Sacramento Street mural honors history, brightens area

The Sacramento St. mural honors two local civil rights heroes, Burl Toler Sr. and William Byron Rumford. Photo: Sofia Zander

The Sacramento Street mural honors two local civil rights heroes, Burl Toler Sr. and William Byron Rumford. Photo: Sofia Zander

Community members who live near the corner of Sacramento Street and Ashby Avenue have taken beautification into their own hands by creating a large mural to celebrate two neighborhood civil rights leaders, and cover the front of a property that has been vacant for decades.

The two men honored on the mural are William Byron Rumford, the first African American elected to public office in Northern California and the legislator who introduced the 1963 Fair Housing Bill (also known as the Rumford Fair Housing Bill); and Burl Toler Sr., who played football professionally and was the first African American official in the NFL.

Zach Franklin, Seth Martinez and Sofia Zander were the driving force behind the mural in their neighborhood. The small property at 2951 Sacramento St., a liquor store until 1984, has been vacant for nearly 30 years, attracting dumping and graffiti as well as creating a neglected feel in the neighborhood, said Franklin. The idea of a mural had been floating around for a while and came together at a community meeting held in Martinez’s dance studio, MVMNT, the property just south of 2951.

“I came in at the right time” in the process to help, said Martinez. Franklin had already contacted the owner of the property — a descendant of Toler — and gotten permission to create a mural. Martinez and Franklin, who had researched Rumford’s career and impact on the civil rights movement, wanted the art to reflect the neighborhood and continue the revitalization of the area. “The mural is exciting,” said Franklin, “but the message is, ‘A lot of cool stuff is going on around here.'”

The mural focuses on history and community. Photo: Sofia Zander

The mural focuses on history and community. Photo: Sofia Zander

The mural was painted on large wooden panels mounted on the wall of the property. The view it shows – the hills of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge — is a view seen from the highest point in the Sacramento-Ashby neighborhood. The words “pride” and the name of Martinez’s studio, MVMNT, are also on the mural, to emphasize “pride in movement” and in the community, said Martinez.

The project, which was completed in late July, was the combined effort of seven or eight people, including Martinez, he said, and the city agreed to pay for materials when Franklin and Martinez proposed the mural. “Art and Berkeley are a dangerous combination,” said Franklin, so they were initially worried about what the community response would be like; but so far, it’s been “all positive feedback,” he said. And it’s a big conversation piece.

Rumford with a short biography and the bill that bears his name. Photo: Sofia Zander

Rumford with a short biography and the bill that bears his name. Photo: Sofia Zander

Although his eponymous bill was an important precursor to later civil rights legislation, Rumford is not particularly famous, perhaps because he spent more time legislating and less time pushing himself into the spotlight, said Franklin. Before he was a legislator, his pharmacy at Ashby and Sacramento was a “political salon,” said Franklin.

The hope is that, with this mural and continuing efforts to revitalize the community, the area will stop being a drive-by intersection and become a hotspot of commerce and community, said Franklin. Even as they were painting the mural, people stopped by to ask questions about the project and the area.

“All layers of the community are impressed,” said Franklin.

Learn more about the CalJulia neighborhood group at its website

Related:
South Berkeley neighbors ask city for help to improve (04.19.13)
Shop Talk: The ins and outs of Berkeley businesses (02.19.13)

Eden Teller, a graduate of Berkeley High School, was a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She will be attending Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, this fall.

Berkeleyside’s Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas is two days of provocative thinking, inspiring speakers, workshops, and a big party — all in downtown Berkeley in October. Read all about it, be part of it. Register on the Uncharted website

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  • Chris J

    Well, that’s cool. Now I know what I believe the Rumsford Plaza housing units were named for. So much history around us, never known.

  • Tom

    Why does a property sit vacant for 30 years?

  • Tizzielish

    I wondered the same thing. Paying property taxes but just letting it sit? I guess they are waiting for it to be developed, don’t need money, are sitting on an asset and letting it grow in value?

  • bgal4

    murals…. the solution to gang graffiti.

  • bgal4

    Low commercial property tax rate, no city code enforcement fines levied to motivate owner,
    black flight- the owners left the area and have no interest in community well being other than possible development, unrealistic development plans, and family squabbles.

  • The_Sharkey

    The Post Office protesters should try adverse possession on the property.
    They’re going to lose when it comes to the Post Office debate, but if the owners are really absent then the protesters could take over the space, make some improvements, and then get granted ownership if they managed to stick it out for 7 years.

