12 May 2005

Demolitions, integrity, and
Structures of Merit

The Squires Block (left) at Shattuck Avenue and Vine Street (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

I’m relieved that enough Planning Commissioners last night manifested the common sense to rein in the zeal of others who were intent on stripping the Landmarks Preservation Commission of all its meaningful powers, and especially the power to deny demolitions.

Yet some grave perils to our Landmarks Preservation Ordinance are still ahead. When Planning Commissioners Burke and Wengraf recommended “strict adherence to the standards of integrity set out by the Secretary of Interior standards, as recommended by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO),” they subverted the spirit of the SHPO’s own language, which was quite inclusive and allows a building to be designated on the strength of its historic, cultural, or social merits quite apart from any architectural merit or integrity it may or may not possess.

On the issue of Structures of Merit, Burke and Wengraf’s recommendation was to abolish the designation for now and to “create a new designation with lesser protections, distinct from a landmark designation, as suggested by SHPO.” Again, the SHPO never suggested such a thing. It merely asked the LPC to think about the issue of having two separate categories with equal protections.

I’ll say it again: the SHPO asked the LPC—not the Planning Commission or any other body unqualified to deal with architectural and historic resources. The LPC was going to deliberate the Structure-of-Merit issue at a later date. Let the experts do their job without meddling.

Especially in light of the real-estate interests’ outcry for architectural integrity in landmarks, the Structure of Merit category makes eminent sense, for it allows buildings that have been altered but retain their historic, cultural, educational, or social significance to be designated and protected.

What Berkeleyan would want this city to lose the Durant Hotel, or the Weisbrod Building at 2001 San Pablo, or Weltevreden (the Cal Band house) on the Northside, or the Squires Block at Shattuck and Vine? These are all designated Structures of Merit. The appellation “Merit” was not given without reason.

See Berkeley’s Structures of Merit here.

The Landmarks Preservation Ordinance’s Section 3.24.110 Landmarks, historic districts and structures of merit—Designation—Criteria for consideration.


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