West Berkeley’s Concrete Glass Form Buildings Serve Artisans and Light Industry

Linda L. Day

25 August 2020

Berkeley Pump Co. warehouse, 2407 Fourth Street (courtesy of Steve Smith, Norheim & Yost)

Development pressures threaten a cluster of 1940s–1950s concrete glass form buildings protected by the 1993 West Berkeley Plan’s height and use limits. The City of Berkeley 2012 Ballot Measure T would have amended the plan’s 45’ height limits and zoning restrictions that limit residential density. It was narrowly defeated with 51% of voters opposed and 49% favoring greater building heights and development flexibility on some sites.

The COVID-19 pause in economic activity gives time to consider what buildings and landscapes are worth preserving and how to decide. Eight concrete glass form buildings constructed by the Berkeley Pump Company and its affiliated Berkeley Concrete Form Company in the blocks just east of the Southern Pacific right-of-way between Allston Way and Dwight Way are worthy of consideration. They are examples of a unique Berkeley-bred construction method based on 20th-century innovations using poured-in-place concrete wall panels with glass block inserts. Based on architectural merit and historical value, some or all of the eight concrete glass form buildings could meet Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance standards for designation as landmarks, the cluster of buildings as a historic district. The buildings now house the artisans and light industries that continue to make West Berkeley an incubator of innovation.

Detail, West Berkeley Existing Land Use Map. Land uses in the area include Light Industrial (blue), Commercial (red), Residential & Live-Work (yellow). (City of Berkeley Planning Department)

Fidelius Fredrick “Fred” Stadelhofer (1900–1983) and Fred Arthur Carpenter (1898–1982) founded the Berkeley Pump Company in 1937, performing pump repairs for the shipyards and innovating with pump products to serve jet boats, elevators, cities, and agriculture. New products included chicken liver and potato pumps, and water pumps to irrigate the alluvial soil of California’s Central Valley.

Berkeley Pump Co. workers in front of 829 Bancroft Way, circa 1942 (courtesy of Pentair Berkeley)

As shown in the photo above, Berkeley Pump Company’s nondescript machine shop at 829 Bancroft Way was similar to most early 20th-century wood-framed, steel-clad West Berkeley industrial buildings. By the end of World War II, use of modern industrial building materials, steel and concrete, was common. Concrete, in the form of blocks, precast walls, or grid panels, replaced flammable wood for industrial buildings. Members of the Stadelhofer family went in with concrete contractor Ensor H. Buel to create the Berkeley Concrete Form Company. Its patented improvement of the grid panel method allowed the placement of glass blocks in forms before pouring concrete into an assembly of two reusable perforated plywood panels. Rows of diamond-shaped holes were left open or filled with glass block, sheet glass, hollow tile, brick, wire mesh, or sheet metal. The forms included door and window frames. Technical drawings for this construction method can be seen in the landmark application for the Mobilized Women of Berkeley Building, 1007 University Avenue.

With Ensor Buel as the designer, the concrete grid panel method was used for constructing Berkeley Pump Co. buildings beginning in 1945. An early Berkeley Pump Co. building being constructed thi way is shown below.

A Berkeley Pump Co. building under construction at southeast corner of Fourth Street and Bancroft Way, showing rebar and glass panels set in walls. (Eugene Stadelhofer files)

Like many mid-20th century industrial buildings, the Berkeley Pump Co. concrete glass form buildings are low-rise, spanned by trusses, and lined with windows to enclose the most well-lit, column-free space at the least cost. The photo below shows 2246 Fifth Street under construction in 1950. Ensor Buel added delight to utility by creating fanciful patterns with glass blocks laid on the diagonal in the concrete walls. Glass blocks allow diffused light to penetrate deep spaces while protecting the building and contents from fire and thievery. Glass blocks diffuse light by bending the light waves as they pass through the glass and air boundary; this softens the light by spreading the rays. A glass block is made by fusing two glass sections into a single unit with a hollow center. The partial vacuum at the center provides insulation and fireproofing.

2246 Fifth Street under construction with bowstring trusses on concrete grid walls, 1950 (Eugene Stadelhofer files)

All eight Berkeley Pump Co. buildings in this cluster have seen a change in use. Many gained second-story additions. Some of the glass blocks are painted over or removed, replaced by plastic, glass, or wood plugs. Summaries of present use and the condition of each building follow.

816 Bancroft Way (courtesy of Norheim & Yost)

816 Bancroft Way
(Ensor H. Buel, builder, 1945)

This 8,500 sq. ft. factory/warehouse may be the earliest Berkeley Concrete Form Company building that is still standing. The front and west side elevations and a close-up of one four-foot concrete panel are shown here with what are probably Owens-Illinois “Translucent Insulux Masonry Glass Blocks.”

816 Bancroft Way, west fa�ade (photo: Linda Day, 6 Aug. 2020)

In 1990, the three-level flat roof was remodeled/reframed to a gable roof over two sections, as shown in the Berkeley Planning Department file drawing below. Renovated for office spaces, it now has a second story. Powerhive, an off-grid utility systems research facility, is a tenant.

816 Bancroft Way, detail (photo: Linda Day, 6 Aug. 2020)

Roof reframing drawing for 816 Bancroft Way, 1990 (City of Berkeley Planning Department)

830 Bancroft Way
(Ensor H. Buel, builder, 1946)

This one-story, 14,781 sq. ft. Berkeley Pump Co. warehouse includes a partial second story, added in 1989. The current tenants are Sacred Space Yoga Sanctuary and Rudramandir, a Center for Spirituality & Healing.

