Telegraph Ave property owner shows plans for vacant site

Telegraph Avenue elevation design for a new building at 2501 Haste, which would be partly clad in rock. Courtesy: Kirk E. Peterson & Associates

The owner of a blighted lot at Telegraph and Haste that has been vacant for more than two decades presented his plans for a fortress-like building on the property, although he said he wouldn’t build anything there as long as the city of Berkeley had a lawsuit hanging over him regarding the site.

Ken Sarachan, who bought the north-west corner lot on Telegraph and Haste in 1994, has visions for a Moorish palace-like structure inspired by Italian hill towns, Tibetan forts and the rock-cut architecture of Petra in Jordan. Architect Kirk Peterson introduced the blueprints and renderings for the project, known as “La Fortaleza” (as in “fortress” or “stronghold”), on Tuesday evening to a small group of interested parties gathered at Caffe Med a few doors down from the lot in question on Telegraph Avenue.

The proposal shows a six-story, 14,000 sq ft mixed-use building which includes a ground floor and sunken courtyard space for retailers, four residential floors of 79 one- and two-bedroom apartments, as well as a landscaped roof deck. The designs call for numerous terraces, balconies and “naturalistic” entrances created using either rock, or concrete made to look like rock. Peterson said “it could be really awful or really wonderful, it’s all in the detail”, and conceded the plans would likely be modified as they went through the review process.

Rendering of south elevation on Haste Street of La Fortaleza, Ken Sarachan’s new proposal for 2501 Haste. Courtesy: Kirk E. Peterson

Peterson is the architect behind many of Berkeley’s most prominent buildings, including the downtown Trader Joe’s and the Bachenheimer Building. He is working on the proposals for Acheson Commons, a significant development on University Avenue, and is also consulting with the Ent family on plans for the site across the street from the Sarachan lot which is empty after a fire destroyed the Sequoia Building on the property last year.

Sarachan called La Fortaleza “Kirk’s masterpiece, the best thing he’s ever done.”

Sarachan, who also owns Rasputin Records, Blondie’s Pizza, the old Cody’s Building and the retail development at 2350 Telegraph, has brought plans for the Haste site to the city before, including one that was based on a pagoda design, but they were not approved. A plan to build affordable housing and an expanded Amoeba Records on the site fell through after Sarachan bought the land.

Berkeley agreed to forgo existing liens on the site if Sarachan developed it, setting an initial deadline in 2004. In September 2011, the city lost patience and filed for non judicial foreclosure on the blighted lot which means Sarachan will have to pay the liens which are estimated to be in excess of $500,000. “We were pushed to the point of exasperation,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington whose district embraces this section of Telegraph Avenue.

The Woolley House at 2501 Haste St. needs to be removed before development of the site can proceed

Before the 2501 Haste St. lot can be developed a solution needs to be found for removing the 1870s Victorian Woolley House which is on the property, and also owned by Sarachan. Realtor John Gordon has offered to move the house to a lot he owns at Regent and Dwight where it would be renovated along with another historic house he plans to move there, the Blood-Tompkins House currently on Durant.

On Tuesday, Sarachan said that he had provided money for an Environmental Impact Report regarding the Woolley House but that the city was “sitting on it.” Dave Fogarty, Berkeley’s economic development project coordinator, said the issue was with how the EIR was processed.

Meanwhile, participants at the presentation stressed how eager they were to see something built on the site. “Just build, build, build,” John Gordon said, addressing Sarachan. Craig Becker, owner of Caffe Med, said he would like to see a nightlife destination go on the site and act as an anchor on the avenue. “My preference would be for a theater rather than more retail,” he said, adding that any building would be better than none.

Perterson said the plans for the La Fortaleza should be going to the city soon, although he couldn’t specify a date.

Can Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue get its mojo back? [04.18.12]
Imagining a future for Telegraph Avenue without blinders [04.11.12]
Telegraph fire site owner plans for temporary resurrection [02.06.12]
Urban think tank: Student visions for blighted Telegraph lot [10.03.11]
City hands ultimatum to Sarachan on vacant Telegraph lot [09.07.11]
What about that vacant lot on Haste and Telegraph? [08.11.11]
Berkeley students want better stores, fewer street people [05.31.11]
City says it is addressing Telegraph Avenue rats problem [02.10.11]
The rats of Telegraph Avenue (video) [01.28.11]

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  • Charles_Siegel

     I don’t think it is a bad photoshop, and the building doesn’t look bad to me in that photoshop.  As I have said before, it needs larger store windows facing Telegraph – but with larger windows and some vines growing up the sides, I think it would look good.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Origin of the word “mediocrity”:

    1580–90;  < Middle French  < Latin mediocris  in a middle state, literally, at middle height = medi(us) mid1  + OL ocris  rugged mountain, cognate with Greek ókris,  akin to ákros  apex; compare Umbrian ocar  hill, citadel

    I think this building could be called a mediocrity only in that etymological sense: a rugged mountain of middle-height.

    Tizzie, who is your favorite living American architect?

  • guest

    Thanks–if Finacom and the Daily Planet like this ridiculous trial balloon, that settles it for me.

  • Designtag

    Berkeley is now becoming a themed environment. No offense to KP, but this project coupled with the proposed Acheson Plaza work will, in my humble opinion, BRAND Berkeley as the progressive fearless town that prides itself on looking forward politically, while squarely looking backward in how it sees it’s built environment.  It saddens me to think that our city’s developers feel that they have to wrap their new building proposals in nostalgic skins that reference a fictitious past in order to pass the public design review process. What Berkeley developers should really be doing is hiring architects that are capable of interpreting PLACE in a way that doesn’t mock or trivialize our architectural historic resources and our urban environment. This is not Disneyland.    

  • berkopinionator

    Smaller windows are more defensible, and will be less expensive to replace after the next riot.  Good planning.  Where is the classic exterior iron work?

  • Charles_Siegel

    You are a perfect illustration of a point I make in my book on architecture.  Allow me to quote:

    Three cliches, repeated endlessly by avant-gardist critics and
    academics, prevent us from developing the new humanistic architecture
    that we need today.

    The first is that all traditional architecture looks like it belongs in a “theme park.”

    The second is that, because it is futuristic, avant-gardist architecture is politically “progressive.”

    The third is that only avant-gardist architecture is “of our time.”

    …. When avant gardists say that traditional architecture looks like a
    “theme park,” they forget that the original Disneyland included
    “Tomorrowland” as well as “Main Street, USA.” 

    You included the cliche about Disneyland.  And you included the cliche about it somehow being politically progressive to build faceless glass and steel buildings. 

    How did you manage to forget the cliched phrase “of our time”? 

    No modernist criticism of traditional architecture is complete unless it includes all of these three cliches as a substitute for thought.

  • ChrisSy Mamma

    Well, it’s pretty unique looking for the area, and I have little sense of architectural design– but my gut says that it is a design that is designed to be controversial and to get things pushed back, decision wise.

  • Berkeley Resident

    You are correct.  That is Ken’s intention.  He is a smart, manipulative man and he is just playing games, wasting time!  He knows that and so do most logical people!

  • Berkeley Resident


  • Berkeley Resident

    It IS a game!

  • Berkeley Resident

    I guarantee you, this IS a game!  Ken is just playing around and wasting time.  You will see.  I have no doubt.

  • Berkeley Resident

    Unfortunatey he IS wealthy enough. 

  • Berkeley Resident

    So true!!

  • Berkeley Resident

    Regardless of how this buidling looks and who like or dislikes it, Ken is just playing games and he has no intentions of building it.  This is an old game and he continues to play because he can.  Waste of time!

  • leilah

    Given the property owner, his attitude, and yet, the general design (in abstract) — I’m thinking Limburger: a soft white cheese with a very strong odor and flavor.

  • leilah

    Agreed, with a friendly amendment:  substitute “oiliness” for  “slipperiness”….

  • leilah

    No, even without his attitude about the City, it still wouldn’t get built, because this would be an extremely-expensive construction project — and Sarachan isn’t paying for anything that isn’t directly connected to his ability to collect rents.  Frankly, I’m surprised he’d even pay an architect to create such an elaborate design…well, except for the entertainment factor….

  • Long-Time Berkeley Resident

    Notice that the post that I replied to was not just about this building but also about Acheson Commons – which is progressing through the approval process and which everyone knows will be built. 

    In fact, the traditional design of Acheson Commons is helping it to get approved. If you read the post again, you will see that he is actually saying that traditional design helps buildings get approved in Berkeley:

    “our city’s developers feel that they have to
    wrap their new building proposals in nostalgic skins that reference a
    fictitious past in order to pass the public design review process.”

    I forgot to mention that he also used the modernist cliche, “nostalgic.”  This is another sign that he is just repeating cliches without thinking about them: how many people are nostalgic for buildings that look like this one?  How many people have even seen a building that looks like this one?

  • Greta Eckhardt

    This building is wonderful – what an imaginative idea, beautiully conceived!
    With backgrounds in both architecture and geology, I heartily approve of this design.

  • The Sharkey

    Maybe I’ve just never seen fake rock done well. I suppose it might be possible, but all the examples I can think of are cartoonish and ugly.

    It’s better than the hideous Pagoda thing, but I just don’t believe for a minute that Sarachan is serious about wanting to build anything on that lot. He’s had over a decade to do something, and the only times he even puts forth some preliminary design sketches are when he gets backed into a corner with lawsuits.

  • The Sharkey

    But this isn’t traditional architecture. It’s a cartoonish stereotype of a traditional architecture style that looks like it belongs in a miniature golf course.

  • Hyper_lexic

    I’ve said elsewhere that I actually like this structure… but I’m not quite sure how this project counts as a great example of the return of sanity?  Could you explain what you mean?

  • Hyper_lexic

    I’ve talked elsewhere about how I don’t like KP’s designs downtown, but I don’t think there’s anything illicit behind why he keeps being selected.  I think it’s pretty clear: he has a history of successfully getting large projects completed in Berkeley; therefore developers select him as someone who can produce designs that can actually get built.

    I suspect that developers care MUCH more about KP’s skill in navigating the Berkeley/Oakland development approval process than about any specific aesthetic style.

    I’m sure KP is just as morally good as I am… and I have some sense of how hard it is to be a working architect, so I definitely can’t fault him for the types of projects he chooses to take on.In terms of this comment: “Who are his parents? What are his connections?” I don’t know, but his background is here:  You can see that he went to RISD in the 70’s and then got a MA in architecture from Cal in 1988.  Based on this I don’t see any sign that his family is plugged in to any background.

  • serkes

    If they use some of that cheese for a Pizza restaurant on the Telegraph Frontage, we can set a new record for Berkeleyside comments

  • Jeff Johnson

     Bonus points for using the word “machicolations”.

  • Marc Weinstein

    For Sure, Ken is just wasting everybody’s time and energy, as he, obviously, SO loves to do- it certainly seems to get him off. He loves playing with people’s minds- he’s a specialist, ask anyone who’s ever worked with or for him. He loves to watch people “Squirm…” OUR AVENUE looks the way it does, greatly, as a product of this man’s perverted love of wasting evrybody’s time and energy—> imagine how very much he has cost our city over the years… the city government (our money) AND the community, who have to dwell amongst his constant piles of garbage—> when will we get a REAL CITY ATTORNEY who can take this guy on FOR REAL.

  • just put up something < so its not so "blight"!!!!!

  • emraguso

    We have an update on the Sarachan plans for Telegraph (sort of):