Friday 13 April 2012


You may have noticed that most of my pictures of Berkeley streets are of flowers. This is no accident. When walking along the sidewalks of Southern Berkeley at this time of the year, the eyes are automatically drawn towards watching the blooming splendor. So here I go, usually, with my eyes at street level, looking at and photographing blooms, a bit like a dog sniffing at the ground to identify his whereabouts. But increasingly, and more so when the flowering period abates, I will try to raise my head and watch more of the scenery above the efflorescence.

Last Sunday morning, I got a splendid opportunity to do so, when Karl Reeh was so kind to take me along as a friend to visit a young couple at their place on Blake/Fulton. The couple was inviting neighbors to a housewarming brunch. When I arrived at the place, I was astounded. Before my eyes rose a beautifully restored Victorian Mansion. The restoration of the greens around the house is in progress, so their was no flowery carpet to lure my eyes down. I just had to take a picture of this jewel of a house, painted in cyan and magenta.

Nathan and Angela, the proud restorers of an ancient mansion

Nathan and Angela, as was the name of the couple, welcomed me with open arms and showed me the inside of the house. They explained to me that this was the oldest residence in Berkeley still standing, having been finished in 1877. Having restored the exterior they were now undertaking the renovation of the inside. I have to admire this energetic venture undertaken by a couple half my age and the consideration they show for preserving what is best in Southern Berkeley. Let's hope that we begin to glance a beneficial future for the manifold of houses still in dear need of preservation, if not restoration. If the younger generation in general would start to show an interest in preserving the unique character of this cosy neighborhood, our generation could sleep more easily at night, knowing that a changing of the guard will eventually be happening.

After this up-lifting experience, I contentedly strolled back to Stuart Street, this time giving more attention to the houses than the flowers. And suddenly, it was as if a curtain had been lifted before my eyes, to reveal one interesting house after another. I then decided that it may be worthwhile to raise the camera above street level from time to time, even if flowers would remain my main interest. 

To prove this point, let me show you a picture of another venerable mansion, this time located on Ward/Fulton, barely five minutes from my apartment. Although not as old as the earlier mentioned house, it has an impressive stature too. It probably is not pure chance to find formidable houses on street corners. Building a house on the corner invites the architect to go for prominence, which in turn makes it more difficult in the future to subdivide the property and crowd the mansion with buildings of lesser quality.

The picture is showing another interesting characteristic of South Berkeley. Smack in the middle of the street you see a round flowerbed, full with Californian poppy. This indicates that there is a roundabout in this crossing. Once you notice it you start seeing that almost all crossings in the area have such a roundabout. This was actually new to me when I came back to Berkeley after 35 years, in 2010. As I remember the streets from my student days, there was lot of traffic there, unhindered by any flowerbeds full with poppy. These small streets were then used as alternative routes around town, as soon as the main routes, such as Shattuck, were filling up with rush hour traffic. The neighborhood is now a much more peaceful venue for gallivanting old-timers like myself. We have to thank the active neighborhood association for this. It was their initiative, bearing fruit first after a long and burdensome struggle with city administration.


Eva said...

Dear Emil,
Words of praise to those who take such wonderful care of their old veteran houses. A special praise to the young couple who so nicely invited you to their house!
Best regards

Anonymous said...

Dear Emil,
I guess living here in Victoria, B.C. makes me a Victorian too, and I do love it here!
Bis bald, Ralph

Anonymous said...

Hi Emil
We actually live in a Victorian built in 1896. Very well constructed, it survived the 1906 quake and the 1989 quake.
Take care