In a low key meeting on June 2, 2011, the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission wrapped up approvals of changes to one historic Berkeley home, commented on plans for changes to UC Berkeley’s Student Center complex, and heard, with evident frustration, a presentation on how a million dollar overrun in bids for the North Berkeley Library renovation had resulted in some preservation-related elements being removed from the project.
Two regular Commissioners, Gary Parsons and Anne Wagley, were absent from the meeting this month and others left before the meeting ended, leaving the Commission with a bare quorum of five as it considered its last items of business. Architect Rob Ludlow sat in as a temporary replacement Commissioner.
22 Roble Road
After several meetings that considered landmark status, then renovation plans, the Commission signed off on a final set of changes proposed by new owners Stewart and Rachelle Owen to the historic Duncan and Jean McDuffie home and gardens at 22 Roble Road.
The owners, who bought the property last year and have stated their intention to renovate it and retire there, had their usual corps of advisors and consultants at the meeting. This time the contingent including a lawyer, two architects, a landscape architect, and a structural engineer.
Architect Andrew Fisher gave the Commission what he called a “Reader’s Digest version” of unresolved issues concerning the renovation plans. “We basically left here (last month) with seven outstanding items that needed work, as it will”, said Fisher.
He said the architects subsequently met with a subcommittee of the LPC and resolved how to handle six of the items. In most cases the owners and their design team agreed to restore or replicate historic features of the house and garden.
They presented justifications for removing and replicating a thirty-five foot stretch of unreinforced and deteriorated concrete garden wall next to the site of a proposed lap pool. Architect Kerstin Fisher said the new wall would be “a modern, engineered, code compliant solution identical to the original.”
The project would “restore the Willis Polk original lime washed finish on all of the exterior concrete surfaces” of the property, she added.
“It’s been a long road”, attorney Rena Rickles, representing the Owen family told the Commission. “They have withstood months of personal assault on their character”, but still want to “bring 22 Roble Road back to its original magical beauty,” she said.
She noted the owners had submitted several expert consultant reports on issues such as the retaining wall to support their renovation plans and proposal.
Lila Moncharsh, who grew up in the home and is a neighbor, next spoke to the Commission agreeing that the reports “did resolve a lot of the CEQA issues from my perspective.”
She suggested a number of small modifications and conditions to Commission approval of the structural alteration permit for the property. “I thank you again, and appreciate all the time the Commission has put into this”, she concluded. “I think this is a much better project, and I hope the owners realize you’ve made it a better project.”
John English, who also spoke during the public hearing, agreed the current plans represent “a much better design than the original” renovation proposals.
“I want to thank you for being thoughtful and reasonable”, Stewart Owen told the Commission. He said he and his wife want to “fix the house and make it a wonderful asset” for the community.
He alluded to “horrible, horrible, personal lies that have been told about us”, but told the Commission, “you’ve really helped us to get to what we think is the right place.”
Commissioner Carrie Olson, who was also chairing the meeting, agreed with the architect that “the subcommittee was as enthusiastic as Mr. Fisher said” when it considered the revised plans. “I am 100% sure that the owners have good intentions”, she said.
There was brief discussion of the removal of two declining trees adjacent to the house. Commissioner Olson asked if they were Monterey pines and several people nodded, but Lila Monsharsh clarified “they’re actually pines from the Sierra that my mother planted and didn’t realize they would get so huge.”
She said she was not against their removal, but suggested that one of the conditions of project approval be that two new evergreen trees be planted that would screen the northeast corner of the house.
There was additional discussion of when a historic pergola should be rebuilt in the garden. City planning manager Debbie Sanderson said “the final inspection can’t be signed off” until everything in the proposed plans, including the pergola, is complete. “The final inspection is everything done.”
Commissioners discussed the details of the project approval. “The language is both definitive and loose enough”, said Commissioner Steve Winkel. In response to a question about who would review final plans, Sanderson said the Landmarks Commission staff and Zoning Adjustments Board staff would both review them. Commissioner Olson asked that staff keep the subcommittee informed of the progress of the project.
Winkel moved to approve the structural alteration permit. Commissioner Miriam Ng seconded, and the motion was adopted unanimously.
The Commission next considered a proposed alteration to 1340 Arch Street, the landmark Wallace-Sauer House. The new owners want to remove a seismically unsafe chimney, rebuilt a few years ago, and replace it either with two metal flues or a stucco box chimney around flues.
One of the new owners, Jack Newman, told the Commission they were “excited to have purchased 1340 Arch.” “It’s in great shape, and we intend to keep it that way.”
He said the owners would prefer the exposed metal flues, which were less costly—about $10,000 instead of about $15,000. “We think the seismic budget would be better spent” on other upgrades, he said.
Although Commissioners were sympathetic to the cost issues, several expressed concerns about the exposed flues—which would be metal, painted black—rather than a boxed chimney replacement.
The flues would not be visible above the main façade, facing Rose Street, but Commissioner Austene Hall worried about how they would look from neighboring properties, and noted that paint on metal would wear off with time.
Commissioner Ng said she “agreed with Austene. The two flues seem flimsy” above the Arts and Crafts home. “The home is a substantial house.”
“I’m usually one to go with the honest materials” said Commissioner Winkel, but he agreed with Hall and Ng. “I’m responding more favorable to the simple box, in keeping with the materials and elevations.”
Commissioner Olson noted that the boxed stucco chimney would also eliminate the need for exposed metal brackets supporting the metal flues.
In the end, the Commission approved the stucco box chimney alternative by a vote of 7-1-0.
Lower Sproul Project
The Commission heard a courtesy presentation about the Lower Sproul Community Center project on the UC Berkeley campus by Beth Piatnitza, Assistant Director of Physical and Environmental Planning and the project planner for the renovations and changes to the four building complex.
(Disclosure. I work for the same office at the University and have worked on aspects of this project.)
The project was funded by a student vote in 2010. Student fees will cover about $124 million of the total cost, while the University will contribute about $99 million, Piatnitza said.
There are four buildings around Lower Sproul Plaza—the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union, the Chavez Center (formerly the campus dining commons), Eshleman Hall, the student government office building, and Zellerbach Hall, operated by Cal Performances.
“The project is primarily focused on Eshleman and MLK”, Piatnitza said. There will not be extensive changes to the Chavez Center, and no work on Zellerbach Hall, although the plaza fronted by the four buildings will be changed.
The complex was completed in stages, starting in the early 1960s with the Union and Chavez, and finishing with Zellerbach near the end of that decade. It “became a model for that type of Modern architecture”.
There have been alterations over time, including removal of a seismically unsafe open-air bridge across from the Chavez Center to the Student Union. “We have other areas around Lower Sproul that are problematic”, she said, including areas that present challenges for disabled access.
Areas of the complex do not function well, including the terraces on the west side of the MLK Union, overlooking the lower plaza, and the “pit” along Bancroft Way south of the Union.
“There’s a lot of space, but it doesn’t feel like it works for the students any more”, Piatnitza said. In Eshleman Hall in particular, “all of the little rooms and offices are being used for storage, primarily.”
The project would remove Eshleman Hall and replace it. The MLK Union had a seismic upgrade last year and is “now rated ‘good’,” but will be changed with additions along the west and south elevations.
Since about 1994, Piatnitza said, the campus has “conducted many studies and surveys” on possible changes to the complex. The project is now in the schematic design phase and is planned “to start construction in fall of 2012.”
Master planning and design work is being done by the Los Angeles based design firm of Moore Rubel Yudell. They and the campus conducted workshops with students and others and “the needs have changed over the last fifty years for students”, Piatnitza said. There’s a “great demand for collaborative space”, and the campus now has an estimated 700-900 student organizations.
Student activities now often focus in the evening and at night. “The student day really starts at 6:00 pm (and) they’re there all night”, she added.
Physical changes proposed for the complex include a plan to “take down Eshleman Hall and replace it” with “a new Eshleman building on Bancroft”, “creating a permeable edge on Bancroft”, “preserving views into the campus”, and “creative active space on ground floors.”
(Piatnitza presented a PowerPoint slide show of plans and illustrations of the project; a link to that presentation on-line can be found at the end of this article.)
The MLK Union will have a multi-story addition on the west, where the current Bear’s Lair pub and food court are located; the addition will wrap around to the south into the “pit” area along Bancroft Way.
Lower Sproul Plaza will remain a large open space, but the area along the north edge will be re-landscaped as a “ribbon of green” extending down from upper Sproul Plaza across the front of the Chavez Center and continuing between Zellerbach and the Chavez Center down into the area adjacent to Alumni House.
The current staircases from upper Sproul Plaza to Lower Sproul, and from Lower Sproul to the Alumni House vicinity will be rebuilt to incorporate wheelchair accessible ramps.
The new Eshleman Hall will touch the ground in two sections, one of them a lobby area along Bancroft, the other an enclosed space near Zellerbach Hall that might include a food service area. A second story bridge is proposed from Eshleman to the new additions to the MLK Union.
