Walter H. Ratcliff Landmark

City Report Dec 17, 2002
LPC Subcommittee Report
Public Works HISTORY
City Council APPEAL


Landmarks Preservation Commission Subcommittee Report

LPC Subcommittee Members: Jill Korte, Doug Morse June 15, 2002

The subcommittee met with Rene Cardinaux, director of Public Works, and Patrick Keilch, assistant director of Public Works, and applicant L A Wood on Friday, June 7, 2002.

The purpose of the meeting was to tour the Walter Ratcliff Corporation Yard Main Building, and, as directed by the LPC, to focus on two items: 1) the extent of the original 1916 building still remaining, and 2) the open space related to the viewing and understanding of the building.

Extent of Original Building Still Remaining: Walter Ratclitf s Corporation Yard Building is an L-shaped building with an east-west wing roughly paralleling Aliston Way and a north-south wing roughly paralleling the eastern property boundary.. For ease of understanding, we considered each wing separately.

East-West Wing: The east-west wing is a long, one-story, side-gabled roof structure with short intersecting front-gable portions placed on each end. The two side, front-gabled portions of the east-west wing are essentially intact. However,
there have been some relatively minor alterations. On the east side of the eastern front-gable portion, a segment of the bay window and the masonry below it have been removed and an unmatched door and window have been installed below the transom (Photo 12b of the application).

On the west side of the western front-gable portion, the wood sash multi-paned windows in the bays have been replaced with large pane metal sash windows. A door on the south side of the southern most bay has been removed and filled in (behind the phone booth in Photo 15 of the application; Photo 2b). A small wood covered-entry structure was added to the southern end of this portion of the east-west wing (Photo 15 of the application).

However, the southern face of the western front-gable portion is still intact and the arches shown in Photo 2b of the application still exist. A small window was added just to the left of the arches (Photo 15 of the application)
The northern facade of the east-west wing between the two front-gable portions is intact, although some minor alterations have occurred. This portion of the northern facade is divided into eight sections by nine brick pilasters. Each of these eight sections originally had four tall arched multi-paned casement windows with wood framing. The windows of the fifth section from the east have either been removed or covered with the cement now filling this section. The first window in the sixth section from the east has also been removed. Other windows, particularly those in the western most section, have some panes obstructed.

The most significant alteration to the east-west wing occurred on the south side between the two front -gable portions. The only portion of the original building remaining here appears to be the structural supports. All original windows, walls, doors, and decorative brickwork (Photo 2a in the application) appear to have been removed when the lean-to addition was added onto this section. The brick used on the lean-to addition probably came from the original southern facade.

Originally a one-story structure, a mezzanine was added to give a second floor to the east-west wing. The second floor is a series of small rooms. A drop-down ceiling covers the trusswork of the roofing system in most of the east-west wing. However, the trusswork can be easily viewed in the carpenters' shop where there is no mezzanine level. From the shop, one can best experience the interior of the building as originally designed.
A short segment of the original exterior masonry wall (Photo 1 in application), which ran westward from the northwestern corner of the building, still exists. At the end of this segment is a round brick pillar which once marked the location of a gate.

Berkeley Public Works corporation yard shed areaNorth-South Wing: The north-south wing is a long, one story, gable-roofed structure running southward from the eastern front-gable portion of the east-west wing. Its roofline is slightly lower than that of the east-west wing. The original, long eastern masonry wall of the north-south wing remains intact, but rather than being an exterior wall, it has become largely an interior wall shared with the wooden addition on the east side. On the western facade of the north-south wing, there was originally a series of bays separated by brickwork pilasters with tall floor-to-cave swing-in wood doors.

Although brick pilasters still define seven bays, the brick pilasters and wood doors no longer remain on the southern most bays. Tall wooden doors remain in only three of the seven bays defined by brickwork pilasters and are not original to the structure. These doors, although all handsome recessed paneled doors, are sliding doors which do not match the swing-in doors found in the historical photographs. The remaining four bays defined by brickwork pilasters have been filled in with wood walls, metal frame windows, and doors, for use as office space.
The southern wall of the north-south wing is wood. One would expect this wall to be masonry if it were original to the structure. It is believed that the original masonry wall was removed when an addition was added and was replaced with wood when the addition was later removed. The original roofing system is still in place and the trusswork can be easily viewed in the southern most portion of this wing, where the western side is open.

Open Space Related to the Viewing and Understanding of the Building

The north facade of the east-west wing of the Ratcliff building was once accompanied by a long westward running matching masonry wall (Photo 1 in the application). Although entries into the corpyard could be made through a wide gate in this wall next to the west side of the building, it appears that all activity in the corpyard originally occurred behind the wall and into and out of the interior sides of the L-shaped building. The north and east facades appeared to function as a serene front to keep the hustle and bustle of the workings away from the eyes and ears of the neighborhood, but also to bring in light for the important work going on inside the building.

The subcommittee feels that the open space still existing in front of the north side of the building is important to the continued viewing and appreciation of Walter Ratcliffs work. Adequate open space on the east side is also necessary to bring in light through the multi-paned bay window, as likely intended by Rateliff. Enough open space to west of the east-west wing is needed to define the original gateway and bring light through the dominant bay windows. From these bay windows, employees could monitor who entered the corpyard and greet them from the door on the south.

Ratcliff carried out the detailing on all facades of his building, including the "business" side (inner west and south facades) of the building. The subcommittee wondered just how much the public would have originally seen of the business side of the corpyard, and whether or not a masonry wall similar to that originally found on the north side of the site also existed at the southern boundary.

Even though it is unclear whether public view of the business side of the building was intended, enough open space should be retained to show how the building originally functioned (i.e. enough space to show how horses and then vehicles were rounded up and sheltered or repaired in the bays.) We suggest that the full LPC discuss whether open space should be retained to allow full viewing of the building from Bancroft Way in the event that the property acquires a new use and the sound wall is removed in the future. It is also important to keep in mind that the "business" side of the building and some of the yard can still be viewed by neighbors from the upper floor of their residences, even though a tall sound wall has recently been built.

The fact that Ratcliff carried out the detailing on all facades seems to indicate that the public works department was seen as a very important part of the city's workings and that to be an employee of the public works department was also very special. Regardless of whether the public could originally see the business side of the building, it would be in the spirit of Ratcliffs original design to retain, restore, or create new detailing for the business side of the building in any future restoration or rehabilitation project.

Other Notes
It was evident during our visit the extreme fire and seismic safety hazards that this structure poses for the city employees that must work within it. For these reasons, it is important that the LPC take adequate time prior to its meeting to study the application materials and get answers to any questions they might have. Public Works is eager for the LPC to make an informed decision regarding the initiation proposal so that the City may begin their planning process within the context of the LPC decision.

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