Page One

Landmarks Commission Approves Three Projects--
Debates Procedures for Landmarking McDuffie Estate

By Steven Finacom
Wednesday February 09, 2011 - 10:24:00 AM
The landmark Mobilized Women of Berkeley building on the 1000 block of University Avenue was originally a community service structure built to a design influenced by Bernard Maybeck.
Steven Finacom
The landmark Mobilized Women of Berkeley building on the 1000 block of University Avenue was originally a community service structure built to a design influenced by Bernard Maybeck.
The plan for façade upgrades and courtyard entry improvements by Charles Kahn, as approved by the Landmarks Commission.
Kahn Design Associates
The plan for façade upgrades and courtyard entry improvements by Charles Kahn, as approved by the Landmarks Commission.
The Weisbrod Building at the southeast corner of University and San Pablo Avenues will undergo a staged façade renovation, as approved by the Landmarks Commission.  Much of the building is presently covered with plywood.
Steven Finacom
The Weisbrod Building at the southeast corner of University and San Pablo Avenues will undergo a staged façade renovation, as approved by the Landmarks Commission. Much of the building is presently covered with plywood.
Plans for the San Pablo Avenue façade of the building presented to the Commission by Jim Novosel of The Bay Architects.  The façade above the light-colored horizontal band is largely intact; the area below the arched windows will be rebuilt as uniform storefronts.
Bay Architects
Plans for the San Pablo Avenue façade of the building presented to the Commission by Jim Novosel of The Bay Architects. The façade above the light-colored horizontal band is largely intact; the area below the arched windows will be rebuilt as uniform storefronts.
Long shuttered, the historic UC Theatre is scheduled for renovation into a live music venue.  The Landmarks Commission approved small modifications to the lobby, presently hidden behind a plywood barrier, and the adjacent commercial space on the right.
Steven Finacom
Long shuttered, the historic UC Theatre is scheduled for renovation into a live music venue. The Landmarks Commission approved small modifications to the lobby, presently hidden behind a plywood barrier, and the adjacent commercial space on the right.
The ornamented upper façade of the UC Theatre will remain intact when the building reopens.
Steven Finacom
The ornamented upper façade of the UC Theatre will remain intact when the building reopens.

Berkeley’s Landmarks Commission held a lengthy—more than four hour long—meeting Thursday February 3 with an ultimately productive set of results. 

One new building—the Pelican Building on the UC Berkeley campus—was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark, improvements to three major existing landmark structures were reviewed and approved, and a number of smaller matters discussed. 

The approved renovations will have a big visual impact on University Avenue, where all three buildings are located. Two are commercial structures near San Pablo Avenue and the third is the historic UC Theatre in Downtown Berkeley. 

The most time consuming item of the evening will not be resolved, however, until March. This was the proposed landmarking of 22 Roble Road, an old Mediterranean-style mansion with extensive grounds built in the 1920s by prominent Berkeley developer Duncan McDuffie as his own family residence.


In an odd variation of debates before the Landmark Commission, everyone present—including the new owners of the house and an extensive delegation of their consultants—favored landmarking the house. 

There was a heated dispute, however, over the accuracy and completeness of the landmark nomination and when the Commission should take action on the landmarking proposal. 

After considerable public testimony and debate the Commission voted to give a subcommittee a month to review and reconcile all the material presented, with a final vote on the landmark nomination scheduled for March 3.


The Commission convened with a full nine members, including one temporary substitute, architect David Trachtenberg who was sitting in for absent Commissioner Steve Winkel. 

Pelican Building Landmarked 

In one of the quicker items of the evening the Landmarks Commission voted 9-0 to landmark the Pelican Building (also known as Anthony Hall) on the University of California, Berkeley campus. 

Designed by Joseph Esherick in 1956, it becomes City of Berkeley Landmark #311.


Two members of the Commission, Gary Parsons and Robert Johnson wrote the Landmark application. The Commission had initially opened the public hearing on the application at the January meeting, heard from one speaker, and decided to continue to hearing until February. 


At that time it was expected that representatives of the EHDD firm, which Esherick founded, would attend the February meeting but Chair Gary Parsons said he had learned they could not come for various reasons. “They are all super pleased this is happening,” he said.


The continued public hearing had only two speakers who both spoke briefly in favor of the nomination. John English said “the Pelican Building obviously should be landmarked”, and concluded with the slogan “Long Live the ‘Pelican’, the Bird is the Word!”  

