Fire-Damaged Cole Hardware and Playa Azul Demolished


It wasn’t with a bang, but with a whimper.

Yesterday, the Mission Street buildings that once housed Cole Hardware and Playa Azul — structures that were hollowed-out by the devastating fire last June — were finally demolished.

Neighbor Valerie took the blue-sky photo above later in the day, when work was wrapping up. Yet earlier in the morning, Neighbor William shared these photos taken just as the demolition was getting underway:

colehardwaredemo3It’s a sad (if inevitable) spectacle, and the void that’s left behind is a glaring symbol of the sadness many Bernalese feel at the loss of two esteemed neighborhood institutions.

PHOTOS: Top, Neighbor Valerie. Below, Neighbor William

Federal Loans Offered for Merchants Recovering from Mission Street Fire


There’s some encouraging news for merchants working to rebuild their businesses after last June’s devastating Cole Hardware fire — and the customers who  miss them.

In addition to the $10,000 grant each business has already received from the City, the federal government’s Small Business Administration is also offering low-interest disaster-relief loans to help shuttered businesses reopen.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez from the San Francisco Examiner reports:

The U.S. Small Business Administration on Wednesday declared the five-alarm fire June 28 at Mission and 29th streets, which displaced at least seven businesses and 40 residents and families, a “disaster” in response to a request from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

The declaration, also urged by the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, is a special status allowing the Small Business Administration to make federal assistance available.

That assistance comes in the form of disaster loans, allowing the businesses affected by the blaze up to $2 million to replace or repair damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery, equipment or other business assets.

The Mayor’s Office is coordinating with Keane’s 3300 Club, El Gran Taco Loco, Playa Azul Seafood, Coronitas, the Front Porch, and Harvest Shop to access available funds.

The families and individuals displaced from a nearby apartment building and the Graywood Hotel, a single-room occupancy hotel, will be able to take out $40,000 loans for damaged or destroyed personal property.

Though these are loans and not grants, “certainly any additional capital they have access to will give them ability to get going again sooner,” said Bijan Karimi, assistant deputy director of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.

PHOTO: Former site of Cole Hardware, July 16, 2016, photographed by Neighbor Valerie

Saturday: Benefit Sale at Secession for Fire-Damaged Mission Street Merchants


This Saturday, July 30, your glamorous Neighbor Eden Stein from Secession Art & Design on Mission Street is hosting a benefit party for merchants impacted by last month’s devastating Cole Hardware Fire.

Neighbor Eden says:

Please join us on Saturday, July 30th, 4-8pm for a neighbor and merchant mixer/fundraiser/Cole Hardware pickup party at Secession Art & Design, 3235 Mission Street.

The 3300 Club will be here selling their limited edition t-shirts, Cole Hardware will be pouring their Cutting Edge wine, Fire Pie has donated pizza and lots of neighbors will be stopping by to show some community love & support. Thanks to everyone who ordered online from Cole Hardware to pick up at the party!

The Mission Bernal Merchant Association and Bernal Business Alliance are excited to host the party and come together to raise funds for the June 18th Fire Merchant Relief Fundraiser. You can donate to the fund in person, or online. Thank you, however you choose to support.

We look forward to seeing you at the party!

PHOTO: 3300 block of Mission Street after the fire. Photo by Jonathan Koshi via MBMASF

RIP Bernal Neighbor Thea Anderson, 24


Neighbor Leigh brings Bernalwood heartbreaking news about Neighbor Thea Anderson, age 24, who died last month after a collision in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Neighbor Thea had been working as volunteer at a New Zealand school for children with intellectual disabilities.

Neighbor Leigh says:

I’m emailing on behalf of dear friends of mine, Consuelo and Thor Anderson, who are fellow Bernalites. They wanted to share the news of their daughter death a few weeks ago. Thea Faust Anderson died the day after her 24th birthday in a car crash in New Zealand, where she had been living and working.

Thea and her older sister Madeleine were born and raised in Bernal Heights, spending countless hours at the Bernal branch library, exploring the hill, and gaining newfound independence walking to Holly Park on their own. Consuelo remembers trick or treating with them back when there was only one cafe on Cortland.

