Berkeley Observed. San Pablo Park changed in 1906

Susan Cerny
Sunday September 29, 2002

In 1906 The West Berkeley Development Company, whose partners were involved with the Claremont and Northbrae subdivisions and were later part of the Mason McDuffie Company, subdivided the San Pablo Park tract in south west Berkeley. The residential subdivision begins one block east of San Pablo Avenue and is located between Russell and Ward streets.  

The tract consists of an area of about 14 blocks surrounding a 15-acre park. A map of the subdivision shows that the corners of the blocks have been rounded rather than squared. 

Oregon, Baker (now Mabel) and Mathews streets have been given a gentle curve to break the harsh grid of the ordinary street pattern.  

A brochure for the subdivision proclaimed: “LOTS-$100 DOWN-$10 PER MONTH-NO INTEREST. All street work from sewers to sidewalks done free ... water mains laid ... trees planted ... the price you pay is the WHOLE price ... every bit of street work-concrete sidewalks and gutters, curbs, macadam pavement, sewers, water pipes ... even street trees.”  

As in other residential subdivisions deed restrictions prohibited “saloons, corner grocery or neighboring shack ... just read the restrictions contained in the contract. They’re made for YOUR benefit and they WILL benefit you.” 

The brochure also had photographs of shingled bungalows that the developers would build for “$500 down and this house is yours ... a pleasant shingled, Swiss chalet-with dining room paneled in redwood ... a clinker brick fire-place, window seats ... an artistic bungalow of five rooms.” Clapboard and Craftsman bungalows were constructed and today San Pablo Park is one of Berkeley’s quiet hidden neighborhoods.  

In 1910 the park was donated to the city. This is inconsistent with the brochure which states that the “Town of Berkeley has taken an option on four blocks in the very heart of San Pablo Park. It purposes to give those four blocks to YOU and YOUR CHILDREN.”  

It may be that the developers were not as generous as the story has been told, and they had initially intended to sell the land to the city rather than to donate it. It could be speculated that the city did not exercise their option to buy the land since bond measures for parks failed many times. The developers may have donated the park to the city to keep their promise to purchasers of their lots. At any rate, by 1914 a swing, see-saw, bars, and a football and a baseball field were installed. The Frances Albrier Community Center was built in 1970. 


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