The lobby of the MLK union remains intact, but the Heller Lounge area to the west changes, as the additions to the building increase the indoor space on the first and second floors. This area will probably contain a two-story area with food services, opening onto Lower Sproul, a student multicultural center, and other common spaces.
The west addition “we’re calling the campus living room” and would have “two levels related to each other.”
Piatnitza said that at the southeast corner of the MLK Union where the building fronts Bancroft and Telegraph the project is “trying very much to retain the look of the current stairs” from the Union down to Bancroft. The design of the west addition to MLK “is a work in progress”, and the design team is “still working on the vocabulary” for that structure, and for the new Eshleman.
The new Eshleman building will be “four stories with a partial fifth story” and larger in horizontal dimensions than the current building. The exterior is not yet fully designed but might be partially covered with a “perforated metal screen” that would have “varying opacity depending on sun angles” and help to regulate temperature and light within the building.
The complex, Piatnitza said, was toured by representatives of the State Office of Historic Preservation last week and “they were excited about the project.”
Piatnitza also noted that when users of the MLK and Eshleman complex are temporarily moved out during construction, some of the “surge” funds will be spent to renovate the old auditorium of the historic Anna Head school complex along Haste Street. The Walter Ratcliff, Jr. designed auditorium there has been used for campus-related childcare.
“Thank you for doing Anna Head”, Commissioner Olson said as the Commission comment period began. (Since the project is owned by the University of California, it is exempt from direct regulation by the City).
“Hopefully the new architectural buildings will impact the bums and the homeless”, said Commissioner Paul Schwartz. Piatnitza said there would be good night lighting, and “some of the spaces will have to be staffed at night.”
“There appears to be a lot of attention paid to the buildings”, not as much on landscaping, observed Commissioner Ludlow. He urged “attention to landscape and open space.”
“One of the most successful re-works in the Bay Area is Union Square,” offered Commissioner Steve Winkel. “There’s a lot going on” there, after the plaza was redone.
Winkel expressed concern about the architectural character of the new construction of the Lower Sproul complex. “The sketches of the (earlier) Master Plan (shown by Piatnitza in the visual presentation) look a lot better” then the current architectural design, he said.
“This is a very rectangular place, and they’re getting really cute” with angles, particularly on the asymmetrical Eshleman replacement building, he said.
(Earlier in the meeting, before I arrived, John English had commented in the Public Comment period about the proposed project, raising this same issue. He told me afterwards that he had said the buildings are “a very important historic resource”, and “I'm not sorry to see the existing Eshleman Hall go; it's the complex's
least successful building.
But I'm not very happy about the proposed new Eshleman Hall. Its footprint would be bigger. It would have 40 percent more floor area. It would be right along Bancroft--at a critical interface between town and gown. And its aesthetic would be very different from that of the complex's other buildings. Its upper stories along Bancroft apparently would be surfaced with some kind of grille. What is that?
I'm especially concerned about the proposed additions to the MLK Student Union. Vernon DeMars, the architect who was primarily responsible for designing the Student Union, saw it as the complex's key building. He gave it a formal design, partly inspired by the Libreria di San Marco in Venice. Vernon DeMars liked right angles."
The Historic Structures Report said that virtually all of the MLK Student
Union building's exterior is Very Significant. But now look at the
proposed additions, whose design isn't compatible with it. Vernon DeMars would not be pleased”, English concluded in his follow-up message to me.)
Winkel also mused about projects that “put in a lot of glass then (are) trying to keep the sun from shining through it.”
“The facades could have a better material character” Winkel added. “It could, but I’m not confident it will”, said Commissioner Olson.“These iconic buildings were all built with a character and quality that we’re not going to see now”, she continued.
“I have seen a lot of shoddy perforated metal” on new buildings Ludlow observed, commenting on the possible ‘skin’ for the replacement Eshleman Hall.
Winkel expressed concern about the addition south of the MLK Union along Bancroft. “that piece outside of the building just completely wrecks that building. You might as well trash the whole building.”
Olson, who attended Cal in the 1960s, said she remembered both the successes and failures of the then-new complex. “It used to be that it was full of services” for students. But “once everything went crazy in the 60s, people didn’t stay on campus…that reality has changed again.”
“The complex has all the failures that caused them to redesign Lincoln Center” in New York City, said Winkel.
In the 1960s, Olson added, the University was oriented to Telegraph Avenue adjacent to the complex but “UC has turned its back t Telegraph and its front door to Center Street Downtown.”
