Berkeley Historic Walking Tours Start This Weekend

By Steven Finacom, Special to the Planet
Tuesday March 20, 2007

A Maybeck home, a new religious headquarters, an old stadium, two lesser-known neighborhoods, and even a freeway interchange and municipal recycling center highlight the spring 2007 walking tours offered by the Berkeley Historical Society. 

I’ll start off the series Saturday, March 24, leading a walk through the upper Telegraph Avenue business district and its side streets.  

My aim is to talk about some of the changes Telegraph has undergone in a century and a quarter as a commercial, residential and institutional neighborhood, as well as some changes that were once proposed for the area but never came to pass.  

Have you ever heard of the four-block-long parking garage once proposed for Telegraph? Or seen a block that was densely populated with University-sanctioned boarding houses back when women students were required to have their living choices “approved?” 

We’ll talk about those episodes, and others, walking through this ever-changing, ever-historic slice of Berkeley. 

On Saturday, April 7, long-time Berkeley resident and photographer Bruce Goodell conducts a tour further to the east, focusing on California Memorial Stadium and its environs.  

The tour will take in the much-in-the-news oak grove as well as the stadium itself and its Hall of Fame Room where the feats, both long ago and recent, of Cal student athletes are immortalized by hundreds of artifacts, photographs, and memorial plaques.  

On display is one of two circa-1890s hand-embroidered flags that gave the “Golden Bears” their name. 

The modest neighborhoods of far southwest Berkeley and their layers of history and tradition are the subject of a Saturday, April 28, tour led by architect Bill Coburn.  

The San Pablo Park district became home to many of Berkeley’s early African-American families in an era when racial covenants and discrimination kept them out of other neighborhoods.  

Coburn will use the evidence of street grids, garden designs, and various building styles to explain how a neighborhood grows and changes. 

The tour will also pass the “Fish House,” a relatively recent and notable essay in Berkeley’s eclectic tradition of residential architecture. 

On Saturday, May 12, photographer Allen Stross and a staff member from Berkeley’s Transportation Department will jointly conduct perhaps the most unusual tour on the schedule, an exploration of the transportation and industrial facilities at the base of Gilman Avenue. 

Possible changes to Berkeley’s notorious Gilman/I-80 intersection will be explained, along with the city’s nearby Recycling Center. The tour will also visit Ursula Sherman House, a haven for homeless families.  

Transportation, recycling, homeless services—it’s late 20th/early 21st century Berkeley history in the making, and you can see it now. 

The final regular tour in the series falls on Saturday, June 2, when historian and Berkeley native Paul Grunland goes beyond the Berkeley border into Kensington to lead a tour of the Maybeck Estates. 

While Bernard Maybeck was the better-known figure, his wife, community activist Annie Maybeck, helped keep the family finances afloat with her canny real estate deals.  

Here in the highlands they owned considerable undeveloped property, where lot buyers were encouraged to build their own homes.  

Maybeck pere, Bernard, designed an unusual house here for Maybeck fils, Wallen, and it’s possible that building will be visited on this tour, which is co-led by Bob Shaner.  

For those who purchase tickets to the whole tour series there will be a free bonus tour on June 9, taking in the Buddhist Churches of America Jodo Shinshu Center at Durant and Fulton. This recently completed project occupies the renovated shell of a historic car dealership, one of Berkeley’s most notable Art Deco structures. 

The tours all start at 10 a.m. and end around noon. Some involve walking many city blocks; others encompass a smaller area. Two—the stadium vicinity, and the Maybeck Estates—are not wheelchair accessible.  

Series tickets cost $30 for Berkeley Historical Society members only, or $10 per tour for the general public. You can also join BHS for $20 to get the series—or individual tour—discounts. 

Some of the tours may have filled up to their 30-person maximum by the time you read this.  

To check on availability, call BHS at 848-0181 on Thursday or Friday before a tour, between 1-4 p.m. Make sure to leave a telephone number and e-mail address (if you have one). You can also drop by the Berkeley History Center in the Veterans’ Memorial Building, 1931 Center Street, during the same hours.