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The Bad Characters of Bernal Heights

April 21, 2014

Some question the necessity of La Lengua demanding autonomy from Bernal Heights. This article from the 1884 Daily Alta California should prove the need of our independence (if only because of the keg):

1884 daily alta bernal bad characters

Perhaps young Alfred Lewis was on his way to buy some Bernal-brewed moonshine. Let the 1888 experience of Bernal Heights Ranger Jeremiah Buckley prove a sober warning for such a trap:

1888 daily alta bernal moonshine


All La Lenguan residents should consider this fair warning when traversing Precitaville, as Consular services may not be available.

As to the location of J.T. Graham’s saloon, we suspect a Bernalian disinformation campaign that spreads even to the 1888 city directory level since 27th and Alabama did not intersect in the 1880s.

1888 graham liquors bernal 27th alabama

Here’s an 1880s era map showing 25th, 26th, Serpentine, Precita…

1884 SF Gray Map Bernal

Nor did 27th cross over to Bernal back in 1869.

1869 SF Goddard map Bernal

Or 1859 for that matter:



And the 1886 Sanborn maps don’t make any reference to 27th on the other side of San Jose/Valencia/Mission either:

1886 Sanborn Precita

Could this address deception could be a ploy on the part of Bernalian Hegemony to hide the discovery of gold atop the hill? Or perhaps something more benign, like people just not wanting to call it Precita Avenue? (What we now call Precita Park was called “Bernal Park” when it was carved out of “Precita Place” in 1894.)

As such, we can assume J.T. Graham’s saloon was probably near the location of today’s Precita Park Cafe. Alabama seems to have stopped at Precita Place — unfortunately the 1886 Sanborn maps do not extend east of Alabama or Columbia (which no longer exists…)

Despite the garrulous nature of Bernal residents, it seems that Thomas Graham ran his grocery at the corner of Precita and Alabama for quite some time.

If you happen to be in the neighborhood in 1890 and need a piano, John Graham’s your man:

1890 SF Call Grahams Grocery piano

John was trying to rent out a house in 1891:

SF Call 1891 Grahams Groceries house to rent

Note that “cars” were running down Folsom as early as 1878

1878 SF streetcar maps

…though the Precita streetcar franchise wasn’t granted until 1898. (Thanks @enf.) This 1905 map shows the Precita route.

1905 SF streetcars Bernal Mission

Jumping back, a four-room house rented for $12 a month in 1892:

1892 SF Call Graham house rent

It looks like he owned a fair amount of property in the area, though in this 1898 ad, it is interesting he chose to live on the other end of Alabama St (278 is near 16th…)

1898 SF Call precita, cortland property

(Note the ad for a wonderful investment opportunity in La Lengua at Cortland and Mission.)

In 1905 he was renting out a 5 room cottage for $20 ($510 today, adjusting for inflation). By this time references to 27th were dropped for Precita Ave.

1905 SF Call cottage precita Graham groceries

In 1906, their dog Noodles got lost.

1906 SF Call John Graham lost dog noodles

The reward was about $125 adjusted for inflation (or one-quarter the rent of the 5-room cottage…) Poor Noodles.

That same year, John was looking for help with his stable.

1906 SF Call John Graham

We still see references to Graham’s Grocery in 1910:

1910 SF Call Grahams grocery

The first specific address, 431 Precita, shows up in the city directory in 1900. We can see the building in the 1899/1905 Sanborn Maps — Precita is on the left, Alabama is on the right.

1905 Sanborn 431 Precita

His son. John E. Graham, starts showing up in the 1900 city directory as a clerk.  But by 1915, his father John T. is no longer listed. The long-standing John T Graham company changes hands, and by 1917 it looks like John E. Graham has a different job.

John T Graham John E Graham SF directory

By 1920 there’s a John E Graham at a different address, and in 1921 he’s selling cigars (maybe changing jobs with the coming of Prohibition?) And maybe there’s something happening with the John T Graham Brothers, though I am not sure how that connects to F & W Graham taking things over in 1916…

It turns out Bernalwood inadvertently covered a bit of the history of 431 Precita a few years back.

1928 precita and alabama

But today, 431 Precita is Bernal Bark, something Noodles the dog would have appreciated.

2014 431 Precita

10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 21, 2014 2:09 am

    Reblogged this on

  2. April 22, 2014 1:08 am

    Justice for Alex NIeto who was eating a burrito on Bernal Heights before going to work when 4 SFPD officers shot him 10 times in March 21, 2014

  3. Axisworks permalink
    April 22, 2014 9:23 am

    Poor Noodles. I’m curious about the second rail line spur coming off the old SP right-of-way at Valencia. I wonder if that was a temporary right-of-way while the rest of it was being constructed over to Harrison, or if it was something else like a horse-drawn trolley.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
      April 24, 2014 2:55 am

      Wasn’t there a Cable Car line running down Valencia? Seems like the line on the map could be that.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
      April 24, 2014 3:01 am

      Found a picture that apparently shows the Valencia St. cable car right down near the end (Valencia & Mission/28th). Sadly, it’s tiny so it’s hard to make out details:


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