Historic house trucked across People’s Park to new home

Corner Dwight/Regent. Moving into placer. Photo: Ted Friedman
Wooley House arrives at its new home on the corner of Dwight Way and Regent Street. Photo: Ted Friedman

After decades of painstaking planning, a historic south Berkeley house was moved this weekend, trucked across People’s Park to its new home.

Saturday morning at the crack of dawn, the 138-year-old John Woolley house at 2509 Haste St. was hoisted one block south to 2506 Dwight St., the site of a newly developing cluster of Berkeley historic homes.

The move is part of a deal that saves the house, a city-designated landmark, while opening up its site at the corner of Haste and Telegraph Avenue for development.

“I’m glad to see it moved and preserved. It’s a significant early house in the Southside neighborhood,” said Anthony Bruce, the Executive Director of the Berkeley Architectural Historical Association (BAHA), noting that he was speaking for himself and not the organization.


Gliding on cardboard, Woolley on the move through People's Park. Photo: Ted Friedman
Woolley House  on the move through People’s Park. Photo: Ted Friedman

This was the second move for the Woolly, which was built in 1876 on Telegraph Avenue between Channing Way and Haste, and relocated around the corner on Haste in 1912 to make way for the Berkeley Inn, a large brick hotel that burned down in 1990, Bruce said.

“Supposedly, it was the first house built on Telegraph Avenue.”

The home was built by English immigrant John Woolley, a businessman, railway man, and real-estate dabbler, who lived there until his death, sometime around the first move. In recent years, the Woolley’s been in rough shape, increasingly dilapidated, Bruce said.

At its new home, it joins the also-recently-moved Blood House as part of mini group of historical buildings on the southwest corner of Dwight Way and Regent Street, being developed by John Gordon, of Gordon Commercial Real Estate Services.

The moves are part of a carefully orchestrated deal between the city and three property owners; Gordon; Woolley owner, Ken Sarachan, and developers Ruegg & Ellsworth, the former owners of the Blood House when it was located at 2526 Durant Ave. It was moved to Dwight in August.

By selling their homes to Gordon for $1 apiece, Sarachan and Ruegg & Ellsworth can proceed with developing their lots. Moving the homes mitigates objections to their being demolished, expressed in the environmental reviews required in the development process.

Just out of Park on to Dwight. Photo: Ted Friedman
The house emerges out of People’s Park and onto Dwight Way. Photo: Ted Friedman

The deal was sealed with approval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, known for being a rigorous defender of Berkeley’s historical places.

It was years in the making.

“For heaven’s sake, just get it done,” said Roland Peterson, Executive Director of the Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement District.

In particular, Pederson’s organization is eager for new development at the long-vacant corner of Telegraph and Haste, notorious for collecting rats and trash through the years. “We’ve been waiting for decades for that vacant lot to get developed.”

Sarachan, a south Berkeley landowner known for stop-start development plans, has proposed a Moorish edifice on the site. Sarachan, who won’t talk to the press, also owns Rasputin Records, Blondie’s pizza, and the old Cody’s books building, which he is currently turning into restaurant and performance space the Mad Monk.

Ruegg & Ellsworth have started building a 44-unit apartment building at the Durante lot where the Blood House once stood.

In preparing the Woolley for moving, construction workers removed a prominent bay window, which had some observers worried the historical integrity of the home was being ruined.

Jane Wise, project manager for Gordon Real Estate, said the window wasn’t in great condition, with deteriorated dry rot. But salvageable pieces were stored inside the house during the move, and the window will be reconstructed to its historical design using as much original material as possible, she said. “We’re going to do a good job of making sure the house retains its historical character.”

Some members of BAHA have suggested that a historical preservationist be on site for house moves to keep an eye on integrity. Bruce thinks this isn’t a bad idea. “It wouldn’t hurt to have some oversight.” He also acknowledges, “It’s not unusual to remove parts of building before you remove it.”

Edging towards a foundation at Dwight Way. Photo: Ted Friedman
The Woolley House is slowly brought towards a foundation at Dwight Way. Photo: Ted Friedman

Wise said she and Gordon “are very excited” to get started on the Regent/Dwight project, which calls for turning the Woolley and Blood houses into five apartment units, incorporating a small structure called the Bonnet Box, a former hat shop, already on the site. The Bonnet Box, which isn’t a registered landmark but has sentimental value to many neighbors, also has dry rot problems, Wise said.

Gordon has applied to the city for a Mills Act agreement for the project, which would provide a tax break for long-term building preservation. Gordon has preserved other old homes and put them to new use, notably at the University Avenue Rose Garden. He also owns the city-landmarked Mrs. Edmund P. King Building at 2501 Telegraph, currently home to Peet’s, and the Soda Water Works building, 2509-2513 Telegraph, next door to the south.

Other historical buildings in the vicinity include:

• The King Building (a designated landmark) at the Dwight/Telegraph
intersection’s southeast corner, constructed in 1901.
• Adjacent Soda Works Building (a designated landmark) at 2509-13
Telegraph, constructed in 1888 and enlarged in 1904-05.
• The Needham-Obata Building (a designated landmark) at 2525 Telegraph and 2512-16 Regent, constructed in 1907.
• The row of four Colonial Revival-styled houses at 2503, 2509, 2511, and
2517 Regent, all of which were built between 1901 and 1903 (the one at
2517 Regent has already been designated as a Structure of Merit).
• The Stuart House (a designated landmark) at 2524 Dwight, built in 1891.
• The Edwards House (a designated landmark) at 2530 Dwight, dating from 1886.

Related:
2 historic South Berkeley homes on the move, literally (08.15.14)

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