Commission Landmarks Brower House

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday August 14, 2008 - 08:47:00 AM

The Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the former home of noted writer and environmentalist David Brower, at 2232-2234 Haste St., as a local landmark at a public meeting last week. 

The meeting opened with a moment of silence to remember Councilmember Dona Spring and her passion for preservation. 

The two buildings on Haste were divided into multiple rental units in the early part of the 20th century and were occupied by three generations of the Brower family through the early 1960s.  

The property was purchased by Brower’s grandmother, Susan Brower, in 1902, and Brower himself lived there from 1916—according to the landmark application—from the age of 4 into his late 20s.  

The commission also landmarked a towering redwood on the front yard of the property, which, according to the application, Brower planted in 1941. 

The property is currently leased out as apartments by Lakireddy B. Reddy of Berkeley-based Reddy Realty.  

Historian and Daily Planet contributor Steve Finacom, who drafted the landmark application along with retired planner John English, said he discovered the house after reading a forward by Brower for Bay Area Wild, a book of photographs of the Bay Area’s natural landscape by Galen Rowell.  

“Brower wrote, ‘I spent my youth on Haste Street in a house now almost hidden by a redwood I planted there in 1941, hoping we could mature together,’” Finacom said. 

“I thought that was remarkable; I had no idea he grew up in the south campus. The fact that his early home and the tree he planted could have survived all the decades of demolition and turmoil in that neighborhood was wonderful. The forward was written by Brower on Nov. 8, 1996, and I read it in the early 2000s—after he died.” 

When Finacom searched for the house, he found it still existed.  

The discovery led to many hours of extensive research by Finacom and English, including interviewing Brower’s family and reading his autobiography, which helped fill in some gaps about the house. 

“We had some long stops and starts, while other things took priority, but the application was finally finished,” Finacom said. 

Brower’s son, John, who was born when Brower was the executive director of the Sierra Club, told the commission he had often heard the story behind how his father had planted the tree. 

“It’s a nice tribute,” he said. 

“The Brower Center is nice, but it is concrete and steel. The house and tree are more appropriate to who my father was. He was pretty dynamic. He tried to save wildness for future generations. Sometimes he would put ads in the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle about saving the environment.” 

Built in 1887 by the renowned builder, artist and civic leader A.H. Broad, the front house is a wooden two-story Queen Anne Victorian with a gabled roof. 

The rear house, a Berkeley brown shingle, was added in 1904. 

It was while living on Haste that Brower developed his love for the outdoors and wrote about making his first “mountain climb” on Founder’s Rock at Hearst and Gayley Road as well as his many explorations of Strawberry Creek. 

“This was a place where a lot of his opinions and ideas were formed,” said Landmarks Commission Chair Steve Winkel. 

“I think it laid the foundation for the rest of his life.” 

A graduate of Willard Junior High and Berkeley High School, Brower delivered papers for the Berkeley Daily Gazette and worked at Western Union for a summer as a teenager.  

In 1929, while working at a valve factory in Emeryville, Brower enrolled at the University of California, dropping out in 1931 after losing interest in “formal classwork.”  

Brower joined the Sierra Club in 1933 and went on to become the first editor of the club’s newsletter, the Yodeler.  

After working for the University of California Press and enlisting in the 10th Mountain Division during World War II, he became the first executive director of the Sierra Club in 1952.  

According to the landmark application, Brower was fired 17 years later “at the climax of a struggle over the direction of the organization.” 

The commission agreed that the property’s significance arose from its association with A.H. Broad and Brower, “arguably Berkeley’s best known ‘native son’” and a visionary who turned environmentalism into a mass movement in the second half of the 20th century.