Saturday: Remembering Bernal Neighbor Bill Guedet

Sadly, Bernal Neighbor Bill Guedet of Gates Street passed away recently. His friends and family wth host a memorial celebration of his life on Saturday, May 20 at Wild Side West from 3-5 pm.

Neighbor Toria tells us more about Neighbor Bill:

I wanted to share the sad news about the passing of a longtime Bernal/Gates Street resident and San Francisco original — Bill Guedet.

On behalf of his son Ruben and his partner Erica, I’m spreading the word about a toast/memorial/celebration to be held on May 20th at Wild Side West from 3-5pm. Ruben grew up on Gates Street, and is currently living in New York.

Bill moved to San Francisco in the 60s. He lived in the Haight, hanging out with Janis Joplin and others from the community there. He moved out in 1967 because he saw the change that was heading for that neighborhood. After a time in Potrero, he landed in Bernal in 1976. He was a cable car driver and an avid photographer.

Bill was a familiar sight on Cortland, and always good for a story about the past, or opinions about the present. It still hasn’t quite sunk in that he’s gone.

Bill son Ruben grew up on Gates Street, and he tells us more about his dad, and his life in Bernal Heights:

My father was born Oct 2nd, 1942 in Merced, California. He remembers growing up in the 40’s and 50’s, fondly recalling sharing Sunday lunch with his grandfather, a field hand who did not speak English, but taught him how to eat in the Italian way, and developed Bill’s palate for anti pasta, olive oil and vinegar. Bill was one of a handful of white teenagers to see Little Richard play in Merced, and he tried to get over the wire fence that separated him from the Latino and African American kids that were having a much better time.

As soon as he could, he left the valley for San Francisco and stayed with some gay classmates who escaped with him. He never saw any real reason not to be friends with them; indeed his family’s request to avoid them was even more reason to, and studied theater as SF State.

He would have told you that SF State was the real ground zero for the 60’s. It was wilder, much messier, far more fun than posturing UC Berkeley, and it spilled out into the Haight. In a strange coincidence, Bill’s great grandfather ran a pharmacy at Haight and Ashbury for a while with his three brothers from Italy. Bill would continue that fascination with the scene there, he famously (though not uniquely) danced with Janis Joplin. She called him “dude”, saw the Stones, poo poo’d the Dead, and lived many stories there, before he saw the good natured feelings turn away from the hope and transformation once promised.

It was in the Panhandle that he made the acquaintance that would lead him to my mother Holly (an early date being the fabled Beatles show at Candlestick). This began the great tragic romance of his life, and Bill eventually settled in Bernal Heights when I was 6 years old. Some of that time he worked as a photographer for the Chronicle, but ultimately found that less satisfying than just pursuing his own work.

In the early 70’s Bill had gotten a job working nights on the Cable Cars. This began a rollicking few years of fun and misbehavior while “the folks” (or tourists) never let on that they were the main attraction. In 1984 the cable cars were renovated, and a poorly designed switch at Powell and Market brought an end to Bill’s time with Muni. Severely injured, Bill sought training as an accountant and came to find work at the Vintage Court Hotel as a night auditor.

In the 1980s Bill began to really invest time in Bernal Heights; he was always known as the guy who cleaned the streets by picking up trash in the area (this was before recycling gave value to cans and bottles), and was instrumental in getting trash cans installed on Cortland street. Closer to home, he began the epic house renovation that continues to this day; transforming our home on Gates street from a flophouse into a family home.

It was this success that encouraged Bill to start a neighborhood tree planting program shortly thereafter. He was a leader in getting street trees planted in Bernal Heights, and was very proud the tree he had planted in front of our house. He continued his civic engagement by working against a city plan to implement street cleaning on Gates Street. BIll’s focus and drive allowed him to improve the area, and devotion to Bernal Heights is an important part what the neighborhood is today.

Bill’s energy turned inward when my Mom was diagnosed with cancer, a disease neither would ever recover from. After years of fighting with an implacable enemy, my mother succumbed and with her passing Bill would never have her far from his mind. For most of the last two decades this is the Bill that his Gates Street neighbors would come to know. Longtime residents might remember his messy attempt to redo the front of house (resulting in home made scaffolding up for years), or the eventual removal of the tree in front, but those who took the time to know Bill would understand that his passion for the area, and his love for San Francisco was never dimmed.

Bill passed on April 28th. Just as in life, he was supported by his neighbors on Gates Street in that time.

PHOTO: Bill Guedet, courtesy of his family

4 thoughts on “Saturday: Remembering Bernal Neighbor Bill Guedet

  1. Bill was always good for a neighborly chat, telling us newcomers (9 years in the ‘hood) about the old days.

    RIP Bill

  2. Ruben, I’m so sorry to hear this news! I knew Bill well, having spent countless hours talking to him at the local video store I owned. I spent some fun afternoons at his house talking about art and life. He told me all about you and was so happy when you and he were spending time together over these last years. He always stopped in to see me at the shop to say hi, and even came out to see my bands play over the years. I will really miss Bill around the neighborhood. He was definitely one of the characters in this neighborhood that is so beloved to so many people. Ah, I am really sad about this.

  3. I didn’t know Bill but I’m sure I saw him around the neighborhood, and on Cortland. It sounds like he was a very special man, and beloved by those who knew him. My condolences to his family and friends.

  4. Ruben, Thanks for giving us this background on your dad…I remember him speaking of your mom and that it was a loss he would never get over. He was a great story teller and a caring guy. He often bought Tuberoses from me and would always ask if they were in season. Rest now Bill…Cortland and Bernal will miss you.

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