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The old City Hall building in Berkeley was designed by the San Francisco architectural firm of Bakewell & Brown circa 1908. When the building was completed, it replaced an earlier, austere structure, which had served as the city hall since 1883 but burned down in a fire in 1904. The ornate City Hall building designed by Bakewell & Brown is an elaborate Beaux Arts structure which proudly served as Berkeley's City Hall from 1909 to 1977. This building was designated as a City of Berkeley Landmark in 1975. In recent years, it has been noted that a full renovation of the building is needed, especially to remedy the structural issues and address the potential for seismic activity due the building's location in an earthquake prone area.

  • Berkeley City Hall Building, now home to the Berkeley Special Education Preschool
  • Civic Center Park (2004), with the 1908 City Hall Building in the background
  • Berkeley City Hall, designed by Bakewell & Brown, was built circa 1908
  • An older city hall building, which was built in 1883 at another location, burned down in a fire

John Bakewell Jr. and Arthur M. Brown, Jr., who jointly formed the San Francisco architectural firm of Bakewell & Brown (1905 - 1928), were commissioned to design the City Hall building in Berkeley after the previous city hall building burned down in a fire. Bakewell & Brown's design was as chosen the winning bid for the project by a selection committee that included the prominent Berkeley architect John Galen Howard. The firm of Bakewell & Brown also designed the building for the San Francisco City Hall.

During a cornerstone-laying ceremony for the Berkeley City Hall building in 1908, the President of the University of California at Berkeley eloquently described the City Hall building as a "town-house of the nation," while he proclaimed that: “The Capitol at Washington cannot stand unless our town-houses have good cornerstones—firm-set and true.” The university president Benjamin Ide Wheeler went on to say that he hoped the building would reflect the goals of city at large:

"...that we will respect the rights of others; that we will all be citizens and stay amateurs; that we will live together in mutual helpfulness; that we will try to make Berkeley the best town there is.”

Bakewell & Brown's Beaux Arts style City Hall building featured ornate architectural detailing on a neoclassical facade. Upon the building's completion, it also included a dramatic spire, which the architects added onto their initial design in order to further distinguish the city hall building. Earlier drawings reveal that a more modest version of the building was initially submitted to the selection committee. However, Bakewell and Brown ultimately decided to give the already elaborate city hall building a further embellishment, one that could be widely seen throughout the city, similar to the campanile, or bell tower, at the University of California in Berkeley.

The architects based their overall design concept for the Berkeley City Hall on the Hotel de Ville in Tours, France, located on the Loire River. Both John Bakewell and Arthur Brown had studied architecture at the University of California and then later at the Ecole nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France, where they met as students. After their design for the Berkeley City Hall building was completed in 1908, several area newspapers, such as the Oakland Tribune, celebrated the building's inspired "French Renaissance" design. The overall result was the construction of a stunning public building that functioned as an "anchor" for downtown Berkeley's Civic Center, featuring buildings grouped around a central park. Bakewell & Brown's building it served proudly as Berkeley's City Hall from 1909 to 1977, until a newer building was built downtown. The Beaux Arts City Hall building thereafter became known as "the old City Hall," and it served as the administrative headquarters for the Berkeley Unified School District, until the school district headquarters also moved into a newer building in town.

Bakewell & Brown's City Hall building was designated as a City of Berkeley Landmark in 1975. It is also listed individually on the National Register for Historic Places, as well as being listed as a National Register Civic Center Historic District. Between 2012 - 2013, however, the city considered demolishing the historic building, due to the risk of seismic safety issues given the potential for earthquake activity in the area. However, the building is considered by many to be a historic emblem of "civic pride" within the city, thus it continues to remain standing amidst discussions regarding the costly but necessary full renovation of the building. In 2009, the old City Hall began to serve as the home of the Berkeley Special Education Preschool, which is part of the Berkeley Unified School District. The old City Hall building was also approved for use by the non-profit, Berkeley Community Media, for the storage of its equipment and as a downtown location for teaching technology classes to the community. Additionally, the building continued to be used for city council meetings for many years, until the meetings were finally moved off-site.

In 2018, the city then designated the old City Hall building to serve as a temporary winter shelter for the area's adult homeless population. The city awarded the Dorothy Day House, a non-profit organization which operates other shelters in the city, a specific budget to operate an additional emergency shelter within the old City Hall on rainy nights or when the weather drops below 45 degrees. Homeless adults, including those with pets, are permitted between the hours of 7 p.m. and 8 a.m.

"Bakewell & Brown", NoeHill Architects. Accessed March 10th 2020.

"Berkeley City Hall", Berkeley Historical Plaque Project. Accessed March 10th 2020.

Cerny, Susan Dinkelspiel. "Berkeley's Old City Hall Faces an Unknown Future", The Patch. February 14th 2012. Accessed March 10th 2020.

Orenstein, Natalie. "New drop-in center, new Hub operator among changes to city homeless services", Berkeleyside. July 31st 2019. Accessed March 10th 2020.

Orenstein, Natalie . "Old City Hall to become emergency winter homeless shelter", Berkeleyside. November 29th 2018. Accessed March 10th 2020.

Tadayon, Ali. "Berkeley’s old city hall to become a winter homeless shelter", East Bay Times. November 29th 2018. Accessed March 10th 2020.

Thompson, Daniella. "Berkeley’s City Hall Was Inspired by a Mairie on the Loire", Berkeley Landmarks. Accessed March 10th 2020.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Daniella Thompson, Berkeley Landmarks

Daniella Thompson, Berkeley Landmarks

Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association archives

Daniella Thompson, Berkeley Landmarks