This Day in Bernal History: Remembering the St. Anthony’s Church Fire of 1975


Speaking of big, sad fires… on this day 41 years ago, a treasured Bernal Heights icon went up in flames. St Anthony’s Church at 3215 Army Street — Cesar Chavez at Folsom, in contemporary parlance — caught fire and burned on June 30, 1975.

Today the San Francisco Chronicle posted a remembrance:

Here’s the story from Chronicle reporter Kevin Wallace:

“Bumbling poor-box robbers may have started it by spilling an altar candle they were using to illuminate their industry.

“In any case, old St. Anthony’s Church, at 3215 Army Street, began burning at 2:50 a.m. yesterday.

“First it was just an eerie glow that attracted the attention of some passing youngsters. They turned up their car radio to deafening volume to rouse the neighborhood with a rock concert alarm, and hollered to the nine priests in the adjacent rectory.

“And right away it was a historic 4-alarm neighborhood event.

“Flames broke into the night sky all down the building’s spine. Above the altar, the blazing transept collapsed. The nave clock stopped at 3:12, a message to posterity.

“The once all-German neighborhood … assembled in hastily selected wardrobes to admire 162 firemen swarming off 47 engines with miles of coiled hoses. The hoses soon flooded Army from Shotwell to Folsom Street and eastward to Harrison, ankle-deep.

Bernalwood has written about the St. Anthony’s fire before, but to reprise; Here’s how St. Anthony’s looked from street level in 1965:


And here’s the real heartbreaker; check out this spectacular view of the church interior, as seen in 1958:


IMAGE: Top, Front Page, via San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday! Big, Special Bonus Fundraiser for Fire Victims at El Rio


There’s a big benefit for the Mission Street fire victims happening tomorrow, Thursday June 30, at the fabulous El Rio, and Bernalwood is a co-sponsor.

This is a great event to shower with copious amounts of your cash, because a generous corporate sponsor has agreed to match all the proceeds collected at the door. That means for every dollar you give, the fire victims will get twice as much of your generosity.  Here are the details:

Fundraiser for Survivors of Mission Fire on Mission St & 29th
Thursday, June 30 at 8 PM – 11:30 PM
El Rio – 3158 Mission (@Precita)

Join us for a fundraiser for survivors of the fire that burned down the homes of 58 people on Mission and 29th.

Door fee will be $10 (but no one turned away). We’ll also do a raffle. El Rio is kindly donating all bar proceeds from 8-12 to the fund.

All proceeds will go directly to the familes and will be matched 1-1 by a corporate sponsor. The Mission Economic Development Agency will process all donations and won’t be charging a fee.

You can also donate online here (with MEDA) and here (with Edwin Lindo).

Virgil’s Sea Room (the bar just next door to El Rio) will also be taking donations at the door. If there’s a long line or you want to wait, sit down and grab a cocktail while still helping our neighbors.

Event line up:

PHOTO: El Rio bowling table, by Telstar Logistics

Today! Shop and Dine on Mission Street to Benefit Fire Victims


The Mission Bernal Merchant’s Association has been working hard for the last week or so as the organization has rallied to provide assistance to residents and businesses displaced by the big five-alarm fire.

Today, Tuesday June 28, MBMA member businesses are offering special deals to help raise funds for the fire victims, so it’s a great day to shop and dine on our stretch of Mission Street:

Help our neighborhood rebuild!
Mission Bernal merchant fire relief June 28

Since the fire on June 18, our neighborhood has really come together as a community. Among other efforts, many of the businesses in Mission Bernal are doing their part to help out the residents and merchants that were victims of the fire.

On Tuesday, June 28, we encourage everyone to visit your favorite Mission Bernal business to show your support. Go to dinner at your favorite restaurant. Grab a drink at a local bar or get your hair cut.

Get some ice cream at Mitchell’s – they are donating 25% of their sales tomorrow. Buy art at Secession and we will donate 20% of the purchase price directly to the displaced merchants. Cafe 78 is donating 15% of sales, and Blue Plate is donating the proceeds of meatloaf and mac and cheese sales.

