How Quirky is Berkeley? Fredric Fierstein’s gifts to the city

The Guardian, base of University Avenue. Photo: John Storey
The Guardian, base of University Avenue. Photo: John Storey

Fredric Fierstein is responsible for two quirky gifts to the people of Berkeley, the Guardian statue at the base of University Avenue and the Buddhist shrine in front of his house on Arch Street.

New England Lobster Company in Burlingame, Calif., is seen on Tuesday, April 30th, 2012.
1175 Arch St. Photo: John Storey
Frederic Fierstein. Photo: John Storey
Fredric Fierstein. Photo: John Storey

Fierstein is an electrical contractor. His business employs a fleet of white 1952 Chevrolet delivery sedans.

Frederic's Electric delivery van. Photo: Catherine MacNeal
Fredric’s Electric van. Photo: Catherine MacNeal

In 1986, he plopped the massive Guardian sculpture on a pad that he had surreptitiously built at the Marina end of University Avenue.

Guardian statute in Penang. Photo: Frederic Fierstein
Guardian statute in Penang. Photo: Fredric Fierstein

The Guardian is an extrapolation of a six-inch clay and wood sculpture in a Buddhist temple in Penang. The city fiercely resisted Fierstein’s plopping of the Guardian. Fierstein fiercely fought back. Fierstein gathered signatures and placed an initiative on the ballot in support of the Guardian. He won. It stayed. The city now includes the Guardian on its official website.


The Buddhist shrine in front of Fierstein’s house reflects his fascination with Chinese Buddhism as practiced in the state of Penang, Malaysia. His house is filled with Buddhist iconography.

Interior, 1175 Arch Street. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 1175 Arch St. Photo: John Storey

The shrine has massive strapped-hinge wooden doors, opening to a pyramid of glass cases with Buddhist icons inside.

Che Pay Kong (Tua Pek Kong). Photo: John Storey
Che Pay Kong (Tua Pek Kong). Photo: John Storey
Quan Cong (Kuan Kong). Photo: John Storey
Quan Cong (Kuan Kong). Photo: John Storey
Hanuman. Photo: John Storey
Hanuman. Photo: John Storey
Baby God. Photo: John Storey
Baby God. Photo: John Storey
Guanyin. Photo: John Storey
Guanyin. Photo: John Storey

The architectural flourishes on the shrine are exquisite.

1175 Arch Street. Photo: John Storey
1175 Arch St. Photo: John Storey
1175 Arch Street. Photo: John Storey
1175 Arch St. Photo: John Storey
1175 Arch Street. Photo: John Storey
1175 Arch St. Photo: John Storey
1175 Arch Street. Photo: John Storey
1175 Arch St. Photo: John Storey

The Guardian and the Arch Street shrine are both drawn from Buddhism, but they are obviously very different manifestations. The Guardian demands attention. The shrine invites incense, an offering, a prayer, and sweeping the tile floor. Both from the mind and hands of a feisty, mischievous, creative electrical contractor. How quirky is that?

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.


A longer version of this post may be found at Quirky Berkeley.

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