Cesar Chavez Solar Calendar Proposal

This archival document contains an undated proposal for construction of the Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar, probably written around the year 2000.  The document lays out the reasoning behind the project and lists groups and individuals involved with its development.  [Lightly reformatted here for legibility.] 

The Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar

“The truest act of courage…is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice.” – Cesar Chavez

Why a Memorial for Cesar Chavez?

Arguably there are no significant memorials to a Latino in the United States. It is our hope to create one for Cesar Estrada Chavez, at Cesar Chavez Park on the Berkeley waterfront.

Cesar Chavez, labor leader, civil rights advocate and prophet of nonviolence, was able to bring moral authority and stature, energy and forward movement to the struggle of farmworkers in this country. He brought attention to a societal detachment from faceless farmworkers who labor in the fields to put food on our tables, and who suffer the vicissitudes of a yearly harvest.

A Memorial Solar Calendar:

The appropriateness of a Solar Calendar as a memorial to Cesar Chavez stems from the fact that Solar Calendars were rooted in an agricultural way of life. Farmworkers have always lived by understanding the cycle of the seasons. It is a universal form that has a place in all of our ancestries, and reflects some our earliest architectural yearnings.

For most of the history of humankind our ancestors experienced the universe in a state of wonder and terror. Through long observation of seasonal shifts and the observed regularity of celestial objects they began to see the possibility of greater control over their daily lives. As they looked to the sky, the solstices and equinoxes became the most special of events giving our ancestors a profound sense of time and space, order andpredictability. It was out of these observations that Solar Calendars evolved. They are what came before the paper ones hanging up on our walls, and they served to regulate planting, harvesting, celebration and ritual. Some classic examples are Stonehenge in England and the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming. These world-wide treasures provide us with a link to our ancestral past, reminding us of a time when our world was viewed as a distinct whole, with nature and culture intricately laced together.

Public Art:

“The task of art is to make the familiar strange” – John Berger

The Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar will be a permanent architectural and educational landmark for the entire Bay Area, an example of functional public art at its best. The aim is to make the Calendar an interactive memorial that will not only be esthetically pleasing but will nurture the spirit of each visitor, not unlike the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in our nation’s capitol. The underlying guiding principles for design and function are that the Memorial Calendar will: (1) bring the wonder of nature into the everyday park experience; (2) create a reflective space, free of the cluttered distractions of urban life; (3) blend earth, sky and memory in a way that reminds us of our higher purposes; (4) reflect the calendric history of various ancient civilizations, and lastly (5) will resonate with the spirit of Chavez.

Homage to Cesar and to Berkeley:

“If you can be patient in one moment of anger, it will save you a hundred days of sorrow” – Chinese Proverb

The Memorial Calendar will honor the life and legacy of Cesar Chavez by utilizing the four cardinal directions. Each direction will symbolize a virtue that Chavez exemplified in his life, e.g., Courage and Forgiveness. Each virtue will be represented by a single word. How these words are to be represented will be subject to artistic interpretation. A contemplative exercise will be designed that will involve facing each of the four cardinal directions. See “‘Educational Curriculum.”

These are arguably the same virtues that make Berkeley Berkeley. So In celebrating Chavez we are celebrating our long history of struggle for social justice.

How will the final design be determined?

The existing Conceptual Site Plan and Model are not the final design. Rather they are meant to serve as a launching pad to provoke the imagination, to stimulate dialogue, to solicit public art proposals by artists, to help move it through the various tiers of City government, and to secure funding.

The final design will be an outgrowth of a process supervised by the Berkeley Civic Arts Commission as part of its Annual Public Art Plan. A panel of artists will be formed, a set of design criteria will be developed, and a request for proposals will be announced. The panel and the Civic Arts Commission will make a recommendation to the City Council, after review, where appropriate, by the Parks & Waterfront and Public Works Departments (Engineering), and the Waterfront, Parks & Recreation, Disability, and Planning Commissions. The Cesar Chavez Foundation must also approve the design.

Installed Art, The following components of the Memorial Calendar require inspired design:

Stage One: (Public Art/Memorial)

The surface of a 90′ diameter center circle

Two crescent shaped earthen berms (4′ to 8′ high) that will create a sense of enclosure and place.

Entrance Sign: “Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar”

Sculptured pieces that will frame the solstices and equinoxes

Bench to represent the differing number of days between solstices and equinoxes

Thematic representations of an agricultural way of life

The 16′ center pillar/gnomon/sculpture

Four cardinal Directions panels (Homage to Cesar Chavez)

Stage Two: Adding the Naked-Eye Sky Observatory (See “Naked Eye Sky Observatory”)

Location and Size: The Berkeley City Council has already reserved a site for the Memorial on “Horizon Mound” at Cesar Chavez Park, pending approval of a final design. The entire site is located within a two acre area along the crest of a mound in the northwest section of a 90 acre park on the Berkeley waterfront. The site is blessed with a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of the distant horizons. The Solar Calendar/Sky Observatory we are proposing will be approximately 90′ in diameter, not including the perimeter earthen berms. It is to be located to the south of the mound. To the north is a 20′ diameter circle which will encompass an interactive analematic sundial. Rather than a path running down the center of the mound, as is currently the case, it will run around the perimeter of the mound offering selective vistas to all directions as well as various astronomical activities.

