In 1902 the Berkeley Development Company purchased approximately 2000 acres of land in north Berkeley that would become the Northbrae and Thousand Oaks residential subdivisions.
The first phase of the Northbrae subdivision was opened in 1907. It was conceived and promoted as an affordable area for middle-income families conveniently located near electric rail lines. Northbrae is bounded by Yolo and Eunice on the south, Solano and Indian Rock on the north, the Albany city limits on the west, and Spruce Street on the east.
The landscape plan was designed by landscape architect and University professor R. E. Mansell. It provided broad, curving streets that followed the contours of the land with wide arcs at intersections rather than sharp corners; rose-colored sidewalks, rather than gray, were used to soften the visual effects of the paving.
John Galen Howard, the University of California, Berkeley architect, designed the public amenities such as The Circle, the entrance pillars on The Alameda, stairways, benches and native stone pillars used as street markers. The Circle is the focal point and center of the subdivision, and it is surrounded by Classic balustrades, recently repaired and restored, with large terra-cotta planters on piers at the ends of the balustrades.
In the center of the circle is a nine-foot, double tiered fountain, a replica of the original 1910 fountain, adorned with four baby grizzly bears. Howard also designed a train station and real estate office, which are no longer standing.
In 1907, as part of a scheme to attract people to north Berkeley, Louis Titus proposed that the state capital be moved to Berkeley on forty acres of land that the Berkeley Development Company would donate for this purpose. This proposal made it to the state ballot in 1908 as the Capital Removal Measure, but failed to achieve the necessary votes. The legacy of this endeavor are streets named for the counties of the state: Marin, Colusa, Merced, Sonoma, Modoc, and so forth.
An advertising brochure for Northbrae states: “The restrictions that have gone far to make Claremont most desired for homes will be a feature of Northbrae.” The minimum cost of a residence would be $2,500, setbacks from street were fifteen feet, and “...saloons, businesses, flats, apartment houses, second houses on one lot, and stores were prohibited... here at least a man may build his home with the assurance that his sight will not be offended by hideous houses on neighboring lots, his view cut off by buildings shoved in front of his own or his sunshine and air stolen by a wall.”
By 1911 there were five electric streetcar lines serving this area and the Solano Tunnel (built for the Southern Pacific line) was finally complete. The northeastern parts of Northbrae, all of Thousand Oaks, Cragmont, and North Cragmont were annexed to Berkeley in 1920.
Susan Cerny is author of Berkeley Landmarks and writes this in conjunction with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.