Multiple fundraisers are happening through the neighborhood in support of both the merchants and businesses Take a moment to appreciate the community and send positive thoughts for the rebuild efforts!

Participating businesses will have information on how they are contributing, and how to donate to the neighborhood businesses displaced by the fire. You can also donate through our web site,

PHOTO: Top, 3300 block of Mission Street after the fire. Photo by Jonathan Koshi

Aerial Photo Reveals Devastation from Mission Street Fire


From street level, it’s been hard to assess the true scale of last week’s five-alarm fire. In part, that’s because some of the damaged buildings are now boarded up. Yet  even before the plywood went up, the fire zone included a lot of interior spaces that are normally hidden behind the facades of the buildings.

To get a clear perspective on the damage done, you need an aerial photo. And now, courtesy of Neighbor Marni and Alan, we have one.

Marni and Alan live behind the Front Porch, and Alan captured the scene in this video taken from his drone.

The screenshot shows the view looking east toward Bernal Hill, as the drone hovered above just above the Front Porch. Here’s an annotated version, for orientation:


Finally, here’s a sobering view of what this location looked like before the fire, as seen in Apple Maps:


PHOTO: Burned buildings via video screenshot, courtesy of Alan Musselman

Wallet Time: Your List of Fundraising Efforts for Victims of the Mission Street Fire


NOTE: This post will be updated as new efforts and events are announced.

Last night, a family displaced by last weekend’s five-alarm fire left the Salvation Army shelter where they’ve been living ever since they were forced to flee from their home. Bernal neighbor Sana Saleem reports that the family and their one year-old daughter moved into a local Airbnb provided for free under the company’s disaster recovery program. It’s just a beginning, of course, but it’s an encouraging sign that efforts to help displaced residents and small businesses get back on their feet are gaining momentum.

Simultaneously, a broad array of community members are coming together to raise funds that will assist the victims of last weekend’s fire in a longer-term way. As Bernalwood emphasized earlier this week, this recovery effort is a marathon, not a sprint.  Here’s a summary of how you can contribute to fundraising efforts for the fire victims:

The Mission Economic Development Agency has created a fund for fire victims, and yesterday MEDA launched a dedicated webpage where anyone can contribute.  100% of donations will go directly to tenants impacted by fires in residential buildings in and around the Mission. Added bonus: Donations to the Mission Tenants’ Fire Fund are tax deductible.

Edwin Lindo’s fundraising effort is also continuing. The fund has collected $38,500 as of this writing, with a goal of $100K. Apart from gofundme’s fees, all the donations will go to fire victims.

Friday, June 24, 4 pm – closing @Doc’s Clock (2575Mission near 22nd): This Friday 50% of all proceeds from drinks served at the divetastic Doc’s Clocks bar will go to MEDA’s fire victim’s fund.

Sunday, June 26, 3 pm – 6 pm @Barebottle Brewing Co. (1525 Cortland): Barebottle is having a fundraiser for the fire victims in their gorgeous new brewery and tap room, Sunday June 26, 3-6pm. 50% of all beer proceeds will be donated to fire victims.

Thursday, June 30 8 pm – 11:30 pm @El Rio (3158 Mission near Precita): The Fundraiser for Survivors of Mission Fire on Mission St & 29th will be a great way to have some fun and amplify your impact. The door fee will be $10 with no one turned away, and a generous corporate donor has offered to match all proceeds collected at the door.  The fabulous El Rio team is also donating all bar proceeds from 8pm -12am  to the fund.  There will be music, a raffle, and one very beautiful community coming together to help. Bernalwood is a co-sponsor, and complete details are here.

Wednesday, July 13 @Elbo Room (Tentative): Can’t make it to El Rio next week? Don’t worry about it. This one is just coming together, but the beloved Elbo Room also reached out to Bernalwood with an offer to host a fundraising event for Bernal fire victims. We’ve picked a tentative date, and the rest is TBD, but we’re hopeful a corporate donor will again match donations from the door proceeds . Pencil this in on your calendar, and stay tuned for more details soon.

