"Berkeley, A City in History"
by Charles Wollenberg
Chapter 5 - A Special Place
In 1905 the newly-established Berkeley Chamber of Commerce promoted the city with pamphlets and magazine articles emphasizing the theme of "Berkeley the Beautiful." One of the missives asked, "I suppose omnipotent power could make a better place for a city than Berkeley's location, but has it ever done so?" The rhetoric was not just limited to self-interested developers and businessmen. In 1911 the city's Socialist mayor, J. Stitt Wilson, proclaimed that "Any kind of a day in Berkeley seems sweeter than the best day anywhere else."
All this can be dismissed as typical American boosterism, and surely much of it was. But it is also true that in the midst of the explosive civic growth and development of the early twentieth century, there was a strong sense of Berkeley as a special place, a charmed community of great accomplishment and unlimited potential. This was reflected in attempts at social and political reform and efforts to create new living spaces and lifestyles. Back in 1873, Governor Newton Booth had proclaimed Berkeley the "Athens of the West," but in the early twentieth century, some Berkeleyans seemed to be trying to achieve the "Utopia of the Pacific."
Much of this spirit was due to the presence of the university. Attracting scholars and intellectuals, and idealistic enthusiastic young people, the university was laying a social foundation for utopian aspirations. The university also attracted residents who, while not formally affiliated with the institution, still wanted to live in what they believed to be the elevating intellectual and cultural atmosphere of a college town.
A bevy of religious institutions also influenced community life. Beginning with the establishment of Congregationalist and Catholic parishes in the 1870s, Berkeley had by the early 1900s become a proud city of churches. A strong current of primarily Protestant morality affected public policies from the prohibition of alcoholic beverages to the fight against political corruption. The city was also the location of several church schools, including the California Theological Seminary, which in 1905 moved to Scenic and LeConte Avenues, just north of the university campus. It changed its name to the Pacific School of Religion in 1916 and became the hub of the affiliated church schools and institutes that formed the Graduate Theological Union in 1962. "Holy Hill," just north of campus, remains an important symbol of the strong moral tone that religious institutions have often contributed to Berkeley public life.
The Chamber of Commerce's most ambitious early twentieth century activity, however, was more a matter of civic chutzpah and pecuniary interest than religious morality. In 1907 the chamber began a campaign to move the state capital to Berkeley. The idea was suggested by Louis Titus, a partner with Duncan McDuffie in the development of the new Northbrae neighborhood. Not surprisingly, Titus recommended that the capitol building be located in Northbrae, at the base of the North Berkeley hills. Two wide boulevards, Marin Avenue and Hopkins Street east of The Alameda, were planned as dramatic access routes to the proposed seat of government. Warming up to their task, the developers named most of the streets in the new neighborhood after California counties, and John Galen Howard was commissioned to design elaborate entrance pillars and the landscaped Marin Circle. (A fountain designed by Howard and originally located in the circle was restored in the 1990s.) The legislature agreed to put the issue on the 1908 state ballot, but the voters decisively turned the move down, with only Alameda, San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties supporting the proposal. Still, it is intriguing to speculate what the 1960s in Berkeley would have been like if Governor Ronald Reagan and the legislature had been located just a mile or so north of the campus protests.
Some of the chamber's other programs were more successful. For example, in 1914 the Southern Pacific finally agreed to make Berkeley a regular stop on its West Berkeley mainline. Eventually, the S.P. built a terminal at the foot of University Avenue. (During the 1980s and 90s, the building served as a restaurant, but in 2002 the city council considered restoring it to its original purpose to serve the increasing amount of California Amtrak passenger traffic.) Also in 1914, the federal government completed another project dear to the chamber's heart---a graceful new post office on Allston Way. The Berkeley chamber worked hard to defeat still another attempt at annexation by Oakland (while Oakland was vigorously opposing San Francisco's plan for a Bay Area regional government based on New York's borough system).
Among American chambers of commerce, Berkeley's was unusual in at least one respect---for several years, its executive director was Charles Keeler, an established poet, writer and naturalist. Even the chamber, however, was unable to overcome the economic and sectional differences that divided the Berkeley business community. Chamber of Commerce members were primarily downtown and East Berkeley merchants, real estate developers and professionals. In 1905 West Berkeley industrialists formed their own organization, the Berkeley Manufacturers' Association.
