In my childhood, television was something of a family affair. We sat down and watched shows together, dictated in large part by the taste of my parents. We watched the “Jackie Gleason Show,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” and “The Wild Wild West.” And, for the two years that it was on, we watched “That Was The Week That Was.”
I was 13. The show’s political satire was over my head but it made me happy to see and hear my father laugh. It was on this show, I think, that my family first heard Tom Lehrer. We listened to his records a lot.
What I did appreciate from TWTWTW (or was it TW3?) (or either or both?) was the music of Spike Jones and his orchestra. And the sirens and cowbells and gun shots, slide whistles and outrageous musical arrangements. Crazy music! Lowbrow humor! I got it.
The point being – I am taking time here to look back over the year that was – 2015 – for Quirky Berkeley. It shows what you can accomplish in a few hours a week if you don’t watch television or play golf or hunt or fish or follow professional sports. There’s lots of time. You can do things!
In more-or-less chronological order, here are the highlights of a wonderful year of Quirky Berkeley.
My first post of the year was about castles in Berkeley. It was a stretch because I only had two castles. Admittedly a reach – I added Twin Castle, formerly of San Pablo Avenue.
My search rapture led me a small zine about Twin Castle by Traci Hui. It is perfection. It captured a time and place for young people in an astonishing way. Following the Tom Dalzell Write Them rule, I wrote her.
New friend! She is a GREAT illustrator. She is making the sketches for the Quirky Berkeley book which Heyday will publish in 2016.
I posted photos of neon signs on Telegraph. I find neon to be the light of quirky. Kind of old-fashioned, kind of old weird America. I resolve to do more neon in 2016 – Shattuck Avenue calls!
My post on palm tree images is a decent example of an aggregation post – stuff from all over Berkeley, as opposed to a major manifestation at a single spot. My favorite palms and the casus belli for the palms post is this palm image from the love-the-name Webster Poolside Apartments, 2321 Webster Street.
In March I met Marcia Donahue and did a new and improved post on her garden and art and home at 3017 Wheeler. I invited readers to grok her garden and ceramics and bowling balls and the inside of her house – textiles and religious iconography and art. I feel awe in her house and garden. I have sat in her kitchen and her garden and had tea and almonds dipped in honey and talked of joy and loss.
Julie Partos easily earned and won a post about her sidewalk installations at 2634 Webster Street. She makes collages in the form of purses and hats and flyswatters (I bought one!). I once saw a photo of one of her pom-pom hats on a stunningly beautiful woman. The hat really works! Julie is a Hungarian-Australian ham, which I say in the nicest sense of the word.
Izzy Sher was an artist who worked primarily in wire and steel. His son Zalman invited me to see his backyard and house full of Izzy’s work. Spectacular! A post to be sure, photographs of the art before a lot of it was sold.
I updated my post about Doug Heine and his airplane crashing into roof and Gate 13 studio at 813 Page Street. I’d met Heine in 2014 but got some great photos of his work for this new post. He’s a good friend and I treasure the time I’ve spent as he holds court at the Gilman Grill.
When I walked Ashby for this project, Michael and Becky O’Malley had not built their fence of doors in front of their home at 2910 Ashby. A couple people who did the BAHA open house in the spring of 2015 saw the doors and followed the Quirky Berkeley Protocol to let me know of a New Siting. Stunning wall and sculpture and a cool post.
It was a year of meeting people. I had done a post on the Double V and Patrick Amiot wolf on Vassar, but this year I met Randi Herman, learned the stories, and saw a wonderful backyard. And made a new and much better post.
I have driven by Buldan Seka’s giant ceramic family at 707 Spruce for many years. This was the year to meet her, to sit and have strong sweet tea with Turkish delight in her home, to see and photograph her work, and make a new post.
