Barry Corten, Sept. 30, 1937 – Oct. 4, 2017
Barry Alan Corten died peacefully Oct. 4, just a few days after his 80th birthday, in his favorite city, Berkeley.
He was proud to be a native Californian and a lifelong Bay Area citizen. He attended Berkeley public schools — graduating from Berkeley High School in 1955, where he formed a core of enduring friendships — and Oakland City College.
Growing up in North Berkeley was rarely dull. His neighbors and family friends included novelists and editors, UC Berkeley professors, atomic scientists, attorneys and judges, and a wide variety of others in professions and the arts — many of whom had interesting quirks to match their accomplishments.
He learned to drive early, on an assortment of motley and vintage vehicles, most of which belonged to family friends Scott and Ruth Newhall. His interests in vintage and modern American and foreign cars stemmed from this period, amplified by his spare-time employment at a local gas station during high school. From childhood, he had a fondness for cats, and was rarely without several as pets.
He resided, relatively briefly, in San Francisco and Mill Valley, but returned — inevitably, it seems — to Berkeley.
Barry came of age in the stimulating atmosphere of the San Francisco Chronicle, in its heyday while it had newly triumphed in a circulation war with its arch-rival, the Examiner, flagship of the Hearst chain. He started as a copy boy in the city room, carrying fresh-out-of-the-typewriter story pages from reporters on deadline to the famously grumpy city editor, Abe Mellinkoff.
A fast learner and ambitious, he was soon working in the paper’s promotion department, finding ways for the Chronicle to attract and keep readers and advertisers, in close partnership with the department’s manager and artists, a group he enjoyed immensely. When the paper decided to form a subsidiary, the Chronicle Features Syndicate, to exploit the popularity of its stable of columnists and cartoonists, Barry went on the road. He travelled in the U.S. and Canada, finding new outlets and wider circulation for Herb Caen, Art Hoppe, Count Marco, Stanton Delaplane, Charles McCabe, Merla Zellerbach, and Lucius Beebe, among others.
In 1965, the Chronicle and Examiner made economic peace with each other through a sort of merger, and when they inevitably reduced staffs, Barry was among the trimmed. Noting how volatile the media job market was becoming, he made a career shift into real estate, a field he found both enjoyable and rewarding, and remained in it or more than four decades. Early on, he sold for a large company in the East Bay, but as he gained experience and contacts, he formed his own firm, Commonwealth Properties, specializing in residential and commercial properties.
Forever entrepreneurial, Barry frequently had sideline enterprises, including the promotion of an amphibious all-terrain vehicle called The Coot, and products for making wine, beer, and mead at home. He managed rental properties in the East Bay and elsewhere in California. He served for over 30 years on the board of directors for Brittany Village, a condominium association on Arch Street in Berkeley.
Barry married Irina Shapiro, the daughter of UPI’s Moscow bureau chief, in 1964, in the garden of his parents’ Berkeley home near Rose Walk. The marriage was not long-lasting, but his friendship with Irina endured for the rest of his life. She survives him, as does their daughter, Alexandra (Alya) Corten, and his granddaughter, Maia Ramírez Corten. Other survivors include his brother Dick Corten, niece Lainie Corten, and nephew John Corten, all of Berkeley. He was predeceased by his parents, Everett A. Corten and Marion Barry Corten.
Barry died from the effects of cancer, which he had for a number of years. He was cared for by his loving companion of many years, Vicki Wade, whose professional life, fortunately for both of them, was in nursing.