Public Health Buildings May Be Eligible for National Register

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday September 10, 2009 - 12:14:00 PM

A city of Berkeley public health building previously deemed ineligible for landmarking might fit the criteria to be on the National Register, the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission said last week. 

At its monthly meeting on Sept. 3, the landmarks commission was asked to weigh in on proposed renovations to the Berkeley Public Health Clinic at 830 University Ave.—as required under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act—as well as to comment on its historic merit. 

The commission was invitedonly to review the project, not to vote on it. 

Lorin Jensen, the city’s supervising civil engineer for the project, told the commission that the city had received $500,000 in federal stimulus funds to restore and upgrade the early 20th century structure to make it energy efficient and ADA compliant. 

The city of Berkeley will contribute $300,000 from its General Fund toward designing the project. 

The proposed renovations would add an elevator to the rear of the building, alter the main entrance ramp, paint the structure and reshingle the roof while keeping within the secretary of interior’s standards. 

The clinic currently offers comprehensive health care to Berkeley residents, including reproductive, immunization, tuberculosis prevention and educational programs. 

The city’s historic consultant for the project, San Francisco-based Knapp Architects, concluded that the building was not significant enough to be eligible for the National Register. 

However, local historian Susan Cerny told the commission that she had come across some interesting history on the clinic while researching the landmarked Mobilized Women’s building. 

“I am very compelled by the history,” Cerny said. “I am not opposed at all to what [the city] is planning to do, but I am opposed to the building being more or less condemned once it gets on record that it is not eligible for being on the National Register. The building is definitely worthy of being initiated for landmark status.” 

The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association also disagreed with the Knapp report. 

A report by Cerny says that the clinic is locally significant “in the area of medicine and health, social history, community development and for its association with philanthropist Phoebe Apperson Hearst, its architects Charles Henry Cheney and James Plachek, and founders, two early women doctors, Dr. Edith Brownsill, Dr. Louise Linscott-Hector and Dr. Robert Hector.” 

It shows that the building is associated with the women of the Berkeley Clinic Auxiliary, who since 1917 have raised funds for various projects, including the building. 

Founded in 1906, right after the great earthquake and fire, the clinic has a 103-year history that also reflects the history of West Berkeley, according to Cerny. 

“I am surprised it is not already landmarked,” said Landmarks Commissioner Carrie Olson. “The information is fascinating.” 

The landmarks commission told the city’s planning staff that, based on the information from Cerny and the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, the building was eligible for the National Register at a future date. 

The commission also landmarked the Koerber Building at 2054 University Ave. and the Capitol Market Building at 1500 Shattuck Ave.