A View of Bernal Hill (with Muni Trolley Bus) in 1942

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Ooh! Here’s a cool gem of a photo that comes to us via Bernal Neighbor Emeritus David Gallagher of OpenSF History and the Western Neighborhoods Project.

Behold Bernal Hill, as it looked in 1942.

The location is South Van Ness near Army (Cesar Chavez) Street, and the bus is parked roughly on the spot where our scenic AutoZone store now stands.

A few nifty details to note in the photo…

  • This is how Bernal Hill looked for much of its history: Barren and bald. The Sutrito Tower microwave antenna was erected in the 1960s, and the trees around it were planted in the 1970s.
  • In this photo, Army was still a regular San Francisco Street. It had  not yet been widened to serve as an artery for traffic headed to the East Bay via the Southern Crossing Bridge.
  • The bus is one of San Francisco’s very first electric-powered trolley coaches.  Close inspection shows it was No. 506,  built by the St. Louis Car Company in December 1939, but not delivered until mid-1941. The sign on the bus says it was operating on the R -Line, Muni’s first electric trolley coach route,  launched in September 1941. Happily, San Francisco has preserved and restored a vintage bus just like this; here’s a recent full-color photo of Trolley Bus 509.
  • If we zoom and enhance the right side of the image, we see the Signal Gasoline sign on the northwest corner of the Army/South Van Ness intersection:
    26thsvness1942-copy-2That location is still a gas station, of course, so now we know that it’s been serving that role for at least 75 years.
  • Across Army Street, we see a squat, one-story house and a four-story, multiunit residential building. Both are still there, and both look more or less the same today:svnarmy2007
  • Extra Credit: You Bernalwood Editor can even see a portion of my house in the 1942 photo! This is the earliest image of my house that I’ve yet found.

Notice any other cool details? Tell us about them in the comments.

For whatever reason, history and providence have given us several photos of this area of Bernal in the early 1940s.  Check out Bernalwood’s previous stories on the view from Army and Folsom in 1942, and the view from Folsom at Precita Park in 1943.

Also, don’t miss all of the time-travelicious photos of Bernal available in the OpenSFHistory Bernal Heights collection.

PHOTO: Courtesy of OpenSFHistory

Wednesday: A Potluck to Investigate Bernal History Mysteries

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Vicky Walker invites you to a meeting of the Bernal Heights History Project happening  Wednesday evening, November 16 at the library on Cortland.

Vicky says:.

We don’t meet in December, so this is our last get-together of 2016. We’ve put together a slideshow of some of our recent photo acquisitions, some of which are part of the Bernal Mystery Project. Help us figure out what we’re seeing in the photos!

Our last meeting of the year is also a potluck. Bring snacks, leftover Halloween candy, and whatever you’d like to share — and we’ll talk about our plans for 2017. We recently wrote a Bernalwood article about the Sports Center fire, and we have lots more research going on that we’d love to share with you.

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 or out of the elevator. As always, it is free and open to all.

Wed, November 167 pm
Bernal Heights Library Community Room
Free

PHOTO: Matchbooks from former Bernal Heights watering holes, courtesy of Bernal Heights History Project

1944: Another Big Fire on the 3300 Block of Mission Street

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In the wake of the big fire that ravaged several buildings on Mission Street last June, there’s now a big, sad gap in the cityscape where Cole Hardware and Playa Azul used to be. But this isn’t the first time that block has been devastated by fire.

Vicky Walker, Minister of History from the Bernal Heights History Project, reminds us about the Sports Center bowling alley fire of 1944:

I was recently swapping emails with Pat (Patrick) O’Brien, a proud Bernal Heights native who lived on Holly Park Circle and then Gladys Street. Pat graduated from Junipero Serra, attended Mass and church at St Kevin’s, and delivered the San Francisco Examiner on a route along Cortland Ave. “After 70 years, there’s still one homeon that route which owes me money,” he says.

Seeing news of the Cole Hardware fire on Mission Street reminded Pat of another big fire on the same block.

“Strange coincidence,” he says. “In the 1940’s the Sports Center, a bowling alley, across from the Lyceum Theater on the other side of Mission Street, burned down.”

Bernalwood and the Bernal History Project have looked into the history of bowling on Mission Street before. Once upon a time, Bernalese had two large bowling alleys within a block of each other, so there was clearly a craze for the sport. But the Sports Center fire was news to me, so I dug into the newspaper archives.

Pat recalls, “Sports Center was built during my time in San Francisco as a kid; it was so much larger and better than the Mission Bowl, which was adjacent to Sears.” (Today the former Mission Bowl building is now occupied by the Roccapulco nightclub.)

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“With two stories, meetings and games could be played upstairs at Sports Center with plenty of room,” Pat says. “I learned to bowl with the Cubs on a few Saturdays; I later took a job as a pin setter — a tough job with everything done by hand. The environment wasn’t too good for a young kid, with many winos making a little money with that job, too.”

