Home & Garden

East Bay Then and Now: When Berkeley’s Home Street Was a Street of Homes

By Daniella Thompson
Wednesday March 04, 2009 - 07:02:00 PM
1930 Walnut St. was built in 1905 as a two-family rental property.
Photos by Daniella Thompson
1930 Walnut St. was built in 1905 as a two-family rental property.
Though built in just two months, the building nevertheless has attractive details, such as the twin arched entrances and curved canopy. Brackets lend visual interest to the facade.
Though built in just two months, the building nevertheless has attractive details, such as the twin arched entrances and curved canopy. Brackets lend visual interest to the facade.

At the heart of Berkeley’s downtown, behind the commercial facades of University Avenue, stands a cluster of four century-old residential buildings. Shoppers at Berkeley Hardware who park next to these relics may pause and wonder about them occasionally. 

The short block on which these structures stand runs between University Avenue and Berkeley Way. It is now an isolated southern extension of Walnut Street, but a hundred years ago it was called Home Street. In 1903, Home Street was a block of five homes and four empty lots. Eight years later, the block had filled up; now there were five buildings on the west side and four on the east, including the four-story Home Street Apartments on the northeast corner, constructed in 1909 by George L. Mohr for William B. Heywood. Only the southeastern corner on University Avenue was vacant (it remained so and is now a parking lot). 

To the north of Home Street, the block between Berkeley Way and Hearst Avenue, currently the site of a California Department of Health Services building, was entirely residential, although not entirely built. So were the southern two-thirds of the Whitton Tract, a block bounded by Walnut, Hearst, Oxford and Virginia. 

Much of this area burned down in the 1923 Berkeley Fire, clearing the way for new uses and buildings. The university was quick to acquire the Whitton Tract for its off-campus expansion. On March 6, 1924, the Oakland Tribune reported, “That the block bounded by Walnut, Virginia and Oxford streets and Hearst avenue will take at least $300,000 from the assessment roll when it is fully acquired by the University is the statement of Assessor Harry J. Squires. Only a dozen or more parcels of land in this block have passed so far into University hands and will affect this year’s assessment.” 

UC did not wait patiently until all the owners of Whitton Tract lots agreed to sell. On Aug. 30, 1924, the Regents filed suit in superior court to condemn several properties located on this block. “The university is seeking to further extend the limits of the Berkeley campus, in order that the agricultural experimentation field can be enlarged,” announced the Oakland Tribune the following day. UC evidently got its wish, for by 1929, the entire block was marked “University of California Experimental Garden” in the Sanborn fire insurance map. 

The 1923 fire stopped just short of Home Street. In the aftermath, the block directly to the north was divided to allow the passage of Walnut Street. through its center. The new buildings erected on the divided block in the 1920s were apartments and automobile-related service structures. 

Since there was now direct access from Walnut Street to Home Street, the latter was renamed Walnut. The block was still largely residential, but only two single-family homes remained on it. Three dwellings had been converted into rooming houses, while the southwest corner had been occupied since 1915 by the S.J. Sill grocery and hardware store (now Berkeley Hardware). The duplex at 1930 Walnut St. was turned into eight apartments. 

This brown-shingled duplex was built in 1905 for Eliza Moore, then living in San Francisco. Widow of the Sutter farmer Sanford H. Moore, Eliza brought up two daughters in Marysville. When the Berkeley duplex was built, both daughters, middle-aged and unmarried, were school teachers and lived with their mother. 

In those days, only a few months transpired between land acquisition and building completion. Eliza bought her two Home Street lots in early February 1905. By March 24, she had applied for a building permit, and the dwelling was completed two months later. In early July, half of the duplex was rented to the Jordan family, who arrived from Pasadena for the purpose of educating its three children. Harold S. Jordan, who entered UC that year, wrote in his memoir, “Our folks located 1930 Home St. as our new home. It was the south half of a three-story, two-family building. The basement was on the street level; parlor, dining room, kitchen and pantry were on the second floor; and bedrooms on the third floor.” 

The Moores did not live on Home Street. In October 1904, Eliza purchased two lots in the Whitton Tract and built her residence at 1748 Oxford St. Twenty years later, her daughter Mary would be named as one of the defendants in the UC Regents’ lawsuit to condemn properties on that block. 

The Jordans, meanwhile, quickly integrated themselves into the life of the town. The father, Frank E. Jordan, got a desk at a downtown real estate office, where he sold insurance and goldmine stocks. The daughters, Ethel and Mildred (the latter my partner’s grandmother), enrolled at Berkeley High School. Their elder brother Harold wrote, “We soon began to realize the advantages of living in a college town. In early July, at the Greek Theatre on the University campus, there was an address by William Howard Taft, then the Secretary of War under President Theodore Roosevelt. Also present were Congressman Grosvenor of Ohio and Congressman Payne of New York, who was Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. I don’t know why they were there, but I was impressed.” 

In August 1905, Harold enrolled in the UC College of Mining. “President Benjamin Ide Wheeler held a big reception for the Class of 1909 at Hearst Hall, with dancing and refreshments. This made us Frosh feel very important,” wrote Harold, adding, “Toward the end of September, William Jennings Bryan spoke at the Berkeley Theatre. We were all given the opportunity to go up and shake his hand. Then the next day, he spoke at the University. He had the well-earned reputation of being the best public speaker in the country.” The San Francisco Call also covered the Berkeley Theatre speech: “With oratory, the magic of which was potent enough to help a thousand people of Berkeley forget the discomforts of a warm, stuffy auditorium, William Jennings Bryan spoke tonight […] under YMCA auspices, his subject being ‘The Value of an Ideal.’” 

On Oct. 12, Harold would experience his first big football rally: “It ended with a monstrous snake dance that wound out of the Greek Theatre down through the campus and into the streets of town, and into the Berkeley Theatre, where a show was in progress. The snake dance participants moved in and filled up all the vacant seats and much of the standing room.” 

The show, Under Two Flags, had to be stopped several times and the curtain lowered owing to the gate-crashers’ rowdiness. According to the Oakland Tribune’s report the following day, “A pandemonium reigned while the students, it is said, broke up chairs, tore up carpets, pulled down curtains, and howled like a band of Indians. Scores left the theater, and a hurry-up call was sent to Marshal Vollmer for assistance in suppressing the students.” Vollmer stationed men at all exits and informed the crowd that no one would be allowed to leave until they paid the regular admission price and arranged to cover the costs of damage to the theatre. 

“Some had money with them,” wrote Harold, “others were busy borrowing money from each other. Still others left watches, items of apparel, fountain pens, eyeglasses, etc. I, fortunately, had money with me, so got out early and didn’t stick around to see the finish.” The newspapers gave full play to the episode, and John Boyd, president of the local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic, urged Benjamin Ide Wheeler to restrain the students from interfering with the GAR’s upcoming production at the same venue. 

Among Harold’s most amusing observations were his descriptions of student apparel of the era: “Freshmen were supposed to wear a blue cap with a little yellow button on top. There were other little apparel details which […] I don’t recall. Any infringement meant a dousing in the pond in front of the Chemistry Building—the Chem Pond. The Juniors wore soiled corduroy trousers and a battered gray plug hat that had been decorated with painted pictures or words. The Seniors wore battered black plug hats. The Sophomores wore anything not defined as proper for the other three classes. I don’t remember whether girls were affected by all these restrictions.” 

The Jordans experienced the 1906 earthquake at 1930 Home St. “The terrifying sounds that I heard were made by, first our brick chimney, then the brick chimney of the house next door being shaken down. […] The sound of the earthquake was a loud rumble, like a sudden, very heavy hailstorm falling on the roofs, punctuated with collapse of roofs, caving brick walls, and also some human screams.” 

As a UC cadet, Harold was assigned to guard duty around the campus, where refugee tent camps had been set up. “One effect of the earthquake was very embarrassing to our family,” he wrote. The family had no charge accounts, being proud to be able to pay in cash for all their purchases. Now the banks were closed indefinitely, and the grocer refused to extend credit to anyone who had not established a charge account earlier. 

By May 1906, life had returned to normal, although aftershocks continued to rattle the town for some time. On May 11, Harold counted the 60th aftershock since April 18. That summer, Ethel Jordan entered the freshman class at UC, and Mildred followed her two years later. Harold concluded his memoir in 1907, but his sisters continued making regular appearances in the local newspapers owing to their campus activities. 

In 1909, her junior year, Ethel headed the finance committee for the co-eds’ annual Jinks celebration. The following year she was president of the UC suffrage club. In her turn, Mildred was involved in the formation of the women students’ affairs committee in her junior year, acted as photograph editor of the Blue and Gold yearbook, and was elected to the Prytanean Women’s Honor Society. She was first vice president of the senior class, served twice as Chair of the Dormitory Committee, was a member of the Senior Advisory Committee and of the Woman’s Day Pelican staff. 

Mildred graduated in Natural Sciences in 1912, the year her father died. On Sept. 20 of that year, the Oakland Tribune published the notice of her license to marry Leslie Theodore Sharp, a young soil chemist, assistant professor at UC, and a member of the Abracadabra Club. Their two eldest children were born in Berkeley. 

Eliza Moore died in 1910, her daughters following her in the 1930s. The building at 1930 Walnut St. then passed into the hands of the three Acheson brothers, scions of a pioneer Berkeley family and owners of the Acheson Physicians’ Building at 2131 University Ave. 


Daniella Thompson publishes berkeleyheritage.com for the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA).