John Hinkel Park
Southampton Avenue, between San Diego RoadSusan Cerny
and Somerset Place, Berkeley, CA
16 February 2002
John Hinkel Park clubhouse (photo: BAHA archives)
John Hinkel Park is located on a steep wooded hillside off Arlington Avenue in north Berkeley. A small creek cascades through it, and paths meander under native oak, bay, and buckeye trees. The land, comprising 4.9 acres, was given to the city in 1918 by John Hinkel, a downtown property owner. It was reported to be the largest gift the city had ever received. The park area was used by the Boy Scouts, and a Boy Scout clubhouse still stands in the park.
Before giving the property to the city, Hinkel made some notable improvements: he built a rustic redwood clubhouse, a stone fireplace and playground, and also created the network of pathways. The park was conceived by Hinkel to be a natural space where the native flora would be retained and enhanced rather than being replaced it with artificial plantings. The park and the clubhouse were designed by landscape architect and professor John W. Gregg, who became the first president of Berkeleys Park Commission.
Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004
The clubhouse is located just below San Diego Road on the east side of Devon Lane, a footpath that bisects the park. Since the park was envisioned as a natural park, this building was designed by Gregg to fit into and blend with its natural setting.
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)
The rustic clubhouse is constructed of redwood inside and out and is sheathed with shingles in keeping with the concept of building with nature advocated by the Hillside Club. It is a simple, rectangular building with a gable roof, surrounded on three sides by a wide-covered veranda. The building is essentially a single room with a small kitchen on the east side. The main floor of the building is set above a raised basement, where the slope of the hillside provides for a storage room beneath. The rustic charm of this building is a significant element in the park.
Since 1999, the clubhouse has not been used because it is in need of restoration. A group of neighbors are interested in helping to restore it.* Previously it had been used by a variety of groups over the years: Ann Halprin taught dance here, Elaine Schooley taught theatre Movement for thirty years, and it was a home to the Berkeley Folk Dancers. Between 1974 and 1991, the basement had been used as storage for the Shakespeare Festival. The clubhouse was also a popular site for weddings and memorial services.
The amphitheatre upon completion, 1934 (photo: Berkeley Recreation Department Annual Report, 1934–1935, Institute of Governmental Studies Library, U.C. Berkeley)
The outdoor amphitheatre was built later and is located on a steep slope of the canyon overlooking the outdoor fireplace, which has served as a backdrop for the stage. The theatre was built by the Civil Works Administration (Project Number 5) and was dedicated on 22 April 1934. That same year, the park commission reported that the CWA funds not only provided much needed relief to the unemployed, but also gave to the citizens of Berkeley a new means of cultural recreation.
The amphitheatre in 2004 (photo: Daniella Thompson)
This article was originally published in the Berkeley Daily Planet.__________________
John Hinkel Park was built on land donated to the City of Berkeley by John Hinkel, a local capitalist and philanthropist who lived on Channing Way and died in 1926. It was dedicated for park purposes in 1918.
The Shotgun Players production of Iphigenia in Aulis
(photo: Adam Tow, 2001)
For 15 years beginning in 1974, the park was home to the California Shakespeare theatre, which staged 53 productions in the amphitheatre. Among the actors who appeared here were Annette Bening, John Vickery, Douglas Sills, Julian Lopez-Morillas, and Lura Dolas. In 1991, the theatre built its current performance venue, the 545-seat Bruns Memorial amphitheatre in the hills between Berkeley and Orinda. More recently, the amphitheatre has served as the summer stage of the Shotgun Players.
John Hinkel Park was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on 2 April 2001.
* On 16 January 2015, the clubhouse was gutted by fire.
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