Tales from the Bernal Heights Projects, Class of 1971

Eric Fermon doesn’t live in Bernal Heights anymore.

But when he did, Eric was a young kid from the Bernal Heights Projects on the south side of Bernal, alongside I-280. Richard Nixon was president, and life wasn’t always easy, but Eric remembers it fondly. He wrote to Bernalwood recently to share some of his memories of what it was like here back in 1971:

I remember so many things about Bernal Heights while we lived there between 1967 and 1971, but the sunny days and the vantage point from living near the top of Ellsworth St. on the south side overlooking the 280 as it snakes through the Portola Valley are encompassing memories. We arrived there one sunny afternoon in a rented moving van driven by my cousin Big Mike who couldn’t have been older than 16 or 17 at the time. Pulling up over the crest of Ellsworth St and parking on the right side of the street just a few feet from the apartment entry way is a stark memory. We had a bunch of oranges contained in a red plastic mesh bag and my sister Gladys had been eating oranges all morning and when we got there she was itching like crazy and her skin had broken out with hives.

We moved into 832 Ellsworth that day and as far as I could tell, leaving the Potrero Hill projects and moving to the Bernal Heights projects was a step up.

Here’s some of the things I remember most about living in Bernal Heights:

Climbing Bernal Heights hill on a sunny day or flying kites up there or at Holly Park on a windy day.

Going to the Library and nearby play ground on Cortland Ave.

Throwing dirt bombs on the Muni bus that drove up Ellsworth St.

Walking home with my two sisters and at times with my older brother from the Potrero Hill child care center to Bernal Heights on afternoons when we either didn’t have a ride home or money to take the bus. We would walk down Connecticut St. and cross Army (now Ceasar Chavez Ave) onto Evans Ave., then pick up Toland St. and walk through the host of industrial and construction companies until we got to Industrial St. We’d then make a right on Industrial St. and cross under the 101 overpass then march through Farmers Market and past Sun Valley Dairy before heading up the hill on Crescent Ave. until we got to Ellsworth St.

Attending Paul Revere in the 5th Grade and taking class in the Bungalow that was located in the school yard.

Having races in the school yard at Paul Revere to see who was the fastest in the class and me being second to a girl named Sharon, who incidentally came to Aptos Jr High in my eighth or ninth grade year. I had a brief crush on her at Aptos and didn’t even realize it was the same girl from Paul Revere until she reminded me one day some years later as young adults while helping a family member move.

Fond memories of Claire my very first grade school crush. She was hispanic, had long black hair, a pretty face, beautiful smile, athletic body and happened to be a pretty good kick-ball player.

Making friends with Keith Lewis a basketball prodigy who saved me from Danny the bully and who eventually attended Lowell HS where I had the privilege to play against him in a few varsity basketball games while I attended Lincoln HS.

Watching my older brother Carl run down the hill and return triumphantly riding his 3 speed Schwinn StingRay bike back up Ellsworth St. after telling him a teenager from down the hill took the bike from me while I was riding it out in front of the apt.

Seeing local teenagers sniffing glue out of a paper bag in the bushes right across from our apt. and later while walking back home from the corner store seeing one of those teenagers on the roof of a house crying and whacked-out threatening to jump off the roof, while a group of people tried to talk him down.

Meeting the new next door neighbor Sheldon and eating Mushroom Pizza for the first time with him & listening to him talk about his parents having sex.

Learning how to bowl at Mission Bowl while participating in a Saturday morning youth bowling league and looking forward to eating the best french fries on the planet there, and knowing that with just the right amount of ketchup they were extra-extra special.

I’ve lived in a number of places since then but the time we lived in Bernal Heights was an awakening period of sorts for me because I lived there between the ages of 6 and 10 years old. The few notable memories listed above characterize my stay in the Bernal Heights projects and make me a proud member of it’s Class of ’71.

The Coda? Eric is an Air Force veteran who lives in Seattle. He does information systems work for AT&T, and is currently writing a book.

PHOTO: 832 Ellsworth in 2011, by Telstar Logistics

11 thoughts on “Tales from the Bernal Heights Projects, Class of 1971

  1. This is one of the best Bernalwood posts ever! I have a feeling my brother went to school with Eric. I can’t wait for the book, hopefully a memoir or fiction. Any news on what it’ll be?

  2. Wow! Just lovely, Eric — very clear, detailed, poignant.

    And I would say that even if you were not my big brother!
    Thanks so much, and thanks, also to the proprietor of this site.

    Amy Alexander, Eric’s youngest Sis.

  3. Fantastic. You would have lived there when ‘Bullitt’ was being made, a part of which was shot not far away down on Army, York St. and Peralta Avenue (the bit early in the chase where the Mustang disappears up York).

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Once Upon a Time, There Was Bowling in Bernal Heights | Bernalwood

  5. It’s important to note that the “832 Ellsworth” that Eric is referring to was demolished, and replaced with the building in that street-view photo. Every building in the Alemany Projects was rebuilt in the late-80s/early-90s.

    *Former 834 Ellsworth resident*

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