New app lets you walk back in time on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue

Telegraph Avenue street artists, circa 1969. Photo: Nacio Jan Brown

Boston has the Freedom Trail, Atlanta has a Civil Rights Tour, and now Berkeley — home of the Free Speech Movement — has launched its own Telegraph Tour, bringing five decades of revolutionary history to life.

In true Berkeley fashion, there is a twist to this tour: while other cities offer paper maps and metal plaques to guide visitors through their historic districts, the Telegraph Tour is designed as an immersive, app-enabled experience. The Telegraph Berkeley Tour app features audio interviews, historical photos and an interactive, GPS-based map that helps visitors navigate to the different locations. For those who are out of town, or prefer their history from the comfort of a couch or internet café, the interviews and photos can also be accessed remotely.

On every corner of Telegraph Avenue, it seems, history rubs shoulders with characters and businesses that are still very much alive today.

The tour introduces visitors to events such as the Free Speech Movement; the building of, and riots at, People’s Park; the civil rights shop-ins at Lucky’s Supermarket; a landmark related to the Japanese internment; milestones in the disability rights movement; as well as some iconic book stores and theaters. On every corner of Telegraph Avenue, it seems, history rubs shoulders with characters and businesses that are still very much alive today.

“Telegraph is a really unique community,” said Stuart Baker, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District (TBID), who came up with the idea for the tour. “It’s an interesting intersection of some of the brightest young people in the country, up against classic hippies from the sixties, next to intellectuals who are quirky. Every street and every side street has something going on.” TBID is a nonprofit representing Telegraph Avenue landlords.


There are 11 stops on the walking tour, each one featuring an audio interview with a Berkeley resident who was an eyewitness at the event. It’s a kind of living history project, one that can be enjoyed and re-experienced on city streets rather than at a historical park. Jack Radey talks about the Free Speech Movement; Osha Newman talks about People’s Park; Doris Moskowitz talks about her father, Moe Moskowitz, who owned Moe’s Books; and Steve Wasserman remembers foreign cinema and literary culture on Telegraph in the 1950s and 60s.

Telegraph Avenue in the 1960s. Photo: Courtesy of Tom Dalzell

“Walking down Telegraph Avenue was like walking into a modern Renaissance information piazza surrounded on all sides by great delights,” Wasserman recalls in his segment. “There was a flourishing scene of devoted, obsessive filmgoers who found themselves searching high and low for European cinema … It just blew the tops off of our heads to see these pictures.”

Wasserman also recalls Creed’s bookstore, “an Aladdin’s cave of seductive titles. It was a jumble. And the proprietor, he was one of those curmudgeonly bookstore owners who actually never seemed to want to sell you any of the books in his store.”

“You’re standing in front of Annapurna, a store that was around to see the teeny-boppers, hippies and the psychedelic era,” Christine Ayers of KPIX said in introducing another segment. “Telegraph was a major center of the counterculture movement. In 1968, one candidate for Berkeley mayor called Telegraph a ‘freak show.’ This store has been owned and managed for over 45 years by one such ‘freak,’ Let’s hear his story.”

“Everything from yoga to sexuality were not expressed”

Annapurna, the oldest head-shop in Berkeley, is still owned and operated by Al Geyer. “You have to realize that in those days most things that are considered normal now, everything from yoga to sexuality, were not expressed,” Geyer said. “We opened our store Annapurna here in ’72 and all the political activity and craziness pretty much happened in these blocks that you see in front of you. I basically was trying to create a diverse, open, accepting environment so that I would influence hopefully some positive change at the time.”

On a totally different note, less than two blocks away, Lee Felsenstein reminisces about something called Community Memory, the first public computerized bulletin board system. It was created by electronic hardware engineers, and existed in an unmarked office above Leopold’s records. It functioned as a precursor to Craigslist and Facebook in the 1970s. “I think we had a larger effect than we can prove we did have,” Felsenstein said.

Mario Savio, a leader of the Free Speech Movement, speaks to UC Berkeley students on Dec. 7, 1964. Photo: Robert W. Klein, AP

Newman talked about the history of People’s Park, and why he decided to paint a mural depicting that event as well as other iconic events that occurred during the 60s. “In the making of that park we represented in some way how we wanted to live, how we wanted to change the world,” he said in his segment. “I painted this mural originally because I thought history was important to be remembered and I still do that. And that’s what this mural is about, trying to keep that monument to that spirit as everything around us tries to erase it.”


