Inspired by Precedent, part 2

Daniella Thompson

Built in 1956, Anthony Hall looks like a Maybeck building for a reason.
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2006)

24 October 2006

If you’re looking for architecture inspired by precedent, there’s no better place to look than the University of California campus. Nowhere else in town is so much architectural variety concentrated within such a confined area. And the precedents are apparent in all manner of buildings, from the most prominent to the humblest.

Pelican Building/Anthony Hall (1956)

Just a few paces east of Sather Gate, between Moses Hall and the hulking Barrows Hall, a charming pavilion shelters under oaks and redwoods on the south bank of Strawberry Creek. Most people would recognize it by the bronze pelican statue on the lawn.

The building is strongly reminiscent of the First Church of Christ, Scientist: wide, sheltering roof eaves; unfinished redwood posts and beams; dragon-head beam ends; industrial steel-sash windows; rough stucco tinted a blotchy red; a colonnaded trellis; cast-concrete post capitals bearing pelican reliefs. They all cry out, “Maybeck!”

But wait a minute! Those plain round concrete pillars supporting the trellis are modern. Maybeck never used those. How can this beguiling pavilion be so Maybeck and yet not be?

Sonotube-formed concrete columns support the wooden trellis. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2006)

Earle C. Anthony

The answer harks back to 16 April 1903. On that day, wealthy U.C. student Earle C. Anthony (1880–1961) founded the humor magazine California Pelican. Begun with a staff of ten, the Pelican was in operation until the 1980s and for many years ranked among the top college humor magazines in the nation. Along the decades, its contributors included the likes of Rube Goldberg, Jon Carroll, and the jazz singer Susannah McCorkle.

Following graduation, the enterprising Anthony made his name in cars and broadcasting. From 1915 to 1958, he was the Packard distributor for all of California. It is said that one out of every seven Packards ever sold passed through his showrooms. In 1923, the Los Angeles Packard dealership’s neon signs were the first installed in the United States.

With his father, Anthony invented the gas station, opening the first two in California. Their trademark was the chevron, which Anthony soon sold to Standard Oil. He was also a bus-line pioneer, founding the company that would become Greyhound. In the early 1920s, Anthony built the Los Angeles radio station KFI AM, to which he would add KECA AM, now KABC.

The Packard showrooms in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles were designed in the 1920s by Bernard Maybeck, who was also responsible for Anthony’s Los Angeles mansion. Thus, when Anthony decided in 1954 to donate $90,000 for a Berkeley campus building to house the Pelican, it was Maybeck he turned to.

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2006

The elderly architect, already in his nineties, declined the commission, referring it to Joseph Esherick (1914–1998). Esherick, a leading Bay Area modernist who taught at U.C. Berkeley for many years, would co-found the College of Environmental Design with William Wurster and Vernon DeMars. His best-known projects are Wurster Hall (with DeMars and Donald Olsen), Sea Ranch, the Cannery in San Francisco, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The Pelican Building is Esherick’s tribute to Maybeck. It’s been called “a unique overlap of First and Second Bay Traditions.” In their obituary for Esherick, Richard Peters and Jean-Pierre Protzen marveled, “Who would ever guess that the architect of the Pelican Building on the Berkeley campus is also the architect of Wurster Hall?” In 1992, the AIA California Council fittingly honored Esherick with the first Maybeck Award.

And what of the Pelican? In the February 2003 issue of California Monthly (“We gave the world the bird”), Bob Wieder, who edited the magazine in the 1960s, wrote that Anthony had funded the building “with the stipulation that it would forever house the Pelican and only the Pelican. It took the University years of legal weaseling to undo the terms of his will [...] Pelly was booted from the Pelican Building around 1973 and gradually withered away in Eshleman Hall.”

The Pelican Building is now the home of the Graduate Student Assembly. It was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on 3 February 2011.

Senior Hall, the only log cabin designed by John Galen Howard. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Senior Hall (1906)

If the Pelican Building is a traditional building by a modernist, Senior Hall is a vernacular building by an academician.

“Perhaps the most famous and quintessential wood building is the log cabin,” noted architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson in the Summer 2000 edition of Blueprint (National Building Museum). ”By the mid 19th century, these simple buildings had captured the American imagination and have remained there ever since. Celebrated in politics and prose, and illustrated innumerably in paintings and prints, the log cabin came to represent the frontier spirit and earlier times.”

Popularly associated with integrity and democratic values, the log cabin was a fitting venue for leaders of the Cal student body when they gathered to discuss problems and issues of common interest. These discussions were the main purpose and activity of the Order of the Golden Bear, founded in 1900.

In 1905, when the Order of the Golden Bear received permission to build a student hall on campus, the university’s supervising architect was John Galen Howard, a product of the �cole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Having arrived at Cal in 1902, he already had a few campus buildings to his name, chief among them the Hearst Greek Theatre, the Hearst Memorial Mining Building (the latter still under construction), and California Hall, all with Classical antecedents.

On the face of it, Howard was the person least likely to design a log cabin. Yet this New Englander was attuned to vernacular architecture, went on various sketching expeditions, and would design several brown-shingled buildings on campus and nearby.

Steven Finacom, who compiled the history of the Order of the Golden Bear, wrote that Howard’s intent was to reflect “characteristic California Architecture.” Located behind the Faculty Club, Senior Hall was likened by Professor Henry Morse Stephens to the “heart” of the university, with the Faculty Club representing its “mind.”

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004

Sather Tower (1914)

In John Galen Howard’s body of work, a log cabin was a decided aberration. Far more typical was the stately Campanile, which almost overnight turned into Berkeley’s most enduring icon.

Howard wanted the bell tower to “rise with a slender stem, bursting into bloom at the summit.” No American precedent could fit the bill, and Howard reached over the Atlantic for his model. Anyone who has visited Venice or seen pictures of Piazza San Marco will recognize Sather Tower as a simplified version of the Campanile di San Marco.

Campanile di San Marco (Wikimedia Commons)
  There are differences between the two towers. The shaft of the Venetian Campanile is built of red brick, whereas Sather Tower is a steel structure clad in granite. The Italian belfry features four arched openings on each side, while the California version has three. The original has a ribbed shaft with slit fenestrations along the sides; in the copy, the shaft is almost plain, and the slits run down the center. On the other hand, only Sather Tower is ornamented with corner obelisks topped by bronze finial flames symbolizing enlightenment. Yet there’s no mistaking its origin.

The Campanile di San Marco is 323.5 feet tall (Berkeley’s reaches 307 feet). It was built between the 9th and 12th centuries. Having suffered earthquake damage in 1511, the tower was restored by the architects Giorgio Spavento and Bartolomeo Bon, assuming its present appearance in 1513.

Several additional restorations took place over the intervening centuries, but on July 14, 1902 the Campanile di San Marco collapsed. Photos of the time show a hillock of rubble in Piazza San Marco that fortunately left the surrounding buildings unharmed.

The Venetians wasted no time and rebuilt their Campanile dov’era e com’era (exactly where and as it had been). The reconstructed tower was inaugurated on St. Mark’s Day, April 25, 1912. The following year, construction began on Sather Tower in Berkeley.

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2008

This article was published in the Berkeley Daily Planet on 27 October 2006.


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