Our glamorous neighborhood’s most famous Hollywood moment took place in 1968, when Bernal Heights served as the gritty starting point for the classic Steve McQueen car chase sequence in the movie Bullitt.
Writing for the SF Weekly, Joe Eskenazi tells a sweet “Where are they now?” story about a Bernal kid who scored some cameo screen time during the first moments of the famous Bullitt car chase (at about the 0:24 mark in the video below):
It all starts with that turn off of Cesar Chavez and a slow cruise up York. And — blink and you’ll miss it — a pair of kids runs across the street where York meets Peralta.
Last week, your humble narrator’s cellphone rang. “This is Angel Sanchez Jr.” said the voice at the other end.
He was one of those kids. [ … ]
A movie like Bullitt offers the chance to look through the window and see an entire city we will never see again.
Sanchez, the boy who ran across the street in front of the movie villains’ Dodge Charger, will be 54 next week. His cameo in city lore was not scripted. Loren Janes, the stuntman who, in reality, drove like Steve McQueen, recently recalled how tightly choreographed the seemingly chaotic scenes were. The repetitious Volkswagen was, in fact, driven by a stuntman (or stuntmen). So was every car on the street, even the cable cars on Filbert. Film crews kept an eye out for vehicles backing out of garages and intervened to prevent pedestrians from becoming hood ornaments. But no one lifted a finger to stop those Bernal Heights kids from running across the street every time the director shouted “action.”
“He’d yell ‘Cut! Cut!’ But, finally, to hell with it. He left it in there,” recalls Sanchez. “We must have run across the street three, four times. We didn’t know any better.”
Sanchez didn’t even realize he was in a movie until many years later. And, by that time, both he — and the neighborhood — had changed.
There’s lots more goodness where this came from, so take a moment to enjoy all of Joe’s article — and the (somewhat melancholy) picture it paints of life in Bernal Heights during the closing years of the postwar era.