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El Cerrito/Kensington/Grateful Dead: When Phil Lesh and Sundar Shadi’s daughters performed in concert together

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Note the highlighted names in this article from the Dec. 10, 1949 Berkeley Daily Gazette.

The degrees of separation between Sundar Shadi, who started El Cerrito’s most beloved Christmas tradition, and the Grateful Dead, the San Francisco band that left a cult of followers as part of its legacy, is shorter than you might imagine. And earlier.
All three of Shadi’s daughters — Zilpha, Ramona and Verna — performed in concert with Phil Lesh, the future bass player of the Dead, 64 years ago this month with the Kensington School orchestra at a holiday pageant. The four were in elementary school and 9-year-old Phil (the Lesh family lived on Edgecroft Road in Kensington at the time) was then playing violin and would not meet Jerry Garcia for another 13 years. (Someone, somewhere must have a snapshot of this performance.)
You won’t find this footnote in the new documentary “Sundar Shadi’s Gifts,” but you will learn more about the man who gave a lasting gift and message to his community. You’ll also learn about the family that indulged Mr. Shadi’s passion for elaborate displays.
“Sundar Shadi’s Gifts” can now be streamed from the city’s website and will soon be available to borrow from the El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Ave., or rent at Silver Screen Video at El Cerrito Plaza. (Full disclosure: The author of this post was interviewed for the documentary.)
You can also get a copy when the display, now staged by a team of volunteers, opens from 5 to 10 p.m. nightly from Dec. 14 to Dec. 26. Or better yet, you can be part of the tradition by volunteering.

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Mr. Shadi’s figures in their original location on the Arlington.

Staff Photojournalist

Grateful Dead guitarist and vocalist Phil Lesh, here performing during the band’s 2009 concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, got his musical start in Kensington. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

Posted on Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
Under: Berkeley, El Cerrito, History, Kensington | No Comments »

Dappled clouds in Richmond strike a familiar chord Thursday evening

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The dappled sky above the West County Times office at Marina Bay in Richmond was quite striking and somewhat reminiscent of … something. Something we’d seen somewhere, maybe in Berkeley a few years back.

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Posted on Friday, November 15th, 2013
Under: Berkeley, Richmond | No Comments »

BART track work will mean delays Sunday between North Berkeley and El Cerrito Plaza stations

BART has issued the following advisory:

Maintenance delays between North Berkeley, El Cerrito Plaza on Nov. 10

We are conducting track maintenance between North Berkeley and El Cerrito Plaza stations on Sunday, November 10 which may affect your travel. From 9 am to 3 pm you may experience 10 to 15 minute delays.

We appreciate your patience as we work to keep providing you with the high level of service you rely upon.

You can get BART Service Advisories (BSAs) on your phone. To sign up for BSAs, please visit us on the web at www.bart.gov/advisories. You may also call 511 to get up-to-date service information.

Posted on Thursday, November 7th, 2013
Under: Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond, transportation | No Comments »

Berkeley post office zoning issue coming before Planning Commission

Activists working to save the downtown Berkeley post office plan to attend the Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday to call for the zoning overlay that would restrict development on the property and issued the following announcement on Sunday:


Support the Zoning Overlay

WE MUST AGAIN PACK THE
PLANNING COMMISSION PUBLIC HEARING
WEDNESDAY, November 6th, 2013, at 7:00 p.m.
NORTH BERKELEY SENIOR CENTER
1901 Hearst, Corner of MLK
Zone for the Community, not the Developers
We need you to speak or be a supportive audience member.
SAVE THE BERKELEY POST OFFICE!
Over 100 people came to the last Planning Commission meeting–60 spoke FOR the Zoning Overlay and only 3 spoke for the developers. At this next meeting, the Commission will finalize its recommendation to the City Council. It is possible that more will speak against rezoning, so we must be there!

WE MUST AGAIN BE THERE TO SPEAK FOR THE ZONING OVERLAY!

Berkeley’s Planning Commission and City Council propose to place a Zoning Overlay on Berkeley’s existing Historic District. This area includes Berkeley’s Old City Hall, New City Hall, Berkeley High School, Veteran’s Memorial Hall, and the Berkeley Main Post Office at 2000 Allston Way. The Zoning Overlay would limit the area’s use to community, cultural, and civic purposes. It will make the Post Office less vulnerable to developers and help the USPS realize the value that Berkeley places on its public services.

Berkeley’s historic Civic Center District is our Public Commons. Let’s protect it with appropriate zoning. Although the uses of buildings change, the end result must be a stronger community, not a richer real-estate developer. Let us show that we are a city of caring citizens in community.

Posted on Monday, November 4th, 2013
Under: Berkeley, development, History | No Comments »

What was your telephone exchange? Albany, North Berkeley and El Cerrito anticipate dial phone service in 1940

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North Berkeley and Albany (and the southern part of El Cerrito) still did not have direct dialing in 1939, and it looked like they would have to wait until 1940 for it.
Pacific Telephone & Telegraph received a permit from Berkeley to construct a $100,500 exchange (prefix) building at Solano and Ventura avenues that would provide the first dial service to the area, as the Oakland Tribune reported on New Year’s Eve of 1939 (above). The ornate brick building, still standing today and now carrying the AT&T logo (the historic name of Pacific Telephone’s parent company), is one of the more overlooked structures on Solano, even though it is at a prominent corner. You may recognize it from the Google Street View at this link.
The (52) LAndscape telephone exchange is still used in Albany, North Berkeley and El Cerrito and the post office across the street at 1831 Solano is called the Landscape Station.
So why is part of El Cerrito included in the exchange? When PT&T was wiring its network early in the century, the southern part of El Cerrito was connected out of Berkeley, the northern part out of Richmond. As a result, well into the 1940s, the southern part of the city could call Berkeley and Oakland with no added charge, while the northern part had to pay toll fees. The phone company, through its many changes of ownership in the last 30 years, still continues this division by distributing Oakland telephone directories to the southern half of El Cerrito and West County (Richmond) directories to the northern half.
By 1943, cities from Oakland through Richmond had dial service and new seven-digit phone numbers. (Cities in less populated central Contra Costa kept six-digit phone numbers into the 1950s.)
Those who wonder what telephone exchanges are can learn about them at this link.

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PT&T explains service areas, exchanges and toll charges in its 1943 directory.

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Pacific Telephone explains to customers how to properly use dial telephone service.

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Telephone etiquette tips from PT&T in 1943.

Posted on Monday, November 4th, 2013
Under: Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, History, Richmond | No Comments »

Pretty soon they’ll be doing this in reverse: Last Bay Bridge cantilever section ready for construction in 1936

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One section of the eastern (cantilever) half of the Bay Bridge remains to be built in this aerial view published February of 1936 in the Oakland Tribune Yearbook. The wake of a ferry that has passed through opening is visible.
In the background, the two towers of the Golden Gate Bridge are visible, but no roadway has been constructed yet.
Alcatraz Island is in the background at the right.

Posted on Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
Under: Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, History, Richmond, transportation | No Comments »

The great Key System strike of 1953 lasted 76 days

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It’s easy to look at the BART strike and the possible AC Transit strike and pine for the “good old days” of public transit in the East Bay. But an earlier generation might laugh at that.
In 1953 the personnel of the Key System went on strike for 76 days, two-and-a-half months, bringing public transit to a halt in the East Bay.
Some key differences:
* The Key System was privately owned, rather than a public agency.
* Its workers did not receive nearly the compensation given to BART workers.
* The Bay Area population was much smaller. (Though so was the roadway system feeding commuting workers to the Bay Bridge or downtown Oakland.)
But at the time the Key System was the equivalent of BART and AC Transit, running streetcar and bus lines.

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The workers walked off the job July 24, 1953 and residents — surprise — began forming car pools, something many of them became familiar with during World War II.
Businesses howled, commuters and shoppers complained loudly. (Click the pictures for a larger version if you want to read the articles.)

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But the strike dragged on and drew attention in Sacramento after it entered its third week, as Gov. Earl Warren called a special session of the state legislature to consider a government seizure of the system. Legal representation of East Bay cities and Alameda and Contra Costa counties had met in Richmond and gave their approval to the governor’s plan. The government threat to seize the Key System didn’t happen then, but it laid the groundwork for the creation of AC Transit seven years later.

Our friend and El Cerrito rail buff John Stashik writes: “The long Key System strike in 1953 was the company’s undoing. Legislation enacting the AC Transit District occurred after the 76-day strike and in October 1960 AC Transit was running the bus lines.

“Privately owned transit could not make a profit. Today everything is publicly owned. Muni was one of the first to be a publicly owned system and it began in 1912. The city bought out the Market St. Railway in 1944 and finally the California Street Cable Railway in the early 1950s.”
The consortium of automotive-related industries that controlled the Key System also wanted out by the late 1950s and the system would make the conversion from private to public ownership.

The strike finally ended on Oct. 4, 1953 — the 73rd day of the walkout. But it was announced that it would take three more days before trains and buses would roll again, compared to having limited service the next day after the settlement of this week’s BART strike.