“Many of the points you raised are also things we’re concerned about”, Piatnitza said.
As the night wore on, the Commission heard a presentation from architect Cathleen Malmstrom of Architectural Resources Group (ARG) and consultant Rene Cardinaux regarding changes to the North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library.
The Commission held extensive discussions with the library team in 2010 and early 2011 as plans for renovations and an addition to the landmark branch evolved.
Now, the Library has had to re-work the budget and design for the project. “The bids for the job came in a million over” the budget, said Cardinaux. “We made some changes (in the plans) and got it down to $500,000” over budget, and found additional funds to cover the extra. There’s not much contingency left in the project budget, he noted.
One of the biggest changes is elimination of the proposed wooden windows, particularly on the new construction rear addition, and their replacement with a metal framing system.
“We had a beautiful wood system that was extremely expensive”, said Malmstrom. “This was the one thing where we could catch $500,000 (in savings) by changing it.” The windows will now be an “all aluminum system.” “The inside will look pretty much like it did”, but outside the appearance will be metal, not wood.
“This has all been a big change for us”, said Malmstrom. But “basically, this is it.” She and Cardinaux showed a full-scale mock up of a window element, clarifying that the colors shown would not be the same as the final product.
“I absolutely don’t support this,” said Commissioner Austene Hall. “I think the whole back of this library is going to look awful.” “It is not something I would put my name on for the Landmarks Commission.” “When we supported it (earlier), it was a whole different project.”
“It’s kind of a conventional solution. It’s not what I wanted”, said Malmstrom. “It was kind of painful, I was shocked when the bids came in.”
“It doesn’t in any way, shape, or form belong on that street frontage”, said Commissioner Olson. “It will be a surprise to neighbors (of the building) who came to meetings” about the library design.
“How do you make a silk purse out of a sow?” Olson wondered.
“I cried when wood was lost” due to the cost overruns, Malmstrom said. “You get what you pay for”, Commissioner Paul Schwartz observed.
Commissioner Winkel suggested the exterior of the metal windows be altered with a small reveal that would add texture to the appearance. Malmstrom said she would look into that option.
Beyond the windows, a second point of contention was the main door to the Library. The original plans proposed a bronze-clad new door to replicate the original door, but that has been taken out of the project because of cost and a new aluminum door with a bronze-colored exterior is now proposed.
Malmstrom said she had been told the real bronze-clad door would cost $40,000 more than the aluminum one but didn’t have final numbers from the contractor. “I’ve been waiting for accurate figures from him, and I don’t have them”.
“We don’t want to do nothing” with the door, Malmstrom said, when some Commissioners suggested just leaving the current door, which is not the original.
“What’s there now needs to be fixed”, said Commissioner Winkel.
“This is our one shot to get a beautiful door, what we’re told is the expense is enormous”, said Commissioner Olson.
Olson said that Commission Chair Gary Parsons, who wasn’t present, had told her that he didn’t know why a door like this would cost so much simply to have a bronze exterior. “If there is a way to get the door, the moment is now”, she said.
Couldn’t the Berkeley Public Library Foundation raise additional money to cover the shortfall, asked Commissioner Ng?
“No one has asked them to pay for a door,” said Cardinaux, noting the Foundation is paying for other improvements to the building.
“It will have a different look, a different feel”, Commissioner Ludlow observed. “A good door is important,” said Commissioner Ng.
“We don’t have the money in the budget now” said Malmstrom. “We can’t tell the contractor to make a change we can’t pay for.”
“It won’t be the same aesthetic”, said Commissioner Winkel.
Malmstrom said it’s not necessary to order the custom aluminum door immediately, and she could defer until more detailed information is available from the contractor on the costs. “I’m sure that it doesn’t need to be ordered this week.”
Malmstrom noted that the Commission had been concerned about changing the flashing and gutters on the building from copper, which had originally been proposed, to painted galvanized sheet metal. She clarified that whatever the material of the gutters, “they were always going to be painted”, so the visual appearance would not be different with different metals. “As long as it’s maintained it should be fine.” “The maintenance on the libraries is exceptionally good”, added Cardinaux.
There was also discussion of whether the structure should have a walled trash enclosure. Because of the cost overruns, “we eliminated the trash room under the building”, “It was a very, very expensive part of construction.”
Trash and recycling containers are currently put outside the building and unenclosed. Cardinaux said that the Library is looking at ways to reduce the amount of trash, but because it’s a public building and can’t fully control what people bring it and put in the garbage cans, there will always be some waste being thrown out.
