Archive for Neighborhoods: West Berkeley

Hidden Gems of Berkeley Walk and Bike Ride This Sat., May 10!

The Hidden Gems of Berkeley Walk and Bike ride is this Saturday, May 10. Click on the image above for details. If you cannot view the image for some reason, following is a description of the event. Hope to see you there!

Hidden Gems of Berkeley. Two Interpretive Tours – by Bike and by foot – of West Berkeley’s Vernacular Treasures and Grassroots Greening Efforts

Saturday May 10, 2008 – 10 am to 2:00 pm (bike); 10 am to 12:30 (walk)

Join us for the 6th annual tour of Berkeley’s eclectic fabric of gardens, paths, strange and familiar cultural and natural features…This year we’ll explore the many eclectic hidden gems of West Berkeley and the Westbrae. Join John Steere, Georgia Silvera, Susan Schwartz, John Coveney and guest historians/guides in this 4 mile ride through curiously historic and creative features of the flatlands. Bring a lunch, water, and your curiosity!

The bike tour begins at a hidden gem – San Pablo Park at its southwest corner (by Russell and Mabel) and will end at Codornices Creek’s restoration (day-lighting) at 9th Street. The walk tour begins at the Ohlone Greenway’s bridge over Codornices Creek just north of Gilman and opposite 1200 Masonic. Both events will meet for lunch in Strawberry Creek Park.

For more information, see attached; or call 510 848 9358 (walk), or 849-1969 (ride). Enroute you can purchase the Hidden Gems Map ($5) which depicts scores of these “gems,” along with bike routes, community gardens, creeks, parks and the historic transit system.

This tour is sponsored by Berkeley Partners for Parks (

And is co-sponsored by the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition (,

as a part of Berkeley Bike Month, by Livable Berkeley: (,

and by Whole Foods Market


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Quonsets and Berkeley’s Role in Wars

I’ve always been fascinated by Quonset huts, but hadn’t known much about their history until finding a book about them a couple of years ago, Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age. These prefab structures were used as temporary shelters during World War II, and then were used for other industrial, commercial, and residential purposes after the war. They can still be found here and there, and I was pleased to run across one in West Berkeley, at the end of Folger street. I looked up the building in Discovering West Berkeley, which noted that it was built in 1946, U.S. Navy. It looks like other nearby buildings were the site of manufacturing that supported the Richmond shipyards during WW II. There’s quite a bit of history to be found about Richmond and the war, including exhibits at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II National Historical Park (an easy car-free outing from Berkeley — take a bike over the Berkeley I-80 bicycle bridge and ride north on the Bay Trail path to the park, which just one small hill at the racetrack). But what about Berkeley? Because of Berkeley’s association with the peace movement, the city’s role in wars isn’t something everyone thinks about. However, there is plenty of military history here. Berkeley, A City in History includes a good summary of World War II and beyond, and the December 2006 issue of the Berkeley Historical Society newsletter has an article about and photos of Camp Ashby, a U.S. Army training camp for black soldiers during World War II.

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State of the Arts in Berkeley

Several days ago I had an errand to do in Emeryville, so I did what I usually do when I need to go there: walk. I always enjoy the walk through southwest Berkeley to get there, but Emeryville is another story. If you are not familiar with this town, it is difficult and frustrating to be on foot – navigating the freeway and rail crossings, backtracking many times due to “no crossing on this side of the street” signs, dangerous intersections, etc. I had hoped to make some detours on the way home through Berkeley, but the trip to Emeryville had taken longer than I had anticipated. One of the places I had planned to check in on was The Shipyard, and – after hearing the news about this place the next day – I was sorry I had not stopped. The Shipyard is a collective art space located on the southern edge of Berkeley in a group of shipping containers. Well, I should say “may be” located. The Shipyard has been told by the City of Berkeley that it must move from the location. Scott Beale’s Laughing Squid blog has very thorough coverage of the news.

If you have been following this blog for awhile, you can see that I have quite a few questions that I have been pondering as I walk in Berkeley. One that I have been thinking about from the very start of the walk is whether Berkeley is a supportive place for artists and a good place for those who appreciate the arts. This is a very difficult question to answer, and so far my best answer is “it depends.” It is also a difficult question to answer based only on what I see on walks. For a small city, Berkeley has a fair number of arts venues – the Berkeley Art Museum, art galleries, a few theaters, opportunities to see dance, music, poetry readings, etc. In the downtown area, I have seen signs referring to the growing Addison Arts District. Rental studios for artists are available in West Berkeley, and artist open studios are held a couple of times a year.

