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


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:


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


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


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

Exploring Pre-War Precita Park by Streetcar


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:


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:


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:


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:

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:

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?!


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


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:
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:

New Track Work and Repairs L.V. Newton Negative 6

Here’s an annotated version:


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.

Tonight: The History of One Building in Bernal Heights


Vicky Walker invites you to a meeting of the Bernal Heights History Project happening TONIGHT, Wednesday, July 20 at 7 pm at the lovely Bernal Library. Tonight’s episode will  look at the history of one building here in Bernal:

Patrick Silk lived in Bernal Heights for 15 years, more than a hundred years ago. His great-grandson will talk about how a family history project turned into a research project about the history of the building Patrick built, and how it has fared and changed over the next century.

This is also a show-and-tell get-together. Bring your photos, stories, and artifacts and we’ll talk! We have handouts on how to research your Bernal home, so come to the meeting if you’d like one of those. (And we’d love to hear your stories.)

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. sharp in the downstairs meeting room; turn left at the bottom of the stairs. As always, it is free and open to all.

PHOTO: View West From Bernal Heights 1930s. Overlooking Noe Valley, with elevated railway. In lower right corner, 29th and Mission St. car barn, Lyceum Theatre. Fairmount School at center-left.  Image courtesy OpenSFHistory

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

This Guy Remembers Growing Up on Mission Street During the 1940s


Robert Tiedeman Jr., photographed on June 25, 2016

A few weeks ago, your Bernalwood editor wandered into the fabulous Secession Art and Design store on Mission Street near Valencia to say hello to Neighbor Eden Stein, Secession’s equally fabulous proprietor. As fate would have it, Bernalwood dropped in just as Mr. Robert Tiedeman Jr. was visiting as well.

Neighbor Eden introduced us, explaining that Robert is actually a Bernal neighbor emeritus, because he was born and raised on Bernal’s stretch of Mission Street, in an apartment above 3471 Mission .

Robert explained that his parents purchased the entire building for $7500 in 1937 with a $250 downpayment. (That works out to about $125,000 in 2016 dollars, with $4200 down.) His dad ran a store on the ground floor, where Ankor Borei is now located. The store was called Tiedeman Appliance, and here’s a photocopied photo of it:


And here’s what it looks like today, in Google Street View:


To capture more of the history lesson, Bernalwood deployed our mobile video recording system and interviewed Robert Tiedeman about his memories of La Lengua during the 1940s:

He also shared this story written down by his mother, describing what it was like for a new merchant setting up shop on Mission Street during the late 1930s:

Welcome and Congratulations — NOT

We had just completed our move to our new building on Mission Street. This consisted of a store building and two six room flats; it cost $7,350, $250 down which we borrowed from my sister and her husband. Times were so tough (it was the end of 1937) that the real estate agent took his commission from the seller on the installment plan. We had two boys; George had turned four in November and Kent would be one in February 1938.

The store had once been a bakery, and the windows in the back of the Window alcove were many-paned and ugly. They would have to go, we decrded. Bob and I were standing in the store, glad we were there, but also pretty scared as to how we were going to fare. We were the San Francisco Regina Agents, so got busmess through that listing in the phone book, but what other business would we get and how would the neighborhood be for customers?

As I stood in front of the store, I saw the accordion music teacher from across the street and his brother in the barbershop next door start across the street in our direction. “Gee, Bob,” I said, “I’ll bet they are coming over to wish us well and make us feel welcome in the neighborhood.”

The Antoninis approached our building and came into the store. They started to talk, first one, then the other. “Well, of course, you should know, this side of Mission Street gets no business; our side is much better for business.” “Yes, we get the morning sun ‘ and people like to walk down our side of the street.” The elder brother shook his head dolefully, “You’ll never make it over here on the wrong side of the street.”

“No, never,” his brother echoed, and back across to the good side of Mission Street they went.

Bob said, “You and your ideas . . . some congratulations.”

Years later, the accordion music teacher moved to our side of Mission. I wanted to remind him that it was the poor side of Mission, but we had become friends, so I just made him feel welcome.

PHOTOS: Robert Tiedeman Jr., photographed by Bernalwood