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Staring Down at Your Feet Can be an Education in El Cerrito

You've heard about information at your fingertips? El Cerrito began offering it Wednesday at your toe-tips — with markers planted in the sidewalks along San Pablo Avenue about the city's history and culture.

A window back into El Cerrito's wild days was installed in the sidewalk at the northeast corner of Central and San Pablo avenues Wednesday.

It's a historic marker telling passersby that the architecturally subdued, respectable dentists' office on the corner was once the famous "it" club, a major star in the East Bay firmament of hopping, happening nightspots. Gypsy Rose Lee, Redd Fox and Johnny Mathis were among those who performed there. (The club's sign spelled "it" with lower-case letters.)

The etched, illustrated marker, made of precast concrete and measuring two feet by two feet, is one of 28 "" that the city began planting in the sidewalks along San Pablo Avenue Wednesday.

Across the street, at the southeast corner of Central and San Pablo, is a new marker dedicated to the , noting that the original incarnation of the Art Deco movie house opened Christmas Day in 1937. Oddly, the marker was placed in front of the Vietnamese restaurant, three doors away from the Cerrito Theater.

And if you want to find out about El Cerrito's first mayor, stroll down the block to the northeast corner of Fairmount and San Pablo avenues, where you'll learn about Philip Lee, who served when El Cerrito first became a city in 1917. His home and office were nearby. The marker calls him a "businessman"; Edward Staniford's respected history of the city, El Cerrito: Historical Evolution, identifies him as an employee of Standard Oil. (Standard Oil of California later became Chevron.)

The markers are the latest addition in the city's multi-part San Pablo Avenue Streetscape project, which will be celebrated in a city-sponsored "Spring Fling" event Saturday. For the event, small signs next to the markers will include a scanable "QR code," enabling users of smart phones that read QR codes to link to an explanatory audio recording.

Those who don't have QR code-reading phones can download a audio recording (in MP3 format) of a paver tour ahead of time , city officials said. The recording will be availiable via the Spring Fling webpage before Saturday, they said.

The pavers were designed by Gates + Associates, a San Ramon-based firm handling the larger Streetscape design too. The marker were manufactured by Quick Crete, based in Norco, CA.

The marker project began early last year when the city solicited community ideas for "Historic-Cultural Intepretive Pavers." Each panel was supposed to "depict an element of the City’s historic and/or cultural heritage,” the city flyer said. “The final selected images and stories will ideally represent a broad array of El Cerrito culture and history and be of interest to residents and visitors of all ages and backgrounds.” (See attached copy of the flyer.)

The plan initially was for 18 pavers but was later increased to 28. Ideas were presented to the city's Arts and Culture Commission, and the El Cerrito Historical Society played a large role in offering suggestions and gathering information for the markers.

Betty Buginas May 14, 2011 at 03:53 AM
If you want to get a jump on Saturday’s San Pablo Avenue celebration, the audio tour that goes with the new historical pavers is available now: http://www.el-cerrito.org/m/index.html . You don’t need special equipment to listen. You can listen on your computer. (For fun, see if you recognize the narrator for each before the person introduces his/herself.)
Renate Valencia May 14, 2011 at 03:41 PM
Thanks for posting. I listened to a few - very interesting, and I'm not surprised about who the narrator was!
Dorothy Coakley May 20, 2011 at 07:21 PM
Thanks. I'm so glad the society has taken the time to capture the flavor of our early city. The tiles are wonderful. Some time over the last 66 years, I moved from being a little girl wandering around the Castro adobe trying to find her bicycle...to...an oldster, wandering around the Plaza looking for her car in the parking lot. It's nice to have our colorful history set down in concrete. Finally. (Now someone should update the Wikipedia info for accuracy...thanks in advance!)

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