John Hinkel Park History
Berkeley businessman, John Hinkel, deeded John Hinkel Park to the city on May 22, 1919. The park is one of the last tributes to his philanthropy and humanitarianism. Aspiring to improve the community he erected the rustic-style clubhouse, large native-stone fireplace, a network of paths and a playground on the reported 7 acres of land (the largest gift the city had ever received). Hinkel demanded the proper development of native planting and made sure that the park had no artificial plantings. To accomplish this, he put Berkeley Professor and landscape architect, John Gregg, in charge of the overall landscape and plan of the park, which is an outstanding example of Berkeley’s participation in a national cultural movement that incorporated nature as a fundamental component of early 1900s’ planned neighborhoods. John Hinkel Park preserves and embodies the cultural and architectural history of Berkeley at the turn of the 20th century.
The clubhouse is the only pre-1920’s structure remaining in a Berkeley city park. It has significant architectural merit due to its use of brown wooden shingles. From 1919-1934 the use of the brown shingles was more popular in Berkeley than anywhere else nation-wide, and the city became known for them. Between 1895-1915, Berkeley established itself as a city with distinctive architectural character and the clubhouse remains one of the few lasting publicly owned tributes to this achievement.
Today the clubhouse is in need of restoration and has not been used since 1991. A group of neighbors have been interested in restoring the building which housed storage for the Shakespeare festival, dance classes with Berkeley Folk Dancers, and classes in theatre for over thirty years.
Designed by John Gregg, the fireplace and picnic area are part of the parks original donation. They inspired outdoor eating and picnicking, and are examples of the cultural movement to incorporate nature as a component of neighborhoods. They became so popular that 3,000 people and conventions applied for permits to use of the fireplace and picnic area within the first year of its opening. Due to the popularity, the city built three subsequent parks with open-air fireplaces in the 1920’s.
Boy Scout Hut
The hut is one of John Hinkel’s many attributions to Boy Scouts. The hut was moved from what is now Martin Luther King Junior High School (formerly Garfield Junior High School) in 1938 in order to provide an enclosed meeting place for the boys who had been meeting at the park since 1920, and continue to do so today. The hut was also used by the Camp Fire Girls organization for ceremonies and by the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival as a dressing and meeting room.
The open-air theatre is part of the movement that combined architecture and nature. The theatre was used in the 1940’s for community gatherings, music and dance productions. In the 50’s and 60’s it was used for music and folk dances, barbershop quartets and piano. Most noteworthy, however, was its use by the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival from 1971-1991. The Festival attracted hundreds of viewers every year to enjoy the “hillside amphitheatre among trees, a cool breeze, a full moon… the dappled sunlight pouring through the greenery… and the incomparable magic of Shakespeare” as described by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976 and 1977. Today the amphitheatre is used periodically, but it is in need of restoration.
The location of the playground is a part of the original gift by John Hinkel, and though it may have been restored long ago, the equipment is now very old.
John Hinkel Park embodies important aspects of Berkeley’s participation in an architectural and cultural movement at the turn of the 20th century. Due to the park’s historical significance, the clubhouse, network of paths, fireplace, Boy Scout hut, playground and amphitheatre, as well as the landscaping plan, have all received landmark designation. In honor of John Hinkel, the park preserves the past that it represents and remains an important community resource
Photos from Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, Daniella Thompson, 2004.