House Portrait: Peek Inside the Home of Succulence’s Ken and Amy Shelf



Where do Bernal merchants retreat to rest and recharge after they hang the Closed sign in the windows of their Cortland storefronts? Our friends at the CurbedSF blog recently did a profile of the house that Amy and Ken Shelf from Succulence call home. It’s a colorful look behind the scenes at one of Cortland Avenue’s most unique shops — and the people who created it:

The Shelf family had been friendly with the owner of [Four Star Video] before he died. David Ayoob was often in front of his business, sweeping up and greeting the neighbors. “He was a community character. When I read that the business and building were up for sale, I thought ‘I could be that guy,'” says Ken.

Borrowing every penny (“Back then, you could do that,” notes Amy), the couple purchased the building at 420 Cortland Avenue. The days of video rentals at a brick and mortar store were waning, and from the beginning they were planning the next phase. When Darcy Lee, the owner of Heartfelt down the street, suggested they start selling succulent plants out back, a new business was born.

Amy came up with the name Succulence to honor the richness of life, and for this couple, it’s an idea they take home with them after the store closes. The store, the neighborhood, and their family are inextricably woven into the into the nearby Victorian cottage they own on a short street that’s quintessentially Bernal Heights; in other words, it’s on a narrow, hilly passage where each crest hosts a scenic city view.

Read the whole thing to learn more about Neighbors Amy and Ken Shelf and to see pictures of their colorful home.


A Barroom History of the Odd Mural in The Lucky Horseshoe


Last week, the humble but delightful Lucky Horseshoe bar on Cortland celebrated its fifth anniversary. Hooray! That’s a big deal, because it means that The Lucky Horseshoe can now lay claim to its proud own era at 453 Cortland, a barroom space that has been home to several previous eras of Bernal dive-bar legend.

For decades after World War II, 453 Cortland was known as The Cherokee. (More about that in a moment.) Then the space became Skip’s Tavern, a bar nearby neighbors remember for being rough around the edges and loud at night. Yet Skip’s was also home to some rather incredible blues music and a vibrant culture of its own.

Since then, Lucky Horseshoe has established its own funky vibe, and it retains a commitment to music. It’s friendly and well-maintained, but it’s still the kind of dive a neighborhood can be proud of.  CONGRATS Team Lucky Horseshoe!

Through all this, presiding over all these eras of boozy history at 453 Cortland, is the big, weird mural painted above the front door. It’s a faded, vintage scene of cowboys, Indians, and rolling Western landscapes, and it’s obviously been there for a long time:

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What’s the backstory on the mural?

Lucky for all of us, Neighbor Vicky Walker from the Bernal Heights History Project is on the case. Neighbor Vicky tells Bernalwood:

Here’s what we know about the mural inside 453 Cortland!

The mural was painted by Harold Vick (1915-?). Here he is as a young man:

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Later, Harold Vick worked at the Sommer and Kaufmann shoe store on Market Street as a card writer, sometimes listed as an artist. (LOOK at that store. Amazing!)

Harold got married in 1940 and moved to 19 Roscoe in South Bernal. His brother, Melvin, took over The Cherokee and ran it with his wife, Barbara, from 1943 to 1946.

The Cherokee in 1973, from the Max Kirkeberg Collection

The Cherokee in 1973, from the Max Kirkeberg Collection

Harold probably served in World War II. There’s another Harold Vick listed as a survivor of the Bataan Death March, but I haven’t been able to confirm that it’s him yet. In any case, Harold Vick is absent from the city directories from 1942 onward, although his wife, Patricia (Patti/Patsy) is still listed at 19 Roscoe in 1946. And Harold Vick never appears in S.F. directories again.

All that means we can probably assume that Harold Vick painted the Cherokee mural right around the time it was first owned by Melvin Vick.

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The story is told that the Harold Vick painted for beer money. The drunker he got, the odder the mural in the Cherokee became:

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The mural in the Cherokee wasn’t Harold Vick’s only barroom masterpiece.  We know he also painted “After Cassino” which hung at 309 Cortland in Duval’s Studio Club.

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Duval’s Studio Club became Charlie’s, which was a dive bar. That became the Stray Bar, which is now Holy Water.

