When I was 21, I moved from Pennsylvania to California. When I left, my mother discovered Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sit Down Young Stranger.” It spoke to her: “They say you been out wanderin’ / They say you travelled far / Sit down young stranger / And tell us who you are.” A nice song.
Throughout Berkeley you will find benches or chairs placed near sidewalks, perhaps on the verge (great word that I learned in this project – the strip between sidewalk and street), simply offered to strangers who might want to sit a minute. Robert Frost in “Mending Wall” told us that good fences make good neighbors. In Berkeley, good neighbors make good benches. Close.
I have not seen this except in Berkeley. Yes, you see porches in small towns, where families sit and watch what/who is passing by. But this is almost uniquely Berkeley. One of my favorites goes so far as to explain why it is there:
Most are rough benches, homemade. Here are a few fancier versions. First, a very whimsical painted creation on Marin:
Or this on Summer:
These seats on Oxford came from Fenway Park. My second favorite baseball stadium that is still standing.
This elegant bench is found on Arlington at the walking entrance to the once-elegant now not-so-elegant Spring Mansion:
Another stone bench is just around the corner from where I live.
Eunice is turning into a strong-quirk street. It is only six or so blocks long, but there is a good representation of quirky things (and Oskar Gerson designs). At the top is Codornices Park. Digression for just a moment:
This is the trestle that spanned the canyon that is now the park on one side and the Rose Garden on the other.
The view is north, with today’s park not he right and the Rose Garden on the left.
There was once a clubhouse at the top of where the slide is today. Bernard Maybeck played some role in designing and building the clubhouse.
Next to the clubhouse was a City-owned cottage where a member of the police force lived. Martin St. John, now a nurseryman at East Bay Nursery, grew up in that cottage.
But – end of digression – back to benches.
Along the bike path at the dead-end of Northside are these improvised tractor seats:
As well as a mosaic/cement bench:
You know the rule, no commissioned public art. Well, this the final of not-your-run-of-the-mill bench is too good to follow that rule. The mosaic bench at the City of Berkeley Willard Park:
When it was built, it was known as a Potter’s Wall, a term that has largely disappeared in describing it.
Andrew Werby designed and fought for the wall/bench for three years, inspired by Gaudi’s tile wall in Park Güell, Barcelona. The City of Berkeley, The California Arts council, the Alameda County neighborhood Council, and merchants provided financial and material support for the project. In 1978, Weby and volunteers built the wall, provided the shards, and placed the shards. The Gazette tells us that “Werby treated his helpers to a keg of Schlitz and an accordionist played fast moving folk tunes to keep the workers moving.” Move!
Finally before a long litany of more or less regular benches, this lovely flashback to your grandmother’s yard, circa 1962:
And now good benches placed by good neighbors:
Let’s finish strong. First, a most funky quirk. A collection of chairs and sofas in a driveway open to the street. Just inviting you to come in and sit down. Not me, no thanks. Too funky. Olde Berkeley.
And, finally, a charming cluster on Walnut Street. Side-by-side houses each have a bench on the sidewalk. The best soccer player I ever saw play grew up in one of the houses. Not that that matters. Two benches:
In the summer of 2016, Evy Kavaler and John Lau took the bench-in-theory shown above to full-blown bench status.
This brings the number of functioning benches on the 1300 block of Walnut to three.
Tile-maker Penny Brogden made this bench just south of Kavaler/Lau.
And then a little down the street, a poignant sculpture bench of a crying dog and sleeping angel. It is a tribute to Diana Buist, a Corsican sculptor who died in 2000. Jim Corr wrote about the sculpture in Berkeleyside, December 20, 2012.
There are more benches where I still have to walk. I know this. But even this far – lots of benches, no?