Maybeck Designed Rose Walk

By SARAH WIENER-BOONE Special to the Planet
Tuesday December 09, 2003

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a continuing series by UC Berkeley students on the paths of Berkeley. 


Cathy Powers opens up her balcony doors, points toward San Francisco Bay, and smiles. “On a clear morning or a sunset,” she says, “there’s nothing better.” Powers, a 30-year resident, lives in a story book home. It graces the cover of Susan Cerny’s book Berkeley Landscapes, and is deemed a cultural asset by the author. Powers doesn’t really care. 

“The cover is nice and everything, but the ambiance of the place is what is important to me.”  

What makes this house and others nearby so unusual is what begins outside their front door: Rose Walk, between Euclid and Le Roy avenues, one of the most celebrated paths in the North Berkeley Hills.  

Powers uses the path every day and passes through the Euclid entrance, high-walled and dipping in the middle like two petals, and molded in rose and cream concrete. She smells the roses and walks the sweeping set of stairs that flank the entrance. 

When her walks take her to the Le Roy entrance, she sees benches nestled in corners, boulevard lamps, gnarled as well as newly planted lemon trees, and abundant flowers. All are tucked between the path designed by Bernard Maybeck in 1913, and homes built 10 years later by architect Henry Gutterson to be an integral part of Rose Walk. 

“From time to time as a child, my grandmother would take me [to Rose Walk], and we would play on the steps. It sure was fun,” says John Underhill, tour guide and Rose Walk historian. On his tours, organized by the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association, he tells about his grandfather’s involvement in the walk’s creation.  

About 1910, Underhill and his neighbors raised money to build the path to allow residents to circumvent long, winding roads to reach the City Street Car line, which had been extended from Hillgard to Berryman Reservoir. By the time the street cars were replaced by city buses in 1948, Rose Walk had become a Berk-eley institution.  

“The irony of this story,” says John Underhill, “is although my grandfather was so helpful in getting it built, he never got to see it finished.” At a party seven months before completion, Underhill died of a heart attack. 

Today, Cathy Powers revels in her view and her ambiance, and kids still have fun on the steps. John Underhill looks forward to the 2013 centennial of Rose Steps. “I’d like to do something special for that,” he says, “If I’m still around.”