married!!


The Royal Couple

Hear ye! Hear ye!

His imperial highness, Emperor Norton I (aka Bernal neighbor Joseph Amster), will marry his beloved this weekend, with all the pomp and ceremony their exalted stature demands. Bernalwood received the proclamation:

A Royal Wedding, San Francisco Style

You may have seen them around town: Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, and the Countess Lola Montez of Lansfeld, either giving walking tours or a presence at civic events like the annual 1906 earthquake commemoration. What is less known are the people behind the personalities.

Joseph Amster and Rick Shelton are a couple of seven years, and are getting married on Saturday, Oct. 24 at Congregation Sherith Israel.

Avid historians, this Bernal Heights-based couple launched Time Machine Tours in 2011, giving historical tours of San Francisco as beloved characters from the city’s past.

“Many people know us as simply the Emperor and the Countess, but we have lives outside of those roles,” said Amster. “Our friends and family have asked if we are getting married in character, but we decided this special day should be about us.”


BIG, big Bernal congratulations to Neighbors Joseph and Rick!

PHOTOS: Courtesy of Emperor Norton

Bernal Neighbor Brilliantly Trolls Tech Industry, Tech-Haters, Media, Chickens, and Us


For the last few days, Neighbor Andi Plantenberg on fashionable Samoset Street has generated a lot of buzz and a few headlines by creating a pitch-perfect website for Qoopy, a luxury day care service for chickens.

Operating in Brooklyn, Portland, and (of course) Bernal Heights, Qoopy promises that “when you travel, we give your chickens the royal treatment.” But only if you can get to the top of the waitlist.

Naturally, this has been was greeted with howls of shock and zeitgeist-encapsulating derision. For example:

Some saw it as a clear sign of late-stage urban bourgeois affluenza:

Bernalwood heard about Qoopy earlier in the week, and with Bernal featured so prominently, we decided to reach out for more information.  Neighbor Andi sent this reply:

One of the most common questions we get is “Is Qoopy real — or is this some kind of affectionate satire of the world we live in?”

I’m not a shaman. I’m not qualified to answer questions like that.

I do see that today’s urbanites long for a return to the simplicity and immediacy of raising their own food. This new generation has its own answers to questions like “What should I do with my chicken once her egg-laying days are done?” And even, “When I go to work, will my chicken miss me?”

On the other hand, the tech industry is racing to provide services that cater to urbanites’ every whim. I can have my dirty skivvies picked up with a tap of my smartphone.

Qoopy’s biggest innovation has not been our hand-crafted chicken curriculum, but our willingness to ask the question “Is the innovation economy solving the right problems?”

Truth be told, even after receiving this response, Bernalwood remained unsure if Qoopy was real, or satire, or both.

After all, experience has taught us that proper chicken care is a legitimate need in Bernal Heights, and besides; the idea of creating a satirical thing that nevertheless operates as a real thing is … errrrrrrrrr … uummmmm … well, suffice to say, we don’t find this hard to imagine either, because Bernalwood has been doing exactly that for almost five years.

We were candid about our ongoing confusion in the conversation with Neighbor Andi, and she was gracious enough to provide a less ambiguous reply:

Last Thursday evening, my husband Alan Peters and I were joking around like we normally do, and the notion of a Chicken Daycare for Urban Hipsters came up. We laughed and I said “I’m just going to launch it tomorrow’. I made a landing page, came up with a company name and a domain. And posted to facebook. The goal was to entertain myself.

That was Friday. Qoopy had a handful of up-votes on Product Hunt by Monday afternoon. By Tuesday mid-day I had thousands of hits, a few serious inquiries (all from Brooklyn) and a playful VC inquiry.

I think the reason it went viral was that it seemed like a joke, but could conceivably be true (Wait– maybe this *is* real”). The innovation economy is making services like this left and right, hence my earlier blurb.

So it began as a fun couple hours on friday, but has tapped on something larger. Qoopy has started some healthy and entertaining dialog.

Yeah yeah, sure sure. Seriously though… how do we get to the top of the waiting list?


