Arts Listings

Historical Society Hosts Fall Walking Tours

By Steven Finacom, Special to the Planet
Tuesday September 19, 2006

From ancient geological ages through the present, plus selected eras in between, the heritage of Berkeley is on display this fall in six walking tours. 

Local rocks, robbers and the history of radiation highlight some of the two-hour strolls through Berkeley’s past, organized by the Berkeley Historical Society (BHS), from this Saturday, Sept. 23, through Saturday, Dec. 2. 

The series begins Saturday with “Old and New in the North Shattuck Neighborhood” led by Robert Johnson, current chair of the Berkeley Landmark’s Preservation Commission. 

Participants “will explore some of the historic resources of the North Shattuck area and how new development can fit into the historic neighborhood.”  

The second tour, on Saturday, Oct. 7, reaches further into the local past than any previous BHS event. Veteran BHS volunteer and community historian Paul Grunland will guide tourgoers on a unique walk of “The Rocks of Thousand Oaks.”  

Enormous, picturesque rocks dot much of hillside Berkeley, and the Thousand Oaks neighborhood in particular. 

Generally called Northbrae Rhyolite, these outcroppings and boulders are volcanic in origin, thrust to the surface and shifted about the East Bay landscape for millennia by tectonic forces. 

When development began to spread into the Berkeley Hills, many of the rocks were incorporated into the streetscape and built landscape. The tour will include the opportunity to “view rocks usually unknown and unseen in the yards of private homes.” 

Tour number three on Saturday, Oct. 21, is titled “The Peraltas of Codornices Creek”, and promises tales of “Evictions! Foreclosures! Fraud! Murder! Ruin! Lawsuits! Thievery! Speculators!”  

Fortunately most if not all of these episodes took place long ago in 19th century Berkeley as Spanish/Mexican and American eras collided. 

Led by Dale Smith and Carole Bennett-Simmons, the tour wends through Berkeley’s Westbrae district, the northwest quadrant of town that was the site of the homestead of Domingo Peralta, whose ranch encompassed most of today’s cities of Berkeley and Albany. 

As Gold Rush settlers, squatters, and speculators spilled into the East Bay in the 1850s the Peraltas had the worst of it, eventually losing their expansive holdings.  

The tour will revisit their time, as well as later developments including the Peralta Community Gardens, the Ohlone Greenway, and what the tour leaders are calling it Berkeley’s “Other Gourmet Ghetto,” the shopping district grouped around such local institutions as Monterey Market, Lalime’s restaurant, and Berkeley Horticultural Nursery. The fifth and sixth tours focus on a pivotal time in the University of California’s past—75 years ago.  

In 1931 the University’s Radiation Laboratory—now the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)—was founded on the Berkeley campus by the brilliant experimental physicist who later earned the first Nobel Prize to honor a UC faculty member. 

From that date, and through World War II and the Cold War, the “Rad Lab” burgeoned into a massive science research complex, leading the world in high-energy physics and encompassing 76 buildings and 183 acres on the slopes of Strawberry Canyon.  

Terry Powell from LBNL will lead a Friday, Nov. 10, tour by bus through the laboratory, visiting a selection of buildings and research facilities. 

The next UC-themed tour is a week later on Sunday, Nov. 19. The author will lead a walk through the main Berkeley campus, discussing the late 1920s and early 1930s when, despite the financial and economic impact of the Great Depression, the University of California experienced one of the most interesting and energetic eras in its history. 

Participants will see several campus buildings completed and opened about 75 years ago to provide facilities for new or expanded UC programs, from agricultural economics, to the life sciences, student activities, housing, and intercollegiate sports.  

During this period the architecture of the campus became exuberantly eclectic, departing from formal Beaux Arts classicism and instead drawing inspiration from Tudor manors, Spanish Missions, Art Deco, and perhaps even Hollywood. 

The last tour of the season is free and reserved for participants who have purchased tickets for at least three of the other tours. It takes in the landmark Claremont Hotel and its gardens on Saturday, Dec. 2. 





All the tours start at 10 a.m. and end around noon and should take place rain, shine, or Berkeley fog. Two walks, “Rocks of Thousand Oaks” and the Claremont Hotel tour, are not wheelchair accessible.  

Attendance is limited to 30 per tour and most BHS tours do sell out. Individual tickets: $10 per tour for the general public, $8 for members of BHS. A season ticket for members only is $30. You can join BHS for $20/individual, $25 family. 

For reservations call 848-0181, or send a check and a list of the tours you wish to attend to BHS at P.O. Box 1190, Berkeley, 94701-1190, or visit the BHS at 1931 Center St. in the Veterans Memorial Building on most Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. Add your phone number (essential) and e-mail address (if you have one) to your ticket order. Attendees will be notified of gathering points for each tour. 


Photograph By Steven Finacom 

Both the towering building and gardens of the historic Claremont Hotel can be visited on one of this season’s Berkeley Historical Society walking tours.