Berkeley Landmarks :: The Ellen Blood House
  



Give the Blood House a transfusion!


Three landmarks on Durant Avenue: the Blood House between the Albra and the Brasfield (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Summer 2003

What of Berkeley’s traditional campus neighborhood in the Southside? Suddenly, it seems that it’s being steamrolled with a Manhattanization program—buildings going up practically overnight. And still, yet another high-density, build-up-to-the-max-and-out-to-the-lot-lines project is in the City’s pipeline, requesting a demolition permit for the landmarked Blood-Tompkins house at 2526 Durant Avenue. Certainly this stately Victorian near Telegraph Avenue deserves new life, perhaps a restoration, maybe even a move forward on its lot, to be joined by a complementary infill building (e.g., Dwight-on-the-Park Project, recipient of a BAHA Preservation Award). But to be demolished in the name of another densely-packed housing project, most of which are already going begging with For Rent banners?!


Although the old live oak and rose bushes in the garden of the
Blood House were removed in the late 1980s, this block of Durant Avenue is still distinguished by its traditional architecture. The Blood House sits between two Landmarks. (1939 photo from Donogh File, BAHA)

As preservationists, we are continually challenged to remind Berkeleyans that our architectural and cultural resources contribute significantly to Berkeley’s social and economic vitality. In the early 1970s, both nationwide and locally, citizens worked hard to create helpful planning tools to protect our historic fabric: the National Historic Preservation Act (administered by California’s Office of Historic Preservation), the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), our own Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance (now buried within the Revised Zoning Ordinance and facing further erosion if the City-advocated “By Right” permit goes through), and our Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (also facing erosion by City staff revisions).


The Blood House in February 2004 (photos: Daniella Thompson)

The threatened demolition of the Blood House—a proud survivor—summons a new challenge to our political will and tests our City’s commitment to preserving its irreplaceable heritage, especially now as the Southside, more than ever, needs to enhance its remaining unique architectural character.

2526 Durant Avenue was built in 1891 for Mrs. Ellen Blood, who first arrived in Berkeley in 1889. A woman of means, Mrs. Blood engaged the architect Robert Gray Frise to design a prominent Queen Anne house with a large side garden that complemented the other fashionable houses lining Durant Avenue. In 1907 the Blood House passed on to Perry Tompkins, a college classmate of Mrs. Blood’s son (class of ’92) and a lifelong financial partner of Duncan McDuffie, with whom he promoted the development of Berkeley’s Claremont district, San Pablo Park, and Northbrae, as well as San Francisco’s St. Francis Wood. Tompkins also was instrumental in the establishment of two of Berkeley’s leading financial institutions.

Perry and Xora Tompkins’ residence in the Blood House added a new name to the list of “Blue Book” families living on Durant Avenue in the early days: Judge William H. Waste; Addison W. Naylor (Shattuck’s successor as president of the First National Bank of Berkeley); Dean Witter, founder of the investment firm; William E. Knowles; University Physician George F. Reinhardt and his wife Aurelia–future president of Mills College; Frank Lawton, developer and partner of James L. Barker; Professor Cornelius Beach Bradley; J. Edward McCreary; and later, as apartment residents, the John Galen Howards. A residential street of stately homes and apartment houses, Durant Ave. gradually evolved until, by 1930, it also accommodated clubs, churches, and even a hotel. In 1936 the Tompkinses remodeled their house by redesigning some features and facing the house with stucco—perhaps to reflect the revival styles of the day.

Genteel, urbane, sophisticated—the 2500 block of Durant Avenue. The Blood-Tompkins House is to the right, out of camera range. The picture shows the annual Engineer’s Day Parade on 17 March 1922 (photo from California Pictorial, April 1922)

When BAHA and the City of Berkeley completed the State Historic Resources Inventory in 1979 in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act, the Blood House was deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as “...particularly striking and sole holdover on that block from the 19th Century. The Blood House, set in the middle of a spacious garden with California live oaks and loquats, is a pleasant contrast to the surrounding buildings, and gives a sense of history to the neighborhood.” The City’s 1999 Structure of Merit designation further cites its contribution to the College Homestead Tract and its being “a major contributing building to the early historic architectural and urban character of the Southside, particularly on a block that historically has been residential.”

This August, the Landmarks Preservation Commission denied a demolition permit for the Blood House, guided both by the Ordinance and by an Environmental Impact Report (required under CEQA guidelines). The Commission determined that an inadequate effort had not been made to find “an alternative that called for preserving the Blood House and building a new structure on the rear and side yards.” The Commission further concluded that there was not a basis of “need for new housing” that would justify “overriding considerations” to demolish the historic Blood-Tompkins House. Will the Zoning Adjustments Board (on 23 October) and the City Council uphold the Commission, the spirit of the nation’s preservation planning laws, and the words of our city’s own Area Plans? If you wish to participate as a preservationist on this issue, please call the BAHA office: (510) 841-2242.

BAHA Newsletter #113, Summer 2003


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See also:
Yes, the Blood house is a rare survivor in its neighborhood

A preservation alternative for the Blood House

 

  

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