Census Visualization Reveals Racial Geography of Bernal Heights


Dustin Cable is senior policy researcher and statistician with the Demographics & Workforce Group at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. He recently completed a “Racial Dot Map” that uses data from the 2010 census to illustrate “geographic distribution, population density, and racial diversity of the American people in every neighborhood in the entire country.”

Each dot represents one person, with each race shown in a different color. The result is a vast, visual map that Wired calls “the most comprehensive map of race in America ever created.”

The image above is the racial dot map of San Francisco. The resolution of the interactive version of the dot map is limited, but we can zoom and enhance to get closer look at Bernal Heights:



There’s an impressive amount of mixing going on here in Bernal, even as there are also some very clear patterns of clustering. What you see here could quite literally be described as a kind of ethno-geographic Rorschach Test.

So shall we discuss? Let’s discuss.

MAPS: via the interactive Racial Dot Map

Neighbor Chuck Captures “Everyday Sights in Bernal Heights”





Neighbor Chuck B went for one of his occasional walks around Bernal Heights recently. (Bernalwood covered his last one, back in March.)

Equipped with a camera and his deep knowledge of our local flora, Neighbor Chuck captured a terrific series of snapshots that shows our neighborhood in its full seasonal glory. The result was another one of his wonderful “Everyday Sights in Bernal Heights” blog posts:

Ugh. I worked all day yesterday. Saturday! Today I went for a walk (and worked some more when I got home). It was summer-like, and got hotter as the day wore on.




There’s lots more where all this came from, so do check it all out over at Chuck B’s blog, My Back 40 (Feet).

PHOTOS: Chuck B.

All Are Invited to the Elsie Street Block Party on Saturday

Neighbor Michael invites all Citizens of Bernalwood to attend the fashionable Elsie Street Block Party that will take place tomorrow afternoon:

Bernal Neighbors – You are cordially invited to the 6th Annual Elsie Street Block Party, between Cortland & Eugenia, this Saturday, Sept. 29 from Noon to 3pm.

Bhangra Dancers at 1pm. Ten of them! Be a judge in the Bake-Off Contest, Jump in the Bouncy House, Swat a Pinata (if you’re young enough), enjoy food, drink and great company. Be carefree and carfree on the Best Block of Bernal.

Peter Orner Ponders the Gentrification of Precita Park in the New York Times

Neighbor Peter Orner is a “bold-faced name” in the literary world and an esteemed Citizen of Bernalwood. From his home in North Bernal, he has been an eyewitness to the increasing glamification of Precita Park — a process that has included a recent home sale that displaced two renters (he calls them Josie and Steve) who have been mainstays of the neighborhood.

Neighbor Peter considers all this in a thoughtful piece published in the Opinionator section of yesterday’s New York Times:

Our neighborhood, at the base of Bernal Hill, has been changing for years, becoming more and more upscale. Lately, the realtors have begun calling it “Desirable Precita Park.” We now have all the necessary amenities: a comically overpriced organic convenience store and wine emporium, a new coffee shop with toddler play area, and yes, our very own pop-up restaurant. The playground at the east end of the park, which doesn’t need to be renovated, is being renovated. Celestially fit women march down our sidewalks with yoga mats slung over their shoulders like muskets.

Precita Park

It wasn’t always like this. Precita Park used to be a lot funkier, in a militant hippie sort of way. In 1975, Patty Hearst’s kidnappers were caught a few doors down from my apartment. A longtime resident once told me that the F.B.I. agents staking out the place wore long hair and beads and sat in their car smoking dope, and still everybody on the block knew they were cops.

Precita Park is getting nicer. But Joise and Steve are gone. Peter wonders if the tradeoff is worth it:

In Precita Park, the loss of this one family may not be calculable in dollars. But I fear that the more affluent this area becomes, neighbors — people who look out for each other — will become fewer and farther between. Lately in San Francisco, we seem to be comfortable tackling every progressive cause except for the question of where middle-class people like Josie and Steve, and so many others, are supposed to live.

These are difficult questions, and Peter’s essay generated some thoughtful commentary in the NYTimes.com discussion thread.

For example, Neighbor Robert posted this:

I also live in Bernal Heights. I am an owner. I find that the people who are most involved on my street are the owners, and the people who are least involved are the renters. I realize that there are renters who care about their neighborhood, but I do take issue with Mr. Orner’s characterization of owners. New owners in my neighborhood, including me, formed a neighborhood association and worked with the city on street beautification and traffic calming. We care about our neighborhood.

