For 113 years, the large brown-shingle duplex stood at 1930 Walnut St., just a short distance from UC Berkeley.
Constructed in just two months in 1905, the home, originally owned by Eliza Moore, housed families and students until around 2003. At some point, the property became a fourplex and then a sixplex and became rent-controlled. Equity Residential purchased the house in 2010 as part of its plan to build the 205-unit Acheson Commons complex on University and Shattuck avenues. In 2012, Equity put the house and its neighboring brown shingle on the market, priced at just $1 each. Then, in 2016 Equity sold the entitlements and the land to Mill Creek Residential.
For a number of years, Dmitri Belser and Tom White, the proprietors of Rockhead & Quarry, a historic house relocation company, had hoped to salvage the house, much as they had rescued its next-door neighbor in 2017 by moving it through the streets of Berkeley to 2214 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. But this house presented many difficulties. The brown-shingle was huge — 40 feet wide and 47 feet deep – making it tricky to move. The house would need to be repositioned, too, on a 50-foot wide vacant lot, which was hard to buy in Berkeley.
“The move of the house was going to be difficult,” said Belser. “It wouldn’t fit down a road. We would have had to cut it into two pieces, or possibly four pieces. The question became ‘how much risk are we taking on here? An empty house, cut in two sitting on a lot looks to us like a target.’”
In the end, the logistics were insurmountable, and Belser and White pulled out of the project. As a result, Mill Creek Residential demolished the structure, located between University Avenue and Berkeley Way, in late November to make way for its renamed complex, Modera Acheson Commons, on which construction began earlier this year.
In 2003, the last time anyone lived there, the building held six rent-controlled apartments. As part of the entitlement process, the city of Berkeley required the developer either to move the brown shingle, or if it could not, create six rent-controlled units in the new complex, according to Jason Overman, a partner at Lighthouse Public Affairs, which is the public face of Mill Creek. When Acheson Modera Commons is completed by mid-2020 there will be replacement apartments that will rent to people on very low incomes.
“You have a like for like,” said Overman. “An old affordable unit will be replaced by a new affordable unit.”
While Belser and White could not save the old building, they salvaged items that can be reused, including some windows, bathtubs, sinks and doors, said Belser. But what couldn’t be salvaged were the “proportions,” he said. Two of the building’s bedrooms were 15 feet by 15 feet with ten-foot-high ceilings and beautiful trim.
“You can’t salvage that,” he said
Daniella Thompson, an architectural historian and longtime leader at the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, wrote a long article in 2009 about the history of 1930 and 1922-24 Walnut St. Mildred Jordan, Thompson’s husband’s grandmother, moved there in 1905 with her family. (They rented from Eliza Moore.) Her father, Frank E. Jordan, sold insurance and goldmine stock in an office downtown and her mother was a housewife. Her older brother Harold enrolled at UC Berkeley, Thompson wrote. Mildred and her sister Ethel enrolled at Berkeley High.
The family lived there through the 1906 earthquake. Harold Jordan included a description in his memoir:
“The terrifying sounds that I heard were made by, first our brick chimney, then the brick chimney of the house next door being shaken down, Jordan wrote. “The sound of the earthquake was a loud rumble, like a sudden, very heavy hailstorm falling on the roofs, punctuated with collapse of roofs, caving brick walls, and also some human screams.”
The Jordans lived in the house until the 1910s, according to Thompson. The property eventually “passed into the hands of the three Acheson brothers, scions of a pioneer Berkeley family and owners of the Acheson Physicians’ Building at 2131 University Avenue.”
Read Daniella Thompson’s history of 1930 Walnut St., with its description of Berkeley life around 1905.