On March 21, 1907 the Berkeley Reporter announced “Poet Keeler Gets First Honor. Literature and art are to be highly honored and especially Berkeley writers and artists, in the naming of streets in the new Cragmont tract. ... The poet Charles Keeler will have the first street in the new tract named after him. This is particularly appropriate, as Keeler is one of the most ardent admirers of Berkeley and has never let a chance slip by when he could sing her praises.”
The developers, Francis Ferrier and Charles Brock, claimed that this would be “the only tract of its kind in the United States ... being wholly devoted to literature and the arts.”
Charles Keeler was a naturalist, a poet and writer, and one-time manager of the Chamber of Commerce. He was also Berkeley’s most vocal advocate of building homes in harmony with nature and is responsible for the founding of the Hillside Club in 1898.
Keeler was born in Milwaukee, Wis., but arrived in Berkeley at the age of 16 in 1887. According to Berkeley Historical Society member Ed Herny, Keeler was unable to complete his studies of natural history and evolution at the university and took a job at the Academy of Sciences in 1891.
By 1893 he had completed his first book Evolution of the Colors of North American Land Birds. Later volumes included Bird's Afield (1899), San Francisco and Thereabouts (1902) and Sequoia Sonnets (1919) a collection of his poems.
Keeler’s most influential and often quoted book is The Simple Home of 1904. It sets forth the design and aesthetic ideals of building homes which blended with the beauty of Berkeley’s natural environment.
Keeler was influenced by the English Arts and Crafts Movement inspired by naturalist John Ruskin and designer William Morris. His own house was designed by Bernard Maybeck in 1895 and the studio next door in 1904. Both buildings are representative of what Keeler envisioned as a “simple home.”
Other streets in Cragmont named for writers, poets or artists include Miller Avenue(novelist Joaquin Miller), Twain (Mark Twain), Sterling Avenue(poet George Sterling), Keith Avenue (painter William Keith), Stevenson (Robert Louis Stevenson), and Muir Way (naturalist/writer John Muir).
Susan Cerny is author of Berkeley Landmarks and writes this in conjunction with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.