Commission Landmarks UC Memorial Stadium

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday June 06, 2006

UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium joined the ranks of Berkeley’s landmarks Thursday by a unanimous vote of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). 

A proposal to landmark another big building nearby—the Bevatron building at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—was continued for another month. 

Another request, to designate the troubled Iceland skating rink, was delayed until August at the owner’s request. 

The commission also took comments on two draft environmental impact reports, one involving university projects at and near the stadium and the other for the block-square, two-building, five-story condo-over-retail complex planned for 700 University Ave. 

After hearing heated remarks from angry neighbors, the commission nonetheless gave their approval to the illegal demolition of a landmarked cottage in the Sisterna Tract historic district—though not without harsh words for the developer. 


Memorial Stadium 

“Memorial Stadium is already a landmark in the common sense of the term,” said John English, author of the designation proposal. “I urge you to make it official.” 

With the demise of Kezar Stadium in San Francisco and major alterations at Stanford Memorial Stadium, the Berkeley facility “is the region’s only intact surviving coliseum-style stadium,” he said. 

The elegant Romanesque coliseum at the foot of the Berkeley hills is the creation of architect John Galen Howard, a polymath who founded the architecture department at the university and wrote epic poems about Italian Renaissance architect/artist Filippo Brunelleschi and the Classical Greek sculptor Pheidias. 

Howard occupies a leading place in the pantheon of Berkeley architectural greats, along with Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan—who studied with Howard.  

The LPC’s decision comes as the university is planning massive developments at and near the stadium, including the addition of a row of press boxes and luxury sky boxes above the stadium rim and a 186,000-square-foot athletic training center against the stadium’s western wall. 

Jennifer McDougall, a UC Berkeley planner who attended the meeting, said, “The university respects the structure and is fine with having it landmarked,” though she did contest some of the application’s description of the surrounding spaces. 

Michael Kelly of the Friends of Piedmont Way—the street that is also a landmark—agreed with English that the trees, including native Coastal Oaks, were a special feature that deserved attention in the landmark application. 

Commissioners Steven Winkel, Lesley Emmington and Carrie Olson said they agreed, and more specific language was added to the resolution, which passed on a unanimous vote. 

At Emmington’s suggestion, the commission voted to send the news to the state Office of Historic Preservation, with a request to add the site to the California Historic Register. 

An application to include the stadium on the National Register of Historic Places is also under way. 


Bevatron delay 

Commissioners delayed a vote on landmarking the Bevatron, a particle accelerator at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that was the site of historic discoveries into the inner workings of the atom that led to Nobel Prizes for Berkeley physicists. 

Proponents have spoken as much about their fears of public health hazards resulting from demolition as they have about their desires to preserve the structure for its historic merits, and Emmington told them they should address their comments to the LPC on historic issues alone. 

That didn’t stop speakers from devoting much of their remarks to their worries about possible exposure to lead, radioactive particles and asbestos during demolition, and their concerns about the dangers of hauling thousands of truckloads of debris down crowded city streets.  

The delay, approved on a 5-2 vote with Chair Robert Johnson and Fran Packard in opposition, was granted to allow proponents to try to obtain more information from federal records. 


2104 Sixth St. 

“I’m appearing on behalf of Adolf Hitler, Ghenghis Kahn and anybody else you can blame for anything,” declared attorney John Gutierrez, who represents Gary Feiner, the developer who is converting two Victorian cottages in the Sisterna Tract historic district into duplexes, and his architect, Timothy Rempel. 

Gutierrez was responding to what he characterized as “slanderous remarks” from neighbors, who have found little to like about the project, its developer and its architect. 

“Their track record is not one that gives us confidence,” said Neal Blumenfeld, who owns a cottage adjacent to the other Feiner duplex at 2108 Sixth St. 

“If there’s money floating around, that seems to win,” said neighbor Sarah Satterlee. “I would like to see that not happen any more.” 

“I feel insulted. You should feel insulted. They knocked down a landmarked building,” said Jano Bogg, a neighbor who also lost his fence to the unannounced demolition. 

The landmark demolition in question didn’t involve the complete destruction of the cottage, but it did entail the destruction of the roof and most of the siding, including key architectural features. 

Rempel, who lives a block and a half away, has said he hadn’t been aware of the roof demolition, which he and Gutierrez blamed on the contractor. 

While Commissioner Olson has described the demolition as the first of its kind in her long experience on the commission, the LPC voted its approval—though their resolution included the provision that the city hire an architect of its choice at the developer’s expense to visit the site twice a week and report on compliance. 

Winkel also pointed out that unpermitted demolition is a crime under city code, punishable by fine and imprisonment. 


EIR comments 

More comments on the university projects came from the public during the open comment session at the start of the meeting than came from the commissioners during the formal hearing later because the LPC addressed its concerns to the university in greater detail during an April hearing. 

The university’s EIR draft involves massive construction and demolitions required to renovate the stadium, construct a 911-space semi-underground parking lot just north of the stadium, and build a new “connection” building joining offices and functions of the Boalt Hall Law and Haas Business schools. 

Johnson said the report failed to offer any justification for the elevated sky and press boxes that would have added 50 percent to the stadium’s western wall, a notion that he said is “getting away from the whole egalitarian idea of the stadium.” 

“The project is putting the whole setting at risk,” said Emmington. 

Olson said more attention needed to be given to Piedmont Way in light of earlier repairs that had led to the loss of historic trees. 

Emmington said the draft EIR for the 700 University Ave. condo project failed to give adequate consideration to three existing buildings on the site, one a landmark, another a former landmark and a third—Brennan’s Irish Pub. 

The building that houses Celia’s Mexican Restaurant had been declared a Structure of Merit until the City Council reversed the decision, and the old South Pacific railroad station is a current landmark. 

Several commissioners said they’d like to see the station—currently earmarked as the future site of the to-be-demolished Brennan’s—returned to station use. 

Developer Dan Deibel of Urban Housing Group said the railway wasn’t interested. 

Johnson and Winkel said they were both concerned about the mass of the buildings, given the neighborhood.