Plans to demolish a West Berkeley landmark and replace it with a manufacturing plant came to an abrupt halt Wednesday morning after the building’s owner intervened.
But when the physical dust had settled, the fate of the Garr Building at 740 Heinz Ave. remained uncertain.
The structure is part of the Durkee’s Famous Foods complex, which was landmarked in 1985. It was used as a warehouse for copra, dried coconut flesh from which coconut oil was extracted for use in food products.
The building boasts a vast four-story high interior space with no pillars except at either end and no floors, forming a cathedral-like space upheld by an Art Nouveau-like system of braces.
Darrell De Tienne, a San Francisco developer who is frequently involved in Berkeley projects, teamed with Wareham Development to propose demolition of the structure.
The cleared land would be consolidated with adjoining property Wareham already owns to create the site for a 105,800-square-foot laboratory and/or manufacturing building.
But owner Kathleen Garr, a Lafayette woman whose late husband once ran a plastics recycling business out of the warehouse, said Tuesday that she derailed the deal following a Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting the night before.
During the meeting, which included a hearing on the structural alteration permit that would allow demolition, former planning commissioner and preservationist Zelda Bronstein introduced Garr to artisans who live in the nearby former Durkee Building at 800 Heinz that Wareham restored as low rent live/work spaces.
As a result of that meeting, Garr said Wednesday she decided to call a halt to the project.
She installed new locks on the gates of the property, but Wareham workers cut the locks so they could retrieve construction materials stored in the structure and on the adjoining parking lot.
A massive scoop loader and two smaller front end loaders were busily at work when Garr arrived at the site Tuesday morning.
Garr would offer little on the record. “I’m afraid of what they might do,” she said.
But De Tienne said Thursday afternoon that he was moving ahead on the project. “We were paying for using the site as a construction staging area, so I called and told them to clean it out,” he said.
While Garr said Tuesday that she loved the building and didn’t want to see it demolished, the mass of the structure is constructed from unreinforced masonry and would require an expensive seismic retrofit before it can be used.
Wareham is one of Berkeley’s major industrial and research site developers, and their largest project is the 15-acre Aquatic Park business and research center. They own the buildings on either side of Garr’s building, including offices that house the state Departments of Health Services and Toxics Substances Control.
Other Berkeley tenants include a Bayer research unit, Xoma pharmaceuticals, Sybase software and the California State Automobile Association.
While Garr was unavailable for comment Thursday, De Tienne said that project was continuing.
“It’s still deemed incomplete” by the city, he said. “I’m meeting with the Transportation Department Monday, and there are some toxics issues still to be resolved, but I’m moving ahead.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s not over till the fat lady sings.”
The construction materials and heavy equipment were gone Thursday and the gates secured by new locks.
Garr herself has said she was leaving for a week’s stay in British Columbia Friday.›