A Vintage Postcard of UC Berkeley Shows Long Lost Buildings

I find it easy to get lost in the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections, which contain hundreds of thousands of images and a massive collection of menus. One recent morning I was looking for something and stumbled into a large ‘box’ of early 20th century postcards from the Detroit Publishing Company. While browsing through the images I ran across a postcard of the University of California Berkeley campus with a view that few (if any) living persons have seen — most of the buildings on the postcard were torn down many decades ago.

A scan of the postcard is below. The card is undated but has a “Copyright, 1901” statement at the bottom which gives a reasonable upper bound for its date.  The view is quite uncrowded, with just a few buildings and plenty of open space. When I first looked at the postcard, I guessed that the building in the center-right of the composition was South Hall (built in 1873), which is the oldest building on campus.  The identifications of the other buildings were a mystery to me.  My South Hall guess turns out to probably be wrong, as I’ll explain below.

Postcard of UC Berkeley from around 1901

The next picture is the postcard with the white space removed to allow for more detail.

Detail of postcard of UC Berkeley from around 1901

The building identifications are in an on-line exhibit from the University Library, where there is a black and white photo that has a remarkably similar view — it might have even been the source material for Detroit Publishing Company’s postcard. Unfortunately, the citation in the catalog is not terribly descriptive, nor does it have a date, and I haven’t had a chance to do further research: The Bancroft Library, UARC picture 300:18. (Some questions arise: Who took the photo? Did Detroit ‘borrow’ or buy the image from another photographer and then hand color it for printing?)

Detail of postcard of UC Berkeley with tentative building identifications

The exhibit says that the view is from the Conservatory (built 1891, now gone) across the Botanical Garden (moved far up the hill a while ago), to North Hall (erected 1873).  Based on the historic maps described below, my guess is the buildings to the left of North Hall are a sliver of Bacon Library (1878), East Hall (1898), Civil Engineering (a.k.a. Mining, 1879), and Anatomy.  I’ve added these identifications to the next picture.

Postcard of UC Berkeley circa 1900
Detail of postcard of UC Berkeley with building identifications

Historic Campus Maps

While I was hunting for clues to the buildings’ identifications — but before I ran across the library’s history exhibit — I found some great old maps in the Earth Sciences & Map Library. The subject “University of California, Berkeley — Maps” led me to maps from 1901, 1908 and 1911 that could be viewed on-line and downloaded. The map from 1911 was most useful because the facing page describes each of the buildings, including their completion date and cost (remember to account for inflation when thinking about the construction costs!  The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an easy to use inflation calculator that goes back to 1913).

The oldest map I downloaded is the “Map of University Tract, Student’s Cooperative Society” from 1901 (catalog record in Oskicat, interactive map viewer). The campus has just a few buildings, but quite a few eucalyptus groves (the bulk of the eucalyptus trees in the East Bay hills were planted a few years later by commercial logging interests between 1910 and 1914, as an earlier post explains). Interestingly, the northern branch of Shattuck Avenue between Center Street and University Avenue is called Stanford Place on the map.  Given the rivalry between the two universities, it’s not surprising that Stanford Place was eliminated (the actual reason is probably more boring and related to the removal of railroad tracks from downtown Berkeley).

Detail of 1901 map of UC Berkeley

A map from 1908 (catalog record in Oskicat, interactive map viewer) shows the campus core filling out (detail below).  The Greek Theatre, Hearst Memorial Mining Building, California Hall and the New University Library are now part of the campus.

June 1908.Scale not given.1 map : photocopy ; 34 x 23 cm.Transfer line print.Shows campus buildings, roads, paths and creeks.Oriented with north toward upper left.http://oskicat.berkeley.edu/record=b11184648~S1
Detail of 1908 map of UC Berkeley

The third map is “Map of the University of California, Berkeley” from 1911 (catalog record in Oskicat, interactive map viewer).  This one has an important addition to the University landscape:  Sather Gate. Notice that Telegraph Avenue continues all the way to Sather Gate, the street marked College Avenue is now Piedmont Avenue, several roads around campus are marked as streetcar routes (Bancroft Avenue on the south, also Dana and Allston (not shown)), and there is a “Stable Yard” near Bancroft and Telegraph.  As noted above, the full version of this map has a facing page with short descriptions of each building, including cost and completion date.

Detail of 1911 map of UC Berkeley

To compare with today’s campus (until the next groundbreaking makes them obsolete…) visit the UC Berkeley web page of current maps or download one in PDF format.  The center of campus is much more crowded with buildings, but thanks to the underground library stacks there is still a large open space near the main library and the severe limitations on automobile traffic makes the campus a pedestrian friendly place.

Image Credits
Postcard from The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “University of California, Berkeley, Calif.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1898 – 1931. Link. No known copyright restrictions.

Maps from the Earth Sciences & Map Library, University of California, Berkeley.  Links to catalog records and on-line viewer are above.

Additional Resources
The library’s exhibit also includes a panoramic view of Berkeley also from the Detroit Publishing Company from about the same time — another potential “before and after” project.

The University has a multitude of history resources, like campus planning documents and a guide to finding information about the UC Berkeley campus, including individual buildings, features, landscapes, artworks, and plans.


  1. Renate – There is a great history of eucalyptus in the Bay Area at Bay Nature magazine. The article notes that two species were most popular: “Although Havens planted dozens of species, only two were cultivated in significant numbers: the river red gum (E. camaldulensis) and the much more abundant Tasmanian blue gum (E. globulus).”

    You can find the full article here: https://baynature.org/article/ubiquitous-eucalyptus/

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