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Rose Garden sign looking to receive a facelift

By Hank Sims Daily Planet Staff
Saturday January 19, 2002

After several years of neglect, during which proposals have bounced back and forth between neighborhood groups and city government, the ancient, dilapidated sign welcoming visitors to the Berkeley Community Rose Garden appears to be on the verge of renovation.  

“It’s been a long process of getting something everyone can agree on. But I think we’re getting close,” said Gail Keleman, a member of the Friends of the Rose Garden, a community group, which maintains much of the garden. 

No one seems to know when the current sign was built, but everyone involved believe it to be a minor masterpiece of Art Deco design that has fallen into serious disrepair. 

Many of the hand-cut plywood letters are falling off the face of the sign and several of the stylish flourishes that outline the words “Berkeley Rose Garden” are crumbling. Graffiti tags mar the sign’s face. 

Since the Rose Garden is a registered city of Berkeley landmark, the Landmarks Preservation Commission must approve all changes to the site. 

“Our responsibility is to make sure alterations to city landmarks are appropriate,” said Carrie Olson, a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

Olson said one new design proposed for the sign several years ago didn’t pass muster because it didn’t take into consideration the look of the existing sign. 

“They came to us with a very beautiful, but sort of brass-and-oak, sign that was completely inappropriate for the site,” she said. 

Bill Moore and Associates, an Albanybased sign-making firm, has offered its services in designing and building the sign for free. The firm chooses a different pro bono project every year as a way of giving to the community. 

The sign that the company has proposed is made of more durable materials, but it is meant to echo the look of the old one. 

Dave Blake, a member of several city architectural commissions and a professional graphic designer, is recommending that the new sign preserve the typeface of the letters that make up the word “Berkeley.” 

He said that the typeface is unknown to local type historians who he consulted, and is probably unique to that sign.  

However, he said, the typeface of the letters that spell out “Rose Garden” were immensely ugly, and should be abandoned when the new sign is made. 

The Friends of the Rose Garden will be paying for a new post and trellis from which to hang the sign. The group has received a $3,000 grant from the city’s Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department. If that proves to be insufficient, the group will try to raise funds at its annual Mother’s Day celebration. 

Jeff Hunt, who works as a stage designer, has been spearheading the effort to replace the sign on behalf of the Friends of the Rose Garden.  

Hunt said he is to blame, in part, for the delay on the new sign. As a volunteer, he said, he must occasionally supplement his work on the garden with remunerative labor. 

Still, Hunt said, he looks forward to the day when a new, proud sign hangs over the entrance to the city’s most famous open space.  

“People come to this town from all over the world, and a lot of them decide to visit the nicest park in Berkeley,” he said. 

“What do they see? A sign falling over, deer nibbling on the plants … It’s an embarrassment.”