Walter H. Ratcliff Landmark
Corporation Yard history in Newsprint
- Council to Move Corporation Yards Berkeley
Gazette, May 13, 1913
- Horses sold under the hammer, Berkeley Gazette
January 14, 1914
- Seventh Annual Report, New Corporation Yard, June 30, 1916 - Page 36
- New Street Work Started by City, Berkeley Gazette,
August 6, 1914
- New Corporation Yard, Berkeley
Gazette June 30, 1915
- Old corporation yard to be a park Berkeley
Gazette March 23, 1917
- City urged to do own work by Coggins, Berkeley
Gazette April 4, 1917
Manager’s Report 1923, City of Berkeley, Page 75
- Corporation Yard needs more than just a makeover, Daily Planet, February 21, 2002
- A Dinosaur in the West Berkeley Neighborhood,
CNA Newsletter Number 275 April 2002
set on Corporation Yard as landmark, Berkeley Voice, May 31, 2002
Yard Landmark, Berkeley Daily Planet,
July 5, 2002
- Horses sold under
Berkeley Gazette January 14, 1914
Commissioner Turner wielded, the gavel in the council chamber this morning-not
in the role of presiding officer of the council, but as an auctioneer. Four horses, formerly of the street department, were auctioned off,
bringing in a total of less, than $200, or considerable less than the
value of any one of the four when they were purchased by the department
several years ago. Pete, a sorrel gelding, brought the fanciest figure, leaving the block
for $80. With him went Dick for $25. The purchaser was P. J. Olino of
Oakland. Dynamite Dick was sold to Joseph Davis of this city for $45, and Thomas
Creighmile purchased Florence for $43.Bidding for the horses was rapid
and the. competition was strong.
- Seventh Annual Report, New
Corporation Yard June 30, 1916 - Page 36
Plans have been prepared for the construction of the first units on the site of the new corporation yard on the Santa Fe Railway
between Bancroft way and Allston way. With these units completed, it
will be. possible to move from the present crowded ramshackle quarters
at University avenue and Sacramento street. This construction will also
provide the department with a modern, well-equipped power machine and
repair shop. This has been sorely needed, since at present, auto repair
work is carried on under the greatest inconvenience with almost a complete
lack of mechanical equipment.
The present units have been designed with especial reference to their
adaptability for use with the present equipment or complete motor equipment.
Special architectural study has been given to insure that the buildings,
both in arrangement and design, should have a pleasing, harmonious appearance,
and add to, rather than detract from the value of the adjacent property.
New Motorized equipment: A beginning was made during the year, in motorizing
the equipment of the department. A two and one-half ton truck fitted
with a special body for collecting street sweepings was purchased. This
truck, with two men, has replaced five two-horse teams. In addition,
it makes all deliveries of street repair material into the hillside
section of the city, thereby relieving the horses of this extremely
heavy work. A Ford touring car has been converted into a light truck
for the use of the City Gardener.
These beginnings have shown the economy
and desirability of motor trucks over horses in both heavy and light
work. The entire department should be motorized as rapidly as sufficient
funds are available, and plans are now being made with this in mind.
Three new automobiles, for the use of the department were acquired during
the year, permitting the assignment of a car to the Electrical Inspector,
the conversion of one car to a light truck and the sale of two old heavy
Street Work Started by City
Berkeley Gazette, August 6, 1914
With paving work on three streets aggregating nearly $20.000 already
under way, first steps in carrying out the proposed street improvement
program for this year have been taken by the Department of Public Works.
Work of installing concrete paving has been started on the western extremity
of Berkeley Way for one block from West to Chestnut, on Allston Way,
one block west of West Street and on Acton street from Bancroft Way
to University Avenue. The Paving work on Acton street opens up a new
district which is anticipated by the streets department to relieve present
paving congestion in the factory district, Improvements on Allston Way
are to be made with a similar purpose. The cost of the work being done
on both streets will amount to $15, 000.
to Move Corporation Yards
Berkeley Gazette, May 13, 1913
To provide better and more centrally located corporation Yards, the
council passed an ordinance to print this morning authorizing the lease
of property at Allston Way and west Street from W. B Knapp for a period
of five years with the privilege of buying. The lot is 312 by 470 feet
containing a fraction more than three acres. The lease will start July
1 and the city will begin immediately to improve the property. A spur
track will be laid to a large warehouse will be erected on the land.
