Bernal Neighbor Remembers Boyhood Sundays with Carlos Santana in Precita Park

Inspire-to-Aspire

Carlos Santana says Precita Park in Bernal Heights is “where it all started.”

Santana hailed from northeast Bernal Heights, and he launched his musical career during freewheeling weekend jam sessions that transformed Precita Park into an urban amphiteater.

Precita Park was where it all started for Bernal neighbor Orlando Galvez as well. Orlando was a young kid at the time, but he lived on Folsom, just up the street from Precita Park, and the scene that sprang up around Santana during those musical weekends left a lasting impression.

These are Neighbor Orlando’s memories:

I remember when I was a six year-old boy, watching Carlos Santana play his guitar. I thought he was the coolest kid in the Precita Park. When Santana was playing, I would even drift away from my beloved satellite spinner to get a better view.

Precita Park was a weekend mecca where hippies, Black Panthers, Symbianese Liberation Army radicals, and neighborhood Chicanos with their spectacular, sparkling lowriders would all gather around the playground right near where the satellite spinner still spins today.

“Oye Como Va” always got the party started.

The whole park smelled like cannabis and fried chicken. It didn’t matter where you stood or what spot you claimed for your picnic; there was no escaping the foggy clouds going Up In Smoke. I remember it looking sort of like a gigantic outdoor steam room. Bongs traveled around the park as all the different tribes shared the “weefer” (that’s what they used to call it) from their pipes. In-between were dozens of Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets, half emptied of deep-fried original recipe wings, drumsticks, and buttered sourdough rolls. Along the street, dozens of customized lowriders parked bumper to bumper, stealthily showing off their power by competing for the highest hop near the mound in Precita Park where Carlos liked to play his guitar.

PrecitaPark1970s

That’s how I remember Precita Park in the late sixties and very early seventies. I feel fortunate to have been a part of that era. This was before America declared war on the poor through Reagan’s “war on drugs.” It was also way, way before LAPD chief Daryl Gates began using gangster tactics to antagonize non-white, non-affluent neighborhoods. It was before the Black Panther raids, and before Gates-inspired SWAT teams were given the “go ahead” to begin terrorizing citizens.

In hindsight though, I realize I’m also fortunate to have had the unique opportunity to grow up in Bernal Heights, one of San Francisco’s most unique and profound neighborhoods, at a time when it was so rich in culture, politics, art, and (most of all) controversy. Where else on this planet could a six year-old boy hear Santana’s electric guitar on any given Sunday, free of charge, in seventy-ish degree weather, before an evening mist of Pacific fog rolled in?

A six year old boy pays attention to the adults around him, because those adults seem like godly giants. As I write of these remembered moments, I feel incredible gratitude for all the care and love I received from everyone who was in the park in those days. Listening to Santana in Precita Park had a big influence on me, but only now do I realize how much it shaped me into the person I have become.

Such awesomeness. Have a Bernal memory to share? Email your story to us:  bernalwood at gmail dotcom.

PHOTOS: Top, “Inspire To Aspire,” a Carlos Santana tribute mural (now effaced) painted in 1987 by Michael Rios at South Van Ness at 22nd Street. Below, Precita Park in 1973. Santana played on the mound in the foreground, and on a patch of concrete just to the left. Orlando called this play structure The Octopus., “That thing was so hard to climb,” he says. “The pegs were too short, and they were made of iron, so they were super slippery.” Photo by Max Kirkeberg via the Bernal Heights History Project.

16 thoughts on “Bernal Neighbor Remembers Boyhood Sundays with Carlos Santana in Precita Park

  1. That picture of The Octopus makes me think we should put a big sculpture in Precita Park, maybe at the Folsom end. ‘Twould be awesome.

  2. HOW do we create such a thing in the here and now? Well, first, it helps to engage today’s parents, who have grown up on TV news to think that everything is dangerous. There was an NPR documentary a few weeks ago about how parents 20 years ago allowed their kids to roam all over town, but today they don’t let them past their back yard — even though the crime rate has dropped in those past 20 years.

    We need to get to parents to encourage them to interact, do community picnics, play games and jam together. It’s funny; when I used to practice my button accordion in Precita Park, lots of people, but especially the kids, acted like they were being tortured! (I happen to pull down $75 an hour playing for private parties, so I know my playing is quite good.) But people today don’t seem to treat an activity as “legitimate” unless it’s a video game, something they’ve seen on TV, or an “officially sanctioned” activity such as a concert.

    We need more chaos, less order, more spontaneity, less predictability in our lives!

    Way more than Precita Park, I prefer these days to hit Warm Water Cove, aka “Toxic Beach” at the foot of 24th Street, because I often find spontaneous stuff going on there. Punk bands set up because they know they’re not going to be disturbed. People have informal picnics, etc. Would that Precita Park could still be that way, but not with the current crop of residents who seem to be killjoys.

      • HUH? I’m very serious. I’m a community organizer; my vocation in life is to bring people together. I run SF Games, the twice weekly board and card games group (tonight at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm), as well as a free jazz concert every Friday (tonight at 7:30) at the Atlas Cafe. I’ve also put together random events such as spontaneous pizza cookouts, storytelling, etc. I also spent about 2 years busking with my button accordion and fiddle at the BART stations.

        MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE IN LIFE we need our health and our friends. And yet, how many of us feel they are lonely, that they can’t connect with others? There’s no reason to be that way! But it means getting out and participating in life.

        Since I mentioned two of the things I’m currently doing, here are web links to both of them:

        http://www.sfgames.org and http://www.atlascafe.net — both community events are free and open to all.

