Landmarks Commission Says National Register Nomination Lacks Information

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday December 10, 2008 - 07:16:00 PM

The Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission said Thursday it was unable to comment on the nomination of the Donald and Helen Olsen House to the National Register of Historic Places because the application is not complete. 

Commissioners said that the lack of pictures in the application made it difficult for them to gauge the importance of the building, which is in the Modernist style. 

The applicants, UC Berkeley architecture students Kate Lyndon, Jaclyn Dab, and Tiffany Monk and Bruce Judd, principal at the San Francisco-based architecture firm Architecture Resources Group, were not at the meeting. 

The city’s Landmarks Commission is required to review the nomination and prepare a report on whether or not the property, in its opinion, meets the criteria for the National Register. 

“In order for us to pass a judgment, we need information,” said Commissioner Carrie Olson. “Not only is the application poorly written but, if it is forwarded to the National Register, it will prevent it from being designated.” 

Located at 771 San Diego Road, the Olsen House was built in the 1950s by architect Donald Olsen. Olsen was one of the three architecture faculty members at UC Berkeley who designed Wurster Hall, which houses the university’s College of Environmental Design and Architecture Department. 

The applicants claim in the nomination that, because of its style, setting and materials, the Donald and Helen Olsen House should be considered one of the several architecturally significant Modernist houses in Berkeley today and that it stands out because of its “Miesian ideals.” 

Some commissioners said that it was not clear to them what the Miesian ideals were, since the application lacked specific information about them. 

“We didn’t get enough information for somebody even knowledgeable about the house to justify why it should be on the National Register,” said landmarks Chair Steve Winkle. “Personally I think the house merits serious discussion, but right now we have insufficient information to make a recommendation.” 

Olson said that the house was significant in the sense that it was one of several glass houses built in mid-century and bears a resemblance to the Philip Johnson Glass House, an important example of Modernist architecture preservation. 

“Essentially the Olsen House is a Glass House on poles,” she said after the meeting.  

The State Historical Resources Commission is scheduled to take up the application on Jan. 27, 2009.