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Pioneer West Berkeley house takes on a new life, wins an award

By Susan Cerny, Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday June 15, 2002

Although Berkeley's early settlers were mostly farmers, west Berkeley's location on the shore of San Francisco Bay made it ideal for commerce and industry. Before the incorporation of the town of Berkeley in 1878, the area was called Ocean View because the ocean was visible directly through the Golden Gate. The first industry, the Pioneer Starch and Grist Mill, was founded in 1855, and the second was a lumber mill established by Zimri Brewer Heywood and Captain James Jacobs in 1856. 

Zimri Brewer Heywood had a large family and they became distinguished and prominent Berkeley citizens and at various times, one son and two grandsons of his were mayors of Berkeley. Others served on the School Board and Volunteer Fire Department.  

The Heywood House at 1808 Fifth Street was built in 1878, by Zimri Brewer Heywood's son Charles W. Heywood. It is an exceptionally fine and rare example in Berkeley of a fairly large Italianate Victorian. Like its neighbors, the house sits on a raised basement to protect it from the flooding that used to occur regularly in west Berkeley. Its entrance is up a long wide staircase where the porch is framed by carved brackets. A pair of tall, arched front doors are inset with rounded clear-glass panels and the tops of the tall sash windows are also slightly curved. There are carved brackets under the eaves and it is faced with horizontal wood siding.  

1808 Fifth Street is located in a Redevelopment Area established in the early 1970s. Large parcels of land were assembled from small properties, many of them residential, to create an industrial park. Delaware Street and the surrounding six blocks were to be razed. The plan did not materialize partially due to changing industrial needs and also to protests from citizens who saw many families lose their homes. It has taken decades for the surviving historic properties to be rehabilitated and reused. 

Until 1992 the impressive but vacant and seriously deteriorating Heywood House stood on a large parcel of land that once provided space for growing vegetables and chickens. Even after the garden area was subdivided and new buildings constructed, the Heywood House, a Berkeley Landmark, remained abandoned.  

The Heywood House has taken on a new life as the home of the Pusod Center for Culture, Ecology and Bayan and as the gallery for Babilonia 1808. Its restoration, by the Babilonia Wilner Foundation, incorporates many environmentally friendly building practices from the reuse of an existing building and the use of recycled and environmentally friendly building materials, to a system of recycling gray water for the organic garden. David Wilner and Malou Babilonia, owners, Daniel Smith and Associates, Architects, and William F. Lowie of McCutchion Construction, Inc completed the restoration just this year and received a Preservation Award from the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. 


Susan Cerny is author of Berkeley Landmarks and writes this in conjunction with  

the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.