Tiered construction site resembling modern rose garden but without roses
Works Progress Administration crews building the Berkeley Rose Garden in the 1930s. Courtesy: Berkeley Historical Society

Composer Alexis Harte grew up playing at Codornices Park and the Rose Garden, experiences that informed his new song, “Your Rose Garden.” 

The ballad celebrates “the New Deal in our backyard,” the 1933 effort by FDR’s Works Progress Administration to build a rose garden in Berkeley, and the lyrics “take you back to ’33, families sleeping on the streets … but they gave ‘em jobs with decent pay” and then forward to today, as kids think “about that big slide … afraid … they might not make the grade.”

Last spring Harte received an $8,500 grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Office to make a short film based on the song, “my tribute to the place, and more broadly to the [WPA] that built these gems,” he said. 

Rose garden in all its glory on a sunny day, seen from above
The Berkeley Rose Garden in May 2021. Credit: Clara Mokri

The prolific Berkeley songwriter’s music played a central role in the animated short “Pearl,” which became the first virtual reality film ever nominated for an Academy Award in 2017. For “Your Rose Garden,” he’s working with Berkeley filmmaker Josh Peterson as director, following up on their award-winning short “Thirsty,” starring Berkeley indie film legend Rob Nilsson on the other side of the camera. 

They’re partnering with the UC Cinematic Arts and Production Club, whose members are providing archival research and production support. But they’re also asking Berkeleyans past and present to share “old family photos and home movies of Rose Garden events (weddings, graduations, prom portraits, and memorials), as well as people just enjoying themselves in the garden and Codornices Park over the years,” Harte said. 

Harte plays guitar on stage
A performance by Alexis Harte. Credit: Morgan Stetler

If the Rose Garden film goes well, they have their eyes on a larger New Deal project encompassing the stories behind all WPA parks and monuments. 

“If this project is successful, we plan to make a toolkit to help filmmakers, musicians, storytellers, artists, etc., create and fund similar tributes to the New Deal as we approach its centennial,” he said. “We’re exploring a partnership with the Living New Deal for that side of things. 

“Ninety years ago, this country put millions of people to work building big, beautiful things that would last a long time. We think that’s a national legacy worth celebrating.”

Freelancer Andrew Gilbert writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside. Andy, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, covers a wide range of musical cultures, from Brazil and Mali to India and Ireland....