I am sensing a pattern that I hadn’t been aware of. I had done a post on Frederic Fierstein’s Buddhist altar at 1175 Arch Street but did not meet him until this year – two visits in fact. I sat and talked with him. Got stories. More photos of his house and altar and Guardian sculpture at the Marina. And a new post.
I had not-so-great scouting iPhone photos of the fairy murals at 1110 Chaucer but hadn’t done a post. One Saturday in July, Colleen Neff and I knocked on the door. We met Riley who with the help of former housemate/tenant Stefen designed and painted the wrap-around fairy mural ten years ago. And a great mailbox honoring a feral cat Oscar Wilde Rose. Riley invited us inside and told us stories. It strikes me how much you see into a person in just a short time when they are talking about art that they made. And through her I have met Stefen – stay tuned in 2016 for more about him and his quirky work.
I learned a lesson in doing a post about an extraordinary man, Tad Dellinger, and his extraordinary art fence in the alley just west of Euclid between Hearst and Ridge. Dellinger attached thousands of discarded objects to the fence, creating a massive collage of university student detritus. Berkeleyside published my post about the fence in June. Two days later the University asked Dellinger to dismantle his art fence because some felt it was “creepy.” I regret having published this post. I apologized to Dellinger. He said that no apology was needed.
I met Rob Garross through Doug Heine. I knew of Rob’s caboose on Fifth Street and was thrilled to meet him. He told me the story, loaned me photos of its delivery and installation, and took me inside. Old weird America, much?
A note on the role of serendipity. We were rephotographing mailboxes one weekend in the Uplands when we drove by this new-ish Snoopy on the back side of 81 Hillcrest. We met Claire Green who made it. She told us about Snoopy and her husband Walter Garms, an algorithm genius, who built these planes from scratch. Story and photos = unplanned post.
Okay – I admit it. I geek out about Mark Buwinkle’s art. When I found new-to-me Bulwinkle at Dick and Beany Wezelman’s and at Jana Olson’s, well, I was pretty excited. He is the true north of Quirky Berkeley, and an inspiring and kind guide for me. Imagine my joy at the new Bulwinkle popping up at the old Cody’s, the new Mad Monk center.
Another summer weekend out with Colleen Neff. I wanted to know the story behind the pigs in the years of 1735 McGee. We knocked on the door. We met Diane Hamm. She told us about her pigs and took us inside to see another 5,000 of them. No kidding – 5,000 inside. A wonderful woman too with a wonderful grand daughter Meagan.
I am starting to understand the debt which I owe to Colleen Neff. She introduced me to the Berkeley Path Wanderers, for whom I lead a couple walks a year. She tells me about things she has seen. She walks with me. And she will go knock on doors with me. Which is how she and Cathy and I met Olivia “Cookie” Hunter, who created the butterfly/purple trim house at 1140 Bancroft.
And how I got to see Dutchess III, the noble Queen of Bancroft. The Best of Show, Quirky Berkeley, 2015.
Lenny Pitt is an only-in-Berkeley-or-maybe-New-York man. He knows a lot about Detroit and Paris and chocolate. He introduced me to Peter Mitchell, who used to run Peter’s Automotive at Cedar and Grant. In the kiosk there are dozens of insects that Mitchell created with welded car parts. He met me there. We opened the kiosk and the bugs saw their maker for the first time in many years. Rejoice!
I made posts on Buddha and Guanyin. I assure readers that I am not suggesting that Buddha or Guanyin or Buddhism or Buddhist iconography or religious iconography are quirky in and of themselves. Just that they add to our quirky fabric.
I saw these joyous ceramic women at Ohmega Salvage. I figured out where they came from. I wrote Leslie Safarik who made them. I met her. We’re friends! Great photos. Great art. Great artist. Great post.
Marcia Donahue introduced me to Jana Olson. They worked together landscaping 40 years ago. Jana now runs Panache Lighting. Helen Holt from Helly Welly works out of the same studio and could have introduced me too. My visit to Olson’s shop and her home – wow. When he saw my post, Doug Heine wrote: “She is a treasure and a reminder of why I live in Berkeley.” J’agree.
