Let’s Explore Life Magazine’s Mysterious 1969 Photo from Bernal Hill


We don’t know much about what’s going on here, because the caption doesn’t provide any context. (“Above San Francisco, 1969” is all it says. Thanks!) Still, it was nifty to stumble across this image in an online round-up of vintage LIFE magazine photographs of San Francisco.

While the activity taking place here is mysterious, there are nevertheless a few cool things to notice. Let’s use our special combination of algorithms to zoom and enhance the eastern side of the background:


There’s Cogswell Polytechnical College, on Folsom between 26th and (then) Army Street. Just south of that, the original St. Anthony’s church still stands, before it was destroyed by fire in 1975. And of course, the infamous Bernal Dwellings housing project, built in 1952, with its fortress-like residential tower, dominates the block on Army between Folsom and Harrison.

Now let’s look a little to the west…


There are lots of new cars lined up outside the Lesher-Muirhead Oldsmobile dealership on the corner of Army and South Van Ness, while just a little farther west we can see the big sign for Kerry’s Restaurant — open 24 hours a day, with ample parking! — rising above Army Street.

Bernalwood hasn’t geeked-out about Kerry’s Restaurant before, so let’s digress. Here’s a rather awesome 1986 (!!) shot of Kerry’s taken from street level, courtesy of the Chronicle:


Here’s an advertisement for Kerry’s from a 1964 copy of the Bernal Heights Pictorial, which was an “antecedent to New Bernal Journal”:


Even more tasty, perhaps, is this 1960s menu from Kerry’s that we found in a dusty corner of the interwebs:



Crab Louie! Cottage Cheese Salad! Breaded Veal Cutlet! Kerry’s was obviously a classy joint.

Meanwhile, if you happen to know anything about those two gentlemen frolicking in the foreground, please do chime in…

21 thoughts on “Let’s Explore Life Magazine’s Mysterious 1969 Photo from Bernal Hill

  1. I miss Kerry’s. To me it was a travesty when it closed. Why? Because every good working class neighborhood needs an all-night diner, and the Mexican/Salvadoran restaurants don’t cut it. We need a patty melt at 2:30am. Seriously, the local diner is the heart of a community. When I sing karaoke in Pacifica I go to the Denny’s there afterwards to get the feel of working class Pacifica. But the Mission doesn’t really offer that kind of thing anymore.

    • Oh, Kerry’s!!!! Good place to go to after a night of partying! And, in good-girl mode, a family-friendly breakfast joint after Sunday Mass @ St. Kevin’s. I’m with David…an all-night diner would be so awesome, but can’t see that happening… *sigh* I also remember going up to Bernal Hill on Paul Revere grammar school field trips. Either doing some entomology or geological research. The boys always burned insects or attempted to set the grass on fire with their magnifying glasses… o_O

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  3. The full resolution picture, at 1500×969 pixel, can be found at this URL (can’t seem to post http): timelifeblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/140728-san-francisco-39.jpg
    So your “zoom” is actually “enhanced”, and not just upscaled.

    Quite amazing how barren the streets look without trees. Nothing for the whole stretch of South Van Ness, Shotwell, and Folsom. The Folsom trees have grown amazingly tall by now. How long after 1969 were those planted?

      • I have to take any opportunity of tree appreciation to encourage the tree appreciators to educate themselves about the NAP section of the Parks and Rec Dept., and their terrible, destructive intentions for SF’s trees. Please see any number of SF neighborhood blogs on the issue. “Death of a Million Trees,” “Save Sutro Forest” are two examples. They have tried and sometimes succeeded in our very own neighborhood to carry out their misguided agenda. Knowledge = power. Thanks!

  4. You might consider asking Andrew Balterman, of Concinnati, Ohio, nephew of the photographer, Lee Balterman. Lee died in 2012 (see http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/chicagotribune/obituary.aspx?pid=156756828) and Andrew and three nieces are mentioned in Lee’s obituary (see https://www.facebook.com/andrew.balterman). Perhaps a family member may have learned what Lee was photographing. My suspicion is that Lee was simply capturing a beautiful view of a portion of the city and using two gentlemen in dark and light clothing to enhance the beautiful contrasts of Lee’s superb and well exposed black and white photography. The action of the two men surely is entirely staged and the background is used to frame them well, with the extension of three streets into the foreground framing them and the dark trees to the left, between, and to the right of them offering balance to the photo.

  5. That is not Mowed Grass.They would actually burn it to keep the fire danger at a minimum. In the summer the weeds/grass would get very tall and dry and we would take large pieces of cardboard up the hill from Folsom st and slide down that hill and surrounding hills for hours. Come home with our Dog, socks and hair full of those spur things. Fun, Fun, Fun (Not for MOM)

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