Berkeley Historical Society Fall Walking Tours

By Steven Finacom Special to the Planet
Thursday September 10, 2009 - 12:06:00 PM

Explore President Franklin Roosevelt’s legacy in Berkeley. Take a look inside some of Berkeley’s boutique hostelries or West Berkeley artisan shops. Picnic in the idyllic north Berkeley hills. Learn the overlooked history of one major local street. Tour several newly constructed, and rehabilitated, housing developments along another major avenue. 

All those opportunities are yours in the fall series of Walking Tours sponsored by the Berkeley Historical Society.  

The tours take place six Saturdays from September 19 to December 12, typically from 10 a.m. to 12 noon (unless otherwise noted). You can attend single tours, or buy a discounted season ticket.  

BHS walking tours are informal and affordable. You get a volunteer guide who knows the neighborhood—typically they’re a resident of the area you’re touring and/or have been researching it for years. Oftentimes—although not always—there’s a handout with maps and a historical summary, as well as the opportunity to see inside places usually closed to the public. 

The tours kick off Saturday, September 19, with a stroll through the legacy of Berkeley’s Depression era past. Although Berkeley, like most American communities, faced prolonged economic hardship during the 1930s, it also benefitted from foresighted federal aid programs—Roosevelt’s famed New Deal—that brought both employment and public improvements to the local landscape. 

Harvey Smith, board president of the National New Deal Preservation Association, will lead the tour, visiting parks, public buildings, schools and art works that came from New Deal programs. And since we’re currently in another “Great” economic period in United States history—although a Recession, not a Depression—the tour will “explore the relevance of this work to today’s political and economic realities.” 

Historical Society stalwart Paul Grunland—known for his careful research and detailed tour write-ups—leads the second tour through what he calls “Marin Avenue North”—a neighborhood of “charming homes built by famed architects and builders, winding contoured streets, creeks, rock outcroppings, city parks and pathways.” 

North Berkeley walks are always filled with architectural and historical surprises and delights. Attendees at Grunland’s October 3 tour are also invited to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy after the tour. This tour is not wheelchair accessible because of the steep slopes involved. 

I’ll be leading the third tour of the season on October 17, along Telegraph Avenue—not the famed four blocks north of Dwight, but the wider, often overlooked, stretch south of Dwight towards the Oakland border.  

Many hurry along this four-lane street on their way to other destinations with a “there’s nothing there” attitude, but the street has a host of historic sites, buildings and a heritage dating back to the 19th century, when it was one of Berkeley’s earliest roadways.  

Back then portions of the avenue went by different names—the Telegraph Road, Humboldt, Choate Street. It developed, with some commercial interludes, into a residential boulevard lined with stately homes and street trees. 

Although considerably changed from that past, south Telegraph is still full of surprises, from a block where every building from a century ago is still standing, to the location of a famed 1960s folk music club. 

Saturday, October 31, Rick Auerbach of the West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies (WEBAIC) will be leading a “West Berkeley Works!” walk through some of the “hundreds of factories, shops and studios between San Pablo and the freeway.”  

This is a neighborhood where manufacturing and craftwork date back to Berkeley’s earliest days, and where thousands of artists, artisans, and industrial workers are currently employed. 

Rezoning in West Berkeley is on the policy agenda of the city; this walk will provide a timely look at the present day character of West Berkeley’s “industrial” district. 

Saturday, November 14, Dan Sawislak from Resources for Community Development will head a tour of “Affordable Housing in Berkeley,” featuring several infill housing developments along University Avenue. They range from the old Bel Air Motel—refurbished into the Erna P. Harris Court apartments—to Helios Corner, a large, new construction development at University and Sacramento avenues. 

The tour is co-sponsored by several local affordable housing organizations and lasts an extra half hour until 12:30. 

Saturday, December 12 is the final tour, traditionally a bonus tour for those who bought season tickets to the other walks. This fall the bonus tour will visit three Berkeley boutique hotels as they get ready for the holidays and will last three hours, until 1:00 p.m. 


Steven Finacom is a board member of the Berkeley Historical Society and will be leading one of the tours this season. 


Each tour costs $8 for a BHS member, $10 for general public. There’s a $30 “season pass” for all five tours for BHS members. You can join BHS and get the member discount for the tours at the same time.  

For reservations and tour starting points, call the Berkeley Historical Society at (510) 848-0181. Leave a message with your name, telephone number, tours you’d like to attend, and number of tickets you’d like to purchase for each. 

You can also drop by the Berkeley History Society in the Veterans Memorial Building, 1931 Center Street (west of Milvia) on Thursdays–Saturdays, 1–4 p.m., to add your name to the reservation list.