Compared with the concerns of the chamber of commerce, the fight for women's rights and suffrage was more indicative of the moralistic tone of Berkeley politics during the early twentieth century. As we have seen, church women were an important part of the campaign to ban alcoholic beverages, and many Berkeleyans got their first experience in community affairs through the good offices of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Not surprisingly, the WCTU championed the suffrage cause. Though often primarily upper middle class social organizations, Berkeley women's clubs also took stands on public issues and frequently supported the suffrage movement and other reforms.
The university had officially been coeducational since 1870, and university women were another important source of support for women's voting rights. The regents had decreed that women should be admitted to UC on "equal terms in all respects with young men." The first woman graduated from Cal in 1876, and the university awarded its first doctoral degree to a woman in 1898. Nevertheless, female students were sometimes harassed by male classmates and greeted with open hostility by some male faculty. Conditions markedly improved during the Hearst/Wheeler era, in part due to the great influence of Phoebe Hearst herself. As we have seen, she established scholarships and facilities for women students, and she personally paid for a half-time doctor, Mary Bennet Ritter, who provided health care for university women.
Women also benefited from the establishment of the first teaching certificate program in the 1890s. At that time, about 90 percent of employed female college graduates in the United States worked as teachers, so a teacher training program naturally attracted women students. By 1906, Cal enrolled about 2000 women, more than 90 percent of whom were applying for teacher's certificates, and the Education Department had the university's largest graduate enrollment. Also in 1906 Benjamin Ide Wheeler appointed Lucy Sprague as the first Dean of Women. A year later, Jessica Peixotto, a 1894 UC graduate, became the first tenure-track female faculty member (in social economics). Between 1911 and 1916, women made up between 40 and 50 percent of the annual undergraduate admissions at Cal. By the early twentieth century, then, the campus area was home to an extraordinary concentration of well-educated young women, many of whom were likely recruits to the suffrage cause.
One of the important Berkeley suffrage activists was Mary McHenry Keith, a UC graduate who was the first woman to earn a law degree at Hastings College. She was a leader of the Berkeley Political Equality League and one of the organizers of the Woman's Congress that met in Berkeley in 1895. During that meeting, she and her husband, artist William Keith, entertained Susan B. Anthony at their Berkeley home. In 1896 another Berkeley activist, Theresa Jacquemine, refused to leave the Alameda County Recorder's office, chaining herself to a desk, until she was allowed to register to vote. The deputy recorder finally let her register, but the District Attorney removed her name after she left the premises. That piece of political theater had apparently had little effect. In 1896 California (male) voters overwhelmingly defeated a measure to establish female suffrage in the state. Fifteen years later, however, a similar proposal finally passed by a narrow margin, and California became the sixth state in the US to allow women to vote. While Alameda County as a whole voted solidly against the measure, it won in Berkeley.
After the establishment of women's suffrage in 1911, suffrage supporters organized the League of Women Voters. The league has often been an influential, nonpartisan force in Berkeley politics ever since. Berkeley women's clubs also continued to be active after the establishment of suffrage. In the late 1920s several previously separate organizations joined together to form the Berkeley Women's City Club. Its building on Durant Avenue, designed by Julia Morgan and completed in 1930, is a Berkeley landmark. In 1923 there were enough women teaching at the university to warrant the construction of a Women's Faculty Club, still another of John Galen Howard's distinguished campus structures.
While California was approving women's suffrage in 1911, Berkeley voters were electing the state's first Socialist mayor. The Socialist Party was a viable political organization in early twentieth century America, offering reformist and radical political alternatives to the platforms of the mainstream parties. Although Socialist supporters often differed violently among themselves over program and ideology, they did at least agree on measures to reduce poverty, empower working people and establish government ownership of public utilities and basic industries. The early 1910s were the high point of Socialist Party influence in California, the party's candidate for mayor of Los Angeles coming within a few thousand votes of winning the 1910 election.
J. Stitt Wilson, a Canadian-born Methodist minister, was Berkeley's leading Socialist. He preached a form of the "social gospel," which unified Christianity and socialism into a neat ideological package. As Socialist candidate for governor in 1910, Wilson won a respectable 12 percent of the vote. In the following year, he was the party's unanimous candidate for mayor of Berkeley. He won a narrow victory by combining the votes of some East Berkeley reformers with solid working class support in West Berkeley. In fact, Wilson won every precinct west of Shattuck Avenue. He campaigned on a "big government" platform of city ownership of public utilities and a substantial program of civic improvements. Unable to get his programs through a hostile city council, Wilson declined to stand for reelection in 1913, choosing instead to run for the congressional seat held by Republican Congressman and future newspaper publisher Joseph Knowland. In that election, Wilson managed to win 40 percent of the vote against a powerful, conservative incumbent.
