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.

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