Bernal Heights lies to the south of San Francisco’s Mission District. Its most prominent feature is the open parkland and radio tower on its large rocky hill, Bernal Heights Summit. Bernal is bounded by Cesar Chavez Street to the north, San Jose Avenue to the west, US 101 to the east, and I-280 to the south.
Bernal Heights was part of the 1839 Rancho Rincon de las Salinas y Potrero Viejo, a 4,446-acre (17.99 km2) Mexican land grant awarded to José Cornelio Bernal (1796–1842). By 1860, the land belonged to François Louis Alfred Pioche (1818–1872), a Frenchman and financier, who subdivided it into smaller lots. Its streets were laid out during the Civil War by Army engineers from the Presidio, which explains why so many Bernal streets are named for military men. It 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.
Bernal Heights remained undeveloped until the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Built atop bedrock, the hill’s structures survived the tremor, and the sparseness of the development saved much of Bernal from the ravages of the firestorm that followed. The commercial corridor of Eugenia Avenue filled in with shops as the pastureland on the hilltop was developed for workers’ homes during the rapid rebuilding of the city. Some of the tiny earthquake cottages cottages], which the city built to house quake refugees, survive to this day, including three that were moved up to Bernal Heights. During World War II, the area saw another population surge. The new arrivals included many African-American families who worked at the nearby San Francisco Naval Shipyard at Hunters Point. During the Vietnam War, the neighborhood was known as “Red Hill” for the anti-war activists in shared households and collectives who moved in among the working-class families.
By the 1990s, Bernal’s pleasant microclimate, small houses (some with traditional Victorian or Edwardian architecture) and freeway access to the peninsula and Silicon Valley led to a third wave of migration. Bernal has not gentrified to the extent of its neighbor Noe Valley, but gentrification and property values are increasing as urban professionals replace working-class home owners and renters.
Notable residents and former residents include Tom Ammiano, Honey Lee Cottrell, Dan Nakamura, Annie Sprinkle, Charles Gatewood, Terry Zwigoff] Matt Nathanson, and children’s author Jane Wattenberg (aka Mrs. Mustard).
Music provided by
Follow me on
Thanks for watching.