How Quirky is Berkeley? Anachronisms, part 2

Hopkins at Sacramento. Photo: John Storey

In February, I posted about anachronisms – objects belonging or appropriate to a period other than today, especially an object that is conspicuously old-fashioned. It was a popular post, and one which led to many suggestions from readers on what might be added. I did my best with their suggestions, and present this second collection of photos of things belonging or appropriate to an earlier period.

I start today with an example of 19th-century technology. The first police telephone was installed in Albany, New York in 1877, one year after Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. Other cities followed suit. These were direct-line telephones usually placed inside a mounted metal box which could be accessed by a key or by breaking a glass panel.

police call box
Police call box at Curtis and University Avenue. Photo: John Storey

This Gamewell police call box would telegraph a location code to the central station when a lever was pulled in the box.

Sign for former military surplus store
Sign for Berkeley Surplus, a military surplus store at 1640 San Pablo Ave. Photo: John Storey

On San Pablo Avenue, this military surplus store is out of place and out of time in Berkeley. It is as good as we get these days when it comes to military stuff, since Mac West’s Military Artifacts and Collectibles closed. It was at 1601 Ashby Ave.


bulletin board
609 Haste St. Photo: John Storey
bulletin board
1340 Arch St. Photo: John Storey

There was a time when community bulletin boards ruled Berkeley. They were a critical component of Berkeley’s community DNA. There are a dozen or two community bulletin boards around Berkeley. Most are sad reminders of a more engaged time.

welding equipment
Mark Bulwinkle’s welding equipment. Photo: John Storey

Mark Bulwinkle nominated his welding equipment for inclusion as a chronological error.

“With these tools, I built and repaired over 300 ocean-going vessels in a period of 12 years, and continued later with my art career after that former life was over for me in the mid-1980s. Younger people, some of whom are welders, who think I make my work with a computer and plasma cutter and MIG gun, since that is all they know today, often ask how I can cut steel so well with a torch. I answer that it’s just like playing the violin – just buy one and start playing. While I am skilled at all the newfangled gizmos of the steel trade, I still use the tools pictured to relax and have fun. Craft, and playing a violin, is like that.”

I second the nomination.

There are at least three anachronistic technologies in the home of Scott Page, an irony because he is all about 3D scanning, which is hardly anachronistic. Aside from a coal bin and a few proportional dividers, is this:

remote door opener
Remote door opener. Photo: John Storey

Page lives on the second floor of his house. At the top of the stairs is this lever, which when operated opens and closes the front door of the house. It is an old feature not seen in many Berkeley homes. It makes for good fun on Halloween.

I consider topiary to be an error both of time and space. I’m not talking about the quirky beast topiary around town, but the clearly defined geometric shapes that scream “another time and another place.”

515 Arlington. Photo: John Storey
2409 Sacramento. Photo: Tom Dalzell

For me at least, there is a certain melancholy in the no-longer-open corner grocery stores, relics of a time where neighborhoods had little grocery stores and not every food purchase required a trip to a supermarket. Sure, there are a few that are still going concerns, but there are far more that are boarded up, reminders of a time when Berkeley was more about neighborhoods than it is today.

1600 Virginia St. Photo: Tom Dalzell
1201 Francisco. Photo: Tom Dalzell

These chronological errors stand as silent reminders of the past.

I am interested in other examples of chronological errors 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.