As a fellow parent raising kids here in Bernal, I can imagine all the memories, milestones, and experiences Consuelo and Thor shared with Thea as she blossomed from her Bernal roots into an adventurous, vibrant and deeply caring young woman.

Here is a link to a beautiful obituary for her in last Sunday’s Chronicle.

There will be a celebration of Thea’s life at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1187 Franklin Street, San Francisco, on Saturday, July 23rd at noon. Gifts in memory of Thea may be sent to the Thea Faust Anderson Fund for Dance, Mills College, Office of Institutional Advancement, 5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, California, 94613, or online.

Please join Bernalwood in extending  our deepest condolences to Neighbors Consuelo, Thor, and Madeleine, on behalf of our Bernal community.


PHOTO: Top, Thea Faust Anderson. Below, Thea Anderson at Phia Beach, NZ, via The Dominion Post.

Cole Hardware Hopes to Return to Mission Street


At this point, it happens almost daily: I’m doing the Life Thing, trying to keep everything working, and inevitably there’s some small item required. Like a replacement key. Or a picture hangar. Or a rubber grommet thingy that goes between this thingy and that thingy. And inevitably I have a habitual thought: “Oh, I’ll just go get that at Cole Hardware.”

Except, that’s not possible anymore.* Sigh.*

In the wake of the June 18 Cole Hardware Fire,  a great many Bernalese have wondered if our neighborhood hardware store will one day return to our fabulous stretch of Mission Street. Last week, our friends at Hoodline interviewed Cole Hardware owner Rick Karp to learn more about the history of the business and the future of Cole Hardware in La Lengua:

On June 18th, the night of the fire, Karp gathered with his Mission store employees in the Safeway parking lot to discuss finding them new jobs. “We wanted to make sure that everyone continued to work, and we emailed them that night to tell them where they would be working the next day.” Sure enough, the next day, all employees had jobs. With help from his son, Dave, and daughter, Adrianna, who both help run the business, Karp was able to quickly divvy the staff up to the other four other locations. “Everyone is now working and they seem to be very appreciative with their new digs,” he said. “They’re all disappointed that they are not working together anymore. That’s a tough thing for the staff to be broken up. They were a cohesive group, but everyone from the other stores has welcomed them with open arms.”

“We are lucky that nobody got hurt [in the Mission fire],” said Karp. “We try to look at the good side.” Karp is actively looking for another site to relocate the Mission Street store. He told us that he really wants to stay connected to the neighborhood and get back in as soon as possible, because the loss of the hardware store impacts people’s lives daily.

“We want to continue to keep serving our customers there and stay connected. In fact, the burnt-out building is coming down this week. This is San Francisco, so we will be lucky if it’s built in a year. It could be a couple years [to get the building back up to speed].”

Karp is seeking a new location in Mission/Bernal/Noe Valley area, but hasn’t yet found a suitable space. He is also looking citywide to open another store, and is currently considering a spot in North Beach and another in SoMa. “We are open to any opportunity, as well. When the Mission building is ultimately rebuilt, whether that is two years or three years from now, whatever it is, we would like to move back into our Mission Street location. We don’t want to abandon that neighborhood, by any means. In fact, we are working with some Bernal folks to do a pop-up store here and there.”

Cole Hardware has been around since 1961. It all began when founder David Karp purchased the business on Cole. In 1984, he and his son, Rick, expanded the business to the Mission.

There’s a lot more to the story of Cole Hardware and Rick Karp, so read the whole thing.

PHOTO: Former site of Cole Hardware, July 16, 2016, photographed by Neighbor Valerie

Early Morning Fire Rips Through Gates Street Home



A two-alarm fire broke out inside a home at 121 Gates (between Eugenia and Powhattan) during the early morning hours today, severely damaging the structure. The fire started before dawn, at around 5 am, and by 8 am it was under control.

There are no details yet on possible injuries or the cause of the fire, but Bernalwood will update this story as additional information becomes available.

PHOTOS: Top, via @Glyom. Below, via @SFFFLocal798.

Special thanks to @SFFFLocal798 for the early-morning updates.

