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Ambitious builder proposes seven projects

By Hank SimsDaily Planet staff
Wednesday January 16, 2002

Patrick Kennedy, Berkeley’s most controversial builder, is kicking off the new year with a bang. 

Of the seven proposed buildings to be heard during Thursday night’s meeting of the Design Review Committee, four are projects proposed by Kennedy’s firm – Panoramic Interests – and all are ambitious. 

For instance, there’s the striking five-story building planned for 2119 University Ave., at the corner of Shattuck Square – probably the highest-profile intersection in the city. 

The building currently occupying the site is a long-defunct brick structure, which once a year houses a Halloween supply store. It’s probably best known for the billboard sitting atop it. 

The architect of this project is Kirk Peterson, who teamed with Kennedy on the Gaia Building at 2116 Allston Way.  

Like Gaia, 2119 University Ave. will be a mixed-use project, with retail space on the bottom floor and four upper floors of apartments, totaling 44 units 

It will have a rooftop garden, this time with a reflecting pool and a stand of bamboo. 

The project has not yet been named, but Kennedy jokingly floated the idea of calling it “The Worthington Building” in an attempt to gain the support of Councilmember Kriss Worthington. 

Kennedy said it was his goal to design a building reminiscent of the work of prominent Berkeley Arts-and-Crafts era architects like Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan. 

“With this building, we asked ourselves: What would Maybeck do, if he were building apartment apartment buildings today?” he mused. “We’re mindful of the need to build handsome and aesthetically inspiring buildings.” 

However, some members of the DRC have questioned the look of the building, faulting it for “false historicism.” 

Committee member Carrie Olson said that she would probably support the building “if it were toned down a bit.” 

She said that the charge of “false historicism,” which was closer to the heart of some other DRC members, arose from the fact that the building may have too literally “quoted” designs from the past. 

“Kevin Peterson is a very talented architect, and he has a great appreciation of the beauty of older architecture,” she said. “I just don’t want people to look at it and say – Oh, is that a Julia Morgan?” 

“I don’t want it to overpower the town’s true landmark buildings.” 

Relations between the architect and the DRC have been somewhat tense at times. In a Dec. 4 letter to the committee, Peterson explained to the committee that his client wanted the building to have a “classic Berkeley look.” 

“The design reflects this intent, and is yet distinctly in the ‘Kirk Peterson’ style,” Peterson wrote. “No architecture critics or architectural historians have yet attempted to define this style in words, but some people feel that my work has a recognizable character.” 

On Tuesday, Peterson said that the DRC’s anti-historicist criticism was based in “academic fads.” 

“Some people are concerned that someone could walk down the street and be fooled into thinking this building is from 1920 instead off 2002,” he said. “The person who is educated about these kinds of things wouldn’t think that, but what does it matter anyway?” 

“I don’t believe there is such a thing as false historicism. There is just good architecture and bad architecture.” 

Evan McDonald, Panoramic project manager for 2119 University, said that Peterson’s use of historical models is born of a commitment to beautiful architecture. 

“There’s not many people doing historicist design right now,” he said. “(Peterson) does it well, because he believes it is important.” 

The other Panoramic projects currently in development are the Fine Arts Building at 2451 Shattuck Ave., the Jubilee Building at 2700 San Pablo Ave. and a redevelopment of the Darling Flower Shop at 2006 University Ave. 

If they are all built, the four buildings together will contain 211 apartments. 

“This represents an enormous amount of housing,” said Olson, who added that Kennedy with such a large push at once, Kennedy was placing his credibility on the line. 

"If they don’t do a great job on these next projects, they may lose public support,” she said. “And – as they found out with the Gaia Building – public support is an important thing to have in Berkeley.”