North Gate Hall (“Ark”)

Hearst Avenue, University of California at Berkeley

Daniella Thompson

Front (west) entrance (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

John Galen Howard
(photo: Pack Bros., Bancroft Library
U.C. Berkeley College of Environmental Design)

The University of California’s school of architecture was the first to be established in the western United States. Even before the College of Architecture was officially founded, architectural instruction was taking place at the Berkeley campus. In 1894, Bernard Maybeck began teaching classes in the Department of Drawing under Prof. Herman Kower and H.T. Ardley: Drawing 10, “Architectural Free Hand Work” and Drawing 12, “Decorative and Industrial Art.” The following year, the Department of Drawing was split up into Instrumental Drawing & Engineering Design and Decorative & Industrial Art. Maybeck taught in both.

Maybeck advanced the idea of holding an international competition to create a master plan for the U.C. campus, and Phoebe Apperson Hearst financed it. The winner was the Frenchman Emile B�nard, but his conflicts with the university led to the appointment of the fourth prize winner, John Galen Howard, as Supervising Architect and Professor of Architecture in 1901.

When the College of Architecture was established in 1903, John Galen Howard was not only its head but the only teacher until 1906, when William C. Hays joined the faculty as assistant in architecture. Classes were first taught in the Eastman Building on Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue. In 1904 they—and Howard’s office—moved temporarily into leased space on the sixth floor of the newly completed First National Bank building, designed by Howard and located on the southwest corner of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street (the building would be torn down in 1966 and replaced by the Great Western Building).

In January 1906, the architecture department received its own home on the northern edge of the campus, at the intersection of Hearst and Euclid avenues. Howard designed this wooden building as a temporary structure rather than as a component of the campus’s “permanent” architectural plan. The 1,800-square-foot “Ark” (later the “Old Ark”) was 30 feet wide and 75 feet long. Constructed at a cost of $4,394.59, it comprised an atelier, Howard’s office, and an architectural library with volumes donated by Phoebe Apperson Hearst (who also paid Howard’s Supervising Architect salary).

Hearst & Euclid intersection in 1906. The Ark is partially visible on the right. (photo: a frame from the film “A Trip to Berkeley, Cal.”)

The Ark’s rustic shingle style was in keeping with the adjacent Northside neighborhood, populated by members of the Hillside Club, including Howard himself, who lived in a house of his own design at 2421 Ridge Road. The one- to two-story Ark featured small balconies, square-paned wood casement windows, a hipped roof with dormers, and exposed framing on the interior. Many of the same features may be seen in Howard’s Cloyne Court Hotel, built in 1904 a block and a half away.

The Ark in 1908 (photo: BAHA archives)

Hearst Avenue fa�ade in 2004 (photo: Daniella Thompson)

In 1906, the curriculum expanded to include four years of watercolor, pen-and-ink drawing, and modeling. By August 1907, Howard wrote to U.C. president Benjamin Ide Wheeler, “The number of students in design alone has increased from fifteen to twenty-seven, and the Drafting room should be at least doubled in size.” In December he requested funds for a 3,400-square-foot addition to the east (uphill) side of the Ark. The addition was built in 1908 at a cost of $6,000 and included two drafting rooms. In her book John Galen Howard and the University of California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), Sally Woodbridge writes:

The entrance to the addition [...] was on the south side, where the courtyard was later built. The drafting rooms were lit by a bank of windows on the north side. Inside the drafting rooms, industrial lamps with green shades hung from wires that crisscrossed below the ceiling’s exposed framework. The lamps could be moved along the wires to wherever they were needed. Former students recalled that the first occupants of the drafting rooms would cluster the lamps over their desks, causing a genial fracas when others arrived and tried to rearrange the lamps to get their share of light.

[...] In 1912, four years after the first addition to the Ark was completed, Howard wrote President Wheeler to request still more space: “The need is now so great for a practical doubling of the size of the building that students have to wait their turn at table.” [...]

Detail, east fa�ade. The building underwent renovations in 1993. The reconstructed window muntins are
thicker than the original ones.
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

One of the drafting rooms, 1928. Note the lamps.

This plea resulted in the building of an additional 8,500 square feet, comprising a lecture hall for 200 students (the squarish mass projecting to the south in the plan below), a 30’ x 70’ exhibition hall on the east side, and more drafting rooms on the north side. In 1913–14, a separate Drawing Building was built uphill, just east of the Ark.

Plan of the Ark in 1912. The original building is on the left (from John Galen
Howard and the University of California

Numerous influential Bay Area architects were trained here under Howard, including John Hudson Thomas, Henry Gutterson, and Walter Steilberg.

Walter Steilberg’s 1936 library wing, southwest corner
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

View from the west (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

The library wing’s south fa�ade (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Howard would remain chair of the school until 1927 and continue teaching for two additional years. Following his retirement, Ark alumnus Walter Steilberg ’10 designed a reinforced concrete-panel library wing (1936) at the southwest corner of the complex, enclosing the courtyard. In 1939, the Ark courtyard was paved in brick.

Looking west (l to r): library, lecture hall & exhibition hall
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

In 1957, the school was united with the departments of Landscape Architecture, City and Regional Planning, and Decorative Arts to form the College of Environmental Design. CED moved from the Ark into the new Wurster Hall in 1964. The Ark was reassigned to the College of Engineering and renamed the Engineering Research Services Building. It is now the Graduate School of Journalism and officially known as North Gate Hall.

Courtyard, northeast corner (photo: DT, 2004)

Courtyard, northwest corner (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Lecture hall, east end of courtyard (photo: DT, 2004)

Gallery, west end of courtyard (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Gallery, north end of courtyard (photo: DT, 2004)

Library, south end of courtyard (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

In his article Building on a vision, Harvey Helfand ’66, former campus planner and author of The Campus Guide: University of California, Berkeley (Princeton Architectural Press, 2002), summed up the trajectory of Cal’s architecture program:

Members of my class were among the first to occupy Wurster Hall in 1964, moving there from temporary buildings and Howard’s venerated “Ark” or Architecture Building (now North Gate Hall), where his architecture school had been housed since 1906. This change—from the small, brown-shingled Ark to the functional-sculptural concrete form of Wurster, with its nine-story studio tower—seemed to express the academic transition from the Beaux-Arts teaching philosophy of Howard and his successor Warren Perry ’07 to the modern reform begun in 1950 under William Wurster ’19, who later became dean of the new College of Environmental Design.

Gallery, west of courtyard
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)
Gallery, north of courtyard
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

North Gate Hall was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on 20 September 1976. Since 1982, it has been listed as #82004648 on the National Register of Historic Places.



Copyright © 2004–2019 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.