Election Section

Cragmont Rock Park

By Alan Bern
Tuesday August 21, 2007

Neighborhood residents bought the land for Cragmont Rock Park from the Cragmont Land Company and donated it to the City of Berkeley at purchase price. It was dedicated for park purposes in 1920. Dick Leonard, the “father of technical climbing,” formed the Cragmont Climbing Club, which was absorbed a few months later into the Sierra Club’s Rock Climbing Section.  

Using the techniques he had learned climbing at Cragmont Rock, Leonard planned the first technical rock climb in Yosemite in 1934. Leonard led over a hundred expeditions and climbs in the Sierra Nevada, at times with his friend, environmentalist David Brower, making many first ascents on mountains earlier thought impossible to climb. www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/parks/parkspages/CragmontRock.html  

As a lifelong resident of Berkeley (born here, 1949), I have enjoyed Cragmont Rock Park at many times during my life: as a kid playing football on the oddly-shaped terraced fields; as a teen in a film my Berkeley High School English class made of Henry Fielding's novel Joseph Andrews; as a young adult showing my Cal English professor the beautiful view.  

Now in middle age, as a librarian at the Berkeley Public Library and as a poet and performer working with another Berkeley native, dancer Lucinda Weaver, I want to celebrate this wonderful park.  

I have done research at local, regional, and national institutions, and I have found little: its history remains hidden, but still I persevere.  

If you have information on the history of Cragmont Rock Park, its beginnings, its Easter Celebrations, the Friends of Cragmont Park, its many uses for climbing, picknicking, and recreation, please contact me at: 684-0931 or abbern@sbcglobal.net  

A Dream of Set-ups: Tableaux Vivants  

At Cragmont Rock Park  


There are Terraces there,  

two flat as playing fields,  

one just barely level  

that spreads to a steep hill  

encouraging rolling down.  


Any of these spaces  

invites us to parade  

music, dance, poetry  

and instructs with drama,  

characterful or not,  

primal dreams of set-ups,  

figures sculpted, moving,  

or imaginary,  

measured Tableaux Vivants.  


By figures we mean not  

only dogs or people,  

but anything that fits  

the dream, once medieval  

and miniaturized,  

but now universal,  

if we agree, joyful,  

and, yes, mandatory.  


Imagine with us, please,  

those spaces at that Park,  

Cragmont Rock Park, with trees,  

grass, climbing rocks hidden,  

views to both Town & Gown,  

Bay and Tamalpais,  

Oakland and Albany,  

Richmond, San Francisco,  

whose patron saint, Francis,  

has moved the world to peace  

for these 1000 years,  

his Tableaux in Chapels  

in the Sacro Monte  

above Lago d'Orta  

in Northern Italy.  



Here at Cragmont Rock Park,  

these wondrous 3 acres:  

"Neighborhood residents  

bought the land for Cragmont  

Rock Park from the Cragmont  

Land Company and  

donated it to  

the City of Berkeley  

at purchase price. It was  

dedicated for park  

purposes in 1920."  


From the earliest years,  

Easter ceremonies  

awakened neighbors there  

with trumpets, songs, and walks  

up Easter Way from Spruce,  

Cragmont, Euclid to the top.  

Later, with Cragmont rock,  

the CCC built walls  

and park bathroom building  

under WPA  

to beautify the Park  

à la mode so that rock-  

to-rock they built fit to  

Nature's rocks and wild brush  

as cousins, exactly as the preservation  

would dictate and desire.  


Picture on climbing rocks  

David Brower, leader  

of the Sierra Club,  

learning from Dick Leonard  

“the father of modern  

rock climbing,” holds for  

Yosemite's long climbs:  

Brower "used this special  

knowledge to prepare training  

manuals during World War II,  

which proved critical in  

enabling the 86th  

Regiment of the U.S.  

Army to surprise the Germans  

at Riva Ridge in the North  

Appennines in Italy,  

the major action  

disrupting German lines  

in southern Europe."  


All this from a small park  

hidden in Berkeley's hills!  

The upper terrace there,  

later a parking lot  

for neighbors and for teens,  

viewing from their large cars  

the views that teens must view.  


A call to festivals  

dedicated to parks  

and the ecologies  

of harmony we dream.  

Remember the sweet songs  

and find the little building  

tucked into the north side  

of Cragmont Park's hill rock,  

a building framed with rock --  

self-same rock -- once bathroom  

to the park, now shut down  

unsafe. Open locked doors,  

put inside as set-ups,  

behind the barred windows,  

clear glass for visitors,  

to view a new set-up,  

glory to Cragmont Park,  

to San Francesco,  

to Leonard and Brower,  

even to Easter Way,  

to the teens who still come,  

and to all of us here  

who would visit the Park  

for a celebration of peace, harmony  

and some resolution  

of the other dark roads  

we must travel, if not  

alone or underneath  

Imperial Bush skies,  

then at least together.  


And the briefer set-ups,  

waystations for our stays  

on the drying grass lawns,  

that will be created  

to tell partial stories  

of Cragmont Rock Park, jewel  

hidden in Berkeley's hills,  

waiting for your walk up.