Downtown Berkeley in 1962

I was perusing the Internet when I came across this 1962 photo montage of a Bart train traveling under Shattuck Avenue. This drawing was probably done for the November 1962 election when voters in Alameda, San Francisco and Contra Costa Counties were asked to approve the sale of $792 million in bonds to build a 71.5 mile rapid transit system. The transbay tube cost another $133 million, bringing the total cost of the BART system close to $1 billion.

“It would be the largest single public works project ever undertaken in the U.S. by the local citizenry,” according to a history on BART’s website.

What strikes me about this photo is the vibrancy of Shattuck Avenue. It has everything today’s politicians and planners want for downtown: there are stores like JC Penny’s, Leed’s Department Store, Earl’s Shoes, and Woolworth’s catering to the needs of residents; ample parking (if you look closely you can see some vacant parking spaces); and a green buffer filled with plants and trees.

So has Berkeley progressed or regressed?

For more pictures melding BART and scenes of the Bay Area in the 1960s, look on Eric Fisher’s Flickr page.

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  • deirdre

    Fascinating. Does anyone know where people parked their cars? Were there lots downtown in addition to the site of the expanded public libarary and the David Brower building?

  • I remember when that JC Penney stopped being a JC Penney – late 1980s at some point. Ah, the end of cheap but decent underpants.

  • David

    Regressed. This actually shows a much greener city than we’ve become.

  • Eric Panzer

    Irrespective of disagreement about how to do it, Downtown Berkeley can certainly be improved; but I think it’s important to recognize the external forces that have wrought changes in Berkeley’s downtown. Even if we could snap our fingers and restore all of our buildings and infrastructure to exactly how they were in the time of this photo, Downtown Berkeley would still face daunting challenges. Competition from internet, big-box chain, and discount retailers has sapped much of our retail vitality, for one.

    For good reason, many people people feel nostalgia for this time–even those of us who didn’t actually live it. Nevertheless, for better or worse, there isn’t any going back, and recapturing much of what was good about 1962 would take an effort on the state and national levels. Like it or not, I think the only way for downtown, and our state for that matter, is forward.

  • Valenta

    Being an occasional visitor to other university towns, I am frequently impressed at the vitality of their shopping districts, with the similar chains, some food and brewery chains, but also containing many local treasures alongside. Be it the clash between the city and the Univertity establishment, as well as other possible causes, much has happened to break down the vitality so that neither the students or the locals want to use the downtown, or the southside.

  • rightnleft

    “…It has everything today’s politicians and planners want for downtown: there are stores like JC Penny’s, Leed’s Department Store, Earl’s Shoes, and Woolworth’s…”by Frances Dinkelspiel.

    too bad nobody shops at those stores these days, despite what politicians and planners want! HAHA!

    the trees in the center do like very nice.

  • Sotto Voce

    Well, this is an artist’s rendering, which have been known to be optimistic, at best. Otherwise, enforce vagrancy and give the businesses a chance to succeed, without homeless sleeping in their doorways and customers having to stumble and climb over them. As for parking, there are more cars now, as anyone with a hint of knowledge about population will attest.

  • Mathew Parker

    If there is no vibrancy, its because the City is so pro-regressive in their taxes that it drives business out.
    The meter fees are insane. The shops of interest of been run out. The street is littered with invited homeless guests.
    The quality of the workforce has degraded in Berkeley as well and has less disposable money to pay for “nice” things.
    Basically a controlled enclave, near the freeway, with a comprehensive commercial experience like 4th street brings in revenue.
    I’m always stunned at how useless Telegraph Ave looks-24 hours a day. The average shopper on Telegraph has marginal impact on the finances of Berkeley. The people that those shoppers bring is a high negative.
    Shattuck is not a walking street, and therefore does not encourage shopping. You go there to get what you want, not to browse. As there is less and less that I want on Shattuck I go less. Its in a death spiral of taxes, poor clientele, bad management and blight.
    There are wide boulevards all over the world that function well(Champs, Prague, Park Ave, 5th Ave) but the City needs to give tax breaks to preferred businesses to move back and stake a claim. Also, remove streetside cafe ordinances

  • Tim C.

    @Dierdre: there was Hinks Parking lot, which we all used when we shopped downtown..the area neighborhood shops weren’t the destination that they are now..Hinks lot was demolished a couple of years ago for what?….housing..and by the way…if you want to see a movie downtown, you better not drive..all the meters are for 1 hour only, which equals a $40 ticket…hmm the new budget plan.

  • I don’t know if this is a factor or if things had changed — but in 2005 I was visiting Berkeley a lot and tried staying in one of the downtown hotels. It was, according to the reviews, the best of a sad lot. It was unbelievably bad.

    The central business district for a *major* university should have at least one or two of the big brand hotels. From there, you might get some growth.

    After one night in the downtown hotel, I moved to the Hilton Garden Inn in Emeryville. At least it was clean.

    Last time I mentioned the dirtyness and dingy feel of downtown I got shouted at by people who think I’m a yuppie. I’m not, I’m a boomer. But I’m like almost every other potential dollar-spender. If it’s not clean, count me out.

    BTW, I live in NYC now, so I know what I’m talkin about! :-)

  • I often hear people whine about the need for “tax incentives” (read “tax cuts”) to attract businesses. But businesses pay more rent than in property taxes. Why aren’t we complaining about the need for “commercial rent rollbacks” to attract businesses? And how do these speculative property owners stay in business by keeping storefronts boarded up for years at a time? How about a blight tax on properties that are vacant for more than a six months or a year? If the property owner lowers the rent level, there will be businesses that will be willing to move in-isn’t that what “free market” is about?

  • Berkley is progressing — soon Center Street will have its part of strawberry(?) creek daylighted, be closed to cars, and probably with more trees. With Bus Rapid Transit in theory berkeley will be greener too. How do you pry cars out of people’s unwilling hands? You don’t. You try to make the alternatives more attractive.

  • Check out EcoCity Builders and the book “EcoCity Berkeley” (Register, 1986) for details on how B can be green(er)…

  • Dave, the plan for the people who have The Charles Hotel in Cambridge to open a Berkeley hotel seems to have fallen through, which disappoints me. But the new Shattuck Hotel does meet the need for a good hotel downtown. I haven’t stayed there, but I hear reasonably good things and their public spaces are very nice. Certainly a step in the right direction.

  • Native

    Berkeley was a far more pleasant city 50 years ago. Ample public parking included the Hinks Garage behind the library, public lots on Berkeley Way and Oxford/Allston, and penny parking meters. Vagrancy was not allowed, the streets were clean, and there was virtually nothing that could not be bought within the city limits. We had auto dealerships, electronic stores, grocery stores, jewelry stores, and department stores. These thriving businesses did not fade away due to “external forces”, but were chased out by a city government who valued the “rights” of derelicts over what was our best interest, over-regulation, and now quotas. Most city governments would die for what we once enjoyed and lost.

  • laura menard

    Berkeley hosts 65% of the county’s chronically homeless, people described as service resistant compared to the county average of 10%.
    As the Bay Area News group editorial against Bates’ measure R states if you want to see an economic renaissance downtown pay attention to the chronic ills of downtown; vagrancy, crime, dirty sidewalks and lack of parking.