25 May 2004

Berkeley’s revised LPO

Eight members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously last night to approve with some modifications the revised draft of the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (LPO). This is the first revision of the Ordinance since the latter had been enacted thirty years ago.

The most prominent change to the LPO is the new section 3.24.125, Request for LPC Determination, which would allow developers to obtain an accelerated determination on the historic significance of properties slated for development. Should the LPC decline to initiate such properties, the latter would gain a “safe harbor” period of exemption from LPC adjudication.

17 May 2004


Haviland Hall seen from Observatory Hill
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

In its eagerness to accord a place of honor on campus to the Chang-Lin Tien Center for East Asian Studies, U.C. is ready to sacrifice existing cultural and natural resources. The cultural resource is Haviland Hall (John Galen Howard, 1924), listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The natural resource is Observatory Hill, a prime botanical spot and former home of the historic Students’ Observatory. While the Draft EIR for the 2020 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) documents these resources, it apparently finds nothing troubling about trivializing and overshadowing the former or destroying a major part of the latter.

To get an idea about what’s at stake, read Campus planning schizophrenia. Then take a virtual tour from the rear of Haviland Hall to the ruin of the Students’ Observatory at the crest of the Hill. Everything you’ll see on the way will be sacrificed for the Tien Center project.

Once upon a time, U.C. planned to site the Tien Center on the parking lot behind Dwinelle Hall. That plan was scuttled owing to “environmental” considerations. One wonders how a parking lot takes environmental precedence over a nature area. Since then, the university has apparently overcome its “environmental” qualms, since maps in its 2020 LRDP DEIR indicate an in-fill building on the Dwinelle parking lot. This begs the question: why can’t that in-fill building be the Tien Center? Alternatively, why can’t it be the new home of the School of Social Welfare, allowing The Tien Center to move into Haviland Hall and build a second, smaller building on the Haviland parking lot?

Such a solution would spare Observatory Hill and allow Haviland Hall to retain its position of primacy on the northwestern edge of Memorial Glade.

11 May 2004

The cart before the horse

The future Beth Israel synagogue

Congregation Beth Israel, located at 1630 Bancroft Way in Berkeley, is the oldest traditional synagogue in the East Bay and the largest Orthodox synagogue in Northern California.

For many years, the congregation had dreamed of replacing its dilapidated brick-faced synagogue, built in 1924, with a built-to-scale replica of the fabled 17th-century wooden synagogue in Przedborz, Poland, which was burned down by Nazis in 1942. The plan received much coverage and support in the media.

The Przedborz synagogue
(photo: Zaklad Architektury Polskiej)

A shortfall in its fund-raising campaign forced the congregation to abandon its dream; the Przedborz synagogue had 40-foot vaulted ceiling carved with Biblical scenes, an elaborate pulpit, and timbers adorned with jewels (see images). Having scaled back the project, Beth Israel decided to construct a contemporary building behind a replica of the original 1924 synagogue façade. Contractor Michael Feiner says that the congregation solicited the neighbors’ input and approval.

Demolition without permit
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

So far, so good. What’s wrong with this story? Only that the congregation put the cart before the horse and began demolising their 80-year old building without a permit. The Pending Zoning Public Matters list on the City of Berkeley’s website (see pdf file) shows among the unscheduled matters an incomplete, non-specific application filed on 21 April 2004 by “Congregation Beth El” [sic]. The age of the building dictates that an application for a demolition permit be presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. This step was skipped altogether.

The Berkeley Daily Planet published a story about the demolition on 18 May 2004.

07 May 2004

Pioneer cottage discovered in West Berkeley

Single-story Italianate cottage, mid 1860s–1880
Rehab Right, City of Oakland Planning Dept.)

An early pioneer cottage was recently discovered in West Berkeley. The Mary C. Amos cottage at 2211 5th Street was built in 1878, the same year Berkeley was incorporated. It is one of the few remaining examples of early Ocean View/West Berkeley pioneer residences. Built in Italianate style, the cottage was subjected to additions but remains intact to this day.

Read more about the Amos cottage here.

A public hearing on a landmark application for the cottage will take place at the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on Monday, 10 May 2004, at 7:30 pm. The hearing takes place at the North Berkeley Senior Center.

Update: the LPC voted 5 to 4 to deny a Structure of Merit designation for the Amos cottage.