Seventy-five years ago, "acting upon the recent suggestion of the Berkeley Garden Club that the fuchsia be named the official flower of Berkeley during the Golden Gate International Exposition, City Manager Hollis Thompson informed the Council that it had been recommended by the Park Department that Berkeley appoint a committee composed of representatives of organizations engaged in gardening and representatives of garden clubs to officially select a flower to represent Berkeley next year," the Berkeley Gazette reported Oct. 4, 1938.
Janis Berquist of the American Fuchsia Society tells me that the national group was organized in Berkeley in 1929.
In 1955, Victor Reiter Sr. and his son Victor Reiter Jr., of San Francisco, hybridized a fuchsia they named Fuchsia Berkeley, "a profuse, pale rose over a darker rose double with a lax habit of growth." It won a Certificate of Merit from the Society and is still around, occasionally available from fuchsia growers. There's a picture of it -- from an old catalog produced by Berkeley Horticultural Nursery -- in the current exhibit at the Berkeley Historical Society.
Because of a mite that devastated traditional fuchsias in the 1980s, the profusion of shrub, standard, and hanging fancy fuchsias that used to decorate stylish patios and porches throughout the Bay Area has largely disappeared. However, there are newer mite-resistant fuchsias and a couple of old varieties that still soldier on.
Two that may be familiar to readers are sturdy shrubs: "Cardinal" has a single flower with dark red sepals and a purplish/deep red corolla; the other variety has a single flower with white sepals and a violet-purple corolla, often identified as "Rose of Castile Improved."
I still see them in many old Berkeley gardens where they have survived mite, drought, frosts and freezes, not to mention a particularly virulent strain of "smart growth" that calls for being "green" by obliterating homes and gardens with densely built apartments or condos.
Hall of Justice
With 1938 voter approval of bonds to help finance a new Hall of Justice building, Berkeley government got to work, demolishing two buildings adjacent to City Hall to clear the site.
These were "the antiquated building at 2119 McKinley Ave. that houses the garbage department, junior traffic police and Traffic Safety Commission headquarters as well as the small building at the north of the City Hall, containing offices of the charities commission and the city's electrical bureau."
The contract went to the low-bid firm that had accidentally violated bidding rules by inserting a $100 bill into the envelope instead of the required cashier's check. The City Council obligingly revised bidding rules making it acceptable to submit cash instead of a check as bond.
The city also removed public playground equipment along McKinley Street to clear the site.
If I have understood the history correctly, the city then set up a substitute playground for the neighborhood west of City Hall on a municipal lot that was part of what would later become Civic Center Park. In 1938, the future park block was still partially privately owned and included automobile businesses and a substantial apartment building facing on Center Street.
That neighborhood west of City Hall is the subject of a well-researched exhibit that will open at the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center St., with a reception and talk by Martin Reynolds and Jim Novosel from 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 13. The exhibit was researched by the McGee Spaulding Hardy Historic Interest Group, and runs from the earliest days of the district as the farm of James McGee up through the 1960s, when many of the old homes of the district became quarters for new experiments in communal living and activism.