Jeronimus Who?

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By  Lawrence Grown

 

West Berkeley is home to a splendid alley for biking, walking, or pushing a stroller. It contains many murals, and will soon be home to three more, courtesy of Commotion West Berkeley, Berkeley Path Wanderers Association, and Youth Spirit Artworks

 

The alley runs parallel to Sixth Street and is halfway between Sixth and Fifth, running from Virginia Street to Camelia Street. (Perhaps someday it will become a mural arts destination like Clarion Alley in San Francisco, Wynwood Walls in Miami, or Batman Alley in Sao Paulo.) Many urban locations have become art centers through street art. 

 

A small sign on the back of the Kermit Lynch warehouse is labeled, “Jeronimus Alley.” That isn’t an official name which could be found on a page like Google Maps, for example. So you might ask, where does that name come from?

 

Wayne Jeronimus worked for the City of Berkeley’s Housing Department from 1976-1999. He was part of a team working to provide affordable housing within City limits. The Redevelopment Agency owned nine parcels at the corner of Fifth Street and Cedar. These were working people's Victorian cottages and the RDA and City of Berkeley had a vision to preserve them for limited-income residents. A lottery identified low-income first-time home buyers and Wayne worked with them personally to help get their finances in order. 

 

Under Wayne’s persuasion, a deal was struck between the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the City of Berkeley to structure mortgages that would enable these properties to remain affordable in perpetuity. 

 

Once the buyers were settled, City leadership sought opportunities to honor the Housing Department for a job well done. Wayne jokingly suggested that they could name the alley after him. And that’s exactly what they did! In 1989 the sign was installed on the back of what is now the Kermit Lynch office and warehouse building.

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Virginia and Wayne Jeronimus

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Wayne grew up in the Chicago area. In May of 1969, he drove his then-girlfriend Virginia (now his wife of over 52 years) to attend graduate school at UC Berkeley, where she later earned both a Master’s and a Doctorate degree. Wayne hitchhiked back to Chicago, where he was scheduled for a one-way flight to Europe. But the allure of Virginia (and Berkeley) was strong—he canceled the international trip and returned to California. The couple settled into an apartment on Dwight Way and married in September of that year.

 

Following a pair of perfunctory jobs in Oakland and San Francisco, Wayne landed at the City of Berkeley Housing Department in February 1976, where he spent 24 fulfilling years. The couple moved to Calistoga after Wayne’s retirement in 1999. Wayne wrote a regular column for the Weekly Calistogan newspaper for several years, under the title “Jeronimus Alley.” He mainly featured travel stories. One of the most-read columns was titled “Berkeley Berserkeley,” which described the humorous dichotomy of working for the progressive City of Berkeley while living in the affluent City of Piedmont. That column can still be read online (via subscription). Wayne and Virginia moved from Napa Valley to the Tucson area in 2012.

 

Jeronimus Alley has since been the site of neighborhood clean-ups in 2019 and 2022. UC Berkeley students periodically participate in Berkeley Project Day, where they help with street beautification and similar projects, alongside local residents and community leaders.

 

Make West Berkeley your destination soon and stroll down Jeronimus Alley! Take time to marvel at the murals and contemplate the impact each of us has on the world at large.

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