Then and Now: Bernal Hill As Seen from Army/Chesar Chavez

Then and Now: South Van Ness at Army Street, 1953

I stumbled across the photo above a few years ago. It shows the corner of South Van Ness Avenue at Army (Cesar Chavez) as it looked in 1953, shortly after the completion of the now-infamous widening that turned Army into a major east-west thoroughfare.

Since I just happened to be just a few blocks from that very spot when I first saw the 1953 photo, I wandered over to see how the scene changed after all these years. Behold, the same view, as it looked on August 12, 2008:

Then and Now: South Van Ness at Cesar Chavez (Army), 2008

In a way, the most impressive thing is how *little* has changed, overall. Gas used to cost 25 cents a gallon, but in 2008 it sold for $4.17. (It’s cheaper now, unfortunately.) Notice that the microwave tower that sits atop Bernal today was just a little sproutling in 1953. It took a long time for it to grow so big and tall and beautiful.

Otherwise,  Bernal Hill look very much as it  did 50 years ago. My favorite detail is the Golden Gate Cleaners, visible at center left. The shop is still there, and with the same neon signage. Like a bug in amber.

The 1953 photo came from the Cushman Collection at Indiana University, which, for reasons unknown, maintains an excellent online collection of vintage color photographs of San Francisco. PROCRASTINATION WARNING: Do not click this link to the Cushman Collection website unless you have at least an hour to burn in blissful Technicolor historic reverie. You have been warned.

17 thoughts on “Then and Now: Bernal Hill As Seen from Army/Chesar Chavez

  1. I actually used to work in the Digital Library Program at IU and can confirm that the Cushman Collection is both amazing and addictive. Cushman was an amateur photographer who traveled all over the world and took color photographs in a time/in places when few folks were doing so; he also kept extensive notes on the provenance of each of his photos, making his collection an ideal one for us librarians to digitize. Of all the places he traveled, San Francisco was reportedly one of his favorites. Lucky for us!

    Also, GO HOOSIERS!

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  3. Lots more trees in 2008. That’s a good thing. I remember hearing my folks talk about how San Francisco was being built “out” into the boonies back in the 50s and then in the 60s my brother moved to Newark of all places which was really new development. It’s all relative to the moment in time.

  4. I’m often struck by little sections or corners of the city that could be from almost any decade if there weren’t cars or signs there to contemporize them. But I’ve never experienced it with such a big section until I saw these photos.

  5. One of my favorite shots from the Cushman Collection is this one from 1955 looking south from the top of Bernal Heights.

    It shows the 3 year-old Bayshore freeway (US101), Bayshore Boulevard, the Alemany Interchange, Bayview Heights, and very unpaved and ungraded block of Peralta Avenue and Mojave Street… oh yeah, an a big emptiness where the 280 freeway would cut this picture in have 10 years later.

  6. Great photo. Amazing (but not surprising) similarity. I believe that I can actually see my first Bernal Heights apartment on Precita Avenue in both photos!

    We we planted trees in our current Bernal Heights neighborhood (off Cortland Avenue), the Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) folks had lots of interesting Bernal Heights history…I think they were responsible for much of the tree-planting.

    Great blog.

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