The city will then purchase its supplies for some of the departments
in carload lots and the supplies will be stored in the warehouse. Rental
of $3400 a year will be paid. This amount will be applied to the purchase
price which is $17,146.78. It is probable that the property will be
purchased next year out of the tax receipts.
- New Corporation
Berkeley Gazette June 30, 1915
The new corporation yard at Allston Way and West Street should be equipped
with modern apparatus as soon as possible. At the present time the city
is maintaining three yards, one for the fire department, the old corporation
yard on University Avenue and the new one which makes it incontinent
and expensive. During the past year we have installed a modern oil pit
and heating plant. This allows the city to receive its oil in carload
lots direct, heating it in the pit and delivering it on the streets
at a cost much less than the previous method. With a small expenditure
of money much saving can be made along other lines and I would recommend
a liberal allowance in the budget for the improvement of the yard. Rock
bunkers, machine shops and an automobile garage should be located at
the earliest date…
- Old corporation yard to be a park
Berkeley Gazette March 23, 1917
On the recommendation of the Park commission the city council this morning
granted the use of the property at University and Sacramento street
as a city park. The property was the site of the old corporation yard
and has a frontage of 520 feet on University Avenue. The park commission
further recommended that the board of education be asked to hand over
the property adjoining and that further property owned privately should
be purchased. The council instructed the city clerk to write to the
board of education asking them to grant the use of this and to the park
commission, and with reference to the land owned privately referred
this question to the council sitting as a committee of the whole.
Professor Gregg, president of the park commission said this morning
that with the completion of the paving of University Avenue and the
planting of trees on each side of the thoroughfare as at present contemplated
by the commission, the addition of the park at this point would greatly
add to the attractions of this section of the city and would make University
Avenue the finest boulevard in Berkeley.
- City urged
to do own work by Coggins
Berkeley Gazette April 4, 1917
Herbert L Coggins, candidate for mayor, last night addressed good sized
meeting in the Emerson and the Franklin schools, winding up at the rally
for the Socialist ticket at Finnish hail in West Berkeley.
In speaking of the business of running a city, Coggins said: "Let
us suppose that the .manager of a large business or factory went on
the following policy. That he kept up the fires in the boiler room,
the light and power at maximum, the help employed full time; in fact
all of the overhead expense, and then called in the salesmen and refused
to take an order to collect a single dollar. At the end of each year
it would make up the deficit by an annual assessment of the stockholders.
While the absurdity of this plan in private business is at once apparent
it is exactly what we are doing in the management of our city business
is one long expense account. We assume the overhead of the city, the
fire department care of the streets and sewers and the office help in
the city hail. But the entire producing end of the business-the selling
of water, electricity, gas, transportation and Contracts we turn over
to private hands.
Street Work Expensive.
"It is no longer necessary to defend municipal ownership. New York,
Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Alameda and hundreds of other cities are
paying a large share of their expenses with the profits of their utilities.
Some European cities have eliminated taxation, while at least one small
city of Switzerland has gone farther and distributes to its citizens
a small annual dividend-the profit from their public utilities."At
present one of the heaviest of our expenses accounts is street work.
Berkeley might well consider taking this work into her own hands. We
can hire the same men, employ the same engineers and buy the same materials
at the same prices The difference would be that the profit would go
to the taxpayer and the city would be more certain of good work Berkeley,
the contractor would have no incentive to give Berkeley, time city,
bad work or poor materials,
Manager’s Report 1923
Berkeley, Page 75
Corporation Yard: The Corporation Yard is the headquarters of the Division
of Maintenance of the Bureau of Highways. Here is located the machine
shop for repairing all equipment, an asphalt plant, the oil and gas
station and sheds for housing motor vehicles. All materials such as
sand, gravel, asphalt, sewer pipe, cement, lumber, etc., are handled
from the Yard. The Corporation Yard also cares for the automotive equipment
of other departments such as Garbage Bureau, Parks, etc. It supplies
gasoline and oil for motor vehicles used in city business. Fifty-six
separated pieces of equipment are in use consisting of tractors, trucks,
autos, rollers, power mowers, pumping plants, etc.
