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Ancient Cemetery Proved a Plus for Realty Speculators

By ZACHARY JOHNSON Special to the Planet
Tuesday December 16, 2003

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


An empty 40-ounce bottle of Mickey’s malt liquor, Styrofoam burger boxes and a variety of disposable cups fill the top of a five-foot tall concrete urn at the foot of Indian Trail in the Berkeley neighborhood of Thousand Oaks. But the trail remains almost pristine.  

Alternating between stone steps and stretches of packed earth, the trail climbs from The Alameda to Yosemite Street, linking the neighborhood and its history and leading to the possible site of an ancient burial ground. 

Nearly a century ago, decorative urns adorned the top of the trail and the rest of the area to demark the new subdivision, said local historian Trish Hawthorne in a phone conversation.  

But only this one remains. Residents are making an “urn fund” to bring the vessels back to Thousand Oaks, an area north of Marin Avenue, where Berkeley juts between Kensington and Albany, neighborhood association president Zelda Bronstein said by phone.  

The Indian Trail opens across from the Great Stoneface Park, whose namesake is a natural rock formation said to be an Indian burial ground, said Richard Schwartz, a local historian and author. 

“In those days, that was a way to sell real estate,” said Schwarz in a telephone interview. But it could be true, he added. The area around the rock had the burial ground reputation before development, he said. And though little research has been done about it, there was once a sizable Indian population in what is now north Berkeley, he said 

Paths like the Indian Trail were built by developers as shortcuts through long streets that followed the natural contours of the hills, said Tom Edwards, member of the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association during a phone interview. “The paths were a way for the developers to market easy access to the rail system,” he said.  

But before development, as early as the 1890s, the Great Stoneface was a popular picnic destination, Schwartz said. With its shaded table and grill, the park still draws people carrying baskets of food. 

The Indian Trail, itself, seems to be somewhere other than in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. Past jutting boulders and weathered stone walls, the path at one point offers three choices — steps to the park, a trail to a private home, or straight into a shallow cave. 

Michaela Reyman, a local resident, says the trail feels “woodsy” and makes a good shortcut.  

“It’s kind of like a little fairyland,” she said.