A rendering of what the 100-year-old building at El Dorado and Sutter will look like when renovated. Photo: Trachtenberg Architects

Update, 04.10.11: Commenting on this story, several readers have mentioned Ninepatch, a store which served the community for 36 years in this building. Pam Zelnik, daughter of the store’s founder, sent in a photo of the shop, which you can find at the foot of the piece.

Update, 4:40pm: Because this story provoked a lively discussion about the architectural renovation under way for this building, we are publishing some additional photographs of the building in its pre-remodeling state, as well as some more renderings from the architect of what the finished result will be like. They can be found at the foot of the story…

The building at the corner of El Dorado Avenue and Sutter Street, near the entrance to the Northbrae Tunnel, has been through myriad incarnations. And now it is undergoing an overdue renovation with a new purpose in mind.

Berkeley architect David Trachtenberg is working with Kaufman Construction, another Berkeley business, to transform the neglected structure into a 7,900 sq ft office building with two retail spaces on the first floor. The $3.2 million re-build will create offices to house Tom Sawyer Software which is moving its headquarters to Berkeley from Oakland. There is no news yet on who will occupy the stores.

The building in the 1920s shows a bakery, a grocery store and pharmacy. Photo courtesy Trachtenberg Architects

“This has been a long time coming,” said Trachtenberg, whose projects in Berkeley include the Oregon Street Berkeley Bowl, the former Cody’s bookstore on Fourth Street, and La Farine on Solano Avenue. Trachtenberg says the recession put a temporary stop to the revamp, but the building’s owner, Tom Sawyer Software’s Brendan Madden, who lives just a few blocks away, has “both the commitment and the deep pockets needed to resurrect this site for the enjoyment of generations to come”.

An electric train emerges from the Northbrae Tunnel, which was built in 1911. Photo courtesy Trachtenberg Architects

While the interior of the building will be built anew, its scale and façade will be in keeping with the original, 100-year-old architecture, as well with as the neighborhood.

Photographs from the 1920s, when the tunnel was used for its original purpose — electric trains rather than cars — show that the building used to house a pharmacy, a grocery store and a bakery, among others. The location would have been ideal for customers getting off and on the electric railway at its nearby stop.

The renovations are due to be completed by year end.

New photographs:

The building before work got underway to renovate it
A rendering of the building from roughly the same angle showing addition and façade
The building pre-renovation
Rendering showing details of the future façade
Detail of building’s exterior before remodeling work began
Rendering showing details of the future façade
Ninepatch operated its store for 36 years from the building at the corner of Sutter and El Dorado. Photo courtesy Pam Zelnik

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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75 Comments

  1. Hi,

    How do people feel about the project now that they see the very nearly completed building?

    Here’s what I see. 

    – I see a new built to last building.
    – I see thoughtful design and attention to detail.
    – I see excellent materials used throughout.
    – I see impressive workmanship.
    – I see some interesting use of color.
    – I see a number of people cared to do the best job they could.

    I think we also managed to keep pretty good relations during construction with the excellent work of Kaufman Construction and the design work of Trachtenberg Architects.

    We were required by the city to have various structural supports “hold up” the west side wall and the east side wall while we built a beautiful new structure around it. We’ll be repainting the old brick areas in the next week or so. 

    It would have been a much better decision for the city to ask us to keep whatever style they wanted but to let us totally level the structure and rebuild it with brand new materials throughout. It really doesn’t make sense to spend many, many tens of thousands of dollars to hold up an old outdated structure when a new and better structure could be built. I think the design, materials choice, and construction is what matters – not the old materials. 

    What did that Don Henley song say? We didn’t throw up any shiny metal boxes.

    I hope the neighborhood will enjoy the open house we’ll have in late August or early September so people can also have a fresh look at the new interior design.

    I hope the neighborhood will enjoy the building for many years to come. We’ll try to take care of the place.

    Heche in USA!,

    Thanks very much
    Brendan Madden
    Neighbor

    CEO, Tom Sawyer Software

  2. well i am very glad the corner is saved, and if the bldg isn’t interesting, it is solid(had undeniably grown shabby ) and it is “tasteful”.it won’t, as some do, ever grow hateful, as in, i hate that bldg more every time i pass it.  we’dd get up in arms if it is threatened some way in future. i am glad i could live in berkeley three decades, and i miss it very much; i visit my daughter and berkeley so i become the one “going home”.  no matter how berkeley changes, it will always be recognizable ; i am glad for architect and project , after all.  the place looks SOLID; that is benificial .how we feel about buildings , how they make us feel, is important. this won’t make anyone wish it looked different, once it is here.a while.