Let’s Have More Sprinklers and Less Conspiracy Theories


Last week, D9 Supervisor David Campos embraced an unconventional theory about the cause of the June 18 Cole Hardware Fire on Mission Street in Bernal Heights. Writing in the San Francisco Examiner, Supervisor Campos said:

We are at a point in this crisis where reasonable people now believe that arson is playing a part in the rash of fires that are destroying the homes of Mission and Bernal residents. Reasonable people see that fires in low-income buildings almost always result in large profits for building owners and landlords and are disturbed and afraid the uptick in fires is more then just a coincidence.

As the elected representative of these neighborhoods, there is nothing I want more then to assure my constituents that arson is not a factor in these fires. Unfortunately, at this point, I can not say this with certainty.

It’s true: A disconcerting number people believe that arson was the cause of the Cole Hardware fire. It’s also true that many seemingly reasonable people believe Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone, that fluoridated water is part of a communist plot to overthrow the free-enterprise system, and that space aliens sometimes capture humans for use in strange medical experiments involving deep-penetrating probes. Belief in an unsubstantiated theory is not the same as engaging with reality on the basis of evidence and facts, and Supervisor Campos brings no new facts to our understanding of what caused the Cole Hardware Fire.

Both in public and privately, investigators from the San Francisco Fire Department say there is currently no evidence to suggest that the Cole Hardware Fire was caused by arson or foul play. While the precise cause of the fire remains unknown, investigators have concluded the blaze started somewhere in the Cole Hardware Building, at around 2:15 pm on Saturday, June 18. That’s a busy time for shoppers at Cole Hardware, and an exceptionally risky time to commit arson — assuming you don’t also seek to simultaneously commit homicide.

Another fact: Fire investigators say the building next to Cole Hardware on the north side — the one on the corner of 29th that’s home to the Graywood Hotel SRO and the beloved 3300 Club — had no outstanding fire code violations or complaints. It was also equipped with functioning alarm and sprinkler systems, both of which activated during the fire.  The result is that the City says the building remains structurally sound, even now.

Shukry Lama, a co-owner of the 3300 Club, credits the sprinklers with saving the building and his business. “I got to see the third floor, and the sprinklers and firewall really saved us,” Shukry says. “The top of the southwest wall was badly scorched, but the fire damage stopped at the sprinklers. We were on the far side of the building, so our damage was just water, but everyone said the building is completely salvageable.”

Thanks to the sprinkler system, the tenants who lived in the Graywood Hotel may eventually be able to return home. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that Supervisor Campos has thus far declined to support the mandatory installation of sprinkler systems in older, multi-unit residential buildings.

In April 2016  Supervisor Campos held an event on the corner of Mission and 22nd Street — the site of a previous multi-unit residential fire — to announce his plan to introduce legislation aimed at reducing fire-related displacement in San Francisco. In his Examiner essay last week, he reminded us of this:

My office will soon have reached the limits of the powers given to us by the charter of the City of San Francisco to address these fires. Over a year ago we legislated the creation of an Interagency Fire Taskforce and drafted legislation to increase the audibility of fire alarms, update fire alarm technology, improve smoke alarm access and ensure that landlords provide tenants with critical information after a fire.

What’s missing from the list?  KQED highlights what Campos left out:

In April 2015, a Board of Supervisors committee held a hearing to look at ways to install sprinklers in more of the city’s older apartment buildings. During that hearing, fire officials released data showing that five out of every six buildings damaged by fire between 2010 and 2015 had no sprinkler systems.

Supervisor Jane Kim looked into crafting a sprinkler ordinance.

“The data shows that sprinklers absolutely save lives,” Kim said at the time.

The S.F. Apartment Association has opposed any attempt to require retrofitting the city’s older buildings with sprinklers, citing the expense and a long list of logistical issues. Instead, the association proposed improved education for tenants on the use of fire extinguishers and fire escapes.

In December, when a six-member group made up of members of four city agencies released its recommendations, it did not include suggestions on sprinklers. Neither does Campos’ proposal.

KQED also reported “The San Francisco Apartment Association, a group that represents many landlords in the city, worked with Campos on the legislation.”