Construction work to build Sports Center was underway in late 1941, as the US entered World War II after the Pearl Harbor attacks.  Sports Center opened at 3333 Mission — the site of today’s Big Lots store — on July 1, 1942.

It had 38 bowling lanes, eight badminton courts, an “extensive” table tennis setup, a cocktail bar, a fountain lunch counter, and plenty of parking:

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The site had originally been home to a Market Street Railway car barn, and the car barn’s brick walls and structural steel frame were re-used to create what the Chronicle described as a “bowling palace” and “magnificent edifice.” Renowned San Francisco muralist Don Clever painted caricatures of sports stars like Joe DiMaggio and Joe Louis on the walls of the cafe and bar.

Sports Center general manager Gerry Watkins had done his research, and he knew he could capitalize on the bowling craze. The Sports Center was a huge success, with many of the city’s bowling teams and badminton champs playing there regularly.

The San Francisco Chronicle certainly rarely missed a chance to run a photo of young women bowling…

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…. or leaping with their badminton racquets:

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But it didn’t last long. A fire broke out at the Sports Center at around 5 p.m. on February 8, 1944, in an attic storeroom full of paint, wax, and lacquer used to maintain the alleys and bowling pins.

“It was a gigantic fire and my dad, a fireman, was at the fire,” Pat recalls. “I along with hundreds watched it. The fire engrossed that entire structure, and that’s where I saw my dad go up on the roof to survey the fire and damage. He got an uneasy feeling about the roof and told the other firemen to get down from it. A few minutes later, the roof caved in — but no firemen were hurt. The fire was so dangerous because of the gallons of paint, varnish, and combustibles stored inside.”

The Chronicle and the Oakland Tribune both made sure to report that the Sports Center’s extensive supply of liquor in the cocktail bar were saved, but the building itself was a write-off —  although the brick walls remained solid.

The Sports Center was rapidly rebuilt by a group of directors that included then-Supervisor Edward T. Mancuso. Some questioned how a country at war could spare the steel for a mere bowling alley,

But Mancuso told the Chronicle that the government had deemed the bowling alley worthy of AA-3 priority because the diversion of playing sports  was a “positive factor in soothing the tension of war workers and service men.” The Sports Center reopened in August 1945.

A Brief History of Bernal Heights Rogues, Hoodlums, and Characters of Ill Repute

Bernal Hill, circa 1924. View looking south, roughly from above Precita Avenue,, Folsom Street at left; Coso to the right. The ad on the hilltop is for Maxwell Automobiles. Courtesy of OpenSFHistory.org.

Bernal Hill, circa 1924. View looking south, roughly from above Precita Avenue. Folsom Street at left; Coso Triangle to the right. The ad on the hilltop is for Maxwell Automobiles.

There’s a terrific new story posted by SFGate that provides lots of colorful detail about Bernal’s shady past:

Sometimes the digital archives tell a story, uncovering long forgotten history. My dig in the Bernal Heights archives even revealed the moment in 1873 where the courts determined that Holly Park was public ground. Stories of gang activity in the neighborhood were found over and over in the early days. Reporting soon painted a picture of abject violence that seemed to rule the hill in the 1870’s.  […]

Bernal Heights was originally part of the Rancho de las Salinas y Potrero Nuevo, and owes its name to Jose Cornelio de Bernal, to whom the land was granted in 1839 by the Mexican government. In the 1860s the rancho was subdivided into small lots, and was first populated primarily by Irish immigrants who farmed the land and ran dairy ranches. According to legend, a mini gold rush was triggered in 1876 when con artists planted the hilltop with traces of gold. We found evidence of people claiming the “Eureka Lode” in reporting from the 1870s.

The article also includes some tasty archival tales of Bernalese rogues from centuries past. Here’s just one example:

