Home Portrait: Golden Gate Bridge House

So it seems that the California Historical Association has hit upon an idea: To commemorate the installation of a new exhibition marking the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, the organization plans to paint their headquarters building in SoMa the exact same color as… the Golden Gate Bridge.

It’s a clever idea, but it’s not so original. Indeed, here in Bernal Heights, where everyone is avant-garde, there is already a structure which does the same thing. It’s a house located on Precita near the intersection with Shotwell, and it’s painted from top to bottom in the exact color used on the Golden Gate Bridge: International Orange.

The University of California at Berkeley provides a quick overview of how International Orange was selected for use on the bridge:

Chief engineer Joseph Strauss and his colleagues intended to select a paint that would withstand the harsh winds and weather and the corrosive salt air-constant factors for a bridge across the Golden Gate. Following a year of testing paints and colors, the possible choices were carbon black, steel gray, and orange. Some felt that this bridge, like others, should be black, gray, or silver. Architect Irving Morrow preferred the warm orange color for both aesthetic and practical reasons. He felt that the darker shades would detract from the beautiful setting and that orange could be seen better in dense fog, another constant factor for the Gate. He was supported by local artist and sculptor Benjamin Buffano, and by many other locals who wrote letters supporting his choice of “International Airways Orange.”

San Franciscans took to International Orange almost immediately, as evidenced by this letter sent to Irving Morrow in 1935 — two years before the bridge was completed:

Dear Mr. Morrow,

For some time I have been wanting to express to you how fine the Golden Gate Bridge tower on the Marin Shore seems to me.

I have watched it from the ferry and the city in almost every kind of weather and light, and find it superbly in harmony with the landscape both in design and color.

Now that the south tower is beginning to appear, the beauty of that color of red lead has been brought home to me even more — in marked contrast to the drab color of the Carquinez Bridge and others about the bay.

Couldn’t the Golden Gate Bridge be left in red lead or some finishing paint that approaches vermillion?

It would enhance the dignity of the great structure and harmonize it completely with its surroundings.

Of course, that “red lead” wasn’t just primer — it was the finish coat, and a lead-free version of the color is still in use today. According to the purchasing manager for the Golden Gate Bridge, the official paint is called “Golden Gate Bridge International Orange”  (Code: B-66EJ1000 or B-640216206) and it’s manufactured by Sherwin-Williams.

Fireweed: SW6328

Unfortunately, the paint used on the bridge is a custom commercial mix sold only to high-volume clients. For civilian homeowners, Sherwin-Williams makes a consumer color color called “Fireweed” (code SW 6328) that’s an exact equivalent to the paint used on the bridge.

Funny thing, though… when you see a sample of Fireweed — like the one to the right — it looks much much darker and much less orange than your mental image of the Golden Gate Bridge:


But that’s (literally) just a trick of the light. This photo shows a field comparison, with a Fireweed swatch held up alongside a  portion of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you allow for a little fading and oxidation on the portion of the bridge shown here, you can see it’s the same color:

How to paint anything the color of the Golden Gate Bridge

Hit that color with some intense natural sunlight, and watch what happens… Voila! It glows in that familiar Golden Gate Bridge hue. Notice how that’s happening in the sunny portion of the Bernal Heights house shown in this photo:

Ce n'est pas un Photoshop

So there you have it. More than you ever wanted to know about the Golden Gate Bridge House in Bernal Heights. And why do we know so much about this home?

That’s easy: It’s my house, I researched and chose the color, and I live here.

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

House Portrait: Carlos Santana’s House on Mullen

Santana House

Santana House

The Mission District usually gets the credit for having been home to Carlos Santana, but the truth of the matter is that Santana commuted to the Mission from Bernal Heights.

Specifically, according to longtime Bernal resident Peter Wiley, Santana lived in this house on Mullen Avenue. Here’s how Neighbor Peter guided me to it:

The house is on the north side of Mullen just east of the Franconia steps. There is a Franconia cul de sac that runs south from Mullen just east of the bend as you drive up (east) Mullen from Franconia. The first house to the east of the steps is an old storefront. The second house is a shingled cottage. Maybe not shingled. That’s the one. It is flanked to the east by a cottage that is set back from the street.

Neighbor Peter confirmed to Bernalwood that the home shown here was indeed the Santana House. Carlos, if you’re out there… care to chime in???

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

Susie Bright Remembers a Life on Bessie Street

Susie Bright is a writer/activist who edited On Our Backs, an influential ‘zine about female and lesbian sexuality that was published during the 1980s. During the heyday of On Our Backs, Bright lived in a small apartment at 25A Bessie Street that also served as the magazine’s editorial office and photo studio.

Honey Lee Cottrell, Bright’s former partner and collaborator, has lived in the apartment on Bessie Street ever since. But on Friday she will be evicted. To mark the sad event, Bright wrote a short essay about years spent in the apartment, and she calls her recollection the “Annals of Bessie Street: From Revolution to Eviction.”

This Friday I am losing my long-standing home in San Francisco: 25A Bessie Street.

My first books Herotica and Susie Sexpert’s Lesbian Sex World were written inside this little nest. I grew up as a young woman in this apartment, my daughter grew up here from infancy to adulthood.

The best and most outrageous of On Our Backs pictures were conceived and often shot at Bessie Street. This is where Honey Lee Cottrell, my partner, and OOB’s staff photographer, became a legend.

We had a tiny garden that got a few rays of sun. We turned a roving green briar into a wandering rose. I held my first porno pajama parties there, which later became my big screen road shows: How to Read a Dirty Movie and All Girl Action. The thumb-size cactus we planted outside on the sidewalk grew into a behemoth.

We raised kids here— Honey Lee captured so many of our children’s best moments.

Some things I can’t get out of my mind. Fanny Fatale demonstrated “how to female ejaculate” on our kitchen linoleum one afternoon, and I said we should never clean that spot again. I think our apartment should be made into a feminist historical monument.

I moved to Bessie Street with my girlfriend, Honey Lee Cottrell, when I was 23 years old— and she was 37. It’s a tiny basement apartment on the steep north face of Bernal Hill. The bathtub is in the kitchen, which looks out over all of downtown and the Mission district. The kitchen windows are the one place where the light pours in.

Our first landlord was unsure if I could qualify as a tenant, because at 5’10”, I had to duck to get into some of the corners of the low-ceilinged apartment. I assured her I could— at $400 a month, the price was just right for the two of us. In the early 1980s, Bernal was still a poor and working class, multi-racial neighborhood, adjacent to “Needle Park,” which nowadays is filled with bouncy houses and miniature-dog birthday parties.

I moved out of Bessie Street when I was 30— we broke up after seven years— but I never “left.” I moved a few blocks away, and when Aretha was born, she went back and forth between our two homes. That never ended, no matter how many miles I moved away. The last two years, my daugther lived at Bessie Street with Honey, graduating from college.

Early this winter, the Bessie Street building was sold to a new owner, and after 30 years: “Eviction.” Ironically, it was bought by a wealthy man who wanted to make a home for his young son in the city who otherwise could never afford to rent a place…

There’s lots more at Susie’s site, including many more images from the pages from On Our Backs (NSFW). It’s a poignant tribute to a memorable time and an important place in the evolution of the Bernal Heights we all live in today.

Farewell, 25A Bessie Street.

PHOTO: Honey Lee Cottrell via Susie Bright.
Hat tip: Rita Roti

House Portrait: Chalkboard Garage on Mullen Ave.

Chalkboard House

Chalkboard House

Deep in the depths of Mullen Avenue, there’s a 1950s-style house with two garage doors that have been painted with chalkboard paint. And if you look closely, you’ll find a tidy bucket of chalk sticks sitting at the foot of the doors, in case you feel inspired to make an artistic, political, cultural, territorial, or culinary statement.

Chalkboard House


PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

House Portrait: Big Pink on Brewster

Brewster at Macedonia

This very big, very pink house at the corner of Brewster and Macedonia is from the late 1950s or early 1960s. It almost looks like a birthday cake; so much so that I find myself wanting to eat all the icing.

But as always with Bernalwood Style, it’s the meticulous attention to detail that really pulls the whole thing together:

Brewster at Macedonia

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

House Portrait: Hidden Peralta Street iPad House

When you zip south on US 101 alongside Bernal Heights, it’s hard to miss the giant Apple iPad billboard perched alongside the freeway just beyond the Cortland Avenue overpass.

But what you may not have noticed is that there’s also a house hidden behind that big billboard, and considering the odd location, it actually looks rather charming:

The iPad House

UPDATE: Bernalwood contributor David Gallagher pointed us to this superb 1955 photo that clearly shows this same house (at bottom, center) … as well as the fact that it has been hidden behind a billboard for many decades:

Gee whiz, it sure would be swell to reprise that old TWA billboard with the Lockheed Constellation on it, eh? Here’s a close-up detail:

Other fun things to notice in the detail: Peralta Street is still unpaved. That warehouse in the background is now the (quite good) San Francisco Antique and Design Mall, which was originally built as the headquarters for the American Seating Company.

Photos: Telstar Logistics, Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection