Cortland Avenue History Walk: 2006 Earthquake Centennial

Research by Gail Sansbury and Terry Milne

The Cortland Avenue History Walk is cosponsored by the Cortland Merchants Association.

Cortland Avenue was already a busy commercial street at the time of the 1906 earthquake, with a number of neighborhood-serving retail businesses, but as Bernal Heights developed after 1906, these businesses grew tremendously to serve the new residents. The information about the shops and services along Cortland Avenue provides a glimpse – a snapshot – of this busy and vital street just before and after the earthquake and fire. It was developed from 1905, 1907-08, and 1910 City directories; Sanborn insurance maps; and information from long-time Bernal Heights residents.

249 Cortland Avenue: Grocery

Fred R. Pielhop started his grocery store here about the turn of the 20th century, so he was here to take advantage of new business in the aftermath of the quake and fire. A new building was constructed in 1907 to expand the market. Photo from 1938, BHP Archive.

At the site today: Chuck's Grocery (was Reliable Grocery until 2005)

301 Cortland Avenue: Grocery

When this building was constructed in 1910, the first occupant was Patrick Cowley, who inaugurated his grocery business here on the corner of Bocana Street. He ran his business only a few years before it was taken over by another merchant. Photo from 1938, BHP Archive.

At the site today: The Deli Pub

324 Cortland Avenue: Grocery and Barber

Sorry — no historic photo available. If you have one, let us know!

Grocer Herman K. Wulbers moved into this pre-earthquake building in 1908. He started out selling foodstuffs on 15th Street in the Castro, but saw the light (and possibly the flames) and moved to this Bernal location, where he stayed for many years. For several years he shared the space with barber Albert Bertoldy. Much later, in 1936, this was the temporary home of the Bernal Branch Library before the current library building was constructed.

At the site today: New construction (2011); Media-Screen (2007-2011)

397 Cortland Avenue: Butcher

Sorry — no historic photo available. If you have one, let us know!

John P. Connolly operated a butcher shop at this location for a couple of years starting in 1910. The present building is a replacement, built in 1916. For many years before and after the earthquake, John's mother, Mary, ran a grocery store a couple of blocks downhill at 147 Cortland. That building is no longer there.

At the site today: Bernal Bubbles

399 Cortland Avenue: Delicacies

Sorry — no historic photo available. If you have one, let us know!

One of the blessings of the Bernal Heights neighborhood during the earthquake era was the delicacies shop managed by Mrs. Agnes Milner, a sturdy Scotswoman who doled out sweets and savory delights to her appreciative customers. The store was the upscale delicatessen of its day. The present building was not constructed until some years later. At the site today: Joshin Bruguera Insurance (other recent inhabitants include Home San Francisco realtors and Briar Rose florist)

400 Cortland Avenue: Hardware

Alexander McCoy was the proprietor of a hardware store in this building shortly after the earthquake.He continued operating at this location for several years and resided around the corner on Bennington Street. The premises were constructed before 1900.

At the site today: Progressive Grounds

401 Cortland Avenue: Grocery

Before the start of the 20th century, Mrs. Mary Noonan was a pillar of the Bernal Heights business community at this corner. She operated her grocery store for a couple of decades, serving the many newcomers who moved to the neighborhood after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Photo from 1940, courtesy of Jack Tillmany.

At the site today: Red Hill Books

412 Cortland Avenue: Barbershop

One of the popular neighborhood barber shops was presided over by Anton Goncalves here in the earthquake era. For several years he resided in a hotel down on 29th Street near Mission Street. Later, other businesses came and went in this space over the years. The building was actually built around 1902.

At the site today: Bernal Star

424 Cortland Avenue: Bakery

A bakery shop operated by Charles Hagemann stood here in the 1906 earthquake era. In 1909, he moved his business to Howard Street in the Mission. Other buildings later came and went in this space over the years. The building was actually constructed before 1900. The large building down the block is Bernal Grammar School, which was replaced by the Bernal Heights Branch Library in 1940. Photo from 1924

At the site today: Wild Side West bar

430 Cortland Avenue: Fruits and Vegetables, Shoemaker

A fruits and vegetables merchant and a shoemaker shared this site right after the earthquake. The shoemaker, Joseph Tomasello, moved elsewhere after a couple of years. Virgilio Milanesio stayed and expanded into a real grocery store in this building, which was constructed in 1909.

At the site today: Bernal Heights Nail Care

431 Cortland Avenue: Grocery

A building on this site was the A. Vittori and Co. grocery store during the earthquake era. The owner eventually moved on, and by 1912 was marketing comestibles at a location on Mission Street. It was not until 1924 that the Bank of America built this building to do business in Bernal Heights.

At the site today: Bank of America

432 Cortland Avenue: Grocery

A grocery store occupied this building after it was built before the turn of the century. Mrs. Josephine Michel ran the business prior to the earthquake. The records are unclear just when she closed, but it was sometime in 1906.

At the site today: Private residence (before that: Toni's Trade Winds)

436 Cortland Avenue: Dry Goods

A dry goods store operated by Mrs. Ambrosia Bisagno stood here in the 1906 earthquake era. Other businesses came and went over the years. The building was actually built around 1890.