My sense in my travels around Berkeley is that there is support for the arts and artists, but that the city is somewhat lacking in a diversity of arts experiences and opportunities for artists. One reason for this is a very universal one in the arts community: many artists want or need to work in a place where it does not cost too much to have the appropriate space they need to work on their art. It is possible to find such a space in Berkeley, but not that easy — especially if a large space is needed. Artists who have lived in Berkeley for many years and have low housing costs or those who have a good income level or other source of income can easily have studios here. Artists with lower incomes and more experimental arts are not as prevalent here as in other places where the cost of living is comparably more affordable. Of course there are always exceptions – and I know artists who have found appropriate rentals in the neighboring suburbs of Albany and El Cerrito as well.

After hearing about the Shipyard, I realized that what is not here in Berkeley has helped me pinpoint and better explain my sense of arts here. In Oakland (where the Shipyard may look for a new space), is a large industrial arts center called The Crucible. This organization offers arts events and classes in welding, blacksmithing, jewelry making, neon, fire arts, and a variety of other interesting disciplines. Originally the organization was located in West Berkeley but was not able to stay in the city. Before I moved to Berkeley, I went to a few events at an experimental music venue near Ashby BART that was called the Jazz House/Tuva Space. This space was closed and a Berkeley Police parking lot is in its place. Over the past few years, artists’ communities in West Berkeley (such as the Drayage) have closed due to lease or building code issues. Behind each of these arts venues, and the others like them, there is a complicated story to which there are always numerous points of view. And these events are certainly not unique to Berkeley; artists being in situations where they need to find new places to do their art is an age-old story. As I mentioned at the start of this entry, I can’t really say from my observations whether or not Berkeley is a supportive place for artists. What I can do is to observe the types of arts that do exist here and those that do not.

I expect to talk more about art in Berkeley at some point, and would love any feedback from artists who live here or have lived here — and of course anyone else who has an opinion about this topic!

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Lunch Trucks

One point I did not really cover in my previous post about West Berkeley is how a walk in this part of Berkeley can really illustrate why it is not advisable to make sweeping judgments about a city or feel like one can summarize a city in a few words. Hippie. Yuppie. Foodie. Wacky. These are some of the words that have been used in the media to describe Berkeley residents. If I just went by what I read, I might believe these descriptions. But by getting out on foot I have hoped to discover for myself what it is like and share those discoveries with others. About a week ago I was waiting for a friend to take care of an errand at a West Berkeley business. I was jolted out of my thoughts by the sudden arrival of a mobile vending cart with its blaring horn. I thought to myself, I wonder if many people will really come and purchase food from the lunch truck? And sure enough, within a couple of minutes people were wandering out of nearby industrial buildings to purchase donuts, sandwiches, soft drinks, and the like.

This experience came back into my thoughts a couple of times over the past few days, and I wondered why. It is not unusual to see a lunch truck (and particularly a “taco truck”) in the Bay Area. What I finally realized is that the lunch truck is a stark contrast to the image of Berkeley being as a “gourmet mecca” or a “foodie’s paradise.” Not everyone is taking a break at lunch from their white-collar office job (or their leisure time) to dine on expensive meals of grassfed beef, organic baby greens, and local wine. Fourth Street and its upscale restaurants are just a few blocks away, but many people who work in West Berkeley probably never get over there. And, as I noted previously, many people seem to drive directly to the Fourth Street shopping area and never stray outside of those few blocks. Walking a couple blocks from here, one might see the aforementioned lunch trucks, the factories, the day laborers waiting along Hearst Ave. for work, the grocery outlet store, people rolling carts full of bottles to sell at the recycling center. There is a lot more going on in Berkeley than one can see from the window of a passing car.

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West Berkeley in Review

No, I am not really done talking about West Berkeley (WB), but last week I completed the two remaining blocks I had not yet walked west of San Pablo Avenue. It was really quite by accident; I knew I had to get to those streets eventually and happened to be nearby running an errand. Then over the weekend, I walked a number of streets all the way across town at the northeastern edges of Berkeley. More on that walk later and contrasts between two vastly different areas of this city…

Although I have been enjoying walking everywhere in Berkeley, I found myself picking WB for many of my early walks. Why was that? As I thought about my overall experience in this part of town, I believe it was because it was very different than many other places I have walked in Berkeley and elsewhere. I have done lots of walking in urban, rural, and suburban areas, but not so much in industrial places like WB. And I think what I most appreciated about WB was its accessibility to walkers. Industrial activity in the San Francisco Bay Area is mostly found surrounding the edges of the bay itself. This makes sense when you think about early activity in the area — cargo came in by ship through the Golden Gate from elsewhere in the world and to the ports, then was transported by rail around the bay and outward. Today, the bay shoreline area is a mix of industrial activity, landfill (with parks or housing complexes), and wildlife restoration areas. The industrial areas are still accessible by car, but not as easy to get to on foot. They are often far away from public transportation, require navigation of hazardous freeway on-ramps, and in some cases (such as a bit of the Port of Oakland area) are fenced off or otherwise not as accessible due to national security concerns. With WB this is not the case; it is short walk from BART or one of the many buses that run along San Pablo, and I explored the entire area without any problems accessing streets on foot and without any questioning glances or questions about what I was doing walking around there.