  3. everything looks the same everywhere…..or so it seems. bldgs enclose space for human use but they don’t make you feel life matters much, it is no pleasure to look at them.  berkeley remains a great walkers town, but………and even my home town of flint mi with its unfair reputation, has up to the minute  structures downtown i can’t imagine caring about. 

  4. Also want to add that David Trachtenberg has never done a schlocky building. This is a man who creates 6 sheets of drawings for a bathroom renovation! So whatever you think of the design, it will be beautifully executed and understated.

  5. wow, I’m late to this spectacular comment thread, but thought I should chime in as an architect that worked on this building with David Trachtenberg in the early stages. It seems like what some commenters are afraid of here is not simply Modern Architecture (which this design is categorically NOT), but modernity in general. People are lamenting that the space will be occupied by “some tech company,” but that is one place where smart, creative work these days. We aren’t all blacksmiths and bakers anymore. What is perhaps unfortunate are the limits of computerized renderings that make all buildings look sleek and plastic when they are literally bricks and mortar. Maybe some tech company can help us with that?

    I’m also just a little appalled about the praise bestowed on the trader joes building and gaia arts. Really? Those are architectural farces. A little fancy tile work does not mask the pastiche.

  6. I drive/bike/bus past these buildings 1-2 times a week, and find this corner is very interesting. The traffic flows in from many different areas: Solano, Hopkins, The Circle, and Shattuck.

    It’s a great neighborhood to explore on foot. The neighborhood features are almost unique– You have the Tunnel, the big old staircase on the way to The Circle and the fountain (Fountain Walk), a nice long path heading up near Oxford School (Terrace Walk), Hopkins, etc.

    On a warm summer day, the little grassy park across the street is very inviting. This corner screams for a simple, easygoing cafe, so that we could sip a drink while hanging out on the grass.

  7. What an awful design! They’ve taken away all the charm. It’s looks like many of the buildings contructed in the 90’s in downtown Sacramento. Hopefully it will turn out better than the photo rendering.

  8. Congrats to Brendan!
    I have lived in Berkeley for a number of years now. I went to school here and currently live near this building. And I really appreciate anything that is done to improve our city. In my opinion, this building is definitely an added value to the city of Berkeley. New memories will be created and our community will enjoy the benefits of it.
    Dialy Paulino

  9. We appreciate the input and contributions which the El Dorado neighbors made during the design process – and the design did evolve, and in my view, improved as a result. However, I’d like to set the record straight about one thing which “El Dorado Neighbor” wrote. At no point during the design process was there a proposal for a building larger than what was finally approved.

  10. I agree with the “bland, blunt, masculine, dark and cookie cutter condo-like” but I do not think the architects are to blame for that — It sounds like they had to modify their original design because of complaints from neighbors & the city.

    I’d be very interested in seeing what the original design looked like before it got modified.

  11. While I don’t think the older facade was particularly special or worth saving, the development currently underway is generic and looks like it belongs in a Walnut Creek strip mall.

    It’s a tough space to work with and I don’t have any better suggestions, but it the style in the mockups already looks dated and it hasn’t even been completed yet. I wonder how much of the blame for that falls on the Berkeley Planning Commission & related groups — I doubt that any visionary & interesting architecture would have gotten through the permit process.

  12. Ah the new reactionaries masquerading as preservationists. No doubt still waiting for Cherrie Garcia to come back.

  13. “Really folks – only the most hardened Obstructionist (of which there are many in this town) could object to this project. While Berkeley likes to think of itself as a progressive community, when it comes to architecture and urban design this town can be Tea Party reactionary! There is a profound fear of change in Berkeley with respect to the urban realm.”

    It is too bad that the debate in Berkeley is so negative that people think more about what they are against than about what they are for.

    For the record, I have some minor objections to the architecture of the project, but I am far from an obstructionist. I have supported virtually all the infill projects in Berkeley in the past few decades. In fact, a developer put my name on one building (at Shattuck and Rose) because he was so grateful that I organized the support for the building, which got it approved despite opposition from 300 neighborhood NIMBYs who opposed it at the zoning board because they wanted to “preserve their local neighborhood gas station.”

