Historical Timeline

Historical Highlights Timeline


1820-1879 - The District from Spanish Land Grant to Incorporation

1820 The Historic McGee-Spaulding District is part of the old Rancho San Antonio, almost 45,000 acres of land granted by Don Pablo Vicente de Sola, Governor of Alta California, to Luis Maria Peralta in recognition of his forty years of military service and his work in establishing the missions of Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and San Jose.
1842 Peralta formally divided his land among his four sons with Jose Domingo Peralta receiving title to the northernmost portion, including present day Berkeley and Albany.
1853 Jose Domingo sold most of his land, which included what is now the District, to four San Francisco businessmen, Hall McAllister, Richard P. Hammond, Lucien Hermann, and Joseph K. Irving.1
1854 James McGee, an Irish-born immigrant, and his wife Catherine, came to Alameda County from New York.2
1855 McGee purchased 157 acres, the area bordered by the present day Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, Dwight Way, and California and Addison Streets, from the San Francisco businessmen who bought Peralta‘s land in 1853.3
1874 McGee participated in the failed effort to incorporate Berkeley, which was at that time considered part of Oakland township.4

The Spaulding Tract, the area bounded by California Street, Dwight Way, Sacramento and Addison Streets, was subdivided and offered for sale by the Oakland Land Association at $350 per acre. Spaulding Avenue was named after N.W. Spaulding, owner of the Pacific Saw Manufacturing Company in San Francisco, who was twice elected mayor of Oakland in 1871 and 1872.

Joseph Hume bought the lower 8 acres of the Spaulding Tract.

1877 James McGee, who at the time was one of the largest landholders in the area, donated 2.7 acres in the northwest corner of his property, known as “McGee Meadows,” to Mother Mary Teresa Comerford and the Sisters of Presentation of San Francisco, a teaching order, for a convent and school for girls. It was the first parochial school in Berkeley.

1880- 1905 -The District Before Urban Development

1881 Mother Mary Teresa Comerford died and was buried in the Convent Cemetery on the northern bank of Strawberry Creek (near what is now Presentation Park at the northeast corner of Allston Way and California Street).

Construction began on a single-story, gable-roofed wooden Gothic Revival church, located partly on Convent land and partly on land given to St Joseph’s Parish by James McGee.

Alphonso Herman Broad (1851-1930), one of Berkeley’s most prolific and acclaimed designer/builders built the Fish-Clark House, at 1545 Dwight Way (Landmark # 310), his earliest surviving building.5

1885 William Clark, owner of the Pacific Spring and Mattress Co. in San Francisco bought the Fish property. He commuted to work in San Francisco for the next 12 years.
1886 James McGee’s land was surveyed and divided into blocks and roads; the McGee Tract map was filed with the county of Alameda.6
1891 The one-and-a-half miles between East and West Berkeley were finally connected by a narrow-gauge horsecar line, the Claremont, University and Ferries Railroad, down University Avenue.7,8
1895 The Hunter House at 2418 California Street was built (Landmark # 231) after Clark sold the lower one acre of his property to John Hunter, Vice President of the Parker Match Company in West Berkeley.

The Berkeley Town Hall began its move from Sacramento Street and University Avenue on October 4th to the new site at Grove Street and Allston Way.

James McGee died on October 24, 1899 and was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Oakland in an unmarked grave on October 27, 1899.9 At the time of his death his estate was valued at $100,000.

1904 The Berkeley Town Hall was destroyed by fire.

1906 - 1912 - The District Becomes Part of the Urban Pattern

1908 The new St. Joseph’s Church, designed by Shea & Lofquist (Frank T. Shea/John O. Lofquist), was dedicated (Landmark # 164).
1909 The new Berkeley Town Hall (Old City Hall), designed by Bakewell & Brown, was completed (Landmark # 1).

1920 - 1949 - The District Continues to Grow

1932 U. S. Coast & Geodetic Survey official elevation datum base (Benchmark No. 1) was placed near the corner of Allston Way and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. All grades and elevations in Berkeley are determined from this marker.
1944 The science fiction writer Philip K. Dick moved with his mother to 1711 Allston Way while he attended Berkeley High School (the 1982 film Blade Runner was adapted from one of his novels) .10

1950-1969 - The District After the War

1955 Much of the District was rezoned to R-5, high-rise and high density resulting in the demolition throughout the 1950s and 60s of many of the finer older residences in the District.
1965 Michael Lerner, president of the Berkeley chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), moved with Jerry Rubin into the house at 1712 Channing Way. He later became a Rabbi and in 1987 founded Tikkun magazine.

1970-1999 - The District Is Downzoned

1972 Harlem artist Romare Bearden was commissioned to paint a large mural for the City Council Chambers in the City Hall. One of the images was later chosen for the Berkeley city logo.

The Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance was passed by the City of Berkeley, placing strict restrictions on neighborhood demolitions.

Father William O’Donnell, often described as one of the Catholic Church’s most arrested priests, was assigned to St. Joseph the Workman. (1973-2003). To give equal honor to working women, St. Joseph the Workman was changed to St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church.11

1974 Herb Wong, Principal of Washington School, presided over the building of the Environmental Yard, with the help of Professor Robin Moore of the University of California’s School of Environmental Design. The Environmental Yard was financed by Chevron.
1975 Old City Hall was one of the first landmarks to be designated by the new Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Most of the District was downzoned to R-2, due to the efforts of a small group from the Flatlands Neighborhood Association, to stop the proliferation of cheap “dingbat” apartment dwellings.

1978 Father Harry B. Morrison, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Church, founded the Berkeley Historical Society.
1992 The District moved further to the left when Dona Spring, disabled by rheumatoid arthritis since her twenties, narrowly won election to the City Council. She won every subsequent election, her last in 2006 with 72 percent of the vote.

2000 to Present - The District in the 21st Century

2000 The McGee-Spaulding-Hardy Historic Interest Group (MSHHIG) was formed.
2008 Dona Spring, one of Berkeley’s most outspoken progressives, died.
2008 Berkeley Historical Plaque Project plaque installed on the California Island at Dwight Way and California Street.
2012 Berkeley Historical Plaque Project plaque installed at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr Way and Allston Way.
2013 The Heart of Berkeley: The Historic McGee-Spaulding District Exhibit opens at Berkeley Historical Society, runs from October, 2013 through March, 2014
  1. Federal Writers Program (WPA), Berkeley, the First Seventy-five Years, 1941
  2. William Warren Ferrier, Berkeley, California, The story of the evolution of a hamlet into a city of culture and commerce (Berkeley, 1933: published by the author).
  3. Ferrier
  4. Ferrier
  5. California Architect and Building Newsem>, February 1884
  6. Copy of Map
  7. Ferrier
  8. Phil Gale
  9. Obituaries and Register at St. Mary’s Cemetery, Oakland
  10. Lawrence Sutin, Divine invasions: a life of Philip K. Dickem> (New York 2005: Caroll & Graf Publishers).
  11. Street Spirit, December 2006 Edition