Notorious Berkeley drug house now a real estate gem

1610 Oregon Street, once a notorious drug house, has been remodeled and is for sale. Photos: Frances Dinkelspiel

Almost two years after a notorious drug house that spawned shootings and drug dealing was shut down, the Oregon Street home has been extensively remodeled and is on the market.

Passersby of 1610 Oregon Street in south Berkeley might not recognize the home from its heyday when it was a place that saw a constant stream of cars, visitors, and police. Once ramshackle and so filled with debris that city officials had to enter wearing hazardous material suits, the house is now a pleasing light yellow with a landscaped yard and banks of flowers out front. Inside, the floors have been covered with dark hardwood and the kitchen sparkles with stainless steel appliances and stone counter tops.

“It’s kind of shocking,” said Paul Rauber, who lives next door and who was the lead plaintiff in a 2005 lawsuit against Lenora Moore, the then-owner of the house. “I went over there after they had finished most of the major work and landscaping. There was no trace of the former world. All that tumult and violence and messed up lives. It was strange to see it. It was like an alternate world. It looked vaguely familiar but not so.”

Lawton Associates will hold an open house for the property on Sunday, September 11 from 1 to 5 pm. Its listing price is $459,000.

That figure is a far cry from the last time the house was sold, in October 2010. The two-bedroom, one bathroom house was in foreclosure and sold for $192,500, according to Zillow.com. Numerous windows were broken, a metal gate was affixed over the front door, and weeds clogged the yard.

Now the realtor is trying to market the place using the lure of the locavore movement. “A Sunny Yard Big Enough for a Mini-farm” reads one ad. The backyard has a patch of grass and raised beds waiting to be planted.

“Welcome to the wide open spaces here in Berkeley,” says the ad. “Berkeley has long been known for the “eat local” mentality and growing herbs and veggies at home. So growing your own in this beautiful south-facing backyard doesn’t get any more local.”

1610 Oregon Street before its renovation

That back yard used to be filled with weeds and rubble, said Rauber. When city workers cleaned it up, they found a gun and lots of drug paraphernalia.

“It was totally overgrown,” said Rauber. “There was a big rat problem. One of the neighbors used to keep vast numbers of cats just to control the rats.”

For more than 20 years, the house at 1610 Oregon near California was home to Moore and her extended clan of Perrys and Robinsons. But they left in early 2010 after four court battles, a grand jury investigation, and an injunction won by the city of Berkeley declaring the house a public nuisance.

The battle to force Lenora Moore and her extended clan to stop the blatant drug dealing went on for two decades, and exposed the political alliances and racial politics of Berkeley in a not always flattering light.

Lenora Moore, now 81, was a member of Berkeley’s African-American elite, a woman who worked for Catholic charities for years, was friendly with eight-term City Councilwoman Maudelle Shirek, and someone whom many respected.  When she claimed that she was unaware that some of her children, grandchildren and their friends were selling drugs 24/7 out of her home, many of her supporters believed her. She was never charged with involvement in drug dealing. Her friends were outraged that a group of mostly white neighbors were trying to evict her from the house she had owned for decades and said racism and gentrification — not an attempt to close a drug house — was the motivation behind the various neighborhood lawsuits.

But a review of police and court records shows that 1610 Oregon Street was a place where, for decades, almost anyone could buy pot, heroin, or crack cocaine. A 1994 Berkeley Police Department log shows officers made hundreds of visits to the house in just that year. Lenora Moore’s grandson Mark A. Perry was killed nearby in April 1992 in a drug-related shooting. One of Moore’s sons, Frank Moore Jr., and a grandson, Ralph Perry Jr., were shot by rival drug dealers in October 1999 in the 1500 block of Oregon. Other members of her family, including her son Steve Moore, Jr., were arrested and convicted of drug-related offenses.

Yet for decades attempts to stop the rampant drug dealing failed. A group of 30 neighbors sued Moore in 1992 in small claims court and were awarded $155,000 for the pain and suffering brought on by the activity in the house. The decision was upheld on appeal, but Moore never paid the fine. Instead, she filed for bankruptcy and transferred title of the house to a son and daughter-in-law.

The drug activity at 1610 Oregon continued, although neighbors worked closely with police to tally and report any suspicious activity. In 2000, the city of Berkeley cited Moore for 22 code violations, forcing her to move out temporarily while repairs were made. But the city, despite support from then-Mayor Shirley Dean and other city council members, was not able to force Moore to stop the dealing on her property or leave her home.

Old entry to 1610 Oregon Street

New entry to 1610 Oregon Street

In 2005, another group of neighbors, including Rauber, sued Moore in small claims court and won a $70,000 judgment that was held up on appeal. That group of neighbors only filed suit when their pleas to Moore to move didn’t work.

The two court judgments did little to stop the drug dealing at the house. In 2008, the Alameda County Grand Jury investigated Berkeley’s relative inaction in the case and criticized the city for not being more proactive in closing blighted residential properties.

In April 2009, Berkeley won a permanent injunction to abate the Moore house, which was declared “a public nuisance”. After police used a search warrant to find drugs in the house in October 2009, the city won a court order to board up the house for a year. Berkeley sent in a crew to clean out the place, and the workers had to wear hazardous material suits to protect themselves.

The Moores finally moved out. GMAC Mortgage foreclosed on the house. It was sold to unidentified buyers in October 2010 and is now again on the market.

After complaining about the house for years, Rauber is now amused that it is his house that looks like the poor cousin.

“Yesterday or late last night someone come over and cleaned out the verge in front of our house,” he said. “That’s where we used to collect crack baggies. Now we are the ones with the house in need of care on the street.”

Rauber is pleased by the house’s transformation. Now that there is no longer a drug house on the street, families with kids walk around the neighborhood and hang out without fearing for their safety.

“It feels safe,” he said. “It feels totally transformed.”

Related:
Notorious Berkeley drug house sold [11.16.10]

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  • Akmonday

    this thread is old now, but does anyone know what happened to the house? it was taken off the market, as far as I can tell. it looked like someone was living there but redfin/zillow doesn’t record any sales. was curious what it went for.

  • Tktaylor

    The house was bought by a married couple I know. Hopefully this will signal a new beginning for the home and the neighborhood.

  • laura

    The new beginning started when residents forced the city to take action.