How Quirky is Berkeley? Anachronisms

1504 Bonita Ave. Photo: John Storey

In this post I present photographs of anachronisms — objects belonging or appropriate to a period other than today, especially an object that is conspicuously old-fashioned. This hitching post on Bonita (above) is one of four that I know of in Berkeley, all more than 100 years old.

1823 University Ave. Photo: John Storey

In the age of the computer and the handheld device, a typewriter is an anachronism. Even so, Berkeley has two typewriter stores. Shown above is Berkeley Typewriter on University Avenue. Joe Banuelos is the third owner of Berkeley Typewriter. He has spent his life repairing and rehabbing typewriters and office machines. He bought the business in 2000. [The other is California Typewriter which spawned a documentary of the same name featuring typewriter collector Tom Hanks.]

1823 University Ave. Photo: John Storey

The manual typewriter is an anachronism within an anachronism, all but pushed out of offices in the United States in the 1970s by electric typewriters. The typewriter gives us a linguistic anachronism — to type. When we use a computer keyboard, we still say that we are typing.

1030 Shattuck Ave. Photo: John Storey

Television antennas have landed in the technology graveyard. We had indoor antennas (the rabbit ears, whips, loops and flats) and outdoor antennas, high-gain directional antennas needed to achieve adequate reception in fringe reception areas. Cable and satellite dish and streaming on computers have made rooftop antennas technological dinosaurs.


1734 University Ave. Photo: John Storey

The rotary phone are few and far between. This one is in use at Lasher’s Electronics

The first patent for a rotary dial was granted in 1892. The commonly known form with holes in the finger wheel was introduced in 1904. Rotary dial service in the Bell System in the United States was not common until the introduction of the Western Electric model 50AL in 1919. The rotary dial was gradually supplanted by dual-tone multi-frequency push-button dialing in the 1960s.

The rotary phone may be all but forgotten, but it be quested the linguistic anachronisms of “dial” as a verb and “dial tone.”  We don’t dial anymore, but we say we do.

Dwight Way just west of Sacramento Street. Photo: John Storey

The Pay Phone Project lists more than 100 pay phones in Berkeley.  Who still uses pay phones and why? Here’s the answer. Once ubiquitous and an important part of our lives, they are neither now.

181 Brookside Drive. Photo: John Storey

With the pay phone was the phone booth. I can’t picture any functioning phone booths in Berkeley, but there must be a few. Plus: this lovely antique proving that yes, a phone booth can work as garden art.

One last telephone-related anachronism is the protocol of using letters instead of digits for the first two elements of a phone number. Revisiting the phone at Lasher’s shown above, today the phone number for Lasher’s is known as 843-5915.  It was, and is shown here, as TH3-5915. “TH”are the significant letters of the telephone exchange name “Thornwall.”

A telephone exchange name, or central office name, was a distinguishing and memorable name assigned to a central office. It identified the switching system to which a telephone was connected. The leading letters of a central office name were used as the leading components of the telephone number representation, so that each telephone number in an area was unique.


1207 Solano Ave., Albany. Photo: John Storey

The Hal Hoffman sign on Solano Avenue reminds us of the old protocol. When the Bell System started to convert existing named exchanges to all-number calling in the early 1960s, San Francisco led the resistance. The opposition group was called the Anti Digit Dialing League. S. I. Hayakawa was a notable member. The group published a booklet titled Phones Are for People.”So far,” it noted, “17 million of the nation’s 77 million phones have lost their letters in favor of numbers. The time to reverse the trend is NOW.”

A final technological anachronism is found at Lasher’s Electronics.

1734 University Ave. Photo: John Storey

Vacuum tubes were essential components of early radios and televisions. They were phased out by smaller, more efficient, reliable, durable and cheaper solid-state devices starting in the 1950s but can still be tested at Lasher’s.

1805 Delaware St. Photo: Tom Dalzell

Before the advent of pressurized public water systems, water towers relied on hydrostatic pressure produced by an elevation of water to push water into domestic and industrial water distribution systems. There are a few still kicking around Berkeley long after their functional purpose has been outlived. I look at them and envision a guest room or library, or even an ADU.

Part of an old advertisement for Nehi soda on Ninth Street, a block south of University. Photo: Quirky Berkeley

Berkeley’s ghost signs (an old hand-painted advertising sign that has been preserved on a building for an extended period of time) are disappearing as high rises abound, but we still have a few. The one pictured above, for Nehi soda, is an anachronism painted on an anachronism, a closed corner grocery story. Along with the Hygenic Dog Food ghost sign on Murray Street, this Nehi sign is my favorite..

Indian Rock. Photo: John Storey

Air raid sirens came into our lives during World War II. Berkeley City Manager Chester Fisk told us that “sirens will warn Berkeley of air raids.” The original sirens were mounted on the American Trust Co. building on Shattuck Avenue and Center Street, and at the Grizzly Peak Lookout station. They would sound continuously for two minutes at fluctuating pitches to herald an air raid alarm.


The Berkeley Daily Gazette reported that on the night of Dec. 8, 1941,“enemy bombers had approached to within 20 miles of the Golden Gate. Berkeley and the entire Bay Area was blacked out at intervals during the night, but the enemy planes failed to appear overhead with their loads of death.” There were two more local air raid warnings on the morning of Dec. 10.

They remain clichés of silent reminders today.

I am interested in other examples and ask Berkeleyside readers to report other visual anachronisms to me at tom@quirkyberkeley.com.

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-plus-year resident muses on what it all means.  A longer and more idiosyncratic versions of this post may be seen at Quirky Berkeley.