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This three story building was built in 1888 by E.A. Spalding. Its original use was as a soda factory and shop. From this storefront, Robert Agers claimed to offer to his customers "the very best soda water" to be found anywhere in the state of California. The building was designated as a City of Berkeley Landmark in 2004.


  • Soda Water Works Building
  • Soda Water Works Building
  • Sleepy Cat Books, a popular used bookstore currently located in the old Soda Water Works Building in downtown Berkeley
  • Sleepy Cat Books, a popular used bookstore currently located in the old Soda Water Works Building in downtown Berkeley
  • Sleepy Cat Books, a popular used bookstore currently located in the old Soda Water Works Building in downtown Berkeley
  • Sleepy Cat Books, a popular used bookstore currently located in the old Soda Works Building in downtown Berkeley

Robert L. Agers operated a soda works factory in this building, which was originally built in 1888 by E.A. Spalding, a local contractor. Agers' claim to offer "the very best soda water" to be found anywhere in the state of California drew many customers and often kept them coming back for more, at least until the shop and building were sold in 1904. Soda water had already been a fashionable beverage for public consumption for several decades by the time that Agers opened his shop. However, local bottlers and sellers such as Agers had to experiment with different flavors in order to keep their products interesting to customers.

Between 1904 and 1905, the Soda Water Works building was expanded by the builder, Henry F. Bowers. An additional half story was added to the existing two stories. The gambrel roof and dormers were also added at this time. On the front of the building facing the street, the storefront was updated to include bay windows. The modifications to the facade of the building also featured a high false front, oriel windows on the second floor, and recessed entryways. These modifications significantly changed the appearance of the facade of this building on Telegraph Avenue, which was and still is a main thoroughfare through downtown Berkeley.

These architectural updates in 1904 attracted the attention of passers-by and also brought new shop-owners into the building. In 1908, the building began to house various new retail tenants. These included the popular Benedek's, a fresh produce shop, as well as Detlefsen's, a shop for men's furnishing goods. The back of the building, which faces Regent Street, was also leased out around this same time. The street-level storefront that faced Regent Street found new use as a Methodist Episcopal Chinese mission.

On May 15, 1969, a bystander names James Rector was observing the People's Park Protests from the roof of this building on Telegraph Avenue when he was killed by a stray bullet that was fired into the crowd by law enforcement. Thus, the connection between this building and the turbulent People's Park Protests contributes to its lasting historical relevance. However, this history remains haunted by the death of an innocent bystander and the injustice that transpired on that day in 1969.

In 2004, the building was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark and a historical plaque was placed at the site. In addition, the structure remains known to this day as the Soda Water Works Building, which reflects its original use. However, there is a measure of irony to be noted here. The original owner and soda entrepreneur, Robert Agers, could not have foreseen that in 2015, the City of Berkeley, like many other cites in the U.S., would levy a public "soda tax" upon the sale of soda throughout the city, in large part to curb public consumption of the sugary and unhealthy drink.

The old Soda Water Works Building remains adjacent to the historic Stella King Building on Telegraph Avenue. This neighboring edifice, which previously housed a dry goods store in the street-level storefront, reflects the same turn-of-the century wood-frame commercial architecture that once lined Telegraph Avenue in its entirety. Currently, the old Soda Water Works Building houses a popular used bookstore called Sleepy Cat Books, located in the lower-level storefront facing Telegraph Avenue. The shop features gently used books, as well as sleepy cats.

"Berkeley Landmarks Designated in 2004", Berkeley Landmarks. Accessed March 5th 2020. http://berkeleyheritage.com/berkeley_landmarks/2004_landmarks.html.

"Soda Works Building", Berkeley Historical Plaque Project. Accessed March 5th 2020. https://berkeleyplaques.org/plaque/soda-works-building/?cat=28.

"Welcome", Sleepy Cat Books. Accessed March 5th 2020. http://www.sleepycatbooks.com/.

Manke, Kara. "Three years into soda tax, sugary drink consumption down more than 50 percent in Berkeley", February 21st 2019. Accessed March 5th 2020. https://news.berkeley.edu/2019/02/21/three-years-into-soda-tax-sugary-drink-consumption-down-more-than-50-percent-in-berkeley/.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Soda Works Building (2010), photo R. Kehlmann.

Daniella Thompson (2005), Berkeley Landmarks

Sleepy Cat Books (2020)

Sleepy Cat Books (2020)

Sleepy Cat Books (2020)

Sleepy Cat Books (2020)