In spite of Berkeley's brief fling with socialism, for most of the early twentieth century, the city's politics were dominated by more conventional "progressive" reformers. Like progressives in other parts of the country, Berkeley reformers tried to make government more honest, efficient and responsive to middle class voters. In 1907 William Carey Jones, dean of the university's School of Jurisprudence, argued that in the old days, Berkeley had been "too small to offer much temptation to the professional politician. There was nothing to be boss of." But rapid growth and urbanization had changed all that, creating the "exploitation of the city for the benefit of the organization, of the machine." "This shame," he said, 'has already fallen on Berkeley."
To reverse this sad state of affairs, Jones proposed a new city charter which would restore at-large elections of city council members and introduce direct democracy provisions--- the initiative, referendum and recall. Jones also championed the nonpartisan commission form of government, in which each council member would serve as a "commissioner" with administrative authority over one or more city departments. The new charter was approved by the voters in 1909, but soon critics were complaining that council members were more concerned about the interests of their particular departments than the good of the city as a whole. Some reformers supported Professor Samuel May, director of the university's Bureau of Public Administration, who proposed a city manager form of government, vesting day-to-day administrative power in a professional manager and limiting elected officials to broad policy-making functions. The proposal won the support of many businessmen, who admired its purported efficiency. Benjamin Ide Wheeler was strong supporter, arguing the concept worked well in Germany. Nevertheless, voters defeated the city manager system in 1916, apparently swayed by arguments that it took too much power away from elected officials. The proposal was adopted in 1923, however, and has operated in Berkeley ever since.
In addition to establishing the city manager form of government, Berkeley attempted to professionalize and de-politicize most other local governmental functions. In the early twentieth century, the city established a civil service system for public employees and created a professional fire department, ending two decades of volunteer fire stations in the community. But the most extensive program of professionalization, one that set a powerful national example, occurred in the Berkeley Police Department. In 1905 August Vollmer was elected town marshall. A Louisiana native who served in the Spanish American War, Vollmer used his veteran status to become a Berkeley postman. He was an intelligent friendly man, and reformers supported his candidacy for marshall as part of an effort to fight corruption and crime, which were perceived to be particular problems in West Berkeley. When the 1909 charter established a professional police department and eliminated the elected office of town marshall, Vollmer was appointed the city's first police chief.
Over the next three decades, Vollmer established what was widely regarded as a model force. He ended graft, introduced scientific methods of investigation and established educational requirements and professional standards. He literally put the cops on wheels, first establishing bike patrols, then introducing motorcycles in 1912 and cars in 1914. The Berkeley police department developed the first lie detector and was among the earliest to use fingerprints and radios. As part of his crime prevention effort, Vollmer founded the Junior Police, which eventually evolved into the nation's first junior traffic patrol. Vollmer also hired the nation's first college-trained policewoman, Elizabeth Lossing, and Berkeley' first African American officer, Walter Gordon. A Cal graduate who had been an All-American football player, Officer Gordon patrolled on the night shift, while attending Boalt law School and serving as assistant football coach during the day. In spite of this excruciating schedule, he managed to graduate from Boalt and become a distinguished lawyer and public official and eventually served as territorial governor of the Virgin Islands.
Vollmer had only a seventh-grade education, but he was proud that his force had so many college-educated officers like Lossing and Gordon. He started the nation's first college-level criminology department at Cal and worked with a great variety of police departments, including those in Chicago, Los Angeles and Havana, to establish his training methods and professional standards. In Berkeley these standards produced a more honest, efficient and less brutal police force than existed in most American cities. But like so many progressive reforms, professionalization may have helped alienate public servants from the very public they were supposed to serve. Career police officers and fire fighters, like career city managers and other officials, were sometimes more loyal to their professional community and its standards than to the cities and citizens for whom they worked. At times the reformers' attempts to achieve honest and efficient government seemed to out-weigh any commitment to participatory democracy.
