Seventy-five years ago the April 23, 1938, Berkeley Daily Gazette carried a short front page article reporting that former UC instructor Robert Merriman "had been captured by General Franco's insurgents in Spain."

"Merriman, graduate of the University of Nevada and later economic instructor at the University of California, was fighting with the Spanish loyalists as chief of staff of the Lincoln Battalion with the rank of major."

The article noted that the Lincoln Battalion -- the contingent of Americans in Spain to fight for the republican government against Franco's rebellion -- said, "Major Merriman is reported to be well."

The report would prove to be premature. Merriman would never be found. Today, it is believed he was either killed in fighting on April 2, or executed when captured by Franco's forces.

Transit futures

On April 23, the Gazette ruminated about the future of streetcars in United States cities. "Street car lines have disappeared from most of the smaller American cities and many observers expect them to disappear from the others. Perhaps the trolley lines still have their value in the more populous places; but they must be lighter, quieter and more mobile than the old street cars have been."

After enumerating efforts by traction companies to make lighter, faster, quieter, streetcars, the paper speculated that, "perhaps all fixed tracks are destined to disappear from city streets, to make room for the freer flow of motor traffic. But street cars taking their power from overhead trolley lines, and running on pneumatic tires like so many gas busses, may last for a long time, because they move more freely and help to keep the streets uncluttered."

When the Gazette wrote that editorial the process of removing Berkeley's streetcar lines was already well underway.

On several lines they were being replaced with buses; BART would provide only a partial replacement after its construction in the 1960s and '70s.

But as some Berkeleyans today lament the loss of the interurban trains, it would be well to also remember that many Berkeley residents, and the city government, favored removing the trains from many streets in the 1930s.

For all their virtues, the streetcars were large, noisy, involved in frequent accidents, and blocked other traffic on relatively narrow thoroughfares like College Avenue.

Businessman passes

Funeral services were held April 25, 1938 for local merchant Jitsutaro Koiko, 74, of 1527 Josephine St. Koiko "a former Yokohama farm boy, was the founder of the Nippon Dry Goods Company at 400 Mission Street, San Francisco, in 1895 and rose to great wealth as an importer. He was president of the National Japanese Association and the San Francisco Japanese Association and was a member of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce. He was recently decorated by the Japanese government for bettering Japanese American trade relations."

Had Mr. Koiko been Caucasian, a businessman of his stature would probably have been living in one of the newer subdivisions in the Berkeley hills in 1938. His home was north of University Avenue, but a block west of Grove Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way) that formed an informal, but very real, "color barrier" in that era.

Marina funding

On April 26, 1938, "a round of applause swept the council chamber" when Berkeley City Manager Hollis Thompson read a telegram announcing that President Roosevelt approved $125,000 to finish work on the Berkeley Marina yacht harbor. Thompson said that the money would enable completion of two substantial sea walls.

"The rock will be obtained almost free of charge from the Boy Scout quarry in the Berkeley hills and the earth is already available." The quarry is today's Camp Herms in El Cerrito.