Tonight: A Case Study in Bernal Home History Research

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The fabulous Bernal Heights History Project will hold their monthly meeting and ad hoc presentation at the Bernal Library, TONIGHT, Wednesday, June 15, at 7 pm. Vicky Walker tells us what’s on the agenda:

“Researching Your House: A Bernal Heights Case Study”

Neighbor Eve  will present a step-by-step guide to how to research your house. Along the way, she’ll share some things she learned about her own home and the people who’ve lived there from 1873 to the present day

The meeting on Wednesday, June 15 starts at 7 p.m. sharp. in the downstairs meeting room of the Bernal Heights Library (500 Cortland Avenue). When you arrive, turn left at the bottom of the stairs.

As always, the meeting is free and open to all.

PHOTO: Pages from the 1905 Sanborn property map, showing portions of Bernal Heights

A Brief History of Holly Park’s Creation, Rise, Decline, and Fabulous Rejuvenation

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This is a special post by contributor David Young, courtesy of our friends at Hoodline.

Nestled on the southern slope of Bernal Heights, just behind the hill’s more famous peak, Holly Park one of the least well-known parks in San Francisco. Yet with a history that dates back over 150 years, Holly Park is also one of the oldest parks in the city. Thankfully, lots of effort by determined neighbors and local nonprofits have combined to ensure that Holly Park doesn’t show its age. Today it remains a prime destination for dog walkers, young families, and in-the-know San Franciscans.

Holly Park was established in 1862, when silver magnate James Graham Fair purchased the 7.5-acre parcel for $375,000 and deeded it to the city. At the time, the area around it, called Bernal Rancho, was almost entirely undeveloped, so residents had little access to the new public land. That was the case until 1894, when the Holly Park Improvement Club convinced the city to build Holly Park Avenue (now known as Holly Park Circle). The street gave the rapidly expanding neighborhood a park they could finally call their own.

It took until 1926 for the unremarkable collection of small trees and shrubs on Holly Park to be replaced by proper landscaping. Basketball and tennis courts were added, along with a playground and the park’s now-towering eucalyptus trees. That was a triumph, but it was also was the last major improvement the park received for decades. Despite consistent popularity,  large sections of the park fell into disarray over the decades. By 1991, citing hazardous conditions, Rec and Park fenced in the playground.

Fortunately, that sad state of affairs did not last long. In the early 2000s, Bernal neighbor Eugenie Marek enjoyed taking early morning walks around the neighborhood. Circling Holly Park, she regularly noted the poor state of the park’s facilities. In March, 2000 voters had allocated $110 million  for open-space improvements, so Neighbor Eugenie organized Friends of Holly Park and developed a proposal to upgrade the park grounds. The proposal collected over 200 signatures and was passed by the city in 2002. Two years later, renovations were completed and the park was once again reopened.

Today, Holly Park is a regular destination for locals. A short, five-minute walk from the commercial strip of Cortland Ave., Holly Park is a great place to enjoy breathtaking views of the Bay from a unique southern vantage point. It’s even better with children: In 2006, the Chronicle rated the playground Holly Park one of the best in San Francisco. There’s a lot to love, including the baseball diamond, a tennis court, a basketball court, picnic and BBQ areas, and an upgraded playground.

Holly Park is located at Holly Park Circle, south of Cortland Ave. The park is is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The picnic tables and barbecue pits can be booked through the SF Rec and Park website.

IMAGES: Top, detail from Whitaker & Kelley: Map of Bernal Heights, June 1889. Below, 2016 photo of Holly Park baseball diamond, by David Young.

For Sale: Genuine 1906 Earthquake Shack on Bocana, at a Very 2016 Price

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Metaphor Alert! A former earthquake shack that was relocated to 164 Bocana Street after the Great Earthquake of 1906 was recently listed for sale, with an oh-so 2016 asking price of  $779,000.  For those keeping score at home, CurbedSF calculates that’s a 1.5 million percent increase from it’s original post-1906 price of $50.

CurbedSF adds:

The city dates it to 1909, although that may be just the year it was moved to its present location. Most earthquake shacks were built in the months immediately after the 1906 quake and migrated from their original locations in park refugee camps after tenants paid off their rent-to-own leases.

However it got here, this one-bedroom number a block from Bernal Heights park is about as cute as it gets, with its shingled facade, cathedral ceiling, stained glass windows, gas fireplace disguised as wood stove, and frosted glass on interior doors.

There are lots more photos of 164 Bocana inside and out over at CurbedSF.

PHOTO by Zephyr via CurbedSF

Tonight: Learn About Buildings That Have Moved, with the Bernal Heights History Project

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Neighbor Vicky Walker invites you to a meeting of the Bernal Heights History Project happening TONIGHT, April 20.  The topic at hand will be buildings that have been moved from their original locations. (Like, for example, this big one at 3365 Cesar Chavez.)

Neightbor Vicky  says:

Wednesday, April 20, 2016
7:00pm-8:30pm

at the Bernal Heights Branch Library
“San Francisco Relocated” slideshow and talk by Diane Donovan

San Francisco is second only to Chicago in the amount of buildings that have been physically moved around town – but until now, this story has never appeared in book form. Diane Donovan’s “San Francisco Relocated” (Arcadia Publishing, 2015) offers an introduction to the topic, covering the heyday and high points of building moves throughout San Francisco and profiling some small-time building movers whose efforts transformed neighborhoods such as the Portola District and the Crocker-Amazon.

From Bernal Heights earthquake cottage moves to moving churches, industrial buildings, and Victorian houses, the City’s rich house-moving heritage is reviewed with dozens of images accompanying stories of house movers, historic buildings, and “impossible moves.” Diane Donovan put her skills to work on a project that took on a life of its own and eventually involved a quest to locate her childhood landlord’s family and his inspiration for entering the house-moving business. Copies of her book, San Francisco Relocated, will be available for sale and signing. Wednesday’s 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: 3365 Cesar Chavez, as seen on the north side of the street in 1938, and the south side in 2012

A Barroom History of the Odd Mural in The Lucky Horseshoe

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Last week, the humble but delightful Lucky Horseshoe bar on Cortland celebrated its fifth anniversary. Hooray! That’s a big deal, because it means that The Lucky Horseshoe can now lay claim to its proud own era at 453 Cortland, a barroom space that has been home to several previous eras of Bernal dive-bar legend.

For decades after World War II, 453 Cortland was known as The Cherokee. (More about that in a moment.) Then the space became Skip’s Tavern, a bar nearby neighbors remember for being rough around the edges and loud at night. Yet Skip’s was also home to some rather incredible blues music and a vibrant culture of its own.

Since then, Lucky Horseshoe has established its own funky vibe, and it retains a commitment to music. It’s friendly and well-maintained, but it’s still the kind of dive a neighborhood can be proud of.  CONGRATS Team Lucky Horseshoe!

Through all this, presiding over all these eras of boozy history at 453 Cortland, is the big, weird mural painted above the front door. It’s a faded, vintage scene of cowboys, Indians, and rolling Western landscapes, and it’s obviously been there for a long time:

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What’s the backstory on the mural?

Lucky for all of us, Neighbor Vicky Walker from the Bernal Heights History Project is on the case. Neighbor Vicky tells Bernalwood:

Here’s what we know about the mural inside 453 Cortland!

The mural was painted by Harold Vick (1915-?). Here he is as a young man:

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Later, Harold Vick worked at the Sommer and Kaufmann shoe store on Market Street as a card writer, sometimes listed as an artist. (LOOK at that store. Amazing!)

Harold got married in 1940 and moved to 19 Roscoe in South Bernal. His brother, Melvin, took over The Cherokee and ran it with his wife, Barbara, from 1943 to 1946.

The Cherokee in 1973, from the Max Kirkeberg Collection

The Cherokee in 1973, from the Max Kirkeberg Collection

Harold probably served in World War II. There’s another Harold Vick listed as a survivor of the Bataan Death March, but I haven’t been able to confirm that it’s him yet. In any case, Harold Vick is absent from the city directories from 1942 onward, although his wife, Patricia (Patti/Patsy) is still listed at 19 Roscoe in 1946. And Harold Vick never appears in S.F. directories again.

All that means we can probably assume that Harold Vick painted the Cherokee mural right around the time it was first owned by Melvin Vick.

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The story is told that the Harold Vick painted for beer money. The drunker he got, the odder the mural in the Cherokee became:

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The mural in the Cherokee wasn’t Harold Vick’s only barroom masterpiece.  We know he also painted “After Cassino” which hung at 309 Cortland in Duval’s Studio Club.

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Duval’s Studio Club became Charlie’s, which was a dive bar. That became the Stray Bar, which is now Holy Water.

The mural there was from 1944. My pal Jenner Davis is a former bartender at Charlie’s, and the daughter of Anita Davis, who was Regi Harvey’s partner, who sang all the time at Skip’s. She says: “The scene depicted in ‘After Cassino’ was taken from an original sketch Harold Vick found, singed and burned, in a field as he was crossing it with his platoon during World War II.  Nearby were the remains of the artist who created the sketch, and his unsuspecting female subject, who had blown them both to bits when her plow hit a land mine.”

Here’s a detail from Harold Vick’s ‘After Cassino’:

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We’re told that After Cassino’ now lives in the private dining room at Avedano’s.

