Walter H. Ratcliff Landmark
Corporation Yard Newsprint history

City Report Dec 17, 2002
Newsprint History
Public Works HISTORY
City Council APPEAL

Walter H. Ratcliff Landmark
Corporation Yard history in Newsprint

  1. Council to Move Corporation Yards Berkeley Gazette, May 13, 1913
  2. Horses sold under the hammer, Berkeley Gazette January 14, 1914
  3. Seventh Annual Report, New Corporation Yard, June 30, 1916 - Page 36
  4. New Street Work Started by City, Berkeley Gazette, August 6, 1914
  5. New Corporation Yard, Berkeley Gazette June 30, 1915
  6. Old corporation yard to be a park Berkeley Gazette March 23, 1917
  7. City urged to do own work by Coggins, Berkeley Gazette April 4, 1917
  8. City Manager’s Report 1923, City of Berkeley, Page 75
  9. Corporation Yard needs more than just a makeover, Daily Planet, February 21, 2002
  10. A Dinosaur in the West Berkeley Neighborhood, CNA Newsletter Number 275 April 2002
  11. Vote set on Corporation Yard as landmark, Berkeley Voice, May 31, 2002
  12. Corporation Yard Landmark, Berkeley Daily Planet, July 5, 2002
  • Horses sold under the hammer
    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.
    Berkeley Public Works truck 1916
    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 cars.

  • New 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.

  • Council 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 Yard
    Berkeley Gazette June 30, 1915

    Berkeley Public Works oil pit and heating plant at city corporation yardThe 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,

  • City Manager’s Report 1923
    Berkeley, Page 75

    Berkeley Public Works rock and gravel yardCorporation 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 rendered
  • Vote 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.
    Berkeley Public Works horses
    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 in 1947.
    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 maintenance staff.

    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.

  • Corporation Yard Landmark
    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 neighborhood."

"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 Yard neighbors.

    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 us.

  • Corporation 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.

Berkeley Public Works vehicle maintenance facilityLast 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.
The centerpiece 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 corporation yard.

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.

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