During the past fiscal year the city-owned automobiles and trucks traveled
a total of 238,000 miles and the Yard handles monthly a total of 9,600
gallons of gasoline.
Work for Private Parties: This department does considerable work for
private parties for which fees are collected by the Superintendent of
Streets and deposited with the City Treasurer to the credit of the General
Fund. This class of work is necessary for several reasons:
(a) It is required by Ordinance that all lateral sewers shall be connected
to main sewers by the Superintendent of Streets, and the fees charged
are fixed by Ordinance.
(b) In the matter of resurfacing trenches which are opened by the public
service corporations, some of this work is done by the corporations
themselves under our inspection, but a great deal of this work is done
by this department and charged to the corporations.
(c) Some miscellaneous jobs such as concrete sidewalks, concrete curbs,
etc., are built to accommodate the public and charges are made for services
set on Corporation Yard as landmark
Clare Curley, Berkeley
Voice, May 31, 2002
The Landmarks Preservation Commission may vote on Monday on whether
to designate the city's Corporation Yard, at 1326 Allston Way, a landmark.Just
east of the Santa Fe railroad right-of-way, the 4.9-acre site consists
of several single story buildings, is lined with cedars trees and dates
back to the 1900s.
The application, submitted by activist L A Wood earlier this month,
outlines a history of public services at the site dating back to a time
when street sweepings were drawn by horses: A brick building with ornamental
columns and wood sash windows, contains office and storage space. Originally
designed by Berkeley architect Walter H. Ratcliff Jr., it was enlarged
in 1953 and has undergone numerous modifications since it was built
in 1916. "This was probably the first time an industrial structure
was built in Berkeley to appear more residential both in scale and style,"
Wood argues in the application.
The vehicle maintenance building is a steel warehouse with a heavy wood-framed
mezzanine floor - the main portion was built in 1930 and underwent a
major addition in 1960. Another building, the Quonset hut, is a steel
warehouse with a heavy wood-framed mezzanine floor that was constructed
The Ratcliff is preparing for extensive seismic work, which raises questions
about the possibility of relocating part or all of the yard. In February,
the city's public works department announced the relocation of the city's
Landmark applications, which are done on a voluntary basis, are required
to show a site is endangered.
"Several of the Corporation Yard structures will be subject to
alteration or removal as this new capital project moves forward,"
Wood noted in his application.
The city has three or four landmark proposals in the works at any given
time, but this site differs from the usual cases.
Whereas others are typically noted for their style and aesthetics, Wood
stresses the city's history of employees who have worked in the building
as Freemason to landmark the site. A vote can result in one of two types
of designations - a landmark or a structure of merit. The first must
prove its stand-alone quality, the second is notable for contributing
to the fabric of the neighborhood.
Becky O'Malley, who is on the Landmarks Preservation Commission, says
she hasn't decided how she will vote, but called the proposal unique
and says it has potential. "The main building was designed by one of Berkeley's most famous
architects," she said. "It was designed consciously so that
it would fit in the neighborhood."
It was also built in a fertile development period in Berkeley, between
the San Francisco earthquake and the Depression, when San Francisco
residents were flocking to the East Bay, she noted.
Some neighbors, however, have expressed at previous meetings hopes that
the site will be used as park space or converted into a museum, pointing
to noise and pollution generated by trucks and machinery at the site.
There will also be a public testimony period at Monday's meeting for
people to voice their opinions prior to a vote. If the site is determined
to be a landmark, there will still be opportunities to appeal the decision
before the status is finalized.
Devona Walker, Berkeley
Daily Planet, July 5, 2002
The Landmark Preservation Commission on Monday gave landmark status
to the Corporation Yard and the Ratcliff building,
effectively stopping the city from demolishing the building and redeveloping
the area. This may be the last battle for some central west Berkeley
residents who have been fighting to preserve this belt of green space.
One resident, in fact, says he's battled the city for more than a decade
to have the Corporation Yard removed.
L A Wood foresees the landmarking phase as, in a sense,
the beginning of yet another battle: attaining more green space. Berkeley
has outgrown the Ratcliff building and would need to demolish and
replace it to accommodate the growing number of municipal employees. Consequently,
landmarking the building and much of the site may force the city's
hand, and in turn it could choose to relocate the Corporation Yard.
