29 August 2016

Why the PSR/Mather Holy Hill project is bad for Berkeley

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004

In 1994, the California State Assembly enacted AB 133 (Willie Brown), exempting non-commercial property owned by religious organizations from local ordinances protecting historic resources. Thereafter, it has been impossible to designate religious buildings as city or county landmarks without their owners’ permission.

AB 133 left historic religious buildings with little protection against development. The brunt of that bill is becoming acutely evident now, as local seminaries are experiencing declining enrollment and operating deficits.

Currently, two Berkeley seminaries, the Pacific School of Religion (PSR) and the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, are planning to downsize, abandoning all or most of their historic campuses. While the Lutherans have decided to sell their property an relocate downtown, PSR, located on “Holy Hill” just north of the University of California campus, is proposing something far more radical and disruptive.

PSR established its campus in 1925 and constructed five distinctive buildings on it over a period of 55 years. In addition, PSR acquired many residential buildings in the immediate neighborhood to house its students.

Now PSR has teamed up with Mather LifeWays, a developer and manager of upscale senior housing and continuous care facilities headquartered in Illinois. PSR and Mather recently submitted development plans to the City that propose to demolish 17 of PSR’s 19 buildings and replace them with new ones, including a continuous wall of five-story buildings on the campus site.

Project rendering (Mather LifeWays)

This overscaled development would do away with the beloved historic PSR campus, an oasis on the hill. Gone will be the beautiful open space, the western vista, and all but one of the campus’s architecturally significant buildings.

The Mather development would tear the fabric of a residential neighborhood, razing an unprecedented number of dwellings constructed mostly in the 1920s along Virginia Street, Le Conte Avenue, and Arch Street.

The project purports to follow the LEED Gold standard yet would be extremely ungreen. As we all know, the greenest building is the one already built.

Demolition and construction would last for years, disrupting the life of untold residents in this quiet neighborhood.

Building senior housing on top of a steep hill is ill-advised. Those of us who live on the Northside are familiar with its hilly topography and can only shake our heads at the thought of the Mather residents huffing and puffing their way uphill or stumbling and falling while descending the precipitous slope of Le Conte Avenue. The Mather residents’ cars (potentially hundreds of them) and the facility’s regular shuttle buses, not to mention ambulances, would turn peaceful Holy Hill and its narrow streets into a traffic hub.

Berkeley badly needs affordable housing, but no affordable housing would be available in this project. Residents would buy in with an initial payment to the tune of about $500,000, followed by thousands more in monthly “care services” fees.

There’s more than one way for PSR to overcome its financial shortfall. The school could sell its buildings individually, or it could rent a limited portion to its shrinking enrollment of students and lease the rest to the general public at market rates. Yet PSR and Mather have devised no fallback plan in case their mammoth building scheme should fail.

In short, the PSR/Mather project favors the few over the many, demonstrating a sense of entitlement so brazen, the likes of which we have not seen for decades, if ever.

Berkeley Historical Society Fall 2016 Walking Tours

Cloyne Court Hotel (photo: Louis L. Stein Jr. collection)

Tours start at 10:00 am and end at approximately 12:00 pm. Pre-paid reservations are required.

Purchase tickets: $10 general; $8 BHS members

Saturday, 10 September
Strawberry Creek on the UC Campus
Led by Bob Charbonneau

In 1860, the College of California (predecessor to Cal) moved from Oakland to its present site in Berkeley, in part because of Strawberry Creek. Its notable start was not always honored during the next century when pollution, concrete channeling, underground piping, and elimination of the middle fork occured. Much of that has changed since the mid-1980s. Learn about Strawberry Creek’s history, its hideaways, and the restoration efforts from Bob Charbonneau, the expert who made Strawberry Creek and its restoration his master’s thesis.

Saturday, 17 September
“Sara’s Song”–Inspired Walk in South Berkeley
Led by Tina Jones Williams

Sara’s Song is a new book set on Julia Street in South Berkeley, from 1943 to 1969. The walk will describe the pride and enthusiasm the “Colored” homeowners felt buying their first homes in this working class all black neighborhood. The Sara’s Song author will share the history of the all black-owned businesses in the neighborhood (including a doctor and a pharmacist), where they were located, and the culture that was embraced by the residents. She will also paint a picture of raising a family in this neighborhood; where the children played and were educated; where they worshipped, studied and grew into adults. An easy, flat walk beginning and ending at the new Byron Rumford statue.

