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Cottage Landmarked, But Addition Approved By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday December 10, 2004

Berkeley gained two new landmarks this week, one a massive structure familiar to all, the other a small redwood-shaded cottage in the hills. 

While the Webb Block—that exuberant red-faced curvilinear three-story turn-of-the-20th-century presence at the c orner of Ashby Avenue and Adeline Street—sailed through with nary a dissent after minimal discussion, such was not the case with the Edgar Jensen House. 

Indeed, by the time the dust settled, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) handed proponents o f landmarking the home at 1650 La Vereda Road a Pyrrhic victory. 

The house received the designation, but commissioners approved a major expansion, the very thing that the landmarking advocates had hoped to stall. 

Marshaled against them were an 87-year-old grandmother, her multimillionaire son and daughter-in-law, two highly skilled attorneys and the president of the most powerful media relations firm in Northern California—an outfit which has played a major role in recent land use battles in Richmond. 

The dispute also spilled over into the Internet. A single, factually incorrect entry at reasononline, the web site of the libertarian magazine Reason, provoked 30 pages of comments. 

At issue was a small redwood home with two upstairs bedrooms, bu ilt in 1937, designed by William Wurster, a widely acclaimed modernist and former dean of the UC Berkeley School of Architecture. 

The furor began when John E. Holey, San Francisco-based architect for homeowner Marguerite Rossetto—mother and mother-in-law of WIRED magazine co-founders Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalf, who live on the same street—filed plans to build a two-story addition to the structure. 

The elder Rossetto, who lives in Long Island and comes to Berkeley to visit her son and grandchildr en, has said she needs a downstairs bedroom for herself because she suffers from late-onset leukemia and has become too frail to regularly climb the stairs to the existing second-floor bedroom. The additional bedroom would be for her caretaker. 

Neighbors, including retired architect Christopher Adams and spouse Jane Adams, emeritus UC history professor Ruth Rosen and spouse Dr. Wendel Brunner, who is Contra Costa County Public Health Director, and Brian Viani attempted to meet with Rossetto and her son to discuss the planned alterations. 

Instead, architect Holey met with them, resulting in negotiations that failed to accomplish what the neighbors wanted, namely a more modest single-story addition. 

After the Zoning Adjustments Board approved the Rosset to plans, the neighbors appealed to the City Council and simultaneously filed an application to landmark the building. 

The City Council upheld the appeal on Nov. 12, referring the decision back to ZAB and handing the landmarks commission two months to ac t o n the application. 

When the Rossettos and their contingent appeared before the commission Monday, architect Holey offered an additional design for the remodel which would effectively create a modified mirror image clone of the original house connecte d by a breezeway. 

They had also paved the way for their presentation by purchasing a full page ad in last Friday’s Daily Planet. The paper had rejected an earlier, more inflammatory version, but the ad as published featured a stinging attack on the neigh bors, questioning their motives. 

Among those who came to testify for the Rossettos was Sam Singer, president of Singer Associates, the powerhouse San Francisco media relations firm which represents the ChevronTexaco refinery in Richmond in their battle a gain st the Point Molate casino, as well as Cherokee Simeon Ventures in their efforts to build a 1,330-unit housing complex above a buried mound of hazardous waste in South Richmond. 

Singer, a Berkeley resident, didn’t mention his business affiliation wh en he told the LPC that “the process has been hijacked” by the landmarking application. 

Also testifying against landmarking were two Rossetto attorneys, Rena Rickles and Pamela Duffy, who brought along a court reporter to provide a verbatim transcript of the proceedings. 

Architect Holey spoke against landmarking, saying it didn’t meet the criteria. 

One thing I don’t have is time, said Mrs. Rossetto, who said she had followed all the rules and “done all the things the city required to build my bedroom.” 

Say ing “I have never done anything to my neighbors,” she asked, “Why are they doing this? What kind of neighbors are they” to “have been abusing the planning process. . .and abusing me.” 

Former Landmarks Commissioner Richard Dishnica also testified on the R ossettos’ behalf, calling the landmarking application an abuse of the process, “unfair to the owner of the property.” 

Brunner said he hadn’t even been aware of the LPC until two or three months ago and said “it has never been the attention of anyo ne to prevent an additional ground floor bedroom.” 

“We have been unable to meet with Mr. Rossetto or Mrs. Rossetto. We had hoped to deal with this in a more neighborly manner,” he said. 

Christopher Adams, who helped write the landmark application, praised the existing structure as “an outstanding example of Wurster’s ability to design compact housing” and “a very important part of the neighborhood.” 

When the hearing closed, Commissioner Carrie OIson blasted critics of the landmarking process. “I think the ave rage citizen in Berkeley has no idea of what any of these processes mean. People are thrown into the process with a city staff that’s too busy to help them.  

“Please don’t come and tell us things are abused because someone in the neighborhood did n’t unde rstand the process,” she said. 

After a lengthy discussion, Commissioners Olson, Leslie Emmington, Aran Kaufer, Jill Korte and Richard Spaid (sitting in for member Pat Dacey) approved the landmark designation over the dissenting votes of Robert J ohnson, J ames Samuels, Fran Packard and Steven Winkel. 

The neighbors had only a few minutes to savor their victory before the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the two-story addition Holey had submitted the same day. 

The least contentious deci sion of th e night was the 15-minute hearing to landmark the Webb Block at Adeline and Ashby. 

Designed by Charles W. McCall for Christopher Webb, the building once housed the pharmacy of Thomas E. Caldecott, who later became the Alameda County Supervisor whose name graces the most famous of the East Bay tunnels. 

The building is now one of the major draws for antique shoppers from throughout the Bay Area. 

That the structure was just being landmarked was “one of those classic oversights,” said Commission er Olson. “I always thought it had been landmarked.” 

The structure, already on California Historic Resources Inventory, was landmarked by a unanimous vote. 

The commissioners didn’t have time to hear from more than one witness on another controversial landmarking, the proposals for the Celia’s Restaurant Building and Brennan’s Irish Pub in the 700 block of University Avenue. 

The hearing was postponed until the next LPC meeting in January.?S