25 March 2011

Historic Branch Libraries could be saved

by Gale Garcia

West Berkeley Branch Library renovation design proposed by Todd Jersey Architecture (click here to see the plans.)

Measure FF was approved by Berkeley voters in 2008, providing $26 million in bond funding to “renovate, expand, and make seismic and access improvements” at Berkeley’s four branch libraries.

While the letter and intent of Measure FF are being honored with respect to the Claremont and the North Branch Libraries, Berkeley’s Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) has decided to demolish the South and West Berkeley Libraries and replace them with brand new buildings.

A group called Concerned Library Users (CLU), who were concerned not only about the needless loss of historic resources but also about the injustice of using bond funding for a purpose that was in neither the language of Measure FF nor the campaign literature for the Measure, filed a suit against the City.

The first part of the lawsuit, about a hasty zoning amendment affecting libraries without review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), was settled rapidly. The City agreed about the need for review. The second part of the lawsuit about the misuse of Measure FF funding remains to be heard in Superior Court, at a date yet to be determined.

The South Berkeley Branch Library (John Hans Ostwald, 1960)

Todd Jersey’s proposed renovation design for the South Berkeley Branch Library

CLU hired Todd Jersey, the architect whose talent and ingenuity led to the preservation of the Richmond Plunge, to draw plans for both the South and West Branch Libraries. Everyone interested in the branch libraries should take a look at the plans to see the many advantages they offer.

For each library, Mr. Jersey’s design would preserve the historic portion and accommodate all the same programs as the BOLT plan—in a larger building than provided by the BOLT plan.

For the South Branch, this could be done at significantly lower cost—a larger library for less money. And the stunning reading room seen in the historic photo below could be restored.

Adult Reading Room, South Berkeley Branch Library

For the West Branch Library, Mr. Jersey’s plan would restore the 1923 reading room and Classical Revival façade, most of which remains intact under its blocky 1970s additions. For the children’s room, Mr. Jersey has designed a truly magical space, a circular room looking out at the redwood trees behind the library. Under his plan, the redwoods would be saved, while the BOLT plan calls for some of these trees to be destroyed.

First-floor plan for the West Berkeley Branch Library. The circular kids’ room is shown at the top.

The Todd Jersey plans for the South and West Branch Libraries are the environmentally superior preservation alternative—and they meet the mandate of Measure FF. Since CEQA allows for consideration of alternatives, these designs were submitted as part of the environmental review process. The City Council could choose these plans rather than the demolition-dependent plans, but sadly, preservation is not the focus of the current Council.

There will be a special joint meeting of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) at 6:00 pm on Thursday, 14 April 2011. The LPC will consider the demolitions of the South and West Branch Libraries, and the ZAB will consider Use Permits for the demolition-dependent projects for the South and West Branch Libraries.

Letters to the LPC can be sent to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, c/o Jay Claiborne, Acting LPC Secretary, Land Use Planning Division, 2120 Milvia Street, Berkeley, CA 94704, or to JClaiborne@CityofBerkeley.info. Letters to ZAB can be sent to the Zoning Adjustments Board, c/o Steven Buckley, Secretary, Land Use Planning Division, 2120 Milvia Street, 2nd Floor, Berkeley, CA  94704, or to SBuckley@CityofBerkeley.info.

The City Council returns from spring recess on 26 April and will probably consider the alternative designs, the EIR, and the Use Permits at this meeting. Letters to the City Council can be sent to the City Clerk, 2180 Milvia Street, Berkeley, CA 94704, or to clerk@cityofberkeley.info.

In order for LPC, ZAB, or Councilmembers to receive letters before the meetings, they should arrive eight days ahead of the scheduled date. However, letters submitted up to and including the meeting time will become part of the record. You may also voice your opinion at each of these meetings. For more information, as it becomes available, please see this website or call the BAHA office. Your participation can make a difference.

Laurie Bright Memorial

The family of Laurie Bright will be celebrating his life in memorial. Join Laurie’s relatives and friends in paying tribute to this exemplary preservation activist.

Sunday, 22 May 2011
1:30 pm–4:30 pm
The Hillside Club
286 Cedar Street
Berkeley, CA 94709

13 March 2011

Pre-House Tour Lecture

Stoodley House (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2011)

5 May 2011, 7:30 pm at the Hillside Club
Storybook Style
Speaker: Daniella Thompson

Berkeley is a treasure trove of buildings that look as if they’d stepped out of a Mother Goose fairy tale. In the course of this illustrated talk, we’ll pay a visit to and marvel at the fanciful work of specialists in the whimsical genre that manifested itself during the 1920s.

Architects and builders who left their mark on Berkeley’s “Hansel & Gretel” architecture include William Raymond Yelland, Jack Thornburg, Francis Harvey Slocombe, Carr Jones, Sidney & Noble Newsom, and the Fox Brothers.

Editor of the BAHA website and author of the article series East Bay: Then and Now, Daniella Thompson will showcase both well-known and obscure examples of Storybook Style in Berkeley.

Tickets may be purchased via the ticket order form or online. See instructions for using PayPal (a handling charge will be added).

12 March 2011

Our 2011 Spring House Tour

02 March 2011

Alternatives to Branch Libraries demolitions

Todd Jersey Architecture

Todd Jersey is the architect responsible for the much publicized restoration of the Richmond Plunge. Now he offers innovative and practical designs for restoring and expanding the South Berkeley and West Berkeley Branch Libraries, which the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) proposes to demolish.

Todd Jersey submitted his designs to the City of Berkeley in response to the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Branch Libraries. BAHA has asked the City Council, BOLT, and key commissions to consider these designs carefully, since they offer many advantages. They:
  • meet or exceed the libraries’ programmatic & space requirements
  • are cost-effective and well within the budget
  • comply with Measure FF
  • preserve two important historic resources
  • provide much-needed civic street presence
  • meet green construction standards
  • comply with CEQA requirements
For additional information, read Judith Epstein’s article, “How a Public Process Led to New Designs for the South and West Branch Libraries.”

01 March 2011

Outings on Fridays

Our popular series of guided tours, organized by Sally Sachs, returns this spring and summer. The tours take place on the first Friday of the month. Lunch is optional and not included in tour price. Lunch reservation must be made at least 5 days prior to each tour.
$15 per tour or $40 for the series

Friday, 1 April 2011
11 am

John Muir National Historic Site

Visit both the Italianate Strentzel-Muir home of the renowned naturalist John Muir and his family (Wolfe & Son, architects, 1882) and the Vicente Martinez Adobe (1849), set amid the family’s orchards. Congress created this hostoric site in 1964.
Bring a picnic lunch to eat on the grounds.

Friday, 3 June 2011
11 am

Fox Theater

The fate of this grand movie palace (Maury Diggs and Weeks & Day, architects, 1927) was a cause for concern from the time it closed in1966 until its recent picture-perfect restoration. View the ornate interior reflecting an eclectic mix of historical styles and hear the success story of its preservation. Lunch in an uptown restaurant.

Friday, 8 July 2011
11:00 am

McCreary-Greer House

This elaborate 1901 Colonial Revival house serves as BAHA’s headquarters. A City of Berkeley Landmark, it is a remnant of an elegant turn-of-the-century Southside neighborhood. Learn how BAHA acquired this special house, tour its interior, and survey the historic block on which it stands. Lunch at a nearby restaurant.

To order tickets, print and fill out the ticket order form and mail it with made out to BAHA and a stamped, self-addressed envelope to:

Outings on Fridays
P.O. Box 1137
Berkeley, CA 94701

You can also pay for tickets by credit card via PayPal. Please specify your outing date[s] and number of tickets in the Description line.