Archive for Neighborhoods: Elmwood & Claremont

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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Hidden Gems of Berkeley

Instead of walking every street Berkeley, I could have just as easily decided to cycle every street. Several factors make walking a better choice for this project in Berkeley: its small size, the steep streets of the Berkeley hills (fine if you are just riding, but stopping and starting several times on a hill is not much fun), the many paths and stairways that need to be navigated on foot, etc. In the flatlands of Berkeley, though, going by bicycle is a great way to see points of interest around town. This Sunday, May 20 (10 am to 2 pm) is a good chance to do just this. Environmental planner John Steere is leading the fifth Hidden Gems of Berkeley [note: PDF file] bike ride exploring “quirky architecture, lovely gardens, excellence in urban design, and an eclectic collection of historical, natural, and unusual features.”

Small section of the Hidden Gems map, designed by John Coveney

This year’s ride starts at Halcyon Commons, and explores “hidden gems” in South Berkeley and Elmwood. You’ll get to hear from guest guides/historians and see the fish house, the TV house, front yard sculptures, vegetable gardens, and many other interesting sights. The ride is free, and the lovely Hidden Gems map can be purchased for a small fee that day.

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