The splendid and beloved bear cub fountain in the Circle on Berkeley’s Marin Avenue had a one-hundredth birthday celebration on Sunday, October 16, 2011.
More than 300 people crowded temporarily closed Mendocino Avenue and Los Angeles Avenue northwest of the busy traffic hub to congratulate volunteers, applaud the revived civic amenity, and raise funds for adjacent restoration.
The physical fountain itself is the second on the site, a replica installed with a huge community re-dedication in 1996 at which civic and community representatives ceremonially christened the new fountain with ewers of water from various local sources—the Bay, Strawberry Creek, Codornices Creek—along with champagne.
The Sunday event memorialized the one-hundredth anniversary of the original fountain installation and celebrated the community volunteers who keep the Circle clean and landscaped. It also featured an appeal for funds to help finish the restoration of the deteriorated balustrades that line Fountain Walk as it descends from the Circle to Henry Street at the mouth of the Solano Tunnel.
“There is a bit of a back story about this celebration”, chief volunteer Sara Holmes told the crowd. She said Scott Dunlap who offered to donate icicle lights to decorate the Circle for the holidays had approached her. When they talked, he asked her what was being done to celebrate the Fountain centennial this year, and thus the event was born.
Holmes said she had knocked on many neighborhood doors to publicize the Centennial and “I was really moved by how the community feels this fountain is theirs. I realize that you think it is your fountain, and I love that.”
“I just want everyone to know that when I’m feeling a little blue and need a little lift, I always drive out of my way and drive around the Fountain,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf. “It’s just the most amazing civic project.”
Wengraf read a City proclamation in honor of the Centennial, and various volunteers were acknowledged, as well as businesses that had donated refreshments.
“I’m the lucky guy who gets to represent this district” on the City Council, said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli. He rhapsodized about Northbrae, where he moved in 1972 (paying only $32,000 for his home, he confessed to the crowd). He listed the amenities of the neighborhood, including its library, public swimming pool, numerous parks and green spaces, specialty shopping districts, and “the wonderful architecture we get to look at”.
“I think all the neighborhoods of Berkeley have great character and really do great things”, he added.
Bill Anderson, representing the American Planning Association, spoke about how that organization had declared Northbrae one of the best neighborhoods in the country and said Berkeley was a leader in planning. “There are parts of the country right now where planning is being attacked”, he warned.
Volunteers from Friends of the Fountain and Walk, the official non-profit group that was originally created to rebuild the Fountain, did a brisk business along the sidelines of the crowd selling commemorative items including photographs and note cards. Several historic displays were set up.
The event speakers urged the crowd to donate to help support the balustrade restoration. Capitelli said that two individuals had pledged $500 gifts each, if the crowd would donate $1,000 that day.
The original fountain was destroyed in the 1950s by a runaway vehicle and, for four decades, the Circle was empty of anything except some low landscaping.
In the early 1990s, a major community effort initiated and led by neighbors (some of whose homes looked out on the Circle) including Linda Perry, Gail Keleman, Emmy Sorter, and Phil O’Hay, raised the funds to re-build the fountain. The three-year campaign collected over $100,000 for the project from more than 1,200 individuals.
Architect Robert Ludlow designed the replica fountain, using early photographs and drawings. Artist Sarita Camille Waite sculpted replicas of the original Arthur Putnam bear cubs that still give the fountain both a classical and humorous character.
For the Centennial, the cubs were bedecked with party hats and necklaces of gold stars.
Although the current bear cubs are only 15, at least one authentic century-old artifact was present at the Centennial celebration. Atop the head of former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean was a flower-bedecked hat that had belonged to the aunt of her husband, Dan Dean. The hat was worn by the aunt at the 1911 dedication of the original fountain, and by Mayor Dean at the 1996 re-dedication.
There were several other civic dignitaries at the occasion including Councilmember Linda Maio, former Councilmember Betty Olds, and city staff.
The sky still glowered with gray overcast when the festivities started (in 1996 it had rained on the re-dedication), but by the time the ceremonies ended the late afternoon sun was out and sparkling through the water of the fountain.
To celebrate the occasion, many of the event attendees braved traffic to cross to the lawn around the fountain and have their pictures taken there. Children splashed in the fountain water. Some locals observed that if you come back at night you might see dogs, raccoons, and the occasional skunk cavorting there as well.
If you are looking for more information, or how to donate, the Friends of the Fountain and Walk website is here:
It contains photographs, and descriptions of the 1996 dedication, as well as links to numerous articles about the Fountain and Circle.
(Steven Finacom is the President of the Berkeley Historical Society and a frequent contributor to the Planet. He wrote a poem for the Fountain restoration and read it at the 1996 re-dedication.)