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Berkeley High Nominated as Historic Landmark

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday November 06, 2007

The Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted on Thursday to nominate the Berkeley High School campus to the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district . 

The commission’s 5-0-1 motion to recommend the historic district was tempered with the acknowledgment that the old gym on the campus, itself the subject of a landmarking battle and now slated to be demolished, had been neglected and altered, and that a number of non-historic structures occupy the southern part of the campus. 

The State Office of Historic Preservation will vote in Palm Springs Friday on whether the district should be listed on the National Register. 

LPC Vice-Chair Gary Parson, who had opposed the landmarking of the Berkeley High old gym, abstained. 

“The application sweeps under the rug the effects of the earthquaking,” he said. “There is not much information provided about the pre- and post-retrofit structures.” 

LPC staff advised against the district nomination. 

Marie Bowman, a member of Friends Protecting Berkeley’s Resources, the group responsible for writing the historic district nomination, said that despite the staff comments, the state and the federal governments were pleased with the application. 

The Friends had sued the school district in March for what it charged was an inadequate environmental impact report on the demolition of the gymnasium and warm water pool within its Berkeley High School South of Bancroft Master Plan. 

Located on four consolidated city blocks in downtown Berkeley, Berkeley High was the first high school in California to be built according to a campus plan and is the only collection of school buildings in Berkeley which comprises different architectural styles of early 20th-century school designs. 

The district consists of eight buildings, four of which—the old gym and Natatorium (indoor swimming pool), the Shop and Science buildings and the Community Theatre—are city landmarks. 

Designed by William C. Hayes in 1922 in the Beaux Arts style, the old gym and the administration building are the oldest buildings on campus. 

Berkeley architect Walter H. Ratcliff designed two additions to the gym and Natatorium in 1929, which were modified by Thomas Chace in 1936 according to California’s 1933 Field Act for improvements in school building safety. 

The other three Art Deco style buildings were designed by Gutterson & Corlett in the 1930s. 

“All of the contributing buildings in the district are good examples of their style and illustrate the architectural evolution of the campus,” said Bowman. “Throughout its history, Berkeley High School’s various campus plans have tried to meld programmatic and administrative functions with civic architectural vocabularies, as the campus was conceived from its very start as an integral part of the downtown Berkeley civic center area.” 

Berkeley High itself goes back to Berkeley’s very beginnings in 1878, when the city was incorporated and the school district was established. 

One of the first accredited public high schools in California, in 1884, the school had its origins at the former Kellogg Primary School, located east of Shattuck Avenue, and Ocean View School in West Berkeley. 


1050 Parker 

LPC voted unanimously against landmarking a building at 1050 Parker St. but recommended that the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) should require that its full history be recorded as a condition of its demolition permit.  

In August, the tall metal-sash, multi-light windows were removed from the unoccupied one-story World War II-era building even though no demolition permit had been issued by ZAB. By law, demolition permits for any building over 40-years-old in a commercial zone must first be reviewed by the landmarks commission to determine whether the structure has any historic significance. 

The property had been purchased by San Rafael-based Wareham Developers from Pastor Gordon W. Choyce’s Jubilee Restoration organization in June. Project applicant Darrell de Tienne told the Planet in August on behalf of Wareham that the windows were removed as part of an asbestos abatement project. 

“The building is currently in very poor condition,” Chris Barlow, who was representing Wareham Developers, told the commission Thursday. “It would cost $2 to $3 million to bring the building back to warehouse standards. We would be delighted to recognize its history through a plaque.” 

Barlow added that Jubilee had an option to buy the San Pablo Avenue lot of the property back from Wareham to construct a residential unit. 

“The building did not look so bad not long ago,” said commissioner Carrie Olson. “Since Jubilee took it over, it has totally gone downhill ... anything that had any value was taken away.” 

The building was formerly occupied by Howell-North Publishers, who specialized in Berkeley, East Bay and California topics and railroad history. 

“Preservationists are united in saying that a plaque where a demolition has occurred is a joke no one appreciates,” Olson told the Planet after the meeting. “Our hope is that ZAB will require Wareham to have its history accurately represented ... The story then becomes part of the public record where future generations and historians can access it.”