Berkeley Architectural Walking Tours Shed Light on City’s History

By Steven Finacom Special to the Planet
Thursday September 10, 2009 - 12:09:00 PM

Although best known for its spring historic House Tour, this fall the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) is offering up a varied bouquet of events; no less than 10 separate activities plus a book release. 

Here’s a brief summary of what’s in store, from talks to walks in little-explored Berkeley neighborhoods to an event at Berkeley’s famed National Landmark First Church of Christ, Scientist. 

Worried about your aged wooden windows? Seduced by the siren song of the vinyl window salesperson? Repair, don’t replace. Saturday, Sept. 12, local architect and BAHA Board member Shawn Smith will lead a practical how-to workshop on repairing the wooden windows that give local homes so much of their architectural character. $15, 2 p.m. at the BAHA offices. 

Sunday, Sept. 13, BAHA will have a booth between Modoc and Ensenada at the Solano Stroll. This is always a good opportunity to buy BAHA publications. 

BAHA is on the verge of completing a top-to-bottom reworking and updating of its popular handbook, 41 Berkeley Walking Tours. Many entries—and several entirely new self-guided tours—have been added. Planned for release this fall, the book will be a renewed, accessible gateway to the history of Berkeley as expressed through its buildings and neighborhoods. 

To mark the publication, a series of five walking tours of neighborhoods included in the book will be given. The tours can be attended individually, or a discounted season ticket is available. Tour costs for BAHA members are $10 per tour, $40 per season; the general public rates are $15 per tour, $50 per series. 

All the tours run from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. They include: 

“Dwight Way Station,” led by this article’s author, on Saturday, Sept. 19, featuring the area around Dwight and Shattuck that 19th-century promoters unsuccessfully tried to make the center of Berkeley’s embryonic downtown. Victorian houses, early commercial buildings, and a wide variety of historic sites survive in this often-overlooked district. 

“West Berkeley,” led by Stephanie Manning on Saturday, Sept. 26. Manning, who started researching the history of Berkeley’s oldest—and her home—neighborhood in the 1970s will lead this visit to the many surviving structures and sites from when the neighborhood was the Bayside manufacturing village of Oceanview. 

“North-Central Berkeley” will be led by BAHA President Daniella Thompson on Saturday, Oct. 3. This neighborhood, northwest of downtown and north of University Avenue, was home to both businessmen and Beats, including for a time both Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Although BART construction cut through the neighborhood, many of its characteristic Classic Box and Colonial Revival houses survive along with Victorians and Arts and Crafts homes. 

Berkeley native and BAHA Executive Director Anthony Bruce leads “Claremont Creekside” on Oct. 10. This idyllic and exclusive planned residential district, now more than a century old, features stately homes, winding streets, and meandering Harwood Creek in southeast Berkeley. 

“Berkeley Villa Tract,” led by author Susan Cerny on Saturday, Oct. 17. The Villa Tract in north central Berkeley, beside today’s gourmet ghetto, was originally part of the 800-acre farmstead of Napoleon Bonaparte Byrne. Railroad and streetcar lines opened it up as a convenient district, and residential subdivisions burgeoned, making this a distinctive early East Berkeley neighborhood. 

Overlapping with the walking tours is a series of evening lectures at the Hillside Club on Cedar Street. Inaugurating a new, periodic BAHA series entitled “Preservation at Work”—the lectures feature local speakers who make their living studying, writing, and teaching about history or historic preservation. 

First up on Wednesday, Oct. 21, is author and scholar Gray Brechin speaking about “A New Deal for the East Bay: Excavating the Buried Civilization of the Great Depression.” Brechin is engaged in a massive project to document the physical and cultural remains of the New Deal in California. He has a barn-burning documentary address on the considerable legacy—from sewer systems to public parks—built by a federal government that was accused of socialism and unwisely going into debt to stimulate the economy during an economic crisis.  

Next, on Nov. 4, author and historic home renovator Jane Powell will speak on the subject of “Smart Growth, Green Buildings and Other Oxymorons,” taking a critical look at some of the trends changing urban landscapes today, including those in the East Bay. Oakland resident Powell is a wry and provocative speaker and an expert in renovating and reusing, rather than removing, historic resources. 

University of California Professor Paul Groth, an expert in American vernacular architecture and cultural, social, and economic trends, will give the third lecture on Wednesday, Nov. 18, as these subjects are expressed through buildings. 

Groth’s topic is “Ordinary Storefronts of the 20th Century: Clues to the Local Histories of Shopping and Retailing.” He has studied, both around the country and in the East Bay, the evolution of the commercial landscape and will trace and illustrate the history of business building from 18th-century shops, when people went to businesses to buy but not to be seen, to 21st century malls where the customer has become part of the display. 

The lectures cost $15 per talk, or $40 for a series ticket. Proceeds benefit the renovation of the historic Elizabeth Kenney Cottage. 

BAHA is also co-sponsoring a lecture by Robert Judson Clark at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 8. Clark, a noted architectural historian, speaks on “Inventing a Masterwork: Bernard Maybeck and the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Berkeley, 1909–1911.”  

His talk comes almost exactly a century after Maybeck was hired to design what is now Berkeley’s most architecturally renowned building, and kicks off a two-year observance of the building’s centennial. The event is co-sponsored by the Friends of First Church. Tickets are $15. 

To buy tickets on line for events or find out further details, visit the calendar section of the BAHA website at http://berkeleyheritage.com/calendar.html, or call the BAHA office at 841-2242. E-mail inquiries can be sent to baha@berkeleyheritage.com. 


Steven Finacom is on the BAHA Board and will be leading one of the walks this season.