Neighbor TeeVee writes:

I know how the author feels. It’s not easy to see good neighbors and friends leave the neighborhood. And San Francisco, for all its charms, is a place where you’re constantly reminded of how much money you do NOT have.

But as a resident of Bernal, I really think he needs to get out more and meet more people who own houses in the area. Many of them, like me, aren’t rich. In fact they pretty much sacrificed all disposable income to buy in the neighborhood. I take on as much freelance work as I can scare up in addition to my regular job to pay my mortgage. As a result, I don’t have a lot of time to hang out in Precita Park reading E.M. Forster and stereotyping people. For a writer, he makes a lot of unfair assumptions about owners, lumping them all together when there is vast income disparity in Bernal among homeowners. […]

Having grown up in a dying automotive town in Michigan, I guess I take a different view of Bernal. Having seen what happens when the housing market collapses completely, I know there are much worse things than a few yuppies moving into a neighborhood.

And this from KJ, who now lives in Portland:

I grew up in Bernal Heights. Born at St. Luke’s Hospital — blocks from Precita Park. I swam at Garfield Pool on Army (now Caesar Chavez) for 10cents in the ’60s. My generation was gentrified out of SF in the 1980s…so I find it hard to feel sorry for the displacement of today’s generation of gentrifiers. Very few of my generation can afford to live in our native city.

Finally, Neighbor Catherine adds:

I love the dream that a place could be your home because you feel deeply connected to it, whether you own it or not. We experimented with exactly this – living in a house in Bernal Heights that we did not own, but were meant to own. But it didn’t end up being ours in the end, because it’s not ours. We knew deep down that no serendipitious moment would change this in reality, but it seemed wise to give it a shot and trust the fates; we enjoyed our time there immensely. In the big picture, there are many factors that go into what makes you happy in the place you reside, and there is also a very random nature to the place you land in a competitive market like San Francisco.

Whether an owner or a renter, folks who moved in or bought in to a neighborhood in 1971, or 1989, or 2009, or yesterday all have the same right to contribute to their neighborhood and be embraced by their community. I see people feeling great ownership and entitlement over neighborhoods because of their longevity, but that isn’t more legitimate than your new neighbor next door, and isn’t categorically what’s right or best.

The message in my mind is to focus on what it means to be a neighbor and part of a community, however you landed there, and for however long you stay. Our city will continue to change – that’s the nature of urban life, and that dynamism is part of what we love about it. You can’t have one without the other.

This is an extremely complicated issue that defies simple solutions, and when you scratch the surface even the most absurd Bernal real estate stories often become more nuanced than they might seem at first glance.

So by all means please do read Peter’s NYT piece, and let’s carry on the discussion about the impact of change on Bernal Heights right here.

PHOTOS: Top, by the Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen. Precita Park by Telstar Logistics.

Fleeting Moment of Perfection Yields Best Part of Entire Day

When I got home from work last night, Bernalwood’s Cub Reporter announced that she wanted to go for a bike ride.

So we made a quick trip down the block. Then, as we were returning home, the sun dropped low above Twin Peaks, the trees began to shimmer with color, and the Cub Reporter glowed in golden sunlight as she cast a long shadow on the sidewalk.

A neighborhood really doesn’t get much more perfect than this.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

A Special Photo for the Hill People of Bernal’s West Slope

Last weekend Neighbor Isaac captured one of the most awesome and unusual photos of Bernal Heights you’re ever likely to see: It’s a supermongotelephoto view of the area where the La Lengua Autonomous Zone meets Bernal’s west slope. The perspective is surprising, because the photo was taken from (wait for it…) Twin Peaks!

For reference, that green patch in the center is the Colridge Mini-Park, with the Esmerelda steps running up the hill behind it.

The view you see above is nice, but for the proper mind-blowing experience, don’t miss the fully embiggened version of the photo. Wow!

PHOTO: Isaac Hepworth

Final Redistricting Plan Welcomed by Lost Tribe of College Hill

In the comments to our recent post about the redistricting proposal for the Dominion of Bernalwood and District 9, Neighbor Erika posted an excellent summary of the final redistricting plan — and why it’s a welcome thing for Bernal residents who live between Mission Street and the Bernal Cut. Her summary was so good, in fact, that we are reposting it in its entirety here:

What Beyond Chron called “Glen Bernal” is really the College Hill neighborhood of Bernal Heights. We mostly ID as Bernal, but so many Bernalwood denizens have snorted at our historically accurate claim that we College Hill residents have jokingly nicknamed our hood “Glernal.” And it’s particularly apt now that we’re part of Supervisor Wiener’s D8. Yep, we joined D8. Here’s the final map, settled over the weekend and published today.

