The big news in Berkeley 75 years ago this week was the official opening of the Broadway Low Level Tunnel (now the Caldecott) on Sunday, Dec. 5, 1937. The two bore tunnel cost some $4.5 million, paid for with federal grants and state and county funds.

An 800-person "civic breakfast" began the festivities at the Claremont Hotel, followed by an opening ceremony at the west portal at 12:30 p.m., with the Berkeley Municipal Band playing. Gov. Frank Merriam cut the ribbon, drove through the tunnel with a ceremonial escort, and officiated at ceremonies on the east side.

Spectators parked on the highway and walked 500 feet to the west portal; traffic wasn't allowed through until both ceremonies were complete, at 3:10 that afternoon.

It was announced that 4,692 cars an hour passed through at an average speed of about 20 miles an hour that evening and "heavy traffic continued up until 11 o'clock" at night. It should be remembered that the tunnel did not connect with the wide, and often congested, freeways of today.

Instead, traffic descended on the west side to Ashby Avenue or Broadway in Oakland.

"A tunnel pierces the hills and a barrier which has long been a hindrance to the free flow of commerce and the mingling of the people of two great California Counties is removed," proclaimed a full-page ad by the city and the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce in the Dec. 4 Gazette.

Business people on both sides of the tunnel had aspirations. Berkeley merchants hoped and expected that Contra Costa residents would travel into Berkeley to shop.

Contra Costa Realtors hoped Berkeley residents would be enticed to homes and new subdivisions beyond the hills.

The tunnel was celebrated as a quick and convenient route to cross the hills, and a safer alternative to the steep, winding, two-lane roads over the hills.

In fact, the Friday night before the tunnel opened a woman died in a car crash on the Fish Ranch Road.

Population

"Berkeley has for the first time in its history, has passed the 100,000 mark in population", the Berkeley Daily Gazette reported Dec. 3, 1937. "This does not include non-resident students at the University of California."

The number was not an exact count but an estimate by the Chamber of Commerce, based on a mathematic projection from 1930. The calculation had assumed Berkeley had grown by more than 18,000 residents since the census that year.

Projecting population into the future based on the same progression, the Chamber estimated that by 1950 Berkeley would have 134,252 residents. "It is anticipated that by 1950 the territorial limitations of Berkeley will definitely slow down the growth of population in the city."

City hours

In these days of routine notices that city offices will periodically close to save money, it's interesting to come across this Gazette mention from the Depression. "In order to accommodate Berkeley residents who work on Saturday morning, the tax collector's office at the City Hall will remain open until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, tomorrow," the Gazette reported Friday, Dec. 3, 1937.

Berkeley had a local property tax roll of $1,215,650 for that fiscal year, payable in two installments.

Mystery smell

Here's an informative vignette of West Berkeley life from Dec. 3, 1937.

The owners of a house at 1342 Burnette St. smelled a burning odor that morning, but stayed in bed, "accustomed to a variety of aromas from a West Berkeley (meat) packing plant" nearby. A boarder in their house finally got up to investigate and found the dining room on fire.

An iron had been left plugged in. The house had $400 in damage.