Berkeley’s People’s Park has been entered into the National Register of Historic Places for its association with student protests and countercultural activity in the 1960s.
Long a contentious piece in Berkeley’s history, the 2.8-acre park was recommended for national historical status last year. The recommendation ultimately came by unanimous decision from the the California State Historical Resources Commission, according to a press release from People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group.
“It’s wonderful; it’s well deserved,” said Al Geyer, owner of Annapurna, in response to the park’s new status. “(The creation of the park) was quite a beautiful, spontaneous happening. People were planting gardens, rolling out sod; the entire community participated.”
The National Register of Historic Places is a federally recognized list of American sites that the National Park Service deems “worthy of preservation,” according to California Office of Historic Preservation supervisor Jay Correia. Reasons for being added to this list are varied; in People’s Park’s case, it meets the “event” criterion through the 1969 protests. Correia said a property being listed on the National Register of Historic Places does not restrict what an owner can do with the historic property, including transforming it altogether.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof described the park as the site of “profoundly important and meaningful” historic events, referring to the protests during Berkeley’s counterculture era. Nevertheless, he reiterated campus’s dedication to developing the park.
“Listing on the National Register does not restrict future use and, on its own, does not prevent any future development,” Mogulof said in an email.
According to People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group president Harvey Smith, People’s Park is one of the last green spaces in Southside.
Smith said developing the park ignores how Southside is “under-parked,” where the ratio of people to parks is heavily skewed.
“One of their alternative sites is just a block away at the Ellsworth parking structure,” Smith said. “If they want to build on Southside, that’s the site they should use; they shouldn’t destroy open space.”
The official website for the People’s Park development explains that crime and dilapidation have turned the park into something that people “avoid.” The website argues that regardless of how the park came to be, it is “hard” to envision this history through the current state of the park.
According to the development’s official website, campus plans to build the apartments later this year.
However, Smith argues that since campus owns People’s Park, campus could simply revitalize it and turn it into another green space.
“The university tells the students ‘the park is full of crime, it’s dirty, it’s awful and the reason that we’re building on it is to save it,’ ” Smith said. “It’s a very contradictory statement; they’re saving the park by destroying it, which is ridiculous. They’ve not maintained the park; they’ve neglected it, and it’s the only park space in Berkeley that looks like it does.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that People’s Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its role in the Free Speech Movement. In fact, the Free Speech Movement occurred several years before the protests surrounding People’s Park.