Early Days: The 19th Century

Exhibit Intro and Contents

Berkeley’s early non-indigenous settlers, including ranchero Domingo Peralta, Irish immigrant Michael Curtis, and their families would have raised cows, pigs and chickens and grown vegetables and fruits. Like the Ohlone, some of them would have also hunted, fished and gathered nature’s bounty such as wild blackberries.

Michael Curtis’s farm, west Berkeley, from Thompson & West’s Official and Historical Atlas Map of Alameda County, California, 1878.

Much of Berkeley was covered with small farms and dairies. Strawberry Canyon had the Such Dairy where the U.C. Botanical Garden is today.

W. T. Such Dairy, Strawberry Canyon, early 1900s. BHS photo #0030

Travelers and West Berkeley factory workers could get a meal at Bowen’s Inn or other hotels and saloons that were gradually built. In 1883, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union set up a free lunch program on Ninth Street to lure people away from the free lunches being offered in nearby saloons.

This is identified as a circa 1898 image of the Villa des Roses at Fourth and University (on or near the former Ohlone shellmound). Whether it was a full-scale French restaurant is a little unclear; city directories list it as a saloon (one of many in west Berkeley), with various spellings of the Vegnes name.

The Golden Sheaf Bakery

Golden Sheaf Bakery, 2026 Shattuck. BHS photo #1777

As downtown Berkeley was taking shape in the 1870s, John G. Wright opened Berkeley’s first bakery at 2026 Shattuck (between University and Addison). By the 1890s it included the “Alpha Dining Parlors.” Horse-drawn delivery trucks delivered fresh bread and other baked goods all over town.

Golden Sheaf delivery cart. BHS photo #1469


By about 1890 there was a competing restaurant and bakery a block south of the Golden Sheaf at 2138 Shattuck, with a meat market next door. Many early Berkeley restaurants, like Meinheit’s, were named simply for their owners. The 1895 city directory included Mrs. Hanson’s at San Pablo near University, Mrs. Swenson’s on University near Fifth, and G. W. Long’s at Telegraph near Allston, and Wright Brothers at 2109 Dwight, along with the WCTU Coffee Rooms at 472 Ninth.

Meinheit’s Restaurant in the Wiener Block, SW corner Shattuck and Center, 1890s. BHS photo #1383.
Meinheit’s interior. BHS photo #3675.

Hotels with Dining Rooms

In the 1880s, two hotels were built at the northwest and northeast corners of Shattuck and University, also named for their owners: the Fischel Hotel and the Acheson Hotel. They offered rooms and suites with optional “board,” i.e. meals, so they presumably had dining rooms open as restaurants to drop-ins.

Fischel Hotel (later renamed California Hotel), NW corner Shattuck and University, 1887. BHS photo #1489
Acheson Hotel, NE corner Shattuck and University, 1888, BHS photo #1458

Fred Fonzo: Bartender, Constable, Hotelier

After John Acheson’s death in 1891, Adolf Frederick Fonzo (who had worked at the hotel as a bartender) resigned his elected position as a Berkeley constable and took a five-year lease on the Acheson Hotel. He kept the name but added “Fred Fonzo, Proprietor” on a large sign on the roof. He also had Fonzo’s Café on Center Street nearby, and rented out rooms above it.

(Berkeley Gazette, 20 November 1894)
(Oakland Tribune, 16 September 1891)

Drinking Went Along with Dining—Until It Didn’t

Although serving alcohol within a mile of the university was against state law, it was done fairly blatantly in downtown Berkeley until a local ordinance was passed in 1895 that forbid even storing liquor for sale and permitted searches by the town marshal. The California, Acheson and Fonzo establishments were soon raided, along with four other businesses.

Fonzo’s Café, 2067 Center. 1890s. The white mounds seem to be hitching posts covered with oyster shells. BHS photo #7031

Fonzo joined the Yukon gold rush in 1897 and never returned to Berkeley.

By Ann Harlow

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