        –david kaye

  3. Thanks for this. I was new to San Francisco during those years, but only heard about low riders, the parties in Precita Park. You account give some life to those years.

    • It’s nice to have memories, but it’s easy to get caught up in the “those were the good old days” and “nothing like that happens anymore” mindset. I want to break people away from that attitude. There are all kinds of interesting, casual things going on these days, too. One just has to plug into them.

      One of the people who has done and continues to do interesting stuff is Bishop Joey, the guy who puts on the Saint Stupid’s Day Parade on April 1. People: Get dressed up/down and GO to it and meet other folks there. You’ll meet performance artists, clowns, burlesque people, folks who perform magic on the streets, all that stuff. And you’ll meet people who have casual parties, or just contact a bunch of friends and go do something in a park. Here’s the Saint Stupid’s Day website: He hasn’t updated the website for this year, but here’s where to go to find out more. Also, lots of info and photos of previous events: http://www.saintstupid.com/

  4. David Kaye,

    You nailed it-“SIR.”
    Speaking of “the current crop of residents that seem to be ‘killjoys’.” I just returned from my daily walk on the hill and I came across two city employees who were sweeping the rocks from one of the trails because these same “current crop of killjoys” have been calling complaining about “too many rocks on the trails making it just too “awkward” for their daily jogs.”

    I cannot remember any time in my life growing up on this same hill when any of “my” neighbors called the city to complain about too many “rocks” being an inconvenience on its trails: same trails that I grew up playing, biking, and even motocrossing (yes, that is correct, I learned how to ride both a dirt pedal bike and a motocrossing gas/oil motorcycle on this hill). To repeat, calling for city sweepers to sweep the rocks “off” of the trails because “too many rocks” sitting on them is just making it ever so inconvenient for their daily “Stanford Club” jogs? What? Really?

    Its a fucking hill. If too many rocks are uncomfortable for your daily “Stanford Club” jog, then you need to go to Dolores Park or the Olympic Club. Let our public workers do some real, more important, more productive work for our city. I don’t need to see two full-timers wasting scarce tax revenues moving rocks off of trails that have been sitting in them since the beginning of time because such a “hill” -is, as one learned in grade school- made of nothing more than, well—ROCKS! ROCKS! AND MORE ROCKS!

    Rocks that as soon as these workers leave, will be right back in the same places just as they have always been for generations. It’s a hill.

    Look at this way “Stanford Club” joggers. If you run on these “rocks” that are in the way of your daily “Stanford Running Club” jog you will get in even better shape since they will require you to use your “core” muscles resulting from requiring the natural “balancing” of your body’s weight on an array of uneven, sloping, inclining, declining, moving surfaces that one must face in the “real” world. A world you are so unfamiliar with.

    Again, its a fucking hill for goodness sake!!! Turn down this extravagant cretinous display a notch or two. This hill can care less what your bank accounts look like. It will produce “more” rocks as soon as you are gone: as it alway has and always will.

    Good Grief. Unbelievable. Just unbelievable how hubristic, petulant, and malcontent my neighbors are today. The hippies who raised me where never like this. They had it right all along preaching “peace,” love,” and “happiness.”

    Where are you?
    Where did you go?
    Why did you leave me?

    Where have you parked your colorful Volkswagon bugs and yellow school buses playing the Beetle’s “Magical Mystery Tour?” Come back with your beautiful long hair and wide beards; bring along those daily smells of patchouli and grass; and don’t forget your leather vests -made locally at Johnson’s Leather on Valencia street: moved to Polk street, but owner Allen is still there (if you bought your leather from him, he will remember you)- with long, showy laces hanging from your sleeves. I miss you folks so much! You got more work to do today than when you were last here in ’72. Why, or how could you leave me behind like this?

    Picking up the poop was a great idea. Thank you for that. We are “still” doing it. Spending from the thinnest city budgets on record for the sweeping away of natural rocks from trails off a hill that is made up of nothing but rocks is proof that “you” had better grass than these “current crop of ‘killjoys’.”

    Yes indeed, I thank you over and over for everything “you” accomplished; but, wish you could still be here.

    Wherever you find yourselves today, I miss you all and will never forget you. Maybe one day, you will be back.

    And should you ever be back? Today, there sits a home near the top of “your” hill filled with rainbows wearing flowers that are bursting with that same love, peace, and happiness you endlessly taught me coming up as a boy; it looks just as your song used to sing daily from countless AM transistor radios (Google it) at top of “your” hill reminding everyone who would come that “if ever, you were in San Francisco, bring flowers in your hair,”

    –and its waiting for you, just come, the flowers are ready and they are HERE TO STAY!

  5. I grew up on Folsom in the Projects in the Middle building between Army and 26th from 1960 to 76ish and remember well Santana playing in the Park. Yes all types of people gathered there on a regular basis. One not mentioned was the Hells Angels. Yes it was quite the neighborhood. I wouldn’t trade my experiences in the Mission nor the Projects for anything. My family and I have lifelong friends from the Projects and the Mission.

  6. Pingback: High Bridge Arms in Bernal Heights, San Francisco’s Last Gun Shop, Set to Close | Bernalwood

  7. Pingback: Bernal Native Carlos Santana Says the Super Bowl Needed More Local Bands | Bernalwood

  8. Pingback: Carlos Santana’s Former House on Mullen Avenue Is For Sale | Bernalwood

  9. Pingback: San Francisco Diaries: Hanging out with Carlos Santana in Precita Park

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s