In addition, InsideScoop created a great summary of fundraising efforts announced by restaurants and bars along our stretch of Mission Street. If you’re hungry, or thirsty, here’s how you can help:

Front Porch: Until July 1, 10 percent of sales will go to fire victims through the Red Cross, as will all profits on the evening of July 5, during a larger benefit. In addition, the restaurant is spearheading a Bucket Brigade (it specializes in buckets of chickens) with gold buckets behind the bar to collect additional cash donations. Nearby Rock Bar will also be participating. The goal is to raise at least $3,300 in honor of 3300 Club.

Ichi Sushi: Starting June 27, all sales from Yuzu Chicken Wings and Lavender Lemonade will be sent to neighborhood funds that support those displaced by the fire. The restaurant also plans to host a fundraising dinner with other chefs in the near future.

Old Bus Tavern: Net proceeds from sales of Pisco Punch (made with Pisco, lime juice, pineapple and clove) will be donated to victims of the fire.

The Pizza Hacker and Blue Plate, located nearby, say they plan to announce fundraising plans soon.

Sidebar: InsideScoop’s article is a great read that provides insight into the close-knit bar and restaurant community in La Lengua.  It also includes this inspiring shout-out for two establishments that swung into action even as the fire was still burning hot:

Restaurants in the immediate area had to close Saturday night, and some began feeding the firefighters instead. Front Porch supplied fried chicken and iced tea, and Good Frikin Chicken set up a table with rotisserie chickens, rice, falafel and homemade mac n cheese.

Small Business Relief Fund created by the Mission Bernal Merchants Association: MBMA is the merchants’ group along along Bernal’s Mission Street corridor, and the organization is raising funds to help fire-damaged businesses recover, relocate, and start the rebuilding process to get back up and running as soon as possible. Donations to this fund are tax-deductible.

For the small businesses impacted by the fire, today also brought a ray of sunshine from City Hall. The Examiner reports that each small businesses may each receive $10,000 from a special City fund designed to help them get back on their feet:

In response to the fire, Mayor Ed Lee directed the Office of Economic and Workforce Development to activate The City’s Small Business Disaster Relief Fund, which provides emergency money to small businesses affected by the fire. There’s about $200,000 available in the fund. Businesses will take advantage of the disaster relief money, and paperwork is already underway to secure funds for those businesses.

Got all that? Earlier in the week, Bernalwood urged you to keep your wallets and checkbooks warm for future use, and hopefully you now understand why: There are a lot of ways to help the victims of the fire recover. Thanks for your generosity, and special thanks to all the people, companies, organizations, and agencies that have worked tirelessly this week to launch these recovery efforts.

PHOTO: Top, Neighbors displaced by the Mission Street Fire on Saturday evening. Photo courtesy of Sana Saleem

Hosts Needed as Airbnb Activates Disaster Relief Program for Fire Victims


The next few weeks will be critical for the 56 Bernal neighbors displaced by last weekend’s big five-alarm fire. Donations have been flowing in, and several fundraising efforts are getting underway to provide longer-term support and rent money. (More on these soon.) But in the meantime, the fire victims must find places to stay, because the current shelter won’t stay open for very long — and besides, it’s rather spartan there.

It’s the kind of situation that makes you think: Hmmmm. If only there was a system that could connect fire-displaced neighbors with the many generous people in the area who would be willing to make extra rooms available for them, for free, on a temporary basis. In other words, if only there was something sort of like Airbnb, but for disaster victims who need interim emergency housing while they search a more permanent place to stay.

