19 October 2005

Outings on Fridays

Mills College Campanil (Julia Morgan, 1903–04)

The full schedule of our popular Outings on Fridays tour series is now available in the Events Calendar.

Destinations include Preservation Park in Oakland; Edwards Stadium & the Athletic Precinct on the U.C. Berkeley campus; historic Delaware Street and modern Fourth Street in Berkeley; and the Mills College campus in Oakland, featuring buildings by Julia Morgan and Walter Ratcliff.

Tickets are $15 per tour or $50 for all four. To order, use the ticket order form or order tickets online via PayPal.

15 October 2005

Stadium effects & neighborhood blight

The historic Olney House (Julia Morgan, 1911) at 2434 Warring Street is now a fraternity presenting to the world a “front garden” strewn with trash. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

Of all the many preservation issues looming over Berkeley, the proposed seismic retrofit of Memorial Stadium is predictably the most monumental. Reports are that the Stadium will be rebuilt and expanded, including a massive excavation under the eastern side of the Stadium to create new office space and facilities. This project is part of a larger southeast campus expansion project which also includes a colossal new Academic Commons building between Boalt Law School and the Haas Business School adjacent to the Stadium. Yet, to date, the full scope, size, footprint, and design of the stadium project is still unrevealed to the public.

The current situation is precarious for the cultural and historic resources around the stadium. It has become ordinary to experience bumper-to-bumper traffic (even in Strawberry Canyon), to be assaulted by exploding student density, to view the ever-creeping blight of forgotten trash and litter, to sight SUVs parked on lawns, to see front gardens paved-over for parking, or to view architecturally significant buildings virtually demolished by neglect. Such blight is not limited only to the scheduled seven Game Days per year. It is experienced every day and into most evenings.

In our Preservation Discourse section, we are reproducing several articles from the most recent issue of The Baha Newsletter. They focus on the implications of Memorial Stadium, its siting, and future development. look under the heading Whither Cal Memorial Stadium?

09 October 2005

Impotent rage

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005

Smilodon californicus, commonly known as the sabretoothed cat or sabretoothed tiger, is the official California State Fossil. The smilodon statue in the photo above was created by Victor Bergeron, founder of Trader Vic’s, and can be found in the plaza south of McCone Hall on the U.C. campus, where it has been pouncing on passers-by for many years.

These days, the big cat’s pounce is blocked by an even larger trailer that takes up most of the plaza. The trailer serves the construction project across the way, where the C.V. Starr East Asian Library will be built on the recently despoiled and graded Observatory Hill.

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005

Do you remember how Observatory Hill looked before the bulldozers decimated it? It was one of the loveliest spots on campus, with many species of native plants and shrubs. In February 2004, we documented it in the photo tour Observatory Hill at risk.

Here’s how it looks now.

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005

Below you can see what will replace it. A shoebox with metallic grilles. The design rationale behind those grilles might be their incorporation of elements from Chinese or Japanese script, but the actual result comes closer to schlocky 1950s commercial architecture that is deservedly vanishing from most urban streetscapes. Note that John Galen Howard’s Haviland Hall is completely hidden by the shoebox.

Earlier this year, the City of Berkeley sued the university over its 2020 LRDP, which included an EIR for this construction project. The lawsuit sought to stop the project. Since the city settled with U.C. behind closed doors, nothing stands in the way of this or further construction, which is sure to follow. As soon as U.C. finds the money, phase two of the Tien Center will go up next to Haviland Hall and obliterate what’s left of Observatory Hill.

05 October 2005

The fabulous Spring Mansion

Spring Mansion (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

Modeled after Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s Achillion Palace in Corfu, the terraced John Hopkins Spring Estate occupies 3.25 acres crowned by a two-story mansion designed by John Hudson Thomas. The exterior is primarily Beaux Arts–influenced, while the interiors display the architect’s eclectic influences, including Vienna Secessionist, Arts & Crafts, and Egyptian motifs.

Built in 1912 and completed in 1914, the estate was owned by the Spring family for just a few years. In 1918, it was sold to the Cora L. Williams Institute (later Williams College), a tony school that occupied the premises for five decades. Since 1975, the mansion has been a private residence again, and few people had the opportunity to see it. The property recently sold, and we went in to snap a few pictures. You can see them in an article about the estate on the Berkeley Landmarks website.