18 March 2006

Kenney Cottage: a call for rescue in the SF Chronicle

Kenney Cottage awaiting a rescuer (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

In August 2003, BAHA took charge of the historic Kenney cottage, a City of Berkeley Landmark, Structure of Merit that had been located behind the former Kelly-Moore Paint Company building at 1725 Universty Avenue. That building was demolished to make way for affordable housing, and BAHA undertook to find a new home for the cottage.

On Sunday, 24 August 2003, the cottage was moved (see photos) to a temporary site on a city lot at 1275 Universty Avenue. Ever since, BAHA has been trying to find it a permanent site, as well as funding for restoration. It’s been an uphill battle, and we’ve had no success so far. Today’s San Francisco Chronicle published a photo of the cottage, as well as the following letter from BAHA president Wendy Markel:
It is already two weeks since Susan Fornoff’s piece “The little house that roared” (March 4), but I am still thinking about the relevance of the Katrina Cottage and a story that is being played out here in Berkeley.

About 20 years before the 1906 earthquake, similar cottages were being built in Berkeley for settlers. The article mentioned that some of the 5,000 earthquake cottages or shacks in San Francisco are still standing, but today in Berkeley there is only one such cottage still standing, and it is in dire need of a rescue mission.

The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association is custodian of the Kenney cottage after rescuing it from the builder’s demolition ball. The city generously lent the association a lot on which to place the cottage temporarily. After many false starts, grant applications, lot surveys and the like, we are still looking for a buyer. Councilwoman Linda Maio, in whose district the cottage is, recognizes the historical and cultural worth of the Kenney cottage but has been unable to solve the problem.

What do you think it will take? The Kenney cottage stands on blocks, with graffiti on its walls, and the city needs to sell the lot. Could the Parks and Recreation Department see the value and place it (like Jack London’s little shack in Oakland) at Aquatic Park, where it can be admired and even used? Maybe, like the Katrina Cottage, it could be a “grow house”? Maybe it can fulfill the “in-fill” mantra in some way? With rescues from the 1906 earthquake on our minds, will this surviving cottage be rescued?

Let’s follow the dots. Arrol Gellner wrote “Modern life throws away lessons of our frugal past” (Feb. 25); Lynette Evans wrote “What if small were fashionable” (March 4); Fornoff wrote “The little house that roared” and again Gellner wrote about “Why those ’Painted Ladies (Victorian homes) were despised for so long” (March 11). Old and small can be beautiful.

The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association needs help to save a small and symbolic piece of our frugal past.


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