The “Pelican” was the campus humor magazine, founded by Earle Anthony, who also donated funds for the building a half-century later to provide a home for the publication. LisaEsherick, daughter of architect Joseph Esherick, told the Commission “I think it should be landmarked.” 


The landmark application was “an incredible job”, said Commissioner Austene Hall. “I learned a lot. This has always been one of my favorite (buildings).” 
“We took a lot of time on this one” said Johnson, referring to the writing of the application, “but it was fun.” 


“We have heard from the University that it does not object to landmarking the building”, he said, adding “We hope that they might come and consult with us when they get into the design of the seismic retrofit.” University owned properties are not subject to City ordinances, so the designation does not have any direct control over the building. 

“This building is relatively young, and there was a ton of information available,” Chair Parsons added, because Esherick office files have been preserved in the Environmental Design Archives at UC Berkeley. 

“When we get into the era when people are e-mailing, there’s going to be a billion e-mails—but where will those e-mails be, is the question,” he mused about the future of research in archival documents. 

On the motion of Commissioner Carrie Olson, the building with its site was designated a landmark with the Period of Significance 1956-1980, the era when the ‘Pelican’ occupied the space. 

The University now assigns the building to the Associated Students of the University of California, which makes it available as a headquarters for the Graduate Assembly. 

McDuffie Estate 

The second and much more contentious landmark nomination of the evening involved 22 Roble Road, the Duncan McDuffie estate. The circa 1926 property, a large, tile-roofed, Mediterranean style house with extensive gardens, was built by developer Duncan McDuffie as his family home. 

More than a quarter century earlier the young McDuffie joined older Berkeley realtor Joseph Mason, to found the now iconic firm of Mason-McDuffie. 
The firm did planned developments of several Berkeley neighborhoods, including the Claremont district and Northbrae, as well as developments in other communities, including St. Francis Wood in San Francisco. 

McDuffie was also a leader in conservation organizations, including the Save The Redwoods League and the Sierra Club. The firm of noted architect Ernest Coxhead prepared the design for the house, with the Olmsted Brothers firm planning the gardens. 

The landmarking was proposed because of the distinguished design pedigree of house and grounds, the significant role of Duncan McDuffie in local development and environmental history, and the use of the house by the long-time second owners—the Moncharsh family—as a place for numerous social and fundraising events over the years. 

Debate centered around two lines of reasoning. On the one hand, the current owners of the property had brought several consultants—some of whom had prepared a landmark application—to argue that the application was sufficient and the house should be designated as a landmark that evening. They were supported by some of the adjacent property neighbors who came to testify. 

On the other hand Lila Moncharsh, daughter of the previous owners, had also pursued a landmark application and mustered her own array of historic consultants, local history experts and community members to also argue that the house should be landmarked but that the owner-sponsored application was inaccurate and flawed and should be improved before acceptance by the Commission.


A third perspective was provided by City staff—regular LPC assistant Amanda Bensel, and Current Planning Director Debbie Sanderson, who was sitting in for injured Commission Secretary Jay Claiborne—who took no position on the merits of landmarking the house, but advised the Commission that the landmark application as submitted by the owners was technically complete but, in the view of staff, needs revision. 

Commissioners in their public comments largely divided into two groups that aligned with the arguments of the public hearing speakers. On the one hand were those, led by Commissioner Miriam Ng, who thought the owners’ proposals and plans for renovations shouldn’t be delayed and the building should be landmarked immediately. 

On the other were those led by Commissioner Carrie Olson, who argued the application should be revised and that the Commission would be unwise to act without a clear and detailed list of features of significance to preserve. 

After sometimes heated discussion and debate the Commission resolved to continue the matter to the March meeting with the goal of making a final resolution then. 

In the meantime a subcommittee of three Commissioners was formed to try to reconcile all the historical materials and testimony submitted and produce a list of features of significance for the Commission to consider in March. 


Identifying features of significance—parts of the building and property that are character defining and should be preserved—is a crucial action by the Commission, since that list will guide Commission review of any proposed renovations, even decades from now. 

Before the Commission acted it took extensive testimony from more than a dozen individuals. Attorney Rena Rickles, acting as a representative of the owners, said “It’s much more fun coming to you and saying we’d like to landmark this property.” (Rickles has appeared before the Commission in the past as a representative of other owners unhappy about proposed landmarking.) 