The Department of Public Works director has in the past said that
the Corporation Yard is not in the best location, but that the city
can simply not afford to purchase additional land.
In the end, Wood says he hopes it will turn the yard
into a park."The scheme was the district should have two-acres
per thousand, and it doesn't," Wood says, "In other words,
this area has somewhat less green space than what you might see in
other areas of the city," he said about District 2 where the
corporation yard is located."So it's only natural that part of
this courtyard return to being some sort of park. It probably should
happened in the '80's but our priorities were different."
The Corporation Yard is saddled between Strawberry Creek
Park and the city of Berkeley Lawn Bowling Greens. "Historically,
if you look back at public documents, they have been saying move the
yard. It is the largest nonconforming land use in Berkeley,"
Wood said. "It could have been moved years ago but there was
never a champion on Council and they've never looked at the corporation
yard and how nonconforming it is, and how it impacts the surrounding
"Now there is an opportunity for a park to happen," Wood
added.Wood and others, however, concede that in
the current climate of the city that some of the Corporation Yard
may have to go to other uses. Wood, in fact, has been campaigning
to get Building Opportunities for Self-sufficiency (BOSS) to develop
on part of the site. The nonprofit is currently trying to build near
the Harrison Playfields.
- The Corporation Yard
A dinosaur in the West Berkeley Neighborhood
L A Wood, CNA
Newsletter No. 275 April 2002
For more than thirty years, Corporation Yard neighbors have organized
and petitioned for change at the city's maintenance facility, with the
goal of bringing the site into conformity with the area's R2 zoning.
Unfortunately, yard activities have continued to challenge both the
capacity of the site and the neighborhood.
At the turn of the last century, the area near Bancroft Way and West
Street didn't look much like a neighborhood, with its open fields and
sparse housing. However, that all changed in May, 1913, when the City
purchased a three-acre lot from W. B. Knapp for $17,147 and began to
construct a new, centralized corporation yard. Not long after, the surrounding
area also gave rise to a small residential community, the Corporation
It must have been difficult in those early days to live next to this
industrial site, with its horses, autos, road materials, and heating
oil facility. Today, it's not much better for area residents because
in each successive decade, the Yard's industrial activities have continued
to expand, despite the shift in the area's zoning. The Corporation Yard
has now become Berkeley's largest non-conforming land use.
This month, the City has begun the process for yet another expansion
and intrusion on the Yard's nearby residents. Public Works' newest plan
can only be called the most aggressive, resident-unfriendly proposal
in more than eighty years at the site. There is no planned traffic mitigation,
or even an acknowledgment of the yard's current congestion, as the City
prepares to move rented office trailers onto the already overcrowded
site for up to five years. It certainly doesn't take a city planner
to understand that leased portables will displace even more Public Works'
activities and parking onto neighborhood streets.
The plan for onsite trailers is not employee-friendly either, since
this scheme fails to address the real long-term impacts on city operations.
And when so much available office space exists in West Berkeley, this
shortsighted plan suggests that the City has money to burn.
As the Corporation Yard community readies itself for the permit and
zoning process in late April or May, neighbors are attempting to document
the history of the yard and the neighborhood. If you have a story and/or
pictures about the early days of the Corporation Yard or the SUDS area
(Sacramento, University, San Pablo, Dwight Way), please share them with
Yard needs more than just a makeover
L A Wood, Berkeley
Daily Planet February 21, 2002
In 1916, Berkeley's Public Works Department completed
construction of its new corporation yard on Allston Way. This early
city project moved the existing maintenance yard, which at that time
was little more than horse stables, from the north corner of University
Avenue and Sacramento to its current site. The Public Works commissioner
stated at the opening of the new yard, "We have made a beginning
of which to be proud, and when completed, may well serve as a model
for other cities." Almost ninety years later, even after several
major renovations in the early 30's, the 50's, and again in the late
1980's, those words and that vision have all faded away.
Today, the yard is boxed in by residential neighborhoods, and is at
capacity for operations and storage. Many of the yard's problems won't
be corrected with just another makeover. Like a Trojan horse, the imminent
upgrade of the corporation yard promises to open the door to a budgetary
boondoggle, with millions of taxpayer dollars at stake, and more.
