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One of Berkeley’s most beloved landmarks turns 100

The original Fountain at The Circle was going to be the grand entrance to the Capital building, which was to be located on Indian Rock. Sacramento was chosen over Berkeley as the state capital, but the fountain remained. Photo: Nancy Rubin

By Linda Hemmila

What began as a conversation between neighbors about Christmas decorations has grown into a full-blown birthday celebration, to be held on October 16th, and the guest of honor is the 100-year-old Fountain at The Circle, one of Berkeley’s most endearing landmarks.

Built in 1911 at the Marin Circle, the fountain was designed to be an ornate entry to what many hoped would be the state’s capital. In the end, Sacramento got the nod, but the fountain with its distinctive bears has remained one of Berkeley’s most beloved icons.

The Circle and Fountain Walk were designed by architect John Galen Howard who devised the master plan for the UC Berkeley campus. It is a central design element that links The Circle to the surrounding streets in the Northbrae neighborhood. The Circle itself was originally designed for rail use, but, today, an astounding 30,000 cars make their way around it every day.


The fountain's bears, symbolizing both the university and the State of California, were originally made by animal sculptor Arthur Putnam. Sarita Waite was the sculptor for their replacements. Photo: Colleen Neff

In 1958, a truck barreling down Marin Avenue plowed into the fountain, leaving it in shatters. Originally run on spring water, the fountain had been in disrepair and was the center of debate for years before it was eventually destroyed.

It wasn’t until Shirley Dean was Berkeley’s mayor in 1993 that interest in rebuilding it took shape. The Friends of the Fountain and Walk group was formed, and, through contributions from local businesses and others, the fountain was restored. It was the largest grassroots effort in Berkeley’s history for the improvement of a public space.

On September 15, 1996 the fountain was dedicated in a gala event.

For Sara Holmes, one of the volunteers with Friends of the Fountain and Walk, who helps maintain the fountain, the vision of a birthday celebration has blossomed into a full-fledged neighborhood event with all the bells and whistles.

“It all started in July when a neighbor approached me about donating some Christmas lights for the fountain. He asked if I knew this year marked 100 years since it was built,” Holmes said. That conversation sparked an idea for a commemorative event that could help raise the funds for repairs. But such events take lots of work and support. Once things got started, Holmes quickly realized she had that support and more. “It’s a real outpouring from the community,” Holmes said.  “I am amazed at the interest this has generated, I can tell the community is very connected to the fountain. It’s theirs.”


People may not realize what it takes to keep the fountain looking so nice. Holmes and other volunteers remove graffiti, trim the Boxwood and pick up trash regularly to keep the fountain and surrounding area clean. But cleaning isn’t always enough when a 100 year-old cement structure is involved. “The balustrade has been falling apart and we find little pieces of cement people have carefully stacked,” Holmes said. Organizers hope to raise funds at the celebration to make the much-needed repairs to the balustrade and other features which have worn and are crumbling with age.

Friends of the Fountain and Walk invite you to join them at the 100th anniversary celebration on Sunday October 16th, from 2pm-4pm. The event will feature sweet treats and drinks donated by local businesses, and merchandise for purchase to raise funds. Laurie Capitelli councilmember from District 5 and his office, as well as Susan Wengraf from District 6 and her staff are co-sponsors of the event. Details can be found on the Friends of the Fountain and Walk website.

To find out what is going on in Berkeley and nearby, be sure to check out Berkeleyside’s recently launched Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.