30 July 2005

Preservation workshops in
Mountain View

The John Woolley house, 1876 (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

The California Preservation Foundation and the State Office of Historic Preservation will be holding two August workshops in Mountain View City Hall.

Tune Up Your Historic Preservation Program
Wednesday, 24 August
10:30 am – 4:30 pm

A workshop for historic preservation commissioners, Staff, and the interested community. Topics covered:

Surveys and Local Government: A Context for Best Practice
How to develop surveys and survey strategies that are most useful for local governments.

The Public, CEQA & Historical Resources, or, What to do Before the Wrecking Ball Arrives
CEQA basics and the public role in the CEQA process.

Tune Up Your Preservation Ordinance
Basic elements of an ordinance and how to prepare an ordinance that fits your community.

Preservation Basics
Thursday, 25 August
10:30 am – 5:30 pm

This specially designed workshop will separate fact from fiction, offer best practices, and educate local advocates, government officials, commissioners, and property owners on the benefits of historic preservation. An expert panel will use case studies and examples of successful preservation programs, incentives, and ordinances. You will learn how you can use these availabe tools and develop effective programs in your community.

Workshop location:
Mountain View City Hall
Council Chambers

500 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA 94041

Additional information and registration details are available on the CPF website.

29 July 2005

Another opportunity to see
the Harris House

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004

If you missed BAHA’s open house at the fabulous Joseph W. “Call Me Joe” Harris residence last year, you have a second chance. The Art Deco Society of California is offering a private tour on Sunday, 7 August from 2 pm to 6 pm.

The Harris House is located at 2300 Le Conte Ave., Northside, Berkeley (the U.C. Campus is just across Hearst Ave.; see map). Admission (pay at the door): $20 ADS members; $25 general.

Light refreshments will be served. Vintage attire will be admired but not required. Street parking is limited; hourly parking is available at the university’s Lower Hearst Garage. As an alternative, please take BART to the Downtown Berkeley station.

Further details are available on the Art Deco Society’s calendar.

15 July 2005

Bus tour of New Deal structures
in San Francisco

Beach Chalet mural (courtesy of Beach Chalet)

LaborFest 2005 offers a tour of New Deal structures in San Francisco. Tour goers will learn about the major contributions made by construction workers during the depression-era New Deal program in the building of the city.

Sunday, 31 July at 10:00 am
Leaders: Harvey Smith & Gray Brechin
Cost: $15.00


  Assemble at Aquatic Park (bottom corner, at Hyde & Jefferson Streets).


  Depart for Rincon Annex; view lobby and murals; view Treasure Island (across the bay).


  Depart for Sunshine School (Bryant & 25th St.) via the old Federal Building; view interior of Sunshine School.


  Depart for the former S.F. State Normal School/U.C. Extension Campus.


  Depart for Beach Chalet; view mural, mosaics, and wood carvings; have a beer or soda.


  Return to Aquatic Park.

Reservation required: call (415) 642-8066. Make reservation and send a check to LaborFest, P.O. Box 40983, San Francisco, CA 94140.

Times are approximate, depending on traffic. Sandwiches and drinks will be available on the bus.

08 July 2005

Letter to the City Council re: proposed revisions to the LPO

Friday, 8 July 2005
To: Mayor and City Council
From: Daniella Thompson
Subject: Proposed revisions to the LPO

Honorable Mayor and City Council:

On 12 July I will be away from Berkeley and won’t be able to attend your public hearing on revisions to the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (LPO).

Let me state at the outset that I’m a modern-architecture enthusiast. I have been a big city dweller all my life (Berkeley is the smallest city in which I’ve lived) and find nothing objectionable about tall buildings and a mix of modern and traditional architecture in the downtown area. Both San Francisco’s and Oakland’s downtowns benefit from variations in height and style.

What I do find objectionable are repeated attempts in connection with many construction projects to subvert the letter and the spirit of the City’s stated policies, the General Plan, the Downtown Plan, and the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance. Too many of these attempts have been successful, resulting in inappropriate structures with questionable lasting value and little esthetic contribution to Berkeley’s built environment. Perhaps that is the reason why Berkeley’s downtown and major arteries look so shoddy.

Shoddy buildings and shoddy streets drive away paying customers. Why spend time and money in a tacky environment when one has the option of shopping or living in pleasant surroundings? Time and again it has been proven that preserving a city’s built heritage pays off. Our own Fourth Street and the adjacent Ocean View Historic District serve as ample proof.

Ocean View
Ocean View Historic District (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

At times, it appears that our Landmarks Preservation Ordinance is the final bulwark standing in the way of wholesale bulldozing of the city’s past. It is no wonder that residents who are affected by inappropriate development sometimes seize on the LPO as their last resort. Had our planning mechanisms worked as they should, there would be no need for this kind of desperate action. But Berkeley’s planning mechanisms don’t work as they should.

Clearly, designating this or that building a Landmark is not an effective way to protect historic neighborhoods. What Berkeley’s neighborhoods require are Neighborhood Conservation District zoning overlays that add a level of protection to selected neighborhoods. Many American cities have adopted Neighborhood Conservation District ordinances or similar zoning tools that help protect the historic fabric without the need to initiate individual structures within the selected neighborhoods.

Our LPO is not broken, and the Planning Commission’s proposed revisions will not improve it. These revisions will certainly not solve the problems outlined above but only exacerbate them. Requests for Determination will generate an unsustainable workload for the LPC and Planning staff, who would be required to devote a great deal of time to vetting them instead of doing what they’re there to do. Furthermore, the proposed RFD will curtail public participation in a process that is required by law to be open and inclusive.

Reducing protections for Structures of Merit is a negative way to deal with the problem of neighbors vs. developers. As the creator of the Berkeley Landmarks website, I have made it my business to know every Structure of Merit in town. Since the inception of the LPO, only 36 buildings have been designated Structures of Merit. Of these, three were later redesignated as Landmarks and four were demolished, leaving us with 29 standing Structures of Merit. You can see them all here and judge for yourselves how they contribute to the built environment.

I always cite the Structure of Merit across the street from my house. It is Weltevreden, now known as Tellefsen Hall—the Cal Band’s house. Once the most celebrated residence in Berkeley, it is cited in many architectural history books. Heavily altered in the 1950s, Weltevreden nevertheless remains a significant structure that deserves full CEQA protection. See it here.

Some pro-development advocates want to see the Structures of Merit category go away, so that neighbors would not “abuse” it. If Berkeley had Neighborhood Conservation Districts, no one would look upon Structures of Merit as the last resort, and we’d be able to protect our heritage without controversy.

We all want a healthy, beautiful, and vibrant city. A strong Landmarks Preservation Ordinance is an important tool that needs to be properly understood and shouldn’t be hastily revised, especially when the revisions signify major reductions in historic and environmental protections.

The Landmarks Preservation Commissioners appointed by you voted unanimously to recommend that a third-party expert be retained to examine the LPO. This is a prudent way to proceed. Would that you’ll see the wisdom in it and act accordingly.

Daniella Thompson
Berkeley, CA

05 July 2005

Susan Cerny on the LPO revisions

July 5, 2005

To: Mayor and City Council

From: Susan Cerny

Former Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, author of Berkeley Landmarks, contributing author Picturing Berkeley, A Postcard History; author of over 200 articles on the history of Berkeley for the Berkeley Gazette, Berkeley Voice, and Berkeley Daily Planet. Currently project manager and editor of The Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Area (Gibbs Smith, Publisher).

Re: Landmark Preservation Ordinance Revisions

Until the present building boom, historic preservation in Berkeley was widely accepted as being beneficial to the city and tolerated by the few developers inconvenienced by its requirements.

During the past decade, as the economy has changed and development increased, developers impatient to cash in on a strong economy are no longer patient or tolerant of anything that stands in their path.

While the goals of the original July 2000 directive to the Landmarks Preservation Commission were simple: “to revise the ordinance in conformance with the Permit Streamlining Act and California Environmental Quality Act,” the resulting proposals go far beyond that simple directive.

There are two points that are particularly disturbing:

  1. Placing CEQA review of designated historic buildings in the Zoning Adjustments Board.

    Under CEQA, in a jurisdiction where there is an official State Certified Landmarks Preservation Commission, the final body responsible for determining any level of detriment or adverse impact to a designated historic structure must be the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Under these particular circumstances, it is quite possible that decisions made by the ZAB in determining impacts on historic structures under CEQA may not even be legal.

  2. The elimination of the category Sructure of Merit

    This category is misunderstood: Structure of Merit allows the recognition of structures that retain much integrity—such as location, structure profile, or association—but are not in pristine condition (e.g., stucco over original wood siding or additions).

    Berkeley citizens like to believe that it happens “only in Berkeley,” but Berkeley’s preservation ordinance is based on the National Preservation Act of 1966. Preservation ordinances are found throughout the country—Berkeley is not unique in this regard.

    The LPO and LPC provide a formal public forum for discussion and decision making. This is their most important function. The built environment is precious to every citizen and should not, must not, be taken lightly. Pressure from developers to change our city’s environment should be critically evaluated; there is simply nothing wrong with that, and actually developers expect the discussion even if they complain. Respect for the average citizen’s right to this public forum is crucial to the health, safety, and welfare of the city.


Susan Cerny

History of Preservation

The history of legislation protecting the natural environment dates back to the creation of Yellowstone Park in 1872 and the National Park Service in 1916; by the 1930s, the Park Service also had responsibility for historic sites and structures, initiating the Historic American Building Survey in 1933 and receiving a wider preservation charge under the Historic Sites Act of 1935. In 1949, the National Trust was created by Congress as a private nonprofit to receive and administer historic sites and otherwise promote preservation.

The Historic Preservation Act of 1966 established the National Register and state surveys, and created the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which reviews federally funded projects for adverse effects on cultural resources.

In 1992, the State of California Governor’s Executive Order W-26-92 brought the Federal Preservation Act to the state level and declared, “all state agencies shall recognize and preserve and maintain the
significant heritage resources of the State.”

The State Historic Resources Inventory, which the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, in partnership with the City of Berkeley, prepared for the State Office of Historic Preservation in 1977–1979, was part of a federal program mandated by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a means of implementing the 1966 Preservation Act. It is a project of national preservation law which requires localities to identify resources eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Berkeley’s was one of the first state inventories in California and is highly regarded by the State Office.