District 5 Profile

Sara Holmes and the Fountain at The Circle at Marin Avenue

Thousands of drivers maneuver around the Circle at Marin Avenue in Berkeley in a daily, chaotic dance of right turns and left-hand merges on their way to other places.  The drivers too often overlook the fountain that graces the center of the Circle, oblivious to the work and dedication it takes to keep this iconic piece of the Berkeley landscape clean and in working order, and to the singular individual who attends to it.



Sara Holmes has been actively serving our community through her stewardship of the Fountain and Circle at Marin and Arlington Avenue for the last 15 years.  Initially responding to a call for community volunteers in 1993, Sara embraced the project like a full-time job as she coordinated the successful volunteer effort to rebuild the Fountain and restore the derelict landscaping around the historic Circle.  Since the fountain’s reopening in 1996, Sara has been tireless and selfless in assuming the lead role in the almost daily effort to keep the Fountain functioning and the Circle tidy and graffiti-free. 


Working closely with the City of Berkeley staff, Sara and her husband Harvard are key members of the maintenance team that keeps the Fountain splashing and its lights shining for us all.  Harvard, who has a PhD in computer science, helped Sara to learn a computer program that she utilized to create detailed diagrams of the inner-workings of the Fountain.  She wrote-up all the procedures for how to drain the Fountain and even trained city workers on how to service the Fountain.  Sara has become the most complete expert in the arcane details of the maintenance and upkeep of the monumental civic Fountain, and continues helping staff with vendor research.  She says, “It’s a joint effort between the City, myself and the other volunteers. People don’t realize what it takes.”

In addition to working directly with City Staff, Sara began the once-monthly work party that has gone on each year since the Fountain was rebuilt to augment the Parks and Recreation Department’s regular maintenance schedule.  She has recruited and motivated a dedicated group to join her on the first Saturday of every month in weeding, pruning, planting, trimming hedges, sweeping gutters and cleaning up litter around the Circle to keep the fountain in top shape.  “If we didn’t do all of this,” she says, “it wouldn’t beautify the neighborhood the way it does.”  She passes the Fountain on a daily basis to see if there is any maintenance to be done, and makes sure the water is properly spouting from the top.


Sara and three other women volunteers are responsible for the now-customary holiday decoration of the Fountain’s four grizzly bear cubs with their hand-made wreaths, complemented by lights around the Circle perimeter.  She and her husband keep the lights working when bulbs burn out and also host a holiday party for the Saturday volunteers to celebrate their accomplishments and help cement their bonds of service.

      Graffiti Tools 1           

Sara’s almost invisible contribution to the community is her vigilant removal of graffiti that defaces signs and utility boxes in the Circle neighborhood.  She carries the tools of her trade at all times and believes that “immediately” is the best time to fight vandalism.  She has coordinated with utilities and the Post Office, obtaining the official matching colors to paint over graffiti on utility and mailboxes (and keeps the paint in her car in order to remove any graffiti she sees while driving).  She has shared her materials and methods for graffiti-abatement with people around town to help them take responsibility for their own streets.

In 2007 the California Parks and Recreation Society, District III, named Sara as one of its Outstanding Volunteers in recognition of her untiring efforts.  The next year she and Harvard were honored with a Special Service Commendation from the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association for their continuing upkeep of the Fountain.  More recently, Sara has led her Shattuck Avenue neighbors in developing and implementing a thorough disaster plan. 

There is no doubt that the Circle Fountain at Marin Avenue and its neighborhood would be a different place if not for Sara Holmes’ passionate involvement.  Her tenacity and attention to detail sustain both the original vision  of the Fountain and the work of the current neighborhood that restored it.

Marin Fountain Plans2