Anita Eblé bought her Dutch colonial home in Berkeley’s Claremont district in 1968. When her husband, Henri, saw the Oakvale Avenue house for the first time, he exclaimed, “Oh, God! It’s my dream house.”
The couple purchased the property shortly after, but they had to wait several months before the old owners left and they could move in. In the interim, Eblé says she and her husband would hide and peer through the bushes down the street to look at the house.
Once they moved in, Henri, who passed away 17 years ago, set about cleaning the yard. In the process, he discovered the remains of a century-old well, grotto and cistern. The stone structure had been invisible when the Eblés moved in. It had been buried beneath thick ivy.
According to documents from the Berkeley Historical Society, the grotto and cistern are all that remain of a large estate that used to cover most of the Claremont district. The cistern was used to feed horses pulling stagecoaches — during the 1920s and earlier — on the long journey up Claremont Avenue, over Fish Ranch Road and into Contra Costa County. Eblé says that decades ago neighbors filled in the well with lawn trimmings to prevent children from falling down inside.
Before she retired, Eblé, a small, spry woman with white hair and bright red lipstick, ran the history department at UC Berkeley. Later, she was an executive in the office of the university president.
Eblé still smiles remembering Henri’s discovery of the historic remnants, in the midst of “unplugging” the unruly foliage.
“It was because my husband did not want a mountain of ivy,” she says.