30 November 2005

Berkeley mayor proposes solution
to ‘Landmark’ debate

Martin Snapp
Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, Nov. 30, 2005

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates unveiled a compromise proposal on Tuesday to resolve the ongoing impasse between two city commissions over Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.

The Planning Commission and the Landmarks Preservation Commission had been at loggerheads over the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s use of the “structure of merit” designation for buildings that fail to rise to the level of landmarks. Bates said the “structure of merit” designation had become “virtually indistinguishable” from landmark status.

As a result, non-landmark structures have been afforded protections that were not intended when the ordinance was originally drafted, including an environmental review and public hearing before any changes could be made to the building.

Under the mayor’s plan, future “structure of merit” designations will be limited to those historic districts where the need to protect structures that contribute to the overall historic character of the area has been clearly established. Buildings that have already been designated structures of merit will be allowed to keep the designation.

A lesser designation called “points of interests” will be created for lesser buildings that still have some historic or cultural importance. This designation will be strictly honorary.

The mayor also proposed a systematic historic survey of the city, starting with downtown, followed by West Berkeley, the oldest part of town.

Then will come the major commercial corridors, including University, San Pablo, Shattuck, Adeline, Telegraph, Solano and the Elmwood.

In addition, he proposed hiring a historic preservation officer to serve as staff for the LPC and liaison with the Planning Commission.

Finally, the mayor’s proposal sets up a timeline for the appeals process, which has dragged on in the past. From now on, the Landmarks Preservation Commission will have two weeks to make an up-or-down decision about a structure’s “landmark” or “structure of merit” status. If it fails to make a designation in that period, it will be barred from changing its mind for two years.

The proposal will now go to a City Council workshop to hash out the details, followed by a public hearing and a formal vote in January.

Bowles Hall another victim of U.C. corporatization?

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004

Today’s Contra Costa Times carries an article by Matt Krupnick under the headline Haas program eyes oldest UC dorm.

Reports Krupnick:
University planners are considering moving the Haas business school’s profitable executive-education programs into Bowles Hall, a 77-year-old Gothic mansion known for its wacky traditions. If selected for the Haas program, the building would house up to 150 corporate leaders while they attended business seminars.

Campus officials say Bowles is one of several sites being considered, but the proposal has already offended alumni who have battled with the university over sometimes rowdy Bowles traditions. School officials this year instituted a freshmen-only policy in the all-male dorm, partly to cut down on drinking and parties among the 200 residents.

“It’s not supposed to be a Holiday Inn for executives and seminars,” said San Jose resident Jim Arbuckle, a 1957 UC Berkeley graduate who lived at Bowles for four years and later received a Haas graduate degree. “Leave it for the younger students.”

Haas leaders say they understand the strong feelings that have led Bowles alumni to return year after year to meet new residents of the castle-like dormitory, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Officials say they plan to speak to alumni before finalizing which site will be used. The decision is expected by May, planners said.

“We want to have discussions with all the parties, because we certainly understand the sensitivity of the issues,” said Larry Lollar, the business school’s assistant dean for development and alumni relations.

"It’s purely speculative at this point, and we didn’t want to freak anybody out unnecessarily" by discussing Bowles publicly any sooner, he said.

Other possible sites include a historic complex south of campus and two parking lots. An anonymous $25 million donation will help the business school afford a building project, which would include renovations to the historic sites or a new building at the parking lot site.

A multimillion-dollar face lift could increase alumni pride by restoring Bowles to a “premium site,” Lollar said.

Yet even the gung-ho U.C. administration realizes the site is less than ideal. Although Bowles is just across Gayley Road from the Haas Business School, its location atop the Hayward fault leaves something to be desired.

This is yet another instance where lucrative corporate alliances take precedence over undergraduate education at U.C. Berkeley. The Center for Executive Development, currently housed at Haas, provides non-degree courses to more than 2,500 senior corporate executives from around the world every year. Demand keeps growing, and Haas is hard put to provide housing for these well-paying students. What is more natural than to kick out the undergrads?