Telegraph wants to be free

Baker got the idea for the walking tour app while attending a conference of the International Downtown Association in Atlanta. “There were people there from the Pearl District in Boulder, from Georgetown in Washington, DC, and from the Civil Rights Tour in Atlanta,” he said. “It became pretty intuitive to me that we needed an app to help people connect with the Telegraph district.”

While companies such as Detour offer fee-based apps with a single narrator and a narrower focus — such as the Black Panthers in Oakland — Baker decided to put together a free app that would offer many voices and a 70-year perspective on one neighborhood. “We made a conscious choice to pay for this ourselves, and to offer it for free,” he said. “This is Telegraph, after all, and it’s just the kind of thing that people would rebel against if it was a commercial venture.”

The corner of Telegraph and Bancroft, circa 1932. Photo: Courtesy of Berkeley Historical Society

The app was funded by a major grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund; the Fund for the Environmental and Urban Life; Visit Berkeley; and other sources, Baker said. The city of Berkeley also contributed $1,000 to the project.

The oral history was gathered by UC Graduate School of Journalism staff and interns, who conducted 30-45 minute interviews with the 11 Berkeley residents. Each interview was edited down to about three minutes, so the app offers about 45 minutes of total narration. Christine Ayers of KPIX provides the introduction to the app and the various segments. The map was developed by Guidekick, a Berkeley-based company that develops maps for museums, airports and other complex sites.

Guidekick was willing to work for TBID because it is one of the first to do a city-scape, Baker said. The map includes many architectural and historic sites that are not covered in the narrated sections. These include the Reprint Mint, which disseminated the psychedelic posters of the 1960s, and later became ground zero for the underground comic movement; the Berkeley Free Clinic, which has been offering free and universal healthcare since 1973; Caffe Med, where Dustin Hoffman sat looking out the window at Moe’s and the Reprint Mint in The Graduate; Granma Books, which carried “as complete a line of Marxists works as possible;” and many other iconic Berkeley landmarks.

California National Guard troops occupy the intersection of Telegraph and Channing during the People’s Park riots in 1969. Photo: William Crouch, Oakland Tribune Archives

The Telegraph mystique

In addition to Berkeley residents, Baker expects the walking tour to appeal to Cal students and prospective students, their parents, as well as tourists. “Young people are connected to the world through their mobile devices,” he said. “This has the potential for being a new way that newcomers and tourists learn about an area. Picture this in Annapolis, MD or in Philadelphia. It’s an early incarnation of something that turns an historic district not into a museum, per se, but into an immersive experience that lets people understand the details of what made a place famous.”


Baker added that a lot of Europeans come to Telegraph because they have heard about “the mystique of Telegraph, and they want to see it for themselves. I hear French people all the time, standing in front of the mural by the Amoeba, trying to tell their kids: “This was the start of the 60s. In Paris we had the Sorbonne, and in the US they had Berkeley.’”

Telegraph was ground zero of the counterculture movement, Baker said. “San Francisco was the hippies and the Summer of Love, but the things that changed this country really came out of Telegraph. It was really revolutionary,” he said. “It moved the needle from a conformist society to an independent, free-thinking society. From Happy Days to Dazed and Confused.

Dozens of people gathered at Moe’s Books to celebrate the launch of a new app highlighting Telegraph Avenue’s history. Here the crowd listens to Berkeleyside’s Frances Dinkelspiel interview Andy Ross, the former owner of Cody’s Books. Photo: Ted Friedman

The TBID threw a kick-off party for the app Wednesday at Moe’s Books. Dozens of people, many of whom who lived Telegraph’s history, attended and reminisced about the past. Two women could be overheard discussing how many days they spent at Santa Rita Jail after occupying Sproul Hall during the Free Speech Movement. (One was there for 12 days, the other for 30.) Two people who are featured on the app spoke: Anita Medal talked about the early 1960s, including the Lucky’s shop-in, and Andy Ross told tales of Cody’s Books. He bought the iconic bookstore from Fred and Pat Cody in 1977 and owned it for 30 years.

Baker said he hopes “to get the app in the hands of students so we don’t make the same mistakes.”

With the new app, Telegraph is moving from Dazed and Confused to Immersive and Organized. Let the Revolution begin!