28 November 2007

A letter to Nathan Brostrom

November 20, 2007

Nathan Brostrom
Vice-Chancellor, Administration
200 California Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-1500

Dear Vice-Chancellor Brostrom:

We have just learned of plans to cut large overarching branches along Piedmont Avenue and are writing to you today with our urgent concerns about the damage such cutting would cause to historic resources.

The landscape of Piedmont Avenue is the very first street designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and as such is a historic resource of national significance. The landscape is a California Historic Landmark (#986) and has been determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The trees along the frontage of Piedmont Avenue and their overarching branches are a crucial feature of the historic landscape. In his design, Olmsted specified a “close and overarching bowery of foliage” as the most important vegetation element of the landscape. The east side of Piedmont Avenue between the I-House and Kleeberger parking lots represents the best surviving section of overarching landscape in the entire historic resource. This section of historic trees was described in the UC Berkeley Historic Landscape Report for Piedmont Avenue:

“The fact that this land appears to have always been open space planted with large trees means that Olmsted’s vision of a verdant shaded road has essentially been in place on the east side of the street for more than a century.” (IV-4, Piedmont Avenue HLR, March 2006)

The overarching bowery of branches along the frontage of Piedmont Avenue is an essential character-defining feature of the historic landscape, and its loss would be devastating to the historic resource.

We recognize that the University of California faces significant concerns in the current situation with tree-sitters in the area. It is tragic that this crucial piece of history is now threatened because of the situation with the tree protest. We urge the University to seek solutions to deal with the situation that do no cause permanent damage to the historic landscape. There must be other alternatives available to the University, perhaps utilizing additional barriers, fencing or other temporary controls that would not necessitate permanent loss of historic features.

In closing, we hope the University can look to the guidance of The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, which stresses the implementation of measures which do not cause permanent loss of character-defining features in cases such as this. The overarching bowery of limbs along Piedmont Avenue has taken over a century to develop and is quite simply irreplaceable in our lifetime. Its loss would be a devastating blow to the rehabilitation efforts underway for this historic landscape and a terrible loss for the City of Berkeley and University of California.

Please feel free to contact us if we can be of assistance in anyway in promoting a positive solution to this issue.


Carrie Olson

17 November 2007

A tale of two mystery houses and one politician

2212 Fifth St., built in 1877 (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2006)

1905 Grove St., built in 1904 (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

Berkeleyans who enjoy exploring the town will have seen the lone pink Italianate Victorian standing at 2212 Fifth Street just south of Allston Way. Even those who don’t get about too much should be familiar with the grand Colonial Revival house guarded by two majestic palm trees at 1905 Martin Luther King Jr. Way (formerly Grove St.), just below Hearst Avenue.

Despite decades of research at BAHA, nobody knows who designed these two houses and by whom they were built.

But the houses have more than mystery in common: they also share a history, having been the successive homes of one prominent family, whose head was an imposing figure in local affairs as well as in state politics.

Read about Charles H. Spear and his two houses here.

13 November 2007

Berkeley High School Campus in the National Register

St. George bas-relief, science building west fa├žade
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

At its regular quarterly meeting, which took place on Friday, 9 November 2007 in Palm Springs, the State Historical Resource Commission voted unanimously to list the Berkeley High School Campus Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places at the local level of significance.

The application was one of ten on the consent calendar:

  1. Berkeley High School Campus Historic District
    Berkeley, Alameda County
    Local Level of Significance

  2. Board of Trade Building
    Los Angeles, Los Angeles County
    Local Level of Significance

  3. Bono’s Restaurant and Deli
    Fontana (Vicinity), San Bernardino County
    Local Level of Significance

  4. Carmel Valley Road-Boronda Eucalyptus Trees
    Carmel Valley, Monterey County
    Local Level of Significance

  5. Colombo Building
    San Francisco, San Francisco County
    Local Level of Significance

  6. Hagemann Ranch Historic District
    Livermore, Alameda County
    Local Level of Significance

  7. Coit Memorial Tower
    San Francisco, San Francisco County
    State Level of Significance

  8. Martinez City Library
    Martinez, Contra Costa County
    Local Level of Significance

  9. Pisgah Home Historic District
    Los Angeles, Los Angeles County
    Local Level of Significance

  10. Sand Hill Bluff Site
    Restricted Address
    Local Level of Significance

03 November 2007

Maybeck’s Boke House: made by one crusader for another

George Boke House, 23 Panoramic Way (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

The house that Maybeck designed for him on Panoramic Hill was but a brief way station for George Henry Boke (1869–1929), who was born in Placer County to a German store clerk and his 17-year old wife.

From a working-class childhood in Ventura and Butte Counties, Boke progressed through the State Normal School, a teaching certificate, undergraduate studies at the University of California, and a law degree from Harvard to emerge a professor of jurisprudence at U.C.

But Boke was a reformer, and his anti-graft crusading wreaked havoc with his academic career. The full story of Boke and his house is told in Maybeck’s Boke House: Made by one crusader for another.