The neighboring cities of Berkeley and Albany have always been two distinct entities. Berkeley, rife with diversity, is characterized by the high volume of students, thrift stores, and smoke shops. Albany, on the other hand, has a distinctly quaint air, and is inundated by families and geriatric couples. The relationship between the towns has never been hostile, although they did get off to a rocky start. After the 1906 earthquake, many families fled from San Francisco to the East Bay, beginning to build the communities that are seen today. In 1908, residents of the Albany area, then still a part of Berkeley, protested the dumping of Berkeley’s garbage on their land. A group of protesters blocked the waste-wagons from moving down Buchanan Street in what is now known as the “Garbage Wars.” Those living in the Albany area decided to separate from Berkeley, establishing their own city government and high school in the 1930s.
Despite their tricky beginning, the two cities have generally led a peaceful co-existence, and this has only been solidified by the annual Solano Stroll.
The Solano Stroll is the East Bay’s largest street festival, featuring over a mile of food, shopping, non-profits, music, and more. According to Allen Cain, the Executive Director and Events Manager, the Solano Stroll feels like “a one-mile block party,” and “is an extraordinary way to promote the wonderful goods, services and consumables on Solano Avenue.” Over 230,000 people swarm the street, which is half in Berkeley and half in Albany. The shops and restaurants lining Solano have been the stars of the event since its conception in 1974, although the parade, which began in 2009, has become a large attraction. Most shops set up their own booths to display what can be found in their stores on any other day.
The festivities also feature many other kid-friendly activities, from a ferris wheel and bouncy houses to a petting zoo and sing-alongs.
Each year, among a multitude of other musical groups, the Berkeley High School (BHS) Jazz Band hosts a booth. Their booth consists of live music and a fundraiser in the form of a raffle. Laurel Fink, who plays the saxophone, explained that the musicians “sell raffle tickets to passersby to raise money, while student jazz combos play music to show what the jazz program provides.”
Fink loves that the Jazz Band “gets to play music for everyone to enjoy,” but she also makes sure to enjoy the Stroll itself. While the BHS Jazz Band was playing on the Albany end of Solano, the Albany High Jazz Band was also playing — on the Berkeley side. Although the two groups weren’t playing together, the switched locations may be a perfect metaphor for the way the Stroll unites the surrounding communities.
According to Cain, the Stroll “brings the community together, mixing people from diverse backgrounds and interests.” This is clear to see. Walking through the festival, one passes people of all ages, races, cultures, and passions. This is reflected in the food, which ranges from sushi to cheesesteaks. Music of all styles can be enjoyed, from punk rock to Japanese Taiko Drumming. The entertainment ranges from salsa dancers to magicians.
People meander through the stands, stopping to purchase tapestries and hand-carved statuettes. The energy is lively and fulfilling.
Sophia Phillips, who has lived in Berkeley her whole life, said, “the Stroll is chaotic, but in a good way. I always see everyone I know, so it’s kind of like a big reunion.” This is a sentiment shared by most of the attendees, many of whom have been going to the Stroll for over a decade. Phillips especially loves how she runs into people from different areas in her life, whether it be friends from her dance studio or her elementary school. “It’s a really special thing because everyone is here, and it’s this big community of people who’ve loved [the Stroll] for years and years.” A heartwarming event born from the collaboration of Berkeley and Albany, the Stroll is sure to uphold its reputation of community coalescence.