‘Founding father of Folks’s Park’ Michael Delacour dies at 85

The ongoing cultural revolution that is People’s Park in Berkeley has always been deliberately leaderless.

But someone had to host the meeting that turned the idea of ​​converting a UC vacant lot into a community park into a plan of action, and someone had to bring the truckload of weed and shovels that started it all in April 1969. That someone was Michael Delacour.

A trained boilermaker who never attended UC Berkeley — or any other university — Delacour spearheaded when the police-erected cyclone fence collapsed in May 1969, and he was there again when another cyclone fence collapsed in January 2021. his last great act of resistance on the renegade, 3-hectare open-air site.

Delacour was often at the park to partake in the daily shared meal of beans and rice, delivered by Food Not Bombs, the food distribution collective.

“He was on stage and people came to reach out to him because he was known and respected,” said Lisa Teague, another People’s Park activist. “He was always open to conversations about park history and our 54-year resistance.”

Delacour campaigned for the park in the fall when stage 4 lung cancer made him too weak to walk to the park from his home a half-mile away. He died March 9 in Kaiser Oakland, said Teague, a close friend and confidante. Delacour was 85.

“Michael is widely recognized as the founder of People’s Park,” said David L. Axelrod, attorney and member of the People’s Park Council. “He continued to be a thought leader and inspiration to the people of People’s Park and the wider community up until his recent death.”

The park’s annual concert on April 23 will be a memorial to Delacour. As a tribute, a bulletin board for posting handouts – a favorite activity of Delacour – will be unveiled, bearing a portrait of him by artist Ed Monroe.

People gather at People’s Park in Berkeley on May 8, 1979, 10 years after the first protests: front row, Scott Muldavin, Bonnie Lane, Michele Gray and Kevin Ruditch; back row, Michael Delacour, David Axelrod and Howard Cooper.

John Storey/The Chronicle

“Michael was a very principled person,” said Carol Denney, a folk singer and activist who has known Delacour for 50 years. “He fully embraced the principles of peace, labor and revolution and took very seriously that we are one family.”

Michael Delacour was born on February 23, 1938 in San Diego. According to a biography by Tom Dalzell published on the Quirky Berkeley website, Delacour moved around with his father, an electronics engineer, before settling in the Mission Beach area. By the time he finished high school, he had a wife and a daughter.

He got a job at Convair, a military company, and one child grew to three. After his wife brought the children to Oklahoma, Delacour drifted across Europe before landing in Berkeley to protest the war effort he was involved in during his eight years at Convair.

“He had worked in the defense industry and had the amazing realization that the good jobs he had early in life were part of the war machine,” Denney said.

In 1967, the University of California used its title to purchase a large tract of housing, many of which were classic brown-clapboard Berkeley homes, a few blocks south of campus. Some of these houses had been converted into rental apartments, home to what Hunter S. Thompson called “the non-student left.” Delacour was not among the displaced, but he lived close enough to feel the pain of those who were, and that pain only worsened when the university leveled the housing and then reduced the land to a muddy parking lot.

“They wanted the hippies out,” Delacour said in an interview with The Chronicle to mark People’s Park’s 50th anniversary. “When the university took it over, they bulldozed and leveled 53 houses. We assumed that.”

People’s Park grew out of the anti-war movement in which Delacour and his friend Liane Chu were heavily involved in both Berkeley and Washington, DC

He and Chu opened Red Square, a clothing store on Dwight Way, which is also where they live. The first organizational meeting took place there on April 15, 1969. “They agreed to build a park in the craggy, desolate wasteland that Lot had become in 1875,” is how the moment is described in Heyday’s oral history, The Battle for People’s Park, 1969.

From the unrolled sod that Delacour trucked in, the park grew to include swings, a garden, a winding brick walkway, and an amphitheater, all built and maintained by volunteers. There was even public art, with red letters spelling out the word “KNOW” along a border.

After the group of activists spent a month planting and tending their park, the university came in again with the bulldozers and an eight-foot-tall cyclone fence was put up around it.

The situation escalated on May 15, 1969, when an anti-war rally at Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus ended with a march to People’s Park to retake it. It escalated further when Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies were brought in with shotguns loaded with bird pellets. The guns were fired from the street at people gathered on rooftops along Telegraph Avenue. James Rector was killed, Alan Blanchard was blinded and 40 people were injured.

“Some people are suffering from wounds today,” Delacour told the Chronicle on the 50th anniversary. “I was shot at but not hit.”

This began 40 days and 40 nights of protest in People’s Park, the longest in the long history of Berkeley activism. The National Guard came and went, but Delacour never left, and he never gave up the rectangular land as a symbol of struggle.

Delacour was a founding member of Pittsburg Local 549 of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. It’s hard work involving heavy welding and rigging, and he worked well into his 70’s, mostly on large industrial construction projects. Outside of business hours, he could be found at the Caffe Mediterraneum, where he met Odile Hugonot, a French émigré who worked as a nurse. They lived together on the top floor of a house on Parker Street in the 1980s. By this time, Delacour’s wife, Leslie, and three children, Kathy, Vanessa, and David, had moved to Berkeley and were going in and out. He had also adopted his niece’s son, Dusk Delacour. There were many mouths to feed, but he always helped the street people, Hugonot said.

Michael Delacour, then 69, protested wearing a red shirt and holding a sign reading anti-Iraq war "It's time to rebel!"

Michael Delacour, then 69, protested the Iraq war wearing a red shirt and holding a sign that read “It’s time to rebel!”

Brant Ward/The Chronicle

“He always said to me, it’s not easy to beg, so you should give them what you can when people ask for it,” Hugonot said. After seven years together, Delacour and Hugonot split, and Delacour later married Gina Sasso, another Volkspark activist. Sasso died of pneumonia in 2011 at the age of 49.

“Gina was such a rock in his life and when she died he was a broken man,” said Maxina Ventura, a longtime People’s Park activist. “But he continued to work in the park and continued to seek justice.”

Delacour ran for mayor of Berkeley in 1986 in a race won by Loni Hancock. He was also active in the squatter movement to occupy vacant buildings. He was hands-on and could always get water and electricity running and take care of plumbing, Ventura said. But his greater strength was as a motivator.

She last saw it in January 2021, when the university fenced off parts of the park. Delacour was there with his powers of persuasion and said the fence had to come down.

“He did it in his giggling way, with a twinkle in his eye,” Ventura said. “He said, ‘We have the numbers here, what are we going to do,’ and that fence fell with great joy.”

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