This is how what happened happened.
I originally walked Vassar Avenue in May, 2013. I was not optimistic. The quirk factor was Very Low.
All that I had found as I approached the Kensington town line was the whale weathervane shown above. I took a scouting photo with my phone and kept walking, enjoying the day but expecting nothing much more on Vassar.
Those of you keeping score at home know that a few houses past this weathervane is the major quirky 360 Vassar Avenue, Randi and Steve Herman’s home with inspired landscaping and two big bright yellow V’s and junk sculpture by Patrick Amiot – Very Major Quirky.
But that’s not the point of this story.
This May, I returned to Vassar with John Storey to photograph the weathervane for a weathervane post.
As John was taking photos, Suzanne McCulloch pulled out of the driveway. She asked what we were doing – always a slightly tense moment – and we explained. She perked up. She knew Quirky Berkeley and knew what I had posted about her neighbors. She suggested that we knock on the door and ask her husband Charles to show us the other weathervane.
This is what the Berkeley Unified School District wrote about Suzanne when she retired in 2015: “For fourteen years under the leadership of Suzanne McCulloch, our district-wide music program and visual and performing arts education programs have improved and expanded. During her 22 years in the Berkeley schools, McCulloch served first as a teacher, and then as program supervisor for Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Department. As an advocate and champion of the arts, and through her work coordinating and supervising the BSEP-funded music program, Suzanne has had a positive impact on every Berkeley student’s education.”
Good things! I didn’t know that about her at the time.
We knocked on the door and explained the deal to Charles. He showed us the other weathervane.
If that was all that he showed us this would not be a post, would it?
Charles is a landscape architect. He started work in the San Francisco office of Garrett Eckbo. Eckbo’s 1950 Landscape for Living was game-changing. He and Thomas Church redefined landscape architecture.
He showed us their garden.
The garden is to die for. But it isn’t just the collection of flowers and shrubs and trees you’d expect from a great landscape architect who had been gardening in the same house for decades. It is filled with whimsical (as in – quirky) sculpture and objects and treatments and features.
Let’s start with the sculpture.
And then there are, for lack of a better word (and I am all about better words), features. A life of landscaping meant a life of good ideas.
McCulloch’s mother made this Tiki face.
Artificial grass mounted against a wall – the appearance of being an air fern. Who knew?
I was twice surprised on Vassar. First, in 2013 after seeing the whale weathervane and finding the Herman quirk. Second, after coming back to photograph the whale weathervane and finding a couple who epitomize the best of Berkeley and who have made a beautiful and quirky garden, whose lives have been lived with grace and beauty. They aren’t superstars They are modest, playing their part in making Berkeley what Berkeley has been, an oasis of creativity.
Surprises! Quirky Berkeley missions are almost by definition full of surprises. You just don’t know what you are going to find. It’s not obvious, but it is inevitable.
I showed the photos to my friend. He may not look like a scholar, but my friend can immerse himself in a subject and learn and know a lot. He has spent years obsessing about the Mar Vista tract in Los Angeles, designed by Gregory Ain, landscaping by Garrett Eckbo. He was excited that I had met somebody who worked with Eckbo. There was a time in my friend’s life when he wanted nothing more than to live in a Mar Vista house. Didn’t happen.
My friend pulled out his copy of Eckbo’s book and invited me to sit and look at it with him. I said I had to finish this up. What did he think of the post?