City landmarks commissioners took up matters concerning construction at UC Berkeley twice Thursday night—once as a pitch about a massive new project at and around Memorial Staduim and again to set a hearing on landmarking the Bevatron.
University officials, led by Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor for Physical and Environmental Planning Emily Marthinsen, faced some tough questions and comments from members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and from audience members as well.
The university plans to spend nearly a third of a billion dollars on new buildings near the stadium and on a retrofit of the stadium itself that will include a “tiara” of press and luxury sky boxes that will add 50 percent to the height of the venerable structure’s western side.
Also planned is a 186,000-square-foot athletic training center at the base of the western wall, a multi-level semi-underground parking structure to the northwest, a new building combining functions of the law and business schools and work on the Piedmont Avenue streetscape.
The university came to the LPC because the project calls for demolition of landmarked houses on Piedmont and will impact the streetscape, which is itself a landmark designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York’s Central Park and the founder of American landscape architecture.
Memorial Stadium, designed by Berkeley architect John Galen Howard, is also the subject of a current national landmark application, written by preservationist John English, who was the first to speak in the public comment session following the UC presentation.
“There’s something terribly wrong with the whole approach” to the stadium project, English said. “They are trashing the historic character of the stadium.”
English cited the university’s own historic structures report of 1999, which declared that “no additions or alterations should project above the historic rim.”
As a result of the addition of skyboxes on the western side and other additions on the east run, many historic elements would be obstructed or severely altered, he said, as would be views from nearby neighborhoods.
Gary Parsons, an architect and one of the commission’s newest members, said he was troubled by the renderings presented by the university.
“They are misrepresentations,” he said, which were not done to scale or dimension.
Views of the stadium itself either failed to include the above-the-rim sky and press boxes or did so using only dashed lines, he said.
“In other hearings, it’s been described as a tiara,” he said. “I get a little worked up about being shown things not as they will be.”
Robert Johnson, who was elected to chair the LPC later in the meeting because Jill Korte had finished her statutory maximum of two years at the helm, said he was shocked by the stadium plans.
“It scares me,” he said, noting that modern additions had destroyed the historic character of Soldier Field in Chicago.
“Do we really need something that adds 50 percent to the height of the stadium?” he asked.
“In my mind, this project trashes the historic environment,” said LPC member Lesley Emmington.
Commissioner Steven Winkel said he wanted to see the alternative projects spelled out in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the project, a document that UCB Principal Planner Jennifer Lawrence said should be ready by the beginning of May.
Emmington said the commission would need more than the 30 days allotted for comments to prepare a response to the EIR—especially if the document wasn’t ready in time for the commission’s next meeting May 4.
Lawrence said she would take up the request for an extension with university officials, but offered no promises.
LPC members then voted to appoint a subcommittee consisting of Parsons, Emmington, Carrie Olson and Fran Packard to work on a response to the EIR.
Other audience comments focused on traffic impacts, the addition of increased density in the town’s most densely inhabited sector and the wisdom of adding massive new construction immediately atop or adjacent to the Hayward Fault.
L.A. Wood and Pamela Shivola presented the commission with the latest draft of their application to landmark the Bevatron at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a structure that housed the equipment for the experiments that won four Nobel Prizes for university faculty.
Operating between 1954 and 1993 in Building 51 at the lab, the Bevatron contraction from “billion electron volts”—smashed subatomic particles together at speeds high enough to shatter them into their previously undetected subcomponents, such as the anti-proton, the particle discovered by Owen Chamberlain and Emilio Segre in a Nobel-winning discovery.
Chamberlain, who died Feb. 28, was a passionate advocate of preserving the Bevatron and Building 51.
Shivola told commissioners that Shivola told commissioners that Chamberlain hoped the building could be converted into an educational and historic resource. “It’s unique in the world,” she said.
Built between 1949 and 1954, the particle accelerator and the surrounding structure are slated for demolition by the lab, which is a U.S. Department of Energy facility.
Critics of demolition consist of those who fear the public health consequences of the demolition and removal of a building loaded with asbestos, lead and radionucleides and those who say that the massive structure is both a testament to groundbreaking research and to the legacy of the government-sponsored “big science” of the Cold War era.
So large is the structure, Wood said, that most of Memorial Stadium could fit inside its walls.
The commission will consider the landmark application during their May meeting.
The application, with links to historic documents and photos, is available at Wood’s website, berkeleycitizen.org.
While she didn’t mention the project during the meeting, Shivola later faxed reporters a message to call their attention to one of the projects listed in the lab’s environmental assessment on the demolition project, which lists projects planned in the area of the building.
Page 88 of the document reports that the lab plans to build a 60-room guest house for visiting scientists near the structure, to provide low-cost accommodations for scientists and students visiting the lab’s facilities—which include the Advanced Light Source, the National Center for Electron Microscopy, the lab’s cyclotron facility and the soon-to-be opened Molecular Foundry.
The facility, which Shivola dubbed “the Rad Hotel,” would encompass 25,000 square feet in the three-story building.
As currently planned, construction would begin in February 2007 and be completed in June 2008.