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Do you know the way to Ocean View? Berkeley's Origins explained

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Berkeley, California has long held a reputation as a center of freethinking – and free speaking, of course – thanks in large part to the university. But Charles Wollenberg, chair of the Social Science Department  at Berkeley City College, and author of Berkeley, A City in History, says there’s another long-standing tradition: the rivalry of Town and Gown.

“The essential fact about the English speaking community of Berkeley,” Wollenberg says, “is that it had two beginnings, not one.”

One of them was a small, informal community that grew up in the 1850s called Ocean View. And it was located along the shore of the Bay on either side of the mouth of Strawberry Creek.” Most residents worked at farming or light industries, with little formal education.

“Almost immediately the two come into conflict with one another,” he says.  “The University dams up Strawberry Creek, so that the wells down in Ocean View begin drying up. The wastewater and sewage from the University starts flowing down Strawberry Creek into there.”

But despite their obvious differences, the two factions – Ocean View, and the university – joined together to form the city of Berkeley, on April 1, 1878. Prof. Wollenberg notes that “some people think that was very appropriate day” considering the school’s later reputation.

What led to this mismatched union was the fact that nearby Oakland was looking to annex the area, and neither group wanted that.

So why isn’t it known as Ocean View? The concept of Manifest Destiny was still a noble concept in America at this time. A poem by Irish-Anglican Bishop George Berkeley, titled  “Westward the Course of Empire takes its Way” was still popular, and school leaders admired his efforts to provide education and training to colonial children. It was going to be an educated, upscale community, and Wollenberg says, “ that was already incorporated into that choice of that name.”

The British pronunciation – BAR- Klee – was lost over the years as people pronounced it the way it was spelled: Berkeley. 

Few in that city today would admit to any association with Colonial Empire, but don’t use Twenty-first Century markers to grade Bishop Berkeley’s goals for Imperialism. Listen to his ideal from over 275 years ago and you may think softer thoughts of his work:

There shall be sung another golden age,

The rise of empire and of arts,

The good and great inspiring epic rage,

The wisest heads and noblest hearts.

Click the audio player above to hear the story.