09 October 2005

Impotent rage

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005

Smilodon californicus, commonly known as the sabretoothed cat or sabretoothed tiger, is the official California State Fossil. The smilodon statue in the photo above was created by Victor Bergeron, founder of Trader Vic’s, and can be found in the plaza south of McCone Hall on the U.C. campus, where it has been pouncing on passers-by for many years.

These days, the big cat’s pounce is blocked by an even larger trailer that takes up most of the plaza. The trailer serves the construction project across the way, where the C.V. Starr East Asian Library will be built on the recently despoiled and graded Observatory Hill.

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005

Do you remember how Observatory Hill looked before the bulldozers decimated it? It was one of the loveliest spots on campus, with many species of native plants and shrubs. In February 2004, we documented it in the photo tour Observatory Hill at risk.

Here’s how it looks now.

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005

Below you can see what will replace it. A shoebox with metallic grilles. The design rationale behind those grilles might be their incorporation of elements from Chinese or Japanese script, but the actual result comes closer to schlocky 1950s commercial architecture that is deservedly vanishing from most urban streetscapes. Note that John Galen Howard’s Haviland Hall is completely hidden by the shoebox.

Earlier this year, the City of Berkeley sued the university over its 2020 LRDP, which included an EIR for this construction project. The lawsuit sought to stop the project. Since the city settled with U.C. behind closed doors, nothing stands in the way of this or further construction, which is sure to follow. As soon as U.C. finds the money, phase two of the Tien Center will go up next to Haviland Hall and obliterate what’s left of Observatory Hill.


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