"Christmas Day, 1937, a glorious day in the thousands of Berkeley homes," the Berkeley Daily Gazette reported 75 years ago. A Gazette front page writer went on to offer household advice. "It's the middle of Christmas afternoon. Perhaps Pa has stopped fooling with the mechanical train long enough for Junior to find out how it works ... Probably Helen Jean has taken three baths already, just to try out the lavender bath salts and Ma, you only have to wind that wrist watch once a day. And Eleanor, you can let that new dolly lie down a minute before you have cramps in your little arms. And, oh my, how good that turkey smells!"
The Berkeley Post Office set a record for the period between Dec. 16 and 23, 1937 when 1,729,949 letters were canceled locally. There were 368,000 pieces of mail delivered the Tuesday before Christmas, using 20 Post Office trucks augmented by 29 National Guard trucks. And "2,000 sacks of parcels" were handled the Monday before Christmas, which fell on a Saturday.
Seasonal employees aided regular staff.
Local mail carriers had identified 13 hungry families on their routes and raised enough money among themselves to give those families a turkey and two weeks of groceries each. Throughout Berkeley, the Gazette estimated, there were 20,000 children and 4,000 of them were in the "1,050 homes of needy residents," many of them aided by the Berkeley Christmas fund.
Christmas weather across the nation in 1937 was generally clear and cool. There was some snow in the Rockies. In Berkeley, the high temperature on Christmas Day was 50 degrees, with nighttime temperatures falling into the 30s. It stayed chilly after Christmas, with dense fog slowing the Monday, Dec. 27, commute.
The new Cerrito Theatre on San Pablo Avenue opened for the first time Christmas Day, 1937. The Gazette reported it as "a step forward in El Cerrito's civic improvement, its first theater, of which it may well be proud."
The inaugural films were "Thin Ice," starring Sonja Henie and Tyrone Power, and "Hoosier Schoolboy," the latter "starring Mickey Rooney in the greatest performance of his career."
"Yes, a right Merry Christmas to you all," wrote Berkeley Mayor Edward Ament as part of a holiday message to the town in the Dec. 24, 1937 Gazette. "It is fitting that we pause from our daily tasks in providing for our individual needs and give thought to the message that still shines through the lengthening lights of the Star of Bethlehem. In a world torn by war and strife, there is discouragement. But hope and faith are born anew ..."
On Dec. 31, 1937, Captain Donald Page of 2532 Benvenue Ave. was found guilty of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of his son, 16-year-old Donald Page. The shooting, which followed an argument, took place Aug. 29 at home, and Gazette readers had followed the trial through many articles. The trial had begun Dec. 7, and the jury took five ballots to render a conviction on the last day of the year.
Page was defended by San Francisco attorney Vincent Hallihan, and had contended the shooting was an accident as he showed his son a pistol.
Evidence included "deathbed" testimony from the younger Page given to police at the hospital which accused his father of intentionally shooting him, and an initial statement made by his grandmother (Captain Page's mother) that she thought the shooting had not been an accident.
On the witness stand she had later refused to confirm her initial statement, saying she had been in the kitchen when the shooting occurred.