Monday, July 1, 2013

Eshelman Hall demolition: all but history

Several months ago, as crews on the UC Berkeley campus prepared to demolish Eshelman Hall, I wrote about anti-apartheid organizing headquartered there in suite 613 during the mid-1980s, when I was an activist-alum on the campus.

As I wrote in March, when Nelson Mandela toured the U.S. in 1990 after being released from the prison on Robben Island, he gave a nod to the group with which I organized, the Campaign Against Apartheid, calling us out by name to the assembled crowd at the Oakland Coliseum. I was marked deeply by the great man's acknowledgement: you never know when or where history's going to reach out and touch your life. You never know how history will gestate, then unfold.

President Obama on the topic, on the occasion of his visit this past weekend to Robben Island with his wife and daughters, from the NY Times:
Sea birds squawked as Mr. Obama talked to his daughters about the history of the prison island, and of the role it played in the political movement of nonviolence started by Gandhi.

"One thing you guys might not be aware of is that the idea of political nonviolence first took root here in South Africa because Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer here in South Africa," the president told them. "When he went back to India the principles ultimately led to Indian independence, and what Gandhi did inspired Martin Luther King."
It makes my stomach churn to pass the ever-diminishing Eshelman Hall in these recent weeks, as the former South African President fights for his life in a hospital in Pretoria. The correspondence is trite, but I can't help but be conscious of a parallel. Time, life, history, entropy.

Here's a video of the state of demolition on 3 June, as the crew's endlessly fascinating, dragon-like grapple excavator takes bites out of suite 613, on the northwest corner of the seven-story building:

Here's another from 8 June, by which time suite 613 was history, but the building is still mostly-standing:

This weekend I walked by the building and took some still photos of little corner of Eshelman still left:

It won't be long now.

Correction (15 Jan 2014): In this post I mis-stated (because I misremembered) that Nelson Mandela referred to the UC Berkeley student organization Campaign Against Apartheid specifically, by name. Mandela spoke of the divestment movement on the campus, but did not name CAA. For a full transcript of Mandela's speech in Oakland, see What Nelson Mandela actually said in Oakland on 30 June 1990.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Nelson Mandela and the death of UC Berkeley's Eshleman Hall
Remembering Richie Havens: down to earth
The desire to destroy is also a creative desire
The Occupy Movement and UC Berkeley's Free Speech Monument

Thanks to Matthew Felix Sun for the June 3rd video of Eshelman Hall's demolition.


  1. Yeah. Kent & I passed by on Sunday and I (again) said something nostalgic about the place - yup, I had a serious discussion about the future of Berkeley Poetry Review (& the politics of being on staff) on the outdoor staircase on the west side of the building, said staircase no longer there, BPR office no longer there, library at the top of the building no longer there, office where the girl got murdered no longer there.

  2. @Glenn: Grace Asuncion, yes, I forgot that Eshelman is where she was found murdered, what an awful & ugly chapter of the Berkeley campus's history that was. A lot went down in that building......................