Trees across central meadow, Tilden Park - Berkeley CA
New Deal work relief and conservation crews cleared hundreds of acres of trees and brush and planted hundreds of thousands of trees and shrubs in three of the original units of the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD): Tilden, Temescal, and Redwood Regional Parks.
This work was part of a major New Deal effort to aid the newly-created Parks District (1934) in improving its parks for public recreation, direct by the Parks District’s first general manager, Elbert Vail.
The natural landscape of the Oakland-Berkeley hills was mostly grassland, with some oak-chaparral woodlands, riparian vegetation and patches of redwood (all of which had been cut down in the 19th century). Millions of eucalyptus trees were planted in the hills c 1910-13 in a misbegotten lumber scheme of Frank Havens, Oakland’s leading real estate developer and businessman of the time. Many of these were cleared to make way for park improvements, but there are still forests of eucalpytus in the parks.
In both cleared areas and places naturally lacking in trees, the Park District planted redwoods, pines, bays, and native shrubs with the help of the CCC and WPA.
The first plantings came in Tilden Park, where the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) did extensive work, starting with clearing brush and eucalyptus. CCC teams worked under the supervision of John McLaren, director of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, working as an unpaid consultant. The enrollees suffered mightily from the abundant poison oak!
Later, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) entered the parks and, among other tasks, WPA workers help plant a quarter million trees and shrubs in the East Bay parks in 1940-42. This work was supervised by James Roof, manager of the Tilden Botanical Garden and Nursery Superintendent at the US Forest Service Research facility in Berkeley.
Roof was able to utilize thousands of seedlings from the Forest Service nursery for the improvement of the East Bay parks. It also seems that a nursery was established in Tilden Park for pines and redwoods at the site of the present Native Plants Nursery located near the Tilden Golf Course.
Elbert Vail, The Early Story of the East Bay Regional Parks. Unpublished manuscript, East Bay Regional Parks District archives.
Elbert Vail, Progress Report, c 1940, East Bay Regional Parks District archives
Elbert Vail, 1940 Master Plan. Oakland CA: East Bay Regional Parks District, 1940. East Bay Regional Parks District archives.
Bacigalupi, Rimo, 1965. "The regional parks botanic garden in Tilden Park," California Horticultural Society Journal, XXVI/1, January, pp. 14-22.
Mimi Stein, A Vision Achieved:Fifty Years of the East Bay Regional Parks District. Oakland CA: East Bay Regional Parks District, 1984. @ https://www.ebparks.org/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=25719
Brechin, Gray. 2008. "Forgotten Foundation". Bay Nature Magazine. January 1. http://baynature.org/articles/jan-mar-2008/forgotten-foundation
Anonymous, "WPA and CCC worksites in East Bay Regional Parks," typescript report, January 2, 2012.
Smith, Harvey. 2014. Berkeley and the New Deal. Charleston SC: Arcadia Books.
Amanda Sue Marshall, The East Bay Hills: A Brief History. Charleston SC: The History Press, 2017.
Project originally submitted by Richard Walker on August 8, 2020.
Additional contributions by Joan Greer.
We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.SUBMIT MORE INFORMATION OR PHOTOGRAPHS FOR THIS SITE