September 17, 1923: The Day That Berkeley Burned - Cal Alumni Association (2023)

September 17, 1923: The Day That Berkeley Burned - Cal Alumni Association (1) Image source: Berkeley Public Library

North Berkeley was a showcase for the city’s exceptional architects. As it turned out, it was also a tinderbox.

The first signs of trouble were subtle. For some, it was the strange amber hue of the midday light. Others caught the distinctive scent of burning eucalyptus. By two in the afternoon of September 17, 1923, just about everyone in Berkeley had taken note of the uncommonly warm, dry wind blowing in from the northeast. What they didn’t know was that a small grass fire over the hill in Wildcat Canyon was growing fast, leaping from grass to brush to tree—and it was about to crest the hills of North Berkeley.

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At final tally, more than 500 homes were destroyed. Miraculously, no one was killed, but 4,000 people were left homeless.

When it did, near Berryman Reservoir, the fire was a half mile wide. A thick black cloud came pouring over the hill, followed by surging flames pressed low by warm, gale-force winds, known as Diablo winds. The fire raced down Codornices Creek and bore down on the Northside neighborhood that ran from the creek to the northern edge of the Berkeley campus at Hearst Avenue.

Just a few decades earlier, at the turn of the century, the area had been sparsely developed pastureland known as Daley’s Scenic Park. But, spurred in part by immigration across the bay after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, there was a surge of subdivision and construction. In that short period, something remarkable had taken place. A group of renowned Berkeley architects including Bernard Maybeck, John Galen Howard, and Julia Morgan had chosen the neighborhood as the ideal setting to express a philosophy of house design summed up in the book, The Simple Home, by another prominent Berkeleyan, poet and naturalist Charles Keeler.

Inspired by the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement, Keeler espoused the virtues of homes that complemented the beauty of the natural setting in which they were built. His book described the ideal abode as one of unpainted redwood shingles, raw redwood interiors with rough-hewn beams and minimal adornments. Lush gardens blurred the lines between developed and natural spaces. In building such a home, Keeler wrote, “man is conjuring the beauties of nature into being at his very doorstep.”

The construction of these “Berkeley Brown Shingles” was vigorously promoted by North Berkeley’s Hillside Club, a Berkeley women’s group that included the wives of several prominent architects, who wholeheartedly subscribed to Keeler’s design aesthetic. By 1923, the neighborhood was dense with woodsy Craftsmans, 90 percent of them covered top to bottom in redwood shingles. It was a showcase for Berkeley’s exceptional architects. As it turned out, it was also a tinderbox.

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As the fire roared downhill, the shingled homes literally exploded in flames. Berkeley’s small contingent of firefighters was forced to repeatedly abandon their positions as the wind-propelled fire speedily advanced. The entire city, it seemed, might be consumed. But just as the flames reached the shopping district at Shattuck Avenue to the west and campus to the south, the wind reversed direction and the fire was blown back onto itself. With nothing left to consume, it died out.

Replacement homes were built with fire-resistant stucco siding and clay tile roofs, creating a delineation in house design that marks the path of the fire to this day.

When North Berkeley residents returned, there was nothing to salvage. It was a naked hellscape of charred tree trunks and freestanding chimneys surrounded by bare foundations.

At final tally, more than 500 homes were destroyed. Miraculously, no one was killed, but 4,000 people were left homeless, including more than 100 University employees and faculty and over 1,000 students. Much of Berkeley’s contribution to the history of American residential architecture had been reduced to ash. Maybeck alone saw 19 of his projects consumed by the flames.

In the aftermath, there was little doubt that the neighborhood’s characteristic nature-inspired homes had added fuel to the inferno. The style of building that predominated in Northside before the 1923 fire is exemplified by UC Berkeley’s Northgate Hall at Hearst and Euclid. Today it’s home to the Graduate School of Journalism, but at the time the building, designed by John Galen Howard, housed the architecture school. As the fire bore down on campus, architecture students stood on the roof with hoses defending the “Ark,” as it was called, from the blaze. Howard’s own home burned to the ground, as did Maybeck’s.

