As residential development spread throughout the Berkeley hills in the 1920s, the ravine carved by Cordonices Creek was considered too steep for houses. A street car trestle was constructed to span the gap. With panoramic westward views of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate and Mount Tamalpais, the 3.6-acre canyon captured the imagination of park advocates. Renowned Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck may have suggested a plan for a terraced amphitheater with a redwood pergola, and landscape architect Vernon M. Dean and founder of the East Bay Rose Society, Charles V. Covell, finalized the plan. The City of Berkeley applied for federal funds available under New Deal public works programs that provided jobs during the Great Depression. Under the supervision of City Parks Director W. Cresswell, construction on the Rose Garden began in 1933. Hundreds of men employed by Civil Works Administration and, later, the Works Progress Administration, worked more than four years to build the garden. Native rock quarried in the Berkeley hills was used to form the amphitheater walls and terraced rose beds. Community volunteers donated hundreds of hours to bring the garden to life, planting more than a thousand rose bushes of many colors and varieties.

Berkeley Rose Garden, 1940

The garden was officially dedicated on September 26, 1937. According to newspaper accounts, on hand were the Berkeley Municipal Legion Band and the full staff of the park department, to assist in managing the crowds.

Bay Area cities were quick to claim their share of public improvements in the era of the New Deal.
Built by FDR: How the WPA Changed the Lay of the Land

A WPA plaque can be seen to the right of the stairs.
Photo Credit: Harvey Smith