Berkeley’s People’s Park marks its 45th anniversary

A few days before the anniversary, Ed Monroe, a Telegraph street artist, put the finishing touches on a People's Park sign in the vacant lot at Telegraph and Haste. Photo: Ted Friedman

A few days before the anniversary, Ed Monroe, a Telegraph street artist, put the finishing touches on a People’s Park sign in the vacant lot at Telegraph and Haste. Photo: Ted Friedman

On Sunday April 27, People’s Park celebrated its 45th anniversary with live music, food and reminiscing.

People’s Park is deeply rooted in Berkeley’s history, having been created by community members in the 1960s. It was the scene of a major confrontation between student protesters and police in May 1969. A mural near the park, painted by Berkeley artist O’Brien Thiele and lawyer/artist Osha Neumann, depicts the shooting of James Rector, a student who died from shotgun wounds inflicted by the police on May 15, 1969.

Former Berkeley Barb photographer Harold Adler, who shot the People's Park riots, brought prints of his photographs to the anniversary event  Photo: Ted Friedman

Former Berkeley Barb photographer Harold Adler, who shot the People’s Park riots, brought prints of his photographs to the anniversary event Photo: Ted Friedman

Today, the park is a daytime sanctuary for Berkeley’s homeless population. Confrontations and crimes are a regular occurrence and there is a constituency, including many local merchants on Telegraph Avenue, that would like to see the area change. The park is owned, managed, and maintained by UC Berkeley.

Shortly after his recent appointment, Robert J. Lalanne, the university’s vice chancellor for real estate said tackling the issues at People’s Park might be a “fun challenge” and that he looked forward to “getting some things done” to help revitalize Telegraph Avenue.

People’s Park includes a large lawn, community gardens, a basketball court, and performance stage.

Contributing photographer Ted Friedman captured the 45th anniversary event.

 A food vendor, one of many, at the celebratory event. Photo: Ted Friedman

A food vendor, one of many, at the celebratory event. Photo: Ted Friedman

Carol Denney, a park activist who campaigned to get a smoking ban in People's Park, returns to the park for first time in four years. Photo: Ted Friedman

Carol Denney, a park activist who campaigned to get a smoking ban there, returns to the park for first time in 4 years. Photo: Ted Friedman

Photos of the 1969 events at People's Park on display at the anniversary celebration. Photo: Ted Friedman

Photos of the 1969 events at People’s Park on display at the anniversary celebration. Photo: Ted Friedman

Soul, right, performed "I Live in the Battle Fields of America," dedicated to her sister, who was recently "found dead in a garbage shed." she said. Soul is a founder of Radio Free Berkeley. Photo: Ted Friedman

Soul, right, performed “I Live in the Battle Fields of America,” dedicated to her sister, who was recently “found dead in a garbage shed,” she said. Soul is a founder of Radio Free Berkeley. Photo: Ted Friedman

The anniversary event, which took place on the afternoon of Sunday April 27, winds down. Photo: Ted Friedman

The anniversary event, which took place on the afternoon of Sunday April 27, winds down. Photo: Ted Friedman

Want to promote your local event to Berkeleyside’s thousands of readers? Simply post it to Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. It’s self-serve and free!

Print Friendly
Tagged ,
  • guest

    Students often can’t find good, affordable housing near campus. Creating more of that would be a better use of this space, and good for the whole neighborhood.

  • Tasersaurus

    Today, the park is a daytime sanctuary for Berkeley’s homeless population

    Homeless is an overly broad term.

    People who’ve lost jobs and then housing have access to services to get them off the streets and the success rates there are pretty good. Those are not the people in People’s Park or on Telegraph or Shattuck. Some are gutter punks / travelers experimenting with vagabondage. Others are runaways who should be in school + foster care. Others are substance abusers who resist trading that habit for a hand up. Others are bums who perfume the public library and ask passersby for “spare change to get a meal” when they know full well that free meals are theirs for the asking.

    And as for the park being a “daytime sanctuary,” this implies that there are places in Berkeley that are not heavily used by this population, day and night. Were that so, there wouldn’t be a port-a-potty on the corner of MLK and Allston and the police who are less than a block away would do something about the street people I saw sprawled over the “children only” tot park in Civic Center park the other day. etc etc.

    So, I vote that the term “homeless” be retired from usage because insufficiently precise.

