Berkeley Landmarks in the Running for Grant Funding

By Steven Finacom, Special to the Planet
Tuesday September 26, 2006

Berkeley’s City Club and the First Church of Christ, Scientist are among 25 Bay Area architectural and historic treasures competing this fall for one million dollars in grant funding from the American Express Foundation through the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

Anyone can enroll online to vote for his or her favorite project. Individuals can vote over and over—up to once a day—through Oct. 31.  

It may not be “American Idol”, but the project winning the popular vote is guaranteed at least a portion of the million dollars.  

Voters can log on at www.partnersinpreservation.com, complete a simple registration page and, once registered, return regularly to cast ballots (e-mail address and selection of a “nickname” and password are needed, but real name, address or phone number are not required). 

Voting is also possible through electronic kiosks at some Peet’s Coffee locations. 

Supporters of both Berkeley buildings are hoping for a decisive voting turnout from their admirers. 

The Berkeley City Club—sometimes called architect Julia Morgan’s “Little Castle” in contrast to her Hearst Castle mansion for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst at San Simeon—is looking to the program to continue a series of renovation and restoration projects at the seven-story Durant Avenue building. 

The building was constructed in the late 1920s as a central meeting and activity location for a coalition of Berkeley’s women’s clubs.  

Membership is now open to both sexes and much of the ornate structure is used for event rentals, meetings, dramatic and musical performances, weddings, and other ceremonies. Guestrooms are available in the tower.  

Upstairs in a cramped third floor bedroom converted to an office, the non-profit Landmark Heritage Foundation, led by energetic President Mary Breunig, marshals volunteers, prepares grant applications and organizes fundraising for the building project. 

Tables and desks are covered with piles of papers, newsletters, flyers, City Club historic paraphernalia, and renovation project documents. 

An extensive and expensive project to repair and refurbish many of the ornate leaded glass windows in the building has largely been completed.  

If the American Express grant money comes through, Breunig says, attention can turn to a façade restoration project.  

The money would “spruce up the front, which needs it terribly,” she says. “The decorative features are deteriorating; there are a lot of windows that need to be tended to.” 

The south-facing Durant Avenue façade is embellished with windows, terraces, and ornaments in a synthesis of Moorish and Gothic styles. 

The American Express money requires no exhausting effort to raise matching funds. “That’s what’s so darned wonderful about this”, Breunig says. 

“If the Landmark Heritage Foundation receives this grant, that will take us even closer to becoming a National Trust historic hotel,” she adds. Historic hotel status would yield increased publicity for the building and, Breunig hopes, bring more travelers and “heritage tourists” to Berkeley. 

Over at Dwight and Bowditch in Berkeley’s 96-year-old First Church of Christ, Scientist building—one of only two National Historic Landmarks in the city—there’s also evidence of repairs and renovations underway. 

Construction fencing has just gone up along Bowditch Street in preparation for a combined seismic strengthening and re-roofing project planned by Architectural Resources Group and Degenkolb Engineers.  

Fred Porta from the non-profit Friends of First Church is, like Breunig, hopeful and thankful about the grant opportunity. “We are excited … Hip, Hip, Hooray!” he exclaims. “I think the National Trust and American Express really get a gold star.” 

The roof repairs and seismic work on the main, original, building—which includes the structure’s primary auditorium—are partially supported with a $550,000 grant through the Save America’s Treasures program. The Friends are still raising matching funds. “We’re charging ahead”, Porta says. 

Meanwhile, seismic and other work remains to be done on a lesser known, but equally interesting, portion of the building. 

The Sunday School wing of the Church is tucked along Dwight Way. Added in 1929, it was a collaboration between an aging Bernard Maybeck and Henry Gutterson. “The floorplan and elevations were from Maybeck’s hand,” Porta notes, while Gutterson was the architect of record. 

Within the tranquil, narrow, high-roofed structure that looks a bit like an ancient monastic chapel and is complete with its own Oliver Organ, manufactured in Berkeley, the main weakness is the end wall on the south, currently without the “shear strength” required to resist a major earthquake.  

Engineering plans call for the replacement of the wood-frame wall with solid concrete, and replication of the original surface finishes. That’s where the Friends of First Church would direct any American Express grant money from the contest, Porta says. 

Although they yearn for local residents to vote their projects to the top of the list, both Breunig and Porta are also quick to encourage voters to consider the other Berkeley-area project competing for the funding, restoration of the venerable 1911 Carousel in Tilden Park.  

There are also Richmond, Oakland, San Francisco and other Bay Area projects in the running. 

The grant program is a “win, win, win”, for the whole range of preservation efforts in the Bay Area, Porta adds. Regardless of the primary winner, a million dollars will flow into local restoration work. 

An interactive map on the website provides photos and vignettes of all 25 projects. 


For more information on the grant program and to vote, see www.partnersinpreservation.com. Voting ends Oct. 31; you may vote once a day. 

For information on the City Club, see www.berkeleycityclub.com or contact the Landmark Heritage Foundation at 883-9710, or lhfjmorgan@earthlink.net  

There are free tours of the building at 2315 Durant Ave. on the fourth Sunday of each month (except December), on the half-hour from 1-4p.m. 

For information on the First Church of Christ, Scientist, see www.friendsoffirstchurch.org or write to info@friendsoffirstchurch.org  

Free tours of the Church interior are offered at 12:15 p.m. on the first Sunday of every month. Gather at the church entrance on Dwight, just east of Bowditch. 



Photo courtesy of Friends of First Church: 

The interior of the modestly named Sunday School room at the First Church of Christ, Scientist is in need of earthquake reinforcement, which could be undertaken with the American Express funding.