This boundary shift into D8 was consciously requested by several neighbors and the College Hill Neighborhood Association for a few reasons:

1. Now we have one supervisor covering both halves of the Bernal Cut greenbelt path, the paved walking and biking trail that runs above both sides of San Jose Ave. On the Bernal side, it starts at St. Mary’s and climbs up and past College to Richland, Park, and Highland, and then back down to Appleton at Mission. It has great potential as a free community recreation resource (see our “Heal the Cut” efforts here), but for years it’s been tough coordinating cleaning-and-greening efforts because it was split between both D8 and D9. (The trash and crap—literal crap—are mostly on our Bernal side of the path, but Glen Park residents have to look at it). Neighbors have enjoyed working with both Supervisor Wiener’s and Supervisor Campos’s offices and with DPW on clean-up efforts, but we look forward to the entire Cut falling within just one supervisor’s district.

2. Now our D8 boundary at Mission St. better mirrors SFUSD’s “neighborhood school” boundary, which points College Hill kids who want a local English (instead of immersion) program to Glen Park Elementary instead of to nearby J. Serra Elementary (which was “redistricted” in September 2010 to soak up more kids in South Bernal). Here’s SFUSD’s Attendance Area map.

3. Now South Bernal has two supervisors covering its streets and its denizens, and we like the thought of 2 supervisors (Supervisor Wiener and Supervisor Campos) caring about our corner of the city.

Bravo Neighbor Erika! Her excellent executive summary clarifies the logic of moving College Hill into District 8, while also affirming the area’s longstanding allegiance to Bernal Heights. (The SF Chronicle also has a political analysis of the final redistricting plan.)

One final note. To be clear: The Dominion of Bernalwood does proudly include The Lost Tribe of College Hill in our sovereign domain, independent of any divergent supervisorial allegiances, and even as we apologize for any inadvertent periods of neglect. Bernal Über Alles, and all that.

New Portola Blog Is Almost as Vain as Bernalwood

There’s a new kid on the block. The Portola Planet is a new blog dedicated to covering The Portola, a neighborhood that reliable sources tell us lies on the other side of I-280, immediately to the south of glamorous Bernal Heights.

Moreover, in much the same way that Bernalwood loves, loves, loves looking at photos of Bernal Hill, The Portola Planet apparently loves looking at photos of The Portola — even if that means climbing Bernal Hill to get the job done.

The photo above is fascinating, because it shows what a Portolan sees when they look south:

Turning my back on our majestic city I realized [Bernal Hill] is also a fantastic viewpoint for our own hidden neighborhood. I took a few photos and here is one (with a few landmarks highlighted) which shows the Portola as the great little city suburb that it is.

Ah! Wow! I get it! All that sprawling, buildingy stuff visible from atop Bernal Hill corresponds to local, familiar places if you live in The Portola. Who knew???

Thus enlightened, Bernalwood would like to warmly welcome The Portola Planet to the cybersphere, and we kindly remind them to please stay off our lawn.

PHOTO: Portola Planet

Precita Neighbors Gather to Remember Stephen

On Sunday morning, a group of Bernal Heights neighbors gathered to participate in a memorial service for Stephen, the gracious resident of Precita Park who died on January 20.

It was a simple but warm affair. There were some cookies, and some coffee, and a modest shrine set up on the table where Stephen often passed the days. There were grey-haired old-timers on hand, along with families with kids, dogs with their owners, and a few Precita Park merchants. I overheard one young attendee say, “When my mother came to visit, I took her to meet him.”

Stephen died of complications from alcoholism, but he made a strong impression during the many years he spent living in the park. He’d apparently lost track of his real family, but he’d adopted the people of the neighborhood as surrogates. “Over and over I’d ask him, ‘Why don’t you get a room somewhere?'” one neighbor recalled. “Every time he’d say the same thing: ‘It’s the people. I look out for them, and they look out for me.”

One man said, “some people may have had a problem with his being here, but his presence made this a safer and more family-friendly place.”

