Berkeley Rose Garden celebrates 75th anniversary

Henry Ascencio/Staff
The Berkeley Rose Garden had a 75th anniversary celebration this afternoon. The event included music, food, and garden tours.

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The Berkeley community was encouraged to stop and smell the roses Sunday for the Berkeley Rose Garden’s 75th Anniversary Walk.

Though the event was a celebration of the garden’s history, it was also held for another purpose. After 75 years, the redwood terraces arching over the roses have weakened, but there are not enough city funds to restore it. The Parks Recreation & Waterfront Department believes community donors and volunteers are the answer.

About 100 community members attended the event, which ran from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and was hosted by the city’s parks department and Berkeley Partners for Parks. According to Recreation Supervisor of Community Centers and Special Events Kim LeMay, Sunday was an effort to kick off a renewed interest in restoring the garden.

The garden is set up like an amphitheater, with dozens of different roses lining each row in a gradient pattern that falls from orange to red to white. In the mid-1930s, before the garden was created, weeds and poison oak infested the same area where roses with names such as Tahitian Sunset now stand.

Though the Rose Garden is often cited as a project of the Works Projects Administration under president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal  program, it is often left out that it was community members who spearheaded the garden’s conception in 1933.

According to Charlie Bowen, chair of the Berkeley Partners for Parks, rose gardens were extremely popular at the time, and people wanted to see one in Berkeley. After community members wrote a letter to the city of Berkeley, funds were drawn up from Washington, D.C., and construction began. It was unveiled to the public in 1937 and designated as a Berkeley landmark in 1995.

The Berkeley Rose Garden provides more than just a nice view of the San Francisco Bay, and Bowen sees it as the heart of her city.

“I’ve had lots of people tell me, ‘Oh, this is where my wife and I had our first date!’ or ‘This is where my husband proposed to me!’ It’s really a special place for our community,” Bowen said.

Because of the garden’s importance, the Berkeley Historical Society works to preserve its history. The organization had a table set up at the event, along with a variety of other groups and businesses, from the East Bay Rose Society to Navarro Vineyards and Winery.

“We have an obligation and responsibility not to let this facility deteriorate because it’s such a jewel,” said Mayor Tom Bates, who urged people to get involved in sustaining the garden.

People can do so by donating to nonprofit organizations that work with the garden, such as Berkeley Partners for Parks or by volunteering on Sunday mornings, he said.

“We can’t lose a resource like this — it’s too precious,” Bates said.

Contact Rachel Kang at [email protected].