Tuesday, June 29, 2010

War Zone

Before Helios can come into existence, the old State Health Lab has to come down. The site looks like a bomb hit it, especially now when there's only a bay left (amid a sea of rubble). There's a lesson here about sustainability - the Lab was built for the ages, but not designed for them. Its inflexibility pretty much ruled out its reuse. This is often the case for concrete-frame buildings of the 1950s and '60s. What's replacing them isn't just higher-tech: one underlying assumption is that much will change; another is that it will all come down, too, at some point, and be easier to take apart and recycle or reuse. The old lab has clearly been a bear to demolish.

Blum Center

Blum Center restores and expands the shingle-style Naval Architecture Building, designed by John Galen Howard, UC Berkeley's first campus architect. The renovation puts a new ground floor, open to the south, under the building, connecting it to the addition, designed by Gensler (note: I work for the firm.) Scheduled to open in August, Blum Center brings together engineers, scientists, and others to develop new, affordable technologies to deal with chronic third-world problems. The complex will house these collaborative teams. It's an example of my alma mater's contributions to the planet. (Blum Center is uphill from the Journalism School, along Hearst above Euclid.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Analog Books

With the demise of Black Oak Books as a North Berkeley fixture, Analog Books on Euclid between Hearst and Ridge has become one of my alternatives. The big selling point of Analog is the selection. There's always a find (and often more than one), and enough turnover that it's fun to browse. The people at the cash register take an unobtrusive stance, but are pleasant and helpful. The music they play is consistently lively, and sometimes includes old 33 rpm classics. University Press Books and Moe's are two reasons to cross campus, but Analog is a good stopping point on another route. An endangered species, bookstores need everyone's support. Think globally, buy locally. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Organic Architecture

I've watched this building on Virginia Street, uphill from Arch Street, evolve over time as a trumpetvine has steadily and now completely taken over the front facade. There are balconies above the garages, now hidden from sight. As I walked by, one of the residents came out and opened his garage door, which seems more like the entrance to a cave or tunnel.

French Hotel

Sited on the west side of Shattuck between Cedar and Vine, the French Hotel* was renovated in the 1980s. Its cafe, often spilling onto the sidewalk, is reliably open on holidays, and that's typically when I go there. The hotel's south-facing balconies overlook the huge parking lot of Andronico's (a supermarket). For the parking lot of Kahn's Salk Institute in La Jolla, Dan Kiley used the kind of gravel you find in the paths of Parisian parks, with beautiful eucalyptus trees for shade. (I think it all went away with Anshen & Allen's addition.) It's too bad Andronico's couldn't do something similar. As it is, they pack the cars in, then fight a perpetual losing battle with "customers" who run off to do their errands elsewhere. I'm told that locals sometimes park visiting relatives at the French Hotel instead of putting them up at home. I've never been clear who else stays there, but it's definitely well-located. With Chez Panisse across the street, it's not the worst place you could pick to camp out.

*: The French Hotel is actually in 94709. This "error" will be repeated

2511 Hearst

This was my point of entry into the district. I moved here in 1971, after staying with my cousins on 6th Street (they'd bought and restored a Victorian south of Channing, a lovely house). I rented a room with a tiny bathroom and no kitchen for $60 per month. I was working in the city at this point - long days, so I mostly ate out. Later, I moved to the apartment at the front (middle floor, left side). It had a bay view, a separate kitchen, and a bigger bathroom with an outlook to the north. The street noise was horrific - a lot of traffic on Hearst. I met my wife at the 3Cs Cafe, where she and her sister worked while they were at Cal. I also met Yoshi, who went on to start the eponymous jazz club with her first husband Kaz. (Their first restaurant was downstairs.) At Top Dog, one of the guys behind the counter started giving me free food when he learned that I'd studied with Norris Kelly Smith, author of a book on Frank Lloyd Wright that he admired. When I wrote to Professor Smith, whose survey of architectural history I'd taken at Washington University, he replied immediately, saying that I was the only student he knew who'd received a tangible benefit from his classes. When I lived there, 2511 Hearst was owned by the same guy, Richard Sikora, who developed Walnut Square (home of the original Peet's). I'd heard that he was a former economics professor at Berkeley who'd moved to Vancouver. The little mall where Top Dog still is was built around the same time by Dave Ruegg - in a similar style as the "boardwalk" areas behind the older building that Sikora renovated at Walnut Square.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Original Peet's

The very first Peet's sits at the southwest corner of Walnut and Vine. Not long ago, it was finally remodeled - they installed a small museum behind the counter. (I still haven't seen it). They also added tables and chairs, inside and out, so you see the usual hangers-on, banging on their laptops with plugs in their ears. There used to be a Starbucks in the Dead Center at the southwest corner of Shattuck and Cedar (so named because it was formerly a funeral home). One reason it closed was the inordinate number of people sitting around nursing cold cups of coffee. The Peet's remodel is pretty good - much of the feel of the old place is intact. Peet's is a scene that starts early and stays late. I've never tried to parse who goes when. Like other public establishments in Berkeley, it has its street musician (a woman in overalls who plays the banjo and sings) and a tall man who now arrives on crutches. (See photo.) There used to be a slightly crazy but harmless man who stood across the street, but I haven't seen him lately. (A long time ago, there was a man who stood silently out front. I saw him later, back to normal. I think he might have been on a spiritual quest, but this is just a guess.) There's a chess-, radio-, and guitar-playing contingent who use the front steps of the Friends meeting house and a concrete indent along the west side of the Mormon church. (Both face Peet's.) The service at the original Peet's is more efficient than Peet's in San Francisco, perhaps as a reaction to the customers (to judge from the drinks line). Mr. Peet died a year or two ago. He taught the people who started Starbucks (although they must have skipped a few lessons), which suggests a generous spirit. RIP.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Arch Street


I moved to this block in 1975, when my oldest son was a baby. My wife arrived in 1968, while she was a student at Berkeley. We lived on the uphill side of the street until 1984, when we moved to the other side. We raised four kids on this block, which is slowly regaining a younger population. My oldest son used to race down the sidewalk on his big wheel. Did they ban those things? He really got some speed going, I recall. It's a miracle he didn't crash and no one ran him over. In the summer, I can look out the back deck and feel that I'm in a sea of green. To the southwest, there's an undeveloped piece of land that's been home to deer off and on for years. The downhill neighbors have a pair of dogs, so the deer have kept their distance. They're incredibly brazen, and a huge nuisance if you have a garden. I keep expecting to see a mountain lion, but so far, no luck.

About 94708


I've lived here almost 40 years, so I thought I should write about it. Extending north from the Berkeley campus, and east up into the hills, this is where Charles Keeler wrote about "simple houses" and Bernard Maybeck designed them. (Keeler's simple was like Joseph Esherick's ordinary two generations later.) In 1923, a fire burned a lot of those houses to the ground. The architect-artist Lars Lerup, a sometime resident, once described Berkeley to me as a suburb of New York City, and that's especially true for 94708, which may be the epicenter of this phenomenon. As one-time mayoral candidate Fred Weeks noted, the New York Times is the daily paper in these parts (now along with the FT and WSJ). It's both cosmopolitan and its own sometimes very small world. Welcome to it!