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Bernal Gold Rush; Bernal Airport

January 11, 2010

This nicely designed SF Rec & Parks brochure alerts us to the fact that May of 1876 almost saw a gold rush on Bernal Heights of all places.  But it was not to be — some silly Frenchman named Victor Resayre couldn’t tell the difference between gold and quartz.

The good news?  Via the California Digital Newspaper Collection, we discovered this lovely 133 year-old article from the Daily Alta California. We learn that:

  • Some guy (smarter than Victor Resayre and the suckers breaking “worthless red rock” with small hammers) set up a “beer store” on a table on top of two kegs. Someone please do the same in Dolores Park when it warms up. (Note this one of many Bernal-beer incidents on record.)
  • Bernal is steep, but you get a nice view from the top.
  • Folsom crossed Precita Creek via a “romantic” bridge.

While we don’t have a picture of the “romantic bridge”, we can probably see it in this 1859 surveyor’s map that laid out the streets of Bernal’s north slope:

Zoom and enhance!

Though by 1878 the city had decided to enclose Precita Creek into a sewer since “some 30 houses lined the creek, drawing their water upstream and using the creek as an open sewer. The marginal water flow in the stream was inadequate to properly carry the sewage off.” Makes you wonder just how romantic that bridge was.

The SFR&P PDF also makes reference to quarries on top of Bernal. One was that flat spot past the parking area on the south side of the hill that you can get to by driving up Anderson and turning left (as we can see by cropping one of Bats‘ pictures):

Ahh, yes, the never-ending demand for chert in America.

A little judicious googlation leads us to the SF Natural Areas Program website with this 1942 image of the quarry:

Due to wartime rationing, one popular use of chert was to make circular rock mazes.

Oh, sorry, that’s a picture of now, where the quarry was. (picture via We Build This City)

Here is a rather cool photo from 1925 showing the west slope of Bernal (with an car ad where the telco antenna complex now lies):

Zoom on the west slope of Bernal looking NE with street names, along with a Microsoft Bing birdeye view looking east. (Click the image for a much wider swath):

Not sure if the area above Elsie and Esmerelda is a landslide or another quarry, but today it’s that nice wooded area with the steps on the way up to dogwalkertown.

However, there was a landslide in February 1936 (photos via SFPL). Bonus points to whoever can figure out where that white arrow is pointing to (i.e. I’m too tired to look it up).

“With thousands of tons of earth loosened and apparently on the verge of going places in a big way residents of the Bernal Heights house, indicated by arrow, fled today.”

Regular readers are familiar with my constant and utter amazement that the city considered extending Esmerelda over the top of Bernal.  This, however, pales in comparison to THE AIRPLANE LANDING STRIP they were thinking about building. On top of Bernal. WTF.

“The City of San Francisco at one point unsuccessfully planned to level the Bernal Hill summit to construct an airplane field. In 1973, Bernal residents lobbied the Department of Public Works to give Bernal Hill to the Recreation and Park Department, thus preserving it as a permanent open space.”

Hey Eric Fischer, please scan those plans. Makes my dirigible mooring station seem completely reasonable, no?


17 Comments leave one →
  1. Taco Truth permalink
    January 11, 2010 11:13 am

    Hey BJ, have done a piece yet on the caves of Twin Peaks? They are there somewhere and I wish someone would take pictures…

  2. insidesfre permalink
    January 11, 2010 1:21 pm

    Thanks for posting this. It’s nice to see some historical content about Bernal.

  3. January 11, 2010 4:22 pm

    The arrow points to the northern dead end of Bonview. This link shows where I’m thinking it is:

    Interesting that you can still see the contours of both landslides in that area.

  4. January 11, 2010 4:53 pm

    Looks like your link is b0rked but this should do it.

    Given the profile of the upper hill behind the lower one in the picture, that makes sense. And it could be why there’s that big open area along Bonview/Coso/Shotwell.

  5. Jonathan Lammers permalink
    November 11, 2010 2:29 am

    I may be mistaken, but I believe the houses at right in the 1936 landslide photo (with the arrows) are located west of the intersection of Alabama and Waltham Street. The SFPL mentions one of the houses as being the “Bernal Heights House,” which is a name I’m unfamiliar with. However, it is interesting that Waltham Street, even today, appears more as a rural path that a city street.

    The implication of this is that the slide area is located southwest of the houses, or more specifically, south of Bernal Heights Boulevard, slightly east of its intersection with Folsom. There is indeed a slump in the hill there that may correspond with the historic photo.

  6. Jonathan Lammers permalink
    November 11, 2010 2:56 am

    Quick addendum: After scanning the hillside to find the appropriate houses, I find that the Bernal Heights History Project was way ahead of me.

  7. September 3, 2015 1:04 pm

    THE AIRPLANE LANDING STRIP link no longer seems to work. What was the pdf at that link?


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