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.

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:

3333-mission-grand-opening-ad-07011942

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…

4-ladies-of-the-lanes-12191943
…. or leaping with their badminton racquets:

missioncenter-opens-bowling-badminton-07011942

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.