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Keeler did not hesitate to reexamine his design tenets in the wake of the catastrophe. “Half measures of protection will not serve,” he wrote at the time. “Let Berkeley citizens prove themselves men and women of vision who dare to face the problems in a big way and build for the future and avoid the mistakes of the past.”

In the aftermath, replacement homes were built with fire-resistant stucco siding and clay tile roofs, creating a delineation in house design that marks the path of the fire to this day.

But lessons of disaster fade with time. In 1991, fire struck the East Bay hills again, this time at the Berkeley-Oakland border, killing 25 people and destroying more than 3,000 homes. In the aftermath, houses with redwood shingle siding and split shake roofs once again caught much of the blame for the ferocity of the fire. The similarities didn’t end there. In both cases, dense urban forest comprised of volatile species like blue gum eucalyptus and Monterey pine contributed to catastrophe. Both fires occurred on unseasonably warm, dry fall days. And both were propelled by hot, gusty winds from the northeast. In both cases, the fire was only contained when these winds subsided or reversed.

Lessons of disaster fade with time. In 1991, fire struck the East Bay hills again, killing 25 people and destroying more than 3,000 homes.

In her book about the 1991 fire, Firestorm!, journalist Margaret Sullivan points to another common factor, “that of surprise: disbelief that the security of one’s established, built community could be so susceptible to the forces of nature.”

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The natural disaster that has (perhaps until recently) been most closely associated with California is the earthquake. When it comes to “the Big One,” every Bay Area resident knows it’s not a matter of if but when. We don’t view fire with the same inevitability, despite historical evidence to the contrary. (In 1905, long before the hills above Berkeley were packed with houses, a wildfire burned from Grizzly Peak across Strawberry Canyon and to the edge of campus before it was stopped.)

With climate change drying out our state and more people living in harm’s way, the risk is greater than ever, says Scott Stephens, Berkeley professor of wildland fire sciences. And weather conditions like those experienced during the 1923 and 1991 fires can make containment nearly impossible for firefighters. “But in my opinion,” he says, “the fuel conditions of the wildland and domestic vegetation and the way we build is still 80 percent of the problem. There are important things that can be done today to mitigate a Camp Fire–type event here in the East Bay.”

Among other projects, Stephens is promoting an initiative modeled on the UC agriculture extension program that, for the last 75 years, has shared new knowledge and scientific research with farmers around the state. “We should do this for fire,” he says. “I think it would make a difference.” Each county would have an assigned expert to work with city councils, boards of supervisors, nonprofits, and fire safety councils to help build location-specific approaches to preparing for and responding to fire.

Such a program would also help remind Bay Area residents that when the next Big One comes, its source may not be shifting tectonic plates, but a tiny spark in the grass fanned by hot, dry wind.

From theSpring 2019issue ofCalifornia.

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FAQs

Who went to Berkeley? ›

Nobel laureates
NameDegree(s)Prize year
David JuliusPh.D. 19842021
Daniel KahnemanPh.D. 19612002
Lawrence KleinB.A. 19421980
Willis LambB.S. 1934, Ph.D. 19381955
32 more rows

How many Berkeley alumni are there? ›

all 450,000 UC Berkeley alumni.

Can UC Berkeley alumni take classes? ›

All UC Alumni Association members can now enjoy the opportunities for lifelong learning through most UC Extension classes, no matter what UC campus they attended.

How do I keep my Berkeley email? ›

Can I keep my current student email address? Yes! As long as you are an alumni of a full time UC Berkeley undergraduate or graduate degree program, you can register with @cal after graduation and click the link that reads Claim your Berkeley.edu account!.

What is the average GPA for UC Berkeley? ›

GPA and test scores of middle 25%-75% students
High School GPA4.15 - 4.30
ACT English Language Arts28 - 32
SAT Evidence Based Reading & Writing660 - 750
SAT Mathematics680 - 790
2 more rows

Is UC Berkeley a good school? ›

UC Berkeley is one of the best schools in the nation – #22, in fact, according to the 2022 Best Colleges edition by the U.S. News. They also ranked #1 in Computer Science, #2 in Top Public Schools, #2 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs, and #3 in Business Programs.

What is the easiest major to get into UC Berkeley? ›

10 Easiest Majors to Transfer into UC Berkeley
MAJORADMIT RATE
1.Development Studies41%
2.Environmental Economics Policy49%
3.Society and Environment54%
4.Landscape Architecture39%
6 more rows
19 Jan 2017

What major is Berkeley known for? ›

The most popular majors at University of California, Berkeley include: Social Sciences; Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services; Engineering; Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies; Mathematics and Statistics; Natural Resources and Conservation; Business, Management, ...

How hard is UC Berkeley to get into? ›

UC Berkeley's acceptance rate is estimated to be under 12%, making it the hardest to get into within the University of California system, with the average admitted student boasting a weighted GPA of 4.25 or higher, alongside impressive test scores and stand-out extracurriculars!

Can you keep Berkeley email after graduation? ›

Can I keep the @berkeley.edu email address that I had as a student? Recent Cal graduates are able to keep and convert their @berkeley.edu address to an alumni email account. You will have up to 9 months after your graduate as a grace period in which you will still have access to your student email account.

How long can I keep my UC Berkeley email? ›

TERMS OF ELIGIBILITY

Emeriti are able to keep their accounts indefinitely so long as their department enters their status as an emeriti in UCPath.

How do I change my UC Berkeley email? ›

Add or Change Recovery Email Address
  1. Log in to Calnet Account Manager.
  2. Click Change My Recovery Email Address.
  3. Enter your non-berkeley.edu email address in the New recovery Email Address field.
  4. Press Change.
  5. Navigate to the inbox of the email account listed in step 3.

Where do the richest people go to college? ›

Harvard University produces the richest grads in the country (to no one's surprise), as well as the most billionaire alumni. Nearly 80% of Harvard's UHNW alumni are considered self-made, and more than a quarter are of international origin.

What is Berkeley acceptance rate? ›

Are the Ivy League schools? ›

The eight institutions are Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University.

Is Berkeley better than UCLA? ›

Which is better out of the two universities – UCLA vs UCB? UCB has more academic prestige but UCLA is known to be better at sports and has more students. UCLA is ranked as the top known public university and UCB is the second best.

What is the easiest Ivy League school to get into? ›

1. What's the easiest Ivy League school to get into? While all Ivy League schools have a low acceptance rate, Cornell University has the highest acceptance rate among them. Cornell's acceptance rate is 11%, but try not to get too hung up on the numbers.

Is Berkeley an Ivy League school? ›

UC Berkeley is not an Ivy League school. UC Berkeley is part of the UC schools, which consist of nine learning institutions. All UC schools are in different parts of California. On the other hand, Ivy League schools are made up of eight private schools located in various parts of the US.

What is the #1 school in the world? ›

RankUniversityCountry
RankUniversityCountry
1California Institute of Technology (Caltech)USA
2Harvard UniversityUSA
3Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)USA
80 more rows

What is the #1 public university in the world? ›

UCLA shares the top honor among public schools this year with UC Berkeley. Four other University of California campuses are among the top 10 public universities: UC Santa Barbara (No. 7), UC Irvine (8, tied), UC San Diego (8, tied) and UC Davis (10, tied).

Is UC Berkeley a Tier 1 school? ›

The first tier is UC Berkeley and UCLA.

They're the most selective and generally the most well-regarded of the UC schools. Non-UC colleges that would be in this tier include University of Notre Dame, Georgetown University, USC, and the University of Virginia.

