Life in the Valley of the Quails

#485 in a series of true experiences in real estate
March 2005, Hills Newspapers

(With this column, Pat Talbert and Anet Tarpoff celebrate their 12th anniversary as columnists.)
Soon we will be putting on the market a beautiful family-size house located just around the corner from the Berkeley Rose Garden.

Although I have driven the route to this house many times over the years, until recently I knew nothing about the Rose Garden or the park across Euclid Avenue, Cordornices Park. But the owner of our listing passed along to us a written description and history of both, and I had quite a good time reading it.

There are almost 10 acres in all comprising the garden, park, 5 tennis courts and a water reservoir. The site was once known as El Valle de Los Cordornices – the Valley of the Quails — named by Don Jose Domingo Peralta in the early 1840s when he owned vast lands in the area.

I have no trouble picturing Peralta astride his horse looking out over trees to the bay water with wild quail scattering on the hilltop. There aren’t any quail there now but the park and garden, at least on weekdays, are green and quiet, just right for resting on a bench or for walking. From the top of the Rose Garden the views are my favorites, not drop-dead panoramic bay views but gentler ones overlooking rooftops to Albany hill on the left, strips of water in the middle, and hills to the right.

Now, in early spring, the roses are just beginning to leaf out so are not blooming color yet, but the scene is appealing. Tennis players move across the courts lopping and retrieving balls, and people slowly walk along the paths to the lower part of the garden where the creek comes out above ground.

Until the mid-1970s when the city purchased it, this land was owned by various water companies, writes Enrique Zambrano for the neighborhood group, Los Amigos de Cordornices, in the notes given to me. There used to be a craftsman style clubhouse in the park designed by Maybeck who lived nearby and who personally helped construct the building in about 1920.

The clubhouse, with its large stone fireplace and rock terraces, was used for theatrical and social events including weekly evening dances and parties, and for weddings. There were also, in the park picnic areas, cookouts and fireside singalongs. But by the 1960s, the facilities were being used less and less, the clubhouse had been vandalized and so condemned and torn down in the early 1970s.

It is unfortunate that what must have been a beautiful building is gone, but much remains, or has been developed since, in the park. There is a children’s playground with swings and climbing structures and a toy trolley like the ones that once ran on Euclid Avenue. There are basketball courts, a playing field, and a stone bridge over the creek. Kids bring cardboard to the concrete slide to make their ascent slippery and fast.

The park area is protected by lovely large trees and other greenery and, although I have not explored them myself, Mr. Zambrano describes hiking trails including at least one that used to lead to an old quarry, now La Loma Park.

In the old days, mules and horses traveled this route on Old Quarry Road to bring stone down to build walls and other structures in the park, and likely, to other property in the area.

I’ve driven past La Loma Park on a semi-circular turn on Spruce Street many times, but never guessed that it was once the site of a quarry. Now that I know, I’ll look at it differently, just as I do the former Leona Quarry in Oakland, picturing men dressed in black hats and cotton shirts, their pants held up with suspenders driving heavily loaded wooden wagons downhill.

The Rose Garden and tennis courts were completed in 1937, a WPA project. Until the late 1950s, the garden was the scene of various festivities such as the one named Rose Week. Every year on Mother’s Day, a Berkeley mother was chosen Rose Mother of the year.

When the garden was first planted, planned by a local rose society, the roses were arranged by color, the top terrace in red, the next in bronze roses, then yellow, with white flowers at the bottom.

The most fascinating feature of all to me is the tunnel that runs under Euclid Avenue connecting the rose garden with the park. I have not been in the tunnel but I am sure I remember playing in such a tunnel when I was a kid, not in Berkeley but in Oakland at Montclair Park.

My son tells me that I’m wrong, that there is no tunnel in Montclair. But he knows the one at Cordornices. He went there with his dad and recalls riding his bike through the tunnel after first getting up speed on a slope on the park side.

Good times, childhood park play times. Some of the best are at the park.

This entry was posted in Potpourri. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

  • Sign up to receive our newspaper columns: