Remember the fate of the old brick downtown Berkeley train station that I wrote about in columns earlier this year? Despite a last-minute citizen effort in 1938 to have the block north of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street bought by the city for a public park, private interests prevailed and the station was sold and torn down.
The first replacement building on the block opened 75 years ago, Wednesday, Dec. 7 1938. The new headquarters of the "Call Me Joe" men's clothiers chain was located at the south end of the block, adjacent to Center Street. It was a two-story, glass block, streamlined building constructed by Joseph W. Harris, one of those who had organized business opposition to the park proposal.
The building was graced -- if that's the right word -- with an enormous illuminated "Call Me Joe" marquee visible for blocks down Shattuck Avenue. An estimated 7,000 people visited the store during the opening, crossing a stylized UC golden bear in linoleum at the entrance. Joe handed out gardenias to the women, and cigars to the men.
"Brilliant as a many-faceted diamond with its daylight lighting and special illumination effects," the Berkeley Daily Gazette enthused.
The president of the Berkeley Realty Board intoned for the press that, "The transition from the former non-commercial use of the Southern Pacific Island to a business development ... marks the single greatest improvement that the downtown business district has experienced in many years. This development will be reflected in enhanced leases and sale values for all of the properties located within a block of this improvement."
The building was eventually torn down and replaced by a bank that was, in turn, replaced by the current mundane Kaplan Building. If I may slip into editorializing for a moment, I would suspect that many in Berkeley today would rather have a park or civic plaza at that site. Those 1930s predictions of civic glory from one commercial development were overdone. Might this make us skeptical about today's similar private-sector predictions that selling and privatizing Berkeley's downtown post office is the best future for that property?
A shocking murder with Berkeley connections was front-page news in the Gazette.
Leona Vlught, "Oakland beauty operator and one-time University of California student," was found stabbed to death "in a lonely section of East Oakland" on the morning of Dec. 7, 1938.
A suspect, 21-year-old Rodney Greig of 2718 Garber St. was arrested.
He told police he had gone on several dates with her. On their last date, he said, they had dinner in El Cerrito then drove into the Oakland hills.
He claimed she told him that she thought she would kill herself. He drew a hunting knife, gave it to her, then later took it back and stabbed her and smoked a cigarette while he watched her die. "I just can't say why I did it," he reportedly said.
Police said Grieg "does not seem to be greatly concerned about the crime," and suspected he was trying to lay the groundwork for an insanity defense.
Garden contests built around the theme of "Iris in the Spring -- Fuchsias in the Fall" were announced by the Berkeley Junior Chamber of Commerce Dec. 9, 1938.
Prizes would be awarded in 1939 for the best displays of the two featured flowers. The article noted that irises were being used by the city parks department to beautify arterial parking strips in the coming year.
Two men died and one was seriously injured when their car was struck by the Southern Pacific Cascade rail liner at the Bay Street crossing in Emeryville Dec. 9, 1938.