Berkeley Landmarks :: Berkeley City Club, Part 1


Berkeley City Club

2315 Durant Avenue, Berkeley, CA

Daniella Thompson

Berkeley Women’s City Club in the 1930s (Landmark Heritage Foundation/Berkeley City Club archives)


The California Historic Landmark designation for the Berkeley City Club reads as follows: “The Berkeley City Club was organized by women in 1927 to contribute to social, civic, and cultural progress. The building, constructed in 1929, is one of the outstanding works of noted California architect Julia Morgan, whose interpretation of Moorish and Gothic elements created a landmark of California design.”

The building is one of only three California Historic Landmarks in Berkeley, the other two being Piedmont Way and the historic core of the University of California campus.

Having launched an energetic membership campaign, the Berkeley Women’s City Club (as it was then called) grew rapidly, and by the time its six-story clubhouse opened in late 1930, the organization boasted 4,000 members. In November 1930, the club elaborated on its origins in the Berkeley Women’s City Club Record:

Before there was a Berkeley City Club in Berkeley, the desirability, the urgent need for one, was perceived by a number of women and small groups. It was obvious that some central organization, along the lines that other cities had found feasible and successful, was imperative here. Many were groping their way toward a central, unifying club, broader and more inclusive than any then existing in Berkeley and offering greater cultural, educational, and social advantages.

Among the organizations thinking and feeling along these lines were the Business and Professional Women’s Club, the Parent Teachers’ Association, the Young Women’s Christian Association and many of the smaller cultural and social clubs. [...]

It was the Business and Professional Women’s Club that, in July of 1926, took the decisive step that gave tangibe form to the City Club movement. [...] In April of 1927 preliminary steps toward a City Club were taken.

Earlier that year, in the Berkeley, California Year Book of 1930, the young club took pride of place among local organizations with a full illustrated spread all its own. The densely printed article provided a r�sum� of the club’s history and details about the club building then under construction:

In April 1927, a group of Berkeley women, long having felt the need of a center for women’s activities and long having cherished the plan of bringing this into being in their city, called a meeting of delegates from various women’s clubs in Berkeley. A temporary chairwoman, Dr. Kate Gompertz, was authorized to appoint committees to complete the organization of a Women’s City Club for Berkeley.

[...] Mrs. Frederick G. Athearn was elected the Club’s first President, by-laws were drawn up, articles of incorporation filed and a membership campaign launched. At the close of the campaign the total club membership was twenty-six hundred. There are four types of membership: Life, Regular, Non-resident and Junior, all with modest initiation fees and dues.

Entirely financed by Berkeley Women, and Dedicated to Berkeley Womanhood, This Dream Structure Now Building.

Sketch and caption from “Greater Berkeley, California Year Book 1930” (BAHA archives)

The next step was the purchase of a lot. After careful and thoughtful investigation and survey, a most valuable and desirable lot was purchased. The lot is located in the geographical center of Berkeley, between Ellsworth and Dana streets, fronting 155 feet on Durant Avenue, running through from south to north, 233 to Bancroft Way, where there is 100 feet frontage.

An architect was the next important consideration and this resulted in Miss Julia Morgan being chosen. Plans for the beautiful Club House were completed and accepted. The building as planned is to be erected on Durant Avenue, the three houses on Bancroft Avenue being allowed to remain, as the rent from these takes care of certain expenses of the property. Later a second unit will be erected using the Bancroft Way property, this unit to contain shops, studios, a Little Theatre and any additional rooms which the actual use of the building may demonstrate as necessary.

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004

A second membership campaign was conducted in the fall of 1928 and as a result of this over seven hundred names were added to the membership roll. During a third campaign in the fall of 1929, over five hundred names were added, the present membership of the Club being some thirty-seven hundred.

For the present the Club House, whose architecture is Gothic Romanesque, will contain on the first floor, offices, club rooms for rent to unhoused clubs, general reception rooms, lounge for men, swimming pool—one of the important features of the Club—and a beauty parlor. The swimming pool is perhaps the feature of the Club building which is of the greatest interest to the large number of members. The entrance to the pool is on the first floor, the dressing rooms, showers, etc., also being on this floor. The pool is on the eastern side of the building, large windows to the east opening on to a garden, providing ample light, air and sunshine as well as the out-of-doors atmosphere.

The plunge room is entirely concrete, opening through cloistered arches its entire length onto a sunny walled garden. The pool dimensions are 25 x 75 feet; it is completely tile lined, the pavements are of non-slip tile of decorative design with colorful tile dado on wall. The filtration, circulation and heating provisions are all of latest and most sanitary type. Ample dressing rooms with private tiled showers adjoin the plunge.
Sketch and caption from “Greater Berkeley, California Year Book 1930” (BAHA archives)

Pool in the 1930s, facing north (Landmark Heritage Foundation/Berkeley City Club archives)

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004

A distinctive feature of the Club will be the east and west open air courts with loggias, access to which will be had from the corridor and various rooms on the first floor. These courts will be beautified with shrubs, flowers and statuary. Tile floors will be used throughout the lower floors of the Club house; this with the courts and loggias giving a decided Mediterranean atmosphere.

Sketch and caption from “Greater Berkeley, California Year Book 1930” (BAHA archives)

The East Court is one of several garden courts which are a feature of the new club building, each court having some distinctive feature such as the vaulted and groined tea loggia pictured at the end of this court, fountains, seats, shrubbery lending color and charm. The West Court has as its special feature a lofty open loggia giving through its arches a vista of the open garden beyond, marked by a decorative bridge and a wall fountain. Smaller courts, a roof garden off the members’ lounge and assembly room, all offer outdoor opportunities for teas, fetes, etc., in suitable surroundings.

West court loggia, facing south (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

“Youth” by Clara Huntington in west court (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

East court, facing north toward enclosed loggia; ballroom windows above (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Open loggia off east court, 1930s (Landmark Heritage Foundation/Berkeley City Club archives)

The same loggia, now enclosed (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

On the second floor will be a members’ lounge, card room, members’ dining room, auditorium, private dining rooms, and the other foor floors will be given over to bedrooms, offering living quarters to members and guests of the club.

That the financing is complete is a joy and comfort to directors and members of the Club, who are all impatient for the completion of the Club Home, which wil be but a matter of some few months. The financing was done through sale of memberships, by a first mortgage bond issue and by an issue of debenture bonds sold to members and friends of the Club.

Sketch and caption from “Greater Berkeley, California Year Book 1930” (BAHA archives)

The glimpse of a dining room above only suggests the possibilities of the many rooms which will offer suitable quarters for every service from the cup of tea to the very large banquet, kitchens and rooms being so arranged that the entire second floor on occasion can be considered one vast dining room about the East Court. Kitchenettes adjoining all club rooms allow for the personal touch in suppers, teas, etc., so important in any community life. The fireplace in the dining room is of cast stone.

Dining room, 1930s (Landmark Heritage Foundation/Berkeley City Club archives)

The ceiling is made of concrete (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

[...] Berkeley, which will benefit in untold ways from the erection and operation of this splendid structure, owes much to the courage and vision of that small group of women who saw the light ahead and in the face of grave doubts expressed and many obstacles presented, carried through their plan, enlisting under the banner of the Berkeley Women’s City Club hundreds of Berkeley’s finest women, supporting and developing an organization whose service and great benefit to the members themselves and the community at large is only in its infancy.

Continue to Part Two: A tour of the clubhouse


The Berkeley City Club was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on 15 December 1975. It is California Historic Landmark No. 908 and #77000282 on the National Register of Historic Places (added in 1977)

See also:
Landmark Heritage Foundation
Berkeley City Club



Copyright © 2004–2021 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.