Because of seismic safety issues that have existed for more than a decade, Berkeley City Council is planning to move its meetings out of Old City Hall as well and the building will be vacated. The estimated price tag for seismic upgrade, without benefit of a current evaluation, has risen inexplicably from $20 to $40 million.
What will become of the old city hall?
At the City Council meeting of January, 17, 2012 Christine Daniel, Interim City Manager, submitted a report to the council regarding alternative council meeting sites. Ms. Daniel reported “With the poor seismic condition of the old city hall and the continued costs for maintenance and repairs, an alternate location for City Council meetings is likely to be needed after BUSD relocates to its new meeting location in the fall…”
Ms. Daniel’s report did not address the issue of what will become of the old city hall, although the council at their October asked that “…The report should also discuss the City’s plans for the future use of Old City Hall, including alternatives to securing and closing Old City Hall.” 29. Possible New Council Chambers - Options and Accessibility (PDF)
Will Old City Hall be vacated and boarded up?
If Old City Hall is vacated and “secured” (boarded up) Berkeley venerable Old City Hall might end up being demolished by neglect. It would be politically risky if the Council simply ordered it demolished outright–– costing them good will and votes. In lieu of the wreaking ball “old” City Hall could face a slow and painful demise.
It is well known that an unused and vacant building deteriorates quickly. The absence of daily use takes a mean toll on a building’s infrastructure. It doesn’t even need to be vandalized to deteriorate, but of course most vacant buildings, including the former University Printing Plant, get vandalized.
Will the City of Berkeley lose its iconic symbol of identity?
Historians, preservationists, urban planners, and tourist boards search for symbols to identify the essence of a built environment. Across the nation city halls were deliberately intended to be symbols of place with a dome or cupola rising above the surrounding buildings. In Berkeley Old City Hall continues to be identified as the symbol of the city and remains a source of civic pride. Its cupola and spire, like the University’s campanile, is a landmark that is still visible from many vantage points.
When Berkeley’s City Hall was completed in 1909, its cupola rose above the existing downtown and reflected Berkeley’s growth from a town to a city; an early work by John Bakewell and Arthur Brown, Jr. designers of San Francisco City Hall (1912-1916) and Opera House (1932). The elegant Beaux-Arts style City Hall served as the home of city government from 1909 to 1977 when city offices were moved across Civic Center Park into a larger office building.
Berkeley City Hall was designated on December, 15 1975 as one of Berkeley’s first Landmarks. It is individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and naturally is part of the National Register Civic Center Historic District.
Concerned about the fate of “Old” City Hall, Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association entered Berkeley City Hall in Dwell Magazine’s contest Rethinking Preservation.
Dwells’ statement declares “…that designing for the modern world begins with honoring the precedents of the past. So we joined forces with Sub-Zero to conceive a contest dedicated to rethinking preservation and you delivered! We received dozens of entries and now it’s time to vote! Here’s how it works. We post for popular vote and a panel of judges selects the winner from the top ten that receive the most votes. We’ll donate $10,000 to a worthy preservation organization.
Readers, you can vote for Berkeley’s Old City Hall here!
Susan Dinkelspiel Cerny is a board member of Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.