During World War II the population of the Bay Area increased dramatically. The Kaiser shipyards in Richmond for example employed thousands and claimed to produce a “ship-a-day.”
Existing housing was inadequate to absorb this new population, and both public agencies and private builders constructed thousands of new housing units. The housing shortage was so acute that families of larger homes would often create second units as part of the war effort.
In Berkeley, vacant land was quickly subdivided by developers and small affordable homes were built. Scattered throughout west and central Berkeley are such units, many of them single-story duplexes or clusters of two-story apartment houses of the same design.
One distinctive development was the subdivision of a block bordered by Cedar & Jones streets, 7th & 8th streets. Between Cedar and Jones, a new street was cut through and it was called Bataan Avenue. On this square block 18 nearly identical houses were built between October 1942 and July 1943 and all but two of them are still standing.
The houses were built by a contractor named James L. Rich and the first building permits state the construction costs were between $3,000 and $3,500. The houses have two or three bedrooms and one bath.
Bataan Avenue was named for the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines where a significant early World War II episode occurred. According to the Web site of the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Foundation of New Mexico, Inc. the 200th Coast Artillery Anti-aircraft units from New Mexico arrived in the Philippines at Clark Field and Ft. Stotsenberg in September of 1941.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, much of the Pacific Fleet was incapacitated and could not defend the Pacific Rim. On Dec. 8, 1941 an aerial attack was launched on the Philippines which destroyed most of the American Air Force planes which were caught on the ground. After the Japanese landed and began to advance, the troops retreated to the Bataan Peninsula. The men held out for four months, but finally Bataan was surrendered on April 9,1942, and Corregidor on May 6, 1942. Many of the 1800 troops became prisoners of war under severe conditions and only 900 returned. Because the Coast Artillery troops were from New Mexico, the City of Albuquerque will dedicate a new memorial at Bataan Memorial Park on Sunday, April 7, 2002.
Bataan Avenue was named shortly after these United States forces surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. It is the only street in Berkeley named for a World War II event.
Susan Cerny is author of Berkeley Landmarks and writes this in conjunction with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.