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Our Rich History

The history of Kensington Optometry goes back about 60 years to the 1950’s in Berkeley:

Bernhardt “Buzz” N. Thal  received his B.S. in Optometry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1948.  In September 1955, Bernhardt became the Founding President of California Vision Services (CVS), the nonprofit eye-care provider that 20 years later became VSP,  the largest eye-care insurer in the country.  Buzz Thal was one of a group of optometrists in the San Francisco Bay Area who decided to offer prepaid vision benefits, beginning at a small shopping center in Oakland, California. The effort began as an employee benefits program that drew its first members primarily from labor and management trust funds and school districts, a business concept that was novel and limited in its reach.  The vision plan that debuted under the CVS name and later flourished under the VSP name has become a model now emulated by other states all across the US.

Dr. Bernhardt Thal moved his practice from Shattuck Ave in Berkeley to Kensington with his son Larry Thal in 1977, where he continued practicing Optometry at 291 Arlington Ave (the original site of Mechanics Bank) until 1983. Dr. Bernhardt Thal’s optometry classmate Charles Seger, along with his son Ken Seger (who was also an optometry classmate of Larry Thal) continued to practice at the old Shattuck Ave location. In 1999, the younger Ken Seger decided to close his practice in Berkeley and move to Florida, at which time Kensington Optometry took over the care of Dr. Seger’s patients, many of whom had been cared for by Buzz Thal in the 60’s.

Dr. Russell Cotteral, a 1983 UCB graduate in Biophysics and 1988 UCB Optometry graduate, joined the practice in 1994, bringing a fresh perspective to the organization and practice philosophy.  Many needed updates were introduced, from computers and practice management software to a thorough remodeling and upgrade to the layout of the office and patient care system. 

In 2008, Larry Thal retired and sold his practice to Dr. Cotteral, who then brought in a new associate, Dr. Kevin Dong.  Many more upgrades followed this transition, including a new patient record system, fresh paint and new, state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment.

A tragic flood in October 2012 forced the evacuation of Kensington Optometry from 291 Arlington Ave for over 3 months. The doctors and staff moved files, furniture and equipment between 4 different locations 5 times in 8 months before finally settling at their current location on Colusa Circle.

(The old location was not restored or occupied for well over 14 months. Extensive heavy construction was required to properly restore the old building to code and rebuild the shell, which now houses a beautiful orthodontics office.)  Meanwhile Kensington Optometry was able to find a much nicer and more convenient location, on  Colusa Circle, home of the Kensington Farmers Market, Benchmark Pizzeria and the famous Kensington Circus Pub.

Dr. Yari Diez joined Kensington Optometry in 2012, helping Dr. Cotteral during the stressful months of remodeling and moving in 2013, and now works occasional days whenever needed. She is very well-liked by patients and staff.

Kensington Optometry is always innovating and striving to stay current with the latest technological advances in eye and medical care.

  In 2010, we joined the nationwide network of premier independent vision care providers, Vision Source. We added electronic health records in 2013. And, in 2017, after nearly 25 years of constant blockages to participation, we are finally accepting Medicare for eligible services. This is a landmark in our history, as more and more of our patients are approaching 65 and over!

Local residents have appreciated the convenience of having an optometrist in Kensington for nearly 40 years. The practice has been recognized for its strong support of Kensington Hilltop School. Teachers know they can send children with suspected vision problems to Kensington Optometry and they will be resolved.

Local families have grown to trust the many years of experience and tradition of quality represented by this practice.

Kensington Optometry provides highly individualized and personalized vision care to a large part of the community and remains committed to fulfilling the needs of East Bay area families.  For nearly 40 years the practice has cared for three generations of Kensington and East Bay area residents.  Many of the first patients to the practice now have grandchildren coming for their first eye exams!

...60 years of Optometry History in the San Francisco East Bay...