Arts Listings

Sunday Benefit for Berkeley City Club

By Steven Finacom, Special to the Planet
Tuesday September 11, 2007

Help give the Berkeley City Club a lift. That’s the purpose, literal and symbolic, of a special party this coming Sunday, Sept. 16, at the venerable Durant Avenue landmark  

The Landmark Heritage Foundation—the non-profit organization dedicated to preservation of the building—is hosting “Cabaret in the Castle,” an “afternoon social” event with live music, food and drink, prize drawings, and a guest expert on the architect of the building, Julia Morgan. 

And it’s all for a “lift,” meaning a second elevator.  

When Morgan designed the City Club for Berkeley women’s organizations nearly eight decades ago, she provided space for a second elevator in anticipation of future expansion.  

The expansion never occurred, but the elevator is now needed as part of the ongoing renovation and refurbishment of the historic structure. 

Proceeds from the Sunday event will help fund the project. Festivities start at 4:30 in the afternoon and continue through 6:30 p.m. 

The cabaret theme is built around live, danceable music from five musicians, Mark Gilbert and Friends. Guests are encouraged, but not required, to wear “cabaret costume or dress.” 

Those not inclined to dance can wander at will through the two main floors of the building, from lounges to auditorium to dining rooms to baronial stair hall, indoor swimming pool, covered terraces, and secluded interior gardens where luxuriant vines twine and luminous lighting glows. 

Hors d’oeuvres and a complimentary beverage will be provided. 

Drawing prizes include theater tickets, a 10-hour expert design consultation for bathroom or kitchen remodel, up to a week at a Bed and Breakfast in Italy (airfare not included), books, guest stays at the City Club itself, and other donations. 

Attendees interested in learning more about Julia Morgan can sit down to a talk by scholar Karen McNeill, who wrote her thesis on Julia Morgan.  

“She places Julia Morgan in a historical period,” says Mary Breunig, head of the Landmark Heritage Foundation. Her emphasis is not so much the architecture as it is a special “period of women’s development in California.”  

The talk will be short to allow time for questions and follow-up conversation. 

Piece by piece the City Club and the Landmark Heritage Foundation are refurbishing the complex building. “Our goal is to be a National Trust Historic Hotel,” says Breunig.  

The City Club was constructed to house both long-term residents and short-term guests, along with extensive space for events and the sponsoring women’s organizations to hold their meetings. 

Breunig adds that extensive dining facilities were included, in part, to lure Berkeley women to shop nearby on Telegraph and in Downtown, then get together at the Club with friends for lunch. Even back then—the 1920s—civic leaders and local businesspeople carped that Berkeleyans tended to go out of town to shop. 

Renovation and repair work so far has included replacing the ancient boilers, repairing many of the leaded glass windows throughout the huge structure, and redecorating the rooms used for hotel guests. 

Breunig recently went before the California Cultural and Historical Endowment Board to make the case for funding for additional projects. The water delivery system in the building needs work, exterior repairs are required, and the original furnishings—designed by Julia Morgan—need refurbishment after decades of use. 

A grant was recently received from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to address the building’s interior decor, and a completed survey of the interiors will be on view at the event. 

And as for that elevator? A design consultant experienced in historic buildings has been hired, and once the money is raised, the elevator can be custom built to fit with the City Club’s architecture and Morgan’s intentions. 

Space is still available at the event. Tickets cost $50 per person, or $275 for a table of six, with advance reservations. You can also just show up on Sunday, for $55 a person.  

Drawing tickets are $5 each (discounts for larger bulk purchases) and available at the event. 

If you’re lucky enough to be the owner of a Julia Morgan house, your admission costs only $45. 

Call 510-883-9710 or e-mail the Landmark Heritage Foundation at to reserve.