Bernaltown Returns to Bernal Heights and Now Everyone Can Watch It!

The 20th Anniversary screening of Bernaltown: The Movie that took place at the Bernal Heights Library last Tuesday night was a classic Bernal event. The film sold out two screenings on Tuesday night, and the audiences were a friendly mix of Bernal neighbors, old and new.

That’s probably because Bernaltown is such a sweet film. Clocking in at about 30 minutes, Bernaltown was written and produced in the mid 1990s by  Gregory Gavin, who at the time was running a youth program that taught local kids how to build wooden go-carts for racing on Bernal Hill. The kids and the go-karts ended up with starring roles in Bernaltown, which was first shown in 1997.

Twenty years later, Bernaltown remains a work of delightful, uninhibited fun that showcases Bernal’s quirks and characters. It shows us how far we’ve come in some ways, reminds us what we’ve lost in others, and celebrates the oddball creative spirit that still clings to Bernal Hill’s chert.

A few celebrity guests from the Bernaltown cast were on hand Tuesday night, including the dastardly, diabolical Dealer Dan (Nic Griffin), and Shila Evanchak, who played a superhero version of her childhood self in the film:

Berntown celebrities Shila Evanchak (left) and Nic Griffin (as Dealer Dan) were on the red carpet Tuesday night

The Bernaltown screenings at the library sold out quickly, which meant a lot of Bernal neighbors were sad because they weren’t able to see the film.

Until now.

Now, all Bernalese can partake of the joy that is Bernaltown through the magic of our 21st century Interwebs. Yes, Bernaltown is now on YouTube!

So load it up and gather around your favorite screen with friends and family.

Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, dogs and cats… Welcome to Bernaltown:

Hurry! After 20 Years, Bernaltown: The Movie Will Screen Again in Bernal Heights

A billboard for Bernaltown appeared across from Good Life in 1997.

FINALLY, after a loooooong hiatus, Bernaltown-The Movie is returning to Bernal Heights on Jan. 30!!

We’ll get to the details about the where and when in a moment. But first, a brief history: What is Bernaltown?

Bernaltown was a delightful short film produced in 1997 by a group of Bernal Heights neighbors and kids. Making movies was a nontrivial thing to do in the late 1990s, because at the time, tape-based camcorders were still the prevailing technology and the era of digital video and YouTube was still a decade away.

Nevertheless, Bernaltown was glorious. Produced in the playful spirit of the 1960s Batman TV series, Bernaltown tells the story of a group of superhero kids who use high-tech go-karts to battle a diabolical developer who’s scamming to build a a hotel-casino complex on the top of Bernal Hill.

Musician and Bernal Neighbor Joshua Brody contributed the music for Bernaltown, and here’s how he remembers it:

A little over 20 years ago, good friend Sheila Balter invited me to donate my services to a fund-raiser for a film her friend Gregory Gavin was finishing up, so I did. Once I met Gregory and saw the trailer he’d put together, I fell in love with the project: A half-hour story called Bernaltown.

Gregory had been running workshops for kids in Bernal Heights to learn how to make their own go-karts and wanted to do some documentation on it, but rather than do a dry non-fiction talking heads piece, he decided to craft a narrative featuring the kids as superhero crime-fighters, other neighborhood regulars playing more-or-less themselves (eg. the beat cop as “the chief of police”) and throwing in a fictitious — but entirely plausible — subplot about an evil gambling syndicate’s real estate grab.

It was charming as f–k, and I instantly offered my services as composer, which Gregory just as instantly accepted, sound unheard. I think my terms — free — helped clinch the deal.

The film premiered in the schoolyard behind the Bernal Public Library (where it will be shown again… to commemorate its 20th anniversary). The showing was successful enough, but what really moved me was the aftermath: neighbors strolling up and down Cortland wearing Bernaltown paraphernalia and greeting each other kill it was the small town portrayed in the film, not just another big city neighborhood.

Maybe that kind of magic can repeat itself.

The trailer for Bernaltown is lost in the analog mists of time, but this KRON report from 1997 captures the spirit of it:

So, with all that established… Bernalwood is thrilled to share the news that finally, at long last, the Citizens of Bernal Heights will again have an opportunity to see Bernaltown again.

The 20th Anniversary screening of Bernaltown – The Movie will happen on Tuesday, Jan. 30 in the main reading room of  the Bernal Heights Library (500 Cortland) beginning at 7 pm.

The screening is free, but tickets are required; reserve your seats here — and you’d best hurry, because space is limited.

PHOTOS: All images via Bernaltown20 on Facebook

New Year’s Postcard from 1909 Unlocks Decades of Bernal Family History

This postcard, from 1909, was mailed to an address in Bernal Heights

This article is by Vicky Walker from the fabulous Bernal Heights History Project.