She argued that the landmark application prepared by the firm of Page & Turnbull and submitted by the owner was sufficient. “With more time, more details, it would not change” the key issues and features of significance. 

Rickles said the current owners, Rachelle and Stewart Owen, who currently live on the East Coast, “have had great success in their professional lives and they very much want to open up the house again” as a location for fundraisers and community events. 

“They were advised that landmarking would seriously impact their sales value. They said they didn’t care.” The couple, Rickles said, plans to move to Berkeley to retire in the renovated house and make it their last home. 

Kerstin Fischer of Fischer Architecture, design consultants for the owners, told the Commission that “generally speaking the landmark designation is for those areas of the building visible from the public right of way”, and offered the Commission a presentation showing views from Roble Road: The property sits downhill of a wall along the street.


Fischer’s stated assumption about the scope of landmarking resulted in some awkwardness, as Commissioners explained that the LPC has purview over all exterior features of a landmark property, not just those visible from the public right of way. 
“There is nothing in our ordinance that talks about public right of way”, Olson clarified. 

“A landmark is a parcel. The features to be preserved are the features to be preserved.” “Our purview is the exterior of the building”, Chair Parsons emphasized. “It’s the whole exterior.” 

In the face of that clarification, Fischer Architects seemed to make a strategic retreat. Kerstin Fischer abandoned what appeared to be a detailed PowerPoint presentation, quickly flipping through the slides instead. 

Andrew Fischer, her partner, told the Commission that “much of this discussion should be left to the historians.” 


However, he added, “it’s important to point out a few things.” He said that some features of the house and garden identified in material given by the Moncharsh group to the Commission had since been altered by subsequent owners. For example, the beams of a rustic loggia had been covered with insulation and cut through by heating tubes and that a garden stairway had been converted from stone to concrete steps. 


“The bigger part is, in the overview, the building is described as if it was in 1926, and the reality is it’s 2011”, he said. 

Berkeley-based architectural historian Michael Corbett spoke next. He had been hired by Lila Monscharsh to comment on the Page & Turnbull landmark application. 

“I have to say I think it’s funny in the famously contentious world of Berkeley landmarks that both sides here want to see the same thing. We both want to see this made into a landmark”, Corbett told the Commission. 

The area of difference, he said is “our position is basically that the nomination isn’t ready yet.” “This nomination isn’t there yet.” “The nomination you have (from the owners) is incomplete and inaccurate.” 

“This building is unusually complex and sophisticated”, Corbett said. “That’s no surprise, it should take some time to get things right.”

He added that he had “a list of recommended features to preserve if you get to that point.” 

The list “would be good to see”, answered Chair Parsons. 

Lila Moncharsh spoke next. “I’m very touched” that Commissioners want to landmark the home her family lived in for many years, she said, but the application “should be a celebratory document. We’re having trouble getting there.” 

“It’s been a struggle and a half.” “We’re having a battle over what to preserve.”“I can’t keep having Michael Corbett…giving landmarking lessons to Cora Palmer”, she said, referring to one of the Page & Turnbull architectural historians who had worked on the owner’s application. 

“If the McDuffies were here, if my parents were here, they would want (you) to know how grateful they are for what you do for the community”, she told the Commission. 

Judy Holland, a neighbor of the property, was the next speaker. She said she had lived below 22 Roble Road for more than 35 years, calling it “this beautiful, beautiful house that is the linchpin of the neighborhood.” 

She said she and her husband were there in support of the current owners and their proposed renovation. 

“I’d just like to reiterate what Michael Corbett said”, Susan Cerny, the next speaker, told the Commission. Cerny is the author of two architectural histories and guidebooks and numerous landmark applications. 

“When I wrote Berkeley Landmarks I used landmark applications as my source of information”, she explained. If she were writing the book again and including 22 Roble Road, “this landmark application would end up leaving me bereft of information.” 


“I would like to ask you to hold the public hearing open”, she concluded. “The whole history of Duncan McDuffie (in the application) is insufficient.”


Cerny was followed by Cora Palmer from Page & Turnbull. “There were a lot of hands in this” researching and writing the landmark application on behalf of the owners, she said. 

The house has architectural merit, cultural value, and historic value and, she told the Commission, she believes it’s significant.

 “This really was the purpose-built house that Duncan McDuffie constructed for himself and his wife Jean”, she said, calling McDuffie “a really important developer in the area.”


