Public Comment

New: If you don’t want to find anything, don’t look anywhere

By Daniella Thompson
Friday March 26, 2010 - 05:23:00 PM

By now, practically everybody in Berkeley knows that on January 28, the Zoning Adjustments Board approved a use permit for a nearly 10,000-square-foot house and garage at 2707 Rose Street. The story got national play because the property owners are Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein. 

Along the way, some very basic preliminaries fell through the cracks. True, the required Structure History report was submitted on May 19, 2009, but the research work behind it was singularly shoddy if not purposely negligent. 

The report claims that “there is no architect of record and no associated persons of historical interest” for the existing structure. Both assertions are wrong. 

The 1917 building permit for the Dunham house at 2707 Rose Street, submitted as part of the Structure History report, clearly shows A. Appleton as the architect. 

Now, Abraham Appleton (1887–1981) wasn’t exactly a nobody. For several decades he was a notable figure in Bay Area architecture. 

Appleton studied under John Galen Howard and William C. Hays at the newly founded School of Architecture on the Berkeley campus, completing his studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Howard and Hays thought highly enough of him to have employed him in their private practices. Before establishing his own practice in 1920, Appleton was junior partner in Hays’ practice. 

At the time he designed the Dunham house at 2707 Rose St., Appleton was also employed by the University of California as Inspector of Buildings on the campus. His client, Lucia Dunham, was a well-known mezzo-soprano with an active concert schedule and a teaching position at the University of California, where she was a collaborator of Prof. Charles L. Seeger. In 1921, after the death of her husband, Lucia Dunham returned to New York, where she became an influential teacher at the Juilliard School, training many future concert and operatic singers. 

Abraham Appleton went on to establish a successful and long-tenured architectural practice in San Francisco with Samuel Lightner Hyman (1885–1948). The firm of Hyman and Appleton designed the National Bank of Petaluma (1926); an elegant 10-story apartment building at 2100 Pacific Ave., SF (1926); the Jewish Community Center of SF (demolished); Sinai Memorial Chapel, SF (1938); the Hebrew Home for the Aged, SF; Visitacion Valley School, SF (1937); and many homes. 

Hyman and Appleton remodeled the 16-story Crown Zellerbach building (1908) at 343 Sansome Street, SF, in distinctive Art Deco style. A two-story terracotta-clad commercial building at 2080 Chestnut Street was designed in a similar style. 

After Hyman’s death, the firm changed its name to Appleton and Wolfard. In the 1950s and ‘60s, Appleton and Wolfard designed eight modern branch library buildings for the San Francisco Public Library---more than any other single firm. They also designed the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park (1960). 

None of this information was made available in the Structure History report. 

Another major omission was hidden behind the claim that there are no designated historic resources in the project’s vicinity. In fact, the immediate neighborhood is an architectural treasure trove, including but not limited to the following: 

Greenwood Common, a City of Berkeley Landmark (designated in 1990) developed by William W. Wurster, with landscape design by Lawrence Halprin and eight houses designed by important mid-century architects. 

La Loma Park Historic District (designated in 2002), comprising 13 properties, including two designed by Bernard Maybeck, one by Ernest Coxhead, one by Henry Gutterson, and one by John Ballantine. 

Rose Walk, a City of Berkeley Landmark (designated in 1975), designed by Maybeck and lined with houses by Gutterson. 

Considering the existing structure’s architectural provenance, its notable first owner, its status as a survivor of the 1923 Berkeley Fire, and its location surrounded by numerous historic resources, the project should have been directed to the Landmarks Preservation Commission at the outset. Instead, the LPC was left out of the loop. 

While the rules should apply to everyone, they are easy to bend within the law. In the case of a Structure History report, all it takes is averting your eyes: if you don’t look too hard, you’re sure to find nothing of interest. 

This often happens when the Structure History report has been written by the applicant’s consultant. And it raises unavoidable questions about conflict of interest.