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.


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