The house is also significant, she said, for “all the different political and non-profit fundraisers that took place here.” “That’s the great story about this property, all of the these things together. This is a wonderful place.” 

“One of the most important things about this property is the interplay of the garden and the house”, she added. “Duncan McDuffie was really interested in the 1920s ideal of the indoor / outdoor room.”


David Bigham, landscape architecture consultant, addressed the same theme, talking about “this distinguished garden” and “formal / informal in close relationship” in the landscape and house. “The axial treatment of the property is strong but often softened by the plant materials”, he said. 

“The formal parts of the garden were very much intended for outdoor living.” 
“I hope that this garden’s future will be as one of the most beautiful landmarks in Berkeley”, he concluded.


Bigham was followed by Rachelle Owens, one of the owners of the house, who emphasized she had made a difficult trip from the wintery East Coast to attend the hearing. 

She said she had attended Cal, the College of Arts and Crafts, and worked as an administrator at a local private elementary school.


“I’m happy to be back in Berkeley”, she concluded. “I am very interested in the idea of aging in place.”


When a realtor told her about the house for sale, “I came out just to see the house and I really fell in love. The garden is amazing.”
 “Everything about the Roble Road house is amazing.” 

“We’re getting into our retirement years”, she said of herself and her husband. She talked about her adult children, her grand children, and wanting to bring them to the house. She grew up in Southern California and ‘when I saw Roble Road, that’s the memory I had, of my grandmother’s house”, a large, Spanish-style home.


As her allocated time for comments ran out, she told the Commission, “I traveled 3,000 miles. I’d like one more minute”. Chair Parsons invited her to continue.


“I grew up in a house filled with intellectual ferment”, she said. “There was lots of politics in my house. I’m used to it”, but “I’m embarrassed for my neighbors” on Roble Road. 

Turning to Lila Moncharsh who was sitting in the audience a few feet away she referred to messages to neighbors, saying “these e-mails have been going around saying things about us that are not true”, including warnings, she said, that the house might just be remodeled and re-sold.


“We’re coming to Berkeley to retire. We’re coming to Berkeley to live”, she said. “We want to bring back the life of Roble Road. I want to put the money back into Roble Road.” “I’m hoping you’ll be mindful of that.”

“I love the house, I want to move in, I want you to designate it”, she said to the Commissioners. 

Ruth Todd from Page & Turnbull followed Owens in the random draw of speaker cards. She defended the application prepared by her firm, saying that architectural historians follow reference standards and guidelines in the preparation of their research. 

“We did enough due diligence and research”, she concluded. “I don’t think there’s any argument about this project’s significance.” 

“We’ve already spent 175 hours and counting…and we stand by our report”, she said. “We feel we have met the criteria for landmark status.” 

“No one in this room would argue the property doesn’t need to be designated a landmark” said the next speaker, Daniella Thompson, who is also the current president of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. 

But, she added, “there are differences of view about the quality of the application.” 

“Page & Turnbull can’t really say they’re not aware of needs to go into a proper landmark application.” 

“I totally agree with what Michael Corbett said and I second what Susan Cerny said”, she concluded.


Two neighbors spoke next, both saying they supported the landmark application of the owner. They were the last that had turned in speaker cards.

Commissioner Olson then began an informal Commission discussion, saying she was inclined to continue the public hearing until March. 

“I feel like I have a lot of information in front of me that needs to be consolidated. We need to have the application that building deserves.”

“My intent is not to have anyone pay for hours more of professional consultants”, she said. “The great thing about this Commission is that we have incredible resources in this community.” 

“Not all architects understand historic preservation, it’s a unique skill”, she added. 

She also noted that owners of designated historic buildings have access to the State Historic Building Code, which can give some flexibility and cost savings in making modifications. 

“I have one question”, Owens asked from the audience. “If we’re designating the house, we’re designating the house.” “We’ve been paying, so far $15,000, to get this report done.” 


“There are things that are missing from this report that are really substantial”, Olson replied. 

“Can you give me an example?” Owens shot back.


“Features to be preserved”, said Olson. “This will have dozens of items. And it isn’t just the house, it’s the gardens.” “I can see holes in the landmarks applications. They (other applications) tell a story. This tells bits and pieces.” 

“I’m not opposing anything you’re saying”, Owens answered. “But we do have time constraints.” 

“I think you’ll find that we do our best to be understanding of the constraints”, Olson said. 

