How Quirky is Berkeley? Peace poles!

Richard Perlman and Pam Erenberg, 1998 San Antonio Ave. Photo: John Storey

Peace poles, the mass-produced ones distributed by the World Peace Prayer Society, proclaim “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in many different languages. You pick the four languages you want. The World Peace Prayer Society estimates there are 200,000 worldwide. There are a few in Berkeley.

The first peace pole that I knew was at 1118 Oxford St. Richard Perlman and Pam Erenberg installed it in the early 1980s. It came from Japan with several small bags of Ready Mix concrete. When they moved to San Antonio Avenue, it moved with them. Both Perlman and Erenberg were peace activists in the 1960s. Perlman’s father fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, and his mother was a committed leftist. Note his “Anti-Facista” T-shirt in the photo, top.

Some of the others found in front of Berkeley houses:

1302 Albina St. Photo: John Storey
1302 Albina St. Photo: John Storey
1320 Parker St. Photo: John Storey

The photograph above was from my first Berkeley Path Wanderers Quirky Berkeley walk in 2013. As we took in the peace pole, the owners photographed us from their second-story window.


2108 Eunice St. Photo: John Storey
2112 Eunice St. Photo: John Storey
2112 Eunice St. Photo: John Storey

Peace poles are found at some of our better institutions. They are a few at the entrance of the International House, 2299 Piedmont Ave. Each has eight languages instead of the customary four. There is one at Zaytuna College, a nonprofit Muslim liberal-arts college housed in what had been the Franciscan School of Religion. About at block away, at 2441 Le Conte, is the Universalist Unitarian Starr King School for the Ministry.

2411 Le Conte Ave. Photo: John Storey
2411 Le Conte Ave. Photo: John Storey

A modest peace pole sits in a flower bed, but its inclusion of American Sign Language signing for “May Peace Prevail on Earth” takes the cake.

Berkeley in the 1960s was not really about peace — we were anti-war, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist more than we were for peace. Today, we’re all about peace. I assert without proof or fear of contradiction that we have more peace signs per capita than any city in the United States. And we have our peace poles, expressing the noble sentiment of letting peace prevail on earth.

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 8,000 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.

For a fuller and more idiosyncratic version of this post, see Quirky Berkeley.