Architecture

John King: Berkeley buildings that make me happy

Photo: John King
Photo: John King

John King, the San Francisco Chronicle’s urban design critic, and a Berkeley dweller, writes a weekly column for the paper called Cityscapes in which, in words and photographs, he highlights an architectural slice of San Francisco life. The columns have been collected into a second book, “Cityscapes 2: Reading the Architecture of San Francisco,” published by Berkeley’s Heyday, and King will be talking about the book at Mrs Dalloway’s bookstore in Berkeley tonight, Friday, at 7:30 p.m.

In August, when writing the column, King turned his attention to his hometown. (Berkeleyside reprinted some of the pieces.) But he couldn’t include all his favorite spots. So here, without further ado, are his fascinating “outtakes.”

John King: Having lived in Berkeley for longer than I care to admit, it was a kick to finally do a month of Cityscape columns in the San Francisco Chronicle about my current home. They ran in August, a month chosen for having five Sundays; still the challenge was deciding which buildings to leave out. To give a sense of what a writer leaves on the newspaper equivalent of the cutting-room floor — and why — here are some of the buildings I considered but didn’t include.

Photo: John King
Photo: John King

I am starting with this nice little cross between neo-Colonial and Mission Revival (pictured top, and above). The catch? It’s the little 1930s gas station at Hopkins Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. There’s an atmospheric domesticity to the spot that is palpable when you pull inside and fill your tank, but the visual clutter is what dominates any photograph. Moral of the story? What we see and remember about a place often isn’t what’s actually there.


Photo: John King
Bonita Hall, which was for a time known as Berkeley Way Commons. Photo: John King

More brick, and more clutter – specifically, the utility wires that cocoon Berkeley landmark #26, William Black’s Bonita Hall from 1905 at the corner of Berkeley Way and Bonita Avenue (above). It’s one of several such brick structures in Berkeley that would look at home in New England – South Hall on the Cal campus is another – and my daughter nominated it. Too bad I couldn’t outwit the combination of wires and palm trees (which demanded that you step back behind the wires to get them in the frame).

Photo: John King
Photo: John King

At Indian Rock and San Diego avenues, there’s a striking simple house (above), woodsy Bay Style modern commanding the view from a garage and base that were redone in semi-classical PoMo style. I’ve always liked it on my walks to Mortar Rock Park, especially before the landscaping started to mask the architecture, but there wasn’t much to say beyond that.

Photo: John King
Photo: John King

Next year I’ll be writing about the conversion of UC’s old printing plant at Center and Oxford streets into the shell for the new Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro (above). So why do so now?…

Photo: John King
Photo: John King

… Even though it’s been fascinating to watch the overlap of old and new by DS+R (with San Francisco’s EHDD) come together, glint of morning sun and all.

Photo: John King
Photo: John King

If I ever do a photo journalism feature on Berkeley’s architectural details, as I did in the Chronicle last spring, the door handles at Cal’s King Student Union are sure to make the cut (above). Who said mid-century modernists (in this case, Vernon DeMars and Donald Hardison) had no sense of humor?


Photo: John King
Photo: John King

On my mental list the entire time: this apartment building at California Street and Hearst Avenue. It breaks the first rule of pedestrian-friendly design – don’t line the sidewalks with garage doors – yet I’ve always liked the reassuring earthiness of it without knowing why …

Photo: John King
Photo: John King

… and then I realized, it’s an automotive age homage to Sonoma Mission and all the other Spanish-flavored architecture that enjoyed a revival in California between the World Wars. Which goes to show that even in urban design, rules are made to broken and guilty pleasures are made to be enjoyed.

Photo: John King
Photo: John King

You know this one. Which is why it didn’t merit a Cityscape. Too familiar, no matter how good it looks against late afternoon clouds.

Related:
Keeping downtown Berkeley’s design distinctive is a tall order (09.03.15)
Cityscape: A Berkeley theater that’s a show unto itself (08.24.15)
Indigenous architecture of the Berkeley kind (08.17.15)
John King talks cityscapes, including his Berkeley favorites (04.20.11) 

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