The H. J. Heinz Building is located on San Pablo Avenue just north of Ashby Avenue. Its Mediterranean-style facade is a prominent and distinctive feature on the streetscape of San Pablo Avenue. The building looks like an elegant school or office complex from the exterior, but behind the nicely detailed facade was once a real industrial/manufacturing building engaged in the production of 28 of the H. J. Heinz company's famous “57 Varieties.”
The Cleveland-based Austin Company, a construction firm founded in 1878 that specialized in all phases of design and construction of industrial buildings, with architect Albert Kahn (l869-1942) built the Heinz Building between 1927 and 1928. It was the largest such firm in the world.
What might have been a large and simply utilitarian building was designed to be beautiful and to also enhance its San Pablo Avenue location, which at the time was the main highway. Like Samuel Kress of the Kress Five and Dime stores, Howard C. Heinz (1877-1941), son of the founder Henry John Heinz (1844-1919), was an avid traveler and collector whose ivory and watch collections are in the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh.
The one-to three-story building has beige concrete-stucco siding and a red tile roof and is richly decorated with Mediterranean motifs. The entire site is ten acres and the building is a wide U-shape facing west. Along San Pablo Avenue the two-block long building is symmetrical with a three-story central section containing a richly decorated arched entry with an open loggia above. Flanking the entry are two-story sections with courses of deeply recessed metal sash windows separated by flat engaged columns with decorative capitals. The two-story sections are then flanked by one-story sections dived by square bays with hipped roofs and arched windows. At the corners are again, square bays with arched windows.
The Berkeley Daily Gazette commented in 1927 that “Architecturally it will be one of the most beautiful industrial establishments in the West...an inspiration to the workers and an example for others.”
The Heinz Company was founded in Pittsburgh in 1869, beginning with the production of horseradish; by 1896 it claimed to be producing the “57 Varieties” that the company used in its advertising. In 1947 the Heinz Company reported that the Berkeley plant was 28 of its 57 varieties, and employed seasonally between 200 and 1,000 workers. During tomato season the smell of cooking tomatoes filled the air. The plant closed in l956 and was moved to Tracy. It has been remodeled into a retail and office center.
Susan Cerny is author of Berkeley Landmarks and writes this in conjunction with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.