22 November 2005

Earthquake Exodus, 1906

Berkeley historian and BAHA member Richard Schwartz, who is best known for the book Berkeley 1900: Daily Life in the Turn of the Century, has just released his latest opus, Earthquake Exodus, 1906: Berkeley Responds to the San Francisco Refugees. The book is the story of the ten-week Berkeley relief effort that rescued 15,000 San Francisco refugees from the earthquake and fire.

As Gray Brechin explains in the Foreword:
On April 17, 1906, the university town had twenty-six thousand residents. A year later, it had grown by half again to thirty-eight thousand, largely due to the influx of homeless refugees fleeing the afflicted city. Schwartz explains how Berkeleyans generously responded by setting up temporary camps, dispensing food, listing jobs, and even taking in the homeless. He details the measures taken to ensure public order and health as city and university officials struggled to deal with thousands of disoriented, impoverished, and sometimes dangerous strangers, many separated from their loved ones—everyday details long forgotten but worth study by those who wish to better prepare for the next great shake.

San Francisco’s misfortune was a godsend for East Bay real estate agents and developers, for ex-urban refugees quickly discovered they could buy suburban lots far cheaper and with more benign weather than those of the fog-shrouded city by the Golden Gate. The recent advent of electricity and telephones, as well as excellent train service provided by the Key Route and Southern Pacific systems, increased the value of properties throughout the region and encouraged subdivision of the last farms in Berkeley. In the Mason McDuffie Company, Berkeley fortunately had one of the most enlightened developers in the country. That the quake happened at the height of the Arts and Crafts movement—and that UC Berkeley had just established the West’s first College of Architecture—produced a bumper crop of fascinating houses, churches, and clubhouses that literally distinguish the town to this day. Schwartz reminds us that today’s Berkeley, as much as San Francisco, is largely the result of that shaking a century ago.

The book contains over 200 photos, many of which have never been published and many others that have not been seen in a hundred years.

The author will talk about Earthquake Exodus, 1906 at Black Oak Books on Sunday, 11 December, at 7:30 pm.

The book is available for sale at all independent bookstores and the BAHA office, where BAHA members receive a discount. Call (510) 841-2242 for details.

04 November 2005

Centennial birthday party for John White’s “Rose ’n Arch”

“Rose ’n Arch” (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

Bernard Maybeck’s brother-in-law John White is best known for having designed the Le Conte Memorial Lodge (1904), a National Historic Landmark in Yosemite Valley, and for the Hillside Club (1924), replacing the Maybeck original that burned in the Berkeley Fire. 

In 1905, White designed the large, rustic Wallace house on the corner of Rose and Arch Streets. This house would eventualy be owned by the famed geographer Carl O. Sauer.

Join us in celebrating the 100th Birthday of the Wallace-Sauer House, aka “Rose ’n Arch.”

Sunday, 13 November 2005
1340 Arch Street at Rose Street
2:00 to 4:00 pm
$20 per person

Howard Mel, Professor Emeritus: Memories of the Neighborhood
Richard Schwartz, Berkeley Historian: Berkeley in 1905
Horst Bansner, Homeowner: John White, Architect

Reminiscences by family members of early owners of the house

Reception following
Birthday cake by Masse’s Pastries
Coffee by Peet’s Coffee & Teas

Seats are limited; please reserve early. Reservations will be held at the door.

To reserve, please send a check made out to BAHA to:
P.O. Box 1137
Berkeley, CA 94701

You may also order online via Paypal:

03 November 2005

Panoramic Hill now in the National Register

View from the Torrey House (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

The State Office of Historic Preservation announced that on 21 October 2005, the Panoramic Hill Historic District of Alameda County was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Panoramic Hill was the focus of BAHA’s Spring House Tour this year. You can see photos of the event in our gallery.