Well – instead of building up to the best photo in this post, I opened with it. It shows the long-demolished Codornices Club clubhouse, on the top of the eastern hill above the start of the concrete slide. Once upon a time, Codornices Park was Codornices Canyon. The full name of the canyon was El Valle de Los Codornices, named by Don Jose Domingo Peralta in the 1840s “Codornices” is Spanish for quail.
From 1912 until 1928, there was a 275-foot-long wooden trestle spanning the creek and canyon for streetcar and car traffic. The trestle was razed, and in 1928-1929 the span was filled with dirt separating what today is Codornices Park and what today is the Rose Garden.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
The east side of the trestle/Euclid Avenue was developed first. In 1913, a group of neighbors formed the Codornices Club and developed the park. The Club presented plays, concerts, dramatic readings, and dramatic recitations.
In 1916, the Club built the clubhouse on the top of the hill.
Bernard Maybeck is sawing in the left foreground of this photo. Several sources “attribute” the design of the clubhouse to Maybeck, but it is an unverified attribution. This photograph verifies that he played some role in its construction.
On the western side of the canyon, the Civil Workers Administration funded construction of the Rose Garden starting in 1932. Funding in subsequent years came from the California State Relief Administration and the federal government’s Works Progress Administration. East Bay rose societies and Berkeley neighbors helped construction and the planting of more than a thousand rose bushes of many colors and varieties. Native rock quarried in the Berkeley hills was used to form the amphitheater walls and terraced rose beds.
Suggestions for design of the redwood pergola are “attributed” to Maybeck, with credit for the final design given to city landscape architect Vernon M. Dean and C. V. Covell, president of the American Rose Society. The Rose Garden opened in 1937.
Shortly before the opening, WPA workers throughout the Bay Area went on strike for higher wages. At the Rose Garden project, the entire quota of 38 WPA workers called a halt, and the garden work and the remodeling of the Codornices clubhouse were temporarily abandoned.
Martin St. John, whose encore career is as a nurseryman at East Bay Nursery, lived in a cottage next to the Codornices Club clubhouse as a boy. He says:
We moved to the cottage when my mother (Mary St. John) was hired to manage the clubhouse for the Berkeley Recreation Department in circa 1948 and our family, (mom, dad and my older brother Leo Jr.) lived in the two bedroom cottage there until 1960 when the building was condemned and coincidently I graduated from St. Mary’s High School. I was 6 when we moved in and 19 when we left.
I remember the Codornices Club met there as did Troop 23 of the Boy Scouts of which I became a member. I also remember that a group called the Garfield Folk Dancers met there as well. Of course there were lots of weddings and other events during that time. I do remember being burglarized and my father (Leo St. John), a Berkeley Police Officer, had his service revolver stolen in the burglary. It was presented to him on his retirement from the force after it had been recovered in Redding years later.
What a place to live for a young boy!
Mostly I remember that the playground had a Recreation Department director after school and during the summers. My mother let me build a ham radio shack in an unused dressing room upstairs where I could talk with other ham radio operators. I also remember that the Recreation and Parks Department assigned a gardener to the park full time as well as a full time rosarian to the Rose Garden across the street. The gardener had his office in a room under the main floor of the building.
I had lots of friends and we played all over the park. All the usual kid games from hide and seek, to various forms of ball tag to climbing trees and playing basketball all year long. I remember playing catch with my dad and older brother. At that time you could climb into the tunnels that carried both branches of Codornices Creek to the Rose Garden. I never made it all the way but it was fun to challenge yourself to see how far you could go in that pitch black darkness. I think one of the biggest differences is that what is now Jane Hammond Softball Field was part of the Codornices Reservoir. It was a large open reservoir operated by EBMUD. It was fenced and closed off but was as big as a small lake. There was a softball field where the basketball court now is. There was a pole vaulting pit near the bottom of the current slide.
I have found no photos of the interior of the clubhouse. Martin St.John remembers this about the floor plan:
The entrance to the building was at the head of the stairs now leading to the cement slide. Continue up the steps you will pass a flagpole on your left and just above it a landing that was the entrance. As you entered the building you first came to a small reception area with a ladies restroom on the left and I believe a mens room on the right. Then you continued into the main hall. I would guess the main hall was around 40′ by 40′ at least. It was quite large and had wood floors. Against the west wall, next to where you entered was a large walk-in fireplace of stone with cement apron (Maybeck touch, I would imagine). Next to it on its right was a large storage shelf for wood also part of the concrete and stone fireplace. On the south side of the main hall was a step up to what was called the rotunda, a large semi circular wood floored area about half the size of the main hall entirely of floor to ceiling windows that looked out on to the park, the city and the bay beyond. At the north end of the hall was a large elevated stage for performances (also sounds like Maybeck). The stage was elevated above the main hall by about 4′. The stage was probably 20′ wide and almost as deep. Stairs at either end of it led up to it from the main floor. Looking at the stage, in the back far right corner was a large dressing room for performers. There was another one up stairs above if needed. (A corner of it became my radio shack). On the east wall was the entrance to the kitchen which was outfitted with large stove, sink, and counters. I don’t remember it having a fridge. There was an outside entrance directly to the kitchen. To the left at the north end of the kitchen was a hall leading to the dressing room and stairs to the other dressing room above and to a small loading area in the back of the hall. This allowed users direct access to the dressing room and kitchen. Because the clubhouse was built on a slope, the front of the building was well above the ground allowing for another set of restrooms below the rotunda as well as the gardener’s room. It was actually a beautiful building. Today there would be a riot if the city tried to demolish it.
The clubhouse survived into the 1970s.
The club’s flagpole still stands.
I showed this post, modest as it is, to my friend. “Let me get this right,” he said. “A group of neighbors get together and with a little City money build a clubhouse for cultural events. No developer. No profits.” Check. He continued. “And then the federal and state government put people to work building the Rose Garden. No developer. No profits. Volunteers Open to everyone.” Check He shook his head. “Different time then. It was by the public, for the public. Not the money machine. It would have made a great Quirky Berkeley art gallery, no?”
He pulled out his copy of Harvey Smith’s brilliant Berkeley and the New Deal. It is a good antidote to today’s development boom.
What does he think about the post?