What GPA does Berkeley look at? ›

You must have a 3.0 GPA (3.4 for non-residents) or higher and no grades lower than a C in required high school courses. You can also substitute SAT subject tests for courses. If you don't meet the requirements, it is possible to gain admission with a high enough score on the ACT/SAT plus on two SAT subject tests.

What major is the easiest to get into in college? ›

CollegeVine's Top Easiest Majors
  1. Business Administration. Average GPA: 3.2.
  2. Psychology. Average GPA: 3.3. ...
  3. Education. Average GPA: 3.6. ...
  4. Social Work. Average GPA: 3.4. ...
  5. Public Relations & Advertising. Average GPA: 3.0. ...
  6. Criminal Justice. Average GPA: 3.1. ...
  7. Journalism. Average GPA: 3.2. ...
  8. Economics. Average GPA: 3.0. ...
24 Jun 2021

What GPA does MIT take? ›

Aim high. Even though there are no official MIT GPA requirements, you should aim for a 4.17 weighted GPA. If you're already a junior or senior figuring out how to get into MIT and your GPA is lower than 4.17, know that scores close to the average MIT SAT scores or ACT scores can counterbalance a lower GPA.

What is the best school in the world? ›

Here are the best global universities
  • Harvard University.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Stanford University.
  • University of California--Berkeley.
  • University of Oxford.
  • Columbia University.
  • University of Washington.
  • University of Cambridge.

What are the top 3 majors in UC Berkeley? ›

At the University of California-Berkeley, the three most popular college majors students pursue are Cell/Cellular and Molecular Biology, Computer Science, and Econometrics and Quantitative Economics.

What is the most popular major at UC Berkeley? ›

The most popular majors at University of California, Berkeley include: Social Sciences; Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services; Engineering; Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies; Mathematics and Statistics; Natural Resources and Conservation; Business, Management, ...

What is a good GPA at Berkeley? ›

The average GPA at UC Berkeley is 3.89. This makes UC Berkeley Extremely Competitive for GPAs. (Most schools use a weighted GPA out of 4.0, though some report an unweighted GPA. With a GPA of 3.89, UC Berkeley requires you to be near the top of your class, and well above average.

Can I get into UC Berkeley with a 3.5 GPA? ›

UC has a specific way to calculate the grade point average (GPA) it requires for admission. California applicants must earn at least a 3.0 GPA and nonresidents must earn a minimum 3.4 GPA in all A-G or college-preparatory courses to meet this requirement.

Is UC Berkeley prestigious? ›

Today, UC Berkeley is thought of as one of the most prestigious schools in both the UC System and the country. UC Berkeley consistently ranks in the top two public universities and the top 30 national universities.

What is Berkeley email address? ›

bMail (the Berkeley brand for Gmail) is the campus-wide email service for current students, faculty, staff and eligible affiliates, which provides @berkeley.edu email addresses.

How do I contact UC Berkeley? ›

If you have an immediate question, it is advised that you instead call our office directly at (510) 642-3175 or visit us at 103 Sproul Hall, UC Berkeley.

How do I get a Berkeley Zoom account? ›

If you have not yet accessed Zoom:

Go to berkeley.zoom.us and sign in with your CalNet ID to access your Zoom license including unlimited meeting minutes and 300 person meeting capacity.

How do you use Berkeley zoom? ›

Mobile app
  1. Install the Zoom app from either the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.
  2. Open the Zoom app. ...
  3. Tap the “Sign In” button in the lower-right corner. ...
  4. Tap the “SSO” option in the lower-left corner. ...
  5. Enter “berkeley” where it says “company domain”, and tap “go” on the keyboard.

Why did UC Berkeley cut enrollment? ›

The court order over housing issues had threatened cuts and a major enrollment reconfiguration for first-year and transfer students, many of whom would have been forced online or given deferred admission offers.

How many students does UC Berkeley accept per year? ›

2021-22 Undergraduate Admissions
AppliedAdmitted
Freshman Applicants112,84616,299
Transfer Applicants22,1754,825
Total135,02121,124

Can you change CalNet ID? ›

You can change your CalNet ID using the tool at: https://bpr.calnet.berkeley.edu/account-manager/person/changeCalnetId . Find instructions online at: https://calnetweb.berkeley.edu/calnet-me/manage-my-calnet-account#calnetid.

What is Berkeley California known for? ›

Berkeley is a city in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, in the United States. Famous for its liberal politics, Berkeley is home to the University of California Berkeley, an ethnically diverse community, and numerous cultural and culinary attractions.

Who famous went to UCLA? ›

Best known as a famous Basketball player, Russell Westbrook played 75 games for the basketball team. This is what eventually led to him becoming one of the most famous UCLA alumni.

What is Berkeley acceptance rate? ›

Who was Berkeley named after? ›

Trustees from the private College of California in Oakland meet at Founders Rock and name their future campus site Berkeley after 18th-century philosopher George Berkeley.

Is Berkeley an Ivy League school? ›

UC Berkeley is not an Ivy League school. UC Berkeley is part of the UC schools, which consist of nine learning institutions. All UC schools are in different parts of California. On the other hand, Ivy League schools are made up of eight private schools located in various parts of the US.

How much does it cost to live in Berkeley CA? ›

Summary about cost of living in Berkeley, CA, United States: Family of four estimated monthly costs are 4,492$ without rent. A single person estimated monthly costs are 1,238$ without rent. Berkeley is 11.24% less expensive than New York (without rent).

Is Berkeley or UCLA better? ›

Which is better out of the two universities – UCLA vs UCB? UCB has more academic prestige but UCLA is known to be better at sports and has more students. UCLA is ranked as the top known public university and UCB is the second best.

What GPA do you need to get into UCLA? ›

Students must have a 3.0 GPA or higher, while out-of-state students must have a 3.4 GPA or greater. The 2020 UCLA acceptance rates have indicated that UCLA is a competitive school. Meeting the UCLA GPA requirement is usually a basic prerequisite to avoid getting your application rejected right away.

How hard is it to get into UCLA? ›

According to Forbes, UCLA is considered a most selective school with an acceptance rate of 12%. Over 139,000 students applied for the UCLA Class of 2025. Of those applicants, UCLA admissions accepted roughly 31,000 students. Although there are no set UCLA GPA requirements, the average GPA sits around 3.95.

What famous people went to Yale? ›

Five US presidents have attended Yale: William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush, and George Bush were undergraduates, while Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton attended Yale Law.

What is the easiest major to get into UC Berkeley? ›

10 Easiest Majors to Transfer into UC Berkeley
MAJORADMIT RATE
1.Development Studies41%
2.Environmental Economics Policy49%
3.Society and Environment54%
4.Landscape Architecture39%
6 more rows
19 Jan 2017

What is the hardest University to get into? ›

1. Harvard University — 3.19% With a record-low admission rate of just 3.19% for the class of 2026, Harvard currently ranks as the most difficult school to get into. This rate reflects admission into Harvard College, the Ivy League university's undergraduate school.

What GPA does Berkeley look at? ›

You must have a 3.0 GPA (3.4 for non-residents) or higher and no grades lower than a C in required high school courses. You can also substitute SAT subject tests for courses. If you don't meet the requirements, it is possible to gain admission with a high enough score on the ACT/SAT plus on two SAT subject tests.

Is Berkeley, California a good place to live? ›

There are many fun events around the holiday season to get to know the people in your community better as well, and it is overall a peaceful city. Berkeley is full of great opportunities, restaurants, and parks. There is always something for everyone here. This is a very historical and fun college town.

What is Berkeley's theory? ›

Berkeley argues that the visual perception of distance is explained by the correlation of ideas of sight and touch. This associative approach does away with appeals to geometrical calculation while explaining monocular vision and the moon illusion, anomalies that had plagued the geometric account.

How do you pronounce Berkeley? ›

How To Say Berkeley - YouTube

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