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Berkeley is heralded for its architecture. Historic buildings cluster in the city’s downtown core and on the UC Berkeley campus, making a two-day architectural adventure an ideal way to frame a Berkeley stay. A great guide for architectural travelers is 41 Berkeley Walking Tours from the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, available online or, if you're in town, at the Berkeley Visitor Information Center.
Start the day with a coffee and pastry from one of the numerous downtown Berkeley cafes, and check in with Visit Berkeley at 2030 Addison Street, #102, for maps, directions, restaurant recommendations, and travel tips.
A well-preserved historic downtown the size of Berkeley’s is rare in California. City Hall (2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way), listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was the first building in Berkeley to be designated a city landmark in 1975. When it was completed in 1909, its design, scale and elegant profile were in step with Berkeley’s town-to-city transition. The Golden Sheaf Bakery (2071 Addison Street) was built in 1905, a Classical-inspired building designed by Clinton Day. Located squarely within the Downtown Arts District, today it houses the Aurora Theatre Company. The Chamber of Commerce Building (2140-44 Shattuck Avenue) was Berkeley’s first “skyscraper,” designed by Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr. and built in 1926-27 in Classic Revival style.
The Hotel Shattuck Plaza (2200 Shattuck Avenue) occupies an entire city block in the center of downtown Berkeley. Recently restored to its original grandeur, the National Register of Historic Places property was designed in Mediterranean Renaissance Revival style by architect Benjamin McDougall. It was originally developed in 1909 by the heirs of Francis Kittredge Shattuck, one of Berkeley’s original settlers and civic leaders, on the former site of his family home. Today it also offers a great restaurant and bar, ZINO, where past, present and future historic leaders gather nightly.
The Berkeley Public Library (2090 Kittredge Street) is a vibrant example of the Art deco style. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building was designed by James Plachek and built during the Depression in 1930.
Called the most “romantic” building downtown, the Tupper and Reed Building (2271-75 Shattuck Avenue) was designed by architect/painter William Raymond Yelland and built in 1925. It features whimsical details and colorful second-story tiles. Look for the iron piper at the top of the building, an homage to The Sign of the Piper Restaurant, an original tenant. Today it houses Tupper & Reed, a cocktail bar and music venue.
The University of California Berkeley campus was founded in 1868 and opened in 1873. Walking the campus grounds to view its architectural wonders is extra-delightful thanks to the verdant, park-like setting and the youthful energy of its students.
The designated entrance to U.C. Berkeley, Sather Gate was designed by John Galen Howard and built in 1910 at the head of Telegraph Avenue. Just inside the Classical gate, a concrete bridge spans Strawberry Creek and serves as the gateway to the center of the campus and numerous structures of architectural and historic merit, including Doe Memorial Library, Boalt Hall, South Hall (the oldest building on the campus, built in 1873), California Hall, Wheeler Hall and Sather Tower (the Campanile). All of these save the South Hall were designed by Howard, who established the first department of architecture west of the Rockies at UC Berkeley.
Near the top of the campus proper, the Hearst Greek Theater was the first Howard building to be completed on campus in 1903. Julia Morgan worked with Howard on the project and may have supervised construction. The “Greek” was used for the first time when President Theodore Roosevelt delivered the class of 1903’s commencement address; today it is one of California’s premiere outdoor concert venues.
The Hearst Gymnasium for Women (1927, Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan design) and the First Unitarian Church (Albert C. Schweinfurth, 1898, 2401 Bancroft Way) are just two additional architectural wonders. A masterpiece of California’s Arts and Crafts Movement, the church’s design was hugely influential across the region and features eave-supporting redwood tree trunks with the bark left on.
The area immediately south of the U.C. Berkeley campus is the location for a number of architectural landmarks. The stunning Thorsen House (2307 Piedmont Avenue) is a rare Northern California design by Charles and Henry Greene, the celebrated architects whose work influenced the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Today it is an artsy fraternity house for UC Berkeley. The Graduate Berkeley (2600 Durant Avenue) was designed by famed hotel architect William H. Weeks and built in 1928-29; the property was renovated in 1982 and again in 2008, the latter makeover earning it status as an eco-friendly “green” hotel.
Berkeley’s National Landmark, the First Church of Christ, Scientist (2619 Dwight Way) is Bernard Maybeck’s masterpiece. The building, constructed between 1910 and 1912, is a fusion of materials and stylistic influences that seamlessly blend into a breathtaking juxtaposition. Built in 1929 as The Berkeley Women’s City Club and designed by Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan, the Berkeley City Club (2315 Durant Avenue) is a California State Historical Landmark and a Gothic-Romanesque “castle” and now one of Berkeley's top boutique hotels.