Plans to build a $25,000 facility for the West Berkeley YMCA were announced 75 years ago, Jan. 29, 1938.

"The new building will include a large modern gymnasium, which will be used for recreational and competitive activities. It will also be available for large social gatherings and motion pictures. Shower and recreation rooms will be part of the equipment," the Berkeley Daily Gazette reported.

The West Berkeley Y was already 18 years old and had been initially organized by Hollis Thompson who, in 1938, was Berkeley's city manager.

"We call to the attention of the citizens of Berkeley the need which exists in this area and the opportunity which they have to participate in not just a drive for maintenance funds but for a capital expenditure which will serve the needs of young people for many years to come," the chairman of the fundraising committee told the press.

The West Berkeley "Y" building would indeed be built, and still stands today on 10th Street, south of University Avenue.

Enrollment drop

Enrollment in the Berkeley public schools was down by 176 from the previous January, the Gazette reported Jan. 31, 1938. There were 11,714 students enrolled for the spring semester in 1938.


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"The decrease was registered primarily in the elementary schools," the paper noted.

"At Berkeley High School the largest entering group in the history of the school, composed of nearly 800 low and high tenth grade pupils, assembled in the auditorium this morning where they were welcomed," and there were also "unusually large entering classes" in the junior high schools.

The age-specific enrollment bulges and declines probably reflected the effects of the Great Depression, as many people in the early 1930s put off marriage and/or having children for economic reasons. The numerous junior high and high school students in 1938 would have been born during the booming 1920s.

The Feb. 1 Gazette reported that in 1937, a record number of marriages occurred in California, up 7 percent over 1936.

A total of 4,594 marriages took place in Alameda County in '37, with June the most popular month to marry, February the least.

Insect collecting

Two Berkeley men, Leroy Andrews and Robert G. Wood, announced Jan. 31, 1938 that they would be headed to "the surrounding islands of Australia ... with the expressed hope of returning with insect, plant and bird specimens that are entirely new to science."

Andrews, a 1938 Cal graduate who worked for a local biological supply company, planned to "collect for museums, universities and private collectors." He told the Gazette he had always wanted to collect in the tropics and "decided he would go even if he couldn't afford it," adding, "After the decision was made, ways and means presented themselves."

New curbs

On Feb. 1, 1938, City Manager Hollis Thompson told the City Council that Berkeley would receive funds from the Works Progress Administration to subsidize building "an additional 200,000 lineal feet of new concrete curbing."

A previous WPA-funded project had installed "approximately 65 miles of new curbs" in Berkeley.

Bad weather

The "worst ice jam recorded in Niagara's history" choked Niagara Falls, the Gazette reported Jan. 27, 1938. The picturesque "Honeymoon Bridge" across the falls collapsed under the pressure of "massive ice cakes piled 100 feet high for 48 hours." Twelve workmen barely escaped the ruin of the bridge, which had opened in 1898.

In the Midwest "a subzero cold wave, the most severe of the winter" caused temperatures to plunge by as much as 40 degrees. There were floods in Illinois, and big fires in Nebraska in "near blizzard conditions."

In Berkeley, meanwhile, that week's temperatures were in the 50s.