How Quirky is Berkeley? Benches!

Bench at 1748 Marin Avenue. Photo: John Storey.
Bench at 1748 Marin Ave. Photo: John Storey

Conny Bleul-Gohlke’s Marin Avenue bench honoring her parents on their 50th wedding anniversary is an exceptional example of an almost-only-in-Berkeley tradition – benches placed in front of houses for pedestrians to sit on. It is a charming feature of life in Berkeley, and one that is not common elsewhere.

Competing with the Marin Avenue bench for artistic merit is this Summer Street bench celebrating the late Les Blank, a documentary film-maker with deep North Berkeley roots.

Bench at 2248 Summer Street. Photo: John Storey.
Bench at 2248 Summer St. Photo: John Storey

Just west of Summer Street on Walnut Street is the sleeping angel, crying dog bench.

Bench at 1328 Walnut Street. Photo: John Storey.
Bench at 1328 Walnut St. Photo: John Storey
Detail of bench at 1328 Walnut Street. Photo: John Storey.
Detail of bench at 1328 Walnut St. Photo: John Storey

The full story of the bench was uncovered by Berkeleyside guest contributor Jim Corr in 2012. The bench is a memorial to Corsican sculptor Diana Buist and her dog Johnny.


Still on Walnut Street are two more benches, making the 1300 block of Walnut Street the bench capital of Berkeley.

Bench at 1309 Walnut Street. Photo: John Storey.
Bench at 1309 Walnut St. Photo: John Storey
Bench at 1309 Walnut Street. Photo: John Storey.
Bench at 1309 Walnut St. Photo: John Storey
Bench at 1307 Walnut Street. Photo: John Storey.
Bench at 1307 Walnut St. Photo: John Storey

Another twist to the common bench on the street for strangers is one with words – the Virginia Street admonition to those passing by to “rest easy.”

Bench at 1729 Virginia Street.  Photo: John Storey.
Bench at 1729 Virginia St. Photo: John Storey
Bench at 1729 Virginia Street.  Photo: John Storey.
Bench at 1729 Virginia St. Photo: John Storey

Most of Berkeley’s benches are simple affairs without artistic ambition and wordless. These are two examples of the several dozen others found around town.

Bench at 1016 Spruce Street. Photo: John Storey.
Bench at 1016 Spruce St. Photo: John Storey
Bench at 1340 Arch Street. Photo: John Storey.
Bench at 1340 Arch St. Photo: John Storey

Straying for a moment from the strict Quirky Berkeley rules of engagement that limit exploration of the quirky to the private sector, there are several public-area benches worthy of note. First, on the bike path at the end end of Northside are several installed tractor seats for public sitting, as well as a long concrete, high-backed bench.

Bike path at the dead end of Northside Street. Photo: John Storey.
Bike path at the dead end of Northside St. Photo: Tom Dalzell
Bike path at the dead end of Northside Street. Photo: John Storey.
Bike path at the dead end of Northside St. Photo: John Storey

Last and not least is the potter’s wall bench on the north edge of Willard Park (formerly known as Ho Chi Minh Park).

Bench at Willard Park. Photo: John Storey.
Bench at Willard Park. Photo: John Storey

Andrew Werby designed and fought for the wall/bench for three years, inspired by Gaudi’s tile wall in Park Güell, Barcelona. The City of Berkeley, The California Arts council, the Alameda County neighborhood Council, and merchants provided financial and material support for the project. In 1978, Werby and volunteers built the wall, provided the shards, and placed the shards.

Berkeley Gazette. May 23, 1978
Berkeley Gazette. May 23, 1978

The Gazette tells us that “Werby treated his helpers to a keg of Schlitz and an accordionist played fast moving folk tunes to keep the workers moving.”

There are several dozen other benches scattered throughout Berkeley, ranging from simple split logs to old-fashioned steel benches to two seats from Fenway Park on Oxford Street. In New England it may be that good fences make good neighbors, but in Berkeley, good benches make good neighbors.

For a fuller treatment of benches in front of Berkeley homes, see Dalzell’s post, Sit Down Stranger, Rest Easy at Quirky Berkeley.

Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,600 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means. 

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