In this section, BNC singles out community organizations, businesses, activities, architecture, events, and people that make the City of Berkeley such a special place. In this issue, our selection is a person who has a long history as an activist on behalf of neighborhoods. The one-year anniversary of her death will occur on June 24th and we felt it was time to once-again remember her.
Martha Anne Hoskinson Nicoloff
1928 — 2016
Until the end of her life, Martha stayed involved in neighborhood issues. There would be parties in her garden, testimony before Berkeley Boards, Commissions, and the Council, attendance from time-to-time at BNC meetings and forums, and numerous chats with people on the street or in grocery stores. We first heard the sad news that she had passed away when The Berkeley Daily Planet published an obituary on July 5, 2016 written by her daughter, Tamara Nicoloff , as follows:
Martha Anne Hoskinson Nicoloff of Berkeley died peacefully at her home on June 24th, 2016 at the age of 87. She was born on October 6th, 1928 in Chicago, Illinois to Edwin and Pauline Hoskinson. She often said that she lived on the South side of Chicago in a home shared with others during the Great Depression. She was the first and only one in the family to go to college. From an early age, she loved drawing and painting landscapes, houses and people. When she was 18, she was accepted into the Art Institute of Chicago. She received a B.A. in Fine Arts with honors from there in 1950 and then completed an M.F.A from the University of Southern California in 1952.
In Chicago she met another artist named Alex Nicoloff. She was impressed with him and they married in 1952, moved to Berkeley, and had two daughters, Tamara and Natalya. They were a happy family who enjoyed camping and the alternative lifestyle Berkeley offered. In addition to continuing her drawing and painting, she also held art workshops for children while she raised her own two daughters.
Martha loved her family dearly. She provided unwavering support to Alex as he experimented with many different art mediums (bronze sculptures, prism videos, telephone pole photographs…). Natalya inherited Martha’s love for painting and she treasures the time they spent together painting landscapes around the Bay Area. Martha was Natalya’s artistic inspiration. Tamara remembers how important it was that Martha helped her raise her granddaughter Nadia. Martha always enjoyed children, especially Nadia who was funny and creative. Tamara also always felt loved and supported by her mother as she navigated a career in the corporate world. Nadia will never forget how much her grandmother supported her decisions, even when her schooling took her to the East Coast for years. She remembers how her grandmother was always excited to see her and encouraged her to travel the world, know about politics, and be creative. She always expressed pride in her granddaughter’s achievements.
Martha always found a way to continue her art. For years she collaborated with Alex in making prism sculptures and producing spectral videos. Together they learned how to get the best spectrum from prisms they made in their home. They enjoyed working together for hours at a time. For the community, Martha created many political drawings and cartoons for posters, newspapers and campaign materials. They always used humor to make a strong point. Her son-in-law, Tom Haw, calls her a “spitfire.”
Martha leaves a long legacy of neighborhood activism in Berkeley which included many years of grassroots organizing to resist the rampant high-rise and densely populated housing. In 1966, she proposed to the City Council that the BART tube land, where Ohlone Park is now located, be made into a park instead of filling it with housing. One of her proudest accomplishments was co-authoring the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance (NPO) which was passed by voters in 1973. NPO gave neighborhoods more say over what was built. She ran as an independent for City Council in 1975 and then again in 1986. More recently, she was a long-term treasurer for the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CNA) and worked on initiatives to limit the heights of buildings. Martha remained politically interested until her last days. Tom Haw her son-in-law will never forget how conscious and concerned she was about the politics of her community and our country. He fondly remembers the lively conversations at the weekly Wednesday night dinners.
Martha leaves behind her daughters, Tamara and Natalya, her granddaughter Nadia, and her son-in-law Tom. She played an important role in her family and her community. She will be missed.
If you would like to honor Martha by contributing to a non-profit, please contact the Habitot Childrens Museum in downtown Berkeley, see www.habitot.org/museum/support.html.
Yes, Martha Nicoloff will indeed be missed, but she will be long remembered for the impact she has left as her legacy, particularly the establishment of the Ohlone Park and the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance. It’s been suggested that the city of Berkeley install a bench in Ohlone Park with an appropriate marker reminding people of Martha’s long efforts in creating the Park that they and others are enjoying today. If you support this idea, please write or call the Mayor and members of the City Council and Parks and Waterfront Commission, and also notify BNC so we can help in making this happen as well.
Whatever or whoever is nominated for inclusion in The Cultural Corner section must reside in, or have a strong connection with Berkeley, and be nominated by a Berkeley resident who has no connection, other than that of an ordinary patron of, or a participant in whatever is being nominated. Nomination does not automatically mean selection. In the case of multiple selections, the BNC Newsletter Committee will determine the selection and description/comments about the selection are published anonymously. Send submissions to email@example.com. BNC will notify the selected treasure.