Berkeley Historical Society celebrates 40th year with new Berkeley history timeline

The Berkeley Historical Society is run by volunteers. Bill Roberts, Linda Rosen and John Aronovici get ready on May 18, 2018, for the 40th-anniversary event on May 20. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The Berkeley Historical Society is celebrating its 40th birthday and in addition to throwing a bash, the organization has created its first-ever permanently-installed timeline of Berkeley history.

Previously, when visitors came to the society’s exhibition hall at the Veteran’s Memorial Building on Center Street, they would see displays on various aspects of life in Berkeley. But there was not a way to grasp the city’s history at a glance.

Now there is.

Gracing two walls near the entrance, the permanent timeline, put together by Linda Rosen, a volunteer, begins with the indigenous period, when Ohlones lived by the Bay. It goes up to 2017 when Berkeley was wracked by numerous protests that saw clashes between the far-right and the far-left. In between are well-known dates, such as the 1964 start of the Free Speech Movements, and other lesser-known moments, such as the 1909 election of Beverly L. Hodghead as the first mayor.


“You get a comprehensive history of Berkeley, which the temporary exhibits do not provide because they are subject oriented,” said Bill Roberts, the longtime volunteer archivist.

The Society will officially launch its 40th year on Sunday with a 40th Anniversary Celebration event featuring a talk by Betty Reid Soskin, 96, the oldest-serving National Park Ranger and the co-founder of Reid’s Records. Soskin will be reading from her memoir, Sign My Name to Freedom, and will talk about what it was like to live in Berkeley after World War II.

At the 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. event, patrons also will be able to see the timeline as well as a new exhibit, “Collection Gems: Forty Years of Documenting Berkeley History.” Members of the historical society have gone through the archives to bring out interesting memorabilia — “collection gems” — such as a receipt book from Hink’s Department Store, a coffee can and other tins from the Berkeley co-op, costumes used at the dance palace, Temple of the Wings, wooden hangers with laundry names written on them, and more blasts from the past. There are panels depicting Berkeley family life through the decades, government and politics, schools, and the performing arts. The exhibit runs through Oct. 13.

The Berkeley Historical Society began 40 years ago when a group of local history enthusiasts started the ad-hoc Berkeley Centennial Celebration. For years, the group didn’t have a permanent home, but in 1992 it moved into the Veterans’ Memorial Building at 1931 Center Street. Run entirely by volunteers and funded by donations, the Historical Society sees its mission as “researching, preserving and sharing Berkeley’s unique history through exhibits, lectures, walking tours, and publications,” according to a press release.

The original founders of the Berkeley Historical Society.

The Society has an impressive collection of material, including a second-floor space to hold its archives.  In addition to many books about Berkeley, there are oral histories of people such as Dorothy Bryant, the novelist, Henrik Bull, an architect, Anne Crowden, who founded the music school, the people involved with the co-op, which was the largest in the U.S. and the International House. There are video interviews on YouTube, too, including one with Country Joe McDonald.

The Historical Society’s collection contains many UC Berkeley and Berkeley High School yearbooks but is missing some critical years. Volunteers hope that people might donate BHS yearbooks from 1907, the years 1993-1997, and after 1999.

The Historical Society is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday afternoons from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at 1931 Center St. Admission is free.


Berkeley Historical Society 40th Anniversary Celebration:

When: May 20th, 2018, 2-4pm
Where: Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street, Berkeley
Admission: Free admission. RSVPs encouraged through our Facebook or Eventbrite.