Magnes Museum Moves Ahead With Relocation Plans

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Monday June 30, 2008 - 04:52:00 PM

The Judah L. Magnes Museum will ask the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission Thursday to approve a structural alteration permit to rehabilitate the landmarked Armstrong College at 2222 Harold Way, where it plans to relocate in spring 2010. 

Armstrong College was designated as a City of Berkeley landmark in September 1994 and notable structures include large arched windows located on the second floor of the Kittredge Street and Harold facades, entrance and main lobbies, a 5,000-square-foot auditorium, and an entrance sheltered by a Baroque-style balcony. 

The museum which is the Bay Area's oldest museum and archive dedicated to Jewish history, is proposing some changes to the former business educational school's exterior, including altering two windows on either side of the Kittredge Street entrance and replacing the wooden door with glass. 

The Magnes hopes to raise $36 million through a rehabilitation campaign, of which $14 million will be a permanent endowment for museum programs, museum spokesperson James Leventhal told the Planet Monday. 

The Harold Way building was originally known as the Armstrong School of Business, and many Berkeley old-timers can still remember taking typing lessons there. 

It forms an integral part of a three-square-block cluster of significant buildings, including the U.S. Post Office, Elks Club, the Shattuck Hotel, YMCA, and the Berkeley Public Library. 

The Berkeley Municipal Code requires the landmarks commission to review any exterior modifications to a landmark structure. 

The non-profit Jewish museum bought the 1924 Walter H. Ratcliff-designed Spanish-Colonial Revival style building last year from Armstrong Properties Inc., and has plans to turn it into a world-class museum. Former occupants include UC Berkeley Extension's International Center, whose lease ran from 1996 to 2006. 

The museum, now located in a historic mansion at 2911 Russell St., has hired Mark Hulbert of Oakland-based Preservation Architecture to rehabilitate the college building. 

Of all the interior changes to the building, only one will be visible from the exterior, a report to the commission from the landmarks commission staff states. In order to use portions of the building as gallery space, the windows to the galleries have to be backfilled from the interior. The report says that the only windows that will be affected by this are the four on the first floor to the west of the proposed loading entrance off of Kittredge Street. 

The museum's website informs visitors the new facility is “envisioned as a space that combines display and research, looking and learning, contemplation and discussion ... In the spirit of the museum's founders, yet with new technological possibilities, the Magnes will continue to offer public access to unique resources that let every generation find their own story in the texts, images, and sounds of the Jewish past and present.” 

The museum's collection is considered to be the third largest of its kind in the country. 

The LPC will also review a preliminary proposal by Wareham Development to demolish the landmarked Copra Warehouse (Durkee Famous Foods), at 740 Heinz Ave., to construct a four-story research and laboratory space. Wareham will return with an official application concerning the property at a later date. 

The LPC will meet Thursday at 7 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave.