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Pioneer Doyle Leaves Legacy Downtown

Tuesday April 15, 2003

Among Berkeley’s few remaining original downtown residences is the John M. Doyle House, located at 2008 University Avenue. It was built as a duplex with a workshop in 1890; the storefront facade was added in 1947, but the Victorian house has remained in the rear.  

All buildings have a history. This house, however, has the distinction of being built by one of Berkeley’s early pioneers, John M. Doyle (1851-1934). The Feb. 27, 1890, edition of The Berkeley Herald described Doyle as: “The gentleman who took active part in the incorporation of Berkeley.”  

Doyle was part of a group of Berkeley residents, from both the university community and Ocean View (now West Berkeley), who worked diligently for the incorporation of Berkeley in 1878. Before that, Berkeley was a part of Oakland Township. 

Members of the Workingman’s Party, which was a major force in the incorporation movement, became Berkeley’s first elected Board of Trustees (now City Council). Doyle was a leading member of the party and served as it first secretary.  

The presence of the Doyle House in this now unlikely location reflects the complex layers of economic, cultural and political history that influenced Berkeley’s growth and development, and serves as a tangible link to the past. Increased development in this commercial-mixed use district over the past two decades has left the Doyle House a lone remnant of the past on this block of University Avenue. It was designated a Structure of Merit in June 2002. 

But the future of the house is threatened. The Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board last year approved a demolition permit for the house. The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) appealed that decision to City Council, arguing that requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act were not met. 

The council overturned the Structure of Merit designation and upheld the demolition permit. BAHA then filed a complaint against the city with the Superior Court of Alameda County on Dec. 18, 2002, arguing that the demolition permit was premature without an Environmental Impact Report. The complaint hearing will be April 24 in Alameda County Superior Court. 

Susan Dinkelspiel Cerny is the author of the book “Berkeley Landmarks” and writes this column in conjunction with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.