Tranquil, pedestrian and dog-friendly Bateman Street (or Bat Man Street, depending on the local availability of a brush and a can of paint), was the home of the Red Family commune from 1969 to 1973. The members were a talented, idealistic group of New Leftists whose influence reached beyond their cozy neighborhood. Among the founders were Tom Hayden, who helped create the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and is now a state senator; Robert Scheer, then an editor at Ramparts Magazine and now a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist; and Scheer's wife, Anne Weills, a long-time Berkeley resident and political activist.
According to author Don Pitcher in Berkeley Inside/Out, published by Heyday Books in 1989, “The neighbors believed the commune to be heavily armed, and rumor had it the FBI was concerned enough to stake out Tom Hayden's home ... by renting an apartment across the street.”
In 1971 the group decided to start a radical parent-participation nursery school. Vickie Steinheimer, now an immigration attorney, worked at Trips Out Travel while attending law school during the 1970's. Her children Mathew and Libby Pope attended Blue Fairyland.
“Bob Scheer's son Christopher was the only child in the commune, so they asked him what he would name the school, some place he would like to go to every day.” recalled Vickie. “He said 'Blue Fairyland', probably thinking of Gepettos's heaven in Pinocchio.”
I have very fond memories of my years there,” daughter Libby Pope said. “It had a real family feel, as most of the parents lived in the neighborhood. I especially liked the arts and crafts. We made birdhouses; it was a lot of fun.”
The school had a progressive environment with a left-wing political bent. When George Jackson was killed in an escape attempt from prison in 1971, the young students and their parents went to San Quentin to picket. It was this reputation that attracted Jane Fonda. P> I remember that Jane came to Northern California in 1971 to film Steelyard Blues in Petaluma,” Vickie remembered. “She was looking for a daycare center for her daughter Vanessa while she made the film.”
Jane and her daughter moved to Bateman Street near Prince Street in 1971 and Vanessa became part of the Blue Fairyland group. Her mother was often seen shopping on College Avenue or at the Berkeley Co-op on Telegraph Avenue. If someone stopped to tell her that she looked like Jane Fonda, the modest actor would reply, “Oh, everyone says that.”
“Jane was very health conscious,” Vickie Steinheimer continued. “She insisted that we prepare a beet juice supplement for Vanessa. I remember doing that on my day as volunteer parent. Jane met Tom Hayden at Blue Fairyland, and the rest is - yes, history.” When the couple got married in Los Angeles in 1973, the minister was Dick York of the Berkeley Free Church and an Elmwood resident.
Tom Hayden was back on Bateman Street a while ago and asked to come inside the house where Blue Fairyland was located for over a decade. “He was very handsome. None of the photographs do him justice,” Lew Levinson, the current owner, recalled. “After he and his friends looked around inside, they went out back where the playground used to be. He was thrilled to find an old Blue Fairyland sign and said 'I painted this sign!' He asked if he could keep the sign, and I reluctantly said yes. He seemed genuinely happy to take it when he left.”
-- excerpt from Tales From The Elmwood: A Community Memory by Burl Willes published by the Berkeley Historical Society, November 2000
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