Put on your walking shoes and learn a lot with a new book about where to ramble in Berkeley as your guide.
For sure, residents and visitors of Berkeley alike know of these popular haunts: shopping on Telegraph Avenue, spotting students at Cal’s Sproul Plaza, and dining along the Gourmet Ghetto.
But even the most knowledgeable insiders might not know that Bill and Hillary Clinton had a premarital love nest in an unremarkable gray apartment unit at 2667 Derby St. Or that Unabomber Ted Kaczynski rented a converted garage at 2028A Regent St. smack dab in Berkeley’s Elmwood district when he taught at Cal in the 1970s.
But all those facts—and a lot more—are documented in a new book, Berkeley Walks: Revealing Rambles Through America’s Most Intriguing City (Roaring Forties Press, $18.95, 271 pp.), of course, written by two Berkeley authors, Robert E. Johnson and Janet L. Byron. The two walked “thousands of hours,” Johnson said, over about three years researching, photographing, and mapping 18 walks citywide.
“We just wanted to share Berkeley with others,” said Byron, who provides communications for Kaiser Permanente’s division of research. “We wanted to show the people of Berkeley the history of what’s here. And we wanted to show out-of-towners that there’s more to Berkeley than just the campus.”
Byron and Johnson, who is a retired financial analyst, photographer, and part-time contributor to Urban Advantage, a photographic computer enhancement service, met more than a dozen years ago as volunteer leaders for Greenbelt Alliance, the San Francisco nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Bay Area greenbelts. The two led plenty of walking tours, until at one point they both realized they knew a lot about Berkeley—the city in which they both lived.
“Let’s do a book about Berkeley,” Johnson recalled. It also didn’t hurt that Johnson had served on Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for eight years, which gave him institutional insight and killer research skills for verifying—or not—lots of Berkeley lore.
Five major edits later, the book was born, and is now on sale through Amazon and participating bookstores.
It’s not the first book about Berkeley. There’s the Secret Stairs: East Bay: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Berkeley and Oakland. And there’s 41 Berkeley Walking Tours: Architectural Walks Through the University Town, a joint venture of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and the Berkeley Historical Society, to name just two. In fact, Byron and Johnson used these books to launch much of their own research.
But Johnson pointed out: Theirs is the first walking book of Berkeley that’s “all encompassing,” meaning it focuses on the city as a whole, including history, architecture, a little opinion (especially on buildings that seem out of place in the neighborhood), maps, names of trees that line the street, and just the right amount of juicy gossip to keep Berkeleyans popular at cocktail parties. Do you know exactly where Patricia Hearst was kidnapped from in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army? Or which middle and high schools Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Thornton Wilder attended Berkeley at the turn of the 20th century? (Take the Elmwood walk to find out.)
The book is thoroughly researched and divided into 18 specific walks, such as “Aquatic Park and the Marina” in West Berkeley, “Cordonices Creek” in North Berkeley, and “The North Side of Campus” in Central Berkeley. The authors give detailed walking directions—turn right here, take a left there—and offer blown-up street maps to guide the walkers along. They tested the routes out on their friends, too, giving them drafts and using the feedback to strengthen the writing.
As the book was recently released this fall, Byron and Johnson also plan to host $10 walking tours. Be prepared to listen to Byron fill your brain from handwritten, fact-laden notecards and observe as Johnson pulls out artwork, sketches, and Time magazine photos to show walkers examples of the famous artists, architects, and authors who lived in the quaint Victorians and Julia Morgan-themed homes that dot the neighborhood.
This is not the book for the faint of heart, Byron cautioned. People who want to zip through the city might not appreciate the rich historical accounts woven onto each page.
“We just wanted to show people things that they might not have noticed,” Byron said. “I think Berkeley really needs our book.”
Lisa Fernandez is a freelance writer who lives in Oakland.
10 Intriguing Spots
A few favorite places from the authors.
Berkeley has so many great things to see, and it’s hard to pick just one favorite. So we’ve narrowed the new Berkeley Walks book to 10 of the most intriguing places to see, from the most romantic political love nest to the most spectacular view.
1. The apartment complex that look most like it could be in a fairy tale: Normandy Village. 1781-1813 and 1817-49 Spruce St. (The North Side of Campus walk)
2. The best place for 5-year-olds to hammer nails at a playground: Adventure Playground. Berkeley Marina (Aquatic Park and the Marina walk)
3. The most romantic love-nest apartment building: 2667-71 Derby St., where Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton spent the summer of 1971 (The Elmwood walk)
4. The best place to get a gourmet pizza and a jazz combo: The Cheeseboard Collective. 1504/1512 Shattuck Ave. (The Gourmet Ghetto walk)
5. The ultimate Craftsman: Thorsen House. 2307 Piedmont Ave. (Piedmont Avenue to Panoramic Hill walk)
6. The best spot to see a year-round cascading waterfall: next to 1179-81 Keith Ave. in the Berkeley Hills (Codornices Creek walk)
7. The quirkiest found-object sculpture garden: 1118 Colusa St. (Hopkins and Monterey Market walk)
8. Most glorious Queen Anne Victorian mansion: Captain Boudrow House. 1536 Oxford St. (Maybeck Country walk)
9. The best mural/tribute to 1960s Berkeley: People’s Park mural. Side of Amoeba records, Haste Street at Telegraph Avenue (The South Side of Campus walk)
10. The most spectacular view and place to watch the sunset: Indian Rock Park. 950 Indian Rock Ave. (The Rock Parks walk)
Meet the Authors
The authors, Robert Johnson and Janet Byron, have a few events, including tours and book signings, scheduled this month, including:
Sunday, Nov. 1, 4-6pm. A guided walk around the Elmwood followed by a book signing at Mrs. Dalloway’s Literary and Garden Arts, 2904 College Ave., Berkeley.
Saturday, Nov. 7, 1:30-4pm. Johnson leads tour of volcanic outcrops in North Berkeley. To reserve space, write to info@BerkeleyWalks.com or call 510-528-4368.
Saturday, Nov. 21, 1:30-4pm. Johnson facilitates a spin near Hopkins and Monterey Market full of Victorian and Craftsman houses. To reserve space, write to info@BerkeleyWalks.com or call 510-528-4368.