December 3, 1877 Lawlessness of the Bernal Heights Gang
On Friday Dan Murphy and Charles Manchester, members of the Bernal Heights gang of hoodlums, were held to answer to a charge of assault to rob, and the former was also sentenced by the Police Judge to one year’s imprisonment for simple assault. These men, with five others, a few nights ago went to the house of Patrick Haight and his wife and with terrific blows upon the door awakened Haight and his wife. They demanded admittance upon the ground that they were policemen, and wished to search the house. Upon obtaining admittance the seven men, partially masked by handkerchiefs tied around the lower part of their faces, attacked Haight and his wife and demanded money. They ransacked the house from top to bottom and beat the inmates unmercifully. Mrs. Haight was knocked down and beaten about the face while kneeling in her night clothes upon the floor. But an accidental raising of the handkerchiefs, with the recognition of the voices of two of the robbers enabled Haight to identify Manchester and Murphy and bring them to justice. The six ruffians did not succeed in finding any money, and went off empty-handed after their attack. On Friday, after the two criminals had been held to answer, Herbert Manchester, a brother of Charles, and a member of the Bernal Heights gang, with four others, went to the house of Haight and entered the yard. Haight’s cow was lying there, and the brutal ruffians at once seized her and cut her throat. The arteries were not reached, but the trachea was severed so that the air enters the lungs in great measure, through the cut. This Bernal Heights gang is now under the captaincy of Tom Farron, and it has an open field for operations, there being no policemen beyond Twenty-sixth Street. The lawless characters have for some time kept up a reign of terror in that locality, and have so impressed the people with their ability and willingness to do any act, that they are afraid to testify against criminals when caught or to make complaints. The members of the gang are said to make frequent raids upon the houses, disguising their features by a liberal supply of soot or blacking. Saturday morning Herbert Manchester and John Smith were before the Court on charges of petty larceny. Thomas Brown, who lives at Bernal Heights, discovered these two young men walking along a fence at 6 o’clock in the morning, carrying a bag that contained geese. Seeing that the fellows had no gun Brown gave chase and captured them. In the bag they found four geese. They were found guilty as charged, and will receive sentence today.

By all means, read the whole thing… and enjoy all the terrific old photos.

PHOTO: Top, 1924 aerial view, courtesy of OpenSFHistory.org.

Carlos Santana’s Former House on Mullen Avenue Is For Sale

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Last week, the house at 205 Mullen Ave. in northeast Bernal Heights was listed for sale. The asking price is $975K for the 2BR house, which prompted our friends at the CurbedSF blog to weep that “a starter home in San Francisco is now officially a touch under one million” — which is a totally legit thing to weep about.

Yet with that said, CurbedSF didn’t account for the fact that 205 Mullen comes with one very, very unique feature: Carlos Santana used to live in it.

It’s true.  Sanata lived in northeast Bernal in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and during the early years, when he was playing epic, ad hoc concerts in Precita Park, he lived here, at 205 Mullen.  Later, a few members of Journey lived there too (Trivia Fun Fact: Journey was founded by a manager and musicians who started out working with Santana.)

Anyway, Neighbor N owns the Santana House now, so Bernalwood asked him to describe what it’s been like to live there:

I still think about the first time I came to the house. Stupidly, I had no real conceptions of Bernal’s north slope view. It was also probably the first house I looked at in Bernal.

I walked in the door and said, “Wow, I had no idea the view was that good.”

I didn’t find out till later (possibly from a certain neighborhood blog) that Santana (and some members of Journey) used to live here. A few people came by to snap pics that week. Everyone is always very respectful.

I really do wonder what the house was like when Santana lived here. At some point, someone put up a solid, nearly seven-foot-tall fence, with spikes above that. There were shutters on the bay window, closing off the southern light. The house was very, very walled off from the street. Here’s how it looked in 2012:

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That never felt like Santana to me.

When I refaced the fence with pickets, we worked hard to get both the height and the spacing just right. I didn’t want another Wall on Mullen, as I used to call the old fence. But I wanted privacy. I also didn’t want the house to be hidden behind the fence. From the beginning, I wanted to open up the house, because it’s such a quintessentially San Francisco house.

I’d like to think we got it pretty right. As soon as the new fence was up, there was a much nicer sense of connection to the rest of the neighborhood, and the light was totally different. Same when I replaced the shutters with curtains and added a new frosted front door to let in more of that southern light. I get a ton of light now, and I still have that crazy-good view from the back.

Now, when you walk by the house, you can see the sun setting through the house. I think that’s pretty special.

After the fence, the other big thing I changed was the color. I have always liked dark houses. I used to own a funny little ranch house on eastern Long Island that I painted charcoal about 15 years ago. I liked the idea of all dark on the outside and all light on the inside.

For San Francisco, I wanted dark, but definitely a color, so I chose this charcoal-y blue, but it’s definitely blue. I really like it when neighbors say “You live in the blue house!” To me, that means they get it.

I like monochromatic houses because it makes it more about the house and less about the paint *on* the house. I wanted to really show off the house.

I’d like to think Santana would like it too. I really tried to let the house be what it should have been all along, which is probably more like it was when Santana lived here.

PHOTOS: 2012 photo by Telstar Logistics. Contemporary photos courtesy of Neighbor N.

Wednesday: Phonographic Memory with Bernal Rockstar Matt Nathanson

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Oh, how time flies when you’re enjoying the memories…

On Wednesday evening the fabulous Phonographic Memory project celebrates its second anniversary. First launched in 2014, Phonographic Memory was created by Bernal Neighbor Corey Bloom. It’s an exchange of recollections through vinyl records, during which guests are given a few minutes to share a personal story or memory about a song or the record, and then play a song from that album. Since then, Phonographic Memory has also spawned a podcast, so you can listen some of the stories presented in the series as they were shared at our very Bernal Heights library.