Saturday, 24 September
The 1923 North Berkeley Fire
Led by Phil Gale

BHS board member, local historian, and model railroader Phil Gale will conduct a commemoration of the North Berkeley fire of 17 September 1923, crisscrossing the fire line in five places. He’ll identify the various changes wrought in buildings and landscape, and walk us to a salvaged Maybeck chimney, among other surprising relics, around which a new house was constructed. Phil will share with you his early North Berkeley family photos and reminiscences.

Saturday, 1 October
Northside: Arts & Crafts on the Fire’s Edge
Led by Daniella Thompson

Come and see where Berkeley’s Arts & Crafts tradition began; where Bernard Maybeck designed his first hill houses; where artists established their residence and built their studios; where the Hillside Club was founded; where the Berkeley Brown Shingle was born. On this tour, we will see historic houses that survived the 1923 Berkeley Fire, as well as some notable buildings constructed after the ashes had been cleared. The walk is steep in some parts, and is not wheelchair accessible.

Saturday, 15 October
Marin Avenue North: Early 20th-Century Berkeley Hills
Led by Paul Grunland

Revisit one of Berkeley’s most delightful neighborhoods—charming houses built by famed architects and builders; winding contoured streets; creeks; rock outcroppings; city parks and pathways. Some climbing but generally level. Not wheelchair accessible.

16 August 2016

Women Speak: Four Architects on Design

Berggruen House, designed by Fernau & Hartman

All lectures will begin at 7:30 pm at the Berkeley City Club.

Full series, $50advance purchase only
Individual lectures, $15advance purchase or at the door

The Berkeley City Club Conservancy is presenting an exciting and inspiring lecture series this fall. The four architects featured in the series are leaders in promoting sustainability, historic revitalization, and urban planning.

Thursday, 22 September 2016
Designing Cities, a Global Challenge
Ellen Lou/SOM

Ellen Lou’s lecture will focus on the global challenge in cities, the explosive growth in urbanization, economic contribution of cities, environmental issues, and trends. She will be using domestic and international case studies to discuss these issues. Lou is the Director of Urban Design and Practice at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in San Francisco.

Thursday, 13 October 2016
Inside/Out, Outside/In—Collaboration with Landscape in the Work of Fernau & Hartman Architects
Laura Hartman/Fernau & Hartman

Hartman will unravel one of the threads that runs through her firm’s work: the exploration of the relation between buildings and landscape, at different scales and in difference places. She will focus on what the firm has learned from working with different sites, and on designing to encourage inhabitants to engage with the world around them. Hartman has worked closely in long-term relationships with diverse client groups, including Co-Housing for the Cheesecake Consortium, San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park, and CuriOdyssey at Coyote Point in San Mateo, skillfully accommodating and mediating the multiple voices of her clients.

Thursday, 27 October 2016
Architecture as a Catalyst for Change
Marsha Maytum/Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

Marsha Maytum will describe her firm’s work in architecture as a catalyst for change. Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects of San Francisco has designed new buildings and the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of existing structures. Projects include the Sweetwater Spectrum Community, a housing project for adults with autism; the conversion of an historic army fort into a resort at Cavallo Point in Sausalito; and the conversion of a former army hospital at the Presidio into the Thoreau Center for Sustainability.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Design Intent
Allison Williams/AECOM

Allison Williams is design director for AECOM’s Bay Area Metro Region. Her projects include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Computational Research Facility; the August Wilson Center, a performing arts center in Pittsburgh PA; CREATE at the National University of Singapore; the new Calexico US Port of Entry; and the Princess Nora Abdulrahman University Health Sciences and Research Campus in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (for 40,000 Islamic Women).

02 August 2016

Vintage cars on display at Willard Park

Sunday, 7 August 2016
5 pm to 6 pm
2700 block of Hillegass Avenue
(next to Willard Park)

Following our sold-out Maybeck Afternoon, the two vintage cars featured in the event will be driven by their owners through the streets of Berkeley to the Willard Park neighborhood, where they will be on public display for an hour.

The “Maybeck Packard,” an extremely rare 1929 Packard 640 Dual Cowl Phaeton presented to the architect by his client, business magnate Earle C. Anthony, will be displayed by its current owners, Bill and Mary Jabs of Oregon.

Local vintage car collector and Bay Area historian Donna Huggins will display “Maud,” a 1936 Ford Roadster perfectly preserved in its original condition.

Also on display will be a 1937 Rolls Royce, a 1947 Bentley, and a 1952 MG.