Election Section

Berkeley Historical Society Spring Walking Tours

By Steven Finacom Special to the Planet
Wednesday March 25, 2009 - 06:27:00 PM

Eras nearly forgotten, episodes well remembered, the highlights of neighborhoods throughout town, and the coming “green” future are all part of the panoply of history presented by the spring 2009 Berkeley Historical Society walking tour series. 

The tours begin this Saturday, March 28, with a walk led by Burl Willes, expert and author on the Elmwood neighborhood and other aspects of local history. This has one of the most intriguing titles ever for a Berkeley Historical Society tour, “Mme. Chiang Kai-Shek and her Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood.”  

On the walk Willis will explain how banker and Elmwood resident Frederick L. Lipman arranged for the wife of the Chinese Generalissimo to rent, then buy, a house in the neighborhood, breaking the restrictive covenants which had limited home ownership to whites only. 

Willis, who seems to knows everyone in the Elmwood after his many years of residence there, has even enlisted Lipman’s daughter to help with the tour, which will also visit with notable Elmwood resident, Seymour Fromer, who helped found both the Oakland Museum and the Magnes Museum, the latter an Elmwood landmark.  

Willes will also talk about “Big Alma,” Mrs. Alma de Brettville Spreckels, and why she was in the Claremont every day. The walk will head down the Palm Court Steps to visit a craftsman house by Leola Hall, before ending in the garden of what Willes calls the Elmwood’s “newest old house.” 

Saturday April 11, long-time Berkeley Historical Society volunteer John Underhill leads a tour of “ Rose Walk and Tamalpais Road” touching on history, architecture, and geology. 

The walk will stop in at Codornices Park, pass Berryman Reservoir, and Rose Walk, as well as other features of Mason-McDuffie’s “Must Beautiful Upland Residence Park.” This is one of Berkeley’s most interesting and pleasant walking districts, and the walk should be fine physical and historical exercise, with a knowledgeable guide. 

“The Radical Sixties and People’s Park” is the theme of the next tour on Saturday, April 18, led by historical society boardmember Dale Smith through the South Campus district. 

The tour falls one day before the 40th anniversary of the “Bloody Thursday” People’s Park riot in 1969, one of the events of that tumultuous era that had a national impact.  

Many physical reminders of the 1960s and 70s in Berkeley remain in that neighborhood, including People’s Park itself. 

Saturday, May 2, the tour schedule heads north to “The Northern End of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way” led by local community gardening expert and activist Bebo Turman. 

The Right-of-Way is the old route of the railroad through north and central Berkeley, now converted in places to linear parks, and in other spots still awaiting civic development. Parks, community gardens, and schools will be visited along the walk, and refreshments will be served at the conclusion of the tour. 

The final regular tour in the spring series, “Berkeley Woods,” is a reprise of Paul Grunland’s excursion through one of Berkeley’s new neighborhoods, the Berkeley Woods subdivision annexed to the city from Contra Costa County in 1958. Grunland, a Berkeley resident since the 1930s, knows the hills subdivisions and their history backwards and forwards. 

Ridgeline residences of “Berkeley Woods” lie between Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Tilden Park, and cover the former sites of several important plant nurseries. The tour will also stop at the grounds of the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, one of the few religious schools in Berkeley that is not part of the cluster on “Holy Hill.” 

Because of the hilly walking routes and/or steep staircases along the routes, the Berkeley Woods and Rose Walk tours are not wheelchair accessible.  

Those who purchase tickets for at least three of the four regular tours can go for free on a bonus tour, Saturday June 13. 

“How Green Is My Downtown” is the theme, taking in the new David Brower Center, the adjacent Oxford Plaza affordable housing complex, and including a visit with landscape architect Walter Hood who has been hired by a community group to design a plan for a green concourse along Center Street between Shattuck and Oxford. 

All tours begin at 10 a.m. and last until noon. Tickets are $8 for Berkeley Historical Society members, $10 general. A “season pass” for members is $30.  

Reservations are required; those with reservations will be notified by the tour organizers where to gather to start the tour. 

For reservations, call the Berkeley History Center at 848-0181.  

You can mail checks for reservations, payable to the Berkeley Historical Society at P.O. Box 1190, Berkeley, CA 94701. 

For this Saturday’s tour, call to ask if space is still available and to add your name to the list. The History Center, at 1931 Center St., is generally open and staffed Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays 1-4 p.m.