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Remodeled Civic Center is ready for rumble

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Monday May 14, 2001

The newly renovated and seismically upgraded Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Building was dedicated Friday during a ceremony attended by 300 people and a slew of city and state dignitaries who praised the $37.7 million remodel. 

City Manager Weldon Rucker graciously hosted the ceremony in front of the Milvia Street building, which was closed between Center Street and Allston Way. Rucker introduced the mayor and councilmembers who, like good politicians, couldn’t refuse an opportunity to say a few words to a crowd.  

Mayor Shirley Dean thanked a long list of people who made the remodel possible and then praised the building.  

“This building will stand in a major earthquake and it will function afterwards,” she said. “This building is dedicated to the people of Berkeley.” 

The remodel was paid with $16.4 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, $16.1 million from Bond Measure S and the remainder from the city’s general fund. 

The building, designed by architect James Plachek and built in 1940, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is corner stone to Berkeley’s Civic Center Historic District. It was the Farm Credit Administration Building until the city purchased it for $1.7 million in 1977 and made it the Civic Center.  

After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, the building was deemed seismically unsafe.  

There was a chance the building was going to be demolished but Dean said the voters passed Measure S by a squeaking two thirds plus 87 votes. At the time, bond measures required a two-thirds vote to be approved. 

The major expense was installing the 74 state-of-the-art base isolators that will allow the building to move 30 inches in any direction in case of a major earthquake.  

The interior of the building was restored with new finishes, custom energy efficient light fixtures and exposed ceilings. The cubicles and tall filing cabinets that clogged the offices before the remodel were removed in favor of open office space. The result is work areas that are filled with natural light and a sense of airiness.  

The exterior was also restored and two meeting rooms were added to the sixth floor. 

After the elected officials addressed the crowd, Public Works Director Rene Cardinaux, who oversaw the remodel, took the podium.  

“The Civic Center is more than just bricks and mortar,” he said, “It’s a symbol of pride for the people who work here and the people of Berkeley.” 

After the speeches, the public was invited to an open house to have coffee and cake, tour the offices and listen to the Berkeley High School Jazz Band.