A permit to alter the facade of the old Houston’s Shoe Store on the 2200 block of Shattuck Avenue was issued a decade ago, but the remodeling was never done.
Now, ten years since the permit was issued, Transaction Companies Ltd. – new owners of the Shattuck Hotel building in which the space is located – are remodeling it. But not without objections from the city’s vocal preservationist community.
Members of the Landmarks Commission said they fear the renovation may compromise a piece of Berkeley’s architectural heritage. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
At its meeting Monday night, commissioners said they and staff will ask John DeClercq, senior vice president for Transaction Companies Ltd., to meet with them in hopes of saving some of the original facade design.
Reached Tuesday afternoon, DeClercq said he had not yet received the invitation.
City Planning Manager Mark Rhodes said that the company has no legal obligation to change the plans even though the building is a landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The Landmarks Commission approved the alteration in 1990, and it has had other building permits taken out on other aspects of it,” Rhodes said. “And what we did was issue a building permit that was consistent with the previous approval.”
However, some commissioners argue that though the permit responsible for constructing the Shattuck Cinemas was a good idea 10 years ago, it may need some fine tuning this millennium.
Preservationist Leslie Emmington-Jones said she didn’t think a 1990 decision was necessarily something that was valid in 2000.
“The clunky features of Taco Bell - we know how to do better than that,” she said referring to the storefront adjacent to the one being remodeled.
Preservationists say the 81-year-old Mission style landmark is an authentic example of turn of the century California architecture and has a lot to offer the Shattuck Avenue streetscape.
“I’m afraid it’s lost its traditional features,” Emmington-Jones said.
“It could have been very elegant in a restored streetscape on Shattuck.”
Formerly Houston’s Shoes, the retail space will become home to another shoe store, the Shoe Pavilion, DeClercq said.
Commissioner Carrie Olson remembered the arcade that was unique to Houston’s and Hink’s Department Store.
“It had an area where you could walk through and look through the display windows,” she said.
“You actually stepped off the sidewalk and walked past the displays before you went inside.”
Anthony Bruce, the Executive Director of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association said that the 1920’s style arcade was lost when the interior was gutted.
The Shoe Pavilion facade will look exactly like Starbucks, Taco Bell and Mel’s Diner, Olson said, with the windows up against the sidewalk.
“There won’t be any clever display spaces. It’s a lost art. Now people just put up signs,” she said. “I’m sure it will look nice, benign. It will be a loss.”
Olson said that they have sent a letter to City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque to see if the master plan had any consideration of the original design.
DeClercq said that the Commissioners and others would be pleased to know that the facade will be a little more historical looking than the other businesses.
“(Shoe Pavilion) is extending and matching the wood awning for a more historical and ‘village-like’ look,” he said.
“And the clock in front of the building is being restored by Measure S funds and will remain a part of the historical facade.”
Rhodes said that the Planning Department had “no legal basis for not issuing the permit.”
“We had to issue the permit because it was exactly specific to the plan the Landmarks Commission approved,” he said.