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Berkeleyan Special Feature

Cal Neighbors

Cal Neighbors: A Word from Chacellor Berdahl

About Cal Neighbors

Developing a Strategic Facilities Master Plan for UC

Working to Build a Safer Campus and Community

UC/Vista Partnership Expands Educational Opportunities

Examining Earthquake Costs to Area

Campus Research at Work

Working Together to Encourage and Support Berkeley Youth

Activist Sylvia McLaughlin Cares for Berkeley

Haas Program Helps Local Entrepreneurs Get on Track

State Bond Measure to Benefit Local Schools

Free (or Almost Free) Things To Do on Campus

UC/City Plan Southside Renewal

Campus Improvements for Pedestrians, Bicyclists




Activist Sylvia McLaughlin Cares for Berkeley

Since the Late 1950s, North Berkeley Resident Sylvia McLaughlin Has Been a Dynamo of Environmental Activism and Concern for the Campus and the Community

By Sunny Merik, Public Affairs

It's 9 a.m. Monday and already Sylvia McLaughlin has been pruning and weeding her garden. She's filled two vases with fresh and fragrant roses, done household chores and started telephoning. By 10, she will have completed a newspaper interview, set up a meeting with a woman seeking data on the environmental movement, and finalized plans to attend a four-day environmental conference in Santa Cruz.

At noon, she'll head for the Berkeley campus, where she lifts weights three times a week in the Cal Fit program. "I do strength training. It's a wonderful program," she says, bright brown eyes framed by a halo of white hair. "The people are all so congenial."

For nearly 40 years McLaughlin has worked with city officials and university administrators to preserve and improve both the natural and architectural beauty of the area. At 81, she is a local institution, her energy and influence legendary.

A Colorado girl who in the late '40s married UC Berkeley geology professor Donald McLaughlin, Sylvia found herself appointed to numerous university and civic committees once her husband, formerly Dean of the College of Engineering, was appointed a UC Regent. The committees led to new friends, new concerns, and the discovery that environmental activism suited her energy and interests.

Sylvia points out that in the late '50s and early '60s, 40 garbage dumps ringed the Bay. "And at night, many of them were burning," she said.

Then came news that the city of Berkeley and land-fill developers were planning to fill in 2,000 acres of the bay. Sylvia found a kindred spirit of concern in Kay Kerr, wife of then-Chancellor Clark Kerr, and Berkeley resident Esther Gulick. The three women launched "Save the Bay," and from 1960 to 1969 educated city officials, state politicians, and Bay Area citizens about the perils of filling in the bay.

Today, all Berkeley streets leading to the bay bear witness to the women's success. The blue gray waters sparkle, the boats sail, the view inspires.

Sitting in her study, surrounded by books and family photographs, a fireplace mantel covered with rocks, and her morning roses, Sylvia talks about how the university has

improved the city, and how the citizens have tried, working with both the city and the university, to keep Berkeley liveable.

"There is quite a history here of faculty and staff serving on city task forces and commissions to help solve problems of mutual concern," she said.

Citizen groups have taken special interest in maintaining the beauty and historical integrity of the campus. For many years Sylvia has worked with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) to protect city and campus architecture, helping preserve and enhance those buildings that add beauty and uniqueness to the area.

"In the late '60s there was a proposal to tear down the university's women's faculty club, designed by Bernard Maybeck, and to build in its place a glass and steel extension of the men's faculty club," says Sylvia. A North Berkeley resident and women's faculty club member named Florence Minard worked with Sylvia and others to save the club. Their efforts succeeded.

Later, when the campus planned to fell a grove of redwoods for a new library and access road, concerned citizens joined with faculty and staff in urging that the plan be changed. It was. The redwoods still stand, casting their majestic shadows.

In 1997 the university began planning the upgrade and retrofit of the Hearst Memorial Mining Building, the architectural gem listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sylvia invited the university design team to meet with BAHA members at her home. Other meetings followed, and the restoration plans developed to assure that the beauty of the original structure would not be lost in the seismic upgrade.

"This renovation may prove to be a model of how careful preservation and restoration can provide for teaching and research requirements while simultaneously preserving the intrinsic beauty of the building," she said.

Sylvia's passion for nature or architectural beauty sparkles from her eyes and her words.

"I've often thought how lucky I am to live in a city like Berkeley, with its natural beauty, and its university," she said. "I'm interested in urban and regional planning, and in many other things. The city provides so many ways to be involved if you're interested. There are projects concerning the bay, the shore line, the watershed, the educational future of the schools. Berkeley is really a fascinating microcosm."

And Sylvia is an excellent example of the many people who help keep Berkeley vibrant. .




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