Third Floor, Looking Out [Flint/Cal Ink] by Joe Reifer

I was surprised to find just how much manufacturing had happened (or was still happening) in Berkeley. Thanks to a great pamphlet from the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association called Discovering West Berkeley: A Self-Guided Tour, I learned more about the history of some of the factories, warehouses, and industrial buildings in the area. Some of the manufacturing and industrial activities included iron and steel foundries, tanneries, printing inks, fruit packing, and manufacture of vegetable oils, condiments (H.J. Heinz), carbonated beverages (Canada Dry), soap and glycerin (Colgate-Palmolive-Peet), adhesives, paper bags and boxes, knitting (bathing suits and sweaters), clocks, and drinking fountains.

I could not really conclude from my walk what the future of West Berkeley might be. Right now it seems like it could go in many directions. There is a mix of industrial, retail (Fourth Street) and wholesale outlets, apartment buildings, regular houses, newly built “live-work” and loft buildings, and restaurants. West Berkeley has been at the center of many debates since I moved here, from how its spaces will be used (light industrial, housing, etc.) to concerns with odors from Pacific Steel Casting to the building of a new Berkeley Bowl store. West Berkeley will definitely be an area that I will continue to go back to in order to observe that changes, at whatever speed they happen.

In addition to Discovering West Berkeley (which is available at Berkeley Public Library) I recommend the Center for Land Use Interpretation’s Back to the Bay: Exploring the Margin of the San Francisco Bay Region, for further research about industrial activity around the San Francisco Bay, and the San Francisco Bay Shoreline Guide for learning about both the wildlife and the character of bay shoreline areas.

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Starting Anew

After more than a week away from Berkeley, I am back and ready for more walking. Most of my time away was spent in the California desert — Anza Borrego, Palm Springs area, Mojave — which is huge and spread out and not particularly suited to walking (especially in the summer when it gets up to and over 100 degrees F). The town of Palm Springs, however, seems to be a great place for walking — lots of interesting mid-century desert modern architecture, old signs, and much more. In any case, I am finding that after being away for awhile in a different environment I am seeing new things. On my first very short walk to get groceries after returning home, I took two photos along a street I have walked down two or three times a week for the past few years.

In mid-December I spotted this apartment building on one of my walks:

I remembered at one point passing an apartment building with a star, but this one looked different. Was it built at the same time as the other one? Well, when I went back to my photos, I found that it was the same building; it was just painted a different color when I took the picture during the summer:

Also, the plants were blooming in December but not during the summer, and the building had now been “staged” with patio furniture because one of the units was up for sale (interestingly, a TIC — tenancy-in-common — the first of this type I have seen in Berkeley).

My last walk of the year was an eventful one, primarily because I had the pleasure of walking with fellow every-streeter Gary Jarvis of Runs Brooklyn. As he does with his accounts of running every street in Brooklyn, Gary did a great write-up of the walk we took while he was in the area for the holidays. Gary’s blog is very enjoyable to read, with detailed and interesting accounts of Brooklyn neighborhoods infused with his great sense of humor, and it was fun to finally meet him in person and share our experiences as “urban completists” (a brilliant term for these projects — thanks Gary!). A great way to end to end a year of walking Berkeley!

You may be wondering where I am at in terms of completing the walk of every street. I am estimating that distance-wise I am about 3/4 of the way there. However, many of the streets I have left to walk are in the hilly areas of town, which will take much longer than the flat grids of the western part of Berkeley. I also have quite a bit of the Elmwood/Claremont neighborhoods to walk, as well as the Berkeley campus and streets here and there throughout town, so you can expect to hear about all of those areas over the next few months.

Happy walking in 2007!

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As I have mentioned in previous posts, most of my walks start from my home. Now that I am pretty far into my walk of Berkeley’s streets, that means I walk some streets multiple times. I have found that I don’t mind retracing parts of previous routes; I now have things that I want to revisit to see changes or progress. Over the summer for instance, I walked by the Berkeley Amtrak station and found paint color tests across the street from the station. When I walked by again a few weeks ago, a mural was in progress in the same spot. Later this year, I will walk by again and hopefully see a completed project.

Unfortunately, not every follow-up visit to a location in progress is positive. You may remember my mention of the playground reconstruction at Cedar-Rose Park. It has taken months to rebuild this playground, and it looks as if it may be just about finished. When I walked by this morning, though, the brand new concrete play structures already had graffiti scrawled on them. Usually seeing graffiti is not a surprise. Graffiti, mostly gang-related (though what was at this playground appeared to be anarchist graffiti), can be found all over town and throughout the urban areas of the Bay Area. But it was just sort of sad to see it on a newly re-constructed public playground for children. I didn’t have the heart to take a photo of it.

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