    Nevertheless, if I make any objection to architectural details of the building, that is enough to make me THE ENEMY in the mind of the architect, who accuses me of being part of the NIMBY faction that I have spent many years working against.

    In fact, one reason I am in favor of traditional architecture is that I think we would do much better at getting buildings approved if they were in traditional style. Most people like traditional styles, which is why people built that way for thousands of years. Modernism is an acquired taste.

    “The Preservation Fundamentalists simply seem unable to imagine that an architecture rooted in the cultural context of our time might possibly produce works of architecture which have long term meaning, relevance and beauty.”

    “Of our time” is the great cliche of modernists.

    It is not true that the modernist style is “of our time.” It is a left-over from the early to mid-twentieth century. Make a list of the theorists who justified it, and you will see that they wrote between the 1920s and the 1950s.

    It symbolizes the faith in technology and progress that was typical of the early to mid-twentieth century. That faith has diminished and virtually disappeared across our culture.

    If you want to create a architecture that reflects the cultural context of our time, the first step is to reject modernism. The modernists are the ones who are the cultural reactionaries.

    If you want to read a discussion of how completely modernist architecture has been stripped of its cultural meaning, you might look at my little publication “An Architecture for Our Time: The New Classicism” at http://preservenet.com/archtime/ArchTime.html.

  14. As an architect I am often frustrated by the extreme fear of change in this community. I think the Bay Area in general, and Berkeley in particular works very hard to create appropriate development strategies that emphasize infill and density. It’s not like this is Houston after all, where you can build anything of any size anywhere and there’s sprawl for miles. I think mostly the projects here are appropriate for the scale and spirit of the street scape. But I often think if the community here doesn’t just get enough arts & crafts articulation and vocabulary they just feel like they are being assaulted.

  15. When my wife and I and our very young children moved to our house on El Dorado Ave in 1970, the building at the corner of El Dorado and Sutter, now under renovation, was a collection of small businesses, including a bonafide grocery store. On the second floor a violin make had his studio. All very charming. Some of the smaller businesses were replaced by The Nature Company, which was there for a number of years. The Nature Company departed for a larger store, and was in turn replaced by a high end stereo company. When Brendon Madden bought the building to house Tom Sawyer Software, there was a considerable and quite emotional N.I.M.B.Y. response from neighbors on El Dorado Avenue, which I was very much a part of. The only thing we succeeded in doing was to get the City of Berkeley Architectural Design committee to squash David Trachenberg’s original design which was–well, hideous. The new design is, to my eyes, not particularly distinguished, but at least it’s not offensive. When the construction is done, which will take about a year, I think everyone will get used to the building and not give it a second thought.

    It’s very difficult for small stories to survive in an urban environment–one exception being the specialty stores on Hopkins, all of which seem to be doing famously. And the plain truth of the matter is that the building soon to house Tom Sawyer Software has become, over the years, a less and less desirable location for retail businesses.

    I’m not sure who made the comment about “having both the commitment and the deep pockets to resurrect this site for the enjoyment of generations to come.” This is pretty bad PR, I’d say. What’s to enjoy about a software company? Maybe I could walk my grandchildren down the street for a tour of Tom Sawyer Software.

    Thanks to Berkeleyside for publishing the photographs of the El Dorado/Sutter corner in the 1920’s, with the tracks and the big electric trains. It’s a vivid and somewhat painful reminder that the Bay Area–and, indeed much of urban America–was once well served by a comprehensive light rail system. Thanks to the well-documented conspiracy (I use this word advisedly) between the big American auto companies, the rubber industry (Goodyear, etc.) and the big oil companies, that light rail system was pulled apart and destroyed after World War II. We now see the results of that fateful decision in our clogged, undriveable freeways. It used to be that you could walk down to the corner of El Dorado Avenue and take a street car all the way to Oakland or San Francisco, or pretty much anywhere in the immediate Bay area. At least with respect to public transportation, those really were the good old days.

  16. What a delight to see the 1940’s picture of Joe’s Market and the Drug store (there was a wonderful soda fountain inside.) I moved to Mariposa and Terrace Walk in 1939 at age 5 and the Red Train—later “F” train —-station right there in front of the tunnel was amazing public transit.

