History of the Historical Society

The Berkeley Historical Society was founded in the summer of 1978, during the City of  Berkeley’s Centennial Celebration. A volunteer committee organized an exhibit about Berkeley history that opened at the Berkeley Art Center on April 4, 1978. The committee included Carroll Brentano, Louise Colombatto, Ellen Drori, Stephanie Manning, Rev. Harry Morrison, Henry Pancoast, Kareth Reid, Dmitri Shipounoff, Arlene Silk, Ken Stein, and Louis Stein. Many of these people decided a Berkeley Historical Society should be formed, and they proceeded to do so and to begin acquiring a collection, in part from material in that initial exhibit.

Board members, about 2000. Some had been with the organization since its inception in 1978.

In the beginning there was no permanent home and meetings were held where they could be, but the Society sponsored historical programs, wrote a newspaper series, and published books.

This book, published in 1983, consisted of 83 essays previously published in the Society’s Berkeley Gazette series. Copies are still available for purchase.

In August 1992, after many years of existing in school district portables, it finally moved to the current location in the city-owned Veterans Memorial Building.

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Veterans Memorial Building, 1931 Center St., Berkeley

The Berkeley Historical Society was now able to maintain the Berkeley History Center with a library, exhibit space, and an archive in which to house and maintain the vast collection of photographs, materials and memorabilia relating to Berkeley.

To emphasize that we are a museum and not just an organization, we began unofficially adding “and Museum” to the name in 2022. We are outgrowing our space, and the building needs seismic work and renovation. Our hope is that the Maudelle Shirek Building (the former City Hall) will be renovated first and we can move into larger facilities there by 2028, Berkeley’s sesquicentennial year and the 50th anniversary of the Historical Society. (See berkeleycccc.org for more information about Civic Center projects.)

Maudelle Shirek Building, Stephen Rosen photo