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Center Street retains early 20th century character

By Susan Cerny
Saturday July 28, 2001

In the early 1890s the city and UC Berkeley began to grow rapidly with growth accelerating after 1900.  

Several factors converged to cause the population boom: the introduction of a direct electric streetcar line to the campus in 1892, and along College Avenue in 1903; the increasing reputation and quality of the university, which received international attention with the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Campus Design Competition announced in 1896; and the population boom after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire when the city grew by 30,000 within a few years.  

Beginning in 1902 and continuing until the 1930s, downtown was transformed. The mostly single-story or two-story wood-framed buildings were removed and, in their place, more substantial masonry buildings were constructed. Many of these buildings are still standing and give downtown Berkeley its distinctive early 20th century character.  

The south side of Center Street, is a good, representative example of early 20th century design. The street today looks very much like this 1908 picture. The majority of the block is original. But the building on the left side of the picture was demolished for a gas station. 

Almost 50 years later the site was again redeveloped. The new building, the one standing today, was designed to echo the style of the original building using photographs such as this one for inspiration.  

From 1876, when the first steam train began operating on Shattuck Avenue, Center Street has served continuously as the pedestrian link from downtown Berkeley to the university.  


Susan Cerny writes Berkeley Observed in conjunction with the Berkeley Historical Association.