    While I no longer live in Berkeley—when I visit I of course “go back to the old neighborhood” and enjoyed going to the Quilt (and everything else!) shop and also am sorry it has gone. I must say that the architectural rendering for the “new” building seems to be mostly in keeping with the sensibility of the area. I believe that time and tenants’ personal imprints will soften the harsher facade.

  17. I agree, Alice. I grew up in Hopkins St. (1968) in the 40s, and those stores were part of my childhood.
    The photo above is the only one of that corner in that time which I have seen.
    I also miss the F train which made possible for those businesses to thrive. But that’s a whole other discussion.

  18. It is both fascinating and dispiriting that this project has generated so much discussion and controversy. Frankly I can’t imagine a more modest or contextually appropriate new building on this site than that which we’ve designed here. This project was never conceived to be an “architectural statement”, rather it is a textbook case of “repairing the urban fabric”. If one took the time to actually understand the forces that have shaped this design, or considered the other possible outcomes on this site – from a new building bearing no relationship to the historic context to abandonment of the site entirely – one would have to come to the conclusion that this project is a very happy outcome. Really folks – only the most hardened Obstructionist (of which there are many in this town) could object to this project. While Berkeley likes to think of itself as a progressive community, when it comes to architecture and urban design this town can be Tea Party reactionary! There is a profound fear of change in Berkeley with respect to the urban realm. When Peet’s Coffee on Solano finally wins approval to put a few chairs out on the sidewalk its a major urban design victory and a newspaper story. If Bernard Maybeck, Berkeley’s patron saint of architecture, were alive and working in this town today it seems doubtful that he would ever get one of his adventurous projects built. For his time his stuff was just too experimental, too expressive, too weird. But is was a hopeful age which looked to the future with hope not fear. The Preservation Fundamentalists simply seem unable to imagine that an architecture rooted in the cultural context of our time might possibly produce works of architecture which have long term meaning, relevance and beauty.

    A lot of people in this discussion seem to be lamenting the lack of traditional fabric awnings in this design. For the record, our office has no Modernist axe to grind against fabric awnings when appropriate (see the photo attached of the La Farine Building which our office designed). But such awnings suggest a mercantile use and most of the ground floor of the building is going to be used as office space for a high tech company so awnings would not, in my view, be appropriate. The two small remaining storefronts which are to be leased may become retail again (though retail in this location has been a hard sell) or they could end up being rented as professional offices. It will be up to the individual tenants to decide if they wish to add awnings or not.

  19. Oh take me back to that corner with the Cottage Bakery and Joe’s Market and Northbrae Pharmacy. As Robert Frost would say, “Back out of all this now too much for us/Back in a time made simple by the loss of detail…”

  20. Hi,

    This is our first building, and when we bought it, several tenants began their own steps to start to move out, and this was way before we even had completed building design, city design approvals, permitting, or bank approvals. They could have easily stayed another year or more.

    Also, we had no idea about the unusual delays we would experience with the recession and then the bank loan approvals took much longer with the tightening of credit. There were a couple of times we thought the project was imminent and then we would learn there was still much more to do. So I would know better the next time definitely to tell tenants they could all stay put until bank loans were approved.

    Live and learn!

    Thanks,
    Brendan

  21. “Modernist approach seemed compelling 50 years ago, when people had blind faith in progress, but now it is outdated. No reason to keep following those midcentury modernist dogmas.”

    I believe that is exactly what I was thinking, but couldn’t put it so succinctly. While I commend the improvement, I find that the modern architectural mindset is stuck somewhere in the ideology of the early 60’s when the notion of central vacuum and a house that would interacted via some robotic voice was the ambition of every middle class American ala The Jetsons. Unfortunately, in Berkeley there is no standardized plan for keeping our city to an architectural plan, thus we have the Gaia building, the Trader Joe’s on University, the West Berkeley Bowl and now the Tom Sawyer Building — all interesting enough on their own — but en toto a hodgepodge that bespeaks the lack of an architectural integrity as we update. for example, while I am charmed at the Rose St. facade, it seems pointless without it actually being a neighborhood market as it once was (and no longer would succeed). Is this where BAHA comes in?

  22. Your article didn’t include Ninepatch, the wonderful little store on the corner with the most amazing assortment of fascinating stuff. The new building owners apparently forced Ninepatch to close years before ever getting to work on the property. They could have left it in place. I think its a darn shame to loose such a unique enterprise! (I am not connected with the owner at all. I just miss it.)