    And while I’m at it, for Pete’s sake, please stop referring to a part of West Berkeley as the “Drinks District” (in other articles).

  • Woolsey

    Sad what this place has turned into. It doesn’t have to be the cesspool of Berkeley. It doesn’t honor Rector or the other students.

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    45 years has been enough for this social experiment gone awry. The ideal of a “People’s Park” is not the reality of this people’s park. I think the University would be doing itself and the City of Berkeley a big favor if they finally found the courage to do something productive with this patch of land. And this is coming from someone who attended the protests in the early 90s when volleyball/basketball courts were attempted. I’ve grown up and so I believe has the majority of longtime citizens of Berkeley.

  • guest

    Gee, I wonder who this is?

  • John Freeman

    The ideal of a “People’s Park” is not the reality of this people’s park.

    Maybe I’m just sadistic but I’d be curious to read your view of what is “the ideal of a people’s park” and how it relates to the history of the park’s creation.

    I’d also be interested in reading why Woolsey thinks Rector was shot to death and what it would take to “honor” him and the hundreds (or more) residents who were shot, beaten, and gassed that day and others.

    Oh, and J.C. (who Berkeleyside wrote about the other day but didn’t link as related coverage for some reason): is he part of the cess pool?

    Does anyone remember any more the issues between the university and local homeowners that was an important part of the context of the park’s founding? How should homeowners regard the University’s expansionist plans and unchecked enrollment growth today?

    Does anyone have (or want) a clear picture of the degree of homelessness, housing insecurity, and food insecurity among students today?

    When the UC and Berkeley police operate in and in relation to the park, does anyone here have any specific knowledge (not conjecture) as to whether or not they reliably do an upstanding and honorable job, or whether their performance is problematic from the standpoints of public safety, equal protection, fairness, and so forth?

  • guest

    People’s Park is a daytime sanctuary for street people, lifestyle homeless youth, drug addicts and the mentally ill.

  • Bryan Garcia

    *YAWN*

    Wake me when Cal finally decides to build Unit 4 on the site.

  • guest

    Sanctuary, my ass. It’s a great place to get robbed or sexually assaulted, which
    is why you rarely see homeless women and children there — or even homeless men who might be at a disadvantage in a physical confrontation.

    Note to Mr. Lalanne: fixing the park won’t be a “fun challenge,” it will be a nightmare dealing with the army of enraged poverty pimps and their naive supporters — and if you think otherwise, you are probably not the right person for the job.

    But if you have the intestinal fortitude to get a dorm built there, you will have done more to fight crime and revitalize a dying commercial district than the CofC, BPD, and BCC combined, and I will personally lead the campaign to have whatever the postmodern equivalent of an equestrian statue is raised in your honor at the intersection of Telegraph and Dwight.

  • Deuce

    A bunch of leading questions suggesting conspiracies for which you have no proof that conveniently ignore the reality that the “park” is an open air toilet and campground for addicts and the mentally ill.

  • guest

    Gee, I wonder who this is?

  • John Freeman

    A bunch of leading questions suggesting conspiracies

    Ok, so you have no real knowledge or analysis. Maybe someone else does. I suppose I could ask what “conspiracy theories” I supposedly hold.

  • guest

    I guess Berkeley is more concerned with having a nice place for bums to get drunk in the morning than trying to prevent sexual assault.

  • John Freeman

    Mbfarrel, you claim that I have implied that I know the answers to the questions I asked. If I take you at face value that’s a little odd. For example, my first question was:

    I’d also be interested in reading why Woolsey thinks Rector was shot to
    death and what it would take to “honor” him and the hundredw (or more)
    residents who were shot, beaten, and gassed that day and others.

    I certainly don’t have any idea what Woolsey thinks about those issues.

    Why do I think Rector was shot? I think it’s complicated. There were many factors at play. One certainly can’t ignore the dynamic going on between Hoover and Reagan and Reagan’s evolving political career. There was certainly some reactionary responses to communism and dissent generally. Nor can one ignore the local land use and town v. gown issues of the day. From what I can gather the Free Speech Movement was highly relevant but one can’t draw any simple line between the two either. Those “big picture” explanations don’t fully explain, though, the specific actions of cops, locals, and students on the ground that day.

    As to honoring people: I think holding and putting to good use the park is a good honor.