For years I have been taking Quirky Berkeley tours and reporters past Mark Olivier’s beach trash house at 1118 Colusa. I didn’t meet Mark until this fall. I really like him – a lot. Got stories. And names of his pieces. And better photos. And better post.
On Veteran’s Day I first went to the home of Arlene Mayerson and Allan Tinker. She is a disability rights lawyer. He is a poet; he works with students and prisoners. She makes art. They collect art. Incredible collection. A very colorful post about them.
Colleen introduced me to her neighbors Dick and Beany Wezelman. I knew their house with the African-themed not-quite-murals. I didn’t know the Bulwinkle railings. Or the house full of African art, artifacts, textiles, and furnishings. Or the African mud hut in the backyard. Quirky Berkeley indeed!
During open studios in December I finally met Michael Parayno, the creative, freedom-seeking force behind the rustic birdhouse empire. His house at 1733 Sacramento is about to stop being Ground Zero for the birdhouse venture. His Birdland Jazzista Club has moved several miles south to Oakland and he is spending more time in the Philippines than here. As I write, remnants of his birdhouse temple of quirk are still across from the North Berkeley BART, but I think that for the time being at least we have lost him.
To finish with a bang –
Eugene Tssui designed the Fish House at 2727 Mathews. He doesn’t believe that Berkeley is at all quirky. That is because, as Lenny Bruce told us, far out depends on where you are standing. Tssui groks what we can’t even see. This was the year when I met him (an honor, an inspiration), after years of knowing about him and taking people to see the Fish House. And I got inside the Fish House. I then made not one but two big posts in Berkeleyside about Tssui and the house.
I am impressed (with myself) (and Berkeley). And exhausted. A few hours each weekend, well-planned, and this is what you can do. Excuse me for a minute while I blush at all this. Not that I made any of the art, I just showed photos of it and talked about it. The artists are the heroes of this. Look at all of this! A hard act to follow!
What will 2016 give? No idea what is on the other side of that lovely gate. It doesn’t work like that. There is no plan. I wander and talk and see where it takes me. I seek not to know the answers, but to understand the questions. The road is all, the end is nothing. Ha!
My friend had a big year as well. He had more loss in his life as the Special One sent him away, but he didn’t mope. His major project for the second half of 2015 was converting his living quarriers to a Danish modern theme and watching reruns of Kung Fu.
He is fixated with Master Kan and his advice – as in – “When we truly love it is never lost.” He spends a lot of time at flea markets and junk shops and is putting together a nice Danish modern look without spending much money.
He scrolled through this post, smiling at times, and even a couple low whistles. His judgment? He pulled out two recent photos from the Quirky Berkeley holiday party – more than 100 people in my house. Intense! My friend was the guest of honor. He had this to say about 2015:
P.S. The party guest count is a count of real people. I am not counting the small clay figures as guests at the party. They are santons, small, hand-painted clay nativity scene figures from Provence who represent the people of a Provençal village.
Really well done Tom, Thank you for your kind words and especially BIG thanks for doing what you do. It really helps us all to see what a special place Berkeley is.
Thank you for this wonderful year end feast on Quirkey Berkeley….I no longer live in Berkeley but it is indelible in my soul so your peregrinations and photos are sheer delight for me.
Thanks, Tom. What a wonderful gallery of art and artists. When I moved to North Tahoe in the early 70s, discovering nearby Berkeley was like a hippie dream — the cold foggy sunshine, year-round flowers, and succulent ground cover; the art and music and colorful lifestyles — all were such a contrast to where we grew up in suburban Philly. I visited as often as I could and even applied to grad school at Cal, but before I knew it my life had taken root in Reno-Tahoe. Maybe in another 5-10 years I’ll change careers and franchise your operation in The Biggest Little City: “Wacky Washoe”? In the meantime I will enjoy your website.