30 April 2005

GTU library undergoes repairs

Frank Wilson’s house, seen from Hearst Avenue
(Edward H. Mitchell postcard)

The Graduate Theological Union’s Flora Lamson Hewlett Library is about to undergo repairs and waterproofing construction, which will begin on 2 May and is expected to be completed by mid-November 2005.

The library is located at 2400 Ridge Road, former site of the Frank M. Wilson house. Wilson was the president of the Scenic Park Realty Co., which subdivided the Northside tract known as Daley’s Scenic Park. An early member of the Hillside Club, Wilson hosted Club meetings at his house, a barn-like Brown Shingle built by George Frederick Estey in 1894.

When Benjamin Ide Wheeler came to Berkeley to assume the presidency of the university, Frank Wilson sold him a large lot at 1820 Scenic Avenue, across the street from Wilson’s own house. It was Wilson who engaged the architect A.E. Matthews and the contractor Dingwell Brothers to build Wheeler’s shingled residence in 1900. Next door, at 1816 Scenic Ave., Wilson commissioned in 1902 a temporary residence (later to become the university reception hall) for Regent Phoebe Apperson Hearst. This building was designed by Ernest Coxhead, who went on to design Mrs. Hearst a more permanent residence around the corner, at 2368 Le Conte Avenue. All three houses are still standing.

On the Ridge Road side, Wilson sold a lot to U.C. Supervising Architect John Galen Howard, who built his home at no. 2420 in 1902. Next door and across the street, Howard designed homes for Lucy Sprague Mitchell, the first Dean of Women at U.C., and for her brother-in-law, economics professor Adolph C. Miller. Of the three houses, only the Miller residence survived the 1923 fire. It is now an USCA residential co-op called Ridge House.

Wilson house and neighboring residences in 1911 (Sanborn maps)

After the 1923 fire, various seminaries esablished themselves in the vicinity (the land was cheap), hence the moniker Holy Hill. The Wilson plot remained in private hands, and by the late 1950s, both USCA and U.C. were vying for it. The university wanted to build a parking structure at Hearst and Scenic and a string of buildings to its north. USCA had more grandiose plans; as recounted in its official history, the architects Ratcliff & Ratcliff presented a design for the following USCA complex in 1959:
A three-winged high-rise men’s residence unit spoked around a living-center hull would tower twelve stories above Ridge and Scenic. An eight-floor hall for women would squat in the present location of Ridge House. Between these two massive structures a central kitchen, office, and dining room edifice would sit.

The university stopped USCA’s plan. It built the parking structure, but nothing more. The GTU Library history tells us:
The site for a new library building at the corner of Ridge and Scenic was purchased from the American Baptist Seminary of the West and the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The lot was known as the “Wilson Property.” [...]

In 1972, the architect, Louis I. Kahn was chosen to design a library and administration building. [...] (The drawings for Louis Kahn's original design for the library are at the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania.) Kahn completed preliminary designs, but died suddenly in 1974. The GTU then selected the architectural firm of Peters, Clayberg and Caulfield, in association with Esherick, Homsey, Dodge, and Davis, to carry on the project Kahn inspired.

The process for building permits was difficult. Neighborhood and student groups opposed the new construction. After many delays, permits were granted, the existing structure demolished and the site prepared. It was now 1979, and the building fund was not enough to cover the cost. The GTU Board of Trustees decided to build the library in two Phases. Phase I construction consisting of the basement and Level I began in 1979, and was completed in 1981. [...] Phase II construction of Levels II, to complete the Library, and III, to house GTU administration offices, began in 1985 and was completed 1987.

27 April 2005

Conditional approval for Foothill bridge

At last night’s City Council meeting, the Council received the following recommendation from the City Manager:

Adopt a Resolution authorizing the City Manager to issue a major encroachment permit to the University of California for a pedestrian bridge crossing (Foothill) over Hearst Avenue east of La Loma Avenue on the following conditions: 1) an improved bridge design is submitted and approved by the Public Works Director, in consultation with the Design Review Committee; 2) any detrimental effects on the immediate community are offset by contributing to specified pedestrian safety and public infrastructure improvements in the “Hearst Corridor,” in the amount of $200,000; and 3) all plan check comments and other technical issues are resolved to the satisfaction of the Public Works Director.

