Wednesday, May 6, 2009

People's Park-40th Anniversary

In the name of Jesus, decontaminate this place of evil demons and fill the air with vibrations of love.

Rev. Richard York, People's Park Consecration Service, May 11, 1969

The 40th anniversary of People's Park was celebrated in Berkeley last month. This is one of two posts drawing from materials on People's Park from the Berkeley Free Church Collection.

On April 20, 1969, the community took over what was basically a parking lot owned by the University and built a park. On May 6, Chancellor Heynes requested proposals from students, the community and the college of environmental design on the best use for the lot.

Rev. Richard York, minister and guiding force for the Berkeley Free Church, and other spiritual leaders of the community consecrated the park on Sunday, May 11. Joining York were Father Jim Conway, a Roman Catholic; Isaac Bonowitz, Universal Church of Life; a member of Hare Krishna; and a Moslem. The SF Examiner (5/12/1969) said they " consecrated it with possibly the most variegated collection of clerics in the history of a community where variegation is a way of life."

On May 15, Highway Patrol and local police officers appeared early in the morning and took over the park. A chain link fence was constructed. A march by students and locals on the park from Sproul Plaza led to Bloody Thursday. James Rector, watching the action from a rooftop, was shot and later dies. Alan Blanshard was shot and blinded. 128 marchers and watchers were injured. Gov. Reagan called out the National Guard, who tear gas the city, and prohibited public assemblies.

York was a member of the People's Park Committee and obsessively collected and saved documents, clippings and other materials on Berkeley and the activities of the church.

Additional images from our collection on People's Park are temporarily online, part of a California Local History Digital Resources Project. Later this year they will be part of Calisphere. For additional information, see the finding aid or contact Special Collections at 510/649-2523,

Special thanks to Terri Compost -- historian, gardener and author of the forthcoming book, People's Park: Still Blooming (see

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