In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Darryl McCray covered every conceivable surface in Philadelphia, stationary and moving, with his nickname “Cornbread.” Sometimes McCray worked with a compatriot known as Cool Earl, often he proclaimed his love for Cynthia, and always his name featured a crown over the letter B. He was the John Baptist of tagging and modern graffiti.
Tangent alert (as if Cornbread were not enough of a tangent):
In the summer of 1970 my friend Gabby went to a concert at the Robin Hood Dell in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.
The concert was a soul revue, reserved seats and lawn seating. Gabby and his girlfriend Young Emily sat next to three black teenagers on the lawn. They got to talking. You guessed it – Cornbread, Cool Earl, and Cynthia. Gabby got them to autograph his ticket stub. I wonder if he kept it.
Which brings us to graffiti in Berkeley. Graffiti has changed since the tagging days of Cornbread and Cool Earl. Esquire told us that it became the great art of the 1970s.
Norman Mailer jumped in, all-in as he did with everything.
As hip-hop culture ascended, so did graffiti, a primary component of the culture. And kids kept making graffiti, great public art or not, faith or not.
We may not have graffiti garages like those found in Tacoma, but graffiti is all around Berkeley. and so the question arose early – do I include it in my presentation of quirky material culture? It is ephemeral, which made me a little iffy about including it. It is by no means uniquely Berkeley. It is photographed by others. All of which lead to not including it here.
But – then – I changed my mind after the needle made it into blue with a Quirky Berkeley focus group shown the photos.
It is uncommissioned public art at its finest. Yes to all the reasons for not including it, but also yes to that which it adds to the overall nature of life in Berkeley. And yes, for Gabby and his girlfriend from 1970, wherever they may be.
The vestigial industrial/manufacturing/warehouse Berkeley lining the Union Pacific tracks way down west in Berkeley is a graffiti canvas. Let’s start at the Addison Street crossing. For a few blocks south and less north graffiti reigns, mostly on the eastern side of the tracks. It is private property. Trains come by. Not a safe place. Danger!
Very close to Addison is the graf portrait of John Lennon, featured elsewhere here in Quirky Berkeley but repeated here:
This graf/art/mural sent me off in search of images of Beatles and Lennon murals elsewhere, which I present here. The graffiti sprawls along the west-facing backs of buildings on the east side of the tracks:
And now looking at some of the individual pieces:
Let’s head north, to the Gilman Street track crossing.
The graffiti here is in general not up to Addison Street standards. I have no idea how wall space is allocated. I have no idea how much of this art is gang-related. Don’t know, don’t care. A few samples of what we find on the backs of buildings racing the tracks just north and mostly south of Gilman:
One building in the stretch here demands special attention – 1350 4th Street, the former Carbon Warehouse. Whatever that was.
In the fall of 2012, the warehouse was opened to dozens of graffiti artists as part of the Special Delivery Project of the Endless Canvas.
It was quite the event, I am sure, in a ghetto/hipster/Brooklyn kind of way. Here are a few photos that I didn’t take of the event:
One problem – inviting thousands of graffiti fans to an event might and did have an unintended but foreseeable consequence. That would be and was graffiti all over the neighborhood. Who saw that one coming?
Walking along the railroad tracks you can look through glass-less windows and see vestiges of the glory that was Special Delivery.
My friend claims that he knew Cornbread and Cool Earl. He further claims that he gave them both their nicknames. It is a known fact that he was friends with Gabby and Young Emily. He claims that he knows a lot of the taggers and writers down on the tracks, and even claims that he helps them design their bigger pieces. I have my doubts, although he does know “1900,” a girl tagger who first took me down to the tracks. He has no doubts about railroad track graf:
There used to be a ubiquitous stenciled sillhouette portrait of Jimi Hendrix that would appear on traffic signal controllers and poles throughout the south campus area during the 1980s and ’90s. We (the electrical crew) as part of our maintenance duties were supposed to periodically repaint the city equipment including painting over graffiti. I would always make a point of painting everything except the Jimi image as he was one of my guitar idols as a teen and the artwork was intriguing.
I just visited the Carbon Warehouse recently and it looks like there’s still a lot going on. Do you have any idea how to get inside?
A construction company, ProVen, bought and uses the site. They have some pretty nifty plans for the building. I have been trying to go through their architect to get inside but have not succeeded.