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Two-alarm apartment fire displaces seven

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Wednesday January 23, 2002

A two-alarm fire raged through the Fox Court apartment building at 1472 Universtiy Ave. early Tuesday, displacing seven residents and causing $300,000 in damage. 

The Berkeley Fire Department evacuated the 21-unit, mixed-use building deemed as a national landmark shortly after the fire was reported at 2 a.m. The residents of two adjoining buildings were also evacuated. No injuries were reported.  

The fire gutted two residential units, and at least four other units received water, smoke and structural damage. All of the units were left without water, gas or electricity. The three commercial spaces at the front of the complex were not damaged. 

Built in 1927, the “storybook” complex with its 18 residential units and three small commercial shops is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also a designated Berkeley architectural landmark. 

Assistant Chief David Orth said the cause of the fire is still being investigated but that initially it appeared to be started by either smoking material or a faulty electrical appliance. 

Orth said the fire was difficult to fight.  

“It took about an hour to bring the fire under control because it got into a hidden attic space and ran to other units,” he said. “We has to cut about eight holes in the roof before we could cut it off.” 

Twenty-five-year resident Brenda Herbert said she was awakened about 2 a.m. by a commotion in the garden courtyard outside her apartment.  

“I thought there was a fight or something and called 911 to report it,” Herbert said. “They told me it was a fire and the next thing I knew someone was knocking at my door and I was being rushed out to the street in my night clothes.” 

The Red Cross dispatched its Disaster Reaction Team to the scene to provide emergency services to the 18 evacuated residents who were huddled in a fire vehicle for warmth. The DRT supplied blankets and later called in an AC Transit bus for the residents to stay warm in, many who were not dressed for the cold weather. 

Red Cross Disaster Manager Matt Rosenberg said the Red Cross would make sure that displaced residents would be provided with hotel rooms and that hot meals were also available. Rosenberg said that most of the displaced residents had alternate places to stay with friends in the area.  

Supervising Building Inspector Susan Spott was on site Tuesday morning to determine the extent of the damage and also to provide management with the necessary permits to reconnect gas, water and electricity to units that received little or no damage. 

The Fox Court built by the Fox Bros. Construction Company in 1927. It was designed by Carl Fox, who was a was a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Mining Engineering Department in 1911. Fox Bros. built a number of picturesque, cottage-styled buildings in Berkeley between 1924 and 1953. 

The Fox Court is described in Susan Cerny’s “Berkeley Landmarks, an illustrated Guide to Berkeley’s Architectural Heritage,” as characterized by a garden courtyard, steep gable roofs and brick chimneys that are of an irregular cylindrical shape. Cerny wrote that the winding paths, small-paned windows and curving staircases add to the “storybook” appearance of the complex. 

“An irregular, haphazard-looking arrangement, diminutive in scale and set in lush landscaping, it is a charming excursion into a stage-set plan that exploits small-scale spatial relationships to create mystery and surprise.” 

The property was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1977. It was also one of the first buildings that was designated as a City of Berkeley Architectural Landmark in 1977, shortly after the city adopted the landmark ordinance in the early 70s.