Berkeley Observed :: Kenney Cottage

Kenney cottage serves as rare example of early prefabricated architecture

Susan Cerny

Kenney cottage on the move down Addison St. in 1906
(photo courtesy of the Berkeley Firefighters Association provided by Richard Schwartz)

18 July 2003

Before Berkeley became a fully built city and empty lots were plentiful, moving buildings from one place to another was common. Although houses were moved off University Avenue to nearby residential areas when University Avenue developed into a more commercial thoroughfare, a few residential buildings have survived this transformation.

The recently demolished Doyle house, built in 1892, was one of these. Another residential building that survived—although not in as good or even habitable condition as the Doyle house had been—is the Elizabeth M. Kenney-Meinheit cottage. Despite its small size and humble condition, the cottage has interesting and significant historic connections.

The Kenney-Meinheit cottage was originally located at 2214 Addison St., east of Shattuck Avenue and next to Berkeley’s first volunteer fire department. The cottage was built in 1887 for Elizabeth M. Kenney, who operated a stationery store in the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot at Center St. and Shattuck Ave. She and members of her family, including a nephew, James Kenney, who would become Berkeley’s first fire chief, lived in the cottage until 1898 when it was sold to Ludwig Meinheit.

In 1906, Meinheit moved the cottage from the downtown to what was then a more quiet neighborhood on University Avenue. The Meinheit family, whose son William became a firefighter under James Kenney, owned the cottage until the early 1960s.

Sometime in the early 1970s, the former Kelly-Moore Paint Company building was constructed in front of the cottage, and the cottage—at the rear of the lot—was adapted as a separate storage structure and essentially treated as a shed.

When a demolition permit application was reviewed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in late 2000, Jill Korte, a member of the commission, determined that the seemingly unimportant storage shed was a rare example of an early prefabricated building system designed and manufactured by William H. Wrigley in Ocean View (now West Berkeley).

Wrigley’s method of prefabricated construction was patented on 13 Dec. 1881 as a “Portable House.” Drawings and written explanation describe the modular system of upright posts grooved to hold vertical wall boards (panels). This created a double wall system that could be assembled off-site. The Kenney-Meinheit house has no nails and is entirely built of redwood.

Of the five known “Portable Houses” constructed in Berkeley, only the Kenney-Meinheit cottage still stands. However, a shipment of Wrigley’s “Portable Houses” was sent to Australia, so there may be some still standing there.

Sometime in the next few weeks the Kenney Cottage will be moved again. Instead of being demolished, this example of perhaps the earliest prefabricated house in the country will be temporarily relocated (thanks to Director of Public Works Ren´┐Ż Cardinaux) to 1275 University Ave. on a small piece of city-owned land.

This article was originally published in the Berkeley Daily Planet.


The Kenney-Meinheit cottage was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark, Structure of Merit, on 5 February 2001. It was moved from 1725 to 1275 University Ave. on 24 August 2003.

See photographs of the cottage on the move in our Photo Gallery.

Kenney cottage moves out of 1725 University Ave.
(photo: Jerry Sulliger)

In addition to a permanent site, the cottage requires complete restoration.

If you would like to get involved, call BAHA at (510) 841-2242, or send us an e-mail.

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Text © 2003–2016 Susan Cerny. All rights reserved.