Pacific School of Religion won’t tear down buildings, will lease some instead

The Pacific School of Religion is trying to lease its Seeley G. Mudd building, part of a long-term plan to better utilize the school’s assets. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The Pacific School of Religion has put one of its main buildings on the quad up for lease – part of the school’s attempt to adapt for the future.

The school is listing its 12,176-square-foot, two-story Seeley G. Mudd building as ideal for a school in “a tranquil, higher education environment,” according to the listing on the Gordon Commercial Realty website. The building is “adjacent to PSR’s grassy quad, with sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay.”

Leasing one of the main buildings on the quad is part of the pivot PSR has done after its plan to build a 265-unit senior center with Mather Lifeways of Illinois fell through in January after strong neighborhood and city objection. That plan would have consolidated most of PSR’s operations into one building, Holbrook Hall, and would have required the demolition of most of the other structures around the quad, which is the center of the campus.

Now PSR is on to “Plan B,” according to its president, David Vásquez-Levy, and that involves a variety of real estate transactions. Currently, PSR owns a number of very large buildings which means its school and seminary operations are spread out. PSR is consolidating and moving some offices to be more efficient, which in turn is freeing up new space, like the Mudd building, which can be rented out, he said.


PSR also recently sold a second building, 2479 Le Conte Ave., to Zaytuna College. (PSR had sold the former University Christian Church building at 2401 Le Conte to Zaytuna College in 2012.) PSR is also planning to sell a number of the apartment complexes it owns on the south side of Virginia Street between Arch Street and Scenic Avenue, but that won’t happen before 2018, said Vásquez-Levy. The Berkeley Student Cooperative, which provides housing to 1,250 Cal students, has said it is interested in purchasing some of those structures, according to the East Bay Times.

The Mudd building at the Pacific School of Religion. Photo: Gordon Commercial Real Estate

The school has also retained the firm Hudson McDonald to manage two of its dorms, Benton and Anderson Halls, for a year. Space is already being made available in those dorms to UC Berkeley students, said Vásquez-Levy. PSR will begin looking for a long-term property management deal for the two properties. They will still house PSR students.

We are committed “to better using our real estate facilities for our mission,” said Vásquez-Levy. “Is there a way for us to leverage our real estate assets for the mission of the school in a way that also benefits the broader community? That’s what led us to the Mather plan and it continues to be what leads us in these efforts.”

Neighborhood opposition to the Mather project had been intense and those wanting to preserve the open feeling of the neighborhood formed the group, Save Holy Hill. But the current plan appears to have neighborhood approval.

Daniella Thompson, a preservationist long involved with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, said she is glad the campus will not change.

A glimpse of the quad at the Pacific School of Religion. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“The campus is what’s most historically and architecturally significant,” she said. “I am glad it will remain as is.”

Thompson also praised the school for keeping the neighborhood informed of its plans, which they had not done before they announced the Mather project. PSR held a community meeting a few weeks ago and sent out an email last week with updates, she said. PSR also posted a notice on its website.

PSR is not only reexamining its real estate. The seminary is also streamlining some of its academic programs to broaden the student body and allow those who work full-time to obtain advanced degrees, said Vásquez-Levy. PSR will start offering a four-month-long leadership-training course this summer, which Vásquez-Levy said fills an unfilled niche. Executives looking to enhance their skills usually can only find a one-to-two-day workshop or a two-year-long masters program.

PSR is also creating a “stackable” three-year long degree program for those in the workforce. People can attend night classes in yearlong stints to get degrees that will build upon one another. All of the programming changes reflect the changing face of the United States, which is becoming increasingly multi-cultural and brown, said Vásquez-Levy.

“This is both an effort to more effectively utilize our properties for our mission,” he said. “What we’re doing physically reflects significant movement in our curriculum and programming…. This is part of a much longer commitment to stay engaged, [to ask] what should a seminary, a graduate program, look like?”