Last Friday, the Public Works Department applied for
a use permit to relocate the yard's staff out of the old, single story
structures and into portable office trailers. This move signals the
beginning of the seismic upgrade of the site's unreinforced masonry
buildings. The cost to move the yard's staff and to plug in the trailers
is expected to reach half a million dollars, or more. However, no
overall cost analysis for this retrofit has been made public. The
city knows the seismic project is more than a simple posting up of
the buildings so as to keep them from falling down on city employees.
In the past, each of the yard's major renovations has both added structures
and expanded operations in order to meet the needs of the department.
And today, that need has never been more pressing.
The option to expand is being challenged by the area's
R2 zoning and the fact that the maintenance yard has become the largest
non-conforming land use in Berkeley. Both the city's General Plan
and the yard's Master Plan acknowledge the need to relocate, and not
to expand at the Allston location. This message also has been echoed
by residents who have publicly requested reductions in the yard's
activities, and specifically that the rock and gravel storage areas,
as well as the yard's fueling station, be moved to a more appropriately
zoned site. All council reports evaluating the corporation yard in
the last decade have reflected this same reality. The Public Works
Department operations have simply outgrown the present site.
Another serious barrier to the future expansion of the
corporation yard is concern over landmark preservation.
structure, the oldest on the five-acre site, was designed by Walter
Ratcliff, the city's architect at the time. Unbelievably, it has never
has been listed in any local or state Historic Resources Inventory.
However, there is no question that the main administration building
has need for landmark protection. The brick detail, wooden floors,
and barn-like shop areas bring back the memory of those first days
when a staff of 150 worked out of the yard, including a blacksmith.
Some of the details of this rich history have already been destroyed
by smaller capital projects at the yard, leaving only the Ratcliff
structure. Certainly any yard expansion should be limited because
of this building's landmark importance. It also physically partitions
the site. Undoubtedly, this building will continue to be an obstacle
to the yard's modernization.
Fix it, expand it, or move it. Those are the options,
and each has its special cost for the Public Works Department, Berkeley
taxpayers, and the surrounding neighborhoods. Though staff is reluctant
to lay out the entire plan, our past experiences with cost overruns
for seismic work done at the library, the public safety building,
and the civic center, all confirm one thing. The corporation yard
upgrade will ultimately cost two to three times more than originally
estimated. Even a minimum investment in the site's structures will
cost several million dollars. A full-blown expansion will run six
million dollars or more. If the city's management of the project is
factored in, the
costs for the yard could reach up to fifteen million
dollars, the projected cost of an entirely new facility. And with
all costs being fairly equal, only a new location will meet the future
operational needs of the department and the city.
Moreover, Berkeley owns an ideal site at Harrison and
Fifth streets where the city has begun construction of a park. With
relativity little invested to date, the corporation yard should simply
trade locations with the soccer fields and proposed transitional housing.
This would put an end to all existing zoning conflicts at both sites.
More importantly, it would give the Public Works Department a long
overdue professional yard, something that will never be achieved at
the yard's current location, no matter how much money is poured into
it. We can no longer afford to ignore the necessity of moving the
Once again, hoping to fly under the radar of both neighbors
and taxpayers, the yard's renovation is being offered up in a piecemeal
style. Public Works is now saying that it is merely fixing the yard
while actually preparing the site for another expansion. The first
phase of the capital project, in addition to the modular trailers,
involves the removal of several sheds and buildings. Phase two of
the seismic retrofit will involve new construction. This stealth project,
like the last one offered to residents in 1987, needs to be revealed
for what it really is.
In '87, a "fix it" plan was packaged to disguise the facility's
second phase construction of a fueling station from the area's residents.
Imagine the neighbors' surprise upon waking up one morning to find
that the city had relocated its fueling station within 60 feet from
their homes on Bancroft Way. Certainly the neighbors of the city's
most recent project, the communication tower on the new public safety
building, understand this reality.
Historically at the corporation yard, the city,
as developer, has always played the bully. The Public Works Department
has avoided the scrutiny of permits, honest environmental reviews,
and a fair public process. For the benefit of area neighbors and local
taxpayers, let's have all the cards on the table! With so much at
stake, Berkeley can not afford to miscalculate the needs of Public
Works or the impacts of the corporation yard on the surrounding community.