  • Fed Up

    It’s just lipstick on a pig. The paint can’t hide the fact that this is a disgrace. The Toler family should be ashamed that a burnt-out, vacant building is their memorial to the respected and groundbreaking man who was their father. Thirty years of neglect! Shame on you. It took neighbors to clean up your mess and honor your ancestors.

  • Runn

    Here Here! I couldn’t have said it better myself!

  • guest

    The Tolers show how “The Community” treats itself

  • PragmaticProgressive

    What’s the deal with the department at the city that is supposed to deal with urban blight, but doesn’t?

  • guest

    They’re waiting for the ares to be completely gentrified – white

  • bgal4

    Selective enforcement

    1. what social or monetary capital gain is in it for the city

    2. are the property owners special

    the city paid to paint the Toler’s building, the neighbors come up with the solution to the graffiti problem, the Tolers win again, and the late Burl goes from football first fame to the lauded position as a civil rights hero.

    Consider Adeline St M&N Market, the city pays for a mural promoting healthy foods to be painted on a liquor store wall that sells liquor, cigarettes and junk food. The store clerk fences stolen phones, many taken from locals who use BART. Greg Daniels, code enforcement officer says the city will not review the liquor store use permit.

    Even after a couple of homicides I doubt the city will review the use permits of commercial properties along San Pablo i.e Bing Liquors despite it’s documented history of poor management.

  • bgal4

    Burl Sr was the owner until he passed recently. He had decades to take action, it would be inaccurate to suggest otherwise.

  • bgal4

    actually, we have a large Hispanic and Asian population, always have.

  • 2ndGenBerkeleyan

    Classic. Bravo. You’ve managed to capture Berkeley perfectly in a nutshell: symbolism over substance & substance abuse over grappling with reality, hypocrisy at every turn, phoniness, civil corruption and rampant double “standards”:

    Consider Adeline St M&N Market, the city pays for a mural promoting healthy foods to be painted on a liquor store wall that sells liquor, cigarettes and junk food. The store clerk fences stolen phones, many taken from locals who use BART. Greg Daniels, code enforcement officer says the city will not review the liquor store use permit.

  • 2ndGenBerkeleyan

    Hear, hear?

    It’s essentially short for hear him, hear him or hear this, hear this, where these phrases are a sort of cheer.

  • suckatash

    Once again, the comments here provide a much needed context to the story. Thank you bgal4.

  • guest

    Also always had a large African American population. Not so much now.
    BTW does anyone find it odd that Rumford Plaza doesn’t have commercial space at the corner of Sacramento and Ashby?

  • guest

    Explain how the comment is a troll, or for that matter, “stupid”

  • Charles_Siegel

    I would guess that it got funding from a government program that only funds housing – not commercial space. That can be a mistake, and now they are more likely to also fund a mix of commercial.

  • The_Sharkey

    How is a baseless comment saying that a property owner is ignoring a building for 30+ years with the express goal of waiting until all the black people leave trolling?

    Is that really a question that you need to ask?

  • guest

    The locals didn’t want it because all they could imagine occupying the space was a liquor store.

  • guest

    So when Ken Sarachan owns a lot for what 20+ and does nothing with if, many posters suggested unseemly motives to him. This is different How?

  • bgal4

    The corner was a notorious bar with plenty of violence, back in ’73 there were IIRC 23 murders in the area.

  • The_Sharkey

    It is different because we have evidence of the feud between Sarachan and his ex-employees at Amoeba Records motivating his decisions about his empty properties on Telegraph.

    As far as I know, there is no evidence that the owners of this property are racists who want to wait until all the black people leave before they’ll develop the lot.

    But if you have evidence, please present it. I’m sure there are a lot of people here who would be very interested in it.

  • guest

    Ooh. The Race Card!

  • Happy Neighbor!

    I like it! I’d much rather see a piece of art, then a rotting a building next to businesses who are trying to grow. It may be a cover up, but at least they’re doing something about it.

    We can all complain about this building, but that won’t get us anywhere. I’m happy they did something about it.

  • emraguso

    For those who are interested, neighbors and volunteers put up a new mural and cleaned up the property again this month.

    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152287347382456.1073741879.264579842455&type=1&stream_ref=10

  • emraguso

    Some interesting developments with the Toler property outlined here:
    http://www.berkeleyside.com/2014/03/24/sacramento-street-clean-up-efforts-continue-in-berkeley/