Monday 21 June 2010


Tourists to San Francisco often take a detour across the Golden Gate Bridge to visit an attractive nature reserve, called Muir Woods, in Marine County. A beautiful grove of old redwoods, more impressively called Sequoia Sempervirens, can be found there. These trees are among the oldest tree species on earth, having thrived already in olden times when Dinosaurs were roaming the Earth. They are still thriving in the beneficial coast climate of Northern California, reaching an impressive height of over 100 meters and an age of up to 2500 years.

I had advanced plans of visiting Muir Woods and taking pictures of this beautiful place for your benefit. Did you think the picture above stems from this green wonder? Unfortunately not, I was too occupied roaming the Berkeley Campus to ever get across the Golden Gate towards Marine County. But I need not worry about this lack of adventurism. Redwoods could be seen much closer to my habitat in Berkeley than across the Bay. In fact, the grove shown above lies straight on Campus. How can this be? How can a forest of venerable tree veterans co-exist with hordes of students and a manifold of buildings?

One great man is responsible for this extraordinary co-existence. His name is Frederick Law Olmsted. Way back in the early 1870s, when it was decided to move the University from Oakland to its present site, there was unspoilt nature where the Campus was supposed to be located. The hills looked pretty much like in Briones (“The green, green grass of ho-ome”), with grassy slopes interspersed by two creeks, later called the North and South Fork of Strawberry Creek. Along the creeks grew large groves of Californian Oak, Sycamore and Bay Tree, much like the vegetation along Alameda Creek in Sunol (“Walk on the Wild Side”) leaving the remainder of the hills green with grass, adorned by the odd large crooked solitary oak.

Frederick, by then already famous for his planning of the Great Central Park in New York, was entrusted with planning the overall layout of Campus. He proposed to place it between the two creeks, letting it extend from the upper hills all the way down to the confluence of the two water-flows. This would give the Campus an east-west orientation. In the middle of this large area he proposed to lay down a sequence of large glades, ranging from east (the hills) almost down to the two creeks’ confluence. To the south and north of these glades, the Campus buildings were supposed to be built, bordered, on the one side, by the greens and, on the other side, by the voluminous tree groves growing along the respective creeks. The corner, all the way down west, where the two creeks meet, was foreseen by Olmsted to be left as it was, as a little forest of indigenous trees (oaks, sycamores and bay trees).

To begin with, planning and building followed Olmsted’s original plan more or less exactly. South Hall and North Hall were placed on each side of a central glade, and the University entrance was put on a bridge over South Fork, heading south exactly on the spot where Sather Gate now is located. Just across the bridge Telegraph Avenue gradually emerged, boisterous and rowdy already then, to cater for the wordly needs of students and faculty.
Over time, the university expanded, first within the natural boundaries envisaged by Frederick, but increasingly without. As a result, the two creeks, especially South Fork, now are running through Campus, instead of at its borders. 

That notwithstanding, the essence of the Olmsted plan has survived. The center of Campus is still dominated by a large glade, called Memorial Glade, and the voluminous tree groves, located along the two creeks and at their confluence, have been preserved. It is only the nature of the trees that has been changed. Already from the outset, new trees were planted, such as, Cedars, Pines, Cypresses and Olive Trees, to complement the native triad. At the creeks’ confluence, the forest was completely renewed, by planting only Blue Eucalyptus. But what about the redwoods? They arrived much later, planted as they were by University Landscape Architect Gregg in the early 1930s.

It is a sign of the redwoods’ extraordinary strength and endurance that these oldtimers, being barely 80 years old, already outrange every other tree on Campus except the odd large Eucalyptus. Residing serenely along the gurgling creeks, they are the sovereigns of the University, if not the universe, ever growing in the morning mists and prepared to outlast as all, probably enduring far into the future, when the University will be long gone and its buildings weathered down to crumbles.

All the planning and building throughout the decades has left the visitors of Campus with an enticing wilderness, to be enjoyed by hiking along the creeks, crossing small bridges and enjoying glimpses of glades and buildings along the way. If you put your mind to it, you can actually cross Campus from west to east without ever looking at a building, remaining completely immersed in the voluptuous greenery and silent serenity of the tree groves along the creeks. We are not talking about a small distance here. It would take you at least half an hour’s brisk walk to complete the hike.

When I first visited Campus, back in the seventies, I was young and eager, too occupied with my studies and research to even notice the hidden pleasures to be found along the creeks. To be frank, I had no idea that such greenery even existed within the University’s boundary, busy as I was with rushing from lecture hall to library, from library to restaurant, from restaurant to gym and back to lecture hall.

The first inkling of these hidden treasures was obtained when visiting the Campus for the second time the week after my return to Berkeley. I parked the car I rented, during that week, at the western end of Campus, along Oxford Street, planning to walk up Campus towards the Campanile. The first thing I noticed when entering the University was some enormous Eucalyptus trees, standing aside a considerably more modest Cedar, and seemingly dwarfing even the clock tower, which I could barely glimpse behind the voluminous leaves. Later, of course, it dawned on me that I was glimpsing the outer fringe of the grove of Blue Eucalyptus that had been planted at the two creeks’ confluence back in the late 1870s.

Although I bypassed this vegetational excess that day, rushing onward towards the Campanile, the view wet my appetite and I have spent many hours since exploring the amazing plantations adorning Campus. My visit here in Berkeley is approaching its end, but I would feel bad if leaving without asking you to join me on a hike along the creeks, in particular along South Fork, with minor detours, so that you can enjoy, like me, those green expanses’ cool and quiet splendor. If you would like to follow our path on a Campus map you are invited to open up now the following Google view as your companion. You can follow the trace of South Fork rather easily if you locate the crossing Cedar/Oxford to the left and take it from there.

Let us start this virtual walk where Central Avenue ends at Oxford Street, both being busy commercial streets at the west end of Campus. Crossing Oxford, you enter, rather abruptly, the Campus premises and are immediately surrounded by dense greenery that is quickly hiding and subduing the downtown buzz and noise of city life. An impressive monument welcomes you to the forest, the massive globe in bronze we already met in an earlier post (“Climb the Indians!”).

Treading lightly on the carpeted forest ground, we now veer towards the left, in a northerly direction, and admire an airy grove of young oak trees, busily striving towards heaven, but still too young to let their down most branches getting heavy and leaning back towards the ground. These trees appear to have been planted fairly recently, possibly to revive an original grove of ancient oaks that still can be glimpsed, as one of the icons of UCB, on many an ancient view card from the late 18th century.

Backtracking to the main path we soon arrive at the first bridge crossing Strawberry Creek and enter into the enchanted realm of its bordering groves. Redwoods stand on guard along the quietly running creek and you feel transported back to olden times when reptiles roamed the earth and our species forerunners still hid, small as mice and smaller, from the trampling feet of scaly giants.

Once across the bridge, new vistas evolve before your amazed eyes. Between the stately redwoods, some portal-like openings, surrounded by green needles, permit us a first view of the blue giants, the Australian Eucalyptus planted at the confluence between the forks. For the purpose of disclosure, let me state that I am not fond of these immigrants from far west. In contrast to the native trees that permit, and thrive on, airy greenery at their feet, rendering walking a permanent delight, the soil underneath the Eucalyptus is completely bare, only being covered by dead leaves from those lofty trunks. Thus they are best admired from a distance, as we do in the two pictures just below.

For your sake we nonetheless undertake to walk among these forward immigrants. Did I mention, that there is a small consolation that lets you enjoy the grove with your nose, if not with your eyes and feet? The leaves emit a delicate smell, pleasant to behold, so we are not completely without sensual stimulation when treading the bare and dead soil underneath their expanse. But wait, what strange concoction of colored paper sheets on strings do we see between two giant trunks? In fact, we observe a rather touching sign of loyalty between students at this venerable institution. Three UCB youngsters were recently engaging in a hiking trip in western Iraq. Unfortunately, they crossed the border into much less hospitable terrain and have been kept under custody by the Persian authorities for over a year now. These shards of paper are all placed by fellow students who express, in writing, their distress and their loyalty with their captured colleagues, together with their hope for a quick resolution of this lamentable incident.

Heartened by this unexpected demonstration of human feelings among serenely uncaring greenery we continue our promenade eastward along the creek. The stately redwoods are our constant companions. But, now and then they are being interspersed with the odd olden oak, with lower branches leaning ground-ward as if wary of olden age. Here and there flowers can be discerned below its heavy branches, encouraging the venerable veteran to keep enduring. Our path now goes alongside Haas Pavilion and the Alumni House and we are approaching the center of Campus life. Along the Alumni House some interesting Japanese style stone lanterns are placed in the greenery. I have not been able to find out their raison d’être. Could they have been placed by Japanese Alumni, grateful for their stay in this enlightened place?

There is no time to think about this further, since we are now approaching the spot, where a bridge across the creek constituted the ancient entrance to Campus. The slim wooden span has, of course, long since been replaced by a solid stone bridge. On top of that solid bow was built the famous Sather Gate, the artful entrance to Campus until the University, in the early ‘sixties, acquired additional land outside its gate and built, on this new entrance area, sites like Sproul Hall, the two Sproul Plazas and the student Hall facilities. Pictures of all these edifices have been shown in earlier posts, so we bypass these architectural features and concentrate on the underground passage of the creek, as shown in the two pictures below.

Students that enter central campus via Sather Gate have their eyes usually aligned northward, towards the buildings where their lectures are being provided. For our walk we quickly pass the gate and glance back at it at a westward angle. This provides us with amiable views of the huge urns that adorn the gate’s sides, position against the stately redwoods that are flanking the gate but are usually being neglected by busy students striding about their business.

Let’s take a short brake from our nature tour and verge towards the left, along Sather Road. Soon we are crossing Schlesinger Way, much more important than its name. It provides, when descending it, coming from the Campanile, a wondrous view of the Bay, with the Golden Gate in direct alignment with this parade street. This will always be your favorite spot of observation, in midwinter, when the sun is setting over the Golden Gate Bridge and casting its dying rays along the street to bath you with its last strokes of warmth and light.

A little further on, just opposite California Hall, stands a memorable clock in marble, donated, no doubt, by a class of alumni from times long past. Below this clock, many a student demonstration is taking place, to convince the University Administration, which is located in California Hall, to better its ways. The signs on the clock tell the story of a recent hunger strike on the greens in front of the building, to convince the Chancellor to protest against a newly adopted law in Arizona permitting the police to arrest anyone, without a permit, that they suspect being an immigrant.

Now back to our evergreen monument, that is, our trusted companion, the South Fork of Strawberry Creek! Onwards, or rather upwards, we strive along the creek, leaving Wheeler Hall to our left, completely hidden in the greenery. But look, what venerable building of brick do we perceive straight ahead, whilst hiking along the creek? This is none other than the Old Art Gallery, a beautiful shed built already back in 1904, but at present left to its own devices and, as a result, subjected to gentle, but steady, decay. This building is intriguing, since it has been put to many uses over the years. 

It started out as a steam plant! When steam went out of fashion, it was refurbished as the UCB Art Gallery, until the University’s Art Museum was completed, in 1970. Thereafter it was, successively, used as the bike bureau of the campus police; a facility for storing used furniture; and a campus stationery store. The music department currently is raising money to renovate this venerable brownstone for use as a concert and performance facility. We can but congratulate this decision to save an enticing jewel in the jungle.

I had passed by this building every morning, way back when I was a young student, on my way to Barrow’s Hall, where my economics lectures were taking place. Having been busy with intellectual improvement, I had always sadly neglected this quintessence of a Campus marvel. To get you to understand my loss, take a look at the backside of the edifice, located perpendicularly to the path I trod as a young student. 

It took the more sedate pace of mature age to observe that the wall there was adorned with two memorable mosaics, almost Byzantine in their splendor, albeit with distinctly modern motives. These two images bear beautiful witness to the depressed times of the ‘thirties, when America rose to the task and introduced a series of policies to wrench the country out of its misery, with activities organized by the Works Project Authority (WPA) within the New Deal. The work was done in 1936, by the two female artists Helen Bruton and Florence Swift. Are we doing as well in present times of crisis, when organizing public projects?

After this refresher in 1930s mural art we continue our journey. Just a few minutes later we arrive at another small building, Anthony Hall, half hidden amongst the greenery. This is the seat of the Graduate Assembly, catering to the needs of graduate students and organizing community projects to be carried out by these accoladed youngsters.

Diving back into the groves along the creek, we bypass Moses and Stephens Hall in our steady ascent along the creek. Soon the groves become denser again, with redwoods dominating the scenery. However, the generous veterans always provide room and light for many a brush and flower between their stately trunks.

We now are approaching the end of our journey; we watch the brook bordering on the second large glade within Campus, Faculty Glade. True to our mission to explore the wild side of UCB, we stay close to the brook and prefer to enjoy the glade’s open green reaches from afar, staying within the cool shade of redwoods. But look! A beautiful Rhododendron is enticing us to approach the glade’s fringe. Along its side, we are pleased to behold a well built little tree nymph, dressed in enticing green. 

You may have noticed that my blog is sorely missing pictures of campus sculptures, although many a statue is adorning this place of academic virtue. There is a reason for this: who would be interested, on our old continent, in the quixotic statues of academic athletes and coaches, that abound around the halls and glades, bearing witness to the typical American symbiosis of sports and academics? Our interest remains firmly focused on more traditional esthetics, preferably in the form of enticing young females!

Before we finish our log, there is still a small stretch of the creek to visit, before it disappears below modern paving with concrete, giving way to Piedmont, the elegant avenue that constitutes the eastern border of Campus proper. Again we glimpse groves of redwood, interspersed with the odd venerable oak.

But soon we are descending into ravines filled with a more varied growth of trees, behind which lie hidden, in an oasis of vegetable quiet, the two remainders of a more gentile era, the Men’s and Women’s Faculty Club. Unfortunately, I have no pictures to show you of these two buildings fashioned in traditional redwood; that notwithstanding they have to be mentioned here, if for no other reason than to respond to Lars’ comments on the same buildings. I have visited them recently, Lars, but forgot to bring my camera. They still exist as separate facilities, but access is no longer separate for the two genders. 

Can you guess which of the two is the better maintained and more orderly? You guessed right! If you ever would plan to follow in my footsteps, dear readers, and spend some time in Berkeley, here is a nice idea for you: even without being faculty you can rent a room in one of these cozy venerable establishments. The cost is still moderate and, whilst staying in the midst of calm and cool glades, you reside smack in the middle of campus and the town of Berkeley, with all the main attractions only at less than half an hour’s walk away. You would have to be a pedestrian though, no parking facilities appear available nearby.

I know that I have misused your patience to the limit with this longest log post ever. I still hope, though, that you have stayed with me to its very end; having done this you are among the precious few, I believe, who ever have witnessed the green splendor of this grandiose passage through Campus.


Peter Weiss said...

Hallo Emil,
gestern war Heinrich Brüngger bei mir und hat sich nach Dir erkundigt. Ich habe ihm die Webpage Deines Blogs gegeben.
Vielen Dank für die unterhaltsamen Reiseberichte und liebe Grüsse vom alten Kontinent (kommst auch wieder mal zurück?)

Emil Ems said...

Dear Peter,
What a pleasure to hear from a colleague from the Commission again! Not only from the Commission, come to think of it, but much farther back, from our old days in Geneva. Thanks for tipping Heinrich of the blog. I hope he will also introduce some comments soon at this site. He always was a man of many interesting views. Since you have started the dialogue now, i hope you will come back with comments as well, to fire me on in my labors to write the last four posts!

Brian Collins said...

Beautiful photos--your post does a good job capturing the spirit of the campus. I enjoyed learning about Berkeley's natural history, too.

Emil Ems said...

Dear Brian,
Welcome to this blog and thanks a lot for your kind comments. I am glad to find another afficionado of UCB's nature sites.

Anonymous said...

Hi Emil,

silence does not mean that you don't have an audience or better visually attentive forum. Your reports are great and the rumour saying that you have been born with camera lenses in the cradle are not totally unfounded ... just a little understatement before I am getting jealous ... a colleague of mine is also an interested viewer as she prepares to spend her holidays as per next week in the California area !!!

Any comments about the Soccers events down south of Africa ????


Unknown said...


If some readers were wondering who did the "impressive monument, the massive globe in bronze"
It is the work of an italian artist by the name of Arnaldo Pomodoro. Check out his work, that guy is amazing!

You're welcome!

Emil Ems said...

Dear Marc,
Thank you kindly for taking your time and enlightening me and my audience about the "Bronze Globe". I am delighted that you found my blog from 6 years back. Isn't Internet wonderful; bringing together people of all trade?
Yours sincerely