    I say that knowing that a cadre of Berkeleyside commenters like to deny any possibility that that’s what’s going on or should go on. They like to employ argumentation like name calling, cherry picking of what park-related events to talk about, decontextualizing, and proffering implausibly heroic capitalist narratives about what is possible if only people would stay out of the way of “progress”. It gets old after a while and I mainly meant to suggest alternative and more substantial directions for comments to take.

  • Deuce

    Conspiracy theory + ad hominem attacks. Classic.

  • berkeleyan

    Ha!
    And I bet i’m the one who’s right here, being as you have a bigger internet presence.

  • John Freeman

    That’s some tough talk, George. I’m hoping you can elaborate on something. You said:

    People’s Park had its day, its time.

    That’s pretty specific. I don’t think I’ve heard that one before. When was People’s Park’s “day”? It’s “time”? What made those time’s “People’s Park’s”? What historic conditions define the beginning and end of the Park’s legitimacy?

  • Guest

    There you go again. You are reaching for self-parody.

  • notnot2

    Already there, clearly. Even when pointed out he just keeps doing it. Like a wind up monkey.

  • guest

    What historic conditions define the beginning and end of the Park’s legitimacy?

    I’d say right about around the time that it stopped being a park that the general public felt comfortable using and enjoying and turned into a campground and open air toilet for bums, drug addicts and criminals.

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    It’s “day” was when it was founded and successfully defended by the “people” who fought for it, and ultimately given over by the property owners. For anyone who lives in Berkeley now, anywhere near it–but not in it, it is nothing more than a blight, a magnet for a certain type of homeless : generally significantly mentally ill, severely addicted and anti-social people who the majority of people do not feel comfortable with in the context of what a “park” is normally used for in most of the western world…i.e., a community gathering place, a place to sit on a bench to read, relax, hang out with friends, kids, play frisbee, have a picnic etc. Of course, this being an dense urban area, it’s to be expected that any park will see its share of crime and those who are down and out, but this park is all about that and very much not a place that most people who live in Berkeley (indoors) see as a place they would like to go.

  • John Freeman

    But BerkeleyCitizen, your complaint is about some uses and users of the park. We could separately debate how valid such complaints are (I think it’s a mix). Nevermind that, though. Let’s stipulate that some users and uses are a problem.

    How do you get from that to the conclusion that therefore the park must be wiped off the map? Surely any such problems as you mention can be addressed in many less extreme ways.

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    Seems like you are not listening. It’s been a 45 year unsuccessful experiment. That’s it. Time for change. The status-quo is broken, and when things are broken they should be fixed.

  • John Freeman

    That’s it. Time for change.

    All you are doing is repeating yourself. I’m asking you a simple question.

    Let’s stipulate that some users and uses of the park are a problem.

    Somehow, in your mind, this implies wiping the park off the map.

    That implication seems far fetched. Surely there are less disruptive solutions to any problems you can identify.

    How do you conclude the park should be wiped off the map just because you don’t like some of what happens there?

  • guest

    Based on your comment history you would loudly decry any attempt at a “less disruptive solution” – like seriously enforcing a park curfew – that attempted to curb the use and abuse of the park.

  • notnot2

    OK. I will play your game. If the park is to be kept it needs a curfew from dusk-to-dawn and fences to keep people out at night so it cannot be used for camping.

  • John Freeman

    If the park is to be kept it needs a curfew from dusk-to-dawn and
    fences to keep people out at night so it cannot be used for camping.

    I doubt that your specific idea would find enough support to get far but I’m glad you are beginning to think more broadly about the issues.

  • notnot2

    So, close the park and turn it into student dorms. That option has plenty of support.

  • Robert Ryan

    People’s Park was never intended to be a hangout spot for this economically unjust society’s less fortunate. It was intended to be used and enjoyed SAFELY by all members of the community. Personally I love the 1960′s but, face it, people, that Golden Decade is now long in the past. We’re in a New Century now. Today’s problems in fact are more like those we experienced in the Great Depression 1930′s than the ones we had to confront in the generally affluent 1960′s. My idea is to turn People’s Park into an area for growing medical Marijuana. That way the 1960′s spirit of the Park could be preserved while at the same time alleviating the problem of the down-and-out element that seem to have taken up residence there. Let a thousand Marijuana plants bloom!