Berkeley: City of Hidden Historical Markers!

It was July 5 and I needed to go to my mom’s house in Castro Valley. Gail was free so we decided to hop on the tandem and pedal over. Since it had been a few weeks since our last Landmark adventure, we dug out the book, IDed some of the Landmarks in Berkeley and Oakland that we had missed to date, and took off (of course, going on a ride like this is never a “decide and ride” event: the departure was fraught with clothing and food choices, bike prep, sunscreen, and myriad other tasks). (Want to just look at the pictures? Click here.)

Since the main purpose of the ride was to actually get to my mother’s house in a reasonable amount of time, we designed a route that would hit the maximum number of Landmarks with the least amount of veering off-course. Thus, we were going to ride up toward the University of California, hit a couple of Landmarks in the general vicinity, and then head toward Oakland, and San Leandro. After meeting with Mom, we could visit Castro Valley’s only officially-designated Historical Landmark before hopping on BART for the return home.

Our first stop would be an easy one: the University of California, Berkeley Campus (Historical Landmark #946).  According to our “California Historical Landmark” book: “These landmarks form the historic core of the first University of California campus, opened in 1873: Founders’ Rock, University House, Faculty Club and Glade, Hearst Greek Theater, Hearst Memorial Mining Building, Doe Library, Sather Tower and Esplanade, Sather Gate and Bridge, Hearst Gymnasium, California, Durant, Wellman, Hilgard, Giannini, Wheeler, North Gate, and South Halls.”

In my misspent youth, I had attended college at UC, we had lived in Berkeley for a number of years, and I also had a great innate sense of direction. I even knew where a number of the buildings mentioned in the description quoted above were found on campus. However, we assumed that there was only ONE official Marker, not a bunch of them scattered all over the campus. Thus, we searched high and low around “University Avenue, Berkeley” looking for the thing. We even asked a couple of UC police officers where we might find the Marker (they didn’t even know such a thing existed…so much for the observation abilities of UCB’s finest). Gail seemed to recall a marker of some variety in a redwood grove but that was not the OFFICIAL Marker. We even tried the UC information building, with no joy (since the place was shut down for the July 4th holiday). We are going to have to go back to the campus with the list of official buildings and see if the State actually sprung for more than one Marker. However, that was for another day. Mom was waiting, so off we went, without finding the Marker. Once again, we were starting off one of these trips without anything to show for our first visit.

Fortunately, we were in the dumps for only a few minutes, since our next destination, the Berkeley City Club, was only a few blocks away and I was certain that it had a Marker. The Berkeley City Club was organized by women in 1927, to contribute to social, civic, and cultural progress. The building, constructed in 1929, is one of the outstanding works of noted California architect Julia Morgan, whose interpretation of Moorish and Gothic elements created a landmark of California design.

This place is just lovely from the outside. It stands on the north side of Durant Avenue, the sun was shining on it, and the building was looking great. Upon closer examination, we could see that it was getting a little worn in places. I had attended meetings in this building and the interior was a little faded but still grand. No matter: this building truly looks like a Historical Landmark. Also, the Marker was right on the façade, so no need for any hunting to find the thing. Definitely visit this place and then follow up your visit with a trip to Yogurt Park, which is just up Durant Ave. from the City Club!

Our next stop, Piedmont Way (Historical Landmark #986), was a surprise to us. Piedmont Way was conceived in 1865 by Fredrick Law Olmsted, America’s foremost landscape architect. As the centerpiece of a gracious residential community close beside the College of California, Olmsted envisioned a roadway that would follow the natural contours of the land and be sheltered from sun and wind by “an overarching bowery of foliage.” This curvilinear, tree-lined parkway was Olmsted’s first residential street design. it has served as the model for similar parkways across the nation.

Anyone that has lived in or around Berkeley for any length of time knows this road. It runs across the top of the campus, past fraternity and sorority houses, the International House, Hearst Greek Theater, Memorial Stadium, and other landmarks. The architecture along the road varies from Julia Morgan wood-singled structures to ghastly apartment buildings, which presumably replaced the old grand houses that originally graced the road. There is a circle at Channing Way, where frat boys play frisbee on warm spring days. The smell of beer is evident, especially on a weekend day. Trees provide plenty of shade on the days where the sun pokes through our omnipresent marine layer. Plants and flowers are everywhere. The only thing that this street seems to be missing is the OFFICIAL HISTORICAL MARKER! We rode up and down the street a few times, with Gail looking for the Marker and me trying to avoid getting run down by motorists gawking at the sights. We even drove down the non-curvilinear part of Piedmont Ave., looking for the thing. No luck.

However, don’t let the lack of a Marker deter you from visiting this beautiful street. Walking is probably the best way to get to see the great houses, the use of native plants, the way that the curves tend to calm traffic, and the overall coolness of having a street follow the contour of the land. Not to be missed.

Batting a cool .333, we headed out of Berkeley, toward Oakland, San Leandro, and our rendezvous with Mom.


4 responses to “Berkeley: City of Hidden Historical Markers!

  1. The “official” plaque for the University of California, Berkeley Campus (Historical Landmark #946) is located in a patch of grass on the west side of Sather Tower. Because it lies flat and is not mounted upright on a rock or base, it easily escapes notice.

  2. The plaque for Piedmont Way (Historical Landmark #986) is located at the intersection of Piedmont Way and Bancroft Avenue amidst some shrubs.

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