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Ugly duckling substation gets a facelift

IMG_9669By  Murray Schneider

The PG&E substation at Rousseau at Bosworth Streets is undergoing a facelift. Originally constructed in 1935 and until recently situated adjacent to the defunct Ray Oil Burner Company at 1301 San Jose Avenue, Substation M is undergoing a significant upgrade. The safety and reliability makeover, which begins in mid-April and is scheduled for completion in September 2019, entails upgrading transformers, switchgears and underground equipment.

“The safety of our employees and the communities we serve is PG&E’s top priority,” Andrea Menniti, PG&E media spokesperson, told the Glen Park News about the electric distribution substation that serves approximately 10,000 customers in Glen Park and Bernal Heights.

IMG_9670-1The necessity of such upgrades was brought home after a fire at a substation at Larkin and Eddy Streets caused a massive blackout in much of the City’s northern portions on Friday April 21. That fire was caused by the failure of a circuit breaker which ignited insulation.

Construction for the safety and reliability project will take place in several phases, with work scheduled Monday through Friday from 8 am-6pm.

“Substation M is functioning fine, albeit its infrastructure is old,” said Menniti, of the building, which dates back to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first presidential term. “Becoming proactive will mean fewer neighborhood power outages.”

IMG_9666Producing or buying its power from a combination of conventional and renewal sources, PG&E electricity is carried over an electric grid of high-voltage transmission lines that connect power plants to substations such as Substation M.

Small distribution substations are critical junctions and switching points for PG&E, which supplies power to northern and central California. Substation M serves as a conduit, connecting the utility company’s transmission system to its distribution one. Substations, such as the Bosworth and Rousseau facility, use transformers to lower the voltage of electricity for rate payers that eventually finds its way to “drops” or utility low voltage lines so that Chenery and Elsie Street residents can reliably switch on their lights.

The two-and-a-half-year project has a local angle.

At Glen Park Station.jpg

Fernando Aguilar lives in Bernal, on Elsie Street. A native San Franciscan, Aguilar graduated J. Eugene McAteer High School in 1976, lettering in baseball and football. Aguilar has worked for PG&E for several decades.

He’ll play pivotal role in Substation M’s transformation.

“Fernando has been designated Project Manager,” said Andrea Menniti, as she and Aguilar conferred on the Bosworth corner two weeks before work commenced. While they compared notes, a 23 Monterey rolled by, heading for the Diamond and Bosworth transit hub.

No stranger to such responsibility, Aguilar has served in similar capacities, supervising other large-scale PG&E projects. He’s even paid it forward, volunteering his know-how each summer in Mendocino where he’s upgraded electric grids for the Boys and Girls Club summer camp.  As a youth, he attended the camp, which is situated along the the Skunk Train railroad tracks between Willits and Ft. Bragg.

Growing up in Noe Valley, he’d scale Clipper Street to McAteer each morning, remaining late in the afternoon during the spring, taking batting practice and fielding fungos. His mother, Tina, who is in her 80s, still lives in Noe Valley, and his father Humberto’s image is painted on the Mission District mural at 24th Street and South Van Ness Avenue.

“After baseball practice,” he said, “it was a lot easier returning home, walking down the hill.”

“I really enjoy the work,” said Aguilar, who, until winter rains played havoc with them, managed two honeybee hives on his former McAteer campus, now home to the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts and the Academy High School. It’s his way of giving give back to his alma mater. “Substation M renovation should have little impact on neighbors except when large equipment is moved in.”


Beekeeper Fernando Aguilar working with his hives at School of the Arts.

Menniti echoed Aguilar. “There weren’t any objections to the project during scheduled public meetings,” said Menniti. “The City has given its approval to a traffic plan, and concerned residents can call PG&E dedicated customer outreach and ask for Jodi Blasquez if they have questions.”

“In addition to upgrading equipment inside the substation” continued Menniti, “crews will build sound and security walls and utilize low-noise technology to create a quieter facility for the neighborhood.”

As for emphasis, Aguilar signaled to a row of transformers that hulked behind a locked gate on Rousseau Street.

At Glen Park Station

With a stake in the community and with his beehives returned to SOTA’s gridiron where his honey is sold at the school’s afternoon farmer’s market, Aguilar is a suitable choice to shepherd the substation retrofit to completion.

A product of the City’s schools and playgrounds, he’s one guy who doesn’t need convincing that you always leave the dance with the one who brought you. His thumb on the Substation M switch, he’ll ensure neighborhood lights remain on across his Glen Park and Bernal Heights home turf.

And an added bonus — the buzz from his 2017 reintroduced honeybees will probably be louder than the hum of PG&E’s 2019 refashioned-electric equipment.









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DHB Beautification Day

Forwarded from Paul Matalucci, Project Coordinator, of the Diamond Heights Boulevard Beautification Project. RSVP to him, if you would like to participate, or have questions.

Diamond Heights Blvd. Median Beautification Day
Date: Saturday, April 29
Time: 9:00 to 12:00 noon
Location: Meet at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, Parish Hall (Lower Level)
Refreshments: Coffee, tea, juice, bagels and snacks
Lunch: We will serve a hot lunch afterward to say thank you

Hello friends and supporters of the Diamond Heights Blvd. Median Project,

Please join us this Saturday, April 29, for another volunteer work day.

As you can see from the faces below, it’s a lot of fun to meet neighbors, be outdoors, and know that you’re helping to make Diamond Heights a better place to call home for everybody.

Please RSVP to me if you’d like to join the fun!

