New Dealish: Berkeley Rose Garden Inspires a Song and Film

Plaque at Berkeley Rose Garden

Plaque at Berkeley Rose Garden
Photo by Susan Ives

As development marched toward the Berkeley hills in the 1920s, the ravine carved by Cordonices Creek was considered too steep for houses. With panoramic westward views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate, the 3.6-acre canyon captured the imagination of park advocates. Renowned Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck designed a terraced amphitheater with a redwood pergola, and landscape architect Vernon M. Dean and Charles V. Covell, founder of the East Bay Rose Society, finalized the plan. The City of Berkeley then applied for federal funds available under New Deal public works programs.

Construction on the Berkeley Rose Garden began in 1933. Hundreds of men employed by Civil Works Administration and, later, the Works Progress Administration, worked over four years to install the garden. Among the six curved stone terraces are more than a thousand rose bushes, at their most spectacular in mid-May. The rose garden remains one of the city’s most cherished public spaces.

Songwriter Alexis Harte’s grew up playing at the Rose Garden and adjacent Cordonices Park, where the WPA also left its mark. Harte has memorialized his experiences in a ballad, “Your Rose Garden,” that celebrates, as he puts it, “the New Deal in our backyard.”

Recently, Harte received an $8,500 grant from UC Berkeley to make a short film based on the song.  He has teamed up with Berkeley filmmaker Josh Peterson and the UC Cinematic Arts and Production Club. “We’re exploring a partnership with the Living New Deal ,” says Harte. 

“If this project is successful, we plan to make a toolkit to help filmmakers, musicians, storytellers, artists, etc., create and fund similar tributes to the New Deal as we approach its centennial. We think that’s a national legacy worth celebrating.”

LISTEN: “Your Rose Garden”  (4 minutes)

With thanks to Berkeleyside where Alexis Harte’s interview appeared.

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