Berkeley's Municipal Rose Garden is 75 years old this week.

It was officially dedicated Sunday, Sept. 26, 1937 and the Berkeley Daily Gazette reported four days earlier that "modern pruning methods have made possible several blooming seasons for the roses and (assistant superintendent of recreation) Charles Cresswell promises that the terraces will be a mass of blooms Sunday."

The anniversary will be celebrated from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. this coming Sunday at the garden. The free gathering will feature music by Berkeley High School's jazz ensemble and other musicians and entertainment, along with a "rededication ceremony."

At 10 a.m. Saturday John Underhill and Emma Morris will lead a free walk through the Rose Garden and environs for the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association. See berkeleypaths.org for details.

In 1937, the Gazette reported "work on the Municipal Rose Garden was begun under the Civil Works Administration in 1933 and has continued at intervals under CWA, SERA and WPA Projects. There are 58 varieties of roses, with a total of 1,100 plants in the garden."

As for the original opening, "Several hundred guests enjoyed the impressive dedication ceremonies" organized by the Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1937. The skill of the New Deal construction workers was praised, and Dr. Charles V. Covell, founder of the East Bay Counties Rose Society, said in regard to both site and arrangement of planting the Berkeley Garden was the most beautiful he had seen."


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A drinking fountain at the top of the Garden was dedicated to Mrs. Nellie Jane Doyle "in appreciation for her service to the city in providing increased recreational facilities for children."

Berkeley City Manager Hollis Thompson spoke, "commending all those whose efforts had made possible the building of the garden, and especially the Works Progress Administration through which funds and labor for the project were supplied." Entertainment was provided by the Berkeley Municipal Legion Band and "the full staff of the park department was on hand during the program, to assist in managing the crowds."

Oakland fire

Those same park staff had been up until 7 a.m. that same morning helping to fight a massive, 14-square-mile, wildfire in the Oakland hills that had started accidentally from a bonfire on Sept. 25, 1937.

"Billowing, flame tinted, black clouds were easily seen by spectators at the California-St. Mary's football game" on Saturday afternoon, the Gazette reported.

The fire flared up again early Sunday morning.

The Berkeley fire department had established a post on Tunnel Road, from which news of the danger was relayed. Fifty off-duty Berkeley firefighters were sent with "three water wagons and one Berkeley fire engine" to combat the blaze.

"They halted a wall of flame as it tried viciously to leap the old Tunnel Road and spread out into the dry timber back of Berkeley."

City staff and volunteers assembled and eventually a total of 249 Berkeleyans were officially fighting the fire, along with many others who showed up on their own.

Theater career

The Gazette reported Sept. 22 that C.L. Laws, who had worked as a theater usher while attending Cal in 1920, "had purchased in the interests of Charles D. Carroll, prominent Oakland theater man."

The purchase included the property and leases of the Roxie, American, and Franklin Theaters in Oakland.

Laws would resign as a senior executive of Fox West Coast Theaters Inc., and as the first -- and, to date, only -- manager of the United Artists Theater in downtown Berkeley. Laws was, the paper said, an active Lions Club member and "well known in golf circles through his playing at the Claremont Country Club."