Berkeley Historical Society Walking Tours Start Saturday

Friday September 07, 2007

By Steven Finacom 

Special to the Daily Planet 


Historic parks, beautiful neighborhoods, Berkeley’s downtown, restored creeks, and a little-visited district where Bernard and Annie Maybeck developed their own real estate subdivision, are all part of the fall season of Berkeley Historical Society walking tours, starting this Saturday, Sept. 8.  

There’s also a visit to Berkeley’s historic radio museum—you probably didn’t know there was one, did you? 

All tours are on Saturday mornings. Reservations are required. Tours cost $10 per person, with discounts for Berkeley Historical Society members and “season ticket” purchasers. See sidebar for more details. 

Two of the tours this season, the first and the last, relate to the current centennial of Berkeley’s public park system. The first tour is also co-sponsored by the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) in honor of the centennial. The tours benefit the non-profit BHS and are led by volunteer guides. 

The schedule begins this Saturday in one of the most attractive residential districts of the North Berkeley hills. Guide Susan Cerny—author of two books about Berkeley and Bay Area architecture and landmarks—will lead a walk through Indian Rock Park, Mortar Rock Park, Grotto Rock Park, and John Hinkel Park. 

All these parks were gifts to the city from private landowners and developers, and all feature large natural stone outcroppings or manmade stonework, oaks, winding paths, and several decades of history.  

They’re surrounded by residential neighborhoods of picturesque homes whose designers and owners made every effort to incorporate the natural landscape into the built environment. This tour is not wheelchair accessible because of the steep terrain and outdoor stairs. 

The second tour, Sept. 22, heads down to Berkeley’s tidewater district and back to the early days of radio broadcasting. Sitting just south of Berkeley’s Aquatic Park, the old KRE radio station dates to 1937 and was one of the first buildings constructed in the Bay Area specifically for radio broadcasting.  

It’s now being refurbished as a museum of radio history by the California Historical Radio Society (CHRS). Steve Kushman, president of CHRS, will lead the tour and explain the history of KRE and why AM ration stations are often built in wetland areas. 

Tour three on Oct. 6 reprises a popular BHS tour to an area of Kensington known as Maybeck Estates. Here Annie Maybeck—the business brains of the family—had acquired land that she and husband Bernard sold to hand-picked homebuyers, and encouraged them to hand-build their own homes along a ridge with magnificent views. 

The Maybecks specified that buyers not smoke, and “Ben”—who hiked up the hill regularly to offer advice—suggested to one household that they should build a home without windows, live in it for a while, then decide where they wanted windows. They demurred. 

Paul Grunland, a Berkeleyan since the 1930s and expert on the history of the North Berkeley hills, leads the tour with Bob Shaner, a resident of the Maybeck Estates. The Maybecks’ son, Wallen, was one of the area residents, and it may be possible to tour his Maybeck-designed house. 

The history and historic built environment of downtown Berkeley, particularly around Shattuck Avenue and Center Street, is the focus of the fourth tour on Oct. 20. Leader Austene Hall, historic preservation and civic activist, will focus on “the old and new environment and how they came together.”  

She’ll be accompanied by UC Principal Planner Jennifer McDougall and environmentalist Juliet Lamont. All three are involved in the current Downtown Area Plan process. 

“Lower Codornices Creek: from rails to restoration” is the theme of the fifth tour on Nov. 3. Guided by long-time local creek activist (and previous BHS tour leader) Susan Schwartz, the tour will cover some 2.5 miles tracing through changing geography and history the route of Codornices Creek in north Berkeley and highlighting recent successful restoration efforts along the lower lengths.  

Drew Goetting of Restoration Design Group and Richard Register of Ecocity Builders, will join Schwartz to discuss their roles in Codornices projects. Portions of this walk are not wheelchair accessible. 

The last tour, on Nov. 17, led by the writer of this article and Linda Perry, is also part of the park centennial celebration. Downtown Berkeley is not usually thought of as an area of open space, but it has one of Berkeley’s most historic parks and a history of park plans, projects, and visions. 

The tour will visit the sites of a now-vanished park and civic fountains that once lay at the heart of downtown, a nearly forgotten war memorial grove, and a surviving park containing and surrounded by masterpieces of Art Deco and Moderne design.  

We’ll also learn about plans for downtown open space that never came about. Co-leader Linda Perry was a leader of the effort to restore the Marin Circle Fountain and both guides worked on preservation planning for Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park. 

After the regular schedule of tours there’s a Dec. 1 bonus tour for those who subscribe to at least three of the earlier tours. The bonus tour visits Hillside School, one of Berkeley’s oldest surviving and most picturesque public school buildings, designed in 1925 by Walter Ratcliff. Past teachers, students, and parents at Hillside will lead the tour. 



Photograph by Steven Finacom. 

The 1937 KRE Radio Station beyond the south end of Berkeley’s Aquatic Park is being transformed into a radio history museum, and will be visited on a Sept. 22 tour. 



All tours are on Saturdays, start at 10 a.m., end around noon. Reservations are required; space is limited. 

$10 per tour for the general public, $8 for BHS members. Members can buy a season ticket for $30. Join BHS when making tour reservations, for $20/individual, $25/family.  

Send a check payable to Berkeley Historical Society to P.O. Box 1190, Berkeley, CA 94701. Include phone and/or e-mail to receive instructions on where to gather for each tour. 

For last minute reservations, call 848-0181 between 1-4 p.m. on the Thursday or Friday before the tour, or visit the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center St., during the same hours. 

More detailed descriptions of the tours are on-line at http://berkeleyheritage.com/calendar.html.