Bear Fountain – Marin Avenue

From the traffic circle, I looked up Marin Avenue. It was as steep as any street in San Francisco.

Susan Dunlap, Not Exactly a Brahmin, 1985 (p 14)

The Bear Fountain at the Marin Avenue roundabout didn’t exist at the time Susan Dunlap used the circle as the murder scene. The victim, Ralph Palmerston, had crashed into the concrete barriers when his brakes failed as he was driving down Marin Avenue.

The original Bear Fountain, coincidently, was destroyed by a truck driver whose brakes had failed coming down the last two blocks of Marin Avenue. It was estimated that he was doing sixty when the truck crashed into the fountain. The fountain was rebuilt in 1992.

Marin Avenue is a sharp slant that leads up to the Berkeley hills. My back flattened against the seat as my husband drove his aging Prius up the hill to the narrow streets that wind their way through the hills. Between the narrow streets and the cars parked along the sides, most of the streets in the hills are effectively one lane. My hands clutched the arm rests as we turned around the corners. Sometimes we yielded and sometimes the other drivers yielded as we encountered each other.

Coming down Marin Avenue is the ride-your-brakes situation that Dunlap refers to in both A Dinner to Die For and Not Exactly a Brahmin.

Houses jostle for space from the Berkeley flatlands up the hillside to Grizzly Peak. Between Grizzly Peak and the wilderness of Tilden Park to the east are a few streets and cul-de-sacs of homes with views that jack their selling prices up toward half a million dollars. Ralph Palmerston’s was one of these. It was a pale stucco Spanish style built around three sides of a twenty five-foot square courtyard, with the living room to the left, the garage to the right, and a bougainvillea-covered courtyard wall connecting them.

Susan Dunlap, Not Exactly a Brahmin, p 14

There is no house on Grizzly Peak Blvd that fits the description of Palmerston’s house. As she mentions in her interview, Dunlap had made up a house, building or street that is just an amalgam of existing real estate in Berkeley. Getting the flavor of Berkeley without causing distress to someone’s privacy.

The houses on the hill are unique. Some look like fairy tale cottages, some are distinctly modern, some are Spanish style – stucco with rounded archways. All are interesting. Many of the houses do have amazing views of the bay, but most are sited on heavily wooded sites.

The houses up here are expensive but amazingly, hidden pathways cut through backyards or in-between houses. Historically built as a means to walk to commute stations, they are now used as a fun way to explore Berkeley and get exercise. That the pathways still remain is, in a way, a reflection of the Berkeley culture: an openness to having strangers tromp through your yard, and a belief that most people are good.

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