The recent closing of Cody’s Books on Telegraph Ave. sparked a flurry of responses about the commercial strip going downhill and opinons about what should be done to improve the area. One of the topics of discussion has been what to do about the numerous homeless youth who hang out on the street. Right after Cody’s closed, I went for a walk down Telegraph with a woman (I refer to her as J. througout this post in the interest of her privacy) who had come to Telegraph Ave. in 1970, as a runaway teenager. She gave me some newspaper clippings from the time, one of which (Berkeley Daily Gazette, July 17, 1970) carried the headline “Police Begin Crackdown on City’s Summer Runaways.” Much as today’s articles have stated, this article mentions the city’s desire to get a handle on “transient-caused problems.”
Our walk started at the student union building at Sproul Plaza at the edge of the U.C. Berkeley campus, which is where J. first met up with a young man who helped her and some of the many other young people who came to Berkeley during this time period. As we walked south on Telegraph from the campus, J. pointed out where the many craft-oriented businesses existed on Telegraph at the time, many more than the few tables along the sidewalks now (some of which sell bumper stickers and other non-handmade items).
We stopped around the corner from this photo supply store on Telegraph, where a door to what was once a separate part of this building has now been closed off. At the time that J. arrived on Telegraph, this door was the entrance to the Berkeley Free Church, which got involved in the political issues of the time and helped people living on the streets. She still had a copy of one of the group’s newsletters from the time, which I looked through. The Graduate Theological Union at U.C. Berkeley holds a substantial collection of materials from the Berkeley Free Church, which I hope to get over to see one of these days.
When J. arrived on Telegraph, her new friend took her down Telegraph to a house that, at the the time, was abandoned. She and a number of other youth lived there for a time, until the police eventually raided the house. J. was not at the house at the time, but some of her belongings were there. A letter she had written to her parents and not yet mailed was taken by the police and released to the newspaper. Her letter, which tells her parents that she made it safely to Berkeley and describes her new puppy and her friends, was printed in the Gazette. Eventually, J. was persuaded to leave Berkeley and head up to one of the communities in Occidental, in Sonoma County. She has since lived in Berkeley at other times (a story related to another of her residences will appear in a future post), and was packing up to leave town at the time of our walk. The house still stands in the same location today, but is neat and painted and appears to have been split into a couple of residences sometime since then time that J. lived there. J. left some flowers at the house, as she had done several times in the past, and we made our way back on Telegraph.