Remembering California's Summer Of Love With Marty Berg
Mario Savio, Marty Berg, Bill's Men's Shop
MRV: The Buzz, Your Outdoor Lifestyle Insider. Written By: Andrew Malo.
Witnessing The Change: Bill's Men's Shop
Operating Since 1961 When All Sorts Of Cultural Shifts And Movements Took Place That Sparked Generations To Come
Much like the store he owns, Marty Berg stands as a witness and participant in one of the most important cultural shifts of the 20th century in America. The store, Bill’s Men’s Shop in Berkeley, California on Telegraph Avenue, “morphed into Bill’s Footwear,” explains Berg, and keeps its charm and personalization it has had since opening in 1961. Bill was William Platt and he owned the store until he passed away. Berg started as a part-time employee when he came to Northern California in 1966 because “my father was in a similar business in Phoenix and I needed work while going to university.” He eventually bought the shop from Platt’s widow in 1974. “I wasn’t ready for grad school and Bill passed away when I was a senior,” Berg says, “so the opportunity just sort of presented itself.” He has owned the shop ever since and, even with all the changing times, the building, “has been under the same ownership and we have a good relationship with the landlord,” explains Berg.
The important cultural shifts are things that California in the 1960s has become known for - the Free Speech Movement and the Anti-War protests. The Free Speech Movement was, in a large part, led by Mario Savio. Savio was one of the white activists that participated in the Freedom Rides in the south and was heavily involved in anti-racism activities in California and elsewhere. He returned to Berkeley in 1964 and started getting involved in the Free Speech Movement due to Berkeley’s policy of not allowing political activities and sparked the movement by rousing speeches on top of police cars. He was eventually put in jail for 120 days for his protest efforts; however he remains an important icon of the era. The Free Speech Movement, which stemmed from the Civil Rights Movement, made way for the Anti-War effort against Vietnam.
“The Summer of Love was happening 15 miles away across the bridge in San Francisco, and we here in Berkeley were the center of the anti-war movement against Vietnam,” explains Berg. The times that brought about the anti-war movement have been studied extensively by sociologists. In a birdseye view, it was a generation removed from both the horrors of World War 2 and the prosperity that followed, but still dramatically affected by both, resulting in a counterculture movement that rejected American institutions and involvement in wars.
As with most movements, there is generally a catalyst. Berg mentions Peoples Park in Berkeley, “the University wanted to develop the park and the students didn’t want it,” he recalls, “so it was the center for all the protests that happened.” The events that occurred that happened were what the protests became famous for - riots, policing, tear gas, and generally aggressive clashes between government forces and protesters. This focal point became a national movement that forever changed America.
The effort against the Vietnam War helped to cement counterculture ideals in America. People, especially young people of that time, no longer accepted the decisions of the government as final and openly opposed them in significant demonstrations. Although this is a right of the people in democratic societies, it was met with violence, arrest, and opposition by police, National Guard, and all sorts of government agencies such as the FBI. In 1999, the FBI admitted to illegally surveilling Savio from the time he got back to Berkeley. Berg remembers some of this time, “I usually was working, but I vividly remember the tear gas being thrown into protesters and helicopters buzzing overhead.” When he wasn’t working, “I protested with the others.”
These countercultures still exist throughout American society, though they are more fragmented now than they were back then. “Most of the student body and the citizens of Berkeley were associated or at least supported the movements,” Berg recalls. Nowadays it is not the case. Berg thinks it is because people are focusing inward more. “It is harder to get into school, harder to graduate, and harder to get a job - so people are focused on that instead of taking time off to do other things,” Berg surmises.
Just like the changing culture, Telegraph Avenue has changed, too. “For the longest time we didn’t even have a McDonalds in town,” Berg says. Now, Telegraph Avenue allows chain restaurants and stores, a mixed bag to someone like Berg. “I am a realist,” explains Berg, “so I know as a merchant that having empty storefronts is not good for the town or business.” In that way, it is good that the chains come in. In a negative light, it takes away from the character of the area. “Besides the movements that started here, records and books have always been a huge draw to the area,” Berg says, “now a lot of the shops have gone out of business, but there are still some great ones.”
Berg’s business tends to come from many different stratas of societies, mainly due to his effort to provide products for everyone. “I always say we cater to the employees and the students,” Berg explains. He says he gets residents of Berkeley, students at the university, and tourists. “People come to San Francisco to experience the Summer of Love and the movements that happened at Berkeley,” Berg says. And there is no better place to experience it than in a shop owned by a man who has seen it all - Marty Berg at Bill’s Men’s Shop on Telegraph Avenue.
A graduate of Northeastern Illinois University in Education, Andrew has
taught for the past decade in Chicago, New Mexico, and Japan. He
enjoys tinkering with trucks and motorcycles, woodworking, reading and
Make Sure To Check Out:
Bill's Men's Shop, an independent retailer, situated in the same location,
for over 40 years. Bill's has evolved from being primarily a men's clothing and sportswear
shop into a store specializing in footwear of every style for men and women.