Fortuitously, such a thing actually exists, and it’s called… Airbnb. Specifically, it’s Airbnb’s Disaster Response & Relief Program, and it was activated yesterday for victims of the Mission Street fire in collaboration with the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management and the Red Cross. Here’s how Airbnb says the program works:

When disasters strike, we can activate our response tool for a designated geographic area. When the tool is activated:

  • Airbnb automatically Emails hosts in the affected area, asking them if they are able to help
  • Existing hosts and local residents with extra space can host those in need for free
  • All Airbnb bookings in the affected area are fee-free
  • All hosts have access to Airbnb’s 24/7 customer support, Trust & Safety tools, Host Guarantee and other services regularly available to Airbnb hosts
  • We use our networks to provide general disaster response information to guests and hosts

By way of backstory, Bernalwood learned about Airbnb’s disaster assistance program a few years ago, and we remembered it on Sunday, after visiting the Salvation Army shelter on Valencia where some of the fire victims are staying. A friend connected us with the manager of Airbnb’s disaster relief program, and we reached her as she was on her way back from Orlando, where Airbnb had been assisting families recovering from that city’s horrific gay nightclub shooting. On Monday Airbnb was in contact with the Department of Emergency Management, and by Monday evening, the program was ready to go. The email went out to local Airbnb hosts on Tuesday, and  free listings for fire victims began appearing on the Mission Fire disaster page soon after:

Airbnb’s  program for the Mission Street Fire victims will operate in coordination with the local Red Cross.  Airbnb tells Bernalwood:

Our thoughts are with those affected by the fire in San Francisco over the weekend. We have activated our Disaster Response Tool and encourage our host community in the surrounding area to aid displaced residents with housing.

Right. We encourage that too. Now that things are all set up,  please consider joining the Disaster Response program if you have an Airbnb listing that you can make available to assist a displaced neighbor on a temporary basis. It’s a tremendously neighborly thing to do, at a time when some of our neighbors need it most.

PHOTO: Top, Neighbors displaced by the Mission Street Fire on Saturday evening. Photo courtesy of Sana Saleem


No Sign of Foul Play as Investigators Say Fire Started in Cole Hardware Building


Yesterday, the San Francisco Fire Department held a press briefing at Secession Art and Design to provide an update on the status of the investigation into Saturday’s traumatic five-alarm fire. You can watch a video of the full session here.

ABC7 says so far there’s no evidence of foul play in connection with the fire:

“The building of origin is 3312 which is the Cole’s Hardware store with residential above it. As to the exact spot within that building, that’s still under investigation,” San Francisco Fire Department spokesperson Jonathan Baxter said.

One of the immediate concerns when this fire broke out and one that remains from neighborhood residents is what seems to be a disturbing trend of devastating fires at low income, rent controlled buildings.

But the fire department said they’ve never been able to find a nefarious link to this or any other Mission District fires, so far. “Past fires have been attributed to electrical issues, heating issues and human error issues,” Baxter said.

Some residents were allowed to return home to retrieve belongings.

Officials said 57 people were displaced, and half are from the corner building, a low income voucher hotel.

The property was damaged, but city agencies told ABC7 News it can be repaired so residents can eventually move back in.

Cole’s Hardware will be torn down as a total loss and the same goes for the Playa Azul restaurant building.

Other than the fact that the fire started at an unknown location in the Cole Hardware building, there were few other salient details from the press conference:

  • There were four residential units above Cole Hardware.
  • The exact spot where the fire started in the Cole Hardware building is not yet known.
  • The sprinklers at the Graywood Hotel were operational, and the sprinklers activated during the fire.
  • The fire alarm system at the Graywood Hotel also activated.
  • There were no open fire hazard complaints for the Graywood Hotel or Cole Hardware buildings.

Meanwhile, efforts are continuing to find more permanent shelter for those displaced by the fire, and significant resources are now being applied to the problem.

The Graywood Hotel is believed to be repairable, and the expectation is that residents will be able to move back in once repairs are complete. That’s the good news. The bad news is that repairs may take a long time.

Bernalwood is involved with several efforts to provide assistance to displaced residents and raise funds to help defray their housing costs, and we’ll have more to say about all that very soon. Local merchants are also rallying to help impacted small businesses. It should come as no surprise, but our community has risen to the occasion to provide the assistance the fire victims need. Stay tuned for more detail about additional ways you can help.

PHOTO: Fire scene on the morning after, June 19, 2016, by Telstar Logistics