Vollmer was typical of his generation of reformers in his faith in education. Berkeley was very much affected by the "progressive education" movement of these years. The school district began enforcing school attendance laws, and as a result, post-elementary enrollment substantially increased. Berkeley High expanded its facilities and curriculum, and along with an Illinois district, Berkeley pioneered in the development of the junior high school. But within these expanded secondary schools, "tracking" became the rule, with a high percentage of West Berkeley working class students, often from immigrant families, relegated to non-collegiate vocational programs. The university played an important role in the new educational system, as UC entrance requirements became the definition of high school college transfer curricula throughout the state. For many years, university faculty had the power to accredit the state's high schools, and the UC education department played a major role in promoting the establishment of public junior colleges. The department also cooperated with the Berkeley school district in operating an experimental elementary school on what is now the site of the Jewish Community Center on Walnut Street.
A Taste for the Unconventional
While Berkeley government and public education were undergoing substantial change in the early twentieth century, the residents of what some Berkeleyans called "Nut Hill" were engaging in social and cultural experiments, involving new concepts of living spaces and lifestyles. "Nut Hill" was the name given to a somewhat ill-defined hillside area north of campus and east of Euclid Avenue. The "Nut" may have either referred to the vegetarian diet of some of the residents or to the fact that hill-dwellers were often considered pretty weird by their fellow citizens. The origins of the neighborhood's special reputation go back to 1894 when Charles Keeler engaged Bernard Maybeck to design a home at the corner of Highland Place and Ridge Road. A poet and naturalist, Keeler had little use for the elaborate "victorian" houses that had been popular in the late nineteenth century. He believed they were profoundly unnatural and inappropriate for the kind of community he hoped to promote in the Berkeley Hills. He asked Maybeck for a house that blended into its natural surroundings and projected a simple, healthy lifestyle for its inhabitants.
Maybeck's design, his first in Berkeley, was for an unpainted redwood structure with shingle siding, exposed beams and rafters, steep rooflines and a handsome stone fireplace. The house was not only consistent with Keeler's ideas but also helped establish a tradition of Bay Area home-building that was to last for much of the twentieth century. Many other Berkeley architects, including John Galen Howard and Julia Morgan, followed Maybeck's lead, building houses in what became a particular Bay Area expression of the larger "Arts and Crafts Movement." Morgan's St. John's Presbyterian Church on College Avenue, now the Julia Morgan Center for the Performing Arts, is a fine institutional example of the genre. Like Morgan and Howard, Maybeck designed buildings in many other styles, including the wonderfully gaudy Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco and the reinforced concrete "earthquake-proof" house Geology Professor Andrew Lawson commissioned after the 1906 quake. But Maybeck returned again and again to the woodsy, natural character he had captured in the Keeler house. It characterizes two of his most notable Berkeley buildings---the Faculty Club on campus and the First Church of Christ, Scientist on Dwight Way.
In 1898 Keeler's ideas were a major force behind the founding of the Hillside Club, whose members also included John Galen Howard, fellow architect Almeric Coxhead and the Maybecks, Bernard and his wife Annie. The club advocated a new kind of urban development that would respect rather than destroy the natural environment. In the North Berkeley hills, club members were determined to retain the natural topography and produce "artistic homes that appear to have grown out of the hillside and to be a part of it." They opposed streets laid out on the grid plan, calling instead for winding lanes that followed the contours of the land. They also advocated a network of pedestrian paths and fought any attempt to cut down the region's trees. A club pamphlet said, "The few native trees that have survived centuries should be jealously preserved....Bend the road, divide the lots, place the houses to accommodate them!" Annie Maybeck was particularly protective of native trees, often taking on City Hall on their behalf. One block of Le Roy Avenue was divided specifically to save what came to be known as "Annie's Oak." In 1904 the club published Keeler's The Simple Home, an extended essay outlining his views on architecture and its relation to the good and proper life. The book was dedicated to "My Friend and Counselor Bernard Maybeck."
Maybeck claimed the perfect California home was a well-vegetated hillside with "a few rooms scattered around in case it rains." He loved telling stories about the shocked reaction of neighbors as they saw the Keeler house being built. He became a vegetarian, kept a beard long after it was fashionable and often wore a beret. When their son was born, he and Annie believed that giving him a name would stunt the development of the child's individuality. They called him "boy" for the first few years of his life, until he was old enough to choose his own name. My great-grandfather, Louis Wollenberg, lived around the corner from the Maybecks at the time. After spending more than forty years failing at a number of business ventures in the American West, Louis had retired, living off his several children. He spent his time telling stories (some of which may even have been true) about his adventures to the neighborhood kids. When asked what name he wanted, "boy" Maybeck said "Wollenberg." This was a bit too much even for his "bohemian" parents, so they compromised and agreed to call him "Wallen." But even with this concession to normalcy, Bernard and Annie Maybeck were what most early twentieth century Americans would consider "unconventional."
