‘Moorish-style palace’ for Telegraph Ave. is step closer


The design for a mixed-use project at 2501 Haste St. Image: Kirk E. Peterson & Associates

A six-story, mixed-use, Moorish, palace-like structure inspired by Italian hill towns is one step closer to being built on Berkeley’s iconic Telegraph Avenue after the project sailed through a review by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board last week.

ZAB commissioners were generally receptive to the building’s unusual design, according to Commissioner Steven Donaldson.

Addressing the architect of the project, Kirk E. Peterson, ZAB Commissioner Shoshana O’Keefe said she approved of the design. “It’s weird and I like that,” she said. O’Keefe said she grew up in Berkeley, had always appreciated the “weirdness” of Telegraph Avenue, and that it was good to see something unusual, “a little different,” proposed for the area.

The vision for the vacant lot at 2501 Haste St. on the corner of Telegraph Avenue is that of the property’s owner Ken Sarachan who is on a deadline to build something on the lot that has been vacant, and a blight on the neighborhood, for more than 20 years. (He has said Tibetan forts and the rock-cut architecture of Petra in Jordan were also inspirations for the project, which will have a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments as well as retail space.)

In October, the city and Sarachan reached a settlement under which Berkeley agreed to drop a lawsuit to force the property owner to pay $640,000 in liens or have the city sell the lot at auction. In exchange Sarachan had 45 days to move his proposal forward through the approval process.

The project — details of which can be read on the ZAB section of the city’s website – will now go before the city’s Design Review which is next meeting Jan. 16.

Read more about the property’s history on Berkeleyside. Read more about development projects in Berkeley.

Berkeley settles case with owner of blighted Telegraph Avenue lot (10.3.13)
Telegraph Avenue property owner shows plan for vacant site (04.19.12)
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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  • Doc

    Most visually interesting building I’ve seen proposed. A few like it might really change blighted Telegraph. Bravo

  • serkes

    I like it … and hope it ages well.


  • Completely_Serious

    It already has!

  • guest

    It reminds me of the artificial rocks at Disneyland. It’s OK for an amusement park, but cheesy for a permanent structure. I don’t like it, but reasonable minds can disagree about the aesthetics. The more important issue, as Ira points out, is whether such a gimmicky building will hold up well over time. I tend to think not.

  • Bill N

    Finally something getting built on that vacant lot!

  • Charles_Siegel

    Good news. Kirk Peterson is an excellent architect, so I am sure this building will hold up.

    It fits into a tradition of whimsical architecture in Berkeley that dates back to the 1920s – with buildings such as Normandy Village. It is California architecture in the sense that it is a bit like a Hollywood stage set – but you don’t have to be serious all the time.

  • AlanTobey

    Tomorrow’s civic treasure is often today’s “too different”, even as design review sometimes gets indigestion. I say: whatever brings more curious attention and feet on the street to upper Telegraph is a good thing. Would a trendy tapas bar on the ground floor be too obvious?

  • Don’t Ever Change Ever

    Cool rendering. I’m willing to bet it will more like this if it ever gets built:

  • Marcia

    How anachronistic, Disneylandish, instantly trashy can you get? This is a bad joke masquerading as architecture. Who vets these plans?

  • M.E. Lawrence

    Well, yeah, it could turn out pretty cheesy but, then, Telegraph isn’t renowned because of its good taste. I’ll settle for “picturesque.” And, as you and Ira mention, I hope it ages well; that’s always a sweet revenge.

  • Shoshana

    Just to set the record straight, I believe I said I grew up in Berkeley and have always appreciated Telegraph’s weirdness. I actually grew up closer to Codornices park.

  • http://berkeleyside.com Tracey Taylor

    Thanks for the clarification, Shoshana. I will amend the text. We couldn’t check your quote against the video tape as it has not been posted online (and I believe there may have been a problem with the taping on the night). Also, even though I attended most of that ZAB meeting, I admit I was not still there when you said this, at around 1 o’clock in the morning! Thank you for your public service!

  • Shoshana

    No worries. It’s not an important detail, I just didn’t want anyone who knew me personally to read that and wonder why I was misrepresenting where I grew up. Thank YOU for YOUR service. Berkeleyside is a great asset to the community.