830 Bancroft Way (courtesy of Rudramandir)

Front cover, Berkeley Concrete Form Company Bulletin No. 101, July 1949

2300 Fourth Street
(Ensor H. Buel, builder, 1946)

Ensor Buel and the Berkeley Concrete Form Company built this single-story 12,000 sq. ft. factory for the Robb Company, manufacturers of doors, mop-and-pail sets, brushes, and brooms. The 24-foot-high building retains integrity in its transformation to H & B Auto Repair. Natural lighting is provided by a raised center roof section with a clerestory for light and ventilation. The building was featured on the cover of the Berkeley Concrete Form Company’s Bulletin No. 101, shown above.

2300 Fourth Street, Bancroft Way fa�ade (photo: Linda Day, 6 Aug. 2020)

2300 Fourth Street, interior (photo: Linda Day, 6 Aug. 2020)

2407 Fourth Street
(Ensor H. Buel, builder, 1947–49)

This two-story, 21-foot-high dry goods warehouse for the Berkeley Pump Company was converted to a live-work arrangement in 1986, with a Post-Modern second floor. The photo at the top of the page shows a slightly modified version of the original interior, with its wood barrel roof and bowstring truss system still extant. Recently, the metal windows were replaced with vinyl, an unfortunate choice. An executive search firm now occupies this building.

2407 Fourth Street in 2018, showing the 1986 Post-Modern addition (courtesy of Norheim & Yost)

2407 Fourth Street after the metal windows were replaced with vinyl (photo: Linda Day, 6 Aug. 2020)

2233–2263 Fifth Street
(Ensor H. Buel, builder, before 1950)

Built for the Berkeley Pump Company, this building formed a complex with 801 Bancroft Way, which was demolished and replaced with a Post-Modern galvanized steel-clad building. In 1970, 2233–2263 Fifth Street was vacant and posted as unsafe for occupancy. In the 1990s, it was restored and adaptively repurposed to serve as offices and workspaces for artisans and light industry. Dubbed Bancroft Center, the building’s current tenants include Photolab and Thuilot Associates Landscape Architecture.

2233–2263 Fifth Street (photo: Linda Day, 6 Aug. 2020)

2233–2263 Fifth Street, south fa�ade detail (photo: Linda Day, 6 Aug. 2020)

2246 Fifth Street
(Ensor H. Buel, builder, 1950)

This building was the Berkeley Pump Company’s plant and warehouse. The one-story, 250,000 sq. ft. building sits on a concrete slab foundation and has a bowstring wood truss roof. It covers the entire block between Fourth and Fifth streets. The Bancroft Way fa�ade comprises 12 structural bays, each consisting of a four-foot-wide poured concrete panel infilled with glass blocks, with no intervening doors or windows. The Fourth and Fifth Street fa�ades are five-bays wide, with a garage bay and entry on Fourth Street, and an entry bay on Fifth Street. In 1988, the building was remodeled for Peerless Lighting. The defeat of Measure T thwarted plans to redevelop the site for mixed-use housing and light industry. The current tenant is Holophane Corporation, manufacturer of lighting products.

2246 Fifth Street (photo: Linda Day, 6 Aug. 2020)

2246 Fifth Street, Bancroft Way bays detail (photo: Linda Day, 6 Aug. 2020)

2390 Fourth Street
(Ensor H. Buel, builder, 1953)

This structure was built as the Berkeley Concrete Form Company’s warehouse. Both Ensor Buel and the California Prune Company occupied the 17,500 sq. ft. building. The current tenant is Vic’s Chaat, a popular Indian eatery and grocery store.

2390 Fourth Street at Channing Way (photo: Linda Day, 6 Aug. 2020)

2229 Fourth Street/2222 Fifth Street
(Ensor H. Buel, builder, 1951)

The Berkeley Concrete Form Company provided wood forms for pouring the walls of this 26,750 sq. ft. one-story factory and warehouse for Prescolite, Inc. a lighting products manufacturer. The building’s rectangular footprint measures about 107 feet by 250 feet, extending the full width of the block between Fourth and Fifth streets. Sidewalls are solid concrete panels without windows. The bowstring wood truss roof is in the center; flat mezzanine roofs are at either end. The wood-framed, stucco-clad mezzanine fa�ades have metal sash windows. Some of the glass blocks have paint covering them; wood plugs replace others.

2222 Fifth Street fa�ade detail (photo: Linda Day, 6 Aug. 2020)

2229 Fourth Street. The adjacent building at 2221 Fourth Street was the location of the Stadelhofer family’s successor business, ARMS Pumps, founded by Eugene Stadelhofer after the Berkeley Pump Co. had been sold and relocated. (photo: Linda Day, 6 Aug. 2020)

The concrete grid panel building method did not last beyond the 1950s because it was labor-intensive. While the buildings do not meet present codes, they do not fall within the unreinforced masonry definition At this time, Berkeley voters have decided that the low-rise West Berkeley landscape should remain intact. Allowing redevelopment of under-utilized industrial sites could increase rents and price out some current artisans and entrepreneurs. In this writer’s opinion, a district-wide historic resource evaluation would identify the buildings that have merit and set the stage for their protection while making more productive use of parcels with structures having only age to commend them.

Dr. Linda L. Day is an emeritus professor of city and regional planning, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA. She thanks students in her Bay Area Architectural History class, UC Berkeley Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Winter 2020, for inspiring a close look at these buildings.


Essays & Stories

Copyright © 2020 Linda L. Day. All rights reserved.