BAHA history

Anthony Bruce

Lesley Emmington, Anthony Bruce & Lisa Bruce in BAHA’s first
office, in a space donated by the City of Berkeley, Summer 1977
(photo: BAHA archives)

18 January 2005

1901: prehistory

Although it is true that historic preservation in Berkeley is a fairly recent phenomenon, glimmers of interest in the significance of Berkeley’s built environment can be seen as early as 1901 when John Boyd, noticing the swift changes occurring in town, called for the formation of an historical society to preserve photos of Berkeley buildings that were already becoming historic.

The 1940s–1960s: Civic Art Commission

The next decades saw sporadic and unsuccessful attempts to preserve historic homes as museums. In 1949, Elizabeth Kendall Thompson’s Backgrounds & Beginnings section of an exhibition of local architecture at the San Francisco Art Museum gave impetus to research on Bay Region architects.

With a growing awareness of the significance of Berkeley’s architecture and the loss of a number of fine examples in the late 1950s and ’60s, the Civic Art Commission and local architectural historians began compiling lists of important structures. In early 1968, efforts to save the Loy House (Ernest Coxhead, 1892) increased public awareness of Berkeley’s architectural heritage and the need to protect it.

Berkeley Gazette article of 12 February 1968 reports on efforts to save Ernest Coxhead’s Loy house at 2431 Ellsworth St.

The 1960s: Urban Care

In 1965, Urban Care—a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of the environment throughout Berkeley—was established. Its stated goals also included the preservation and protection of historical landmarks. Many of the members of Urban Care had expressed an interest in historic preservation, and an architectural heritage committee was envisioned. By late 1967 an effort was made to find a chairman for such a committee. A willing chair was found in Elinor Richey (author of The Ultimate Victorians), who had worked with a cultural heritage group in Chicago. She had resolved to establish a similar group here and was recruiting a committee when approached by Urban Care’s Rosalind Lepawsky. In January 1968, the Architectural Heritage Committee of Urban Care held its first meeting. This was the first meeting of a group that would later evolve into BAHA.

Oakland Tribune, 7 February 1972

1971: Committee on Architectural Heritage and Urban Beautification

During the next two and a half years the committee studied preservation ordinances from other cities and helped with the Junior League Survey. The custom was to disband in the summer, but in 1970 the committee meetings did not resume in the fall. Elinor Richey, no longer chair, became concerned that the momentum built up by the committee would be lost and appealed to Urban Care director Fred Tamke to reactivate the committee. The major catalyst for reactivating the group was the threat to St. John’s Presbyterian Church (Julia Morgan, 1908), which was brought to their attention by Lesley Emmington in December 1970. The Committee on Architectural Heritage and Urban Beautification, as it was to be known, began again in January 1971 under the dynamic leadership of Fred Tamke and joined by a number of active new members, among them JoAnn Price and Richard Ehrenberger, whose efforts secured Oakland’s Camron-Stanford House from demolition; Shirley Dean, planning commissioner and later city councilor and mayor; attorney Carl Bunch; and Lesley Emmington, whose special dedication made her name synonymous with preservation in Berkeley. The goals were to arouse citizen interest (two long-term BAHA initiatives—the heritage calendar and the newspaper series—were begun in the fall of 1971) and to write and seek the adoption of a preservation ordinance for Berkeley.

The heritage calendar featured in the Oakland Tribune, 17 December 1972

1973: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Committee

The Committee soon began to take on an identity of its own, and as early as 1972 there was discussion as to existing independently of the parent organization. In 1973, the Committee broke ties with Urban Care and emerged as the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Committee. With its internal affairs in order, the group once again threw itself into the writing of a preservation ordinance. The passage of the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance in March 1974 was the major accomplishment of the Architectural Heritage Committee. Not only did the Committee write the ordinance and lobby for its passage, but it helped in the selection of the first commissioners.

Richard Ehrenberger, Jack Hillmer, Lesley Emmington & Leslie Freudenheim at the Hillside Club reception celebrating the publication of Building with Nature, 8 November 1974 (photo: Craig Buchanan)

1974: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association

With the hard work of the ordinance behind, and a post office box and logo, the organization once again began its endeavors to promote preservation awareness in the community. In February 1974, an Open Forum on Preservation was held at St. John’s; April brought the first series of the annual neighborhood walking tours (which continued through 1985); and the reception for the authors of Building With Nature at the Hillside Club in November brought together town and gown in a successful and well-attended event that established preservation as a legitimate concern in the community. That year, the committee began to seek dues-paying members, and on 9 December 1974, with close to 90 members, the committee was officially incorporated as The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.

Allan Temko and Shirley Dean, two of the panelists at the conference/workshop at South Berkeley Community Church (Hugo W. Storch, 1912) to kick off BAHA’s Urban Conservation Survey, October 11, 1975 (photo: BAHA archives)

1977–79: Berkeley Urban Conservation Survey

BAHA’s first major project was the Urban Conservation Survey which began as a Bicentennial project involving neighborhood volunteers surveying their own block. This survey became the nucleus of BAHA’s extensive files on Berkeley buildings. To expand the scope and effectiveness of the survey, BAHA applied for and received a matching grant from the State Office of Historic Preservation, and Berkeley became one of the first cities in California to conduct a State Historic Resources Inventory. As an in-kind match from the City, BAHA was given an office at 1844 Addison Street in February 1977. When the survey ended in 1979, BAHA realized that an office was a necessity for community outreach, and so it continued through additional operating grants, and since 1981 has successfully been kept open without outside funding.

From a small room in City Hall, BAHA moved to a spacious loft in an old lumberyard; then, courtesy of the Shattuck Hotel, to the Berkeley Conference Center at the Masonic Temple building, 2105 Bancroft Way at Shattuck Ave. (William Wharff, 1905); and eventually to the current location at the McCreary-Greer House.

The BAHA office in a loft of the old National Guard Armory at 1950 Addison St., 1979 to 1982 (photo: Anthony Bruce)

1986: McCreary-Greer House

A major defining event in BAHA’s history was the gift of the McCreary-Greer House in the summer of 1986. Ruth Alice Greer, who had known the house all her life and owned it since 1961, gave it to BAHA to ensure its preservation for future generations. BAHA took on new responsibilities with the acceptance of the gift, but also gained greater recognition by operating from our own historic landmark building.

McCreary-Greer House (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

In the four decades since its incorporation, BAHA has continued to grow and to make its presence felt throughout the community. Our purpose is to educate the community to encourage and secure the preservation of Berkeley’s rich architectural heritage. Read about BAHA’s activities.

Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association
2318 Durant Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704

(510) 841-2242

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