Archive for July, 2007

Front Doors & Entries

In terms of architectural elements of houses in Berkeley, I’ve talked a little about front porches, windows and what can be see through them, and fences and gates. Lately, for some reason, I have been noticing interesting and creative doors and entrances. Some have artistic touches, like this one:

and this one (note the eyes staring out from the porch steps):

Security gates that cover the front porch or door almost always look bad despite their utility. This one just made me smile, though. Despite the big iron gate, the “guard cat” adds a light touch to the entrance:

I’m always looking to see how people handle “no soliciting” signs. Below is a typical example, and in this case I think the combination of the sign and the modern door and entry elements make it look like an entrance to a medical office rather than a home. The funniest sign I’ve seen is “If you don’t know me, don’t knock” (hand-painted on a piece of wood, sort of like those painted and carved signs that are common in some suburban areas that proclaim the home’s owners, e.g., “John & Jane Jones”). The best sign wording that I think fits with many of the older architectural styles in Berkeley is “No Peddlers or Agents.” Still to come… garage doors!

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Odds & Ends

One artist that I didn’t point out in Why People Walk: Art is Simon Pope. A friend recently gave me a copy of his book London Walking: A Handbook for Survival, which is far from a typical guidebook to sightseeing in London. While there are details specific to the city, the book contains all sorts of thoughts and ideas about walking in general. Here are just a few of the section titles: improvised navigation, lichen and fungi, roadside barriers and fencing, consumer geomancy, fractal lawns, street games, walking the underpasses, calorific values of specific cakes and pastries, warning to hat wearers, and spiral stair techniques. The book is UK-published, but available in the U.S. Highly recommended!

Speaking of books, I’ve mentioned Berkeley Rocks a couple of times here, and it got a mention in the Chronicle this week. This quote, of course, drew me in:

Suddenly, you get it. This is how that North Berkeley neighborhood was meant to be explored — not in a car, but slowly, with awareness, on foot.

Recently I’ve seen a couple of mentions of the website Walk Score, a Google Maps mashup that allows you to enter an address find out how “walkable” a neighborhood is. This application specifically focuses on proximity to stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc. My address got a score of 75 out of 100, which surprised me because I can easily walk to everything I need within a mile. I tried some other addresses, and the highest score I got for Berkeley was the Elmwood neighborhood, at 95. An address in the area discussed in the Chronicle article above received a 40. As the website mentions, there are a number of factors that cannot be taken into account (such as transit, safety, and street trees), but this is still a fun application to play around with and as a reminder of what’s in your neighborhood that is walking distance.

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A Tour of Claremont

At this point in my walk I am mostly working on completing small pieces of larger neighborhoods in Berkeley, but one I had barely walked until last week was the southeast corner of Berkeley to the east of Claremont Avenue. This area near the Claremont Hotel is primarily residential, with a few small but popular restaurants and shops on Claremont Avenue and on Domingo near Ashby. I was lucky to get a grand tour of the neighborhood by Berkeley Path Wanderers President Sandy Friedland. Let me start my discussion of this walk by saying that I thought I was the most enthusiastic walker of Berkeley until this walk with Sandy. There is good reason why Sandy is president of the Path Wanderers: she is incredibly knowledgeable about paths, architecture, neighborhoods, and the people who live in them. And she has obviously spend many hours walking and observing everything around her.

There is much to say about this small neighborhood, so expect a couple of more posts about Claremont in the future. One of my impressions of this area from previous glimpses was that it was somewhat different architecturally than the rest of Berkeley. Many of the houses are larger, and the architectural styles vary greatly from house to house. Some areas had a feel of some of the grander San Francisco neighborhoods. As it turns out, this area was built up after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire to draw in businessmen and other well-to-do San Francisco residents who wanted something different than bungalows found elsewhere in Berkeley. While most of the homes are large, there are some smaller and more modest homes tucked in between them. Despite the presence of multi-million dollar homes, the residents of the neighborhood who were out and about were very friendly and seemed down-to-earth. This area has a high concentration of stairways and pathways leading through and alongside homes, and the homeowners have made the paths welcoming to walkers.

It is difficult to take in everything in this neighborhood at once, particularly because of all of the interesting architectural details and the elaborate gardens. Many of the gardens here look to be straight out of a landscape design book or garden magazine, but many also have whimsical touches. I think my favorite part of walking this area, though, is the ability to follow parts of the Claremont/Harwood Creek, which runs above ground in many places here. Where the creek runs through properties, one can see bridges and other crossings, garages built over the creek and many other interesting methods of incorporating running water with architecture. John Muir School is next to the creekbed where it crosses the Oakridge Path and Tunnel Road, and a student restoration project can be viewed in this area.

Next up to read on my pile of books to read is Michael Chabon’s latest novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Chabon is one of several famous residents in the Claremont/Elmwood area, and you can get a small glimpse of some of his family’s local spots in this 2003 article. Of particular note is the Star Grocery, where you can still buy groceries on account, and which Chabon also refers to in his 2004 Ode to Berkeley.

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Neighborhood Bulletin Boards and Other Political Expression

Last fall, during the election season, I talked a bit about political signs. In some areas, the time leading up to an election may be the only time to see personal expressions of political views on private property. Not so in Berkeley. I have seen bulletin boards in several neighborhoods for residents of the area to post notices. I am not sure who puts up these boards; my guess is that some are the work of neighborhood associations and others of property owners. While the boards occasionally contain lighter fare such as yard sale notices, the majority of the postings concern local activity that could possibly affect those neighborhoods, particularly building and development projects.

Additionally, opinion regarding political issues beyond the borders of Berkeley can be found posted on bulletin boards, particularly views about the current White House administration. While I have seen neighborhood bulletin boards in other cities, one unique trend I have noticed in Berkeley is the posting of news articles, personal views, political cartoons, and related matter. on the fences and gates of homes. You may remember that I had mentioned seeing handwritten and typed poems posted on fences and walls. With poetry I can see people stopping to read the posted material, but I wonder how many people stop to read these political articles. I have a few times, and half-wondered if someone would emerge to ask me what I thought or engage in a political discussion, but this has not happened yet!

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