Julian Curran, an adventurous, “loquacious” builder, has died a month after a driver struck him as he rode his bike through Berkeley.
Family members and officials identified Curran as the 75-year-old Berkeley resident who was taken to the hospital March 2 after a hit-and-run crash on Ashby Avenue and Fulton Street.
Berkeley police are still investigating the incident and have not made any arrests, said spokesman Officer Byron White on Wednesday.
Curran was biking south on Fulton that Saturday when a driver crashed into him, leaving him with a severely broken leg. The driver fled about five blocks down Ashby, abandoning the car on Otis Street, police said.
Curran spent the next few weeks in the hospital and rehab, and he was back home and “healing really well” when he died suddenly on April 5, his wife said.
The Alameda County coroner’s office said Thursday that the cause of Curran’s death has not yet been determined. The office is looking into whether the death was related to the injuries from the collision.
Curran spent the beginning and end of his life in Berkeley. His curiosity and independent streak carried him throughout Europe, the Middle East and the Sonoma coast in between the stints in the East Bay. He later became an accomplished builder, working on arts facilities throughout the state and running a construction company in Berkeley that specialized in waterproofing and residential remodeling.
“He’s been a builder his whole life, and he left a huge legacy,” said Curran’s wife, Christine Crane.
Curran was born in 1944 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and came to Berkeley with his mother when she fled the Mormon Church. She worked at a bank on Shattuck Avenue and mostly raised Curran alone, in between two marriages. She later had two more children with her second husband.
Curran attended Berkeley public schools, including the now-defunct Hillside Elementary, and Berkeley High.
“He was like a free-range child,” said Crane. His mother “would be at work, and he would mess around on the streets of Berkeley. He was a latchkey kid and half-way raised himself, but he had lots of friends and a community that also raised him.”
After high school, Curran joined the Air Force, and was stationed in Travis during the Vietnam War. He was shaken by the conditions he observed in the military, and angered by the government’s recruitment tactics, Crane said.
“They were bringing people back from the war that were severely injured and traumatized, and yet they were selling it as an exotic location,” she said. “He blew the whistle,” speaking out about what he saw. That transparency got him kicked out of the Air Force, a bit of a point of pride for Curran later on, Crane said.
In his early 20s, Curran wanted to see the world — and he figured out how to do so. He joined up with the Danish merchant navy, traveling around the globe with them, and continuing on his own excursions after leaving. He hitchhiked across Eastern Europe, Afghanistan and parts of Africa, Crane said.
Curran found his way back to California and built a commune in the Cazadero hills, where he lived with his first wife and the two children they had in the 1970s. They divorced, and he remarried in the 1970s, having three more children, all of whom still live in California.
Curran and his second wife divorced in the 1990s, and he and Crane married in 2003.
They first met when they were both living along the North Coast, where Curran was working to restore the Arena Theater in Point Arena. A mutual friend introduced them at a fundraiser.
Crane’s first impression: “I just thought he was really cute, you know?” she said, laughing.
They met up soon after, and got to talking — “he was a loquacious guy” — and discovered many shared interests, in art, music and travel. The couple had been planning a trip to Japan. Crane, a former director of operations for Red Oak Realty, had retired one day before Curran’s crash.
The Arena Theater is not the only arts site to benefit from Curran’s touch. A passion that began with fine woodworking at summer stock theater on the East Coast led Curran to build renowned sculptor Robert Arneson’s studio.
When Curran and Crane moved to Berkeley in 2002, he immediately began making a name for himself locally.
It started with restoring the fixer-upper they bought on California Street — “on the weekends, out of pocket. It drove me crazy!” said Crane.
He also helped out with the partial restoration of the Allanoke landmark estate on Le Roy Avenue, Crane said.
Curran’s construction company website says the builder “was always tinkering and experimenting” from a young age.
“One of the fortunate few who truly love their work, Julian approaches his projects with the curiosity and exuberance of a young carpenter, combined with the skill and pragmatic problem solving that only comes with extensive and varied experience,” the site says.
Working on the Sonoma coast, he developed waterproofing techniques that could withstand the harsh weather there.
When tragedy struck in Berkeley in 2015, those skills came into use. Water damage caused the collapse of a balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex on Kittredge Street, killing six young people, mostly from Ireland.
In the aftermath of the fatalities, Berkeley passed new laws and requirements, increasing inspections of balconies and requiring more moisture-resistant materials in new buildings. Curran helped the city devise those rules, Crane said.
When he stopped by the Planning Department office, Curran wouldn’t come empty-handed, his wife said. He was known to bring 5-pound boxes of chocolate for the front-desk staff.
Timothy Burroughs, Berkeley’s planning director, said several of his staff “were very fond of him.”
“We are saddened to hear of Julian’s passing,” Burroughs said in an email. “We were always impressed by his thoughtfulness, knowledge of construction and his exceptional craftsmanship. He was a joy to work with and to know and he will be missed.”
Curran became close friends with many of his private clients too, Crane said.
His three children from his second marriage have come to Berkeley since his death, and some chimed in while Crane spoke on the phone with Berkeleyside. One lives in Oakland and two live on the Sonoma coast where they were raised, a daughter now the owner of the house Curran built there. His son recently got his contractor’s license, inspired by his father.
Curran “was just a real teacher, and loved to train people,” Crane said.
In his free time, Curran was an “avid cyclist,” said Crane, who noted the “irony” of the March incident.
Several recent collisions involving cyclists and pedestrians have prompted urgent calls for stronger traffic safety throughout Berkeley. The city is working on a plan, called Vision Zero, in hopes of eliminating pedestrian and cyclist fatalities by 2028. City staff has said the vast majority of those fatalities occur on just 14% of Berkeley’s street miles, with Ashby among the “high-injury corridors.”
While they await more information on the case, Curran’s family members are spending time with one another and the many people who were personally and professionally close with Curran.
“It’s really just hitting me, how big his network was,” Crane said. “It’s pretty fantastic.”