Violent Tales from Pre-Gentrification Bernal Heights During the Eighties


Bernal Heights was a tough place during the Eighties. It was a time of rampant lawlessness, violent crime, substance abuse, and lots of un-neighborly behavior.

Burrito Justice, chief spokesblogger for the La Lenguan separatists, recently posted a series of tales that vividly captures the sordid underbelly of life in Bernal Heights during the dark days of the 1880s. Thus we meet Proto-Neighbor Jeremiah Buckley, who appears to have had some issues:


MEMO TO HOLY WATER: Put “Goat Chasers Great Internal Tonic and Stomach Reviver” on the cocktail menu, please, and make ours a double.

In any event, after concluding that “Twenty-seventh and Alabama” likely refers to the corner of today’s Precita and Alabama, Burrito Justice cites this sordid chapter of Bernal Heights history as justification for the cause of La Lenguan independence. “All La Lenguan residents should consider this fair warning when traversing Precitaville, as Consular services may not be available,” he writes.

Yet this strains credibility. After all, as he himself has documented, one of the most infamous hives of crime and scandal in the Dominion of Bernalwood was the Cable House, which once stood at the corner of Tiffany and Duncan, smack in the middle of the La Lenguan heartland.

The “Railroad Hotel” [was] a 30 room boarding house. Built in the 1880s, it was once known as the “Cable House”, and was torn down in the 1920s… All sorts of crazy-ass things happened at 24 Tiffany. Seriously, they could have made a reality TV show about it. If you ever time travel and stay at the Railroad Hotel, it’s best to not leave your things out:


Likewise, at La Lengua’s Cable House, it was best to avoid the liquor:


IMAGES: 1884 Bernal Heights from the David Rumsey Historical Collection. Press clippings via Burrito Justice.

13 thoughts on “Violent Tales from Pre-Gentrification Bernal Heights During the Eighties

  1. I thought for sure this was about the 1980’s–Bernal was pretty lawless in those days too!! I tell all my neighbors with small children how lucky they are to be able to use Precita Park, in my daughter’s day we couldn’t. Needles, bottles, gun fire—not a pretty sight.

    • Beth, I thought the same thing. Cortland Ave/Bernal Heights in late 70s to 80s was not the place you wanted to be, even in the daytime. It was a shooting gallery. Very happy the neighborhood has greatly improved!

      • yes, indeed. When we went to check out Leonard Flynn Elementary School for our daughter, they told us about drills for gun-fire like the ones we used to do for earthquakes. Needless to say she didn’t go there!!I I understand the concerns regarding gentrification and the cost of living however it is nice to not have to dodge bullets at Precita Park.

  2. Very interesting. I too have heard from my long time resident neighbors that Bernal in the 1980s could be a pretty scary place compared to the Mayberry RFD it is today.

  3. Well, and then there’s how the “Hungarian Sausage Factory” started to upscale Cortland in a great, folk-art, East European kind of way. The last stronghold for hanging out and driveby shooting madness was at the corner of Ellsworth and Cortland – which Martha’s amazingly moved into and transformed.

    • Fond memories of the Hungarian Sausage Factory. A similar euro-ethnic to be swallowed by more swish Italian was Speckmann’s on Church, which became Incanto and now being restyled as Porcellino. Liberty Cafe in that period was sort of a Cafe Beaujolais-style homey female-oriented Californian restaurant. Martha’s also opened on Church.

  4. Pingback: Old Bernal House Is Not Crappy, It Was Just Built That Way | Bernalwood

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