At the site today: Heartfelt

448-450 Cortland Avenue: Butcher, Hardware Store, Post Office

This residence stood at 440 Cortland until the 1920s. Bridget Richardson, widow of Clement, raised her nine kids here and ran a boarding house on the lower floor. To the left, out of the photo, another building stood with two stores. George Richardson, one of Bridget's sons, started his butcher shop at 448 Cortland about 1900. His brother Walter came on board later and operated Bernal Meats in the 1920s, when Miss Dora Munsil ran a hardware store with notions and things at 450 Cortland. There was a nook in the rear that was Post Office Station #31, presided over by Dora's father, John Munsil, The current structure, elegantly renovated, replaced both previous buildings in 1925. Photo courtesy of Gloria Lane.

At the site today: Good Life Grocery

500 Cortland Avenue: School

Bernal Grammar School occupied this site during the 1906 Earthquake era. The first school in Bernal Heights, the large building was constructed in 1886. It continued in use until about 1930. Later, the site was cleared for the library. Architect Frederick Meyer designed the library, which was built as a W.P.A. project in 1939-40. Two schools were built as a result of the sudden influx of new families moving onto the hill after the 1906 disaster: Junipero Serra and Le Conte (1911 and 1912). Photo c. 1920, BHP Archive.

At the site today: Bernal Heights Branch Library

513 Cortland Avenue: Grocery

Fortunes changed for many people as a result of the earthquake and fire. Before the catastrophe, Charles Backoff was only a cook, employed downtown, living on Andover Street. Afterwards, he managed to open his own grocery market at this location. The current building was constructed in the 1950s.

At the site today: Gifts on the Hill

519 Cortland Avenue: Butcher

Max Breithaupt ran a German-style butcher shop here for several years after the Earthquake and Fire. By 1912, he had taken up residence down the hill at 231 Cortland. The building may not look it, but it was constructed before 1900.

At the site today: Last Resort Hair Care

521 Cortland Avenue: Grocer

Before the earthquake and fire, Charles Glock ran a market on Prentiss Street near Cortland. Afterwards, he opened his grocery store on the corner of Moultrie and Cortland. He sold out to Jonathan J. Park in 1910, who lasted a few more years.

At the site today: Hunan Chef Chinese restaurant

608 Cortland Avenue: Wood and Coal

For several years after the earthquake and fire, Charles L. Carlson was the proprietor of Bernal Wood and Coal on this site. He lived around the corner on Jefferson Avenue, which is now Jarboe. The large building across Moultrie Street is Bernal Grammar School, which was replaced by the Bernal Heights Branch Library in 1940. Photo c. 1920, BHP Archive.

At the site today: J.C.'s Wash Dry

629 Cortland Avenue: Bakery

Jacob Wiedemann, journeyman baker, had years of experience on Union Street before being earthquaked out of his own Mission District shop. He moved into the newly built 529 Cortland Avenue premises at the end of 1906. He lived upstairs with his family and baked up a storm until 1912. The business then transferred to the prosperous Richmond District, and eventually his family followed in 1920.

At the site today: Vino Rosso (other recent inhabitants include Charles Hall Antiques)

640 Cortland Avenue: Barber

Before the Earthquake and Fire, Joseph P. Rose, barber, lived and worked on Howard Street in the Mission District. He moved to Bernal Heights after the catastrophe and set up shop here. A couple of years later, he moved it next door to No. 628. All the while, he resided around the corner on Anderson Street.

At the site today: Moonlight Cafe

729 Cortland Avenue: Plumber

This was the site of a working-class business during the 1906 Earthquake era. Charles Carsten operated his plumbing shop here, but by 1912 he had moved on to the Ingleside District. The current building is from the 1950s.

At the site today: Fit Bernal Fit

735 Cortland Avenue: Confectioner

Mary Claus ran a confectionery shop here for a few years after the 1906 earthquake and fire. She supplied the neighborhood with a complete array of peppermints, gobstoppers, and jawbreakers; the prices compared to today's were astounding. The building was built well before 1900. Photo from 1926, BHP Archive

At the site today: Tacos Los Altos

800 and 806 Cortland Avenue: Grocery

Side-by-side grocery stores stood here on this corner in the earthquake era. One was operated by Olaf G. Carlson, and he also developed a bakery in the space. Carlson continued as proprietor for several more years. Mrs. Ernestine Katz and Annie Katz conducted a similar business next door. The Carlsons and the Katzes must have been friendly rivals, because that shop remained for several years also. The building was built before 1900. Photo from 1926, BHP Archive.

At the site today: Bernal Heights Produce and Mission Pentecostal Emanuel Church

901 Cortland Avenue: Shoemaker

Before the earthquake and fire, shoemaker Arthur Prieur lived on this site. His business was down at 3436 Mission Street. After the cataclysm, he moved his shop up to the corner of Gates Street. He continued to do business and reside here for many years after his current building was constructed in 1909.

At the site today: Nothing (Dan's Cleaners was here until mid-2011)

1229 Cortland Avenue: Grocery and Liquors

A grocery store operated by William Verrill was located in this building on the corner of Nevada Street before the disaster. Afterward, it changed hands, and Emanuel M. Silva was the proprietor. He only stayed a few years, and moved his liquor store a few blocks up the hill in 1912. Photo from 1931, BHP Archive.

At the site today: private residence

Since 2006, we've continued our research into Cortland businesses. See our updated directories here.