Thursday, October 27, 2011

West Berkeley Macaroni Factory

It's not generally known, but this unassuming building on Fifth St. in Berkeley once housed the premier macaroni factory in the greater Bay Area.  The history of the factory, and it's founder, Simone Marengo, read like an exaggerated recounting of the American Dream.  Marengo was a poor Italian immigrant who arrived in the Bay Area in 1888, twenty years old and the head of an extended family.   Within four years he was the owner of a large home in West Berkeley, and within twenty he is shown as having owned numerous properties, both residential and commercial, was considered the unofficial "mayor" of West Berkeley, and was generally a man about town.

The macaroni factory rose out of the destruction following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.  In the years immediately following the disaster the East Bay saw an enormous boom as families and businesses relocated away from the destruction in the city.  West Berkeley in particular saw a sharp spike in Italian residents and it was this demographic trend that inspired Marengo to open a macaroni factory in the East Bay.  Though it opened in 1907, the advertising copy for the West Berkeley Macaroni Factory touted its fifteen year history and the expertise of its highly trained staff (in reality, recent immigrants from Italy).  The West Berkeley Macaroni Factory remained in business until 1920, when the building was sold, but Marengo had long since left the partnership.  Always on the look out for a new money-making opportunity, he had stepped back from the day-to-day management of the macaroni factory as early as 1908 and concentrated on his investments and properties in Redding, CA.  The building on Fifth St. changed hands several times throughout the first half of the 20th century and was designated a Berkeley historical landmark in 1991

Getting There By Bike...
West Berkeley is easy to ride through.  There are a number of bicycle boulevards that criss-cross the area and I've never had a problem getting around. If you approach from inland, the best way to get to this site is to follow Channing towards the water.  Turn right at Fifth St. and ride north for two blocks.  The building in on the block between Bancroft and Allston.  The Church of the Good Shepherd, Episcopal is a few blocks away at Hearst and 9th.  The prow of the U.S.S. Indiana is located very close near the 4th street shopping district.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Don Pedro Fages Expedition

Don Pedro Fages was the military governor of Alta California from 1770-74, and 1782-91.  He is primarily known for leading various land expeditions throughout the Bay Area and exploring much of what would become the East Bay.   He is credited with having explored the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, the Carquinez Strait, Monterey Bay, and the San Joaquin River.  He was also known for his passion for hunting bear in the mountains of California, and his military ability, which shone particularly brightly when he was asked to put down various Native American revolts throughout his career.

The expedition in question, and the particular marker that is placed on the UC Berkeley campus, was intended to explore the East Bay and get a sighting of the Golden Gate from the shore.  The party took two sightings, neither of which are near the current marker.  The first sighting was taken at the sight of Mills College, roughly six miles away, and the second sighting was taken at the current site of the College of Arts and Crafts, two miles south.  The marker is hidden in a stand of trees at the edge of the Berkeley campus.  It's near the shore of Strawberry Creek and is fairly straightforward to find.

Getting There By Bike...
 This one is very easy to find, tough the area it's in is fairly heavily trafficked, both by cars and pedestrians.  The marker is located very close to the intersection of Center and Oxford streets, right at the western border of the Berkeley campus.  There is a large bronze sculpture of an orb near the sidewalk, and the historical marker is directly behind it, back in the eucalyptus grove.  The Golden Sheaf Bakery is fairly close by on Allston in downtown Berkeley.  The Berkeley Post Office and the Howard Automobile Company Showroom are also close by.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

H.J. Heinz Co. Factory

The former H.J. Heinz manufacturing plant is located on the corner of San Pablo and Ashby in Berkeley, CA.

H.J. Heinz is an American food company based out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Best known for their ketchup, they are a global company and manufacture over 5,700 food products in six different countries. Their corporate website claims that they control more than 50% of the market in ketchup in the United States, and, through their subsidiary company Ore-Ida, more than 50% of the market share in frozen potatoes.

Their logo with the trademark "57" is based off of the original slogan for the company, "57 Varieties",which was intended to showcase the wide array of products that the company offered. It's interesting to note that, by the time the company was using this slogan, they were already manufacturing more than 57 products, but the numbers 5 and 7 were considered lucky by the company's founder, Henry John Heinz, who also felt that they would lend themselves to an easy advertising slogan that people would remember.

The building that stands on the corner of San Pablo was used as a manufacturing plant from the date it opened in 1927 up until the H.J. Heinz Company moved its manufacturing facilities to Tracy in 1956. The building was designed by the Austin Company, and incorporates a great deal of detailed tiling and ornate steel scrollwork. The front of the building looks like a very nicely maintained office building, but that was an intentional design choice, aiming at softening the appearance of what was, in reality, a high-volume food manufacturing and shipping facility. In its heyday, this site was responsible for producing 28 of the Heinz Company's "57 Varieties".

I've ridden by this building so many times, and I always thought that it was a school. If you make the turn off of San Pablo onto Heinz Rd., on the west side of the street, just a block north of Alcatraz, you can get a real taste of how big this facility was, and how well the architects hid the bulk of the manufacturing plant behind the facade. The building is still very nicely maintained and the brickwork, tiling, and steel ornamentation look great. The grounds are also very nicely maintained.

Getting There By Bike...
This one is pretty easy. The building is on the corner of two busy streets, San Pablo Ave., and Alcatraz in Berkeley. Coming from the north or south, I would recommend taking San Pablo. It's a busy street, but traffic is forgiving and I've never felt out of place or threatened while on a bike on San Pablo. If you're coming from inland, Alcatraz is probably the most straight forward path, but it's not a super fun street to ride on. If you're looking for a mellower ride, ride down Channing, which is a great bike boulevard, until you get to San Pablo. Take a left and follow San Pablo down to Alcatraz.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

St. John's Presbyterian Church

St. John's Presbyterian Church, now called the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, is located at 2640 College Ave. in Berkeley, CA.

This church dates back to 1907, and had its genesis in the events following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Following the destruction of the earthquake, many people moved to the East Bay from San Francisco to start their lives over. Many of these people had lost their homes in the earthquake or the ensuing fires, and there was a strong desire to create a new community in the East Bay. Presbyterian San Franciscans, after moving to Berkeley, joined with a portion of the congregation at the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley and formed a new church community in 1907. The community, most of whom hailed from St. John's Church in San Francisco, had a sentimental attachment to their former parish and enticed their pastor, Dr. George G. Eldridge, to relocate from San Francisco. He agreed to the move with the stipulation that, out of sentimental attachment, the new church be called St. John's.

The new building was designed by noted Bay Area architect Julia Morgan, who designed the Berkeley City Club and the King's Daughter's Home in Oakland. The initial design for the church was created under the requirement from the church community that it be built for the lowest possible price. The resulting design, which was built for an estimated cost of $1.60 per square foot, is unlike almost any other church building that I've seen. Dark stained Douglas Fir, broad windows and gables, and with exposed trusses and support beams within the walls, the church is very understated, but also very beautiful.

The church community purchased another property across the street in 1955 and began building new structures on it, finishing and occupying classrooms and a fellowship hall in 1965. The built a new sanctuary and occupied it in 1975. The original building was then vacant and in some danger of being destroyed until it was occupied by the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts. The building currently serves as a theatrical home to a number of Berkeley performance groups, including the Berkeley Opera and the Berkeley Ballet Theater.

Getting There By Bike...
I found this church by riding straight up College Ave. from Rockridge BART. You'll pass it on your left as your heading towards the UC Berkeley campus. College isn't an awful street to ride a bike on, but there isn't much of a shoulder so watch out for car doors and people passing by too closely on your left. Remember, you have rights as a vehicle too, so take that lane! It's much safer to be out in traffic than it is to ride in the gutter or hover close to parked cars and rapidly opening car doors!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Berkeley City Hall and Peace Park

Berkeley City Hall is located on Martin Luther King Blvd., between Allston Way and Center St. It sits opposite Peace Park in downtown Berkeley.

The building that you can see today is actually the second city hall that was built for Berkeley. The first building, designed by San Francisco architects Samuel and Joseph Cather Newsom (designers of the Carson Mansion in Eureka) and built in 1884, burned to the ground in 1904 due to an electrical fault in the attic. This first city hall was a source of considerable controversy in the political community of early Berkeley, with different neighborhoods holding frequent meetings accusing each other of trying to seize control of city hall, and local politics, by erecting the building in their own neighborhoods. With all the different community groups up in arms about the location of the new city hall, a decision was finally reached that was equally unpalatable to all parties, and the building was placed on a plot of bare land in the middle of all the competing neighborhoods.

The current building was erected in late 1907, nearly four years after the original building burned down. The history of Berkeley City Hall shows numerous gaps where, after the passing of a bond or a decision being made, there would be anywhere from one to four years of inactivity while the community argued and fought over the plans. In fact, nearly every step of the process in getting the first city hall built, buying land for it, passing a bond to collect money to build a second city hall, and getting an acceptable design for the second city hall, was fought by some portion off the Berkeley community. And even after a design for the new city hall, designed by John Bakewell, Jr. and Arthur M Brown, Jr., was accepted there were continual arguments about the design, even to the point of the clock tower being added and then removed from the plans twice at the community's behest. The original plans did not include a tower on the building, but after much debate the city voted for an additional bond to cover the costs of building it. However, there was no money to include a large clock in the medallion at the top of the tower, and the building remains without a clock to this day.

This building was the center of Berkeley city government until 1977, when it became the administrative headquarters for Berkeley Unified School District. The building is in some slight danger, as all of the offices that currently use it are planning on vacating it within the next year. The building also requires a seismic retrofit and substantial remodeling which would cost the city an estimated $30 to 40 million.

This is a very pretty building located in a quiet park in downtown Berkeley. Prior to exploring Berkeley on this round of history-themed bicycle riding, I hadn't really taken the time to check out all the streets and parks in downtown Berkeley. I was really surprised to find this park tucked less than a block behind Shattuck Ave., and I really like the giant redwood trees that they have bordering the Peace Plaza.

Getting There By Bike....
The easiest way to get to city hall is to ride up Shattuck and turn west on Allston Way. Alternatively, you could ride north on Martin Luther King Blvd., through Oakland and into Berkeley, and you will pass between city hall on your left and Peace Park on your right. Both streets are fairly busy, so be aware of traffic and clueless drivers.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Church of the Good Shepherd, Episcopal

The Church of the Good Shepherd, Episcopal, is located on the corner of 8th and Hearst in Berkely, CA.

The Church of the Good Shepherd, Episcopal, is the oldest church building in Berkeley, and the oldest church in continual use by its congregation in the East Bay. The building dates to 1878 and had it's beginnings in a women's sewing circle that began collecting funds from the neighborhood so that a church could be built. The church was designed by Charles L. Bugbee, one of the sons in the S.C. Bugbee & Sons architectural firm. This groups was responsible for a large number of notable Bay Area buildings, including the California Theater in San Francisco (state historical landmark no. 86), Mills Hall at Mills Seminary, the Baldwin Theater in San Francisco, and a number of Nob Hill residences.

The church is in great shape, considering its age. There is still an active congregation and they have made an effort to respect the history of their church by maintaining and preserving it. The bell tower still contains a 1,000 pound bell manufactured by the Blymer Company. In the early days of the congregation this bell served both as a call to church and a fire alarm for the surrounding neighborhood.

It was neat finding this little church off in a corner of Berkeley that I had never been to. There are some amazing old homes in this neighborhood, and it's much quieter than the rest of Berkeley, probably because it's farther away from the hustle and bustle of the university. I also got the ride down 9th St., a bicycle boulevard and one of the best cross-town routes that I've found so far. Huge shoulders, wide bike lanes, and no stop signs in the direction of travel as you move up and down 9th street. It also parallels some busier streets, so a lot of car traffic is funneled off onto them, leaving you alone on the road.

Getting There By Bike...
This one is pretty easy to find. If you're coming from Oakland, or South Berkeley, hop onto 9th St. and take it up to Hearst. The church is right there on the corner. From downtown Berkeley or the university, ride down Hearst towards the water and avoid all of the traffic and craziness on Shattuck. This is a day laborer hiring zone, so don't be surprised by the crowds of jornaleros standing on the corners and trying to find work.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Barker Block

The Barker Block is one of the last monuments that can be traced to James Loring Barker, a community leader in the early days of Berkeley history, a leading citizen, and a booster for the development of the city of Berkeley.

Barker was a mover and a shaker within the Berkeley community when the city was still in its infancy. He is generally given credit for getting the Central Pacific Railroad Company to extend service to Berkeley, and it was through his efforts that the rail right of ways and the subscriptions necessary to cover development costs were made available. He also established the first newspaper in Berkeley (the Weekly Advocate) in 1877, led the community movement to incorporate the city of Berkeley in 1878, built the first public school in Berkeley in 1879, and donated money to the trustees of the newly founded UC Berkeley so that they could buy land to build the school on. He also led the community movement to bring electric lighting onto the Berkeley streets and helped establish Berkeley's first public library in 1893.

The building, which still stands at 2486 Shattuck Ave. in downtown Berkeley, is one of the many structures that Barker built throughout his career as a real estate developer. The Barker Block was built in 1905 and designed by A.W. Smith, a prolific local architect. Unfortunately for Barker, the building was not even completed when the 1906 earthquake struck, doing roughly $10,000 (at that time) in damage to the structure. Barker ended up profiting from the disaster though, since shortly after the earthquake a flood of refugees moved into Berkeley from San Francisco, and his repaired and restored building was swiftly filled with businesses and renters.

Getting There By Bike...
This building is really easy to find. It's on the corner of Shattuck and Dwight in downtown Berkeley, and is hard to miss if you keep your eyes open. Be aware that traffic on Shattuck is never great and that you should use caution if you plan to ride around in downtown Berkeley.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Berkeley City Club

The Berkeley City Club is registered as California Historical Landmark No. 908 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located at 2315 Durant Ave. in Berkeley, CA.

The Berkeley City Club was founded in 1927 by a group of Berkeley women in order to contribute to social, civic, and cultural progress. The building was intended as a shelter from the world, and a place where the members could nurture creative impulse and community spirit, serve as a meeting place for Berkeley's arts and culture community, and encourage conversation in its library and private sitting areas. The creation of the building reflects the expanding roles that the women of Berkeley were taking upon themselves in the 1920s. The Berkeley City Club was created out of a desire to form a unified group of women who were interested in social and philanthropic work and unite them at a single location, as opposed to having this same group spread throughout several clubs and locations within Berkeley. Initially conceived as a private club for women, they Berkeley City Club has been open to both genders since 1962, and the facility is available for special events.

The building was designed by noted Bay Area architect Julia Morgan and was finished in 1930. The building is typical of Morgan's style, fusing Moorish and Romanesque elements into a building that has been a landmark of Bay Area architecture for over seventy years.

Getting There By Bike...
If you're coming from Shattuck or downtown Berkeley, head east on Durant for two blocks. The Berkeley City Club is located on the block after Ellsworth, on the left hand side of the road. All the usual warning about traffic in downtown Berkeley, and the areas surrounding the campus still stand when you visit this site.