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Landmarks Commission Considers Demolishing Squires Block Building

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday July 03, 2007

Controversy is mounting over a proposed use permit and an application to demolish a one-story commercial building in the historic Squires Block in North Berkeley which was submitted for review to the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). 

Neighbors say that 1505 Shattuck Ave. is a historic structure which shouldn’t be demolished, while its owners cite a former landmarks decision to refute its right to protection. 

A public hearing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the North Berkeley Senior Center, when residents can comment on the demolition proposed to permit construction of a new 4,820-square-foot, two-story, mixed-use building at 1505 Shattuck. 

The building is one of three owned by upscale clothing store Earthly Goods owner Allen Connolly on the Squires Block. 

Other buildings at the site include a single-story commercial building at 2106-08 Vine St., a two-story commercial building at 2100 Vine St. (Earthly Goods) and a single-story storage building which would be demolished as part of the project. 

Since the buildings are over 40 years old, the application was forwarded to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in March 2005 to consider the historical significance of the buildings proposed for demolition. 

The commission designated all of the Squires Block as a city structure of merit, while indicating in particular that the buildings at 2100 and 2106-08 Vine St. were of historic interest, but not the one at 1505 Shattuck Ave. 

1505 Shattuck could be “altered or demolished without prejudice for a new contextual store/residential building,” the designation stated. 

The structure of merit designation said that the Squires Block had architectural value as a reconstruction (which was done in 1979-1980) of a “splendid example of a Queen Anne two-story Victorian store building in its original location.” 

Berkeley residents Harry and William Squires set up North Berkeley’s first drug store at 2100 Vine Street. It also served as the location of North Berkeley’s first branch Post Office for almost 60 years. 

At one point, the Berkeley Unified School District used the second floor for students, to relieve overcrowding while it sought funds for new schools. 

According to the landmark application, the original store at 2100 Vine was a single establishment which split into two separate stores by 1919, both opening into Vine Street.  

It was later turned into one large store and has been the site of Earthly Goods since 1979. 

The commission’s designation stated that the main building, with characteristics such as an enlarged 1902 footprint, restored towers and original mansard detail with scalloped shingles and second-story bay windows, was a “visual reminder” of the original architectural character of the neighborhood. 

2104-8 Vine St. is a contributing structure at the site which first appears on the 1950 Sanborn map. Toward its rear end is a low brick storage shed which appeared in 1929 and 1950 marked as “Dry Cleaning.” 

Located at the southeast corner of Shattuck and Vine, the single story flat-roofed building at 1505 Shattuck is believed to have been constructed as part of the 1979 work done at the Squires Block. 

Although building permits are missing from the city files, the landmark application states that “the construction at 1505 Shattuck is of 1970s style.” 

According to a posting on the Northside Neighbors Association listserve by Daniella Thompson, who publishes for the Berkeley Architectual Heritage Association and is a freelance writer on historic architecture for the Planet, the Sanborn fire insurance maps illustrate that 1505 Shattuck has existed as an address since 1911 and that it appears in the 1929 and 1950 editions of the maps. 

The 1929 and 1950 maps, Thompson said, show 1505 Shattuck as a “very small store adjacent to a larger store at 1503 Shattuck.” 

Thompson concludes that the “building’s facade has changed more than once,” leading the LPC to determine that the “building has lost its historic integrity.” 

Thompson said that portions of the building could be historic and, if so, should be preserved. “It would be a good idea to investigate it,” she said. 

Owner Connolly, in an e-mail to the community in June, denied that the building was historic and described it as being “a late 1950s concrete block structure with a redwood veneer applied to the front 27 years ago by him.” 

Other area residents remained skeptical about the demolition and want more information about the proposed development and accommodation for a possible increase in parking. 


Berkeley High School old gym 

The LPC will consider landmarking the Berkeley High School (BHS) gymnasium at 1920 Allston Way Thursday. The public hearing was closed at the May 3 meeting.  

Landmark commissioners failed to reach a consensus at the June 7 meeting, with a motion to declare the 85-year-old structure a landmark failing on a 4-3-1 vote. 

A minimum of 5 votes is required for granting landmark status.  

The gym is home to the warm water pool—a lifeline for the East Bay’s disabled community—which the school district plans to demolish according to its South of Bancroft master plan 

The BHS South of Bancroft project, which was approved in January, includes tearing down the old gym and building a combination of classrooms and exercise rooms. The stadium on the football field will be rebuilt and the parking lot inside the grounds will be torn down, with the resulting space used only for athletic purposes thereafter.