Wednesday’s second anniversary edition of Phonographic Memory will be pretty special,  with a memory presentation by Bernal’s own celebrity rockstar-in-residence, Neighbor Matt Nathanson.

Bernal library’s celebrity branch manager Valerie Reichert tells Bernalwood:

Bernal Branch Library is psyched to announce a very special guest participating in Wednesday’s anniversary celebration of Phonographic Memory: Bernal neighbor, platinum artist, Matt Nathanson will be on board!

The program format will be as always — a story in mind and a record in hand. It’s an evening about vinyl records, personal attachments and storytelling. Special guests also include David Bustamante, Dug Infinite, and Jon Bernson, The event will be held upstairs in the main area of the branch.

Phonographic Memory: 2nd Anniversary Celebration!
with Special Guest presenters:

  • Matt Nathanson – Singer/ Songwriter
  • David Bustamante – 70s Rock Band Dakila
  • Dug Infinite – Hip-Hop Producer/ DJ
  • Jon Bernson – Vocalist, ExRays

Wed. Sept 21
7 -9 pm – FREE
SFPL Bernal Heights Branch Library
500 Cortland Ave., SF, CA 94110

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PHOTO: Top, Bernal neighbor Matt Nathanson, courtesy of Phonographic Memories

Exploring Pre-War Precita Park by Streetcar

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Once upon a time, in the Age of the Iron Dinosaurs, giant streetcars roamed around Precita Park in Bernal Heights.  Precita Park was the terminus for the Market Street Railway’s 36 Folsom Line, which carried passengers to and from the Ferry Building via Folsom Street between 1915 and 1945. In the magnificent aerial photos of Bernal Heights captured in 1938, the streetcar lines around Precita Park were clearly visible:

The 36 Folsom entered Bernal from Folsom on the west end of Precita Park. It then followed Precita Ave along the southern edge of the park before making a quick jog onto Alabama. The line then turned back onto Precita Ave., continuing east down the street to the intersection with Army (today’s Cesar Chavez). There was no turnaround, so for the return trip to the Ferry Building, the streetcar just reversed itself.

Today’s history geeks owe a great debt to the streetcar geeks of yesteryear, because their obsession with streetcar photography and documentation today provides us with a trove of vivid images that makes it possible to see what this part of North Bernal looked like during the early decades of the 1900s.

Take this shot for example. This is Precita at Army as it looked during the 1920s, with the intersection with York Street visible to the left. This spot is very familiar to most contemporary Bernalese, so it’s fun to check out all the detail this image has to offer:

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The most obvious thing to notice is that the divey little gas station that now sits on the triangular lot between Precita, Cesar Chavez, and Bryant used to be a rather divey little saloon:

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Amazing! Wieland Beer was a San Francisco brew, manufactured at a brewery that used to be on 2nd Street between Howard and Folsom.

Notice also the battered barber pole just to the left of the Acme Beer sign, alongside that Joad-ready truck. Behind it is the building which would later become the world-famous Sheepskin City and Battery4Prius.

At some point, of course, this bar was replaced by a gas station. For comparison’s sake, here the exact same spot, as it looked circa 1970, at the moment when Steve McQueen begins the famous car-chase scene in Bullitt:

The left side of the streetcar image provides a clear view west up Precita Avenue, with the southeast corner of Precita Park visible in the background, and ample parking available for rickety-looking motorcars:

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We’ll zoom into Precita Park in a moment. But first, here’s a reverse angle, showing the 36 Folsom at Army Street, looking to the southeast. That’s the south slope of Potrero Hill in the background:
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Google Street View confirms that the houses on that side of Precita still look pretty much the same today.

Backing up Precita, we get some terrific views of Precita Park. Here’s Alabama at Precita looking northeast. The exact year is unknown, but it looks like the early 1940s, judging from the styling of the car in background:

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The building on the corner in the right side of the image is now the fabulous Precita Park Cafe (as shown here), but back then it was… a SAFEWAY?!

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Spinning 180 degrees from about the same spot, we get the reverse view looking toward the southern edge of the park  in 1939:

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That’s the future Precita Park playground site on the right, and some very lax parking enforcement on the left. Here’s a closeup of the streetcar itself:
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Finally, there’s this amazing photo, which Bernalwood has previously explored. This is the view of the 36 Folsom tracks  from the other end of the park,  on the southwestern corner of Precita and Folsom, as it looked in 1943:

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Here’s an annotated version:

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The Palermo Bakery is now home to Precita Clean laundromat, while the Yosemite Meat Market on the corner is the location of today’s Charlie’s Cafe.

Very special thanks to our friends at Open SF History, Rick Laubscher from Market Street Railway, and Bernal Neighbor Michael Nolan for sharing the photos that made this Magical History Tour of Precita Park possible.