Ancient civilizations have built calendars of various designs and sizes, each one a unique reflection of its particular environmental conditions, astronomical alignments and cultural purposes. For example the Medicine Wheel in Wyoming is approximately 100 feet In diameter, as is Stonehenge in England. The Cahohia Indian Sun Circle in Illinois stretches 410′.

For our purposes the Calendar should be large enough: to make the moment of the solstices or equinoxes an experience; to establish an educational laboratory for understanding and studying the earthly phenomena associated with the sun-earth-moon system; to facilitate community gatherings particularly during the solstices and equinoxes; to build-in “shadow and reflective effects” that will dramatize sky phenomena; and be large enough to compliment a sense of wonder of the universe , i.e., to enclose space, set it apart, and make it special…….a common feature of ancient sites.

Because the park is built on a landfill and former dump, all construction must not penetrate the protective clay-cap surface of the terrain. Rather all construction must be built up. Below the cap is decaying matter and an elaborate system of underground methane lines that exit at a burnoff stack in the eastern center section of the park. All designs must take these limitations into consideration.

Sun Reflections and Shadows: Careful attention to the “shadows” cast by each of the astronomical elements of the Calendar is an essential design consideration. Another design option is to utilize reflective surfaces (e.g., mirrors or marble surface) to channel a beam of sunlight onto an opposing surface.

Public Celebration: The design must take into account the utilization of the Calendar for seasonal celebrations. The Spring Equinox (March 21st) will particularly be reserved to acknowledge the legacy of Cesar Chavez.

Why In Berkeley?

Berkeley citizens were among Chavez’ strongest supporters. Berkeley is an enlightened and avant-garde community which prides itself on its tolerance for differences and participation in the global community. It is centered between three great astronomy institutions, The Exploratorium in San Francisco, the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, and the Chabot Observatory in Oakland. Cesar Chavez Park, located on Berkeley’s waterfront, represents a victory for the preservation of open space, and against a full scale campaign for commercial development. The Park was named after Chavez in 1996. The city declares a day every year to honor Chavez.

Another important note about the coastal area that now includes Cesar Chavez Park is that it was once Ohlone land. Before the coming of the Europeans, for hundreds — perhaps thousands — of years, the Ohlones rose before dawn, stood in front of their tule houses, and facing the east shouted words of greeting and encouragement to the rising sun. They talked to the sun because they believed that the sun was listening to them, that it would heed their advice and their pleas. They shouted to the sun because, as one missionary later put it, they felt that the sun had “a nature very much like their own.” (Margolis)

Project Two: Naked-Eye Sky Observatory

SUMMARY: In this project several astronomical instruments/activities will be added to the Solar Calendar so that it will serve as more of a educational laboratory for understanding sky phenomena. On a daily basis, students, parents and community members will be able to learn how to utilize it through information boards, pamphlets, and/or specially designed workshops offered at the site and/or within the schools.

This project will convert the Calendar into a more complete ‘naked-eye’ sky observatory. The idea is to reconnect us to what is “right before our eyes”, e.g., the workings of the sun-earth-moon system. So few of us today can explain, for example, what the solstices and equinoxes are or how the moon affects the tides. Therefore, the experience of the Calendar will be to put us in the shoes of our ancestors, to see the sky as they saw it and as they grappled to understand its rhythms.

The following astronomical mechanisms/activities will be designed into the calendar:

Planet rises and sets/Star rises and set

Moon phases and ocean tides

Sunset/Full moon rise alignments

Sunrise/Sunset horizon points (Indigenous Calendars)

Time: Moon rise/set —- sunrise/set

The Berkeley Meridian (Solar Noon vs. Clock Noon)

The 23.5 degree tilt of the earth


North Star cycle

Sundials (how do they work)

Ploting an Analemma

Perception Exercises (How our minds lie to us)

Project Three: Rhythm of the Seasons Educational Curriculum

The Rhythm of the Seasons curriculum (grades 3-8) will allow community members and school children to understand and experience one of the simple wonders of our existence, the rhythm of the seasons. The Curriculum will cover a unique mix of art, science, culture, perception and the life of Chavez.

The Astronomy and Earth Science Curriculum will provide an understanding of the reasons for the seasons; why the sun rises at different points along the horizon; how the moon affects oceans & tides; how the tilt of the earth creates our weather and climate; how plants and animals adjust to earth’s rhythms; and how we as humans deal with the existential reality that we are on a ball hurling through space.

The Cultural Curriculum combines the astronomy of ancient civilizations with contemporary cultural anthropology. It will provide an understanding of current cultures, and of people long ago who mastered the sky for their own survival. It will address the origins of calendars; the extensive seasonal celebrations associated with the equinoxes and solstices; and lastly how our differences can be disarmed by emphasizing the common planetary ancestry all people share.

The Cesar Chavez Curriculum will address the life of Chavez, farmworker’s struggle for justice, and the evolution of agriculture.

The Art Curriculumwill address the impact of public art on the experience of children and their families, in this case the intersection of ancient calendars and art. It will also develop art projects that involve ancient astronomical instruments.

Project Four: Landscaping & Maintenance

SUMMARY: The Memorial Solar Calendar will inhabit a 2 acre undeveloped site at Cesar Chavez Park. How the perimeter berms, pathways and open space will be planted and maintained is the task of this project. The landscape and maintenance effort must be consistent with the underlying principles for the design and function of the Memorial Calendar (See “Public Art” above) and with the limitations of the site (See “Location and Size” above). This project also includes the design and function of several hundred feet of perimeter pathway that encircles the entire mound.

Over the long term the site will probably need a source of some irrigation. All efforts will be made to make the site as drought resistant and low maintenance as possible. Eventually we would expect the city to do general maintenance as part of its routine park maintenance. However, we also expect to generate an additional allowance to properly maintain the Memorial in perpetuity.

Collaborative Relationships/Support

The project has been given concept approval by the Civic Arts Commission, the Waterfront Commission, the Parks & Recreation Commission, the Disability Coordinator for Berkeley, and the Berkeley School Board. We further have collaborative relationships with representatives from the Lawrence Hall of Science (Berkeley), The Exploratorium (San Francisco), Community Resources for Science (Oakland), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (ie., two archaeoastronomers), and a large number of individuals, professional and otherwise who are enthusiastic about the project. The City Council also reserved a mound at Cesar Chavez Park for the project pending full.approval of our building plans. We have received some funding from the Civic Arts Commission Public Arts Fund and from the Leandro Duran Foundation. The Chavez Family Foundation has also endorsed the project.

Fund Development Plan/Budget

The Project is in the initial stage of its fund raising effort. We are solidifying a relationship with a credible fund development planner and grant writer. Our preliminary plan is to approach philanthropic sources, involving a mix of government, public and private foundations, corporate giving programs, labor unions and individual donors. The budget for the design and construction of the Calendar Memorial will be at least $500,000. The budget for the Curriculum will be in the range of $75,000. The Kala Art institute serves as our fiscal sponsor.

Who is involved?

Director, Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar/Sky Observatory Projectand the

Rhythm of the Seasons Educational Curriculum

Santiago Casal holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology (Comparative Cultures). His qualifications to lead this project include experience as a builder, a radio producer, a program director and faculty member at Antioch College, and as a researcher and instructional designer in multicultural relations for Kaiser Permanente.


Solar Calendar Design & Construction

John Roberts, Landscape Architect, John Northmore Roberts & Associates, a key designer/consultant on a number of Berkeley public art projects

Archana Horstina, Executive Director of the Kala Art Institute

Scott Donahue, Artist (specializes in enduring construction materials)

Chavez Memorial

Salvador Murillo, Ed.D., Student Services Liaison. Berkeley Unified

School District. A noted advocate for Latinos … Co-founder of Cesar Chvez Park.

Fr. William O’Donnellis a long time community activist, a pastor at

St. Joseph the Worker Church, and a close personal friend of Cesar Chvez .

Leandro Duranis a Berkeley attorney who has a deep Interest in

ancient civilizations.

Paul F. Chavez, CEO National Farmworkers Service & President Cesar Chavez

Foundation, Keene, California


Alan Gould, Planetarium Director, Astronomy Educator, and Curriculum Designer,

Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California.

Christine Lim, Associate Superintendent of Instruction in Berkeley.

She is our school district liaison.

Modesto Tamezis a veteran educator/trainer and curriculum development

expert at the Exploratorium Teacher Institute in San Francisco.

Liz Fuentes, teacher (Grades 4-5) Thousand Oaks School

David Glaser, a former middle school teacher, currently teaches science at

the Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California

Nicki Normanis the Co-Director of Community Resources for Science in

Oakland. CRS consults with school districts and teachers to develop

& match educational resources with the new State Educational



David Dearborn, Astrophysicist, Lawrence Livermore National

Laboratory, an archaeoastronomer and expert on the Inca in Peru.

Alane Alchorn. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is Assistant Editor

of Archaeoastronomy & Education News.

Alan Gould, listed above


This document was retrieved on 12/27/14 from http://www.well.com/user/pk/waterfront/solar/SolarConcept.html.

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