  • Woolsey

    A Moorish Italianate building sitting on top of caves? I thought this was proposed because it would surely be rejected, but would keep the City lawyers at bay.

  • Hyper_lexic

    I agree it will depend on the actual nature of the materials.

    I didn’t like it very much at first but it’s sort of grown on me… and in any case it seems like a good scale for that location.

  • Hyper_lexic

    “In October, the city and Sarachan reached a settlement under which Berkeley agreed to drop a lawsuit to force the property owner to pay $640,000 in liens or have the city sell the lot at auction. In exchange Sarachan had 45 days to move his proposal forward through the approval process.”

    So is there anything in place to actually force Sarachan to actually BUILD something? it seems like this part (getting design approved) is the cheap part of it.

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    I love it! What a wonderful response to all of the boring, boxy apartment buildings that have been flooding the town in recent years. Too bad I doubt I’d ever be able to afford to live there. It has all the makings of being a stunning Berkeley landmark.

  • eva yarmo

    is this a joke? or another way to stall for time? unacceptable, I would say.

  • Not a Sarachan fan.

    ZAB rubber-stamping it doesn’t make it any more likely to be built than any of Sarachan’s other ridiculous proposals.

    The man has left the lot blighted for almost two decades just to spite his former business partners who own Amobea Records, and this project has only even gotten this far because the City of Berkeley threatened to sue his pants off. I won’t believe that Sarachan is doing anything other than more of his endless stalling until the ribbon cutting ceremony is over.

  • Not a Sarachan fan.

    His last design – a ridiculous multi-towered pagoda complex – was even worse.

  • guest

    The zoning board called Sarachan’s bluff.

  • Charles_Siegel

    From an earlier Berkeleyside article:

    Under the settlement, Berkeley agreed to drop its lawsuit to force
    Sarachan to pay $640,000 in liens or have the city sell the lot at
    auction. In exchange, Sarachan agreed to meet specific deadlines to
    pursue and build something on the lot that has been vacant for more than
    20 years

    Maybe Berkeleyside can tell us the deadline for the building to begin.

  • guest

    If the owner and his architect are determined to move forward with the goofy faux cliff/rock “haunted mountain” motif, and the City is willing to approve a theme park attraction, maybe it could be designed such that the artificial cliffs could later be removed and it could become just a regular modern day Moorish Italianate building.

  • Hyper_lexic

    Does anyone know if the agreement is public and visible?

  • Rob Wrenn

    Is it going to be a “green” building or just another conventional building with an unconventional design? Staff report just says “pending” under green building in the report. It would be nice if more developers of new buildings got serious about reducing energy consumption, including solar, etc. I would hope that this building will achieve at least a LEED Gold rating; that should really be the minimum required for all new buildings of this scale in Berkeley.

  • guest

    Odd, but the slope seems to be from left to right; wouldn’t that make it the northern facade?
    Oh well that’s only a drawing. No way to know if will actually get built.

  • batardo

    Personally I like it, but skeptical that Sarachan will follow through. After being such an ass-hat for so long, I just don’t see it happening. More likely he’ll find some reason to back out and blame it on the City, and for their part the City will be dumb enough to let it happen.

    Sooner or later we’ll be back to plan B, declaring Telegraph a blight and securing both properties (this one and Cody’s) through imminent domain.

  • Brian Miller

    Given that it has been 70+ years since “modernism” came onto the scene, why is modernism instantly assumed to be the cutting edge style? Look around Berkeley…are the modernist buildings the ones that have aged very well? Only an architect trained in the cult compounds (h/t Wolfe!) would really think so.
    Why is the only appropriate architecture ever more desperate rip-offs of the tired, banal Modernism of the mid century period? Even if one likes some mid-century modernism, it is NOT the only style which can be “permitted”. Thank goodness for amateurs, because most of the professionals have bought into the cult propaganda.

  • EBGuy

    ZAB is is hosting a public hearing this Thurday, Feb. 27 on El Jardin (hat tip Socketsite). See PDF link below.