Landmarks Commission OKs Magnes Museum’s Downtown Move

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday July 10, 2008 - 09:31:00 AM

The Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the Judah L. Magnes Museum’s request for a structural alteration permit to rehabilitate the historic Armstrong University building in downtown Berkeley last week. 

The landmarked former business school at 2222 Harold Way, which until last November served as UC Berkeley Extension’s Language Studies Department, will reopen as the Jewish museum’s new headquarters in spring 2010. 

Magnes Museum is located in a historic building at 2911 Russell St., which will remain an integral part of the museum during its downtown move. 

The commission praised the museum’s restoration efforts, with the exception of its plans to construct a gate with plain black square pickets, which it said was not worthy of a Walter Ratcliff landmark. 

A subcommittee, including Landmarks Commissioner Carrie Olson, was established to help San Francisco-based Mark Cavagnero Associates—the architects hired by Magnes for the project—choose a color that would make the gates recede or come up with a better alternative. 

Magnes is scheduled to come back to the commission with a design for the gate at a later date. 

The nonprofit organization—the Bay Area’s oldest museum and archive dedicated to Jewish history—is proposing some changes to the school’s exterior, including altering two windows on either side of the Kittredge Street entrance and replacing the old wooden door with glass.  

The original wooden entry door will be replaced by a frameless glass door, which would be compatible with the museum’s architecture. 

“I lament the loss of the ornate door at the entrance but can’t think of a better way to deal with it than the frameless glass door,” said Steve Winkel, landmarks commission chair. “I do want to see a little more thought go into the gate.” 

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

“We worked very closely with Magnes Museum to develop the university into a museum,” said Laura Blake of Mark Cavegnero Associate. “We will be making as few changes to the exterior as possible. Most of it will be refurbishing what is already there.” 

Blake said the museum was replacing some of the original windows, since they had fallen out of the building in the past few years. 

The museum will also construct a loading area on the Kittredge Street side to unload objects brought to the museum every day. 

“We are very excited to be getting into such a historic building and becoming a part of the Berkeley Art and Renaissance culture,” said Suzy Locke Cohen, who sits on the board of the Magnes Museum. 

“The integrity of the building will be kept intact while we enhance the community with interplay.” 

Community members will get an opportunity to visit the downtown building on July 13, as part of Magnes’ celebrations for its move.  

For more information on the project visit www.magnes.org.