I have already pronounced Claremont Avenue near the Star Market as the quirkiest commercial block in Berkeley, and I’m not about to rescind this pronouncement.
That said (a nominative absolute – but you knew that, no?), Murray Street is some kind of superlative. It is a half-block south of Ashby and runs only from San Pablo to Seventh Street. With a nod to the Orions and their 1963 ode to South Street in Philadelphia, I’m comfortable saying that Murray Street is the hippest street in town. Not hipsterest, but hippest.
The Hygenic Dog Food building is the street’s calling card. It has looked the same for at least the last 30 years.
Reid’s photo is from about 1990.
I am informed and believe that the Hygenic Dog Food building is linked to two other Very Cool/Quirky buildings in Berkeley. I am patiently waiting for a little more information about the buildings before proclaiming it as a Great Quirky Trinity. I am informed and believe that artists work in the Hygenic Dog Food building. I don’t know though. Phil Allen tells me that when he moved to Berkeley in the early 1970s that the Movement Motors operated out of Hygenic Dog Food. Perfect!
On the west end of Murray Street is Urban Ore.
It is a gold mine of DIY quirk. I have written about it here. It is a great Berkeley resource.
There used to be beaucoup graffiti on Murray. Now, almost none.
In late March 2017, this was about all I found. Pretty cool wheat paste work, wouldn’t you say?
In terms of visuals, there is one awesome sign:
They design and build custom bikes. I didn’t talk with them but I’d bet they are makers and a great addition to the essence of Berkeley. I dig the sign.
At 1010 Murray, there is usually some junkyard welded sculpture piled on top of junkyard stuff peeking over the fence.
This is what was visible in March when we visited. Definite Gregor Samsa vibe, no?
In March 2013 I saw this. Jane Peppler shot this:
What up with this?
It turns out that the quirky sculpture is probably the least quirky feature at 1010 Murray.
Nick Bindbeutel showed us around. He is the Director of Infrastructure for All Power Labs. He calls himself a “junkyard engineer.” There are plenty of degreed engineers working here, that’s not the point. All Power Labs makes small-scale, carbon-negative biomass gasifier generators. That means they produce electricity by burning biofuels and without emitting carbon.
Older gasifiers sit on top of a shipping container.
To my eye, they could pass for astromech droids manufactured by Industrial Automaton – cousins of R2D2.
New gasifiers have a little less personality.
They burn biomass, such as walnut shells.
The market for the All Power Labs gasifiers is largely in the non-profit world, agencies and organizations bringing power to remote villages without the necessity of a transmission and distribution infrastructure.
The vibe at All Power Labs is not exactly purely green start-up. There is something more there.
In late 2000, Burning Man installation artist Jim Mason opened Shipyard, a collection of shipping containers where Burning Man artists could collaborate and fabricate their Burning Man projects.
The City took a dim view of the collection of shipping containers and the absence of permits. They had the power shut off in early 2001. The struggle continued. In 2007 the City shut Shipyard down with a “vacate and abate” notice. For more on the story, see this. And, preview: for a coming holiday field trip, we will visit NIMBY in East Oakland, a Shipyard-like workspace for DIY artists.
So what is a DIYer to do? Launch a company that generates its own electricity, that’s what. And so here they are, a green start-up with a Burning Man, DIY, maker/hacker legacy. About 5 of the 40+ employees are hold-overs from Shipyard, including our guide Nick the junkyard engineer. The energy is maker/hacker. Good thing!
On the way out I spotted one more purely-quirky manifestation:
There is a spirit here that is profoundly good, profoundly Berkeley.
On the north side of Murray just a little east of All Power Labs is this:
In the window, you see this:
Step into the building and you see the steel figure like this:
There are more cut steel pieces:
This is the studio and workshop of Michael Christian.
On his website, Christian says that he makes things that make him smile.
The big ball that is shown above was a Burning Man piece named “Home.” Here is Christian’s Playa-esque rendering of the piece:
Here are two other Burning Man pieces:
My, my indeed.
I am sure that there are others on Murray Street whom I have not mentioned. But take these – Urban Ore and Hygenic Dog Food and All Power Labs and Michael Christian – what a spark!
I showed my friend the photos. He has mixed feelings about Burning Man itself (heat and dust), but none about the artists who make installations for Burning Man.
What gives me the greatest joy is the fact that this creativity and inventiveness and making/hacking exists still – and forcefully – in Berkeley. We have all but priced the young and struggling out of coming here to live and work. That’s not good!
But here on Murray Street we find manifestations of artistic creativity and a maker ethic, critical ingredients in keeping Berkeley what it has always been, what draws us here – quirky. This is why we love Berkeley.
My friend was engrossed in reading about the gasifiers. I asked him to pause a moment and comment on this post. He did: