The Monster Stalking Telegraph Ave

by Steed Dropout
Aug. 29, 2014


Helen Bachinsky is a 93 year-old coffee house habituĂ©, who is now confined to her apartment. “Our Berkeley professors warned us off Telegraph in the Fifties,” she told me years ago. “they saw the avenue as a bad influence.”

By design or not, Cal Berkeley seems to have tried various schemes to keep students safely on university property, offering a wide array of services competing with Telegraph stores and cafes.

One need only glimpse the scope of Cal’s lower Sproul development, as it now rises from demolition and assumes the outlines of completion, to see that a refurbished student union building catering to students’ 24 hour needs will impact Telegraph.

24-hr. student center; appetite for Telegraph. Photo byTed Friedman.

A Cal marketing survey, two years ago, concluded students preferred to do their shopping anywhere but Telegraph. A 2012 Daily Cal editorial denounced Teley’s so-called street-kid panhandlers.

By 1972, according to a history of Berkeley police, Telegraph, which was merely freaky in the 60s-70s, had evolved into an illegal drug store–marking the end of old Berkeley.

A Cal vice-chancellor sits on the executive board of Telegraph property owners. Last year she presented the owners a first look at Cal’s lower Sproul plaza plans for a 24-hour student super-store/study hall. After the presentation, I asked Craig Becker, president of the owners, whether Cal’s plans would hurt his business, the Caffe Mediterraneum, on lower Teley.

At that time Becker said that he saw no threat. Now he isn’t sure. Becker recently put the Med up for sale.

At what was called a mayor’s brainstorming meeting at Willard School in March, 2013,
architects’ plans for a mall-like Telegraph envisioned Telegraph at Dwight as a “gateway” to the campus, with a welcoming UC arch.

Blue and Gold Crud-Can welcomes to Cal, 4 blocks from campus.
Photo byTed Friedman.

Fifty years ago, Cal’s Sproul Plaza gobbled up (for Cal use) a chunk of Telegraph. Now Sproul may–although indirectly–seek a second helping.

Some South side radicals, who remember the bloody battle for People’s Park in 1969 regard Cal a property-grabbing Godzilla. The People’s Park ‘war,’ in which a student was killed, is still regarded by rads as a land grab. Yearly People’s Park anniversary speeches accuse the university of wanting to usurp the park–if not the world.

Legendary town versus gown tensions between Cal and its townie subterranean critics will continue until Cal returns People’s Park to its origins as a parking lot (or dorms) as Cal critics predict. In the meantime, Cal continues to feed its godzilla appetite on Berkeley’s South side.

Dedicated to Park Paranoia, 45. These views do not represent those of publications in which my work appears.

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