Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Cycling Through History Challenge

A shamefully long time ago my friend Alex, fellow cyclist, appreciator of things historic, and general all around mensch, offered this challenge to me:
I offer you an East Bay historical cycling challenge. Bring me the homes of Phillip K Dick, C.S. Forrester, Jay Ward, and Thorton Wilder. If the homes are not mobile, pictures of your bike in front will do. Please feel free to challenge me on finding a piece of obscure East Bay history as well. This could get interesting.
Of course I accepted and immediately dove into the interwebs to see what I could find.  Then I got lazy and, after finding all the homes of the local notables mentioned, never got around to going and taking photos of them.  Yesterday I managed to kick my ass into some kind of productivity, so here are the results.  I hope they entertain.
1126 Francisco t., Berkeley, CA
1126 Francisco St.
This was the longtime home of science fiction author Philip K. Dick and his second wife, Kleo Apostolides.  Dick had settled in Berkeley with his mother following some early moves across the country and the family ended up staying in the area.  He graduated from Berkeley High School (where he was a member of the same graduating class as Ursula K. LeGuin though they didn't know each other), and briefly attended UC Berkeley before dropping out due to unexpected anxiety issues and a dislike of the mandatory ROTC training.  Dick lived in this home from approximately 1950 through 1958, which encompassed some of his most difficult years as a writer.  Until 1952 he was working at two area record stores, University Radio and Art Music, in order to pay the bills while working on his fiction at home.  This period in his writing can be seen as a preliminary step before his greatest literary successes.  While living on Francisco Street, Dick published a number of novels including Solar Lottery (1955), The Cosmic Puppets (1957), and Time Out of Joint (1959).  In 1959 Dick and his wife moved to Pt. Reyes Station, CA.  Though his second marriage would end almost immediately after moving Dick's time in Pt. Reyes would be the most productive period of his professional life, publishing sixteen novels between 1959 and 1964.
 1570 Hawthorne Terrace, Berkeley, CA
1570 Hawthorne Terrace
1570 Hawthorne Terrace was the home of author Cecil Louis Troughton Smith, who published under the name C.S. Forester.  His most well known works are the Horatio Hornblower series of novels which follow the eponymous British Naval officer through the Napoleonic WarsHis other well known work includes The African Queen, the film version of which is a classic of golden-era Hollywood, starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. 
Forester was British, but came to the United States during World War II in order to write propaganda to encourage the U.S. to join the war on the side of the Allies.  He initially worked in Washington D.C. but settled in Berkeley and remained there for the rest of his working life.  The house on Hawthorne Terrace was the site where Forester wrote almost all of his novels and is the home of the C.S. Forester Society, which is managed by the current resident.  I'd be curious to know if the owner of the house became a C.S. Forester fan after purchasing the house, or was already a fan and the head of the C.S. Forester Society and jumped on the chance to buy the author's former home.  The house is very nice, and Hawthorne Terrace is a cute little street with lots of older handmade rock retaining walls and interesting architecture.
2675 Parker Street, Oakland, CA (1906-1910)
2350 Prospect Street, Oakland, CA (1913-1915)
Former site of 2675 Parker St.
Former site of 2350 Prospect St.
These two houses were the childhood residences of playwright and author Thornton Wilder, winner of multiple Pulitzer prizes and best known for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and the plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth. Wilder spent a part of his childhood in China, because of his father's work with the U.S. Diplomatic Corps, but returned to the United States with his mother and siblings.  They settled in Berkeley at the Parker Street address, on the south side of the UC Berkeley Campus, from 1906 through 1910.  Wilder's family remembers that it was at this home in Berkeley, when he was only 13 years old, that he started writing plays for the family to perform.  In 1911 the family returned to China had moved back to the United States within two years.  Settling in Berkeley again, they took up residence at the home on Prospect Street.  He enrolled in Berkeley High School for his junior and senior years, but never thought fondly of his time there since he was socially inept and cruelly treated by his classmates.  Wilder's passion for theater deepened in high school and he began seriously writing plays, some of which were performed at Berkeley High School, and some of which were published later.  After completing high school in 1915, Wilder left Berkeley to attend Oberlin College, Yale, and travel the world.

And finally, though it pains me to admit it...
I was unable to find the house of Jay Ward, creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and a long list of classic cartoon characters.  Despite extensive internet searches, using all the dark secrets and tricks of the librarian trade, I could not find his home.  Which is entirely frustrating since, not only was he a native son of Berkeley, Jay Ward was also a  lifelong Cal booster, had an intense love for the East Bay, was an incredibly successful business owner in Berkeley (he owned a highly successful real estate firm, J.T. Ward Realty and Insurance.  Even when the checks were rolling in he never thought of animation as anything more than a hobby), and his family still lives in the area. Even after he moved to Los Angeles for professional reasons, he stayed closely tied to Berkeley and his home community.  
But here's what I did learn.  Jay Ward was the son of Juanita Ward, a well known local dancer and rooming house owner in Berkeley.  She owned a home on College Avenue where she rented rooms to travelers and students, though I was unable to find an exact address for Jay Ward's childhood home.  The Moose That Roared, the biography of Jay Ward, describes Jay's family life, and in particular his mother and her rooming house, in great detail, but does not offer an address.  As a student at Cal Jay Ward lived on and near the campus and was a well known site as he zipped around town in his right-hand drive MG convertible with his enormous sheep dog sharing the front seat with him, but I was not able to find any addresses for his homes while at college.  His professional offices, where he ran the J.T. Ward Realty and Insurance Company, were at 3049 Ashby Street, at the corner of Ashby and Domingo.  The animation studio that he began using when Rocky and Bullwinkle were being created was at 111 Sutter.  Ward did not want to rent this expensive office space for something he regarded as a hobby, but his partners thought that the professional looking office would help them land a backer for their cartoons. 
Thus ends the first ever Cycling Through History Challenge.  I had a ton of fun doing this, so I guess if anyone else has any ideas about things that they would like to see dug up and exposed to the light of day, then please email me.  Thanks for reading!

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