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.

Stroller Lady Is Actually a Bernal Heights Package Thief


A neighbor on Bennington Street captured footage of a woman using a stroller to cart off pilfered delivery packages. The neighbor writes:

Saturday morning a woman wearing a pink hat and pushing a stroller stole a package from my front door at 7:22 am. From the video cameras it appeared as though she was strolling down Bennington Street scoping out the houses to see what she could steal.

Subsequent photos show Stroller Lady exploring the front stoop:


… and grabbing the box:


Bernal neighbors should be on the lookout for Stroller Lady, and please contact SFPD Ingleside at (415) 404-4000 if you see her in action.

Wednesday: D9 Supervisor Candidates Debate at Brava Theater

The D9 Candidates: Clockwise from top left: Joshua Arce, Iswari Espana, Hillary Ronen, and Melissa San Miguel

The D9 Candidates: Clockwise from top left: Joshua Arce, Iswari Espana, Hillary Ronen, and Melissa San Miguel

The face-off between Hillary and Donald isn’t the only debate people are talking about this week; Here in San Francisco’s glamorous District 9, the four candidates hoping to replace David Campos on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will be onstage together for a debate at the Brava Theater on Wednesday evening, September 28.

All D9 voters are welcome, and admission is free:

The Board of Supervisor representative for District 9 ~ Supervisor David Campos term expires at the end of 2016.

Four candidates are running for election to replace Supervsior Campos: Joshue Arce, Melissa San Miguel, Hillary Ronen and Iswari Espana.

The debate will focus on key issues that affect District 9: Youth, Seniors, Housing, Business, Immirgration.

Sponsored by: Mission Merchants Association, Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, Our Mission No Eviction, Mission Peace Collaborate, San Francisco Lowrider Council, Cultural Action Network.

Wed, September 28, 2016
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Brava! for Women In the Arts
2781 24th Street
San Francisco, CA

Get your free tickets here


Neighbors Establish Recovery Fund for Bernal Family Displaced by Prospect Fire


We’ll start with the good news: Everyone is okay.

But beyond that, the two-alarm fire that damaged the house at 158 Prospect last Friday morning has turned the life of Bernal’s Grant-Weisler family upside down, because their home is no longer habitable and much of their stuff is destroyed. At the time of the fire, the house was occupied by a family of two parents and three kids, their au pair, and two visiting houseguests.

But that brings us to another silver lining: This is Bernal Heights, and neighbors here help one another during times of need. A crowdfunding effort has gotten underway to help the Grant-Weisler family begin to rebuild, and all Bernalese are invited to contribute.

We’ll have more detail on the crowdfunding effort in a moment. But first, here’s a note from Neighbor Sam, the mom of the house at 158 Prospect:

Tonight I am grateful. So grateful. And I feel lucky. So lucky.

That’s not what I would expect to be feeling after standing on the sidewalk and watching my home of the past 15 years, the home where all 3 of my kids were born, the home where JJ Wiesler and I have built our whole adult life together, go up in flames.

But it’s amazing how quickly your priorities come clear when you are forced to choose, in a second, what is most important to you. People, memories, photos, videos, musical instruments, the kitchen table around which so much of my life has unfolded, my dads lap desk and typewriter, cameras, journals…

Everyone is OK. The girls are pretty shaken up, but they’re going to be fine. And the baby is just going with the flow. To him, it’s just another day of new experiences.

The only person who was injured was one of the 66 amazing firefighters from the San Francisco Fire Department who risked their lives today to save our home. I am so moved, overwhelmed with gratitude, by the moments of kindness that we experienced in this insane day from hell. The female firefighters, who are also moms, who took the time to rescue the kids lovies. The other firefighter who returned our emergency cash stash that was about to disappear into the flames. The other firefighters who went back into an active fire to recover all our family photos and videos. The neighbors who boxed up and stored our salvaged belongings without even being asked. The other neighbors who quietly pressed their keys into our hands, offering beds, pillows, towels, food, and even a friends apartment where we are staying right now. I’m so moved.

