31 March 2006

The residential work of Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr. in Claremont Park

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2006

Our Spring House Tour & Garden Reception
Sunday, 7 May, 1 to 5 pm

This year’s Spring House Tour celebrates the Ratcliff centennial by showcasing the residential work of Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr., Berkeley’s only official City Architect, Mills College Campus Architect, and founder of the architectural firm currently celebrating a hundred years of continuous practice.

The tour features eleven charming and elegant homes located in Duncan McDuffie’s Claremont Park, a gracious “residential park” subdivision opened in 1905. Houses open for viewing will include private commissions as well as Ratcliff’s speculative houses, noted for their beauty, spaciousness, and high quality of detail.

Tour goers will visit a gabled, brown-shingle house perched on a hillside—one of the earliest houses Ratcliff built after starting his own practice; a picture-perfect Craftsman bungalow with a riverstone fireplace; several examples of Ratcliff’s elegantly-proportioned stucco houses of the early 1910s, with superbly detailed wood-trimmed interiors; a unique English-cottage studio home from 1910; a California Mission-inspired hilltop mansion from 1909; a Spanish Colonial Revival; as well as several other houses designed in the woodsy Bay Region tradition.

Tour map, illustrated guidebook, and refreshments will be provided. General admission $35; BAHA members and guests $25. See additional information and reservations.

House docents receive complimentary admission to the tour. To volunteer, call Lynn Crosby at (510) 653-3718 or e-mail BAHA.

A pre-tour illustrated lecture will be given on by Woodruff Minor, author of the book Ratcliff Architecture, to be published in the fall by Heyday Books:

Lecture: Walter Ratcliff, Architect
Thursday, 4 May, 7:30 pm
Claiborne Hill Chapel (Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr., 1949)
American Baptist Seminary of the West
Hillegass Avenue, Berkeley
Admission $10.

24 March 2006

Cardwell on the Berkeley architecture of Maybeck

First Church of Christ, Scientist (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

U.C. Architecture Professor Emeritus Kenneth H. Cardwell will speak on the Berkeley Architecture of Bernard Maybeck at the annual meeting of the Berkeley Historical Society. Cardwell is the well-known author of Bernard Maybeck: Artisan, Architect, Artist. He was a friend of the legendary architect and lives in a Maybeck-designed house.

Sunday, 23 April 2006
3 to 5 pm
Berkeley History Center
1931 Center Street, Berkeley, 94704
Admission free

18 March 2006

Kenney Cottage: a call for rescue in the SF Chronicle

Kenney Cottage awaiting a rescuer (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

In August 2003, BAHA took charge of the historic Kenney cottage, a City of Berkeley Landmark, Structure of Merit that had been located behind the former Kelly-Moore Paint Company building at 1725 Universty Avenue. That building was demolished to make way for affordable housing, and BAHA undertook to find a new home for the cottage.

On Sunday, 24 August 2003, the cottage was moved (see photos) to a temporary site on a city lot at 1275 Universty Avenue. Ever since, BAHA has been trying to find it a permanent site, as well as funding for restoration. It’s been an uphill battle, and we’ve had no success so far. Today’s San Francisco Chronicle published a photo of the cottage, as well as the following letter from BAHA president Wendy Markel:
It is already two weeks since Susan Fornoff’s piece “The little house that roared” (March 4), but I am still thinking about the relevance of the Katrina Cottage and a story that is being played out here in Berkeley.

About 20 years before the 1906 earthquake, similar cottages were being built in Berkeley for settlers. The article mentioned that some of the 5,000 earthquake cottages or shacks in San Francisco are still standing, but today in Berkeley there is only one such cottage still standing, and it is in dire need of a rescue mission.

The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association is custodian of the Kenney cottage after rescuing it from the builder’s demolition ball. The city generously lent the association a lot on which to place the cottage temporarily. After many false starts, grant applications, lot surveys and the like, we are still looking for a buyer. Councilwoman Linda Maio, in whose district the cottage is, recognizes the historical and cultural worth of the Kenney cottage but has been unable to solve the problem.

What do you think it will take? The Kenney cottage stands on blocks, with graffiti on its walls, and the city needs to sell the lot. Could the Parks and Recreation Department see the value and place it (like Jack London’s little shack in Oakland) at Aquatic Park, where it can be admired and even used? Maybe, like the Katrina Cottage, it could be a “grow house”? Maybe it can fulfill the “in-fill” mantra in some way? With rescues from the 1906 earthquake on our minds, will this surviving cottage be rescued?

Let’s follow the dots. Arrol Gellner wrote “Modern life throws away lessons of our frugal past” (Feb. 25); Lynette Evans wrote “What if small were fashionable” (March 4); Fornoff wrote “The little house that roared” and again Gellner wrote about “Why those ’Painted Ladies (Victorian homes) were despised for so long” (March 11). Old and small can be beautiful.

The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association needs help to save a small and symbolic piece of our frugal past.

06 March 2006

Mayor’s final recommendations on the LPO

Would Weltevreden qualify as a Structure of Merit under the new rules?

On Friday, 3 March, Mayor Tom Bates released a memo containing his final recommendations for revisions to the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.

These recommendations will be presented to the City Council tomorrow. The Mayor proposes that the Council charge staff to prepare new ordinance language that would adopt the changes included in his memo, to provide the draft language to the LPC and the Planning Commission by 1 May, and to set the revisions for a public hearing on 11 July.

One of the two most controversial issues in the previous round of recommendations has been the Structure of Merit category, which the Planning Commisison and some development advocates have sought to reduce to an honorary status with no CEQA protections. The Mayor’s new recommendations call for retaining Structure of Merit as a second-tier historic resource under CEQA, but require that buildings designated as Structures of Merit “have integrity as per the California Register of Historic Resources definition of integrity.”

The California Office of Historic Preservation’s Technical Assistance Bulletin #6 defines integrity as follows:
California Register

Integrity is the authenticity of an historical resource’s physical identity evidenced by the survival of characteristics that existed during the resource’s period of significance. Historical resources eligible for listing in the California Register must meet one of the criteria of significance described above and retain enough of their historic character or appearance to be recognizable as historical resources and to convey the reasons for their significance. Historical resources that have been rehabilitated or restored may be evaluated for listing.

Integrity is evaluated with regard to the retention of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. It must also be judged with reference to the particular criteria under which a resource is proposed for eligibility. Alterations over time to a resource or historic changes in its use may themselves have historical, cultural, or architectural significance.

It is possible that historical resources may not retain sufficient integrity to meet the criteria for listing in the National Register, but they may still be eligible for listing in the California Register. A resource that has lost its historic character or appearance may still have sufficient integrity for the California Register if it maintains the potential to yield significant scientific or historical information or specific data.

It’s possible that under the California Register criteria, the historically important Weltevreden (A.C. Schweinfurth, 1896) might pass muster although it was severely altered in the 1950s. Then again, it might not. It’s all a matter of personal interpretation. Weltevreden is already a Structure of Merit and will be grandfathered under the LPO revisions. But what of other such treasures that have not yet be designated?

Another controversial issue has been the Request for Determination. The Mayor seeks to sweeten the pill by creating a single process called Assessment of Historic Significance. A property undergoing historic assessment with no project pending must be fully noticed as if it were subject to a pending land-use decision. This, claims the Mayor, will ensure that nearby neighbors know the LPC is making an assessment decision. The sugar coating soon wears out, because the timeline remains that recommended by the Planning Commission. “Any structure not desginated by this process would be exempt from any further attempts at designation for a period of two years or until a pending permit application was completed, unless significant new information is presented.”

Who would determine which new information is significant? Would it be the Historic Preservation Officer?

The Historic Preservation Officer position is back on the table, albeit on a half-time basis owing to the budget crunch. Among his/her other duties, the HPO would have authority over “minor alteration permits for historic resources (subject to appeal to the LPC and City Council).”

This begs the question, “What are minor alterations?” Planning staff has been known to treat alterations considered major by neighbors as minor changes. Is it wise to entrust such responsibility to a single staff person rather than to a commission of nine citizens?