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Council to decide historical merit of Shattuck Ave. cottage

By William InmanDaily Planet Staff
Friday September 15, 2000

Jay and Patricia Meyer want to build a 26-room hotel on their property on Shattuck Avenue at Vine Street. 

But that would mean razing structures on the property the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated as “structures of merit.”  

So the Meyers are taking their case to the City Council Tuesday. If they can convince the council to overturn the designation of the property at 1525 Shattuck Ave., known as the James L. Swink house, they’ll be able to build the hotel-retail complex they have proposed. 

The Meyers did not return Daily Planet phone calls Thursday. 

A public hearing on the building is set for Tuesday’s council meeting. At a subsequent meeting, the council will make a decision on whether to uphold the building’s historical designation or overturn it.  

The Swink house, a Colonial Revival architectural style home built in 1903, and an adjacent cottage built two years later, along with the connecting garden, were declared a local structure of merit by the Landmarks Commission in May. Neighborhood supporters of the landmarks designation collected signatures of 722 people opposed to the demolition. They are mostly area neighbors.  

A structure of merit is one that “is not itself one of distinction, but one that adds to the fabric of the neighborhood,” explained Landmarks Commissioner Becky O’Malley.  

“It’s a structure that keeps the flavor of what the area was like when it was first developed.” 

On March 8, the city received an application to demolish the structures and on April 3, the Landmarks Commission set the designation proposal for a May 1 public hearing. 

Following testimony at the hearing, the commission voted 5-2, with two abstentions to designate the Swink house, cottage and garden as a structure of merit, thus staying the demolition. O’Malley said the sheer number of people signing the petition was “remarkable.” 

On the other hand, Commissioner Jeff Eichenfield said at the May 1 meeting that, although the history of the property was interesting, the designation could apply to many houses in Berkeley.  

Not every house in town deserves to be designated a structure of merit, he said. 

The point was also made that commercial storefronts added to the property more than half a century after the house and cottage were built, may take away some of the historical quintessence of the grounds. 

City Councilmember Dona Spring said she supports preserving the historic character of the area. 

“As much as possible, we should hang on to these (historical buildings),” she said, “The area is one of the few historic commercial districts. We really lose part of our character when we lose those structures.”