Then and Now: Cortland at Nevada, 1931



Here’s fun comparison showing the view from Cortland Ave. looking east from Nevada St. That’s July 31, 1931 up above, and January 18, 2016 below.

The most surprising thing about the two photos is that (apart from the sepia-tone coloring and more modern cars) the streetscape from this location hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last 85 years. The buildings on all four corners of the Nevada intersection are still in place and mostly unchanged.

Look a little more closely, and there’s one charming detail from way-back-when: There’s a young girl near the northwest corner riding a scooter down the hill toward Bayshore. Without a helmet! <Insert horrified parental gasp>


But in a more substantive way, the view from this angle is somewhat misleading. Yes, the view looks similar today when you look down the hill, but when you’re at the bottom of the hill looking up, the changes are far more dramatic.

Here’s what that looked like. This is the view from Cortland at Bayshore, looking up the hill toward Nevada. There’s no date on this photo, but the cars on Cortland tell us it’s from roughly the same era as the older photo above; circa mid-1920s or early 1930s:


Different! That first left turn is Hilton Street, and the embankment behind it now supports the highway 101 overpass. But most noteworthy is the big row of greenhouses visible just up the hill on the north side of Cortland. And, of course, no houses!

IMAGES: 1931 view, via UC Berkeley Bancroft Library. 2016 view by Telstar Logistics. View from Bayshore courtesy of the Bernal Heights History Project. 

Then and Now: 90 Years of Auto Biz at the Former Mission Chevrolet Dealership


Recently, Bernalwood noticed a big For Sale/Lease sign on the facade of our locavore auto partsmonger, the stylish O’Reilly store on Mission at Precita.

More changes, afoot?  Perhaps. Eventually. Inevitably. Because change is the only constant.

Come what may, the thing to remember about this particular building is that it was originally constructed in the late 1920’s as the showroom for Mission Chevrolet, an automobile dealership established during the early years of the motorcar revolution, at a time when this corner of Bernal Heights was making a dramatic transition from equine industries to internal combustion.

Here’s the location of today’s O’Reilly store, as seen in 1927 on Mission Street looking north at Precita:


Mission Chevrolet was still under construction in left-center of the image, so let’s zoom and enhance to take a closer look at the facade. The Chevrolet bow tie sign is clearly visible, just to the right of the Delicatessen Grill (which is now home to Virgil’s):


It’s nifty to see the front of the old Chevy dealership. But the back side of the building was way cooler.

The front door to the Mission Chevrolet showroom was on Mission Street, but the Service entrance was on Valencia, just south of Army/Cesar Chavez. This contemporary aerial photograph from the Bernalwood Intelligence Agency makes the building’s configuration clear to see:


Now, here’s what Mission Chevrolet’s Valencia facade looked like in the late 1920s, courtesy of a photo from the Bernal History Project:


Again, let’s zoom and enhance:


First. OMG! Look at Bernal Hill in the background. So naked and soooo cuuuuute! No Sutrito Tower. No trees. No party hat!

In the 1920s photo of the Valencia side, some of the architectural details are a little hard to distinguish. But they’re easy to visualize… because they’re still there today! Here’s the same spot, in 2014:


The flagpole remains on the far right side of the building, as well as the Spanish-style roof, and the arches from the original entrances. But the coolest detail is the bas–relief roundel right above the arches. The reliefs are still there, and if you look closely, you can still see a Chevrolet from the late 1920s embedded in the facade:


It’s a fun element, because it’s a representation of a late 1920s Chevrolet that’s baked into the building facade, rather like a bug in amber.

Picture it: Here’s what you’d get for your hard-earned Bernal dollars if you wandered down to Mission Chevrolet in 1928.

1928 Chevrolet Ad


Then and Now: The View from a Horse Pasture on Mission Near Precita


Bernalwood has received another photo shared from the family albums of Greg Dabel, the great, great grandson of Joseph McTigue, who owned a saddlery business that occupied the site that is now home to El Rio during the first decades of the 20th century.

In this installment, Mr. Dabel writes:

I scanned a couple of photos from the family album taken in 1923. My best guess is that these were taken standing in the open fields on the west side of Mission (between Army and Valencia).

