Before People’s Park

Part 1. Dwight Way

Daniella Thompson

18 April 2019

Detail, People’s Park Mural (Murals at People’s Park)

This spring marks the 50th anniversary of the People’s Park riots. Before the University of California acquired the land by eminent domain, the block bounded by Haste Street, Bowditch Street, Dwight Way, and Telegraph Avenue (Assessor’s Block 1875) was completely built up, comprising a smattering of apartment buildings, but mostly single-family homes, many of which had been converted to rooming houses. The Sanborn map of 1950 shows outlines of all the building that stood on this block. In this pictorial essay, we’re recalling the 25 vanished buildings from their decades of obscurity.

Sanborn map, 1950

One of the earliest buildings to be erected on the block that became People’s Park was Berkeley’s first church. In his book Berkeley, California: The Story of the Evolution of a Hamlet into a City of Culture and Commerce (1933), William Warren Ferrier tells us that the first Christian service was held in Berkeley in 1871. By late 1874, the need for a church building had become acute. Through exchange of land, a lot became available on the northeast corner of Dwight Way and Choate Street (later renamed Telegraph Avenue), where the First Congregational Church erected its first house of worship, financed by subscriptions. The first service was held on 22 March 1875.

First Congregational Church (W.W. Ferrier’s “Berkeley, California”)

The following year, an Italianate-style parsonage was built at 2511 Dwight Way. The original occupant of the parsonage was Rev. Edward B. Payne (later the first minister of the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley). When Rev. Payne left the church a few years later, he was replaced by Rev. Charles A. Savage. By 1884, the church had moved to its present location on the corner of Durant Avenue and Dana Street, but the pastor continued living in the parsonage on Dwight Way until 1886, when the parsonage house was sold. When Rev. T.R. Bacon replaced Rev. Savage as pastor, he took up residence next to the church on Dana Street.

The former parsonage, 2511 Dwight Way, c. 1939 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

By the turn of the 20th century, the church building was long since gone, replaced by a store building that would eventually house Shakespeare Books. IN 1878, a second Italianate Victorian house had been built at 2529 Dwight Way, and a third Victorian was erected in 1888 at 2505 Dwight Way, between the former church site and the old parsonage, which was now a club house. The three Victorians were the only residential structures that stood along the north side of Dwight Way between Telegraph Avenue and Bowditch Street. Haste Street had not yet been cut through.

The block in 1903 (Sanborn Maps)

In 1950, the former parsonage was still standing and served as a single-family home, set back on an ample lot. In August 1968, eager to profit from the upcoming take over of the block by the University of California, an opportunistic developer who had bought the beautiful Italianate Victorian that stood at 2529 Dwight Way and converted it into a hideous 10-unit apartment building acquired this property as well, demolished the old parsonage, and moved his apartment building here, thus committing the sin of destroying the two oldest surviving buildings on the block in one fell swoop.

A rare Victorian survivor is the 1888 Queen Anne house still (barely) standing at 2505 Dwight Way. It is rarely seen, hidden as it is behind a two-story mid-century commercial building housing Bongo Burger on the ground floor.

The solitary surviving Victorian, 2505 Dwight Way, c. 1939 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

During the first decade of the 20th century, the block, known as Assessor’s Block 1875, underwent rapid development. Haste Street was cut through, the large lots were subdivided, and new houses were constructed on all but a handful of the parcels. Since all the houses were built within a span of less than a decade, the vast majority was designed in the fashionable idiom of the day, i.e., Colonial Revival.

The block in 1911 (Sanborn Maps)

One of the simpler Colonial Revival houses on Block 1875 stood at 2515 Dwight Way. It was constructed as a single-family residence, but was converted into two flats before 1929. By 1950, it had become a rooming house. The building featured an asymmetrical façade with a side portico. The double-hung second-story windows had attractive upper sashes with a dozen small panes in each.

2515 Dwight Way, c. 1939 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

The same building and its neighbor to the east are visible in this 1948 photo short from Regent Street. On the extreme right is the Lucinda Reames House No. 1 (A. Dodge Coplin, architect, 1902–1903). The Regents of the University of California acquired 2515 Dwight Way in June 1967 and subsequently demolished it.

2515 & 2521 Dwight Way seen from Regent Street, 1948 (courtesy of Lisa Riley)

The elegant Colonial Revival house that stood at 2521 Dwight Way is shown here a decade earlier than in the previous photo. Note the corbels under the roof eaves, the latticed leaded glass in the upper window transoms, and the dentils and corbels decorating the elaborate window frame on the ground floor.

By the 1920s, the building had become a boarding house. Later, a garage in the rear became a second dwelling. The Regents of the University of California acquired the property in January 1968 and subsequently demolished the house.

2521 Dwight Way, c. 1939 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

Window detail, 2521 Dwight Way, c. 1939 (rmsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

A third Colonial Revival house with a side entrance was the one that stood at 2523 Dwight Way. This house incorporated attractive features such as an arched “eyebrow” dormer, leaded glass in the windows, Ionic capitals on the portico columns, corbels under the eaves, and elegant window frames.

By mid-century, the 11-room, 8-bedroom dwelling had become a rooming house, owned by absentee landlords living in Turlock. We have no record of the date the building was acquired by the Regents of the University of California, but we do know that it was demolished along with its neighbors.

2523 Dwight Way, c. 1939 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

2523 Dwight Way, c. 1953 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

At the right edge of the photo above, one can glimpse the western wall of the adjacent building to the east. That building had an overhanging curved Moderne corner on the second story, but the ground floor (at least on its west side) remained unchanged, indicating a Colonial Revival past.

That bizarre hybrid building stood at 2525 Dwight Way. Like most of the buildings on Block 1875, it began its life in the first decade of the 20th century as a single-family dwelling designed in the prevailing domestic architectural style of the day. By 1929, the house had been converted to a duplex, and in 1939, realtor Ormsby Donogh marked it as seven units. In 1946, the building was altered to create the Moderne upper story. The 1950 Sanborn map showed the building as containing ten apartments.

2525 Dwight Way, c. 1939 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

The photo above shows the building as it was in 1939, when it still retained all its original façade features, including the handsome portico flanked by Ionic columns and the elegant window frames. The photo on the right, stamped December 1953, is all we have of the building after its transformation into an unfortunate hybrid.

2525 Dwight Way, 1953 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

The Selkirk Apartments at 2527 Dwight Way were an infill development, constructed in 1923 on a lot that had been carved out of a larger lot. This building, which contained 16 two-bedroom apartments, was one of only two structures erected during the 1920s on the northern stretch of the 2500 block of Dwight Way.

The Selkirk Apartments were acquired by the Regents of the University of California in September 1967 and subsequently torn down.

The Selkirk Apartments, 2527 Dwight Way, c. 1939 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

The Edwin W. Carpenter House, an elegant Italianate Victorian that stood at 2529 Dwight Way, was the second residence built on the block and was already there in 1878, the year that Berkeley was founded.

2529 Dwight Way, c. 1939 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

In November 1962, the house was purchased by an opportunistic developer who converted in into the hideous apartment building shown in the photo below. He sold the land to the Regents of the University of California in October 1963, and the building was moved to its current location at 2511 Dwight Way.

The former Carpenter House, converted to apartments in the 1960s and moved to 2511 Dwight Way (Google Street View)

John Penman McTavish (1874–1956) was a liquor merchant before switching to real estate development. In 1922, he built an 8-unit courtyard apartment building on a previously empty lot at 2533–2539 Dwight Way. On the building permit, McTavish listed himself as owner, designer, and builder.

McTavish, his wife Inez, and their younger son Donald were enumerated at one of the apartments (2335) in the 1930 U.S. Census. McTavish was listed as the manager fo an apartment building, and the latter was valued at $50,000.

The McTavishes sold the building in 1949. In 1957, it was listed for sale as a 14-room student rooming house that was approved by U.C. for men students and met all U.C. health and safety regulations. The asking price was $40,000.

The building changed hands a number of times over the years, but we have no information about the final sale, to the University of California Regents, that doomed this attractive structure to destruction.

2533–2539 Dwight Way, c. 1939 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

This four-unit apartment building shown below stood at 2541 Dwight Way. It belonged to Samuel J. Whiting, a machinist, later a maintenance engineer, who in 1923 enlarged a duplex that had stood on the site since the first decade of the 20th century.

The building was acquired by the Regents of the University of California in December 1967 and subsequently demolished.

2541 Dwight Way, c. 1939 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

Perhaps the most extravagant building ever erected on the 2500 block of Dwight Way was the Conner Flats (C.M. Cook, architect, 1908), which stood on the northwest corner of Dwight Way and Bowditch Street. This Mission Revival building sported bell-shaped and perforated roof parapets, a charming balconette over the main entrance, and lots of corbels.

Two years after the Conner Flats’ construction, the building acquired a new neighbor across Bowditch street in the shape of the First Church of Christ, Scientist.

The Conner Flats were acquired by the Regents of the University of California in December 1967 and subsequently demolished.

Conner Flats, 2545–2551 Dwight Way, c. 1939 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)


—> Part 2

Before People’s Park

Essays & Stories

Copyright © 2019 Daniella Thompson & BAHA. All rights reserved.