  23. “It may horrify the preservation fundamentalists out there….”

    Seems to me that the modernists are at least as dogmatic as those of us who support traditional architecture.

    The difference is that modernists believe in dogmas that were invented early in the 20th Century and that became dominant in the 1950s and 1960s.

    TradArchers believe in the principles that were underlie all colloquial and traditional architecture, until they were abandoned in the last century. I am sure you have read Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building.

    In my case It is not a matter of being a preservation fundamentalist. I don’t want to reproduce the design of this building as it existed decades ago.

    I do want architects to respect the principles that are the basis of traditional architecture and that create buildings that are good places for people to be.

    This design doesn’t quite do that, though it is close, and I think that is why people say it is:
    “cold and industrial”
    “looks like a dentist’s office in Orinda. … cookie cutter condo-like”
    “totally inappropriate for the residential setting.”

    Modernist approach seemed compelling 50 years ago, when people had blind faith in progress, but now it is outdated. No reason to keep following those midcentury modernist dogmas.

  24. I grew up in the upper solano Ave neighborhood, and remember well when Solano Avenue was a real neighborhood with old-fashioned, non-corporate small businesses. I have to say that the original structure at the Arlington tunnel was never aesthetically pleasing, but did house several business that directly catered to the neighborhood. I think the new design is modernized, clean and yet is aesthetically a bit of a struggle for me. It’s nice enough, I suppose, but does seem rather cold and industrial. It looks like a software company would be housed there, as well as small private offices. It does not appear to invite retail or food vending, but then nothing on that corner has been successful since the 50’s, most likely, Parking is tough there, and it would be difficult to build a successful retail outlet unless it were very unique and not replicated in other areas where parking is more plentiful. However, the appalling disrepair of the old building, the fact that only ninepatch seems to survive the location and that Tom Sawyer software appears to have a sincere interest in being a part of Berkeley’s economic regrowth, I’m all for it. I’m sure whatever retail can be enticed to locate there will only enhance its presence. I am definitely in the school of thought that wants to see Berkeley stop progressing to a modern, fast-paced town (including in architectural style) but am realistic enough to know that it is not possible to retain the old-fashioned feeling that has slowly but steadily given way to modernity. I’d like for my memory of Berkeley as it was when I was a kid 40 years ago to be frozen in time; but that isn’t possible and I understand that. So I suppose the best I can do is say thank you to Tom Sawyer Software for investing both economically and socially to my beloved hometown. And for giving that teetering monstrosity of a building a much needed makeover.

  25. A great-looking upgrade to the corner that has been looking tired for a long time! I live a couple of blocks away and pass the corner almost daily. It would be a pleasure to see this new building!

  26. I grew up on Del Norte St. and used to go to the grocery store there. I think the fist one (when I was there in ’63)
    was Weiss’s market. And the next one was Albert’s. Please correct if I’m wrong. P.R.

  27. thanks for the empathy…. it’s not so terrible and with the second floor gone we have a new (short term) view- which is nice. I’m most worried about parking once the project is done. We have one off street spot but two cars. Oh, well. Considering where I live, I should not be complaining at all….

  28. I completely agree. I also live in the neighborhood, and have a spouse who is one of those UCB computer science grads who has to commute too far for her job. Berkeley absolutely should have more job opportunities in this field, and I appreciate that this company is moving back home. To the main point of this article — the building itself — I’m very happy that the building will be occupied by the owner. I think he has an incentive, as well as a responsibility to keep the retail spaces filled, preferably [for all of us nearby, of course!] with friendly and useful businesses.

  29. I completely agree. Berkeley needs more of its technology developers in all areas, including software, to stay in Berkeley. A software company is only the modern incarnation of the blacksmith shop of old, only without all the smoke and soot. For all the historic aficionados out there (and I’m one who lives in a 100 year old house and loves it), not everything needs to be kept in the past. You don’t have to love every detail of every building, nor enjoy construction noise, but buildings decay and I for one am excited to see a high quality renovation done of a building at a difficult site.

    I also applaud Brendan for locating his software company in a residential area, I bet over time many of his employees will figure out a way to live near their lovely new offices and perhaps even bike or walk to work, or
    take the bus. I would think that we in Berkeley would encourage the development of businesses near homes for
    that reason. And lastly, as a veteran of several software companies, I can assure you there is no quieter business than a software company!

