DAPAC-LPC Discuss Downtown Architecture

By Suzanne La Barre
Friday June 02, 2006

The Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC) and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) held a joint meeting Wednesday, and the topic du jour was architectural preservation. 

The boards heard presentations from a handful of experts in the field, including well-known state historic preservation officer Wayne Donaldson. Featured perspectives ranged from traditional preservationism to “contextual” interpretations, in which contemporary structures complement existing streetscapes. The meeting was held as part of the visioning process for developing downtown Berkeley. 

Austene Hall and Carrie Olson of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association discussed the rich tradition of downtown Berkeley, which goes back 130 years, before the city was incorporated. 

In 1876, the steam train arrived downtown, Olson said, and the track cuts are still evident on Shattuck Avenue. She pointed out that many other features of bygone Berkeley remain today: Downtown is host to 94 historical buildings, including the Shattuck Hotel, the Mason-McDuffie building and the Shattuck Square building. 

She advocated for preserving downtown’s history. “Preservationists want a cohesive downtown,” she said. 

Architectural Resources Group Principal Bruce Judd looked at the economic benefits of preserving architecture downtown. 

“Historic preservation needs to be part of the economic strategy [of downtown],” he said. 

He argued that most cities with the best economic development, like Santa Fe, Carmel and Monterey, have one feature in common—they emphasize historic preservation. He further insisted that working with existing buildings rather than developing new structures creates more jobs, both in the construction phase and beyond, increases property value and otherwise improves a district’s economic standing. 

Donaldson, a leading figure in preservation architecture in California, took a philosophical approach to preservation. He urged board members to hone in on the culture of Berkeley when considering downtown’s future landscape. 

“To me, if you can focus on saving those communities that tell the story of cultures, then Berkeley won’t dwell too much on the physical structures,” he said. “…If you keep the scale, keep the communities and keep the spirit of the culture” then downtown Berkeley will attract people. 

UC Berkeley architecture professor and editor of PLACES magazine Donlyn Lyndon put a contemporary spin on preservation. He showed slides of modern structures in Spain, Italy and New York, among other places, to show how they mirror the “cadence” of established districts.  

“We need to seek not just replication of values but we need to endorse them,” he said. 

Due to time constraints, commission and committee members were unable to delve into much discussion about presentations, though Donaldson’s concept of preserving culture elicited some talk. DAPAC member Gene Poschman said it was too “nebulous” and instructed fellow members to be “less philosophical and anthropological” when visioning downtown Berkeley. 

Winston Burton, also a DAPAC member, disagreed. He said the idea gave him some context for thinking about preservation in a contemporary manner, one that doesn’t conjure up “steam trains and stagecoaches.” 

Following the close of the joint DAPAC-LPC meeting, DAPAC met to discuss a draft Environmental Impact Report for UC Berkeley’s southeast campus plans, which include retrofitting the stadium, a new athletic training center, new offices and parking. 

DAPAC members briefly debated whether to instruct the university to move its proposed 911-space parking lot elsewhere. Dorothy Walker offered a motion to do so, which Rob Wrenn quickly shot down saying, “It’s just taking one person’s problem and dumping it on somebody else.” 

Committee members eventually agreed to submit comments to the university saying DAPAC has reservations about the parking, and encourages the university to explore all other possibilities. 

Discussion of a recent Technical Advisory Committee charette, a subset of DAPAC, was deferred until the next meeting.