Berkeley: Sidewalk History Underfoot

A ubiquitous feature of pedestrian life here: contractor stamps in the local sidewalks, saying who built the walk and, sometimes, when they did it. I assume the practice is much wider-spread than here in the Bay Area. When we were in Portland the week before last, I noticed a stamp on SE Ankeny Street, at SE 27th Avenue, that recorded a contractor’s name (Ryan) and year (1915).

What I like about the stamps: They give some sense of the history of the place. Walking around my neighborhood, you get a real sense of how development proceeded block by block. two blocks south and three blocks east, there are sidewalks dated 1910 or a little earlier. On the blocks immediately surrounding, the walks didn’t go in until the late 1910s or early ’20s.

I’m also impressed by some of the work I see. There’s a patchwork of replaced sidewalk here in Berkeley to replace walks damaged by tree roots or age. But a lot of the vintage walks have last nearly a century or more and look like they’re good for another 100 years. (I’m guessing that the climate here helps: There’s no hard freeze in the winter.)

Anyway, here’s a slideshow–a small collection of local sidewalk stamps and a handful of other notable sidewalk finds:

One Reply to “Berkeley: Sidewalk History Underfoot”

  1. I will have to try this next time I’m in my home town, St. Petersburg. I’ll ask my brothers if there’s a similar way of “dating” sidewalks. There, the model was laying “hex-block” concrete pieces, but I seem to remember sometimes seeing a block with a stamp in it. I love urban archaeology.
    St. Pete is a pretty new town, getting its game on in the very early 20th C. It expanded from its downtown core in a few wrenching boom/bust cycles, which left very interesting “tracks” on the landscape.

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