She asked if the owner had submitted architectural drawings and a project to the City; if the house were to be landmarked, a next step would be for those plans to come before the Commission for review.

 “I’ll have to check up on that”, Sanderson said from the staff table. Rickles walked past the podium to talk to Sanderson. 

“They’re waiting to submit structural alteration permits”, Bensel clarified for the Commission. 

“I think we’re looking at it (reviews of proposed alterations) being on the agenda in April” for review of alteration permits, Olson concluded. 

“I’ve read these letters from the neighbors”, Commissioner Ng objected. “I think there’s a sense of urgency.” The house has been vacant, she said. She said she thought after a previous Commission meeting that the two groups with perspectives on landmarking the house would get together, but “we come here tonight and we find they haven’t been working together.” 


“These poor people want to get on with the project.” “We don’t want to be viewed as a deterrent to completing the landmark house they deserve”, Ng concluded.

“I don’t feel we’re a roadblock at all”, said Commissioner Anne Wagley. “I see us as bending over backwards.”  

“We would just like to get all of these pages into a form that looks like this”, holding up the sheaf of loose documents given to the Commission on 22 Roble Road on the one hand, and the Pelican Building landmark application on the other. 

“I do think it’s important to have a complete and accurate application”, she concluded.“It’s incumbent on us to not make a decision until we have a complete and accurate application.” 

“I think it’s unreasonable to hold these people up to a standard” equal to the Pelican Building application, Commissioner Antoinette Pietras said. 

“We have model standards”, Wagley replied. 

“Why do you allow people to spend $15,000?” Pietras said. “I’m just putting myself in the shoes of these homeowners.” 

“Why were all of these documents plopped on our desks tonight?” Commissioner Ng asked. “Good question”, Chair Parsons observed. 

“What the public document is, is the landmark application in print”, said Olson. The application goes into the City of Berkeley’s records as the accurate account of the history and significance of the building. 

Parsons pointed out that staff had recommended that the application needed further work. “We have been put in this position of looking like a roadblock”, he said, but “the fact that there are architectural plans ready for approval when we haven’t ever discussed the features to be preserved is the cart before the horse.” 

“This has been dumped in our lap, and I’ve been hearing everyone’s frustrations with that”, Parsons concluded. “This is half-baked.” 

“I would also like to give the owners a chance to respond to the things that have been provided” by other people commenting on the application, Olson said. 

“If staff may give you some advice”, Sanderson said to the Commission, “Doing an application with two distinct groups” is difficult for staff and the Commission. “The application we received was incomplete.” 

Shortly afterwards Sanderson clarified, saying “I need to correct an inaccurate statement.” “There was a letter sent (by the City) that the application was complete”, explained Bensel. “It does need revision.” 

“If you took action tonight I think you would be in a vulnerable position on defense of that position,” Sanderson said. “Once you’ve landmarked it, you can’t undo it.” 

“I know it appears to folks this is taking a long bit of time but it’s complicated”, she concluded. “We don’t want people to use the appeal process to get a change added in.” 

“I’ve been on the Commission for eight years and I can never remember a case when there have been so many people who have raised issues about an application”, Commissioner Johnson said. “We’re adding one month” to the process. 

“Is there a way we can bifurcate the issue?” Commissioner Pietras asked. 

No, said Sanderson. “It has to be one thoughtful, consolidated and serious project.” “Some things take time, and there’s an awful lot of information at the last minute.” 

Trachtenberg had a similar question. “Is it possible to, in an informal sense, give the architect some of the features to be preserved?” 

“If we did that it would be with the caveat it’s informal”, Chair Parsons said. “Maybe it’s just an act of consolidation that has to take place.” 

“It’s really every positive” Commissioner Hall said. “There are so many people who are interested in this amazing property.” “We want it to happen when we have all the right information.” 

But, Commissioner Ng said, “we all agree we don’t want it (the landmark application) to come back in April” instead of being fully resolved in March. “Everyone wants the thing” landmarked Trachtenberg said. 

Olson said she thought the list of significant features offered by Michael Corbett was a useful starting point, but “the owner hasn’t seen it yet.” Parsons said it might be useful for Commissioners to revisit the property (“Oh my God!” Owens said audibly in the audience). 

“If I was working on this project, looking at that list I would have to stop work”, Trachtenberg said. 

Olson moved to create a subcommittee of the Commission to review the material presented and return to the Commission in March with a list of recommended features to preserve. Olson, Wagley, and Ng were appointed to the subcommittee. 

