Progressive Campus Ministry Offers Housing to UC Students

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday March 21, 2008

The city’s Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) unanimously approved last week the demolition of the 83-year-old building housing the Wesley Foundation Student Center on Bancroft Way to construct a four-story mixed-use structure with a religious assembly space, a library, six residential units and group-living space. 

The project will create a 22,200-square-foot floor area on a 7,975-square-foot lot. 

An offshoot of the United Methodist Church, the student center at 2398 Bancroft Way is a progressive campus ministry for students of all faith. The center’s executive director Rev. Tarah Trueblood told zoning commissioners that the ministry had suffered a decline in revenue over the last decade. 

“The ’50s and ’60s used to be the center’s golden years,” she said. “At one point we were also known as the Wesley dating service. But many campus foundations all over the country saw fewer and fewer students in the ’90s, including us. One way to attract more students would be to give our ministry a new look. The current building is not worth saving ... We want to let it out for housing.” 

The new development project promises “European Suites”—hybrid dorm apartments—for a “perfect blend of personal space and community living.”  

When it opens in 2009, Wesley House will offer housing to 80 UC Berkeley students and have a first-floor campus ministry called the Wesley Student Center. 

“We help students figure out what they want to do with their life and who they want to do it with,” said Rev. Trueblood. “With the opening of Wesley House, our ministry will add a new dimension: fostering intentionality of community life in and among clusters of residents above.” 

The student center will also feature a multi-purpose room, student nook, exhibit space and a country-style kitchen opening to the historical Wesley-Trinity Church courtyard, which boasts a heritage coastal oak tree. 

The fourth-floor community library will overlook the courtyard and an open-air student terrace on the third floor. 

“This was an opportunity to utilize an underutilized plot of land with a single-story building to help students who are in their formative stage,” said Vince Wong, president of the Wesley Foundation Board of Directors. 

Wesley’s neighbors—including The Berkeley City Club, the Trinity United Methodist Church and Stiles Hall—supported the project. 

Developers Ali Kashani and former Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Aran Kaufer created Wesley’s proposed design. 

Prior to founding the real estate development firm Bright Street Development, Kaufer was a project manager for Berkeley developer Patrick Kennedy’s firm Panoramic Interests. He also served as a project manager for the American Baptist Seminary of the West’s mixed-use housing project, which is near the Wesley Foundation. 

Initially, the developers had requested the zoning board to approve a permit for seven variances related to lot coverage, parking and setbacks based simply on group living. 

“They were very unlikely to get seven variances with only group living,” the city’s project planner Aaron Sage told the Planet. “I asked the developers to change the project into a dwelling unit so that they could get a density bonus. The density bonus gives the city a greater chance to approve the variances.” 

The state’s density bonus law allows the city to modify or waive development standards and limits to accommodate density bonus. 

Project architects Kirk Peterson & Associates have also designed the Gaia and Bachenheimer buildings in downtown Berkeley. 

According to Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association member Steve Finacom, the center was one of the early centers of gay and lesbian student activism in Berkeley. 

“Although San Francisco has always been the regional center of gay and lesbian activism and culture, a smaller but still vigorous gay rights movement emerged in the East Bay and on the Berkeley campus during the 1960s, in parallel with other local rights movements,” he told the city’s landmarks commission at a recent meeting.  

“Historical evidence suggests that 2398 Bancroft was quite possibly the very first space where gay students felt it was safe to gather publicly. There are scattered references in historical materials to events such as dances and meetings taking place here and to early gay student groups having offices and a telephone line at this location.” 

Finacom added that this period in Berkeley’s history deserved a properly documented place in community history