The mural there was from 1944. My pal Jenner Davis is a former bartender at Charlie’s, and the daughter of Anita Davis, who was Regi Harvey’s partner, who sang all the time at Skip’s. She says: “The scene depicted in ‘After Cassino’ was taken from an original sketch Harold Vick found, singed and burned, in a field as he was crossing it with his platoon during World War II.  Nearby were the remains of the artist who created the sketch, and his unsuspecting female subject, who had blown them both to bits when her plow hit a land mine.”

Here’s a detail from Harold Vick’s ‘After Cassino’:

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We’re told that After Cassino’ now lives in the private dining room at Avedano’s.

IMAGE: Hanging the new sign at the Lucky Horseshoe in 2011

What Is the Bernal Business Alliance and How Can You Get Involved?


Neighbor Darcy from Heartfelt on Cortland extends an invitation for all sorts of Bernal businessfolk to get involved with the Bernal Business Alliance. She also extends an invitation to join the BBA’s next meeting on April 13, as well as a call for artists to help create a vintage-style map of Bernal Heights.

Darcy writes:

The BBA (Bernal Business Alliance) has gone through ups and downs over the years that I have been involved. It used to be the Cortland Merchants Association. and after our leader, David Ayoob passed away suddenly, different merchants have taken turns leading the organization. We have tried to bring more energy and life by also including home-based business, contractors, chefs, writers etc. We also welcome business folks who live in Bernal but whose businesses are actually in other neighborhoods in the city.

Right now we are in one of those phases where there’s a surge of interest and energy, so please consider joining and adding your voice to the working neighborhood.

Our meetings are held the 2nd Wednesday of each month at 10 am in the library community room, and I will be running the next meeting on April 13th. The theme is safety, and Captain McFadden from SFPD Ingleside is sending a representative. How can the business community make Bernal safer for all residents? What are your concerns?

On top of all that, are publishing a retro-style map in the next few months, (the image above is an example of the style we are going for), and we are looking for an artist-in=residence for 2016. This would involve designing posters for the strolls, a vintage style Bernal map, and even working on a new logo for the BBA. If you’re interested please contact us at

P.S. BBA Membership is only $50 for the year and you can join here.

Shoplifters, Scammers, and Other Challenges of Being a Cortland Merchant


It’s not easy being a merchant on Cortland Avenue.

Obviously, providing products, attracting customers, paying commercial rent, and managing the books are challenging tasks unto themselves. Yet over the last few years, as your Bernalwood editor has gotten to know many of the merchants who serve our community, I’ve also been impressed by how exasperating it can be when earning a livelihood means keeping your front door open to any random person who feels like walking in.

Neighbor Darcy from Heartfelt on Cortland shared this story — and a surveillance camera video — of a shoplifter who recently swiped some of her merchandise:

In the video, you can clearly see the young woman who shoplifts. The young lady with the tan cardigan, red scarf, and green purse looks around the room and pick up two Corkcicle-brand thermoses. At 02:09 she puts one in her purse, and at 02:52 she adds the second one to her purse, after which she quickly exit the store with a companion. We think the video speaks for itself.

Needless to say, if you recognize the perp, please stop by Heartfelt to let them know.

Meanwhile, a few blocks up the street, Neighbor JoEllen from Pinhole Coffee had her time wasted by this two-bit scammer who tried to pull the old “but wait, I gave you a $20 bill” trick:


JoEllen says:

The gentleman shown here has been trying to trick cashiers into giving him more change back. During the transaction he tried to distract me by being charming, pointing to certain areas of the room and commenting on the design…blah blah blah. He then told me he gave me a $20, when clearly he gave me a $5, and asked for more change. I said “nope.”

Norman of Elsie St. came in soon after and told us he heard he’s been doing that up and down the street that day.

Ask yourself: Have you hugged a Bernal merchant today?

Do You Recognize This Cortland Bike Thief?

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Apologies for all the crime news this week, but we seem to be in one of those unfortunate periods where there’s a lot of crime news…

The proprietors of The New Wheel bike shop on Cortland are seeking help from Bernal neighbors to identify the woman who stole a very rare (and expensive) electric bike from in front of the store earlier this week. New Wheel co-owner Karen Wiener tells Bernalwood:

While taking inventory of our bikes, we realized that one of our demo bikes had gone missing. As you know, we display eight of our bikes outside. It turns out that while we were working with a customer on Monday evening, we forgot to secure a nice full suspension bike outside the shop. Upon inspection of our security camera, we found that it was a woman who walked away with it on Monday night at around 6:50 pm.

