Berkeley was preparing for construction of an overpass on University Avenue at the railroad tracks to speed traffic to and from the Eastshore Highway 75 years ago.

The Jan. 31, 1939, Berkeley Daily Gazette carried an article and illustration of the planned structure which would eliminate the railroad crossing bottleneck. The 1,300-foot overpass would cost some $300,000, all paid for with federal funds. The city was investing $25,000 to buy the right of way.

The article noted that "more than 1200 automobiles and trucks are daily forced to cross the Southern Pacific mainline tracks." Assuming those vehicles were divided equally coming and going, that's an astounding 600 vehicles a day in each direction, or some 25 an hour; presumably commute hours saw a considerably higher rate of traffic.

Auto items

A spring opening of a new Berkeley branch office of the California State Automobile Association was announced in the Jan. 26, 1939, Gazette. And payments for California automobile license plate renewals were due by Feb. 4; in that era, everyone renewed at the same time each year. Berkeleyans could go to the Department of Motor Vehicles office at 1703 University Ave. to arrange for their new plates.

Social tea

"Four popular Berkeley hostesses presided over one of the largest and most interesting teas of the season this afternoon at the home of Mrs. Paul Newell on The Alameda," proclaimed the Gazette society page on January 27, 1939. There were more than 100 guests and "quantities of early spring flowers added their gay note to the lovely affair."


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Clean up

On Jan. 27, 1939, "local civic groups reopened the 'Clean Up for the Fair' campaign." This was part of the ongoing effort to tidy Berkeley front yards, backyards, and vacant lots so visitors to the Golden Gate International Exposition would see Berkeley at its best. "Berkeley is advertised to the world as a 'city of beautiful homes,'" the Clean Up Club pointed out, but the beauty can easily be marred by unsightly backyards and vacant lots.

The article describing the campaign singled out North Street as a good example of a district where residents had made improvements. North Street neighbors would hold on Saturday, Jan. 28, an annual open house to "display attractive yards, gardens, and street parking." ("Parking" used in this context referred to median and curbside planting strips, not motor vehicles).

Miss Alaska

Berkeley shivered in cold brought by an Alaskan storm at the end of January 1939. Temperatures dropped into the 30s on the night of Jan. 30-31.

"Snow blanketed the tips of Mounts Diablo, Tamalpais and Hamilton." The next day, Feb. 1, "roofs, lawns, streets and sidewalks were decorated in frost ermine in honor of 'Miss Alaska,' who arrived here yesterday for a preview of the Exposition. Local thermometers did a nose dive and registered as low as 29 degrees in Cragmont before the sun, wearing ear muffs and wound up in muffler, poked his head over Grizzly Peak."

Spanish war

Headlines in the Jan. 26, 1939 Gazette announced that Franco's troops had occupied Barcelona. The Spanish Civil War was nearly at an end as the rebels swept through Catalonia, the last mainland stronghold of the Loyalist Republic forces. Loyalist refugees were pouring across the border into southern France, but France was excluding refugee men of military age.

The Jan. 27 Gazette carried a story on UC student Irving Kornell who had traveled to Spain in 1937 as an anti-fascist volunteer, and drove an ambulance. He said "the Loyalists would rather have war with its lice and mud than peace with its empty stomachs and fascist terror."

Tower "topped off"

Exactly 100 years ago, Jan. 31, 1914, UC officials and the construction crew, architects, and engineers celebrated the completion of the steel frame of the Campanile with a catered banquet atop the skeleton structure. They dined on turkey, mashed potatoes, shrimp salad, and pie a la mode, hoisted to the observation level by a construction crane. Construction on the tower had started in late 1913, and would not be finished until 1915. Next year, 2015, the Berkeley campus will celebrate a Campanile Centennial, with details to be announced.