Did Jack London once live in Bernal?
Shortly after Jack was born, his family moved to Bernal Heights…
And in Irving Stone’s 1903 biography of Jack London, Sailor on Horseback:
Upon advice of their doctor the London family moved from town to Bernal Heights, a district of farms, where Flora advertised for a wet nurse. Mrs. Jenny Prentiss, a negress who lived across the road and who had just lost her own baby, became Jack’s wet nurse, foster mother and lifelong friend.
The Book of Jack London (1921):
When the baby was returned to his family they had moved to a cottage on Bernal Heights. And now upon the maternal Eliza devolved most of the rearing of her half-brother, indoors and out, in the energetic year spent in the cottage. The perambulator containing the baby boy, wheeled by a no less azure-eyed girl-child, became a familiar object of an afternoon on the hilly streets.
Welcome to Bernal, Jack!
This is totally not a surprise given the scriberial supremacy consistently shown by the Greater Bernalian Litosphere. It was only for a year, but the time spent in Bernal as a one year old clearly rubbed off on Jack.
The 1878 SF city directory gives a potential answer:
Remember that the directory information was at least a year out of date, so this most likely refers to 1877, not 1878.
Jack’s adopted father was John London, a Union veteran who married Jack’s mother Flora after Jack’s birth. But there are two John Londons! Which one? Also, how does 27th meet up with Harrison? And where is Gunnison Ave and Precita? And how does 28th have anything to do with Precita?
John London was once a farmer, but worked a series of odd jobs after moving to California, one of which was a carpenter. He also worked for the Singer Sewing Machine company, which makes me wonder about the 1877 Victor Sewing canvasser, though the address makes no sense, nor does F. B. Taylor. He did work for Martin Flavin’s IXL Auction House:
So the carpenter <-> contractor makes sense, though it’s hard to say how quickly the Langley directory staff noted changes in occupation. (The story behind them and how they made the directories would be a hell of a post in its own right…)
Anyway, back to the mystery of Gunnison. It turns out that it is that bit of Harrison on the other side of Precita, renamed in that typical Bernalian “I do not give a damn about contiguous streets” methodology. Thanks to @NAParish for tracking it down:
Here we can see Gunnison on the 1886 Sanborn map:
zoom, and rotate north:
Zoom and Enhance:
Applying BURRITOVISION filter:
Not entirely sure how to reconcile the lots and streets from 1889 property map vs the houses shown on the 1886 map. (Given it still references Dale and Grove instead of 29th and 30th, I have to wonder if it’s mis-dated.)
And then there’s the mystery of 27th and 28th streets extending Precitaward. I have seen this in a number of directory entries of that era (remember Graham’s Groceries, which was just around the corner, and the Bad Characters of Bernal Heights?)
I can only assume that people were using 27th and 28th as handy reference points for those who didn’t know that part of the city very well, almost like a line of latitude?
That’s the best explanation I have. Let me know what you think.
According to the 1886 Sanborn map, there were no buildings on either side of Harrison on the north side of Precita Park. Given how close they are together, could the two John London entries be duplicates? If so, zooming and enhancing on the Sanborn, one of these could very well have been the house that Jack London crawled around in.
After playing in Precita Place, perhaps his sister Eliza preambulated Jack over to Graham’s Groceries on Alabama and “27th St”! And perhaps they were able to “comically gaze upon” the throngs of San Franciscans crossing Precita Creek over “the romantic Folsom St bridge” the Great Bernal Gold Rush of May 1876.
Anyway, we in the rebellious colonies salute Bernal (well, Precitaville, actually) and their latest historo-literary acquisition, Jack London.
I may have found the address of Thomas Prentiss, the husband of Jenny Prentiss, Jack’s “wet nurse, foster mother and lifelong friend…” Jenny Prentiss’ husband worked with John London, and there is a Thomas Prentice listed in the 1878 directory as a carpenter, one street over from Gunnison (now Harrison) on Columbia (now Alabama) between Precita and Parker (now Montcalm).
So somewhere in this block? Is the “W s” mean “west side”? Oh for the love of street addresses… If that’s the case, then perhaps the “E s” means the east side of Gunnison, meaning the Prentiss and London families were back door neighbors? The only house I see in the rear are the ones are at the top of the block. If anyone knows of more specific records, please let me know in the comments.