Even more unconventional were Florence and Treadwell Boynton. In 1911 they bought a lot from Maybeck on Buena Vista Way and had him draw up plans for the most unusual of all the homes on "Nut Hill." The Boyntons and Maybecks soon began what turned out to be a two-decade feud, so the structure was completed under the direction of a different architect. In 1914 the Boyntons moved into the "Temple of the Wings," a hillside platform with a roof supported by thirty-four Corinthian columns. Until 1923, there were no walls, though sailcloth could be deployed in case of heavy wind and rain. The Boyntons often wore togas and robes and primarily ate fruits and nuts. Florence Boynton was a friend and follower of dancer Isadora Duncan, and the temple was sometimes a venue for her performances. The tradition was passed on to the Boynton's daughter, Sulgwynn, and, along with her husband Charles Quitzow, she gave modern dance lessons to several generations of young Berkeleyans. As late as the 1980s, when the Quitzows were themselves in their eighties, Sulgwynn was still teaching dances to young girls in robes amid the gardens and columns of the Temple of the Wings.
As "unconventional" as some of the residents of "Nut Hill" may have been, the Hillside Club also included such establishment figures as John Galen Howard and real estate developer Frank Wilson. Even though he was not a member, Duncan McDuffie, one of Berkeley's most active early twentieth century developers, was also in sympathy with many of the club's principles. In 1905 McDuffie established a partnership with David Mason, who had originally opened a real estate office on Shattuck Avenue in the mid-1880s. Since Mason was approaching retirement, McDuffie became the leading partner, and he involved the firm in joint ventures with some of the biggest East Bay developers, including Borax Smith, Frank Havens and John Spring. McDuffie also considered himself a committed conservationist and became a prominent leader of both the Sierra Club and the Save the Redwoods League.
Like many "progressive" realtors of his day, McDuffie expressed his conservation consciousness through support of developments that featured lush landscaping, curving and irregular street patterns and substantial open space. These "cities in a garden" were immensely popular and thus appealed to the developers' profit motives as well as their aesthetic sensibilities. Two of the most dramatic examples in the Bay Area were Mason-McDuffie's Claremont District in Berkeley and St. Francis Wood in San Francisco. These were high-end projects, appealing to wealthy home buyers, but McDuffie built similar, if less elaborate, amenities into new middle income neighborhoods like Northbrae. Even San Pablo Park, a working class development in Southwest Berkeley, was built around a large public park that was donated to the city.
McDuffie was also a strong proponent of city zoning. In 1916 Berkeley became the second community in California to establish a Planning Commission, and over the next few years, various parts of the city were zoned "residential," "commercial," etc. The zoning protected many of the bucolic new neighborhoods from over-development, but it also promoted the separation of home and work. Ocean View/West Berkeley had originally developed as a place where people both lived and worked, but as much of the area became zoned "industrial," homes declined in value and were often destroyed to make way for new plants. Not until the 1970s were effective steps taken to preserve some of the oldest residential buildings and blocks in the city, and by then much of Ocean View had been lost.
In Berkeley, as in many other American cities, restrictive zoning was often accompanied by "restrictive covenants." These were provisions attached to deeds by which developers prohibited buyers from subsequently selling or renting their property to "undesirable" individuals, which in Berkeley meant Asians and African Americans. In addition to the covenants, which had become common in Berkeley neighborhoods by the 1920s, real estate brokers tried to prevent people of color from buying or renting in other "white" areas of the city. The result was that almost all Asian and Black Berkeleyans lived south of Dwight Way and west of Grove Street. When George Shima, a prominent Japanese immigrant who had become a wealthy agribusinessman, built a house on College Avenue, he faced so much harassment from white neighbors that he had to erect a large fence around his lot. And when Dwight Uchida, an executive of a Japanese trading company, rented a home on Ward Street, he was visited by a delegation of neighbors asking him to move. The problem was that the house was a few yards east of Grove and thus barely on the wrong side of an invisible but very real dividing line. Berkeley may have been a special place in the early twentieth century, but not so special as to escape the devastating effects of traditional American racism.