Wednesday: An Oral History About Swedish-Americans in Bernal Heights

From left: Bill Cassidy; The Swedish Lutheran Emanuel Church at Cortland and Folsom, as seen in the1920s; Melvin Anderson. (Photos: Bernal History Project)

On Wednesday evening, Sept. 20, the Bernal History Project hosts a special presentation, courtesy of Bill Cassidy, a lifelong resident of northeastern Bernal Heights and a remarkable source of information about our neighborhood.

Thirty years ago, Bill filmed a series of interviews that evolved into an oral history project. He sought out people who had been born and raised on the hill and asked them to share their stories. “When they died, this would all be gone,” he says. “And then the history’s gone, too.” Bill wanted to show younger and newer residents of Bernal what life had been like.

His interviews have rarely been seen publicly since they were recorded; he is kindly sharing these with us for the first time. His work has helped inspire the Bernal History Project’s own research and oral history recordings.

This month’s meeting will feature around 40 minutes of Bill’s 1987 interview with Melvin Anderson (1911-2003).

Melvin’s parents, Alfred and Tilda, came to the United States from Sweden in the 1880s and moved to Brewster and Costa Streets before the start of the 20th century. Melvin goes into depth about his remembrances of growing up on the hill. (A cousin was Jack Anderson, the Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter.)

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. sharp on Wednesday, Sept. 20 in the downstairs meeting room at the Bernal branch library (500 Cortland at Anderson); turn left at the bottom of the stairs. As always, it’s free, kid-friendly, and open to all.

Wednesday: A Visual History of Bernal Heights in the Movies

1968: The chase begins on Army Street just east of Bryant, in Bullitt

On Wednesday, June 21 at 7 pm, come to the Bernal library for a presentation hosted by Bernal History Project’s Precita Park/St. Anthony’s expert, Ben Valdez. Ben has compiled some seldom-seen shots of bygone Bernal from family home movies and more familiar sources.

The collections includes excerpts from The Ordeal of Patty Hearst, a 1979 made-for-TV movie that actually used the Symbionese Liberation Army safe house at 288 Precita to film in (and which startled Ben’s grandparents, who used to live at that address in the 1960s). You’ll see Better Call Saul‘s Jonathan Banks as Bill Harris, jogging along Army Street and buying fish from a street vendor on Precita before being arrested by FBI agent Dennis Weaver for his role in Hearst’s kidnapping.

We’ll also have footage of the 1974 Streets of San Francisco episode “The Most Deadly Species,” in which guest star Brenda Vaccaro plays a hit woman who seduces Michael Douglas and gets up to no good in St. Anthony’s Church.

And let’s not forget the famous chase scene in the Steve McQueen 1968 classic movie Bullitt.

Ben will also show some family home movies of weddings from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Anyone who has Bernal-related home movies or other clips to suggest is invited to bring them on a USB stick or disk to show at the meeting.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. sharp in the downstairs meeting room at the Bernal branch library (500 Cortland); turn left at the bottom of the stairs. As always, it’s free and open to all.

Wednesday: Learn The History of Earthquake Shacks in Bernal Heights

111 Years Ago Today: The 1906 earthquake, as seen from Bernal Hill in April 18, 1906. The St. Anthony’s Church steeple is visible in the foreground. (Image courtesy of the Bernal History Project)

This month’s Bernal History Project meeting is dedicated to the memory of the earthquake and fire on April 18, 1906. The meeting happens on  Wednesday, April 19, at 7 p.m. at the Bernal Heights Library (500 Cortland). All are invited.

Woody LaBounty and (former Bernal neighbor) David Gallagher, co-founders of the Western Neighborhoods Project, will present a slideshow featuring selected OpenSFHistory views of San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. They’ll also tell the story of the Relief Cottage Plan that housed more than 16,000 refugees after the disaster.

These refugee cottages were popularly known as earthquake shacks. “Earthquake shacks are palpable reminders of the greatest disaster the city has experienced,” Woody says. “The surviving cottages are also, like the phoenix on the city’s seal, a symbol of San Francisco’s resilience.”

Camp 23, in Precita Park, had 250 refugee shacks, many of which still exist in Bernal Heights. (Courtesy SFPublic Library History Collection.)

Immediately after the 1906 earthquake and fire, tented camps for residents who’d lost their homes sprang up across the city in parks and other public spaces. In Bernal Heights, this included  a camp in Precita Park.

The shacks were very basic, one-roomed wooden structures without plumbing or heating, and they were intended to be temporary. Residents paid a minimal rent and had to obey military-style rules against peeking, drunkenness, and misbehavior in the camps.

After about a year, the camps began to close —  and some people took their shacks with them. More than 5,600 earthquake shacks, built in city parks as part of organized relief encampments, were moved out of refugee camps to be used as housing throughout the city, including Bernal Heights.

The Western Neighborhoods Project saved three of these cottages from demolition in the Sunset District in 2006, placing a restored one on Market Street for the centennial of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.

Surviving refugee cottages in Bernal Heights, Santa Cruz, and elsewhere in San Francisco. (Courtesy the Bernal History Project)

Woody last talked to BHP about refugee cottages in 2004, when we knew of just a handful of surviving shacks in Bernal Heights. Since then, BHP has identified dozens more, and we’re discovering more all the time.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. sharp in the downstairs meeting room at the Bernal branch library (500 Cortland at Anderson); turn left at the bottom of the stairs. As always, it is free, kid-friendly, and open to all.