IMAGE: Hanging the new sign at the Lucky Horseshoe in 2011

Bernal Home Yields Spooky Artifact and Nautical Mystery

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Neighbor Joshua has been living with a nautical artifact that was discovered in the soil beneath his Elsie Street home. It may (or may not) be haunted, but either way, he’s hoping to learn more about it. Neighbor Joshua writes:

I was hoping that Bernalwood could help me out. Several years ago when I moved into my home in Bernal, I found a rather strange object in the back of the garage.

Apparently, while they were excavating in order to to build the garage, they came across a large rudder buried in the ground (see attached pics.) The rudder is approx. 5 ft. by 5 ft. and made of wood and metal. I think it weight at least 400 lbs. if not more as it took four to five moving men to move it.

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The previous owner said that after discovering the rudder, strange things began to happen in the home. He brought in a medium who claimed that the home once belonged to a sea captain whose spirit still lived in the house, and that the rudder should never be removed from the premises. In addition, the medium recommended that a toy ship be placed in the garage to appease the sea captain. I should mention that after we moved in, for some time, the back door which was securely locked, would be wide open in the morning — but I digress.

I’ve done an extensive history on my home which dates back to 1906 and there is no evidence of a captain ever living here. All that being said, I would be curious if any Bernalwood readers had thoughts about the age of the rudder. Even better if there’s a maritime expert in the ‘hood who could offer additional info.

Any insights? Please share them in the comments.

PHOTOS: Mystery rudder discovered in Neighbor Joshua’s home. Courtesy of Neighbor Joshua.

Time Machine: A Survey Tour of Bernal Heights In 1984

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Last night your Bernalwood editor spent some time perusing an archive of old back-issues of the Bernal Journal, the Bernal Heights newspaper from the days when news still came on paper.

This isn’t the first time that I have fallen into this archival rabbit-hole, but per usual, my exploration yielded a trove of history, context, and memory. One article in particular  caught my attention: An overview of the social and economic conditions in Bernal Heights as things stood in July of 1984.

Here’s how the article looked. (Don’t worry about trying to read the layout here, because the full text of the article is provided below, for your reading enjoyment.)

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A few obvious and fabulous visual details:

  • That hand-drawn Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center ad! Wow.
  • That El Rio ad! With the same logo and “Your dive!” slogan they’re still using today! Hooray!

In the article itself, here are some highlights:

  • Demographically, the article describes Bernal as “predominantly white. Latin Americans, mainly from Mexico, form the second largest group, followed by Asians, particularly Filipinos, and Blacks. In 1979 there were also 59 Samoans, 42 Vietnamese, 27 American Indians, 2 Guanamanians and 2 Aleut Eskimos.”
  • In 1979 Bernal residents earned a median income of $22,300, as compared to $25,672 for San Francisco as a whole. Bernal Heights residents were, on average, four years younger than the rest of the city’s residents.
  • In 1984, a wave of Laotians were moving to the Bernal, along with “the so-
    called ‘new breed of ‘young urban professionals,’ most of whom are white.”
  • Cortland Avenue was struggling at the time, as “the neighborhood’s reputation as a high crime, poorly frequented area [was] very damaging for new businesses.”
  • Speaking of crime, “in 1983 the western slope of the hill, in the area where Cortland Avenue and Mission Street meet, had the highest crime rate in the Ingleside district, while crime figures on the eastern slope of Bernal Heights were some of the lowest in the city.”
  • “The average price of a house in 1979 was $84,300. According to Abbe Stevenson, a Cortland Avenue real estate agent, homes rarely sell for below $100,000, and there is a big discrepancy between the cost of houses at the very top of the hill, many of which are now in the $180,000 range.”
  • There was still room to build new homes in Bernal, which contained “one quarter of San Francisco’s available building lots, with land values
    averaging $20,000.” Building permits, increased 74 percent in San
    Francisco during 1983, and housing starts rose 11.2 percent in February, 1984 to their highest level since 1978.
  • However, Bernalese didn’t much care for new home construction back then either.  The article says, “Keeping speculators away from the hill is an issue that residents here have always rallied around, earning for themselves a reputation for hard-headedness at City Hall.”
  • Ultimately, the article concludes “All city neighborhoods change, as the City’s inhabitants migrate through them. Bernal Heights just seems to have done so a little slower than the rest. For that, most of its residents are grateful.”

Here’s the full text of the article, straight from 1984 to you:

BERNAL HEIGHTS REVISITED . . .
By Abigail Stexling-Vasquez

“Bernal Heights isn’t exactly the go-go market of
real estate,” says Supervisor Bill Maher, who has lived
here for the past eight years. Yet on this San Francisco
hill, where some of the wealthiest residents still live
off of dirt roads, the way things are is just the way
people want them to stay.
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