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Posted on Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
Under: Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, History | No Comments »

Throwback Thursday: Bay Bridge under construction in 1935

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The project that would change the Bay Area forever still had a long way to go when this aerial photo of Bay Bridge construction was published in 1935. The photo includes an East Bay panorama with undeveloped hills in Berkeley and Oakland and Mt. Diablo looming in the background.

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A closer look shows the cantilever section on the east side, the comparatively easy part of the project, is progressing nicely. No decks have been built on the western section, but the towers and anchorage are in place.

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Zooming in again gives a better look at the ferry boat passing between the tower and the anchorage. There is no Treasure Island off of Yerba Buena Island, no Eastshore Highway along the eastern shoreline and no prehistoric version of the MacArthur Maze yet.

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As for work on the cantilever section, this is what it looked like with no roadway in another photo from February 1935.

Posted on Thursday, October 17th, 2013
Under: Berkeley, El Cerrito, History, Richmond, transportation | No Comments »

West County: Red flag warning tonight through Saturday morning

It’s red flag weather and the El Cerrito Fire Department issued the following notice:

The National Weather Service has declared that there will be a Red Flag Warning in place from 1800 hours (6:00 pm) tonight through 0600 hours (6:00 am) Saturday morning. This is the most dangerous point in the fire season when cool temperatures and sparse amount of rain can lead to complacency. A north wind (off shore) event with the predicted wind conditions, critically low humidity and low fuel moisture is a very serious condition.

The Fire Department will be placing signs in the Parks to notify the public against the use of the BBQ’s or any open burning. Please report any signs of smoke and in the event of any type of fire or downed trees, assume a power line is involved until proven otherwise. Insure all your co-workers and personnel maintain their Situational Awareness, keep a lookout in the hills and surrounding areas when outside, call or report any problems and maintain a safe distance from any incident.

The following weather report is from the National Weather Service:

EAST BAY HILLS AND DIABLO RANGE-…RED FLAG WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 6 PM THIS EVENING (Thursday) TO 6 AM PDT SATURDAY FOR GUSTY WINDS AND LOW HUMIDITY FOR THE EAST BAY HILLS ABOVE 1000 FEET…

* AFFECTED AREA: FIRE ZONE 511 EAST BAY HILLS AND DIABLO RANGE. THE HILLS OF CONTRA COSTA…ALAMEDA AND INTERIOR SANTA CLARA COUNTY ABOVE 1000 FEET INCLUDING MOUNT DIABLO AND HENRY COE STATE PARKS.

* TIMING: THE STRONGEST OFFSHORE WINDS WILL DEVELOP TONIGHT INTO FRIDAY MORNING WITH VERY LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITY VALUES FRIDAY AFTERNOON. CONDITIONS WILL ONLY SLOWLY IMPROVE OVER THE WEEKEND.

* WIND: NORTHEAST WINDS 15 TO 25 MPH WITH FREQUENT GUSTS 35 TO 45 MPH AND LOCAL GUSTS IN EXCESS OF 50 MPH ABOVE 2500 FEET.

* HUMIDITY: 20 TO 30 PERCENT TONIGHT…DRYING TO 10 TO 20 PERCENT BY FRIDAY AFTERNOON

* IMPACTS: THE COMBINATION OF DRY FUELS…STRONG WINDS AND LOW HUMIDITY WILL CREATE CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS WHERE ANY NEW IGNITIONS COULD SEE RAPID FIRE GROWTH.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

A RED FLAG WARNING MEANS THAT CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE EITHER OCCURRING NOW…OR WILL SHORTLY. A COMBINATION OF STRONG WINDS…LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITY…AND WARM TEMPERATURES CAN CONTRIBUTE TO EXTREME FIRE BEHAVIOR.

Posted on Thursday, October 3rd, 2013
Under: Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Kensington, Port Costa, Richmond | No Comments »

Barbara Lee issues statement on Berkeley post office closure, calls for USPS to drop sale plans

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The post office protest encampment, seen here in a photo by Judith Scherr on July 27, continues as elected officials and advocacy groups try to find ways to prevent the sale of the landmark.

The following statement was issued today by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) responding to the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission decision to dismiss the appeal by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates of the U.S. Postal Service decision to sell the downtown post office:

I am extremely disappointed by the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission’s decision to dismiss the appeal. While U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission, rendered the appeal “premature”, I strongly urge the Commission to reconsider the appeal and abandon plans to sell the property.

Posted on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Under: Berkeley | 1 Comment »