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BHS Gym Landmarked, But District Moves Ahead With Demolition Plans

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday July 10, 2007

Although the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted 5-4 to landmark the Berkeley High School (BHS) Old Gym at 1920 Allston Way Thursday, the Berkeley Unified School District will move ahead with its demolition plans. 

The school district is not bound legally by local landmark laws, said school board president John Selawsky. 

“This does not change our plans for what we feel the high school needs,” he said. “There are lots of ways to honor an architect, a building and a style apart from landmarking it. The Old Gym does not fit our needs. We need more open space and more classrooms. Nothing landmarked can change that.” 

The BHS South of Bancroft Master Plan includes demolition of the Old Gym and the warm water pool and redevelopment of the site with classrooms and a physical education building. 

The commission had previously failed to reach a consensus at the June 7 meeting, with a motion to declare the 85-year-old gym a landmark failing on a 4-3-1 vote. 

According to Carey & Co., the architecture hired by the school district to evaluate the historical merits of the Old Gym and warm water pool at Milvia Street and Bancroft Way, both structures qualify for the National Register of Historic Places. 

The evaluation stated that the Old Gym was “representative of important advancements in structural engineering, namely, the early seismic retrofit of public school buildings.” 

Built in 1922, the Old Gym was designed by William Hays. According to the Carey & Co. report, the original building consisted of a two-story central gymnasium with a two-story classroom section on the east and a swimming pool on the west connected by a low one-story portion.  

Two units were added in 1929, one on the south identical with the original and one on the north, designed by architect Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr. The building’s appearance changed when it underwent seismic reconstruction in 1936. 

“It has good bones,” Berkeley resident Janice Thomas told the commissioners. “It needs to be revitalized and cleaned up.” 

“Although it meets the criteria for landmarking, it didn’t provide good space,” school district spokesperson Mark Coplan said at the meeting. “It was poorly planned and there was no way of getting disabled athletes up to the gyms on the second floor.” 

Commissioner Fran Packard said that landmarking the structure would “compound the complexity” of the school district’s South of Bancroft plan. 

“It just doesn’t serve the overall purpose of Berkeley High,” she said. 

“Public interest has nothing to do with landmarking,” said landmarks commissioner Carrie Olsen. “We are here to say whether it is historic or not. I think it’s worth preserving. It’s a stupid thing to demolish a building, I have said it before and I’ll say it again. In 1960, they wanted to tear down Jefferson Elementary School. The school district has a policy of deferred maintenance: let’s make it so ugly that we have to tear it down. I know the school district is not bound by landmarking but it is the right thing to do at the right time.” 

“It’s not about nostalgia,” said commissioner Steven Winkel. “It’s not about landmarking it because the warm water pool exists there. It’s because it meets the criteria. The information that was in the EIR says that the building is a historic resource. The external building has some damage done to it, but it has some cultural significance as well.” 

The Warm Water Pool Task Force is currently working with the city to identify alternate locations for the pool. A proposed design will be presented at the disability commission meeting at the North Berkeley Senior Center Wednesday. 


1505 Shattuck Ave. 

The LPC approved a use permit and an application to demolish a one-story commercial building and build a new 4,820-square-foot, two-story, mixed-use building in the historic Squires Block in North Berkeley. 

A few area residents had said that 1505 Shattuck Ave. was a historic structure which shouldn’t be demolished, while its owner Allen Connolly had cited a former landmarks commission decision to refute its right to protection. 

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. 

The landmarks commission cited its own decision Thursday to approve the demolition application. The commission designated all of the Squires Block as a city structure of merit in March 2004, 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. 

“When we landmarked the Squires Block, we were clear to say that 1505 Shattuck could come down,” said Olsen. “I am very happy with what I see. However, I would challenge you to come up with something interesting for the gate as we are tired of seeing that awful jingling gate there for so long.”