Super disappointing but I am optimistic that we might still locate the bike. The thief may live in the neighborhood, because other Cortland merchants have said they recognize the woman in the photo as someone whose been in their stores recently. The bike is certainly a looker — it has a full suspension with lime green accents. If anyone has any tips or suggestions, we’d be super appreciative.

Here’s the perp, walking away with the bike:

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This is what the stolen bike looks like:


People Are Talking About 3rd Cousin Restaurant on Cortland


Recently, during a stroll on Cortland Avenue, your Bernalwood editor ran into Neighbor David. It was a sunny day, and Neighbor David was in grand spirits, because, he said, he was still high from the amazing dinner he’d had the night before at 3rd Cousin.

As you may recall, 3rd Cousin is the new restaurant at 919 Cortland, that used to be a popup called Kinfolk. 3rd Cousin is owned and run by Chef Greg Lutes, and as with every culinary entrepreneur, his effort to open 3rd Cousin in a permanent location has been an arduous labor of love and obsession. 919 Cortland used to be home to the somewhat less stylish Pizza Express, but now Chef Greg has transformed it into a casual venue for his elegant food with Michelin star aspirations. Crazy, right?

Anyway, when I bumped into him, Neighbor David gushed about the food at 3rd Cousin, which he described as being thoughtful and well-prepared but not too fussy. He said the prices at 3d Cousin are a on the higher side, but the quality of experience made it a worthy indulgence every once in a while.  And he said the desserts were mind-blowing.


Hmmmmmmm! I thought.

Then, just a few days later, San Francisco Magazine published an article about “Four Restaurants We’re Crazy For.” 3rd Cousin was at the top of the list:

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At the brick-and-mortar incarnation of his erstwhile Kinfolk pop-up, Greg Lutes serves cozy seasonal fare in an austere charcoal-gray dining room. A robust salad of baby mustard greens comes garnished with persimmon, garrotxa cheese, and dehydrated batons of purple yam, while grilled swordfish is rendered addictive by a shower of dukka, an Egyptian spice blend. Lutes’s strengths are best showcased in his savory uni crème brûlée: The caviar-topped number proves that you can teach an old dessert new, and impressive, tricks.

Frankly, I only understood about half of that.

But the point is, when both the critics and an actual man-on-the-street are talking about 3rd Cousin, that’s a strong indication something special is going on there. I’m looking forward to trying it out.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

The Faraday Cortland is a New Electric Bike Named After… Us!



It’s a well-known fact that transportation companies like to name their vehicles after glamorous locations in California.

When Chevrolet needed a name for their rugged all-season SUV, they chose to name it the Tahoe. When Chrysler needed a name for their luxury minivan, they called it the Pacifica. Chevy’s midsize car with affluent aspirations is the Malibu. And when San Francisco’s Faraday electric bicycle company needed a name for their ridiculously stylish (yet eminently practical) new machine, they decided to call it… the Cortland.

Yes! The Faraday Cortland is a new electric bicycle named after Bernal’s very own main street. Adam Vollmer, the founder of Faraday, even confirmed this:

Wow. How sexy is that??

Faraday says the Cortland offers “the perfect balance of style and utility,” which means the new bike is exactly like everyone who lives in Bernal Heights.

Unlike Bernal Heights, the Cortland offers easy access, thanks to a  new step-through frame design. Faraday’s Kickstarter page for preorders outlines some of the ebike’s other highlights:

With the Faraday Cortland, we’ve added an extra 20% of range, more efficient motor, upgraded software, and more. We’ve also made it more comfortable, more fun to ride, and, dare we say, more stylish with the introduction of a step-through frame.

Prices start at $1999 with the Kickstarter campaign discount, and of course we expect you’ll also be able to get a Cortland on Cortland, at Bernal’s much-loved local purveyor of newfangled electric bicycles.

Finally, here’s the promo video for the Cortland, produced in the self-parodying Cortlandia Portlandia style:

PHOTOS: Courtesy of Faraday