Berkeley has a reputation for eclectic creativity, often reflected in brightly painted murals, BART station drum circles, and colorful protests. Some of my favorite random examples of Berkeley character are the “concrete street blocker thingies” (for lack of a better term — does anyone actually know their technical name?) at the intersection of Ashby and Fulton. [Update: reader Thomas Lord helpfully informs us they are called bollards.] Each of the four bollards has a unique mosaic, and even serves as a planter for flowers or rosemary.

They seem to be something of a mystery, as I have Googled like crazy, and even asked the locals, but cannot find any information about them (neighbors generally seemed puzzled that I was even asking about their street).

A few years ago, I was driving down Ashby and saw a group of people working on them (though I’m not sure if they were creating or maintaining), and I’m kicking myself now for not pulling over and asking right then and there.

I turn to you, Berkeleyside readers. Does anyone out there know who made these fantastic art pieces? Are they maintained by the artist(s), or by some anonymous neighbor? Is there a volunteer group who goes around beautifying the neighborhood?  I have noticed other bollards being used as planters, and I assume the wildflowers didn’t just magically spring up out of the cement… but who knows?

Know about these or any other “mystery” neighborhood artworks? Let us know in the comments.

Update, 12.03: Within 30 minutes of Kim posting this, we have our answer. Reader Thomas Lord writes in the Comments:

Oh, gosh. I was looking to see if I could figure out who manufactures those particular bollards and instead I stumbled across the answer to the art mystery:

“Berkeley youth, working with YAYA California and the City, decorated these traffic-calming bollards with mosaic. The Neighborhood Services team coordinates these cleanups to help eradicate blight, beautify public areas, and create opportunities for young people to invest in their neighborhoods.”

Update 17.43: Reader Laura Menard has even more details on the bollards. Read all in the Comments.

This is the fourth in a series of Scouting Berkeley posts by Kim Weisberg, who lives in Berkeley. See previous posts on Biking 101,  Ohmega Salvage and Kitchen On Fire.

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12 Comments

  1. I may have waited too long to reply, but here goes:

    While other bollards (also known as traffic diverters) may have been transformed into art by a youth program, the particular mosaic-covered bollards pictured at Fulton and Ashby were done over about a year by residents under the direction of Tim Volz, master tile setter, who lives on Fulton near where the bollards are. It was an all-volunteer effort, including children and adults, most from the 2900 block of Fulton, but friends and other neighbors as well.

    Readers might also want to know that while the ridged barrels are sometimes unpopular with drivers, they have made an enormous difference for the neighborhood. I know, because I lived here before they existed and Fulton was the “freeway” exiting the UC campus. There was so much traffic I had no idea who lived across the street. Now we hold potlucks several times a year, plan for earthquakes together, and the older kids help the parents of the younger children.

    Decorating them with murals just made them beautiful as well as useful to our community.

    Donna Mickleson
    2900 block of Fulton

  2. How lovely to be appreciated! I think a lot of us in town do a whole lot of wonderful things and no one ever says thanks, so this is great! I work at home out of that little blue house and spend a lot of time doing business on the phone looking out my front window. The barricades were always full of graffiti and we were constantly painting them. I’ve done other public art projects while I was the Exec. Director of the Solano Ave. Assn. including the art banners on Solano and a tile project in Peralta Park. Why not do one in my own front yard? I asked my husband, Tim Volz, who is a tile contractor, if I got the neighborhood to save their broken plates and shards, if he would give us the expertise and materials to make an art project out of the barricades. For 4 Sundays in 2008 I set up tables in the street and we made templates out of cardboard for the ‘legs’ of the barricades. People could work on the tables on the cardboard and design their art, then they could adhere it to the leg of the barricade and then grout it. We had a 5-year old and an 80-year old, the whole neighborhood came out to play. And guess what? No more graffiti! Now we have 28 original pieces of art that include a neuron, a clown, fish and a hidden message. Come by and check it out. BTW – Sally Hindeman of Youth Artworks liked the project so much that she contacted me and picked my brain to carry it on with some kids in south Berkeley. If anyone else wants to do their barricades, I’m happy to tell them how!

  3. That’s great. I just emailed Lisa for some more insight into the project. I’d love it if they were going to do another one – even just for members of the community (like me) who’d like to spend a Saturday afternoon beautifying the neighborhood!

  4. Awesome! Thanks for the info, Laura! I may contact Lisa to see if she’s going to be doing any more – I would certainly like to participate!

  5. Lisa Bullwinkle and Tim Volz (blue house in photo) are the creative force behind tiling the bollards on Fulton at Ashby . Lisa is an city of Berkeley art commissioner and an events producer.
    She was responsible for the Solano Stroll for decades, still produces the city 4th of July event, and now does the Shattuck Ave merchants association events such as Chocolate and Chalk Art. She has been the director of a couple business improvement district and serves on the Chamber of Commerce board.

    She would be an good community member interviewee for Berkeleyside
    http://www.anotherbullwinkelshow.com/contact.html

    When Sally asked about the bollard project I hooked her up with Lisa, Sally then applied the idea to the Lorin neighborhood bollards.

    Lisa told me she had been thinking about tiling the ugly bollards for years, Tim is an experienced tile installer. The two of them produce many fun parties with art themes for their neighborhood.

  6. Ha! Thanks, Thomas! I don’t know how I missed that! I wish they would mosaic ALL of the bollards in Berkeley – what a great project!

  7. Oh, gosh. I was looking to see if I could figure out who manufactures those particular bollards and instead I stumbled across the answer to the art mystery:

    “Berkeley youth, working with YAYA California and the City, decorated these traffic-calming bollards with mosaic. The Neighborhood Services team coordinates these cleanups to help eradicate blight, beautify public areas, and create opportunities for young people to invest in their neighborhoods.”

    http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/neighborhoods/

  8. A few years ago someone painted a side of the green mailbox on Ellsworth at Russell watermelon pink with black seeds.
    Many years ago there was a sun at that corner (south east) with instructions to walk the universe. As you walked north you came to each planet a proportioned distance from the sun. It started “If the sun were this big, the planets would be this far away.” I guessed it had been done by someone at Cal.

    Thanks for your efforts, I enjoy the tweets.

  9. I can’t help you with the art mystery but the generic name for the “concrete street blocker thingies” is “bollards”. (Bollards are not all planters, not all concrete, etc. On some streets you might see, for example, concrete-filled steel pipes or cast iron doo-dads, etc.: all bollards. Presumably there is some more specific name for that particular model.)