Berkeley’s Thousand Oaks neighborhood is about to get a bit more magical—or, rather, recover some missing magic from early days.
The urns are returning. Their revival will be celebrated this coming Saturday, at 3:00 pm, at Great Stone Face Park in a re-dedication ceremony open to the public.
The north Berkeley subdivision, which turned one hundred years old in 2010, was developed by real estate entrepreneur John Spring and laid out by landscape designer Mark Daniels to conform to the topography of the land, preserve a number of notable rock features and trees, and generally provide idyllic home settings for the well-to-do, suburban style housing just a short streetcar ride away from the rest of Berkeley or a streetcar-ferry commute to San Francisco.
Important elements in the designed landscape were large, ovoid, concrete urns that looked like something out of a Maxfield Parrish painting. The urns were positioned artistically near intersections, gnarled oaks, along staircases, and in parks, making it clear to visitors and residents alike that one had arrived in a neighborhood of picturesque enchantment.
“Come out on the Arlington avenue car line along ‘the street of a million flowers’ and see the grandest panorama of the bay ever placed before the eyes of mankind,” one real estate advertisement trumpeted. “500 Choice Home Sites in a natural park of lawns and oaks, rock-set slopes and sparkling rivulets, overlooking the gleaming waters of the Bay”, another promised.
The homes rose, and to this day Thousand Oaks remains one of Berkeley’s most picturesque neighborhoods. But over the years the urns—initially numbering at least twenty—dwindled. Damaged by human pranks, accidental mishaps, or nature, they were gradually removed until only one remained, at the base of Indian Trail on The Alameda.
Nearly a decade ago Thousand Oaks resident Trish Hawthorne, also the unofficial historian of the neighborhood, and other residents including Elizabeth Shlut, past president of the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association, began a campaign to raise money to re-create the urns.
With the help of a grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund in 2009, a number of new urns have been cast, replicas of the old ones.
The first two installations have gone in—at Great Stone Face Park, and nearby at Yosemite and The Alameda.
Those first installations and the ongoing urn project will be celebrated on Saturday, September 10, from 3-5 PM. There will be a ceremonial dedication at Great Stone Face Park (Yosemite Road and San Fernando Avenue) at 3:00, followed by a social gathering in the stone lined and oak shaded garden of the nearby Mark Daniels House, built by the man who designed the neighborhood.
If you want to learn more about the neighborhood and the urns before the dedication event, the Berkeley Path Wanderers will have a free walk, led by Keith Skinner, at 1:00 pm the same day, starting at Great Stone Face Park.