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Preserving campus history
Planners, preservationists keep historic sites around for generations to come

See slide show of renovation projects

Renewing the Foundations of Excellence

The seismic strengthening and restoration of Hearst Memorial Mining Building has proven to be a testament of the campus's commitment to preservation of its historic structures.

Painstaking work is under way to restore the 1907 Beaux-Arts masterpiece to its original splendor and to make it safe in an earthquake. The Hearst building is located just 800 feet away from the Hayward fault. If seismic corrections were not made to the building, it would likely be damaged beyond repair even from minor temblors.

The structural strategy designed to save the campus's most prized historic building is a base isolation system pioneered at Berkeley more than 20 years ago. When completed, 134 base isolators will be installed under the building - technology to help the building ride out violent quakes with its beauty and structure intact.

"The seismic retrofit should reduce the impact of a large quake on the building from almost certain destruction to repairable damage," said Rob Gayle, project manager for the Hearst renovation.

"We're disconnecting the old rigid connections to the earth," says Jake Skaer, an on-site project coordinator. While the base isolators' top and bottom steel plates are fixed, providing a rigid connection to the building and the earth below, the central rubber and steel bearing is flexible. A three-foot-wide dry moat rings the building, providing a wide berth within which the isolators can move 28 inches in any horizontal direction. With this elastic foundation, builders can save the seismically vulnerable masonry walls instead of replacing them with a shear wall. "This allows us to maintain the building's architectural integrity," said Skaer.

All of that work was just part of the effort to save the building, a gift of campus bene-factress Phoebe Hearst, from the dangers of an earthquake. Inside, much more detailed work is preserving the building's past. At considerable expense, the campus decided to not only maintain but also restore a significant amount of the building interior while providing modern laboratories, classrooms and offices.

In the elegant Memorial gallery, the original Douglas Fir window frames were removed for restoration. Each pane of glass in the enormous skylight above has been inventoried, evaluated, and then removed for repair. On the third floor, workers are restoring the building's original light courts, by tearing out parts of a 1948 renovation. That work exposed interior walls to the first natural light in 50 years and brings the building back to its original form as intended by architect John Galen Howard. Graduate workstations will adorn this area, all under the skylight.

All of this effort has gained the attention of state historic preservation officials, who have worked with the campus on the restoration project and sung its praises. Also, California Construction Link magazine recognized the project for "taking great care in preserving the building and implementing the kinds of structural strategies to ensure the building will be there for a long time."

Praise for the campus's historic preservation efforts is increasingly common.

"In the last 10 years, the campus has come an enormous distance in how it treats its historic structures," said Judy Chess, a planner involved in campus historic rehabilitation projects. "The Hearst project really initiated a new relationship with the state regulatory agency, and we've received awards from the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association for three other recent projects."

As the oldest and flagship campus of the UC system, Berkeley has a high number of structures on or eligible for the National Register and State Inventory of Historic Places. In addition to its architecturally significant buildings, Berkeley also has an array of cultural, landscape, and historic resources, many of them with national or international significance. The campus will continue identifying and cataloguing these resources with a new study on historic and cultural resources to begin this fall.

One of the projects to receive an award from the local preservation group is found near the new Haas Pavilion, in a small former house of worship.

For nearly four decades, Berkeley's dance students have practiced in a graceful, brown-shingled building set back from Bancroft Way. A registered historical landmark built in 1898, the Dance Facility is now safe as well as beautiful, thanks to a dedicated team of craftsmen who worked literally brick by brick to improve its seismic resistance while restoring its original features.

"The first things you notice about the building are the big rosette window and the long, irregular shingles," said Teri Mathers, project manager. "Only one mill in the world could reproduce the shingles, and we were lucky that it is located in Northern California. They got an old piece of equipment up and running to complete the job for us."

Used as a church for the first half of the century, the building had been designed sitting atop an unreinforced masonry foundation. "Nothing was attached," Mathers said. "We rebuilt the footing and poured a new foundation, but we left the existing brick intact. You would never know we were there."

Like the foundation, the chimneys were made of brick. McGraw Construction photographed them, disassembled them, inserted steel frames, and rebuilt them. Inside the building, McGraw installed hidden steel moment frames to support the walls and upgraded the rooms to improve fire safety and accessibility. The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association honored the campus, McGraw and Muller & Caulfield Architects with an award for their painstaking work.

"Over the last 20 years, we've managed to raise the bar in how we implement good preservation practices as we renew our facilities," said Chess. "The Berkeley campus has an incredible inventory of historically significant facilities, and we're committed to rehabilitating them for future generations."

Historic Recognition

UC Berkeley has a vast inventory of historic sites. Among them:

  • 25 buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • 30 buildings are listed on the State Historic Resources Inventory.
  • Two landscape areas (Founders Rock and Sather Gate/Bridge) are on the National Register, and eight outdoor sites are on the State Inventory.

See slide show of renovation projects

Renewing the Foundations of Excellence home

Source: Berkeleyan Special Issue, Fall 2000