Campos’s decision to work with The San Francisco Apartment Association and omit sprinkler retrofits from his fire-prevention legislation is complicated by the fact that the San Francisco Ethics Commission website tells us he’s accepted $2500  from The San Francisco Apartment Association over the years:

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 11.48.14 PM

To be sure, installing retrofit sprinklers is expensive. Very expensive. The 2016 Fire Safety Task Force Final Report outlines the magnitude of these costs in detail, and shares the perspective that “property owners are concerned with the expense of retroactively installing sprinkler systems to existing buildings and the cost to relocate tenants during such installation.”

That’s totally legit. Sprinklers retrofits are expensive, and it would be onerous to impose the full burden of retrofit mandate costs upon property owners. A forward-looking retrofit proposal should include mechanisms to make public funds available to property owners seeking to comply with a sprinkler mandate. Crafting such a proposal would take vision, leadership, a talent for negotiation, and intense attention to detail.  David Campos tells Bernalwood he has a plan for sprinkler retrofits, and it looks like this:



If that sounds rather noncommittal and less-than-encouraging to you, that’s because it is. Yes, it’s hard work to develop real solutions to help prevent long-term displacement caused by fires in old, multi-unit buildings. So our Supervisor finds it easier to pass the buck and speculate about things that may be “more then [sic] just a coincidence.”

Supervisor Campos seems to be in no hurry to develop a sprinkler retrofit program, and because of term limits, his time on the Board of Supervisors is quickly coming to a close. That means the challenge of reducing fire-related tenant displacement in our district will soon fall upon his successor. To learn where they stand on the sprinkler retrofit issue, Bernalwood reached out to the two leading D9 Supervisor candidates, Hillary Ronen and Joshua Arce,  for comment.

D9 candidate Hillary Ronen currently works as a legislative aide in Supervisor Campos’s office. She tells Bernalwood:

I’m definitely for sprinkler retrofits, but the kinds of concerns I have are to make sure costs aren’t transferred to tenants in a way that will result in people being displaced. The costs are quite significant. That’s what we need to figure out — who pays? Is it building owners, or funds the city provides? But what we don’t want is for the costs to be passed along to tenants who can’t afford them. Sprinklers are an important part of addressing these horrendous fires.

D9 candidate Joshua Arce also addressed the sprinkler retrofit question. Arce is a civil rights attorney and he emailed Bernalwood:

Now is the time for all of us to work together to develop a sprinkler ordinance that I will introduce on the same day that I am sworn in as District 9 Supervisor, one that requires fire sprinkler systems on buildings most vulnerable to this type of catastrophe. We will start with wood frame apartment buildings in and around the Mission, safeguarding the tenancies of low-income renters while addressing the economic impact on property owners with programs that are already available in other cities but have not been considered here.

I’ve already had the chance to sit down with tenant, housing, property owner, public safety, and labor representatives to draw lessons from the efforts to pass the successful 2001 SRO Sprinkler Ordinance that proved to be effective at 29th and Mission.

There is clearly a path forward. We’ve done it before with respect to SRO’s and let’s do it again before the status quo results in yet another tragic fire that destroys lives and threatens residents and family businesses with long-term displacement.

So there you have it: Real facts about what we can do to help protect the future of San Franciscans who live in older wooden buildings. Oh, and while it may just be nothing more than just a coincidence, there was an article in the San Francisco Examiner this week about a fire that broke out Tuesday afternoon at an SRO-style building in the Tenderloin:

Fire officials said the fire took place in a fifth-floor unit at 519 Ellis St. The Senator Hotel, a supportive housing development, is located at that address.

According to police, the fire began when a tenant lit several items in his room on fire, causing the room and building to catch fire.

Fire department spokesman Jonathan Baxter said the fire was put out by sprinklers before firefighters arrived on scene and it did not spread beyond the room where it started.

The fire caused moderate damage and was reported under control at 4:48 p.m., according to Baxter. No injuries were reported.

PHOTO: Aerial view of the fire scene, showing the structurally intact Graywood Hotel building, which was protected by a sprinkler system. Image via video screenshot, courtesy of Alan Musselman