He said a compactor might be a possibility, along with “smaller bins and more often pick-ups” to reduce the size of a trash enclosure. The design team “can probably get it down to 20 square feet” outdoors, with a seven-foot wall around it. The wall, Malmstrom said, would match the existing width of the chimney on the Library exterior.
The Commission resolved that the proposed enclosure was acceptable, but that it would also be fine to do the project without a trash enclosure.
The Commission heard a presentation from Ariana Katovich, who works at the Earth Island Institute downtown and has organized a project called “60 Boxes”. The effort would essentially lease decorating rights to private parties for up to 60 utility boxes in the Downtown Berkeley area.
The boxes, although they vary in size and type, are generally freestanding metal structures along the sidewalk that contain controls or other equipment related to City and privately provided utilities.
Katovich said she had “lived in Downtown Berkeley for several years (and) thought it was a little gray.” She was looking for “ways we can enliven Downtown Berkeley”, and suggested the idea for the project, similar to efforts in several other communities.
The boxes present “ubiquitous opportunities” for public art, she said. In Downtown they will be decorated around a theme of sustainability—environmental, social, and cultural.
With a proposed budget of about $100,000, the project has circulated a call for artists. They will be selected on the basis of submitted portfolios, not specific designs for boxes. The approved artists will then be presented to “donors” who will select an artist and pay for a design to be created on a particular box.
“We’re soliciting donors for boxes”, Katovich said, noting about half the money for the project has been raised. Peet’s Coffee is sponsoring one box, and Mayor Bates is paying for another.
All the final artwork will be “professionally printed and installed”, on the boxes, and included on a website. The designs will be printed on a polymer coating that will be attached to the boxes, and include both the artistic design and a standardized identification of the donor.
The Bates Box will have a design abstractly portraying Berkeley streets. “They liked the idea of something to do with green streets, as you know the Mayor is a big walker”, Katovich said. A box sponsored by the Earth Island Institute will show redwood trees, although she noted that it has been suggested it also include a bear, since the redwood is the symbol of Stanford University.
The designs are up to the artists and donors, but depictions of “violence, sexual oppression, negative portrayals of diverse communities” will be prohibited. A visual arts selection committee will vet the final designs.
Would the boxes be advertisements, Katovich was asked? “No.” There will be “donor recognition” on the boxes, instead. Sponsorship, she added, “is first come, first served.” Thirty boxes have been sponsored to date.
The boxes will be coated to resist graffiti. They polymer coatings are expected to last three to seven years and, if severely damaged, can be removed and replaced with a new printing of the same design.
The boxes will also display a graphic QR (“quick response”) code that passersby can scan with their digital devices, and be linked directly to the website describing a particular box. It will be a “gallery without walls”, Katovich said.
Katovich said she had been asked to come to the Landmarks Commission because several of the boxes are adjacent to landmarked structures. “I’m blissfully ignorant of land use issues and history in Berkeley”, she said, and didn’t realize that there might be concerns about boxes near historic buildings or that the LPC would be an interested party.
It was a “process problem” she said, and the project has been trying to get the City of Berkeley “to tell us what that path is” to cover all the bases for reviews and approvals.
She noted that the owner of one building at Addison and Shattuck is “concerned about art at that corner being in direct conflict with his building.” The adjacent box has been sponsored by local architect, Planning Commission member, and former City Council candidate Jim Novosel.
She added that she thought it would be great if “historic preservation interests” would sponsor some boxes and they present “an interesting opportunity to weave together” art and history in the Downtown.
“Thank you for bringing it to us”, said Commissioner Olson. “There are parts of this project that are unusual for us…but I don’t think there are any of us who aren’t excited about doing this sort of thing in Downtown.”
Commissioner Ludlow suggested that it might be good to group visually compatible box designs near each other. “I agree with that point absolutely”, said Katovich.
At the end of the meeting Commission intern Amanda Bensel said the July meeting would be her last. She is going to go to graduate school in Monterey, then into a program that includes a Peace Corps assignment.
Bensel has done much of the staff work for the Commission, particularly when Commission Secretary Jay Claiborne was injured in a fall earlier in the year. Commissioners thanked her for her dedicated work for the Commission.
“We’re not going to have any more interns, so we’re going to be cutting back” said Claiborne.
UC materials, including project illustrations, sent to the Commission detailing the Student Center project can be found here on the Landmarks Commission website. This material includes the illustrations accompanying this article, and several other illustrations.
The “60 Box Project” website can be found at http://60boxesproject.blogspot.com/2010/07/welcome-to-60-boxes-project.html