During the Public Comment period, Alan Seher, attorney for the owners of the adjacent National Register–listed structure, informed the Council that contrary to the university’s assertion that a tunnel alternative is not feasible, there are many tunnels under the campus, including one under Gayley Road.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak did not even wait for a discussion but immediately moved to adopt the City Manager’s recommendation.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington introduced a substitute motion, including a requirement that U.C. defend and indemnify the city from any legal action resulting from its approval of the encroachment permit. That motion passed.

Councilmember Worthington also included a requirement that U.C. pay market rate for the encroachment permit, but this clause was voted on separately and went down to defeat.

Indemnification of the city can’t be done without the U.C. Regents’ approval. This story is not over yet.

Here are some campus tunnel stories:

Under Cal (with photos)

Berkeley Underground (Daily Californian, 8 June 2001)

Campus Tunnels (downloadable text files)

25 April 2005

LPO public hearing at
Planning Commission

Weltevreden (postcard from Dimitri Shipounoff collection, BAHA archives)

On Wednesday, 27 April, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on proposed amendments to the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.

At stake are several vital issues, including the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s right to deny demolitions of historic structures, the Structure-of-Merit category, and the question of what constitutes “integrity.”

One of Berkeley’s most significant structures is a building that has been altered and could be said to have lost its “integrity.” Weltevreden, located on the corner of Le Conte and Le Roy Avenues on the Northside, was built in 1896. One of only two Berkeley structures designed by Albert C. Schweinfurth (the other is First Unitarian Church, listed in the National Register of Historic Places), Weltevreden was the first Berkeley residence to be clad entirely in clinker brick, a material then considered as refuse. The house featured distinct Dutch-style stepped gables at either end and was approached via an arched clinker-brick bridge over Strawberry Creek, which meanders through the property.

For several decades after it was built, Weltevreden was the most famous dwelling in Berkeley. Its image appeared on postcards, in promotional pamphlets, and in architectural magazines. Herman Whitaker, writing in the Sunset magazine article Berkeley, the Beautiful (December 1906), described the house as “most beautiful of all” and the “premier residence of Berkeley.” To this day, Weltevreden is cited in architectural history books as an important example of the first San Francisco Bay Region tradition.

Weltevreden survived the 1923 fire and became a fraternity house. In 1956, architect Michael Goodman enlarged it to accommodate forty-four residents by removing the stepped gable ends and adding a full third story and a kitchen-and-library wing on the eastern end. The ground-floor veranda and the second-floor balcony were enclosed, and the two upper floors were clad in stucco, leaving the brick on the ground floor.

Tellefsen Hall (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

In 1973, Weltevreden became the home of the University of California Marching Band and was given the name Tellefsen Hall. It was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark, Structure of Merit, in August 1990. The Structure-of-Merit designation was tied to the loss of physical integrity, recognizing that even in its altered state, Weltevreden continues to be a key component of its historic neighborhood. Owing to this designation, the ground-floor exterior was preserved when the building underwent seismic improvements in 2000. Had it not been for the Structure-of-Merit category, there would have been no imperative to preserve any historic feature in this important building.

The public hearing will be held at the North Berkeley Senior Center, beginning at 7 pm. Come and speak.

21 April 2005

Phi Delta Theta chapter house

Phi Delta Theta chapter house in 1915 (San Francisco Architectural Club Yearbook)

The former Phi Delta Theta chapter house at 2717 Hearst Avenue is a Berkeley Landmark and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is also a very beautiful building within and without. It is currently being restored.

Completely surrounded by the Foothill student housing complex, the building is at the center of the long-running Foothill bridge controversy scheduled for a vote by the City Council. The proposed bridge would be placed next to the landmark’s front entrance.

Here is the long overdue story of this building and its history.