In the fall, while working at the Vintage Paper Fair in Golden Gate Park, I took a break to rummage through a vendor’s 25-cent boxes. I always read the backs of the cards to look for San Francisco addresses, so I was delighted to find a Bernal-related card.

The image on the front was a New Year’s greeting from 1909, but the address on the back revealed that it had been sent to Mrs. M. J.  Hills at 15 Patton Street in Bernal Heights.


As it turns out, “Mrs. M. J. Hills” was Mercy Jane Watts Hills (1854-1918), the paternal grandmother of John Hills, with whom I have been corresponding for a few years now about Bernal, and whose family played an important role in the history of San Francisco.  Mercy’s husband, Charles E. Hills Sr. (1854-1947), was one of the four Hills boys who started a grocery store in San Francisco in the 1870s that eventually developed into the world-famous Hills Brothers Coffee.

Family lore has it that Charles bailed out his investment of $500 in the coffee company as he needed the money for family purposes, and he thought the business would go nowhere.

The Hills house at 15 Patton was built around 1892, according to water records.

The first owner was George D. Mayle, who ran a couple of coffee parlors in the city. Charles Hills, who later worked as a ship’s carpenter, and Mercy bought the single-story house in 1899 and that’s where they raised their children Fannie, Helen, Jennie, Charles, and George (1890-1967).

In recent years I’ve been corresponding with John Hills, who was one of George’s son. John kindly shared some family photographs.

Here’s Mercy, the recipient of the postcard, in a photo taken in the 1890s:

Mercy Jane Watts Hills in the 1890s. Photo courtesy of John Hills.

John says: “Looking stern in pictures in those days, as you know, was usual. My father always told me that Mercy was the loveliest woman: saintly, happy, secure, and pleasant, a Baptist and stern-looking notwithstanding.”

John’s father George Hills married Ellen I. Jones in November 1913; around that time he and his father added a second floor to the house on Patton Street, creating a flat at 15a for George’s new family.

John Hill’s parents, George (seen in the 1920s in the backyard of 15 Patton, wearing his leather work apron) and Ellen (photo taken in 1915). Photos courtesy John Hills.

George and Ellen had three sons. George Jr. was born in 1918, Jim was born in 1921, and John was born in 1922.  The Hillses always referred to the street as Patton Alley.

The Hills family on the front porch at 15 Patton St. during the 1920s. Photo courtesy of John Hills

John adds, “A point of interest and somewhat ironical: my father, George W. Hills Sr., not in a direct line of the three sibling coffee founders who accumulated truly great wealth from the bean, actually became an employee of Hills Bros for fifty years, from the age of 20 through 70 (1910-1960 approximately).”

“He worked primarily as a boxmaker and ultimately, as he became older, in a semi-retirement job as yard superintendent, checking cars and trucks in and out and generally providing some security for the parking/dispatch yard.”

George Hills, with a Hills Brothers delivery truck he drove in the 1930s. Photo courtesy of John Hills

John recalls an outhouse in the backyard – there was no indoor toilet for a time at least.

John Hills (left) and his brother Jim playing cowboys in the backyard at 15 Patton, circa 1930. Photo courtesy John Hills.

The Hills family moved away from 15 Patton in 1931, probably around the same time the Board of Supervisors ordered a public auction of the buildings at 5-15 Patton, 161-177 Highland, and 102-180 Appleton so the land could be used for “school purposes.” The city-owned land was instead used to build the Holly Courts public housing project, which was completed in 1940.

John thinks the house was moved round the corner to Highland Avenue, but it may have been demolished in the years since. (If anyone wants to help solve this Bernal mystery, we’d love to know for sure where 15 Patton ended up.)

I don’t know how I magically ended up with this post card, but I sent it on to John — after all, it’s technically a family heirloom. We both wonder where it’s been for the last 108 years.

Wednesday: Bernal History Project Presents “History of the Bernal Cut” (Plus Potluck)

Bernal Cut looking north, circa 1912. Southern Pacific train passing under the Richland Street bridge. (Image courtesy OpenSFHistory, from the Emiliano Echeverria/Randolph Brandt Collection)

At the Bernal Library on Wednesday evening, Nov. 15, starting at 7 pm, The Bernal Heights History Project will host John Blackburn and Bill Cassidy as they present a slideshow about the history of the Bernal Cut.

The origins of the Bernal Cut lie in the early San Francisco and San Jose Railroad, which later became the Southern Pacific Railroad. Dug out of the hills between Mission and Randall streets and San Jose and St. Mary’s avenues, the “cut” established a shorter rail travel route into and out of the City.

