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Celebrating Culture & Community is putting together interviews of 25 El Cerrito residents, a project aimed at showing the diverse communities that have contributed to the city's history.

The interviews have been made possible largely through support from the California Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For more information about Celebrating Culture & Community , contact Eve Ma at 236-3255 or ccandc_97@yahoo.com

Following is one of the interviews:

Arthur Schroeder Interview 11/9 and 11/22/99

By Robin DeLugan


Arthur and his wife Norma moved to El Cerrito in 1945 from New York by way of Chicago. Among Art's professional activities has been his work for housing agencies, anti-poverty programs, and ownership of a variety store in Berkeley. Norma, now retired, became a certified psychologist after attending the University of California at Berkeley. She was very respected in her field and in the community having taught, consulted and maintained private practice.

In 1992 Arthur Schroeder was honored by El Cerrito by being included on the El Cerrito Wall of Fame for his many years of community service. The following highlights some of the many community projects and civic activities in which he has been involved.

Russian Sister City: In the late 1960's the local politics were such that the Cold War and bomb shelters were the topics of conversation. Art came up with an idea for El Cerrito to adopt a Russian Sister City. The planning commission accepted this novel idea, but it was not implemented!

El Cerrito Bicentennial Celebration: The next major accomplishment was in the early 1970's when Ernie Del Simone, former councilman and mayor and Art Schroeder went to Fidelity Bank and received $10,000 grant to develop a Bicentennial History book about El Cerrito. The project was completed in 1976. The book, El Cerrito Historical Evolution by Edward Staniford was published in 1977, was sold for $3 per copy, went through 2 editions, and is now out of print. Art was also the chair of El Cerrito's Bicentennial celebration that included a parade and numerous other activities.

Brooks Island: Art participated in the campaign to preserve Brooks Island, part of East Bay Regional Parks District. The struggle was to preserve artifacts and land from private use. The land was particularly important for its native California grasses and its nesting place for the Canadian black neck geese; a Native-American remains.

Hazel Shirley Manor: Art was involved in the project to construct a 62 unit, four story, low income, federally subsidized public housing complex--a flagship for redevelopment in the city. The housing complex build was called Hazel Shirley Manor in honor of Hazel Shirley, a former nurse and a public housing advocate. (1988)

Art was also involved with two additional mixed use housing projects: the Royale and another near El Cerrito Plaza. He is proud to note that El Cerrito was one of the first cities to fulfill its original state quota for available low-income units.

Redevelopment Committee of the El Cerrito City Council:

On this committee and as a member of the El Cerrito Planning Commission, Art was involved with the San Pablo Avenue development project included its rezoning and the review of its land use. The Target store may be a box; it brings in substantial revenues for the city. It was his suggestion in the Planning Committee that the City name the new BART station "Del Norte".

The Human Relations Commission. Prior to its organization there was little or no participation by minority groups. Now it is instrumental in the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. parade, etc.

Save the Albany Hill Board: This community organization is headed by Carol Fitzgerald of Albany. Art is proud of his participation to help preserve the ecology of the area on and surrounding Albany Hill, particularly the North end of the hill including the flats that lead to the bay.

Chair of the West County Gray Panthers:

Also serves on the El Cerrito Committee on Aging

El Cerrito Committee on Aging's first chair and former chair twice of Contra Costa Committee on Aging.

In 1973 or 1974 he and his wife attended the 10th International Council on Aging in Jerusalem.

First Senior Senator from the County in the California Senior Legislature 1988.

Other Campaigns in the Past:

"Save the BART Station Agents". East Bay coalition that formed when BART was considering automating the BART station in 1988. This campaign was on behalf of the elderly, handicapped and disabled who depend on human service to assist their travel.

"Save the Tilden Park Native Plant Garden". Joyce Burr was the lead of this campaign and Nello Bianco, our representative and friend on the Bart Board.

Local Ecology

Art is concerned about local ecology. He says that in 1896 thirteen streams were identified as flowing from the El Cerrito hills down to the bay. Today there are only four or five, above ground.

The black walnut tree (alba marle) is a rare native species that no longer exists, in El Cerrito. Two years ago a neighbor on whose property the last known local tree was growing, refused the local preservation efforts and the tree was cut down. Ralph Leon has a photo of that tree.

Art has fond memories of going with his son to work on a Garden Club community project targeting the beautification of Moeser Lane. He remembers populations of raccoon, opossum and deer. He also remembers flying kites on the open hillside along Seaview Drive.

Art and his wife Norma were among four major donors who sponsored the building of a jungle gym at Cerrito Vista Park. The donors purchased bricks that were then mounted in the park near the play structure. At the inauguration of this play structure, Art was one of the speakers…he was introduced as "The Poet of El Cerrito".

Art and his wife Norma have donated to the libraries of the High School and the Junior High School. See Addendum

Art was a columnist for the West Contra County Times for six months at the beginning of the Reagan era. He still frequently writes letters to the editor of the two local newspapers.

History of El Cerrito and Some Key Local Figures:

(Refer to El Cerrito Historical Evolution)

In 1776 the Spanish returned to explore the inner San Francisco Bay.

Two Hamlets after Spanish land grant to Castro and Peralta families.

Don Castro had built a large adobe home at the Southwest end of what is presently El Cerrito Plaza. This estate was built with native labor and Castro is reputed to have raided Indian communities for labor. Although the adobe is no longer standing, a few bricks remain in safe keeping in the basement of the fire department. Art hopes that one day an El Cerrito historical museum will be built and then these bricks can be on display for the public.

Rust, a German blacksmith, was one of the original settlers in the area. In fact, the highest hill in town (at 1010 ft.) is named Rust Summit after this individual.

The narrow vote for incorporation of El Cerrito in 1917 was 158-131. At this time there were about 15 major land owners. These people who were farming, ranching, growing flowers, etc., did not want their holdings taxed. These individuals as well as the owners of the quarry also knew that incorporation would lead to development that would eventually demand shutting down the quarry and make other use of farmlands. At this time El Cerrito was known for gambling, saloons galore, a blacksmith shop, etc. On Colusa, off of Central there was the Old Wagon Wheel. The building is now a meeting place.

See El Cerrito Historical Evolution about the Government Reform League that helped to clean up gambling in the town.

Twice a year a City of El Cerrito brochure is printed and delivered free to all households of El Cerrito. In these brochures, 32 essays written about the history of El Cerrito by Mervin Belfils and his wife (amateur historians, Ruth, now deceased) are featured. These essays are a wonderful source of information about El Cerrito.

Ralph Leon El Cerrito Historical Society and Dick Pryde of Pasttime Hardware made a video of Elmer Freethy. Elmer built El Cerrito High School. Ralph Leon is said to be a descendant of Ponce de Leon

Resident experts on local Native Americans: Albert Elasser (retired faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley) and George Cole (San Pablo’s Contra Costa College). [Sadly, between our first and second interviews, Albert Elasser-- neighbor and friend--died from kidney and heart failure.)

Art has provided a folder of clippings. These are original clippings from the El Cerrito Historical Society Files which Grace MacNeill, the Society's archivist, selected for our use.

We are to copy these clippings and return as soon as possible. Included in this are selections from the West Contra Costa County Times column "Days Gone By" on El Cerrito History by Nilda Rego, official Historian of the WC Times. On our taped interview (11/19) Art reads from the WPA Writer's Guide description of El Cerrito from 1939. Art has provided a copy of this article to us. He also reads the poem that he wrote for El Cerrito's 75th Birthday (1992) A copy of this poem has also been provided to us. A fact sheet (1970) is another historical memorabilia for our project. A Chamber of Commerce publication (folding brochure) "History of…El Cerrito, California" has a brief resume of history and a chronology of important dates 1579-1917. There is also a quiz that he made up for historical society members in 1997 or 1998 for the Annual Summer picnic meeting that year.

Margaret Mason, Art's neighbor on Seaview Dr. is a wonderful person, prominently connected to the Catholic Community in El Cerrito, and collector of early photos of this area.

