Last vacant lot on landmarked Greenwood Common is for sale

Looking west across city landmarked Greenwood Common. The lot for sale is on the brushy slope downhill from the western edge of the Common. Photo: Kate Rauch

The “last undeveloped lot” of Greenwood Common, a unique Berkeley historical landmark of mid-century modern houses clustered around a shared green space in the North Berkeley hills, is up for sale.

The available lot is located on a woodsy slope between Le Roy Avenue to the west and the Common, and “provides all the benefits of the Common with the opportunity to build the house of your dreams,” according to the real estate listing.

These “benefits” include access to a landmarked grassy open space with dramatic views of San Francisco and the Bay, circled by eight architecturally significant homes built in the middle of the 20th century.

Normally, any development at this historically, protected Berkeley landmark would be contentious.

Any construction affecting the exterior of a city landmark requires review by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and approval of a structural alteration permit. The commission has already rejected two proposals to add second stories to two Greenwood Common homes. In fact, one of these proposals, in 1990, prompted the successful effort to landmark the Common.

But this site is a different story. Unlike the existing homes, city landmark documents show the lot to be part of the Common, but not under landmark protective status. Anyone building there would need to go through the city’s regular zoning and design approvals, but approval from the Landmarks Commission isn’t required.

Katinka Wyle, who lives in a landmarked home on the Common, said she doesn’t believe Greenwood residents are too worried about what might be built on the lot since it is downhill from the main area and kind of hidden from view. She knew the lot wasn’t included in the landmark status.

The Greenwood Common lot that is for sale is downhill on this wooded slope. Photo: Kate Rauch

But Wyle nevertheless hopes that anyone building there will do so in the spirit of the Common’s historical design. If it’s going to be someone’s dream house, it should be in sync with its surroundings.

Neighbors are watching, Wyle said. “Quite a few of the members want it to be respectful and honor the Common.”

The most impact could be to views of the uphill neighbors, part of the landmark, she said.

Often called a designed landscape, Greenwood Common was conceived by renowned architect William Wurster, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Environmental Design from 1950 to 1963. Prominent landscape architect Lawrence Halprin designed the outdoor spaces.

The existing homes are predominantly made of wood and glass, mostly compact and flat-roofed, and blend in with the natural surroundings both in terms of textures and colors. The rustic yet sleek style is known as the Second Bay Tradition in the evolution of Bay Area-rooted modern architecture.

While not landmarked, the open lot is covered by height limits in the Greenwood Common bylaws, Wyle said. Berkeleyside is working on getting a copy of the bylaws.

In a 1952 memo to “Participants in Greenwood Common,” Wurster wrote that “Lots #10 and  #11 [to] have a height restriction which will protect the clear sweep from the Common and from Lot #9.”  Lots #10 and #11 refer to the area of the Common that’s for sale. Wurster also suggested a limit on TV antenna heights.

Tracy McBride, the Realtor representing the sellers of the lot, said her clients are out of the country and unavailable for comment. Wyle said she has the impression they’re very sensitive to the significant characteristics of Greenwood Common and supportive of the landmark.