Local history for the popcorn crowd
A special screening of vintage Berkeley footage is coming to PFA

By Jonathan King, Public Affairs



Rush hour at the corner of University and Shattuck — a scene familiar to generations of Berkeleyans. A selection of historic films with a town/gown focus will be screened at PFA on Oct. 20
Photo courtesy Berkeley Historical Society

09 October 2002 | It’s a typical Berkeley afternoon, as the photographer boards mass transit (the #4 car, heading north from Oakland) on Oxford Street and proceeds toward Hearst Avenue, filming all the while. A right turn onto Hearst soon brings University House into view, and shortly thereafter the vehicle, reaching the corner of Euclid, turns left, offering passengers a glimpse of a small orchard.

Number 4 car? University House? Orchard? Maybe the afternoon isn’t as typical as all that. After all, the #4 line hasn’t run since 1948, the orchard is long paved over, and University House is blocked from view today by Barker, Koshland, and Tolman Halls.

These scenes are from a nearly century-old film, “A Trip to Berkeley,” produced by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company in 1906. It’s one of several historic films featuring the city of Berkeley or the UC campus that will be shown on Sunday, Oct. 20, at a special matinee hosted by the Pacific Film Archive for Homecoming & Parents Weekend, Oct. 18 to 20.
This is the third such program of archival footage with a Berkeley theme that PFA has mounted over the past few years.

“We were asked months ago if we could put on a film program for homecoming,” says PFA curator Edith Kramer. “We thought this would be great for alumni who come back from decades ago to revisit their lives at the university.”

Introducing the program, and providing narration and interpretation, will be Steve Finacom, a planning analyst with Capital Projects who is also a dedicated amateur historian with a special interest in all things Berkeley, both town and gown. He’s on the board of the Berkeley Historical Society, which, along with the Bancroft Library and the Prelinger Archive, provided much of the rare footage to be shown at the screening.

The other films on the program were produced between 1912 and the 1950s, and provide an invaluable film record of a much-changed cultural and physical landscape. Particularly interesting are glimpses of the the area north of the Berkeley campus, which was devastated by a huge wildfire in 1923. Some of the buildings ultimately ruined in that catastrophe are visible in the 1906 “Trip to Berkeley” film, though much more detail comes through in documentary footage of the conflagration itself.

“The 1923 fire footage is very moving,” says Finacom. “Whole blocks of homes ablaze, tree branches whipping about in the wind, blocks and blocks of ruins afterward — with only bare ground and chimneys visible, and wisps of smoke rising everywhere.”

Other films on the program include the following:

• “Senior Class Activities” (1912), which feataures scenes of graduating seniors, dressed in formal attire, parading through campus to their favorite spots.

• “Officer 444” (mid-1920s), an episode from what Finacom calls “a police-crime-thriller silent movie serial,” featuring a cameo appearance by legendary Berkeley police chief August Vollmer, the father of “scientific policing” and the man for whom Vollmer Peak, in Tilden Park, is named.

• “The Big Game” (1928-29)

• “Berkeley, a City of Culture and Progress” (1937)

• “Interurban Electric Railway” (1941)

• “Hinks Shoplifting Training Film” (1950s), an “unintentionally hilarious” piece of work produced by the venerable downtown Berkeley department store (located on the current site of Shattuck Cinemas). Employees are taught how to spot a shoplifter: a prosperous businessman, a grandmotherly matron, and the like – all, for some reason, wearing little black eye masks … “like Zorro,” says Finacom.

The silent films on the program will have piano accompaniment, as well as narrative help from Finacom. The 90-minute program is free to all, on a first-come, first-served basis.


Home | Search | Archive | About | Contact | More News

Copyright 2002, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.

Comments? E-mail