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.

1977: Remember When Wild Side West Arrived in Bernal Heights?

Wild Side West

Heads up: There’s a terrific article in the San Francisco Bay Times that provides a fabulously detailed and personal history of Wild Side West, Bernal’s truly fabulous neighborhood-lesbian bar on Cortland Street.

Arguably,  Wild Side West may be the last lesbian bar in San Francisco.

But did you know that Wild Side first opened in Oakland in 1962? Did you know that, at the time, it was illegal in California for women to work as bartenders? Did you know that Wild Side West then moved to North Beach in San Francisco, before coming to Bernal Heights in 1977?

Here’s what that was like:

In 1977, Pat and Nancy moved WSW (including the actual physical bar and mirror) one last time … to San Francisco’s still untamed blue-collar neighborhood, Bernal Heights. Further than the miles on the map from the ever-growing crowds of downtown, they bought an 1890s Italianate two-story and settled down. More than just a place of business, WSW at 424 Cortland was their home.

Less than two days after the bar opened, the neighbors welcomed them by throwing a big rock right through the front window as people were in the bar. Pat and bartender “Uncle” Bill Owens just sighed and covered the window with a sheet of wood, which remains covered. But that didn’t stop the welcoming committee. A couple of nice broken toilets were also tossed in the other window. Pat and Nancy, and their renegade group of backyard gardeners, turned the porcelain fixtures into lovely flower pots in WSW’s incredible “secret” garden. If ever there was a way to take someone’s ugly intention and turn into a living retort, they nailed it.

Head over to The Bay Times to read the whole thing.

PHOTO: Wild Side West by Telstar Logistics.

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.

Historical Reminder: The Lines at the Bernal Safeway Have Sucked for (at Least) 45 Years

Last night on the Twitters, @albuhhh asked:

This is a reasonable question. Have the lines at our Bernal Safeway always been so terrible? The short answer is: Yes, pretty much.

The Bernal Safeway was built in the early 1960s, but back in February 2015, Bernalwood uncovered an important historical document that revealed the endemic nature of the miserable lines at our local supermarket. Since the passage of time has done little to improve the situation, we’ll now reprise that 2015 post for the benefit of our newer neighbors, if only to remind them that complaining about our local Safeway is a hallowed Bernal Heights bonding ritual:

The Citizens of Bernalwood recently took up cyber-pitchforks and -torches to complain about the ridiculously long lines at the Bernal Heights Safeway on Mission Street at 29th?  Remember how we hoped — naively, perhaps — that perhaps maybe someone at Safeway corporate might hear our gnashing of teeth, and take pity upon our sad souls, and remedy the situation?

Well, don’t count on it.

Recently, while browsing through a back issue of the Bernal Journal from 1972, your Bernalwood editor was darkly entertained to find an impassioned article complaining about… the ridiculously long lines at the Bernal Heights Safeway!

I wish I was kidding about this, but I am not. Behold, a time capsule from [45] years ago, written by Bernal Journal reporter “Vera Disgruntla” (click to embiggen):

1972_Souvenier Edition

The similarities between this Bernal Journal article from 1972 and the comments section of Bernalwood’s post about the Bernal Safeway are comical in their utter sameness.  Here’s a depressing excerpt pulled from the 1972 article shown above:

One man has vowed never to shop there — he gets his meat at the Pioneer Market dry good at 30th and Mission Market, and fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmers Market at the foot of Bernal Hill. Another man goes once a week to the Marina Safeway. A woman told me she and her husband always drive the five minutes further to get to the Diamond Heights Safeway, where, because they never have to wait to check out there, they actually save time! These may be the only real alternatives.

But I am still mad – for me, and everyone around here who continually has this frustrating time waste wait at our store. The faces in the lines seem to say, “it’s always been like this; we’ve ALWAYS had to wait.”

So there you have it. Long lines have been a fixture at our local Safeway since even before 1972, and after 40+ years, it would seem that Safeway management still does not give a flying Fig Newton about the problem. But hey, at least they’re consistent.

In light of these facts, Bernalwood would now like to officially propose the following:

1) Let’s bulldoze this Safeway, since it so obviously suffers from intergenerational corporate indifference.

