Video: ‘Temporary’ 1945 UC Berkeley housing demolished

Bulldozers have been at work for the past few weeks bringing down the UC Berkeley Smyth-Fernwald housing complex built at the top of Dwight Way as “temporary” housing for married students after World War II.

Tom Miller shot the video above, and said that, given that the university has no current plans for the newly opened vista, his guess is that local wild turkeys and deer will be moving in.

The Smyth-Fernwald buildings, designed by architect Walter H. Ratcliff Jr. in 1945, served as student family housing  for 68 years until they were vacated last June. The complex includes apartments, a community center and maintenance offices. Parts of the property were demolished in 1999 due to safety concerns about creep structural damage. 

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The Smyth-Fernwald buildings needed significant seismic upgrades, not least because they are located directly above the Hayward Fault line

Christine Shaff, Communications Director for Facilities Services at UC Berkeley, said there are no plans at this point for the Smyth-Fernwald site once it is cleared. “We will do landscaping and erosion control, and the foundations of the buildings will be left in place,” she said, adding that the roadways and street lights will remain in situ. The final residential building will be torn down this week and the demolition work is expected to continue until early May.

The 19th-century Smyth House which is also on the site, will not be demolished, although it is in need to maintenance and is in poor shape. It, and the estate, was donated to Cal in 1926 by engineer William Henry Smyth, an Englishman who came to Berkeley in the late 1800s. It was Smyth who coined the term ‘Technocracy’ in 1919 which he defined as “scientific reorganization of national energy and resources, coordinating industrial democracy to effect the will of the people.”


Smyth House, photographed in 2008. Photo: Daniella Thompson/BAHA

Shaff said there were no plans for Smyth House either. She said it had been secured and alarmed as it had been broken into and vandalized “a couple of times.”

Daniella Thompson, who sits on the board of directors of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, said she feared the worst. UC Berkeley has neglected other university-owned historic buildings, including the Anna Head School on Channing Way (Thompson calls the treatment “demolition by neglect”) and the 1885 Cheney House on College Avenue, which was pulled down in 2010.

UC Berkeley is under pressure to build more student housing given projections about future enrollment. It recently completed the Anna Head Residence Hall at 2538 Channing Way, providing accommodation for 160 sophomores and 224 upper level students. Its 2020 Long-Range Development Plan identified the need for housing for 1,600 students. Most of the rentals in the current proposal to construct 1,000 new housing units in central Berkeley over the next few years are designed for students.

Read more about the Smyth estate at Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and at the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project.

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  • The Anna Head School buildings still stand. I characterized UC’s treatment of them as “demolition by neglect,” not outright razing as in the case of the Cheney House.

  • Charles_Siegel

    They restored some of the grounds of the Anna Head School when they built Martinez Hall next to it.

    Last time I passed by, they were working on restoring one or two buildings Dwight Way and the interior courtyard there.

  • Frank
  • A slight correction…when built in 1945-6 these buildings were the first state-funded dormitories built at UC. I don’t believe they were even “co-ed” until the early 1950’s, with men inhabiting the top 3 buildings (G,H, & J) at the top of Smyth Road. The men’s buildings became known as the Smyth Association. The location high up the hill away from campus–when the gleaming highrise ‘units’ were built much closer– fell out of favor by the late 1960’s. The complex was closed and converted to apartments to supplement family housing in 1971, in a rather cheap remodel that re-opened in 1973. UC’s first childcare program began there at that time.

  • Guest

    When I lived in Albany Village in the early 1990’s, Smyth Fernwald was considered the more desirable family housing, and had a waiting list to transfer from Albany village. I heard at the time that the land had been donated to the University with restrictions — that if it wasn’t used for student housing, it had to be returned to farming.

  • twill monkey

    Is there anyone with expertise and/or the connections needed to find documentation that supports Mr. Winters’ comments about the housing or farm land restrictions? That would be very interesting and powerful if it can be concretely identified. On another somewhat related topic: I thought the University had an agreement with the community that the stadium would only be used for football. Yet the lights are on high (no pun intended) every night and there was something in the news about the University is interested in renting out the stadium for weddings and special events. What is the verifiable truth to that?

  • cshaff

    Alumnae Hall at Anna Head is scheduled to reopen in April following a retrofit and renovation. A bit more information is available at
    Courtyard and landscape restoration is also underway.

  • John

    The stadium is used for various sports, not just football. Not to mention football practice is going on right now. All of this is allowed. The adjacent facilities are subject to 3rd party rentals, as they do not fall under the restrictions of the playing stadium.