Bernal Heights past and present

By Michael Raffety

April 4, 2016

When I was in San Francisco for the Oscar del Renta exhibit the big news in the Chronicle was a man with a Taser gun who had been in a park, threatening people with his Taser gun. A policeman mistook it for a gun and shot him dead.

I only mention this because the park where this City College student was reported to be acting “erratically and threatening people” was Bernal Heights Park. Responding police shot and killed him.

The outcome of the civil case in federal court found in favor of the four “officers, who had responded to a report of a man with a gun, contend that (Alejandro) Nieto pointed a weapon they believed to be a gun directly at them and that they believed their lives were in danger.”

Bernal Heights is the last place I lived in San Francisco before I was hired as a photographer for the Woodland Daily Democrat.

I lived in the downstairs flat of a place up on Bernal Heights that included a view of the Oakland Bay Bridge and downtown. The landlord lived upstairs. He was working on his MFA from San Francisco State and rebuilding a Triumph TR-6. He made a living making wood lettering for store interiors and other commercial design work.

Bernal Heights was, at that time, affordable and kind of a little known place of smaller to medium sized homes and flats, often on basic 25-foot lots.

The park where the man who pulled his gun-like Taser out of a holster and pointed it at police is designated open space and is rather hilly. Currently it is an off-leash place for people to walk their dogs.

Farther down the hill is a good-sized grocery and other shops. This wasn’t the only store in Bernal Heights. About a block or two downhill from our flat was a very small neighborhood store run by a Chinese man. He sold it to a Palestinian, which is pretty much what happened to most small stores in San Francisco. But this particular store is a reminder about a great photograph that I never took.

One day I went down to the small store run by the Chinese man. How I learned that he was selling to a Palestinian was because they were both there during a brief transition. There was the Palestinian sitting in front of a poster of Yasser Arafat. Not to be outdone, the Chinese man was sitting in front of a poster of Mao tse-Tung (now called Mao Zedong).

That wasn’t the only photo I missed. Every day I walked along Morse Street to get to my bus stop that would take me to the streetcar line that ran to San Francisco State University.

I later learned I had been walking right by the hideout where Patty Hearst was being “held” by Symbionese Liberation Army member Wendy Yoshimura. They were arrested Sept. 18, 1975.

Yoshimura was born in a Japanese internment camps in Manzanar, which in part accounted for the radicalization of the still-life watercolor artist..

I’ve been to both Tule Lake and Manzanar. The remains of the Tule Lake barracks are now “hunting lodges.” Only a marker remains of Manzanar. Manzanar, near Lone Pine in Inyo County, has the east side of the Sierra as a backdrop, but would seem to be a colder location and farther from supplies.

Manazanar has since been taken over by the National Park Service, which last year opened two reconstructed barracks. In 2005 it built a replica of a guard tower.

Japanese Americans contributed $150,00 to Yoshiumure’s defense fund. She was convicted of firearms charges in 1977 and released from prison in 1980. She lives in Oakland and gives painting lessons in her studio.

Patty Hearst was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 35 years in prison. President Jimmy Carter pardoned her in 1979.

Michael Raffety continued to miss news events. While depositing his paycheck at El Dorado Savings the mid-1980s in the former downtown office that is now City Hall, he was completely oblivious that a young man in a T-shirt at the next teller window was holding up the bank with a note to the teller.

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