Blighted campus neighborhoods

Stadium project’s potential effect spreads far and wide.

Lesley Emmington & Michael Kelly

The historic Olney House (Julia Morgan, 1911) at 2434 Warring Street is now a fraternity presenting to the world a “front garden” strewn with trash. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

September 2005

Of all the many preservation issues looming over Berkeley, the proposed seismic retrofit of Memorial Stadium is predictably the most monumental. Reports are that the Stadium will be rebuilt and expanded, including a massive excavation under the eastern side of the Stadium to create new office space and facilities. This project is part of a larger southeast campus expansion project which also includes a colossal new Academic Commons building between Boalt Law School and the Haas Business School adjacent to the Stadium. Yet, to date, the full scope, size, footprint, and design of the stadium project is still unrevealed to the public.

While the citizens of Berkeley wait to learn the particulars of the University’s plans for Cal’s Pac-10 football team in the stadium and the extent of its plans to foster global legal and business strategies in the proposed Academic Commons building, the southeast area of Berkeley, in ever increasing concentric circles, is suffocating from proliferating institutional demands. Memorial Stadium, being one of America’s few remaining classic collegiate sports facilities, is located not only in a natural setting but also within a historic context. Behind the stadium is the breathtaking Strawberry Canyon, with its backdrop of deep canyon, hills, and sky. Almost above the stadium is the picturesque Panoramic Hill, recently designated a National Historic District. Immediately adjacent to the stadium is Frederick Law Olmsted’s historic Berkeley Property tract and its gracious 100-foot-wide Piedmont Way (California State Historical Landmark Site #986). Beyond, to the south, are the traditional streetcar suburbs of the Willard Park and LeConte neighborhoods and the lovely residential neighborhoods of Claremont Court and Claremont Park—“the most desirable region for residences all along the foot of the mountains.”* The Warring-Derby corridor runs through them, connecting to Tunnel Road (still dedicated as a part of the State Highway System) and El Camino Real.

* from Frederick Law Olmsted’s “Study for Laying the Berkeley Neighborhood Including the Grounds of the College of California” in his treatise Report upon a Projected Improvement of the Estate of the College of California, at Berkeley, Near Oakland (1866).

The William Colby House at 2901 Channing Way, City of Berkeley Landmark No. 98, is one of Julia Morgan’s finest residential designs, dating from 1905. Now a fraternity house, it has become a blight. Without permit review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, a concrete “play yard” has replaced the front garden. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

The current situation is precarious for the cultural and historic resources around the stadium. It has become ordinary to experience bumper-to-bumper traffic (even in Strawberry Canyon), to be assaulted by exploding student density, to view the ever-creeping blight of forgotten trash and litter, to sight SUVs parked on lawns, to see front gardens paved-over for parking, or to view architecturally significant buildings virtually demolished by neglect. Such blight is not limited only to the scheduled seven Game Days per year. It is experienced every day and into most evenings.

It was in this context that BAHA wrote the University in June of 2004 with a plea that a full environmental review process be conducted for the stadium project, emphasizing that “any further changes to either the face of the Stadium or its surroundings, including all cumulative effects, must be fully and adequately revealed to the public-at-large in a timely fashion, in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.” (Since that letter was sent, the university has selected an architectural team, including HNTB Architecture, specialists in transportation and bridge projects; Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planners, recognized for its design of the Haas School of Business; and Architectural Resources Group, specialists in historic preservation projects.) However, as of this writing in August 2005, having been told in the press that the university intends to begin construction in January 2006, the public is still awaiting a responsible CEQA discussion.

The front lawn of the historic Arthur B. Wood House (Charles W. Dickey, 1906) serves as a parking lot, evidence of increased density not allowable through zoning in this neighborhood. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

Certainly, all questions about the effects of the Memorial Stadium and Academic Commons projects deserve serious consideration, and now. Both town and gown have a responsibility to future generations to ensure the protection of our cultural and architectural heritage. This is not just the responsibility of preservationists. It is necessary for everyone who lives in and passes through the southeast campus area—attendees of the wonderful Game Days filled with tradition, faculty on their way to work, and students walking home from campus—to strive to protect a healthy tax base, a world-class academic civility, and the enhancement of an irreplaceable environment.

Read also:
On the dangers of upgrading a Beaux-Arts coliseum
in a sylvan setting with no parking

Strawberry Canyon, “a mountain gorge”

Amelia Sanborn Allen on Strawberry Canyon

Memorial Stadium—controversial from the start

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