2) Let’s save that cool Taoist Safeway mosaic, for posterity, or for use in a replacement structure (see below).

3) Let’s build a few hundred units of much-needed housing on this long-neglected site, with the new ground-floor space dedicated to a more modern supermarket (something kind of like that new mixed-use building that was recently erected on Ocean).

4) While we’re at it, let’s get serious about asking BART to build that 30th Street infill station they’re thinking about again. Hurry up, please.

… because really, after banging our Bernalese heads against the walls at this Safeway for five decades, it may just be time to give up and try something else.

Explore the Rolling Meadows of Southwest Bernal Heights in 1875

Neighbor Sandra recently shared this fantastic photo of Bernal Heights in 1875. It may have originally come from the fabulous SF Public Library Historical Photograph Collection.

There are so few landmarks in the photo that it was a little challenging at first to get oriented. But a few minutes of image-exploration confirmed that this is the view of southwest Bernal Heights, as seen roughly from the area where Silver and Congdon streets intersect in The Portola today.

The key detail that confirms the perspective is the College Hill Reservoir, built in 1870. It’s clearly visible on the west slope of Bernal Hill:

Notice that this was taken about 20 years before Holly Park was a proper park. The circular park we know and love today, was built in the 1890s.

Anyway, now that we’re properly situated, let’s look an annotated version of the 1875 image:

Lucky for us, Neighbor Sandra sent us a high-res image of the 1875 photo, so there’s a lot to zoom and enhance.

For example, here’s a tight crop of Bernal Hill, and the future Cortlandia. But in 1875, the west slope of Bernal Hill was home to just a few farm houses:

On the far left, there’s a dark line running north-south, just west of Mission Street. That’s the trench of the Bernal Cut,  which was excavated in the 1850s by the Southern Pacific for use as a raildroad right-of-way. Later, the cut was widened to become a stillborn freeway, and it’s now known as San Jose Boulevard:

In the foreground, we see the campus of St. Mary’s College, with two baseball diamonds on the south side:

Burrito Justice zoomed and enhanced even further, and noticed there’s a game underway on the diamond to the right. Looks like there may even be runners on first and second:

St. Mary’s College still exists, of course, but it’s in Moraga now.

The college’s website details its founding years in Bernal Heights, before moving east in the 1880s:

Archbishop Joseph Alemany had been dispatched to the West Coast in the mid-19th century by Pope Pius IX with the words: “You must go to California. Others go there to seek gold; you go there to carry the Cross.”

Alemany soon saw the need for education and religious instruction for the working class youth of a burgeoning San Francisco. Determined to open a school, he sent the intrepid Irish priest, Father James Croke, to seek donations from farmers, ranchers, merchants and the gold miners in the Sierra Nevada. He came back after two years with cash and gold dust to the tune of $37,166.50, a princely sum for the time.

Alemany threw open the doors of Saint Mary’s College in 1863. After five years of struggle, he made a difficult journey to Rome to ask for help from Christian Brothers, whose superior sent nine mostly Irish Brothers in 1868 to travel from New York by sea to San Francisco to manage the new school. Soon the Brothers were able to increase enrollment, stabilize the College’s finances and establish Saint Mary’s as the largest institute of higher education in California at the time. The first bachelor’s degrees were awarded in 1872. […]

The College moved from its cold, windswept campus in San Francisco to Oakland in 1889.

St. Mary’s College has been gone for 120 years, but the southwest corner of Bernal Heights is still called College Hill.

 

Bache Street Residents Unsure How to Pronounce “Bache Street”

Bache Street is a residential lane nestled on the stylish south side of Bernal Heights, just off Crescent Avenue between Porter and Andover.

It’s a lovely place, but there’s a problem:  According to @RadioChert, not even people who live on Bache Street can agree on how to pronounce it. That’s why an ad hoc referendum is now underway to reach a consensus on the matter.

As of Wednesday morning, the pronunciation tally seems to be:

Bah-chee  – 2
Bay-shh – 1
Bach-ae – 0
Batch – 1
Bay-shee – 0
Bay-ch – 1
Bay-sh – 0

While the voting on Bache Street continues, historians and geo-genealogists are cordially invited to opine on this matter.

HAT-TIP AND PHOTO: Courtesy of @RadioChert

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.