Art recalls that the El Cerrito Theatre was a former club house for El Cerrito youth.

Gray Panthers of West Contra Costa County nominated and the El Cerrito City Council placed Art on the El Cerrito Wall of Fame for the following achievements:

Working on library and park land campaigns in the 1960's

Served on El Cerrito Planning Commission

Co-Chair Bicentennial Project

Served on El Cerrito Project Listen Citizen Task Forces

First Chair for the Committee on Aging

Co-Founder of the West Contra Costa County Gray Panthers

Served on Contra Costa County advisory Council on Aging

First Senior Senator from the Country in the California Senior Legislature

13 Years on the Stege Sanitary Board

Various Campaign Committees.

Answering the CC&C Questionnaire (some answers already incorporated into the preceding material):


7. What is the relationship of El Cerrito to the broader area? How we rank in park systems in the US. Here in El Cerrito we have twelve parks. Huber Park has old time live oak trees with magnificent trunks and branches. The Odlin family who live nearby coordinate an annual neighborhood patrol and clean up of Huber Park. In the past, Art recalls being the one to climb and trim the tallest fir tree. By trimming back and taking care of the trees, the community has kept the park going. At three city parks (Poinsett, Huber, and Arlington) there are intact stone walls built by masons (probably Portuguese and/or Italians) as a WPA project. Unfortunately efforts to track down the names of these stone masons has been unsuccessful so far. Art and the El Cerrito Historical Society would like to commemorate the work of these as yet unnamed artisans.

The creation of El Cerrito's recycling center at the foot of the quarry. This recycling center is a model center and it is a service to the broader community. A member of the former El Cerrito Foundation which planted the tree grove next to the recycling center.

Art had just returned from the first joint meeting of representatives of the historical societies of West Contra Costa County, Oakland, Berkeley. They met at the Richmond Museum, in a building that was a former Carnegie library but that now houses the Museum. He feels that this is an important step in promoting interchange of information, newsletters, bulletins, and more between the historical societies of these communities. Grace MacNeill (retired librarian and El Cerrito Historical Society archivist) who accompanied Art to the meeting noticed a copy of a photo of the Castro Adobe at the Richmond Museum. He made a note to follow up on obtaining a copy of this photo for the El Cerrito Historical Society, as promised by the curator.

8. Art believes that maintaining an active mind, an active body, and an active soul with a commitment to politics, family, community and friends is what keeps him going. He enjoys watching educational television and he no longer goes to evening opera, theatre, and music performances out of town.

14. What Arthur likes best about El Cerrito: Of is still essentially a bedroom community (and proud of the fact) with a small town flavor; beautiful well-tended gardens, deep lots and small homes. Unparalleled views of bay and nature. Easy access to metro transit and shopping. Arts and Entertainment. Our wonderful park system.

What he likes least: The state raids on local taxes and the failure of all of us and government to solve transportation congestion. Lack of regional planning and implementation. The crisis in accessible housing for even middle class income people, let alone the poor. Recent, fractious, unpleasant, disrespectful public behavior at city council meetings, vituperative letters to the local press.

Addenda: Jarvis Ganu lobby for corporate welfare at the farwell party for Council (El Cerrito) members- Jane Bartke and Norman La Force – December 8, 1999. Proposed the preparation and a permanent public posting of names of all City Council members since 1817.

Norma and Art helped support the El Cerrito Gardens Club; Friends of the Albany Hill; El Cerrito Civic Theatre; Summer Day Camping for Richmond children; Richmond Center for the Performing Arts; and the recently dedicated jungle gym at Cerrito Vista Park, the July 4th, 1999 display at that Park.

Art Schroeder got his degree from Brown University in 1929 and later his MA from New York University. He has also attended the National Recreation Association School and Columbia University School of Social Work group courses.



1900 International MarketPlace, San Pablo, CA., 94806

(510) 236-3255; fax (510) 236-3068

e-mail: CCandC_97@yahoo.com

Run dates: 2000-01-01 - 2000-01-01

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