  30. “Fugly modernist” and other anonymous peanut gallery dwellers: if you’re going to make odd comments like that why not use your real name? It’s easy to snipe online (and god knows this site is full of cowardly sniping by people using pseudonyms) and even easier to criticize people when they not only can’t see you or even know who you are. Come out into the sun and contribute your thoughts publicly! What are you afraid of?

  31. It’s never fun living next to construction (and I say that as a construction PM who loves construction). When I lived in SF the garage next to my apartment was torn down and condos built and it was miserable. The only thing good about it was that one of the framers loved to sing opera. So, although the noise would start up at 7 am, at least I got to be entertained while it was going on. At least until it was closed in…

  32. We live in the little house right behind the construction (you can see our roof in several of these pictures) and it sucks. The project is supposed to take another 6-8 months and will be some sort of tech company when completed.

  33. David: I’m an architect (and PM) myself, and I like many things about this renovation. I’m also very pleased that there has been an attempt to save and maintain existing structure rather than just demoing it. I like its articulation, and I like the brick. So, thank you for your work! And I certainly know that public architecture will not please everybody – there will always be complainers. You can’t get too upset about differing opinions. Over time people will adjust.

    That said, I do feel that the canopy structures are too dark and heavy for the facade. They dominate its presence on the street scape. Just my opinion…

    But nice to have the building renovated.

  34. go hump a corpse, necrophile. bachenheimer is the worst new building in berkeley in a century.

  35. David, I appreciate the size and spacing of windows, the overall massing and accept the extension of the second floor as a necessity and believe it is well done.

    I think the color scheme is dark and grave. Cheerier colors would make the project more welcoming.

    I know we hate to “save it with awnings”, but they can change the scale of the facade and make it more neighbor hood rather than downtown. Awnings can be an architectural expression and a way to control signage, add color, variety and scale.
    One of my professors had an office there a long time ago.
    It is a chace to provide a short walk for a cup opf coffee and a paper and maybe a loaf of bread and a quartl of milk…our neighborhoods lack these convenience services.

  36. Hi,

    Since my name is referenced in the article, I thought I would comment. I have lived in Berkeley for twenty years now. We started Tom Sawyer Software in 1991 in a house on Oxford in between Vine and Rose Streets. We worked there a year, and then had three different offices down on Fourth and Fifth Streets in Berkeley for eight years. We worked behind Ginger Island for three years, then behind O’Chame for a couple of years, and then we subleased in the new MIG building for three years at the corner of Fifth and Hearst. I had come to know David Trachtenberg through his firm’s work designing the MIG Building. I saw how that building was put together as I watched the construction back then. So I lived and worked in one of David’s buildings before. This is why I was comfortable working with him again on our building. I also saw his work at Cody’s Bookstore, Saul’s Deli, Wood Tavern, I believe and some other places.

    In 2000, we moved to Oakland largely because of the DotCom boom where we got priced out of our space in Berkeley and needed more space. Then we worked ten years now in Oakland, and wanted to come back to where we started.

    I live about a quarter mile from the new building, and whatever we may say about deep pockets, this has been an expensive undertaking. The costs will be really much higher than 3.2 million when you consider mortgages, design, permits, architecture and construction. The costs will be closer to 5.0 million by the time we are done. I do want to say that we do have a long term view and that is why we can justify it. It will probably be close to twenty years before we break even on the building. The building restoration that was necessary would not be economical for smaller firms, or any firm that had a shorter time horizon.

    And really what is wrong with software? I think Berkeley should have much more software than it does. It is something I have never really understood. We have UC Berkeley with so many tremendous departments such as its Computer Science department, and then there are very few software companies here. It’s very strange really.

    If you look at what software does, we bring highly talented and educated people in to the area to work and live, and then they can walk or bike to work, and spend their money locally in Berkeley. Most of our employees are quiet and from the US, Europe, and Asia and this also brings a mix of culture and diversity as well. We’ll have lunch around North Berkeley, we’ll hire marketing, administration, finance, and research and software engineers from UC Berkeley.