Southern Pacific Railroad entering Bernal Cut as seen from Richland-Miguel overpass, April 5, 1922. (Photo: SFDPW, courtesy C.R. collection)

This single-track route remained a passenger route until 1932, continued to operate for freight trains through the 1940s. It was essential to transporting coffins and visitors to the cemeteries in Colma.

These days, The Cut is known as San Jose Avenue, and it carries the J-Church streetcar and I-280 automotive traffic.

John and Virginia Kibre will bring their fully working scale model of the train and the Cut, which they built for the Bernal History Project for San Francisco History Days 2017.

This is the last meeting of the year and will be a pot-luck event. Bring goodies of any kind: chips and dips, sodas and water, noshes, sushi, sweets, or anything to share. BHP will provide home-baked cookies and coffee.

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. Street parking: can be tricky because this is St. Kevin’s bingo night.

Sunday: Join a Fabulous, Fascinating Bernal-La Lengua Walking Tour

Valencia Street at Cesar Chavez (Army) Street looking south, June 9, 1920. (Source: SFMTA)

The fertile flatlands of Bernal Heights along Mission Street are home to many tasty restaurants, rollicking nightlife, and proud inhabitants who are famous for their hyperlocal pride and rebellious attitudes. Yet even if no one can quite agree what to call it — La Lengua? Mssion-Bernal? Bernal-Mission? South of Army? — Bernal’s stretch of Mission Street is one of the most vibrant micro-hoods in all of San Francisco, and tastemakers around town are just starting to realize that.

Underpinning all this, La Lengua also has a rich history that extends all the way back to our primordial ancestor, Jose Cornelio Bernal, whose ranch gave our neighborhood its name and whose homestead was located on the site of today’s St. Luke’s Hospital.

This weekend, on Sunday Nov. 12 starting at 10 am, Bernal Neighbor Michael Nolan will join forces with neighborhood enthusiasts to lead a walking tour of Mission-Bernal La Lengua Bernal-Mission South of Army:

District Nine Neighbors for Housing presents a Mission-Bernal Walking Tour ~ Past, Present & Future, Part One, Led by Gillian Gillett

$5 covers tour guide materials for participants. We convene at Tierra Mia Coffee, Valencia & Mission at 10am and conclude at El Buen Comer, Mission & Kingston, at Noon for Brunch.

Our guide and neighbor, Gillian Gillett, will describe the street widenings (and sidewalk narrowings) of Cesar Chavez (once Army), Guerrero and San Jose Avenue, the aborted Mission Freeway and Southern Crossing, and troubles at St. Luke’s Hospital: 1940-2017.  We look at housing development opportunities along the route.

Gillian Gillett is a neighborhood activist (San Jose/Guerrero Coalition to Save Our Streets), public space advocate (Greening Guerrero and Guerrero Park), and mom of two. During her day job, she is Director of Transportation Policy in Mayor Lee’s office, focusing on Caltrain, bike share, California High Speed Rail, BART and the coming of the Autonomous Vehicle.

Part Two will take place in January, originate at Tierra Mia Coffee and head south past the Royal Cuckoo, 3300 Club/Graywood Hotel-Cole Hardware-Safeway sites and finish at Randall Street.  More details will follow as the date approaches.

To join, use this link to get an invitation from Neighbor Michael.

Wednesday: See and Hear The Story of Angelo Morosi’s Life in Bernal Heights

Angelo Morino (right) with his friend Bob Bonino on Bernal hill, circa 1927. Photo courtesy Lyn Morosi-Allison,

Following last month’s successful presentation of Bill Cassidy’s oral history interview with Melvin Anderson, on Wednesday, October 18, the Bernal History Project will screen excerpts from Bill’s interview with Angelo Morosi (1915-2006) alongside a slideshow of Morosi family photos.

We are delighted to welcome members of Angelo’s family, including his children and their cousins, to the show!

Angelo and Elva Morosi with their De Soto, 1938. Photo courtesy Lyn Morosi-Allison

Angelo’s family came from Italy, and moved to Bernal from North Beach as World War I was ending.

He and his siblings grew up on Holladay and Powhattan, sliding down the hill on pieces of cardboard and being teased about bringing salami sandwiches to school when lots of the other kids had peanut butter. Later, he ran a successful painting business, and raised a family of his own with his wife, Elva.

Angelo with his children, Dick, Joyce, and Lyn Morosi, circa 1957. Photo courtesy Lyn Morosi-Allison

Thirty years ago, Bill, a lifelong resident of northeastern Bernal Heights, filmed a series of interviews that evolved into an oral history project. He sought out people who had been born and/or raised on the hill and asked them to share their stories.

Bill’s 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.

The meeting starts on Wednesday, Oct. 18 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. Muni: 24, 67. Street parking: can be tricky because this is St. Kevin’s bingo night.

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.