Note: if the rain is a drizzle to light sprinkle, we will proceed. Only heavy rain and/or thick fog will cause a cancellation.

Recommended for 12 years and older; no gardening experience required, but there will be bending and kneeling (pads and gloves will be provided).

If you have preferred personal gloves and tools, you are encouraged to bring them.

​A big thank you to the awesome volunteers who turned out: Tre Allen, Ron Bandar, Noah Breyer, Betty Carmack, Gilberto Chavez, Betsy Eddy, Tom Osborne, Barbara Purcell, Ed Sheffner, and Stephen Yu.

Together, we pulled 12 over-sized bags of weeds.

Huge thank you to the Diamond Heights Shopping Center, Safeway, and Harbor Villa Restaurant for their ongoing support (including volunteer hours, financial and in-kind donations, and enthusiastic support).

As always, thank you for your support and generous contribution of time.

See something beautiful every day…

All the best,

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Remembering Tom Coulter, Owner of Glen Park Station Bar

New photos by Bonnee Waldstein. Old photos courtesy of Rene Lecour

Trendy bars and restaurants have come and gone in the dozen or so years since Glen Park has become a well known and highly desirable neighborhood in San Francisco. One stalwart constant in the Glen Park village since 1926 has been the Glen Park Station bar. That was the year the building was moved from some other unknown part of the City. In fact, its very authenticity might make it hip and trendy itself.

Tom Coulter and his business partner and best friend of almost thirty years, Rene Lecour,now 63, purchased the bar in 1990, and the building itself in 1997. They didn’t change anything except to clean it up a bit and paint the walls. Originally the floors were carpeted, but they’ve been replaced with wood, many times over.

Tom, whose last home was in San Carlos, passed away on March 30 of pneumonia and a blood infection at age 72. An obituary which detailed his life, family, and business career, appeared in the April 9 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle.


Tom Coulter (L) and bartender Richard Underhill

After a memorial celebration at the bar on April 15, co-owner — now owner — Rene Lecour sat down (on a barstool) to reminisce about her friend. With her was her daughter, Catherine, 26, who has been taking on increasing duties at the bar for the last two years.

Rene told of Tom’s love of conversation. Years ago, when he was in college, Glen Park resident Jeff Sparks would frequent the bar to study and drink — coffee. Tom was a staunch Republican and he would get Jeff started on politics. They were always on opposite sides and they would have at it. Tom would often counter their disagreements with, “Now if only you would have caught me when I was drinking, I would have made a much better argument!”

With the passage of time, Tom, an admitted alcoholic, stopped drinking. He also voted for Barack Obama. The older he got the more Democratic he became. He was very pro-choice and would say he didn’t know how people could tell others what to do with their bodies. He was very adamant and that would sway his vote.

The bar was, and continues to be, a happy place. When Tom was tending bar on weekends during his drinking years, two characters, Bill and Roland, used to come in. They’d “buy” Tom a drink (Scotch). As soon as Tom set the drink down to tend bar, Bill or Roland would drink it. So then they’d “buy” Tom another drink. Tom thought he’d outsmart this ruse and placed his drink on the back counter, out of reach, and get busy again.

When Tom could finally turn his attention back to that drink, he found that Bill and Roland had used a load of straws to build a bridge from the bar to the back counter, where the giant straw would terminate in Tom’s drink. This procedure was repeated over and over for years.

Kidding aside, Tom had his standards. All bartenders must wear shirts and ties. No one knows that better than Richard Underhill, a 20-year veteran bartender at the Glen Park Station. Other important rules: zero tolerance regarding drugs; also fighting — no matter who threw the first punch. Thus the customers are a self-regulating and de-escalating group.

The clientele covers every demographic, “from 21 to 99!,” says Rene. Blue collar, white collar and everything in between; lots of teachers and even a politician or two. Customers say things like, “I could go to any bar for a drink– I come here to see my friends, the other folks, and for the atmosphere.”


Early afternoon


Friday after work

The Glen Park Station has a colorful history. Its first year, 1926, was at the height of Prohibition. Rumor has it that it operated as a speakeasy. There was a door dividing the front of the establishment from the rear. The front area was presumably a sort of coffee shop. A secret knock on the door would allow certain customers access to enjoy the true intention of the Glen Park Station.

The owner at that time, Joe Veloni, lived upstairs and raised nine kids in a three-bedroom apartment. (One of his sons was named Tony Veloni.) Joe hung out a lot with a couple of wannabe gangster buddies.


Joe Veloni (far right), 1920s

Today,whooping and hollering can be heard coming from the bar over a big game, and many photos of athletes hang on the walls. But the Glen Park Station was never billed as a sports bar. Tom and Rene dubbed it an upscale neighborhood bar.

There’s a generational divide in referring to the bar. The older ones call it The Station; the younger crowd just texts “I’m at GPS.”

If there’s a sad side to the Glen Park Station, it’s that with the passage of so much time, customers–and their relatives–are passing away. “Deaths are more frequent than weddings or baby showers. Yes, we’ve had baby showers here too,” said Rene. Daughter Catherine added that, even when sad things happen, it doesn’t leave a bad feeling in the air at the Glen Park Station.

Another sad thing was when Rene moved to North Carolina with her family in 2004, and that affected Tom deeply.

Since she’s been back temporarily in Glen Park, Rene has heard wonderful things about the cohesion and friendliness of the Glen Park community. She will continue as owner of the bar, alone, but with Catherine’s help.


Rene Lecour (R) and daughter Catherine

As to what’s next for the bar itself, things will remain as they are, with one big exception — Tom won’t be there to share a laugh or two.

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