In my second year of college I lived on Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia, across the street from Clark Park with the only statue of Charles Dickens in the United States. Young Emily and her mother Tavia lived only a block away.
I read like a fiend all year. That fall I discovered C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia. I raced through the books. I loved Aslan.
But this page is not about Aslan. It is about the lions of Berkeley.
The song for this page is, as my 6th grade (we called it A Form!) teacher Mr. Davenport said to us many times, intuitively obvious to even the casual observer. In 1961, I bought my first record album. My record player came from E.J. Korvette. It was rich-sounding and durable:
I bought the album at Kiddie City on Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr. I bought it for one song. I had no idea about the political nature of the song or its long and tangled history. I only knew I liked the doo-wop sound of the Tokens singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
From that album I learned “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore.” I think. My first single, you ask? I bought two at the same time, again at Kiddie City, although I would soon graduate to Mads Records on Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore. The two singles were “Duke of Earl” and “Cindy’s Birthday.” I think. I stand by two out of the three.
Enough nostalgia. Time for the lions.
Most of Berkeley’s lions are, well, at the risk of offending – kinda kitschy, although “characterized by worthless pretentiousness” might be a little strong. Let’s be kind, and think of Patience and Fortitude, the proud lions guarding the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.
Berkeley lions take several forms. Door knockers to start with:
Most are guarding porches. Some pairs, some singles.
I have saved my favorite Berkeley lion for last. Check this out!
I missed seeing this when I walked the neighborhood. You stand just north of the intersection of McGee and Parker, on McGee, and look up to the east. There it is! Cathy Roha wanted a masthead on her house, and so ordered a puma/mountain lion carved by the carvers down on Ashby. When she picked it up, it was a bear, not a puma. The carver made a mistake! Waste not, want not – she had the fur sanded off and the features smoothed off and – voila – a wonderful puma masthead, three stories up. Don’t miss it.
My friend is still humming “Duke of Earl.” He “cops to” (his words, not mine) some lion “hang-ups,” something to do with not liking being on the giving levels of the food chain. But, that said, he likes the Berkeley lions: