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erkeley Observed Looking back, seeing ahead

Susan Cerny
Saturday May 04, 2002

Berkeley's first electric streetcar lines were established in 1891 and ran from Oakland to Berkeley along both Grove Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way) and Shattuck Avenue. Blue cars ran on Grove Street displaying the sign "Lorin" on the front; red cars ran on Shattuck Avenue with the sign "Shattuck." In 1892 a connection was made between these lines by way of the university, and an electric streetcar line was also opened on Telegraph Avenue.  

By 1903 many of the competing railroad and streetcar companies in Alameda County were consolidated into the Oakland Transit Company (later known as the Key System) by Francis Marion "Borax" Smith, the successful and wealthy Death Valley miner famous for his "20 Mule Team" borax products. The new coordinated streetcar service brought expanded development opportunities to outlying areas which had earlier been serviced by horse-drawn trolleys.  

One of the areas served by the new and expanded electric street car lines was the undeveloped land on either side of College Avenue. Improved transportation and the influx of refugees from the San Francisco earthquake and fire after 1906, contributed to a growing population and had profound effects on the community and its architecture. The periods of growth and the patterns of residential development are clearly reflected by the type of homes found in the various neighborhoods. 

The Kearney Tract, located between College Avenue and Warring Street, south of Dwight Way to Parker Street, was one of these almost instant "street car suburbs". The Kearney Tract was almost entirely built between 1900 and 1918. With the exception of a few 19th century homes and several apartment houses built after the Second World War that replaced earlier houses, the streets of the Kearney Tract are excellent examples of an early 20th century Berkeley neighborhood. 

Many of the homes here are variations of the Colonial Revival style, popular between 1893 until around 1910. Inspired by the Classic Revival theme of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, the Classic, Colonial Revival style became instantly popular across the nation. Since this was also the era of the new electric streetcars in most American cities, this style is associated with turn-of-the-nineteenth century streetcar suburbs. In Berkeley, and especially in this neighborhood, these houses were often shingled in keeping with the "building with nature" tenets of the Hillside Club. Interspersed between the Colonial Revivals are houses designed by architects such as Julia Morgan. 

Discover a Berkeley streetcar suburb on Sunday May 5th from 1-5. . A ticket booth will be open the day of the tour between 12 and 4 on the lawn in front of the entrance to the Clark Kerr Campus (formerly the Deaf School) at the corner of Warring and Parker Streets. 


Susan Cerny is author of Berkeley Landmarks and writes this in conjunction with the Berkeley Architectural heritage Association.