EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of an ongoing series of articles by UC Berkeley journalism students on the paths of Berkeley.
When fire swept through the hills of North Berkeley 80 years ago, one of the few structures to survive was La Loma Steps.
No evidence of the devastation can be seen today on the rose-colored bricks of the steps and path that connect Buena Vista Way and Le Roy Avenue. The only reminders are old photographs and a historical marker that says “the steps remained exposed on a hillside of ruins and ashes.”
No one knows who designed the steps, though some credit architect Bernard Maybeck. On a 1995 petition to have the steps designated a landmark by the city, Maybeck’s daughter-in-law, Jacomena Maybeck, wrote, “We were always told they were the Maybeck steps.”
La Loma Steps represent the philosophy of Maybeck and the Hillside Club, founded in 1898 to support development that blended with the city’s landscape. Benches along the path allow passersby to enjoy the quiet and shade, undisturbed by nearby houses and traffic.
When fire erupted in 1923, nearly 600 houses were destroyed. Standing, with minor damage, were La Loma Steps. The steps were reconstructed a year later by architect John Hudson Thomas. They remained intact, with minor rising caused by land shifts, until the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
In 1992, the Federal Emergency Management Administration paid for the second reconstruction of the steps. When crews came to patch the disturbed bricks, neighbors tried to make sure the new bricks matched the old ones. But because the original bricks were unobtainable, some of the steps are now multi-tone.
Paul Crutchfield has lived adjacent to the steps since 1954. He was among the residents who fought to preserve the authentic look of the steps. “The steps represent a historical lineage. People of the area tried to have new bricks match the old ones as close as possible.” He also worries about the bricks that have shifted. “Irregularities cause a hazard to joggers at night.” This doesn’t disturb the beauty of the steps, he notes.
The Berkeley Path Wanderers Association holds their next meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20, at the Live Oak Park Rec Center, 1200 Shattuck Ave., in North Berkeley.
The theme is “Stories of the Paths.”
Members and the public are invited to share stories and anecdotes about Berkeley’s paths from any perspective: historical, aesthetic, emotional, natural, architectural, humorous, kinesthetic, amusing. Photos are welcomed, and will be scanned at the meeting for a planned website with stories and photographs of every path in Berkeley.