"Take your pick, folks -- especially those that have been squawking about the cold weather ... it may -- just may -- get warmer. But if it does it probably will rain. Or so sayeth the weather man." That was the report in the Berkeley Daily Gazette exactly 75 years ago, Dec. 13, 1938. Berkeley had been experiencing a cold spell, with nighttime temperatures falling into the low 40s.
There were high winds on the night of Dec. 12 and morning of Dec. 13 that caused power outages in Kensington and "in Oakland considerable damage was reported through wrecked awnings, damaged signs and broken plate glass windows."
Berkeley had some 600 "needy and unemployed families" as Christmas approached in 1938, according to the Berkeley Christmas Committee. The group was conducting its annual fundraiser to bring necessities and holiday cheer to the local poor. The Dec. 13 Gazette reported that the fundraising goal of $2,500 was still $1,256 short.
Berkeley Mayor Edward Ament importuned the charitable public. "It is indeed a sad home where there is no Christmas cheer or sound of happy voices. Let us see to it that the light of Christmas shines in every home." Another $86 came in Dec. 14.
Those locals with holiday shopping money could take advantage of free parking in Downtown Berkeley and the Telegraph Avenue business district during the last weeks of the holiday season. In addition there were "four hundred yellow signs, on which will be a safety message, 'Pedestrians please cross only at intersections. Shop early and safely. Berkeley Police Department.'"
The shopping lure extended out of town. The front page of the Dec. 13 Gazette reported that "Twenty colored billboards, advertising Berkeley businesses, have just been installed along the highways in cities of Contra Costa County by the advertising committee of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce."
"Berkeley is rapidly becoming known throughout this area as headquarters for Christmas shoppers, because the merchants here are able to offer to prospective buyers a wide variety of merchandise comparable to any to be found in any other city in the area,' states Fred Kahn, Jr., chairman of the Retail Trade Bureau of the Chamber.
The billboards read, "If You Can't Get It at Home, Try Berkeley -- The Christmas City."
"While no official comment from Washington was forthcoming there is every reason to believe that the construction of a $1,000,000 Federal agricultural research laboratory on University of California property on the Gill Tract, just over the Berkeley line, will be utilized" the Gazette reported Dec. 14, 1938.
The secretary of agriculture had announced the Bay Area as one of four regions selected for new federal laboratories. The lab, if it were to be built in Albany, would provide about 200 new jobs for the area, the paper reported.
In mid-December, 1938 St. Mary Magdalen Church in North Berkeley was staging a minstrel show. According to the Dec. 14 Gazette the 45-person cast did numbers including "a juvenile dance, 'Southern Bells,'" a "watermelon cakewalk," chorus numbers, duets and tap dancing.
On Dec. 13, the Claremont Club held a holiday festivity called "Yule Know" at its Hillcrest Road clubhouse. It was "a Christmas fantasy in rhyme, rhythm, and song ... the scene of the fantasy was laid in the waiting room at an airport."
The Bentley School glee club was performing for school mothers and at local churches. And the John Muir School Mothers' Club had a creative idea for a fundraiser. Each parent donated a prepared item, "hot dishes, nut dishes, ice cream, cake and pies," and then each bought a meal for her family to eat that night.