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10 Secrets of Cal Berkeley’s Campus

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The freshman are all moved in and classes have started at my alma mater. Back when I was an undergrad at Cal, I used to give campus tours to the pledges in my sorority and kept it up during the years I worked at Hillel post-graduation. Since it looks like another disappointing year for the football team, here are some fun things about campus to keep you entertained in the meantime. (Update: I wrote this right before Cal upset #11 Texas on Saturday night but you should still check out this cool stuff!)


Graffiti on The Big C

This story might get me retroactively kick-out of my sorority but here goes… The Big C is exactly what it sounds like: a giant cement gold “C” up on Charter Hill above Memorial Stadium. Its a short but strenuous hike up the fire trail that starts in the Foothill parking lot behind Bowles Hall. Every year sororities make their pledges hike up to the Big C at night, hand them spray paint and tell them to start tagging it. Then they pre-arrange for some frat guys to come out and pretend to be police coming to arrest them. Everyone inevitably freaks out because they are Cal students. The other part the pledges don’t know, is every year right before the football home opener, Rally Com repaints the Big C and the graffiti hazing happens the week right before that. Fun for all… ok except maybe the pledges.


Backwards Fiat Lux at Sather Tower

Sather Tower, aka The Campanile, was designed by John Galen Howard and paid for by Mrs. Jane K. Sather, who was well known to be a total prude. If you walk up to the main entrance of the campanile there is an overhang. Look up and you will see “Fiat Lux” (the school motto) in metal embedded in the concrete… but its backwards. The spot was originally supposed to have a reflecting pool below it but during construction Sather nix the pool because she thought men would be able to see up women’s skirt when they stood next to it. This was the 1914 version of the up-skirt.

sather gate

The Nudes on Sather Gate

This is another one courtesy of Jane K. Sather being really uptight. She paid for the iconic gate that sits at the end of Sproul Plaza. Up until the 1950’s it marked the entrance of campus when Telegraph Ave ended right in front of it. It was designed to have 8 nude marble carvings, 4 women and 4 men, that represented academic disciplines, with one on each side of the four pillars framing the gate. Sather originally allowed the nudes to stay in place but in 1910 about a year after the gate was unveiled she changed her tune and demanded the “disgusting” nudes be removed. Since she was basically funding the campus at the time she got what she asked for. Sometime around 1977 someone found the panels in storage and they were restored onto the gate. They are noticeable less weathered than the other marble pieces on the gate.


Underground Steam Tunnels

Every Cal student has heard of the steam tunnels under campus and everyone knows someone who supposedly has been in them. Here’s my story: back in the late 90’s a bunch of my friends worked for Residential Computing, and they were working on wiring the dorms for high speed internet. (They only had dial-up until I was a senior). They got to go along while the cable was being pulled and some of it was run through old conduits in the underground steam tunnels. They said it was really hot, damp and creepy.

The steam tunnels are part of a system that both generates electricity for campus and provides heating. I am by no means suggesting you should go in them, but there are a few websites with info on where entrances are. Take note that they are actually pretty dangerous, between the heat, the asbestos, and radon exposure, its not a place you want to spend a lot of time and if you get caught you will definitely be arrested.


Star of David on Bridge

This bridge crosses Strawberry Creek behind Valley Life Sciences Building on the way to Haas Pavilion. I have heard some random stories as to why it is there, like Haas was a Jew and paid to have it installed, but in was installed as a World War II memorial. Its also a fun thing to make freshman try to find.


Weird Trees at the Campanile

At the base of the Campanile you will find a grid of 54 trees. In the late fall and winter when they are leave-less, they have a creepy knarled gothic look. They are actually pruned on purpose to get this look. The trees are London Planes and were originally planted for the Panama-Pacific Exposition that took place in San Francisco in 1915. After the fair ended the trees were shipped across the bay and transplanted to Berkeley. They were specifically chosen for their symbolism of education, since the Plane tree is generally considered to be the type of tree the Hippocrates taught his pupils under.



southhall bear

Tiny Bear on South Hall

South Hall is the oldest building on campus and the only remaining building of the first three built that originally made up Cal’s campus. These days it houses the School of Information (or what used to be called Library Sciences). If you stand in front the main entrance and look above it to the stone circles, you will see an itty-bitty bear resting in one of them.


The Axe

This isn’t so much of a secret but most people don’t realize how easy it is to see the actual Axe. Sadly, you will have to wait at least another year to see the Axe on Cal’s campus, as its been hanging down at the Farm in Palo Alto in the lobby of the Arrillaga Sports Center since 2010. The Axe is the official trophy awarded to the winner of the Big Game each year. It was originally used by Stanfurd students at a rally and then a baseball game vs Cal in San Francisco in 1899. Following the game the Cal students stole it and a chase ensued through San Francisco. The handle was cut off by students smuggling it back to Berkeley on the ferry, and according to legend a female student hid it in her skirt. It stayed in Berkley for 31 years in a bank vault only to be brought out for games against Stanfurd. In the ’30s Stanfurd students plotted to steal it back and it remained in a Palo Alto bank vault for 3 years. Finally the schools agreed to make it the trophy awarded to the winner of The Big Game. The scored of each big game since then are recorded on the plaque but the score on the 1982 game, (the year of The Play and the reason why even Stanfurd hates their own band) is changed. If its at Cal the score reads “California 25, Stanford 20” and when its at the Junior University in Palo Alto it reads “California 19, Stanford 20”. When it is at Cal you can find it on display in the lobby of the Student Union building where it is fiercely guarded by Rally Com.


Dinosaur Bones in the Campanile

This is one of those things that the freshmen think you are making up when you tell them but it is actually true. The five floors between the ground and the lookout bell tower of the Campanile store fossils from the Paleontology department, that include mammoths, saber tooth cats, giant sloths and dinosaurs. Most of the collection is from the La Brea Tar Pits in LA but there are bones from all over North America. They were excavated in the 1900s and placed in the campanile shortly after its construction and were largely untouched until the early 90’s when some Paleontology grad student realized they were sitting on a research treasure trove and cleaned and organized them.

hearst pool

Human Bones Under the Hearst Gym Pool

As if dinosaur bones weren’t strange enough, there are the remains of over 12,000 Native Americans stored in the basement under the Hearst Gym Pool. This has been a long running issue of contention with the Native American community who want the bones returned so they can be properly buried. There are some who believe the spirits of the people are haunting Hearst Gym as a result. Late night workers have reported flickering lights, tapping noises, and whispering sounds.

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Amiee Kushner

Amiee Kushner

Amiee is SF's favorite ginger Jewess, a native of the Bay Area, and in charge of the money stuff at Broke-Ass Stuart. Unless you are a writer who hasn't got paid yet, then she is just a contributor. She was also the campaign manager for Stuart's quixotic quest to be mayor in 2015. She travels, hikes, stays up way too late and occasional cooks more food than anyone should eat. You can check out some of her super not-kosher recipes at