At the corner of a busy intersection in South Berkeley, a treasure trove is hidden in plain sight. To those in the know, it’s recognized as the Adeline Ashby Antiques District, or AAAD, Berkeley’s very own antiques and collectibles shopping destination. AAAD forms a nexus of shops that have mostly been long-time denizens of this neighborhood, occupying two opposite corners at the hustle and bustle of a main thoroughfare through town. You’ve likely been idling at the stoplight there and noted these curiously alluring shops, beckoning you to come and explore.
“This cluster of eclectic shops at the crossroads of Adeline and Ashby in Berkeley has been here since the 1930s when it was the Newbury stop on the old “F” line trains,” according to the AAAD website.
At the hub of the AAAD is Jack’s Antiques, established in 1946 by the husband-and-wife team of Jack and Shirley Mitts. Jack’s family ran an antiques shop in St. Louis, Missouri, and after settling in Berkeley after World War II, the couple purchased property in the iconic, turn-of-the-century building at the southeast corner of Adeline at Ashby for their new venture. Jack has since passed away and Shirley’s daughter Nancy has joined her at the helm.
“We have a lot of fun,” said Shirley, who was the original chairperson of the AAAD. “People know about us here and I think the historical architecture is part of the charm and attraction for shoppers.”
The two-corner formation of stores is in a bit of a transition at the moment. There used to be ten shops. Now there are five. Thomas Livingston, who owned Thomas Livingston Antiques right on the curve, died in January and the space is currently being earthquake-retrofitted. Gus Bostrom of California Historical Design relocated his business to Alameda to move into a larger space and to be closer to his family.
“The AAAD used to be a more official organization but we’re more casual these days,” said Shirley Mitts at her store recently. “We don’t have meetings but we refer customers and check in on each other.
Just as she was saying that, Ted von Hemert of von Hemert Antiques across the street came into the store, right on cue. A lively chat ensued as von Hemert, Mitts and her daughter explained that the definition of antiques has changed over the years, perhaps indicative of the influence of an emerging blend of newer shops into the neighborhood. While all the stores used to focus on antiques, now some specialize in modernism.
“Antiques used to mean only things that were at least 100 years old, but nowadays people consider stuff from the 1950s to be antique,” said von Hemert, who specializes in antiques and collectibles from the 18th through the 20th century, especially metal wares. Mitts added that her husband had been a purist and wouldn’t have anything in the shop that was made after the Industrial Revolution (1820-1870) as it would be machine manufactured rather than made by hand. Now, they have a little bit more of a mix of items while staying true to Jack’s ethos.
If you’re looking for a broad design selection, Antiques & Modern is worth a look-see. The property at 3017 Adeline St. consists of two buildings connected by a yard and is owned by Christopher Howard and Kulbir Singh. The store, which opened in 2009, specializes in mid-century Danish furniture with an emphasis on rare Scandinavian designs of the 1930s to 1960s imported directly from Denmark. Pieces are both original and restored. The shop also features cabinetry, lighting and a variety of objects d’art.
Across the street, at the northwest curve of Adeleine and Ashby is where von Hemert and the larger cluster of shops reside. According to the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA), a contractor, A.E. Hargraves, built the structure in 1901 and enlarged it a number of times over the next few years.
“It was Christopher Webb, a native of Weymouth, MA, who had the vision and capital to give the four corners at Ashby and Adeline a central focus and commercial vitality,” according to BAHA. “The handsome Webb Block, with its curving façade reflecting the curve of the street, was a landmark that distinguished the block as a place not simply to pass through, but also as a place to live and shop.”
A noteworthy shop on that block is Lacis, (pronounced as French like “la ceese”) a multi-layered, bursting-at-the-seams, textile arts store which was more recently established as a museum.
“We’ve been in business as a store since 1964,” said the owner Jules Kliot. “My wife Kaethe passed away in 2002 and I took over as president/owner. Someone suggested we expand into a museum, which we did in October 2004, and continue to run as Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles, a non-profit segment of the business.”
The museum’s collection includes work from pre-Columbian Peru, examples from 17th-century European courts, machine laces of the 19th-century Industrial Revolution, sewing machines and tools of the textile industry as wells as an extensive library of over 10,000 items.
In addition to the permanent collection, the museum hosts a variety of special exhibitions and admission is free. The store itself is chock full of vintage dresses, hats and more as well as materials and tools for textile artists. Lacis also offers classes, including beginning tatting, Irish crochet and a free textiles clinic once a month. Kliot said the business has seen its ups and downs over the years like any retail business, but they manage to thrive, nonetheless.
On the more modern side of things but in the same shopping cluster is Oxtail Studio & Gallery, an exhibition space representing the work of local artists and craftspeople. According to their website, Oxtail “also offers studio-residency opportunities for those looking to produce and sell their work in one place.” The business, which opened in June 2013, is co-owned by Jessie Zechnowitz, Kingston Lim, and Serena Lim. The Lim siblings were born and raised in Berkeley, and Jessie is a Cal graduate.
“We’re not officially part of the AAAD, but we sit squarely inside its district,” said Zechnowitz.
The Lim’s father, Harry Lim, owned the building and passed it on to his children. He hoped that they would use the space to support community and the arts and “we are doing our best to fulfill that mission,” said Zechnowitz.
On the block as well is A l’Ancienne, a shop that keeps more exclusive hours, open on weekends or by appointment during the week. The shop, one of the original ten, specializes in antiques and decorative arts from the French countryside, representative of the 18th to 20th centuries.
Katz Modern, which focuses on eccentric California design, mid-century and industrial modern art from the ’40s to ’60s, has moved from the AAAD to a new location at 1605 Ashby (near Sacramento) as it was in need of a larger space. European Sleep Works, the natural bedding and furniture dealer in business on the strip for many years, has since acquired that space as an addition to its store.
The Berkeley Flea Market at the Ashby BART, right across the street from many of the antique stores, offers its own type of pleasure. It’s worth a visit and a is a fun and educational one at that.
JACK’S ANTIQUES, 3021 Adeline (at Ashby), Berkeley 94703. Tel: 510-845-6221. Open Mon. to Fri., 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Specializing in buying and selling of estates.
ANTIQUES & MODERN, 3017 Adeline St., Berkeley 94703. Tel: 228-5321. Open Sat. and Sun., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a studio headquarters located at 2007 Emerson St., Berkeley 94703, open Wed. to Fri., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Connect on Facebook and Twitter. Specializing in buying, selling and restoration of 20th-century furniture, lighting, and objects d’art.
VON HEMERT ANTIQUES, 1989 Ashby Ave., Berkeley 94703. Tel: 510-548-1327. Open Wed. through Sun. afternoons, by chance or by appointment. Metals including silver, pewter, brass;, crystal and ceramics of all kinds; prints and paintings.
LACIS MUSEUM OF LACE AND TEXTILES, 2982 Adeline St., Berkeley 94703. Tel: 510-843-7178 and 510-843-7290. Open Mon. through Sat., noon to 6 p.m. Admission is free.
A L’ANCIENNE, Antiques and Decorative Arts from the French country side of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. An extensive collection of Faience de Quimper & Majolica. 1979 Ashby Ave., Berkeley 94703. Tel: 510-644-2291. Call for appointment.
THE BERKELEY FLEA MARKET at Ashby BART parking lot features international collectibles and art, antiques, books, handmade crafts & jewelry, new and used clothing, incense, body oils, household goods, and tools. It is open Saturdays and Sundays.
For more information visit the AAAD website, but note that plans are in the works to revamp the site in the near future to reflect recent changes. All shops are conveniently located across the street from the Ashby BART station and accessible via AC Transit.