Berkeley’s only iconic gas station bids farewell


The 1930s brick garage at 1952 Oxford Street was designed by famous architect Walter Ratcliff and is a landmark of the city. The building is one of several projects to demolish a major UC Berkeley student housing complex donated to the university by a foundation. Credit: Anthony Bruce

Most old gas stations slated for demolition to make way for modern construction don’t get a sentimental photo essay farewell.

But a unique weathered brick garage on Oxford Street with a history of nearly a century, including as a Shell and Richfield gas station, gets just that – courtesy of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.

Most gas stations are also probably not landmarks in the city.

But this one is.

Built in 1930, the one-story brick building at the corner of Oxford and Berkeley Way, opposite the UC Berkeley campus, was designed by Walter Ratcliff, the first and only architect in the city of Berkeley, which owns several buildings in the National Register of Historic Places.

University garage in 1939, when it was used as a Shell gas station. Credit: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association

The garage, which belongs to the university, was designated a historic monument of the city in 1981. It is the only iconic gas station in the city.

The historical application read in part: “A brick and reinforced concrete garage with exquisite windows and tiled roofs in the Spanish colonial ‘studio’, and a fanciful Moorish market courtyard with unexpected shapes and angles.”

It is also listed in the inventory of historical resources of the State.

But under state law, the university is exempt from most local land use regulations, including historic designation. The town monument does not offer protection.

Interior demolition of the building, often referred to as University Garage, has begun, and the entire structure is expected to fall in December, said Kyle Gibson, UC Berkeley’s investment strategies spokesperson.

Interior demolition is underway at University Garage at 1952 Oxford Street to make way for student accommodation. Credit: Kate Rauch

It is being razed along with all the buildings in the square block bounded by Oxford, Berkeley Way, University Avenue and Walnut Street for a major UC Berkeley student housing project with 14 floors and 772 beds. Anchor house, as it’s called, will offer apartment-style accommodation with priority given to transfer students, according to Cal.

The $ 300 million project, funded by the Helen Diller Family Foundation as part of Cal’s largest donation in history, has been controversial in large part because it involves demolishing a rent-controlled apartment building in 112 years old at 1921 Walnut St.

It sparked months of protests and protests over the loss of eight affordable housing units (not just for students) in a stately historic building. The University of California is also exempt from local rent control ordinances.

The university offered moving assistance to the tenants of the building, and by September all the tenants had agreed to leave, paving the way for the dismantling. The building was emptied on November 1.

The demolition of the university garage strikes a different kind of nerve of loss, some architecture advocates have said.

“I feel devastated by his loss. It’s a beautiful building, ”said Arlene Silk, vice president of the city’s architectural heritage association. Silk began working to save the garage in 1987, with press releases and a meeting with former UC Berkeley Chancellor Ira Heyman, who she said was sympathetic.

Looking south on Oxford Street in the 1960s, with University Garage to the right with yellow buses in its yard. The Standard gas station in the foreground has long since disappeared to make way for housing. Credit: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association

It worked for a while. But UC Berkeley has long considered expanding the field. At one point, she intended to build a hotel there. That changed with the offer of a gift from the Diller Foundation.

UC Berkeley faces a severe shortage of student housing. It currently houses the lowest percentage of its students in the UC system. In 2017, Chancellor Carol Christ announced an initiative to change that by building housing for 10,000 students – a goal that has since expanded to building 11,700 student beds over the next 15 years. The plan called for 13 sites to be investigated as potential settlements.

Today the 1952 Oxford garage is surrounded by a fence, with the noise and noise of construction. Silk wants the garage to be able to be integrated into a new building, even a skyscraper, maintaining its architectural distinction while improving modern design. “It would have been a wonderful entry into the building. It would have been wonderful, ”she said. At one point, the university considered this idea, as shown in a 2009 render from a CPU “physical design framework,” a planning plan that has since been updated and changed.

In a nod to history, approximately 8,000 bricks from the garage will be salvaged and used in the new construction, Gibson said. He is not sure yet how they will be used, but said it was not to reduce construction costs, but to honor the history of the garage. “We will include them in the design of the new building. “

“We understand that there are people in the community who can have strong and hard emotional ties to the garage,” said Dan Mogulof, vice chancellor and director of public affairs at UC Berkeley. “But we hope to gain their understanding that there is an urgent student housing crisis that demands our attention.”

Credit: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association

Bay Area native Kate Rauch has been a contributor to Berkeleyside for almost 10 years, and journalism for many more, with a few other interesting gigs along the way.


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