New: Berkeley Historical Society Fall Events Start This Weekend

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday September 14, 2010 - 08:59:00 PM

The Berkeley Historical Society greets the fall with a flourish this coming weekend with back-to-back town / gown events.  

On Saturday, a walking tour of the edge of the 1923 Berkeley Fire.  

On Sunday, an opening for a new exhibit of athletic and spirit memorabilia associated with the University of California. 

Let’s start with the walking tour. 

The 1923 Fire was Berkeley’s greatest—and most devastating—natural disaster to date. Several times in the history of the town wildfire has swept down from the hills, propelled by dry, blustering, winds from the interior of California.  

In 1923 on September 17—87 years ago, this week—fire burst out of Wildcat Canyon and came over the ridge into the eucalyptus groves and brown shingle houses of the Northside neighborhood.  

By the time the winds died down hours later some 600 buildings had been destroyed, including many of Berkeley’s most picturesque homes, and flames had licked at the edges of the UC campus and Downtown Berkeley. 

While Berkeley quickly rebuilt, the character of the new buildings was different than before the Fire. Berkeley Historical Society stalwart Phil Gale, whose family goes back generations on the local scene, will lead his Saturday walk along the northern edges of the Fire zone showing surviving structural relics and pointing out the differences between pre and post-Fire development. 

Information on how to sign up for the walk this Saturday, and the remainder of the fall Walks, can be found at the end of this article. 

You can read more about the fire and its impact on the UC campus in this 1998 article: 

On Sunday, September 18, the Historical Society turns its attention to a lighter, longer, topic. Local collectors Bart White and Keith Tower have put together an outstanding new exhibit showcasing decades of Cal spirit and sports memorabilia.  

Both the curators are Cal alumni and both have been collecting for decades. Their finds range from material connected to the first Big Game (in 1892) to the birth of Oski, the loveable mascot. 

“Golden Bear Pioneers: UC Sports & Athletic Traditions from Their Beginnings to 1945” opens with a free reception on Sunday at the Berkeley History Center in the Veterans Memorial Building, 1931 Center Street. The opening runs from 3 to 5 pm. There will be a brief introductory program, refreshments, and plenty of opportunity to look at the exhibit. 

Read the take of local columnist Martin Snapp on the exhibit in his article, “Bullish on the Bears” at 

The remainder of the Fall Walking Tour program of BHS is listed below. Some of these tours reprise walks from past years, with guides who are familiar favorites for local historical audiences. 

Saturday, October 9: “The Ghost Campus: UC Berkeley That Once Was” led by Bruce Goodell. Vanished buildings of the old campus, from old wooden Harmon Gymnasium to Cowell Hospital, still have a presence that will be articulated through the walk. 

Saturday, October 23, “The Rise, Fall and Rise of West Berkeley”, led by Stephanie Manning. Oceanview is Berkeley’s oldest neighborhood, going back some 5,700 years to the coming of native peoples. The guide, who was both observer and participant in the resurgence of the neighborhood in more recent decades, will explain both ancient and more recent history. 

Saturday, November 6, “West Berkeley Artisans” will feature a walk through the artist and artisan district of flatlands Berkeley, focusing on ceramicists, potters and glassblowers. 

Saturday, November 20, “The Ed Roberts Campus”, led by Dmitri Belser. The Roberts Campus is the new center for independent living / disabled organizations nearly completed on the east parking lot of the Ashby BART station. It combines state-of-the-art design approaches to universal accessibility—including a dramatic ramp that serves as both a functional and sculptural element—and will be the consolidated headquarters of numerous local groups. 

The “Bonus Tour” offered for those who purchase tickets for at least three other tours, is on Saturday, December 4. It’s entitled “Where Nostalgia Meets Innovation”, and is led by Deborah Badhia of the Downtown Berkeley Association. She’ll guide the group through Downtown, old and new, including visits to several current businesses. 

Attending Walking Tours 

All the walks start at 10 am and end around noon. They are generally limited to 30 participants, so sign up soon; they often sell out.  

Tours cost $8 for Historical Society members and $10 for non-members. Members only have an opportunity to buy a season ticket for all six tours for $30. If you’d like to join BHS to get the season ticket, the basic membership cost is $20 for an individual, $25 for a family. 

If you would like to sign up—particularly for this Saturday’s 1923 Fire Tour—the best way is to call the Historical Society at 848-0181. Leave a message giving your name, the number of tickets you are interested in, and your phone number and e-mail address if you have one.  

If possible, call on Thursday or Friday between 1 and 4 pm when the History Center should be open and there will be volunteers on hand to take your reservation. 

You can also pick up a tour flyer at the Center (1931 Center Street) and leave a reservation in person. 

The History Center and its exhibits can be visited for free on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 1-4 PM. 

(The Berkeley History Society does not currently have an updated website. Please visit the Center or call for further information.) 

Steven Finacom is the First Vice President of the Historical Society. He has previously written for the Planet about its events and activities.