The “Grant-Wiesler Onward & Upward Fund” was launched by Bernal Neighbors Aaron and Bronwyn Ximm. They write:

Thankfully, and most importantly, everyone is fine.

Their warm and welcoming home however is unlivable, and most of the family’s posessions were lost.

The Grant-Wielsers are bracing for for a very long climb to restore, remake, and rebuild.

As friends and family, many of us immediately wonder how we can help in this time of need.

One certain thing is that during the next few months especially, the family’s cash flow is going to be both complicated and unpredictable.

There will be hundreds of compounding expenses small and large to re-acquire the tools of modern life.

One way we can help is to build the Grant-Wielsers a ‘slush fund’ for those occasions.

There will be many ways to help West, the girls, and Sam and JJ!

But if you can make a donation–and of course, of any size at all!–it will make a real difference, one that will be received with profound gratitude.

About the campaign organizers: we are Aaron, Bronwyn, Ember, and Juniper Ximm. We are a family of close neighbors and friends of the Grant-Wieslers.

Our families shared the same world-class nanny over many years. Only a few days ago our girls traded morse code messages from our front porch to their back one.

We can’t believe it’s going to be a year or more before we can trade more morse code. We love them one and all, and wanted to immediatley get some help organized on their behalf!

If you’re so inclined, please contribute to the fire recover fund here. As of this writing, the fund has raised $5500, with a goal of hitting $12,500.

You know what to do, Bernal neighbors: Let’s hit that goal — and then exceed it.

PHOTO: Fire at 158 Prospect, by Tom Baker

Saturday: Community Meeting to Discuss Future of SF Public Library


The SF Public Library is holding a series of “community conversations” around town to discuss the future of the City’s library system. The next sessions happens on Saturday, morning, June 25 at 9:30 am at the Bernal Library, and you’re invited:

This summer the San Francisco Public Library is embarking on a community engagement initiative throughout the city to ask residents for their views about the public library, its many services and its future.

Through a series of focus groups in each Supervisory District, the Library hopes to gain a greater understanding of different neighborhoods’ challenges and aspirations, and strengthen connections with community residents. We want to find new ways the Library can be of service, and improve our communication to the community about the hundreds of exciting programs the library already offers.

Each focus group will host a targeted audience of residents specially invited to participate as a representative member of the community. You have been referred to the Library as an individual who is active in your local community and as someone who cares deeply about the quality of life for San Franciscans.

We value your time and your opinions and hope you can join us for the Listening Tour event planned for

Saturday, June 25, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
Bernal Heights Branch Library – Meeting Room
500 Cortland Ave. at Moultrie

Please RSVP to PublicAffairs@sfpl.org or (415) 557-4277

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

What Was the 1906 Earthquake Like If You Lived in Bernal Heights?

(Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of a post Bernalwood first ran on this day five years ago)

Today is the 110th anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. So what was the big event like here in Bernal Heights?

It was blessedly uneventful, actually. Bernal itself suffered relatively little damage – thank you, chert! –  and the fires that ravaged much of the rest of the City never made it this far south. However, as you can see in the photo above, Bernal Hill provided an excellent vantage point for gawking at the disaster as it unfolded.

Later, parts of the neighborhood — most famously Precita Park — were used as encampments to shelter displaced City residents:


To put all this in perspective, enjoy this video produced by Vicky Walker of the Bernal History Project. It tells the tale of what the Great Quake was like here in Bernal Heights:

PHOTOS: via Bernal History Project

Aerial Love Story: Watch as Bernal Neighbor Proposes to Sweetie on Bernal Hill


Yesterday, Neighbor Tim proposed to Renee atop Bernal Hill. She said Yes!

HURRAH! Congratulations!!!

This being 2016, the proposal was documented from above by Bernalwood pal and ace aerial videographer Eddie Codel. Eddie says:

Long time Bernal resident Tim Lang proposed to his girlfriend Renee Carano yesterday atop Bernal Hill, on what was probably the warmest day of the year. The special moment was captured by drone, of course!

The video is lovely, sweet and deep, in a way that only an aerial camera could convey. Kleenex Alert: You may experience feelings. Watch: