How Quirky is Berkeley? Pardee Street democracy fence

1034 Pardee Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
1034 Pardee St. Photo: Colleen Neff

In 1978, Chinese democracy movement activists created the Democracy Wall in Bejing. Ideas and opinions were openly expressed, a novel concept. “The Cultural Revolution Must be Reevaluated!” “Mao Zedong was 30% right and 70% wrong!” Heady stuff. Perhaps the most enduring of the postings was Wei Jingsheng’s Fifth Modernization.

Democracy Wall December 1979. Photo: DSK/AFP/Getty Images
Democracy Wall Dec. 1979. Photo: DSK/AFP/Getty Images

In early 1980, the Chinese government cancelled the constitutional right to hang wall posters and stated “speaking out freely, airing views fully, holding great debates, and writing big character posters… have never played a positive role in China.” 

In Berkeley, we didn’t get that memo. We have never been shy about our political views or expressing them. Just below San Pablo, just north of Ashby, on Pardee Street, there is a Democracy Fence around a house in otherwise not-so-residential South Berkeley. It is a huge collage of leaflets, posters, photographs, and hand-lettered signs that provide a spectacular glimpse into Berkeley progressive politics for the last 30 years, as seen through the lens of a fanatic collagist. The paper is weathered and even tattered, but as was the case in China, it seeks truth from facts, a wonderful manifestation of democratic dissent

1034 Pardee Street. Photo: John Storey
1034 Pardee St. Photo: John Storey

It starts on the eastern side of the fence in front of the home, and wraps around to a long surface on the north-facing fence.


1034 Pardee Street. Photo: John Storey
1034 Pardee St. Photo: John Storey
1034 Pardee Street. Photo: John Storey.
1034 Pardee St. Photo: John Storey.
1034 Pardee Street. Photo: John Storey
1034 Pardee St. Photo: John Storey
1034 Pardee Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
1034 Pardee St. Photo: Colleen Neff

At the east end of the front fence, it turns south along the driveway towards a garage in the back.

1034 Pardee Street. Photo: John Storey
1034 Pardee St. Photo: John Storey
1034 Pardee Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
1034 Pardee St. Photo: Colleen Neff

Going south along the driveway things get quirkier, leading back to a very quirky garage.

1034 Pardee Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
1034 Pardee St. Photo: Colleen Neff
1034 Pardee Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
1034 Pardee St. Photo: Colleen Neff
1034 Pardee Street. Photo: Colleen Neff
1034 Pardee St. Photo: Colleen Neff

This is a one-off quirky presentation of politics, Berkeley-only. The problem: I don’t know who is responsible. I have talked with two neighbors — nothing. I have rung the doorbell — nothing.

Is there a Berkeleyside reader who can help? The fence is quintessentially Berkeley and quintessentially quirky. Its story needs to be told. Can you help?

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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