University of California at Berkeley

Bear Fountain Renaissance

 by Fran Marsh

What is a Berkeley vice chancellor doing at Marin Circle on a rainy Sunday morning with a pitcher of water?

He -- and scores of other folks with campus ties -- have joined 3,000 neighbors to dedicate a North Berkeley fountain.

The Sept. 15 dedication, one of the largest ceremonial events in the history of the city, illustrates both civic pride and the extent of connections between campus and community.

"It's a piece of public art that people can identify with and understand," said Steve Finacom, a planning analyst in Physical and Environmental Planning. "You don't need an artist's explanation to tell you what it is."

The fountain replaced an original, Berkeley's first public piece of art, which was installed in 1911 and lost in the late 1950s when a truck coming down steep Marin Avenue demolished it.

Since then, the circle has presented motorists entering the Northbrae community with an uninviting, weed-choked patch.

The restoration was a grassroots neighborhood effort with more than 1,200 contributors who gave the money to rebuild the fountain and landscape the circle.

"The whole Marin Circle restoration and dedication event was a wonderful celebration of Berkeley with a proper appreciation of positive town/gown connections," Finacom said.

Here are some examples of campus ties, past and present.

o The original fountain was designed by John Galen Howard, supervising campus architect, who also designed Mining Circle pool.

o Vice Chancellor Horace Mitchell, invited to be one of four honorary "water bearers," christened the new fountain with water from Mining Circle. Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, also a campus staff member in Undergraduate Admission and Relations With Schools, accepted the fountain for the city.

o The fountain's four bear cubs symbolize both the university and the state of California. (The original fountain was put in place when locals were attempting to have the state capitol moved to Berkeley.)

o By coincidence, the bears on the fountain (designed in 1911) closely resemble the Cal Band's "pot bellied bear" symbol that appears on Band literature and drums.

o Sylvia McLaughlin, co-founder of the Save the Bay movement, a water bearer at the ceremony, is the wife of the late Engineering dean and UC Regent Donald McLaughlin. McLaughlin Hall is named after him.

o Local historian Trish Hawthorne, who spoke about the first fountain, is an alumna, former president of Prytanean alumnae and recipient of the Alumni Association's Rosalie Stern Award for her community service.

o The Cal Band, the Golden Overtones and the Senior Men's Octet performed at the dedication along with the Berkeley High School jazz ensemble.

o The ceremony was partly based on one that former campus Public Ceremonies director Professor Garff Wilson devised for the dedication of Kroeber Plaza fountain emphasizing fun elements like pouring symbolic water into the fountain.

Steve Finacom composed his own verse for the occasion. He attended one of the first public meetings to discuss restoration and, as a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, had the pleasure of endorsing the plans.


Copyright 1996, The Regents of the University of California.
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