Esmeralda Slide Park, Now Beautifully Renovated, Nominated for SF Beautiful Award


Neighbor Joan Carson, one of the valiant ringleaders who helped organize the glamtastic renovation of the Esmeralda Slides and Mini-Park, shares this update on the new sign over the park, and some (well-deserved) recognition it’s receiving around town:

There’s a new sign over the Esmeralda Slide Park, designed by Nancy Windesheim and constructed by me. The sign is prominently displayed on the trellis above our planter box, with the new plantings installed by volunteers on August 15, the second workday we had.

Most of all, we want to tell everyone who reads Bernalwood that we are one of the many esteemed nominees for a 2015 SFBeautification award.  San Francisco Beautiful is a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the livability and beautification of San Francisco. For 44 years, they have been recognizing people and places who contribute to the City’s livability and beautification.

The nominees are showcased on the SF Beautiful’s Facebook page. We’re there, and if you’re excited like we are, please “like” us.

Everyone who dedicated themselves to making this rebuild happen should feel very proud. There are a number of projects that happened this year in the City that are really special, and we can find ourselves amongst them.

Whether we win an award on Sept. 17 or not, the recognition of being a nominee in the company of all the other special projects nominated, puts us in the best of company!

Citizens of Bernalwood, you know what to do: Please help stuff the ballot box by adding your Likes and gushy comments right here.

PHOTO: Neighbor Joan

RIP Laurel May, Former Neighbor, Honorary Chairwoman of the Bernal Alumni Network

laurelmay-still.memorium copy

We recently learned that former neighbor Laurel May passed away on July 5, 2015.

Laurel May was a veteran Bernal neighbor who moved from her Bernal home in October 2013. When it was time for Laurel to move, she wrote a wonderful good-bye note to Bernal Heights, which was published in Bernalwood. An excerpt:

As my heterosexual life partner Brett, our bulldog Manchester and parrot Pixel […] prepare to cash in our chips and ride the Bernal property gold rush right on out of the state of California, I hear saw blades turning all over the neighborhood and wonder if this changing tide will somehow irrevocably alter Bernal’s magical blend. That thought does make me sad. But, moping around is for suckers, so I tear off those fear-of-gentrification pants, slap on my thinking cap and recollect . . .

When the New Wheel first opened, I thought maybe the mustachioed fixie army down in the flats would retrofit themselves with the power assist motors needed to climb Cortland and swarm our peaceful streets. Didn’t happen. When Four Star Video announced they were closing, I was bummed – and then Ken and Amy turned it into just about the greatest plant store, ever! When Sandbox Bakery opened their doors I thought, “Here come the snotty baristas and overpriced pastries” and — well, at least they installed some pretty comfortable benches!

And while its true that the Prize Pocketlibrary mural, the marmothilltop piano and wafting stench of Skip’s Tavern may have faded into the mists of time, you holdouts (and recent arrivals) shouldn’t fret — while there are certainly changes ahead, no matter who or what lives on this hill, that undefinable Bernal magic is forever. Bernal magic — oh, and Hunan Chef.

It was a terrific message, and it inspired Neighbor Steve Sisler to reach out to Laurel to learn more about her experiences here. The result was a powerful video interview with Neighbor Laurel, filmed 24 hours before she moved from her Bernal Heights home. That’s when we learned she was battling Stage IV metastatic breast cancer:

It was a bummer that Neighbor Laurel was leaving town, but she had one parting request, and Neighbor Steve and Bernalwood were glad to grant it.  Laurel asked to serve as Chairwoman of the Bernal Heights Alumni Network, so we gave her the job:

I bet nobody hands out parting gifts like this over in Potrerowood! #BernalRules

A photo posted by Laurel May (@laurelwho) on

After her move , Bernalwood followed Laurel via social media and her blog, Cancer Is the New Black. Eventually, however, these channels fell quiet.

Former Neighbor Laurel May is survived by her husband Brett Bond and her daughter Kirsa, who was born via surrogate on July 27, 2015. A memorial service for her was held atop Bernal Hill on July 18.


Laurel is gone, but her spirit remains in Bernal Heights. If you happen to live in her former home, don’t be surprised if you hear some unusual bumps in the night. Laurel knew this day might come, and she always planned to return to Bernal Heights:


PHOTO: Top, Laurel May, during her last day in Bernal Heights. Screengrab from Steve Sissler’s video.