Op-ed: An open letter to the Landmark Preservation Commission about Telegraph Village

To the Landmark Preservation Commissioners:

At your Jan. 7 meeting, you acted to dismiss landmark (or related) status for a quaint, “uncategorizable”, unsafe, barely patronized — and utterly unique and irreplaceable — relic of ‘the Ingrate Generation’. In so doing, you really have felt the pulse of our times.

In denying the application of ‘The Village’ (2556 Telegraph) for landmark (or related) status, of all Berkeley’s national and city landmarks, only three 60s/70s-era sites remain so honored. One is the Ashkenaz, the dance and music club founded in 1973; second is People’s Park, the university-owned symbol of struggle that is now the city’s homeless hands-off crashpad. The Osha Neumann mural, down the street from the Park at Haste and Telegraph, depicts The Avenue as it ‘was’ around the time the Village/CJ’s Old Garage were fashioned.

I have to wonder about the collective state of orientation of the sizable majority of commissioners who voted to deny. What city do you represent? A review of City’s Landmark Ordinance (3.24.050/.060/.110) shows that, despite the allegation by a prominent pro-development lobbyist in attendance that such status applies to the exterior — not interior — of a building, generous legal provision may be properly invoked to preserve this odd and dear little space: “… portions of structures..man-made or landscape elements, works of art or integrated combinations thereof.” It could find protection under the ‘Structure of Merit’ designation as well.


As you recall, opposing neighbors — including apostates claiming issue from the generation that built ‘the Village’— and concerned others who advised denial scorned the effect of the trashy unbecoming frontage beneath which the building exterior resides. They also excused the need for housing at any cost and size, since none spoke against the proposed oversized residential replacement as presented in posted renderings. The now-expected cadre of young pro-market rate Reaganites were at hand to help secure their hoped-for piece of the American Dream, in a town and a part of town they don’t seem to understand, or much like. Curious. There were also remarks about the queasiness from an interior setting with few straight lines, and a lack of paying customers (including them?) at various eateries and other shops therein.

Yet, something further seemed to grow out of their remarks and thence those of the commission majority: That the period temporally centered around 1970 and physically centered thereabouts was in fact an embarrassment best forgotten, if not denied altogether. It’s as though that section of their school texts was ripped out. ‘Those people’ — activists, creators, hippies, students, questioners, numerous meeting attendees — may have meant well, but their remnants have sagged into irrelevance, was the implication. In fact, we diasporated, but some have remained to tend the well.

Now, as to the matter of its likely replacement— the aforementioned hulk of cells — I found it truly remarkable that it didn’t occur to any voice during the evening’s proceedings that it might just be possible to save the key part of The Village — its interior spaces —  and build some 7-story horror, if horror we must have, around and over it. It could be called, “The ‘C’ Village”. The residents upstairs could supply plenty of diners, including out-of-town guests who want a taste of ‘Berkeley the Theme Park’. Surely this City, in its High Noon moment as to (affordable) housing and prudent preservation, can attract more inventive and perceptive architects and developers. We can have both, but more perceptive commissioners are also required.

In any case, have cameras at the ready, and snap away… while you dine. While you can.

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Phil Allen has lived in Berkeley since the spring of 1970, and is a member of the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition and West Berkeley Neighbors.