Friday, April 14, 2017

Berkeley Byways

When Teri was a young child living in Texas she told her parents she wanted to go live in
View of San Francisco Bay from Lawrence Hall of Science
Berkeley. Twenty years ago she made this dream come true. She and John live in a pretty house that is often visited by opossums and skunks raiding the cat food dish on the back deck. And the wild turkeys still get the right-of-way on the hilly streets. Whatever I expected the Berkeley area to be, a home to wild animals wasn’t in the picture. Looking up into the hills you see houses surrounded by lush vegetation, while in the other direction there is a wonderful view of the bay. Perched nearly at the top of a hill is an iconic institute: Lawrence Hall of Science. Out of this organization come the underpinnings of innovative science education programs that have been adopted around the country. Before I left academia I was privileged to participate in the distribution of one of these programs, FOSS. I still believe that the best method for teaching science and for getting students intellectually involved is through experimentation; FOSS develops both intellectual involvement and curiosity to support life-long learning. Teri has one of the best jobs on the planet; she writes and tests the curriculum for the FOSS modules.

As with the rest of the San Francisco area, Berkeley was home to the Chochenyo/Huchiun band of the Ohlone people. Near the mouth of Strawberry Creek and along the shoreline of  San Francisco Bay were at one time grinding pits and a shellmound; these have been lost to
Berkeley neighborhood
urban development. In the late 1700s, the De Anza Expedition established the Spanish Presidio of San Francisco, directly across the bay from what would be Berkeley. Luis Peralta, a member of this party, was given a land grant by the King of Spain for a ranch directly across from the new presidio. The ranch raised cattle for meat and hides, but was also used for hunting and farming. With the change in national holdings, came a change in who legally owned this property; eventually it was all but stolen from the Peralata family and parceled out to various American claimants. The area reverted to a mix of open land, farms and ranches, and a small bustling wharf by the bay. In 1886 this area changed, again, when the administration of the College of California decided to move the school to the area. They named the college and town after George Berkeley, an Anglo-Irish philosopher. With the college came housing projects, businesses and industrial complexes. And, as with many other small towns, transportation in the form of a branch of the Central Pacific Railroad made getting to the newly vibrant town much easier. The Great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 brought thousands of refugees into Berkeley, including most of San Francisco's painters and sculptors, thus establishing one of the largest art colonies west of the Mississippi River. The Berkeley community continued to grow rather slowly until 1923 when a major fire swept through the area burning about 640 structures and threatening the university campus. Rebuilding began, but an up-swing in population didn’t occur again until World War II. Many war industries were located around the bay and attracted lots of workers; Camp Ashby Army Base was temporarily located in Berkeley. And of course, a great deal of research went on at the university, not the least of which was the synthesizing of the element berkelium.

The face of Berkeley was to change from the 1940s forward as the university and town
Sproul Plaza, site of National Guard presence in 1969

became known for political activism. Spurred by a pushback against McCarthyism, Berkeley evolved into the rallying place for supporters of the Civil Rights Movement and the Free Speech Movement. It also became the focal point for apolitical drop-outs, hippies, who were looking for peace and love. Unfortunately, the ‘People’s Park’ developed into the antithesis of the hippie philosophy when it became a battleground between developers and student/hippie protestors. Eventually the National Guard was called in, resulting in a month-long occupation that ended with the park remaining undeveloped. While Berkeley is still a center for political activism, the tone of the city has mellowed. Humanistic ideas still dominate the city; domestic partner legislation has come from these interactions as has work on race relations, protection of the environment, raising concerns about local versus industrial farming, LGBTQ issues, medical marijuana and other health/wellness subjects.

My misconceptions about what the environment around Berkeley looked like extended to
Claremont Hotel
the town; roving bands of hippies playing guitars surrounded by a haze of cigarette smoke was tops in my expectations. The area we explored had small streets, cute shops, places to eat, not a whole lot of traffic and hippies in view. There was also an historic wooden hotel, the Claremont, dating from 1915. It was originally built by ‘Borax’ Smith, a mining magnate, and a group of real estate developers. One of the attractive aspects to staying at the Claremont in those days was that the Key Route tram line picked guests up at the lobby steps and took them down to San Francisco Bay. If you had a car, there was a small tunnel that would take you through the mountains and down to the bay. The downside to staying in the Claremont was that the hotel was in a dry zone – no alcoholic beverages were sold within one mile of the college campus. It wasn’t until 1936 that an enterprising student from the University discovered that the hotel was just over a mile away; free drinks for life was the reward for this piece of information.
Berkeley street scene

Next week Oakland is on the blog list and my reviews of a hotel, lots of places to eat, and some of the things we did.

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