Lanesplitter action figures, 2033 San Pablo. Photo: John Storey
A couple of the action figures at Lanesplitter Pizza, 2033 San Pablo Ave. Photo: John Storey

San Pablo Avenue has long been the funky boulevard of Berkeley — folk music clubs, punk clubs, the now-gone Twin Castle, hip breakfast spots, bars, sex-toy shop, ethnic grocery stores, liquor stores, Ohmega Salvage, automobile repair shops, rib joints, and so on. But, like all of Berkeley, San Pablo Avenue is changing. The Quirky Berkeley jury is out on what is happening on San Pablo, but it is in on Lanesplitter Pizza just south of University Avenue, and, in particular, its collection of dozens of action figures depicting past and present staff .

Lanesplitter at 2033 San Pablo: “Big thumbs up” for variety of reasons. Photo: John Storey

Lots of beers. Sustainable wages and so no tipping. Open late. Good pizza. Good and friendly ‘New Berkeley’ staff and customers. And on the walls: those action figures. Big thumbs up. I hope the restaurant survives the changes.

The original Lanesplitter action figures are all previous staffers of the restaurant. Photo: John Storey
The owners were struck by the people they hired and turned them into action figures. Photo: John Storey
The first action figures were made in 1998. Photo: John Storey

There is a one-page explanation of the action figures towards the back of the restaurant, signed by Soctt and Madeline, Vince and Erica, dated May 2007.

The owners were struck by the people they hired. “Soon we were imagining everybody at Lanesplitter as a doll, as ‘action figures’ with accessories and clothes and packing – the works.” Priding themselves on being “the kind of people who can talk each other into doing just about anything,” they decided to actually make them.

The first dolls were made in 1998. They continued making them — “more cool people and more dolls” —  at least until 2007, “quirky, silly dolls to honor Lanesplitter.”

So there it is! Action figures to honor individuality. Actions figures to honor community. Dolls and the adjective “quirky.” A perfect formula for Quirky Berkeley.

“More cool people and more dolls” were made until at least 2007. Photo: John Storey
The owners describe the action figures as “quirky, silly dolls to honor Lanesplitter.” Photo: John Storey
Is there an action figure missing, asks one Tom Dalzell. Photo: John Storey

Good job Lanesplitter! But there is one absolutely essential action figure missing. He should be shown wearing a button-down Lands’ End blue Oxford shirt and khakis. Not hip khakis, but old- school ‘Jack-Kerouac-wore-khakis’ khakis. He should be wearing a baseball cap because the sun is not his head’s friend. He should be carrying a clipboard and an iPhone. He thinks of himself as a flaneur of Berkeley. He is — me, no-shame, no-harm-in-asking me. Why not?

Lanesplitter Pizza is an East Bay restaurant and pub group with five locations. Its Berkeley one is at 2033 San Pablo Ave. (just south of University).

Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,600 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means. A longer and more idiosyncratic version of this post, including photographs of other dolls found in Quirky Berkeley explorations, may be found at Quirky Berkeley.

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Freelancer Tom Dalzell has lived in Berkeley since 1984. After working for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers for 10 years as a legal worker and then lawyer, he went to work for another labor union...