Indeed! The photo above shows the view from one of the McTigue pastures. It was taken on the western side of Mission, looking east while standing on the site of the building that is now the former Sears department store.

And how do we know this? We know this because the two buildings in the background on the right side of the photo are still there! Check it:


Here’s a bonus photo, also taken from the McTigue pasture. Bernalwood believes it shows the view looking north, with an apartment building that used to stand at the intersection of Mission and Army (Cesar Chavez) visible in the background:


HISTORICAL PHOTOS: Courtesy of Greg Dabel

Neighbor David Talbot Laments the Tech-Fueled Gentrification of Bernal Heights

Yesterday’s post about the impact the Silicon Valley commuter shuttle network is having on Bernal Heights pairs neatly with the article by Bernal neighbor David Talbot that appears on the cover of the current issue of San Francisco magazine.

Under the headline “How Much Tech Can One City Take?” Neighbor David considers how the growth of the tech industry is changing the texture of San Francisco, and in one part of the article, he looks at this through the prism of our own Precita Park:

I’m sitting at a table outside the new Precita Park café in Bernal Heights, a gourmet sandwich shop that’s one sign of the changing times. When I moved to this neighborhood in 1993, just before the first dot-com boom, I avoided taking my two toddlers to the playground across the street from the café, because local gangs sometimes stashed their guns in the sand. And yet, despite gunfire from the old Army Street projects that often shattered the neighborhood’s sleep, Bernal Heights in those years was a glorious urban mix of deeply rooted blue-collar families, underground artists, radical activists, and lesbian settlers. The neighborhood had a funky character as well as a history. The famed cartoonist R. Crumb once hung his hat there, and his old Zap Comics sidekick, the brilliant Spain Rodriguez, still does.

But at some point the new tech boom began to make its presence felt in Bernal Heights, whose sunny hills are close to not only SoMa startups but also the Highway 101 shuttle line to Silicon Valley. Nowadays, you see Lexus SUVs parked in the driveways on Precita Avenue. Young masters of the universe in Ivy League sweatshirts buy yogurt and organic peaches at the corner stores where Cuervo flasks and cans of Colt 45 were once the most popular items.

“We cleaned up this neighborhood—stopped the violence in the projects—but now we can’t afford to live here anymore,” says Buck Bagot who has been a Bernal Heights community organizer and housing activist since 1976. “When I moved here, every house on my block had a different ethnicity. There were Latinos, blacks, American Indians, Samoans, Filipinos. They had good union jobs, and they could raise their families here. Now they’re all gone.” These days Bagot fights to block home foreclosures as the cofounder of Occupy Bernal, engaged in a battle to preserve the neighborhood’s diverse character that he admits often feels futile.

Sitting outside the café, I’m joined by another longtime Bernal resident, a 47-year-old San Francisco public school librarian. She moved to the neighborhood in 1994 with her partner, a public school teacher, when many of their lesbian friends were settling here, attracted by the relatively cheap rents. “There were a lot of us—we were young, politically active, and underpaid, but we could afford to live here in those days,” she says. “But now that we have kids, we’re being priced out.” The librarian—who asks that her name not be used because she’s concerned that any notoriety will hurt her chances of entering the tight housing market—says that she and her partner have bid on five houses this year. But they lost each time to buyers who could afford to put up tens of thousands of dollars over the sellers’ asking price—and all in cash. “Who are these people, with that kind of money?” she asks.

The librarian and her partner dread the idea of moving out of the city. San Francisco is in their souls: They fell in love here, they took to the streets here as young dyke activists, and they have a combination of 22 years seniority in the public school system. They can’t imagine moving their family to some remote suburb, where their kids would likely be the only ones with two moms. But it’s getting harder each day to hold on. To make ends meet, they have begun to moonlight as dog trainers “I don’t want to blame young tech workers,” says the librarian. “I’d hate to sound like some grumpy ‘get off my lawn’ type. I mean, I love technology. I’m an early adopter. But if people like us, who helped make San Francisco what it is, get pushed out of the city, who’s going to teach the next generation of kids? Who’s going to take care of them in the hospital?”

OK, so… This kind of “Woe Unto Bernal” essay is fast becoming a local sub-genre; Neighbor Peter Orner recently penned a similar lament, also about Precita Park, for The New York Times.

The issues both describe are very real: Gentrification, change, displacement, uncertainty, and the pain of watching longtime neighbors forced to move because of the inexorable economics of local real estate. Nevertherless, I had a much more sympathetic reaction to Neighbor’s Peter’s piece in the NYT than to Neighbor David’s piece in San Francisco.

Why? I’m not exactly sure, except perhaps because Peter’s piece felt more like an open-ended question to me, while David’s article was infused with an unfortunate kind of Baby Boomer myopia, as if all meaningful culture ended sometime around the time when Fleetwood Mac released the “Rumours” album.

More importantly, though, while the underlying issues of gentrification are real and challenging, it’s unfortunate that Neighbor David neglects to recognize that Bernal Heights is now a home to a glorious urban mix of deeply rooted families, underground artists, technology innovators, cutting-edge musicians, groundbreaking journalists, stalwart activists, assorted oddballs, and lesbian gentry. Plus: The Bikini Jogger.

Yes, the mix is changing. But it remains deeply funky, and passionately connected to this place we all love to call home. Of course we mourn the loss of friends and neighbors who, for whatever reason, cannot stay. The problems of gentrification defy easy solutions. Yet many of us also see meaningful continuity amid the tumult and change, because we know that Bernal Heights has never been a better or stronger neighborhood than it is today.

IMAGE: Original photo illustration by Peter Belanger for San Francisco, photo illustrated by Bernalwood

Then and Now: Peralta Overlook, 1982 vs. 2011

Bernal  Hights, San Francisco

When we geek-out on then-and-now photos here in Bernalwood, we usually end up marveling at how dramatically the neighborhood has changed in such a relatively short span of time. But here’s one view that’s hardly changed at all: Peralta just off Powahattan, looking south across Cortland.

The image at the top is from 1982, and it was shared via the Bernalwood Flickr group courtesy of photographer Dave Glass and his deeeeeep archives. I went out to recreate the shot last weekend, and amazingly, it almost looks the same. Someone has updated the collection of 30 year-old cars parked there, and the billboard facing 101 now promotes Apple’s iPad, but this part of the ‘Wood (so far) seems impervious to the passage of time:

Powahattan Then and Now

PHOTOS: Top, Dave Glass. Bottom, Telstar Logistics

Then and Now: Bernalwood’s Wild Wild West, 1975 vs. 2011

Bernal Hill, San Francisco

From the ever-fabulous photo archives of Dave Glass (whom we last met right here), comes this typically fabulous photo of Bernalwood’s west slope, taken during the mid-1970s. Dave’s caption explains:

Foreground is Mission Street near Fair, Bernal Heights district,
One of San Francisco’s working class neighborhoods, Pentax H3v with Kodak TriX film, photograph taken 1975

So how does this working class neighborhood look today?

I went back to recapture Dave’s photo, but it seems he took his shot from an upper-story elevation on the western side of Mission Street. I couldn’t recreate that altitude, so this is what I got. (If you need a consistent point of reference, use on the barn-shaped house roughly in the middle of both images.)

Bernal NorthwestExecutive summary of the last 36 years? There’s been a whole lot of remodeling going on!

PHOTOS: Top, Dave Glass; bottom, Telstar Logistics

Then and Now: Precita Park at Alabama, 1928 vs. 2011

Precita Park 1928

Here’s a fun one-two punch from the Bernalwood Time Machine. The photo above shows the corner of Precita and Alabama, at the eastern end of Precita Park, as it looked in 1928.

Here’s how it looks now:
Precita at Alabama, 2011
Comparing the images, two main thoughts come to mind: First, it’s nifty that the storefront on the right was a corner store, even then. (The space is currently for rent.) And second, OH MY GOD SO MUCH PARKING!

Then And Now: What Became of Those “Working Class Houses” on Hampshire Street?

Bernal Hill, San Francisco

Last week Bernalwood introduced you to Dave Glass, a wonderful San Francisco photographer who has amassed a continuous body of work that dates back to the 1960s.

Now it’s time for another installment of the Dave Glass Bernal Heights Then-And-Now Comparison Show. This week, we again travel back to 1982, to take a look at the corner of Hampshire and Peralta, on Bernal’s north side, where Dave photographed what he calls “working class housing.”

So what does it look like now? Dave says that today “these are expensive little homes with modern upgrades and city views.” Judging from this photo I took on December 24, 2010, it sure seems that he’s right:

Peralta at Hampshire (2010)

Photos: 1982, Dave Glass. 2010, Telstar Logistics

Then and Now: The Subtle-Yet-Significant Evolution of Peralta at Rutledge, 1982 vs. 2010

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.00.56 AM.png

Dave Glass (aka Dizzy Atmosphere on Flickr) is a San Francisco photographer who has been at the game since the 1960s. His work is excellent, and he probably has more great photos tucked away in his film archives than many of us will ever amass on our hard drives.

Dave spent some time wandering around Bernal Heights over the years, and he recently contributed a few of his older photos to our Flickr Bernalwood group. (HINT! HINT!)

The image above was taken in 1982, and it shows the intersection of Peralta and Rutledge on Bernal’s east slope. It says a lot about how Bernal has evolved over the years from a rougher-at-the-edges working class neighborhood to the quirky-at-the-edges middle class ‘hood we know today.

There’s no better way to demonstrate this than to revisit the scene of Dave’s 1982 photo, to show how it looks today. So allow me to present the corner of Peralta at Rutledge, as it looked on the afternoon of December 24, 2010.

Peralta at Rutledge (2010)

What a difference one Honda can make.

Photos: 1982, Dave Glass. 2010, Telstar Logistics

Space-Time Rupture Reveals San Jose Boulevard In 1929

Bernal Cut Bridges

Bernal Cut Dig
Through the miracle of Photoshop, Bernal resident Craig Butz has created a series of images that superimpose historic photographs over contemporary shots.

These depict the Bernal Cut — a major infrastructure project completed back in the days when we still attempted major infrastructure projects. The Bernal Cut lowered the grade of the southwest corner of Bernal Hill to make way for the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad — effectively opening up the Peninsula to routine transit. The cut was first carved out in the 1860s, but in 1929 it was widened to make room for an automotive roadbed — and today’s San Jose Speedway Boulevard.

The 1929 project is what Craig shows us here, via his spooky time portal that combines then-and-now photos in a single view. In an email to me, Craig explained how he does it:

Creating the montages requires finding the exact spot the original photo was taken, observing how tiny details line up in the scene, and ideally getting the camera within a few feet of where the old camera was situated. Then it’s photoshop layers and masking. The biggest thing I’ve noticed in taking these shots is how many more trees there are today. Several photos I wanted to recreate were impossible because the current view is just a lot of branches and leaves.

Images: Craigiest

Ribeltad Vorden: Bernal’s Most Notorious Spelling Mistake

Arrow Indicates Possible Bullet Hole

Arrow indicates possible bullet hole from earlier shenanigans at Precita and Folsom

In 1996 when Brady and I moved to an apartment on the 3200 block of Folsom street just up from Precita Park, my brother-in-law immediately said we were right across the street from an old hang-out from his biker days.  I heard him call it was, “The Ripple Tap.”  As an armchair historian, I did all I could to determine anything about this bar which sat at the location of today’s Caffe Cozzolino. (TIP: order the pesto chicken pizza to pick up.)

My search was fruitless. I searched the Internet, old phone books, and city directories, I asked every old-timer I could find, and I came up with nothing about The Ripple Tap.  All I knew was that my brother-in-law and sister and their motorcycle-enthusiast friends used to start their evenings there back in the day, and that many shenanigans ensued.

Then about 5 years ago, while working with Vicky Walker of the Bernal History Project, I discovered a wonderful history written by longtime Bernal Resident Jerry Schimmel who shed some light on this elusive story:

Around 1968 when Peter Cancilla (of Cancilla’s Market) acquired the property across the way at 300 Precita Avenue, among the odds and ends he acquired was a medium-sized cloth or banner bearing an applique version of the Colombia national arms.

The amusing thing was its completely garbled motto, apparently perpetrated by a Japanese seamstress. The normal spelling of the Colombian Spanish motto is Libertad y Orden (Liberty and Order) which somehow became Ribeltad Vorden… the bungled phrase inspired the name of his new watering hole.

Ribeltad Vorden banner

The original banner of the Ribeltad Vorden Doyle McGowan now has the framed cloth on his apartment wall after tracking it down through a circuitous trail of ownerships. Courtesy of Jerry Schimmel/Bernal History Project

Thus all became clear, sort of. Jerry’s account of life at the Ribeltad jibed exactly with my sister’s stories, right down to the shenanigans. And now we know the real name of the place, sort of.

Read Jerry Schimmel’s full story of the Ribeltad Vorden at the Bernal History Project

Breaking News, 1969: A House Explodes in Bernal Heights

The remains of 1540 York after the explosion in 1969

The remains of 1540 York after a gas explosion in 1969

KPIX Eyewitness News report from October 23rd 1969 by Ben Williams in San Francisco featuring the explosion of a residential house, caused by a gas leak. Includes interviews with witnesses, the fire service and views of property wreckage.

Sad to say, we can’t embed the video with the raw footage, but you can watch it here.

Local TV news coverage of this mundane 1969 disaster in Bernal Heights comes to us today by way of the excellent San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive,  hosted by San Francisco State. This segment is a story about a bad day in the neighborhood, but one which has since been largely forgotten.

The house in the story was on the on 1500 block of York, just up from Cesar Chavez (Army) Street. On October 23rd 1969, it blew up. An occupant  —  they were “a Spanish family,” a neighbor says — was taken away unconscious.

The neighbor is freaked out.

The neighbor was visibly rattled by the experience. But a street-savvy fire chief restored order, matter-of-factly, because a house blowing up due to a gas leak is just one of those things he deals with sometimes in the city. How bad was the damage? “At least $30,000,” he estimates.

1969 Fire Captain discusses York Street House Explosion

The SFFD battalion chief discusses the explosion

The location of the blast, at 1540 York, is now occupied by a two unit apartment building built in 1985. The neighborhood has moved on.

The new home at 1540 York

Yet that’s also the reason why you should check the original video footage from that day in 1969.

Then explore more of the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive. But clicking the link may lead to hours of viewing locally produced video from the collections of KQED, KPIX, KRON, KTVU as well as topics such as the San Francisco State Students Strike and the Native American Occupation of Alcatraz. Addictive stuff.

Then and Now: Bernal Hill As Seen from Army/Chesar Chavez

Then and Now: South Van Ness at Army Street, 1953

I stumbled across the photo above a few years ago. It shows the corner of South Van Ness Avenue at Army (Cesar Chavez) as it looked in 1953, shortly after the completion of the now-infamous widening that turned Army into a major east-west thoroughfare.

Since I just happened to be just a few blocks from that very spot when I first saw the 1953 photo, I wandered over to see how the scene changed after all these years. Behold, the same view, as it looked on August 12, 2008:

Then and Now: South Van Ness at Cesar Chavez (Army), 2008

In a way, the most impressive thing is how *little* has changed, overall. Gas used to cost 25 cents a gallon, but in 2008 it sold for $4.17. (It’s cheaper now, unfortunately.) Notice that the microwave tower that sits atop Bernal today was just a little sproutling in 1953. It took a long time for it to grow so big and tall and beautiful.

Otherwise,  Bernal Hill look very much as it  did 50 years ago. My favorite detail is the Golden Gate Cleaners, visible at center left. The shop is still there, and with the same neon signage. Like a bug in amber.

The 1953 photo came from the Cushman Collection at Indiana University, which, for reasons unknown, maintains an excellent online collection of vintage color photographs of San Francisco. PROCRASTINATION WARNING: Do not click this link to the Cushman Collection website unless you have at least an hour to burn in blissful Technicolor historic reverie. You have been warned.