Berkeley High Makes National Register List

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday January 22, 2008

The National Register of Historic Places granted the Berkeley High campus the status of a historic district, the National Park Service announced last week. 

The decision, made on Jan. 7, came two months after the State Historical Resources Commission unanimously approved the nomination for the campus to be listed on the National Register as a historic district. 

The school district will receive a formal letter from the State Historic Preservation Office in the next few weeks informing them of the decision. 

The Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission’s vote to nominate the campus to the National Register in November was tempered with the acknowledgment that the old gym on the campus, itself the subject of a landmarking battle and now slated by the Berkeley Unified School District for demolition, had been neglected and altered, and that a number of non-historic structures occupy the southern part of the campus. 

Marie Bowman, a member of Friends Protecting Berkeley’s Resources, the group responsible for writing the historic district nomination, was not available for comment by press time. 

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. 

“It’s gratifying,” said Berkeley landmarks commissioner Carrie Olson, who attended the school. “The state has finally recognized the hard work and years of research of the few willing to give up their lives and push on. I am thrilled that the city supported it in the end. I honestly don’t know what the school district will do in the end but these designated structures are not something to be taken lightly. It’s a matter of great honor.” 

The school district had sent a letter asking the state to exclude the old gym since it lacked the integrity needed to belong to the historic district. 

In her letter to Milford Wayne Donalds, the state historic preservation officer, district Superintendent Michele Lawrence stated that the different buildings on the Berkeley High Campus could be more accurately defined as “several districts rather than one cohesive district.” 

“We think the important consideration for the commission is to avoid creating a historic district when there is no reason to create one,” the letter stated. “If the commission determines that an historic district is warranted, we would suggest that the district include only the Art Deco Buildings (G, H and the Community Theater) and no other buildings or landscaping.” 

The letter further states that the school district’s analysis of the old gym concluded that the most important historical characteristic of the building was not its original look or design, but its structural retrofit completed in the 1930s. 

Lawrence could not be reached for comment by press time. 

The Friends 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.  

The Berkeley Board of Education recently approved a plan to demolish the Old Gym and the warm water pool within it to build classrooms and an athletic facility which is scheduled to take place in 2010 as part of the master plan. 

According to the letter, the retention of the building would “hinder the full utilization of the school site for educational use.” 

Lawrence urged Berkeley High teachers at a meeting last week to reach out to the community about their problems with space crunches on the campus. Currently classes are held in portables at Washington Elementary School and the lobby of the Community Theatre. 

The plan to relocate the warm pool to the school district’s Milvia Street site will require Berkeley voters to approve a $15 million ballot measure. 

The City Council last week delayed a decision to put it on the November 2008 ballot.