Parking Meters


Parking Meters

Streets Surrounding People’s Park

Since parking meters first sprang up in America’s heartland during the mid-1930s, they have been sporadically vandalized. Nowhere, however, has such vandalism been done with the zest, thoroughness, creativity, and persistence as in Berkeley during the latter part of the 20th Century and into the start of the new millennium. For more than 35 years parking meters were abused with unprecedented discipline and rigor. Throughout the city they were disfigured with sledgehammers, beheaded, disemboweled, or jammed.

Radical political activists leading People’s Park protests in 1969 smashed all meters near the Park after identifying them as agents of societal repression. This localized guerrilla war evolved into a citywide protest against both the meter and what came to be seen as the intolerable tyranny of the meter maids who enforced parking laws with draconian efficiency. For many years few parking meters in Berkeley remained consistently operative. The broken meter came to be widely accepted both as a parking convenience and a symbol of defiance. By the 1990s liberated meters greened the streetscape with flowers planted in their hollowed-out heads.

As ’60s radicals inched towards Medicare eligibility, the city and meter manufacturers inevitably responded with high-tech “vandal proof” meters. A new tech-savvy generation took up the cause, thwarting their refinements with a creative array of refined destructive techniques. Patrick Ryan, president of Australia’s Reino Parking Systems, a supplier of high-tech, “foolproof” meters worldwide, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005, “I know of nowhere that has the petty vandalism of meters that Berkeley has… people are a bit, uh, anti-establishment.”

Today, broken meters are rare. With credit card friendly meter stations, urban ecologists fighting to limit car use, and a somewhat less anti-authoritarian citizenry, Berkeley’s persona, forged in the ’60s, has mellowed.

Contributed by Robert Kehlmann, 2012

  • Broken Allston Way Parking Meter, SF Chronicle (2004), Photo Mark Constantini.

  • Decapitated Solano Ave. meters, SF Chronicle (1998), photo Sam Deaner.

  • Decapitated meters, Berkeley Voice (1998), photo Chester King Vega.

  • Gift wrapped meter, Bancroft Way, Daily Cal (1998), photo Jesse Ehrman.

  • Broken meter bag, SF Chronicle (2005), photo Barrie Rokeach.

  • First Park-O-Meter, Oklahoma City (1935).

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society