It was agreed that the public and the owner would have one more week to submit additional material and comments to the subcommittee. The Commission is “not asking the applicant to submit a revised application”, Sanderson clarified. 

Olson added that it was not necessary for the two disputing groups to reach a full agreement themselves. “What we don’t need is for you guys to agree. What we do need is to see what you are putting in there” for Commission consideration. 

The motion to appoint the subcommittee passed 8-1. A subsequent motion to keep the public hearing open until March was approved unanimously, and the Commission moved on to other business. 

Weisbrod Building 

As the room emptied out, architect Jim Novosel came to the podium to present plans for renovations at the Weisbrod Building, 2001-2005 San Pablo Avenue and 1106 University Avenue. The landmark one story brick commercial building anchors the southeast corner of the San Pablo / University intersection. Much of the building is vacant. 

The building, designed by Spiveck and Spiveck, was constructed in 1930. It was designated a City of Berkeley landmark in July 1985. 

The 27-foot high facades, Novosel said, retain a remarkable amount of their original upper character, but the storefronts below have been extensively altered. “Everything above the clerestory (window) band is intact.”  

“Everything below that band has been bastardized over the years” with multiple commercial remodels and different business occupants.  

“It’s a pleasure to do this building. It’s a great gatepost building”, Novosel said. The owner is putting together financing for a staged renovation, and the first part will be renovation of the vacant storefronts. 

“We put together what we thought would be the logical thing” in terms of a renovation design, Novosel told the Commission. “The real art in the building is luckily above the clerestory.” Along the commercial façade his design proposed an array of uniform storefronts with butt windows (glass panels up against each other without dividers between them), tile bulkheads below the windows, and restored columns between the stretches of windows. 

“We want to have a rich base at the bottom of the building” Novosel said. 

“We have drawings ready” for the renovations. “Based on your approval, we’ll submit these to the City.” 

While Commissioners were generally favorable to the proposed design and renovation, some took exception to the fact that much of the façade has been covered by plywood so Commissioners couldn’t see the existing condition of the building before approving the renovation. 

Novosel said that the façade had been covered while interior demolition work, with City permits, had been going on. He apologized for the covering. “I assure you there was nothing of the (old) building on that façade below the clerestory”, he said. 

“I’d like to make a [request] please, there has to be visibility of the project”, Commissioner Olson said. “we didn’t get the benefit of being able to go see.” 

“This is a real key building” Novosel said. “We’d like to get going and get it remodeled.” 

Trachtenberg asked about the seismic status of the building. “Luckily the building was seismically upgraded about 12 years ago”, Novosel said. Trachtenberg suggested that awnings might be incorporated into the design. 

“At this point we don’t have a tenant” for the corner space, Novosel answered. “We didn’t want to commit to an awning” without knowing what a commercial tenant would like. 

Chair Parsons said he was concerned that the Commission didn’t receive design details in the presentation or packet, just the drawings of the proposed design. Novosel responded that he had worked on several landmark buildings with a similar process. Basic drawings are submitted for approval, then staff reviews subsequent design details as working drawings are prepared. 

“I really like what you’re proposing here”, Commissioner Wagley said. She suggested that some panels covering utility boxes on the University Avenue façade be painted to “recede as much as possible.” Olson suggested they be painted to match the reddish colors in the building façade. 

“I thought this was a big improvement”, Commissioner Johnson said. The current façade “is pretty much of a hodgepodge.” “I’d like to feel like we can approve the concept design here.” 

On a motion by Commissioner Olson the Commission approved the proposed renovations, designating a subcommittee of Commissioner Christopher Linvill and Commissioner Steve Winkel to review colors and later design details. 

1007 University Avenue 

The Commission reviewed renovation plans for the historic Mobilized Women of Berkeley Building at 1007 University Avenue. This 1949 structure, built with numerous glass block windows in a diamond pattern, was designated a City of Berkeley landmark in July 2009.  

(The landmarking decision was later appealed by the owner, then reaffirmed by the City in March, 2010, with a small modification.) 

Since then, the owners have leased the building—which most recently was part of the old Amsterdam Art complex that filled the north side of the block—to a cooking school, the Bauman College for Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts. Renovations to the building itself are now underway with a projected opening date, project architect Charles Kahn said, in March. 

This particular review by the Commission focused on plans to modify the low concrete wall (not a historic element) and add a metal and wood entrance and pergola to the street-facing courtyard of the “U” shaped structure. 

The Commission discussed whether a partial wall and gate of horizontal ipe wood boards was appropriate for the courtyard entrance. Kahn explained that an earlier design used all horizontal metal cables, but “it felt way too exposed for the safety of this culinary school.”  

“This was our balance,” to provide a cable fence at the sizes, and wood in the center for the courtyard entrance. 

“We want people who are welcome to the campus to feel welcome”, Kahn said, “but we also want people who have no interest in the school not to be able to just wander in.” 

“My personal pet peeve is that ipe is used and not maintained”, said Commissioner Olson. “It does require [maintenance] every three years”, Kahn agreed. “Ipe does have certain issues,” said Commissioner Trachtenberg.  

After discussion the Commission agreed to the ipe wood. “The intent is that it be maintained” Olson said. She moved approval of the design, with the condition that the material in the fence could be ipe wood, or a similar vandal-resistant material. 

The Commission unanimously approved the modifications. 

“The turnaround in that block has been remarkable”, Parsons observed, noting this project and the renovation of the adjacent non-landmark structures to house a wine business. “It’s really important that this school will be the last piece of the puzzle.” 

UC Theatre 

The third and final major project review of the evening involved renovations to the UC Theatre at 203-36 University Avenue, below Shattuck. Long shuttered, with plywood boards over the recessed open-air entry, the theater is planned for conversion into a live music venue, staging “an estimated 60 to 120 concerts plus year plus an estimated additional 12 to 24 public and private community and corporate events”, the applicants said in their written statement to the Commission. 

David Mayori, one of the managing partners of the Berkeley Music Group, LLC, and architect Robert Remiker presented the design. 

Small modifications are proposed to the entry, including a metal security gate that would pull across the façade at the sidewalk edge when the theater is closed, modifications to the freestanding ticket booth, and a metal door required by the fire department so staff inside the building can exit in an emergency if the security gate is closed. 

“The façade at the upper portion will remain intact” above the lobby, Remicker told the Commission. The non-historic marquee on the façade will be altered to have a “black skin and white letters.” 

Digital display panels, described by Mayori as “digital picture frames” would also be installed in the storefront to the immediate west of the lobby, and project changing images probably including historic photos, information about performers scheduled to appear, and possibly the menu for the café which the venue will contain. 

“More power to you”, Chair Parsons said. “I’m totally excited about the revival of this building.” 

“I want to make a pitch for why this is art,” said Olson of the digital displays. Sanderson said that City staff had carefully reviewed the display proposal and wanted to make sure the Commission considered it. 

“We have spent extraordinary numbers of hours with the sign ordinance…which is why we want to show you the examples” of the displays, she said. “What we’ve ended up with is OK with all the various ordinances that intersect here.” “Our primary concern is that it be pedestrian friendly.” 

The proposed modifications to the building were approved by the Commission on an 8-0 vote. 

Other Business 

In other business, the Commission appointed an initial subcommittee to go review landmark buildings with Mills Act contracts, to see that the owners have complied with agreements to maintain the structures. The state Mills Act allows for owners to divert a portion of their property taxes for a historic structure to building maintenance and improvements; individual contracts are made with local jurisdictions and monitored by them. 

The Commission also heard a brief staff report that a problematic utility box proposed by AT & T for The Circle on Marin Avenue will be relocated slightly further down Marin Avenue, outside the fountain-centered Circle itself.  

Sanderson praised City Public Works staff for bringing the issue forward to Planning staff. “The issue with the AT&T box is a victory because Public Works is learning to talk to us” about historic issues when modifications are made on City property, she said. 

The Commission also heard an update about Commission Secretary Jay Claiborne who was injured in a Tilden Park fall recently. “Jay is at home” said Amanda Bensel. “We’ve told him take it easy, rest and recover…I don’t have an estimated return date.” 

Parsons thanked Bensel for her extra work as the sole Commission staffer in Claiborne’s absence. 

Finally, the Commission heard Commissioner Robert Johnson report that March will be his last meeting. He has reached the two-term, eight year, limit on Commission membership. He will be replaced by a new, as yet unnamed, appointee of Councilmember Susan Wengraf. 

(Disclosure: the author made brief public hearing comments on two of the items on the agenda, 1007 University Avenue and the UC Theater. He also works for the University of California and is working on a Historic Structures Report on the Pelican Building, which the University owns.)