You might have noticed that Bernal Heights is today home to a rather impressive roster of fabulous writers and authors. All Bernalese can feel justifiably proud of our rich literary landscape, but Bernal Heights has been fertile ground for writerly genius for well over 120 years. For example, thanks to some impressive new research published by La Lengua’s rebel propagandist Burrito Justice, we now know Jack London once lived in Bernal Heights.
Yes, you read that correctly: Jack London once lived in Bernal Heights.
Okay, so Jack London was just one year old when he called Bernal home, and he didn’t live here for for long. Nevertheless, his later success provides clear proof that there’s something in the air in Bernal Heights that nurtures literary excellence.
Burrito Justice points to an excerpt from Irving Stone’s 1903 biography of Jack London:
(Side Note: Jenny Prentiss does not appear to be the namesake for the Prentiss Street in Bernal today. That Prentiss was likely the Civil War hero General Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss.)
Anyway, if Jack London lived in Bernal Heights, Burrito Justice moves on to the obvious question:
But where in Bernal? Jack London was born on January 12, 1876, and John London married his mother either in September 1876 or February 1877.
The 1878 SF city directory gives a potential answer:
Jack’s adopted father was John London, a Union veteran who married Jack’s mother Flora after Jack’s birth. But there are two John Londons! Which one? Also, how does 27th meet up with Harrison? And where is Gunnison Ave and Precita? And how does 28th have anything to do with Precita?
After some further sleuthing, we learn that Gunnison Avenue in Bernal Heights was a short stretch between Precita and Ripley that was contiguous with Harrison Street — until 1895 when it was renamed Harrison. But in this 1889 map, for example, the street was still called Gunnison Ave:
So baby Jack London lived somewhere just south of Precita Park, along present-day Harrison Street, which today maps out like this:
That’s just a quick summary of the evidence, but Burrito Justice dug up lots of fun stories and maps and historical geekery to identify where Baby Jack London lived when he lived in Bernal Heights. It’s fascinating stuff, and he did all the homework, so you absolutely must read the entire story on the Burrito Justice blog.
And from here on out, whenever you see some snot-nosed toddler being pushed around Precita Park in a stroller, just remember: That kid might just might turn out to be Bernal’s next Jack London.
IMAGES: Historical maps and text excerpts via Burrito Justice