Then someone pulled out a guitar, and everyone sang “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”

Stephen is also remembered via an eerily modern memorial: During a late stage of Stephen’s illness, while he was confined to a wheelchair, the Google Maps car apparently drove up Folsom Street on a sunny and pleasant day. As the car passed the intersection with Bessie Street, its cameras captured Stephen resting in the sun, in the very spot where his many friends and neighbors would gather to remember and appreciate him months later, after he was gone:

St. Mary’s Park in Sunday’s New York Times

St. Mary's

In case you missed it, there was a spiffy little overview article in yesterday’s print edition of the New York Times about St. Mary’s Park, the cute micro-‘hood in the southwest corner of Bernal Heights.

A sampler:

St. Mary’s College of California opened here in 1863, offering Catholic-based education far from downtown San Francisco temptations. In 1889, fog and wind prompted its relocation to Oakland, and in 1928 a move farther east took the college to its current home in Moraga.

After the college left San Francisco, some of the land it had been on was farmed. In the 1920s, the city’s Roman Catholic archdiocese subdivided and sold some of the property. Mark Daniels, an architect, planned the subdivision’s trademark shape, a nod to an original college church bell. Mr. Daniels’s influence can also be seen in many other local neighborhoods, like St. Francis Wood, Sea Cliff and Forest Hill.

Many of the red-tiled-roof homes in St. Mary’s Park are occupied by grown children of the first owners, and several centenarians are in residence. The original Irish and Italian community has diversified: Latinos and African-Americans have moved in. Newer residents include a lesbian rabbi.

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

Even When Invisible, Bernal Heights Reigns

Mr. Burrito Justice, the spiritual leader of the La Lengua separatists, posted this photo on his blog recently. It shows the summit of Bernal Hill emerging from a fog bank, as seen from the flatlands near St. Luke’s Hospital.

More importantly, the photo provides yet another reminder of how Bernal’s elevated supremacy so dominates the psyche of the poor La Lenguans, because even when our hill is shrouded in cloudy mist, the La Lenguans know — intuitively — that the hill is there, towering over them, awaiting an opportunity to reassert itself.

As Mr. Burrito Justice himself put it:

Out of a sunlit fog, Bernal emerges

… as it always has, and always will.

PHOTO: Burrito Justice

Mystery Bernal Heights Bugler Blows Horn Before Sunrise

Reader Chris says he has been awakened a bit earlier than usual lately:

Our north slope micro hood on Mullen has experienced a not unpleasant new early morning ritual: Taps, or at least a bugle announcing the arrival of morning, starting at around 5:30am, and repeating about every 15 minutes for a half-hour. Although vaguely military, this short, plaintive version has the intended “announcement” feel and a soft free-form tone that’s so very appropriate for our little enclave.
That’s all I know.

Yesterday Reader Alicia heard it with a Jewish accent:

Around 5:30am this morning I heard someone blowing a shofar… Do you know anything about this? Didn’t see anything on Bernalwood, but thought you might be a good resource for an answer!

So what exactly does it sound like? Listen in, because Reader Chris captured a brief recording (click the arrow to play):


Have you heard it too?

PHOTO: Sunrise from east Bernal on October 17, 2011, by Dona LaVallee

Learn About the Lost Movie Theaters of Mission Street

On Wednesday, October 19 at 7 pm, the ever-excellent Bernal History Project will host a talk in the meeting room the Bernal Heights Public Library about the lost movie theaters of Mission Street:

During the golden years of moviegoing in the first half of the 20th century, just about everybody went at least once a week. Ten thousand people a day went to the movies in San Francisco on Mission Street alone. Most of the theatres are gone now, or, worse yet, sitting vacant and abandoned as sad reminders of what once was, but will never be again.

But a couple of them have been in business for more than a century and continue to survive and, let us hope, prosper. Jack Tillmany’s presentation offers a guided tour of just about all of them, from 16th Street through the Mission and Bernal Heights to Daly City, in black and white and in color, along with the many streetcar lines that provided transportation on San Francisco’s longest thoroughfare. There will also be a small detour to visit Cortland Avenue’s movie houses, the Cortland and the Capri!

Jack Tillmany is a S.F. transit and movie theatre historian. He is the author of Theatres of San Francisco, Theatres of Oakland, and Theatres of the San Francisco Peninsula, the last with Gary Lee Parks, author of Theatres of San Jose. Copies of all four books will be available at the event at below cover price.

PHOTO: Above, the 9 streetcar passes the Lyceum Theater at 3350 Mission, home of the present-day Safeway parking lot. Photo from Jack Tillmany. Oh, and here’s how the view from the same spot looks today: