Three grand old buildings that were at different times and for different reasons strong presences on old weird Telegraph are gone, one to the wrecking ball, two to fire and then the wrecking ball.
They were all elegant presences on Telegraph, frayed as they may have been. But they are gone.
The Alta Vista
First to go was the Alta Vista, on the northeast corner of Telegraph and Bancroft, part of the Lost Block.
The wrecking ball took the Alta Vista in 1946, the first casualty of the University’s long-term program of extending campus limits south to Bancroft. The 30 apartment tenants were given about two weeks’ notice to vacate at Christmas-time 1945.
The Berkeley Inn
The building, designed by Joseph Cather Newsome and built in 1911, was an SRO hotel, also known as a flophouse, in the 60s and 70s before being taken by fire in the 80s. It was a shabby crossroads of chaos and art and desperation. It housed a never-to-be-seen-again mix of drifters and grifters, hustlers and grafters, painters and writers and poets, fools and innocents, gadflies and agitators and provacateurs, rabble-rousers and rebels with causes, plotters and fast-talkers, crazies and loonies, idlers and loungers and loafers and slackers, wanderers and seekers, travelers and ramblers and gamblers, cockroaches and mice, pervs and perps, pool sharks and card sharks and sharpies, stoners and addicts and acid heroes and speed freaks, junkies and pushers, rats and informers, dreamers and musicians and beautiful losers, scammers and shammers, deceivers and believers, alkies and juicers and winos and barflies, outlaws and outcasts and runaways, hermetic autodidacts and recluses and The Colonel, cheats and liars and graduate students, swindelrs and bilkers and chiselers, pranksters and rascal and rogues, vagrants and derelicts and just drop-outs, heroes and villains and street superstars, finaglers and miscreants and bail-skippers, wheeler dealers and savants and philosophers, bums and tramps and saints, petty criminals and felons, parolees, pensioners, fugitives and refugees, geniuses, vagabonds and n’er-do-wells and simply the down and out.
The single elevator ran on direct current, when it ran. The original telephone system with a switchboard behind the desk clerk’s chair was still operational, more or less, in the 1980s. Desk clerks were paid with free rooms. There was a maid or two. And lots of cockroaches.
I stood at the corner of Haste and Telegraph for a few days in the fall of 1980 with Fred Ross registering voters in the hopes of stopping Governor Reagan from becoming President Reagan. We used ironing boards as our working surface. They folded up and were easy to carry and were a catchy gimmick.
This is what I looked like then – on the left. This photo is in a Parker Street backyard. We did very well registering voters. I made notes watching people coming and going from the Berkeley Inn. It was really something. And, of course, Governor Reagan became President Reagan.
And here a street shot, with the gone-not-forgotten Forum espresso shop and Xanadu restaurant also shown:
This photo is from the north, looking south:
Dig the Berkeley Inn sign painted on the top floor facing north! On the right you see signs for Nicole’s (a boutique) and Virginia Cleaners (obviously before it moved to Shattuck). Oh yes – and the National Guard occupying Berkeley and guns and bayonets and the occupation-obligatory concertina wire.
And from the same time:
The Berkeley Inn sign is at the far left of the photo. Notice all the people standing on roofs as you look south on Telegraph. They are watching the police attack. Watching. At the south end you see silouettes of spectators on roofs. This is about where James Rector was watching when he was shot and killed. He may very well be one of the silhouettes.
The summer of 1968 saw a number of spontaneous street-closings. Large crowds of young people took Telegraph over and partied in the streets.
I picked up a few screen shots from home movies of Berkeley from 1969 that show the Berkeley Inn as background (AS IF!):
We had no Dylan or Arthur Miller or Kerouac as did the Chelsea, but we had our stars. Comic artist, writer, street genius Bruce Duncan lived in room 414. Berkeley street poet Julia Winograd, aka the Bubble Lady, aka Julia Stalingrad – lived at the Inn and was inspired by it.
Still nothing built there. One of these days. We also have this painting by Ed Munro with which to remember the Berkeley Inn:
The Sequoia Building
Fire also took the Sequoia Building in late 2011, a block to the south:
Early storefront tenants included the A-1 Meat Market, Hagstrom’s Food Store, and the Garden Spot Market.
When Hagstrom’s closed in 1953, the Berkeley Cinema Guild took the space and gave Berkeley foreign movies. I will talk much more about the Guild in a later post.
Mario’s La Fiesta Restaurant became a fixture on the corner. In 1980 the Café Intermezzo and Raleigh’s Bar & Grill took over the Telegraph Avenue Frontage.
Not exactly. Four big hotels/apartments are still there, the Granada (Bancroft and Telegraph), the Cambridge (Durant and Telegraph), the Palazo (between Haste and Channing), and the Chandler Apartments (Dwight and Telegraph). Three of the original seven, gone. And with them, gone is a certain grandeur to Telegraph. With the Berkeley Inn gone, so too is a unique and vibrant cocktail of personalities, never to be mixed again.
Earlier in the day I had seen my friend slowly absorbing an old illustrated version of Poe’s The Raven.
When I came in with the photos from this posting he came out of Poe. “I need a break from this. This is deep serious stuff. E. Allen was one twisted dude.”
As he glanced through the pictures, he paused longest at the shots of the Berkeley Inn, muttering “Nevermore.” I thought for a minute that he might say “Nevermore” when I asked him about the photos, but he didn’t. He stayed true to form.