The prolonged permit dispute over the proposed Vedanta Society building at Piedmont and Dwight Way was concluded by the City Council 75 years ago, June 20, 1938.
"Acting quickly at the end of over an hour and a half (of testimony), the City Council last night voted unanimously to deny the application of the Vedanta Society of San Francisco for a permit to erect a $25,000 church edifice on the southeast corner of Piedmont Avenue and Dwight Way," the Berkeley Daily Gazette reported the following afternoon. "More than 100 persons" filled the council chamber.
Mayor Edward Ament wanted to limit public comments to half an hour per side, but some council members suggested forty-five minutes for each set of arguments. An attorney representing the plaintiffs later "protested that his remarks had been cut short by the Mayor's gavel."
The dispute had begun May 10, when the church had initially received a city building permit. The council heard protests, rescinded the decision by a 4-3 vote, and sent the matter to the Planning Commission. The commission, after a June 9 meeting, advised the council "an investigation failed to show anything in either the location or the proposed improvement that was detrimental to the public health and safety."
Proponents had argued the building would be a modest structure; there were many local followers of the Vedanta beliefs, religious freedom was involved, and Vedanta churches existed without controversy in communities from Boston to San Francisco.
Opponents said they didn't want any churches in their residential neighborhood east of College Avenue and contended the building would exacerbate traffic problems. Some apparently made the argument that the worshipers would be "Hindus," which would seem to be a transparently coded appeal to racial prejudice in what was still the largely Caucasian Berkeley community.
After the June 20 hearing, the council quickly voted (with one member absent) to deny the permits.
"I am in favor of churches and have had a number of persons representing this church come to me," Mayor Edward Ament said. "They have been very nice persons and I am broad in my views, but it is evident the residents in that vicinity don't want a church there and I am voting that way."
Councilman Richard French said he was voting against the church "entirely without prejudice. I feel there are church areas where this building would be welcomed, but I feel this is an invasion ... for this church to go into a hostile community would be a bad beginning." "I believe in religious freedom, but the council has followed the interests of the people," said Councilwoman Herrick.
As a postscript, the Vedanta Society did build in Berkeley, but a few blocks west, at the corner of Haste and Bowditch, adjacent to First Church of Christ, Scientist.
The originally proposed site at Piedmont and Dwight is today occupied by an apartment building.
"America's highest rating in the field of Sea Scouting -- the coveted award of national flagship -- was conferred recently on Berkeley's S.S.S. Sea Hawk and its crew members," the Gazette reported June 21. "This is the first time in the history of Sea Scouting that a California ship and its crew have been thus honored," the article noted, adding, "The ship's crew was organized in February of 1935."
"Local pioneer" Mrs. Beverly Cox Hathaway died June 19, 1938.
She had been a resident of Berkeley since 1884, and a Californian since emigrating from the South in 1874. A schoolteacher and principal, "she enjoyed relating experiences of the early days of Berkeley" and had "true Southern hospitality," her friends recalled in the June 20 Gazette.