Berkeley, A City in History
by Charles WollenbergCopyright 2002
In 1900 most Berkeley streets were unpaved, many homes were still not hooked up to water and sewer lines, and there were indeed farms in Berkeley. During the next two decades, however, the town became a city as a result of tremendous economic and population growth. From 13, 214 residents in 1900, Berkeley's population increased to 56,036 in 1920. Most of that growth occurred from 1900 to 1910, when the numbers of residents more than tripled, from 13,214 to 40,434. During that decade, Berkeley was the fourth fastest growing city in the United States, and by 1910 the fifth largest city in California. What Malcolm Margolin has called the town's "Bucolic Age" was over, and urbanization was well under way. The Berkeley of 1920 in many ways had more in common with today's urban community than it had with the bucolic town of 1900.
One of the major contributors to growth was the 1906 earthquake. Berkeley, like most of California, is earthquake country. The Hayward Fault zone runs along the base of the eastern hills, bisecting Memorial Stadium, passing under Bowles and Stern Halls and the Greek Theater, and heading north through the North Gate, Northbrae and Thousand Oaks neighborhoods. The last significant quake on the fault was in 1868 which, as we have seen, did little damage in Berkeley because there was so little to be damaged. Seismologists estimate there is a 40 per cent chance of a similar magnitude 7.0 earthquake occurring on the Hayward Fault in or near Berkeley in the next thirty years. This time there will be plenty of destruction, including possible collapse of several unsafe buildings on campus, and damage to unreinforced masonry structures on Telegraph and Shattuck Avenues and homes built on slide areas in the hills and filled-in creeks and marshes in the flatlands. In 1998 UC Chancellor Robert Berdahl announced that necessary seismic retrofits on campus alone would cost $1 billion.
The 1906 earthquake, however, occurred on the San Andreas Fault, on the west side of the bay. Although at magnitude 8.0 it was far stronger any quake predicted for the Hayward fault, the 1906 tremor's greatest impact was on north, south, and west bay communities, including, of course, San Francisco. The earthquake and subsequent fire devastated the city, forcing half the 400,000 residents out of their homes at least temporarily and leaving tens of thousands as long-term refugees. By comparison, the impact on East Bay, including Berkeley, and was minor. One source estimated that 5000 Berkeley chimneys collapsed and most others were damaged, including the large stack of the Standard Soap Factory in West Berkeley. Berkeley High had to close for a few months because of cracked walls, and several commercial structures, such as the new Barker Building on Shattuck Avenue, suffered visible damage. The university, however, came through virtually unscathed. On the whole, urban life in Berkeley was able to go on more or less normally after the quake.
This enabled Berkeley and other East Bay cities to care for tens of thousands of San Francisco refugees. The Southern Pacific gave free ferry and train passage to people leaving the devastated city, and between 10,000 and 15,000 took advantage of this to come to Berkeley. Many stayed with family and friends, but several thousand were put up in temporary shelters and camps on the UC campus. Included were refugees from San Francisco's Chinatown, which was completely destroyed by the quake and fire. The Berkeley Daily Gazette described a Chinese establishment on Dwight Way that had previously been raided by the police as "a notorious gambling den." Now it served as a nursery for refugee children from Chinatown, in which "more than forty babies from two weeks old to six years are safely housed and cared for ." Many of the refugees eventually returned to San Francisco or settled in other communities, but thousands stayed in Berkeley, moving into new housing that went up in the post-earthquake building boom. The city issued 1283 building permits in 1906, nearly twice as many as the previous year. Much of the new housing was built in the central section of town, finally filling in the open space that for so long had separated East and West Berkeley.
The earthquake also promoted the relocation of businesses to Berkeley from San Francisco's damaged industrial and commercial districts. "It is not Christian to seek advantage in another's misfortune," one Berkeleyan commented, "but there is nothing to be ashamed of in profiting from such misfortune if it comes unsought." And profit Berkeley did. A writer for Sunset Magazine said it gave observers "a queer and creepy feeling down the spine to drive along the streets of commercial Berkeley and contemplate the business signs" of former San Francisco establishments. In the four months following the earthquake, 37 new factories were built in Berkeley. Between 1906 and 1907, bank deposits in the city increased by 113 percent.
The Key System
But the earthquake was by no means the only reason for the dramatic population and economic growth of the early twentieth century. Berkeley and the rest of the urbanized East Bay developed new transit systems that would have promoted dramatic development during those years even if the earthquake hadn't occurred. We have already discussed the important role of Southern Pacific steam trains in Berkeley's late nineteenth century history. In 1891, electric rail systems, the latest idea in urban transit, made their debut in the Bay Area. The first successful trolley system was a line from Oakland up Grove Street (now Martin Luther King) to downtown Berkeley and the UC campus. The Grove Street line was an immediate success and stimulated the construction of additional East Bay systems. By 1893 an effort was already under way to consolidate the separate lines into a single, integrated electric rail system that would eventually cover the entire urban East Bay.
The chief consolidators were Francis "Borax" Smith and Frank Havens. Smith had already made a substantial fortune operating borax mines in southeastern California. He built a large estate in Oakland and looked for new investment opportunities. Havens, a San Francisco lawyer, had a particular talent for spending Smith's money, and together they made an ideal, if not entirely successful, team. In 1893 they formed a company called Oakland Transit Consolidated, which not only bought up existing street car franchises, but also built new lines and integrated them into a unified rail network. The small street cars became feeders for fast "interurban" trains that linked East Bay cities together.
The partners planned to compete head-on with the Southern Pacific ferry service to San Francisco, Smith even contemplating a transit tube under the bay three quarters of a century before BART actually built one. In the meantime, he had to be content with filling a significant piece of the Emeryville waterfront to create a new ferry terminal (near the present site of the Bay Bridge toll plaza). The Key System, as the new rail line came to be called, introduced fast, propeller-driven ferries onto the bay to compete with the Southern Pacific's paddle wheel craft.
The Key System was part of a larger Smith-Havens vision that included the Realty Syndicate, a huge land company that bought and developed thousands of acres of East Bay residential properties. Much of the land was in the hills, including parts of Montclair and Piedmont. In Berkeley, syndicate holdings included significant pieces of the Claremont, Northbrae and Thousand Oaks districts. The basic business plan was to extend the electric rails to the syndicate's undeveloped lands. This allowed the property to be subdivided for urban and suburban purposes, thus substantially raising its value. Eventually the whole corporate empire was placed under the control of United Properties, a giant holding company which also included prominent Berkeley developer John Spring as a major investor. Smith, Havens and Spring were instigators of the Claremont Hotel, whose construction began in 1906. By the time the hotel opened in 1915, however, the Smith-Havens empire had crashed and become mired in complex bankruptcy proceedings. This didn't stop Smith from starting all over again and making another fortune. Meanwhile, the Key System survived under various ownership structures, lasting until the establishment of the publicly-owned AC Transit agency in 1959.
The Key System's interurban mainline reached the downtown Berkeley station on Shattuck Avenue in 1903. Offering 36 minute service to San Francisco via the Emeryville ferry, trains initially ran once an hour. The route was so popular that service was soon increased to once every 20 minutes. The line eventually extended north to the Northbrae and Thousand Oaks neighborhoods and west to the Westbrae district. In southeast Berkeley, a Key System line up Claremont Avenue promoted the development of the Claremont district and the Claremont Hotel. Smaller feeder streetcar lines also stimulated the growth of several additional neighborhoods, including the northside hills and the north campus business district along Euclid Avenue. Similarly, the College Avenue line promoted the development of the Elmwood district and established what is today one of Berkeley's best-loved and most- protected shopping areas along College Avenue.
Competition from the Key System forced the Southern Pacific to electrify its branch line in 1911. Now the S.P. red cars and the Key System orange trains ran virtually side-by-side on Shattuck Avenue. The Southern Pacific extended its electric line north through the Henry Street tunnel to Solano Avenue and along California Street to the old Peralta Park district. Like the Key System, the S.P. developed its own network of streetcar feeder lines. Inevitably, the city annexed the new neighborhoods created by these new electric rail systems: the Claremont district in 1906, portions of Northbrae in 1908, the rest of Northbrae, as well as Cragmont, Thousand Oaks and Westbrae in 1920.
Many of the new residents of these areas commuted to work in Oakland and San Francisco, as the new rail systems made these commutes practical for the first time. The fast electric lines thus allowed Berkeley to function in part as a suburban bedroom community. Berkeley society was becoming more complicated, as growing numbers of suburban commuters and their families were added to the mix of West Berkeley workers, downtown business and commercial interests and university students and professionals.
The Great State U
The final reason for Berkeley's dramatic early twentieth century development was the evolution and growth of the University of California. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, UC not only increased the size of its student body and faculty, but also transformed itself into one of the nation's most distinguished universities. To fully understand this transformation, we need to go back to the university's nineteenth century origins. At the time of its founding in 1868, there were two primary models for American higher education: the classical liberal arts college inherited from colonial times and the new land grant university which included practical education in "agriculture and mechanics." Cal, of course, embodied both of these traditions. It started out as the private College of California and became the state's land grant university.
In 1872 another model of higher education arrived in California with the coming of the new university president, Daniel Coit Gilman. Gilman was a member of a generation of American educators who admired the German university, with its emphasis on seeking new truths and knowledge through research and the application of the scientific method. Gilman had pioneered this approach as director of the Sheffield School of Science at Yale. He believed that the new community of Berkeley, on the edge of a new American Pacific frontier, was the ideal place to promote and develop a new research-oriented American university. Gilman claimed to have no quarrel with the traditional liberal arts curriculum, but he wished to add more modern subjects and concerns, particularly in science. He also counted himself a supporter of the land grant college concept, but for him, "agriculture and mechanics" did not mean vocational training, but the latest research in agronomy and engineering.
Gilman was an articulate, able leader, and he got the university off to a flying start in its new Berkeley campus. He persuaded Dr. Hugh Toland to donate his San Francisco medical school to the university and received James Lick's bequest for an observatory on Mt. Hamilton. Gilman established the Berkeley Club to maintain connections between the university and prominent Bay Area citizens. He used such contacts to attract private donations that eventually led to the building of the original, octagonal-shaped Harmon gymnasium and Bacon Hall, housing the university library and art gallery.
But Gilman's educational philosophy came under sharp scrutiny. Conservatives attacked it as "godless," while populists criticized it as elitist. The populist challenge was particularly strong, given the social upheaval of the 1870s. Organizations representing labor and small farmers called for the abolition of the Board of Regents and advocated putting the university under the authority of the State Board of Education and the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction. The populist critics had an important ally within the university---Agriculture Professor Ezra Carr, who pushed for practical, vocational programs for farmers. Carr had plenty of time to make his views known around the state; in 1873 he had only one student taking his agriculture curriculum.
The debate over the university, its program and structure, came to a head during a series of legislative hearings in 1874. Gilman offered a masterful defense of his policies, and the legislature declined to tamper with the authority of the regents. Gilman persuaded the regents to fire Professor Carr, but Carr managed to get himself elected state superintendent of public instruction and thus became an ex-officio member of the very board of regents that had just dismissed him. Nevertheless, the result of the legislative inquiry was a major victory for Gilman. On campus, Carr was eventually succeeded by Eugene Hilgard, who did exactly the kind of rigorous research in agricultural science that Gilman had advocated. But Gilman's supporters didn't have much time to savor their triumph. Their hero was offered the presidency of the new Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and accepted in late 1874. At Johns Hopkins, Gilman built the kind of research university he had hoped to create in Berkeley.
During the decade and a half following Gilman's departure, UC suffered through a series of generally weak presidents, who were often plagued by interfering regents, rebellious faculty and rowdy students. Student disorders, from drunken battles during the annual "Frosh-Soph Rush," to food riots in the North Hall dining room, particularly affected Berkeley residents and kept the town marshall busy. The university thus did little to attract either public support or legislative confidence. The result was declining enrollments and inadequate funding. Some professors, like the LeConte brothers, John and Joseph, gained formidable reputations, but the institution as a whole had little prestige. In the 1880s Southern Pacific Railroad magnate Leland Stanford considered giving the university a sizable donation as a memorial for his late, beloved son. But the depressing state of the institution, combined with the legislature's refusal to ratify his appointment as regent, persuaded Stanford to start his own university in Palo Alto instead.
Things began looking up on the Berkeley campus during the 1890s. The presidency of Martin Kellogg finally brought some administrative stability to the institution. A veteran English professor who had long been active in Berkeley civic affairs, Kellogg had sufficient faculty, regent and community contacts to gain acceptance if not always support. The legislature passed a state-wide property tax of 1 cent per $1000 assessed valuation for university funding, and enrollment began climbing---from a low of slightly over 200 in the early 1880s to nearly 2000 by 1900. But by far the most important development of the Kellogg presidency was the growing influence and patronage of Phoebe Apperson Hearst.
The Hearst/Wheeler Era
Widow of mining magnate and former United States Senator George Hearst, and doting mother of future media mogul William Randolph Hearst, Phoebe Hearst was a formidable figure in her own right. She had been a teacher before her marriage and continued to be concerned about education and scholarship for the rest of her life. After her husband's death, she used her very great wealth and influence to promote various educational institutions and causes. She was a major supporter of the kindergarten movement, helped establish the Parent Teacher Association and sponsored schools for poor children. But most of all, she supported and promoted the growth and development of the University of California. She donated funds for a number of projects, including the Hearst Mining Building, the establishment of an anthropology department and numerous archeological expeditions. An advocate of female education and suffrage, she was also responsible for building a women's gymnasium and establishing scholarships for women students (which inevitably became known as "Pheobes").
Hearst interfered shamelessly, if benevolently, in the lives of the Phoebe recipients. One of her proteges was Julia Morgan, the first female graduate of the mechanical engineering program. Mrs. Hearst paid Morgan's way through the Ecole des Beaux Artes in Paris, then considered the world's finest architecture school. (Morgan finished the program with honors but was not granted a diploma because of her gender.) For most of her subsequent distinguished architectural career, Morgan was associated with Hearst family projects, including the San Simeon castle. Phoebe Hearst maintained a Berkeley home and was usually in residence for a portion of each year to keep a close eye on "her university." It is entirely appropriate that Hearst Avenue is named, not for the senator or newspaper publisher, but for the university's greatest patron, Phoebe Apperson Hearst.
Of all her activities on behalf of UC, none was more important than her role in promoting a master plan for the campus. In 1896, at the suggestion of architect and mathematics instructor Bernard Maybeck, Mrs. Hearst donated funds to support an international competition for the development of such a plan. The contest was significant because it committed the university to a policy of extensive expansion and brought Berkeley and the university widespread national and international attention. French architect Emile Bernard won the $10,000 prize, but after he declined to come to Berkeley for an extended period of time, the university persuaded another contestant, John Galen Howard, to supervise the implementation of the plan.
Howard, who served as university architect until 1924, drastically scaled down Bernard's proposal, in effect creating a Howard Plan that governed the university's physical expansion for more than a quarter century. While preserving much of Strawberry Creek and the campus's open space, Howard also developed many of the important structures that remain the university's most familiar and impressive landmarks, including Wheeler Hall, Doe Library, Memorial Stadium, Sather Gate, the Hearst Greek Theater and the Campanile. Architectural historian Loren Patridge argues that "the core of the Berkeley campus by John Galen Howard is one of the largest, most complete Beaux-Artes ensembles ever to be executed in permanent materials in the history of American architecture."
Not surprisingly, Phoebe Hearst was the first female member of the Board of Regents, and she was on the board in 1899 when it chose Benjamin Ide Wheeler as the new university president. A former German and Classics professor form Cornell, Wheeler was the first strong president since Daniel Coit Gilman and presided over the university for the next twenty years. Like David Starr Jordan, his counterpart at Stanford, Wheeler became an influential figure in Bay Area life. His advice and opinion were sought on matters of culture and public policy, and he served on a number of blue ribbon committees and advisory boards. With this prestige, he was able to expand the university's financial base, securing increased state funding and persuading other wealthy individuals to follow Phoebe Hearst's example. Jane Sather, for instance, contributed funds both for Sather Gate, in honor of her late husband Peder, and the Sather Tower ( the Campanile), as her own personal memorial.
Although he attacked fraternities as undemocratic, Wheeler was himself personally autocratic, often overriding long-established faculty prerogatives in pursuit of his ambitious goals. Nevertheless, he turned most matters of student discipline over to the students themselves, instituting an honor code for exams and strengthening student government. He strongly supported university athletics but, objecting to football's violence and commercialism, banned the game in favor of rugby for some years before and during World War I.
Most of all, Wheeler expanded programs and recruited promising young faculty members (often from Ivy League universities). In the process, he went a long way toward establishing the research university that Gilman had tried to create twenty-five years earlier. Among the distinguished recruits were Alfred Kroeber in Anthropology, Herbert Bolton in History, and Joel Hildebrand in Chemistry. The careers of these faculty giants extended well beyond the Wheeler era. Hildebrand, for example, was still doing credible research in the 1980s when he was in his nineties. Wheeler's reputation helped the university attract such distinguished visitors as President Theodore Roosevelt, who spoke in the new Greek Theater in 1903.
Wheeler loved German literature and culture, and partly for that reason, opposed America's entrance into World War I. Once the decision to go to war was made, however, he loyally supported the war effort and made the campus available for military programs. But the controversy over his political views weakened his prestige. Sensing an opportunity, the faculty pushed hard for restoration of its lost powers. In the midst of growing difficulties, Wheeler announced his retirement in 1919. As it turned out, that was the same year that Phoebe Apperson Hearst died. The two people most responsible for the university's extraordinary period of growth and development were no longer on the scene.
The university's enrollment had increased from less than 2000 to more than 7000 during the two decades of the Hearst/Wheeler era, a growth rate roughly equal to that of the city of Berkeley's population during those same years. Obviously, then, the expansion of the university was another factor in the urbanization of the community. Campus growth not only brought new residents, but the university's burgeoning budget and payroll contributed to the dynamic growth city's economy.
The university's most dramatic effect, however, was not on the material development of the city, but on the community's identity and image. In the nineteenth century, ambitious scholars regarded the University of California as a provincial backwater. Josiah Royce, UC graduate and future philosopher, couldn't wait to leave Berkeley and go to Harvard to establish his scholarly career and reputation. But by the end of the Hearst/Wheeler era, talented young Ivy League academics were coming to Berkeley to establish careers and reputations. Already, UC was considered one of America's major institutions of higher learning. The transformed university of the early twentieth century, then, put Berkeley on the map, giving the city a national and even international reputation as a seat of scholarship and learning. To its residents, Berkeley may have been a center of industry and commerce, a place of solid working class families and pleasant suburban homes, as well as a college town. But to the rest of the world, Berkeley was and still remains first and foremost the home of the University of California.
End of Chapter 4
Back to Berkeley, A City in History
Forward to Chapter 5
HOME to Berkeley Public Library
Berkeley Public Library pages © by the Berkeley Public Library. All rights reserved.
Maintained by bplweb
Last modified August 28, 2002