    What does Berkeley have to offer?, Well it has nice and unique homes. It has good restaurants and coffee houses. It has the university and it has some culture, it has intelligent liberal people, and it has nature and nice trees and flowers. But it is not so strong today in giving good jobs to highly educated people outside of the university itself. I don’t want to work in Silicon Valley. I think we are one small piece of a possible solution. If we look at minimizing our impact on the environment, it is good to have people be able to live and work in nearly the same mixed use area. That reduces the impact on the environment and brings other benefits to the local economy, and we have minimal environmental impact. If you look it is really obvious that the city can not afford to even repair most of the roads. We will pay considerably more property tax than the building that was there before. We help bring at least some new money to Berkeley so the city can do more repair to the city infrastructure or to provide better schools. Again we are only one small part of a solution.

    It is true that the rents will need to be higher, the monthly mortgage on the building will have to be paid. We don’t have preconceived ideas yet about about the kinds of tenants we would like to have. We only hope they bring some life to the neighborhood, are stable, and that we can respect the reasonable wishes of our neighbors.

    I think it was difficult to come to a new building approach, but I can say we did not skimp on design costs. We did not go after a quick and dirty or cheap architectural approach. We have approached the project with a view to quality, towards being environmentally responsible, and to the long term view.

    It is hard to know whether the building will look like these simulations. It will probably look a bit different when it is done. It’s going to be an interesting space. As you enter and walk to the left there will be an open floor layout where we will have opened up the space and there will be table tops and beautiful high ceilings. We have tried to balance between the past and a building that would suit our more modern needs. The building has to have a form that suits the day to day needs of the people who will occupy it. Upstairs to the right, we will also have an open space layout with table tops so the space does not get walled or boxed off or claustrophobic.

    I do want to say additionally, that the nice new building really should have positive effects on the property values in the neighborhood.

    Additionally, we are an innovative software company that helps academia, companies, non profits, and governments to understand the relationships they have through data analysis and visualization. We specialize in helping people produce drawings of their data whether they want to draw processes, complex schematics, supply chains, biochemical pathways, social networks or other kinds of visualizations. We were the first software company of our kind in the U.S. when we started.

    In any case, I think we will do our best to be a good quiet neighbor and to get along with everyone.

    Thanks!,
    Brendan Madden

  37. The one criticism I agreed with was that it “looks like a dentist’s office in Orinda.” That’s true, in the sense of being neither beautiful nor horrible and being immediately forgettable. We should be glad it doesn’t look like the Gaia or Trader Joe’s buildings, with garish colors and silly design doodads. Anyway, it’s an appropriately sized and themed development. It looks OK. It works for the site. We should be grateful that someone is reinvesting in Berkeley and improving that down-at-the-heels building.

  38. All this time I was thinking that Nine Patch would reopen there. It was a great store and fit there. It sounds like it will be too expensive for them to come back.Please consider fitting the store back in your plans. It is missed..

  39. Hi – as a neighbor on the street, we worked very hard to force changes to come to this design. The original proposed design by the architect was far bigger and slicker, and after many objections and hearings, the new design was developed and approved. We are happy to have the current renovation underway, since the building has been an eyesore and a graffiti magnet for a long time. The owner of Tom Sawyer Software owns the building and they will be the tenants, and they have made commitments about minimizing the impact on our street of commuting neighbors. As for the retail, it is hard for a business to thrive in the location.

  40. Preservation Fundamentalists, Ha! Well said, and thank you for commenting. I’ve loved that little area my whole life and have fond memories of going to the nature company as a child, I’m glad you’re taking it into your care and bringing it back to life, thanks!

  41. Bravo David!
    Thank you for preserving this type of use and architecture in Berkeley, I often wander what people coming back to Berkeley from a long time ago (such as my father) might think of how the city has improved, or not improved, At least a few of the neighborhoods would still be recognizable to him because of you,
    Thank you for keeping this and other buildings (such as the Rose grocery on Rose st) in Berkeley
    historically interesting, even if their use has changed with the times.
    John

  42. As the architect of this project I’d like to respond to some of the comments.

    One expects, in our fair town, to see the kind of off-hand negative comments which are now posted on the article about the Tom Sawyer Building. The irony is that the existing building, a non-reinforced masonry structure, has been in hideous condition for decades and was in eminent danger of collapse when we took on the project. It had devolved over the years and a numerous slipshod renovations into a mishmash of different materials – brick, painted brick, painted wood shingle, traditional double hung wood sash and leaky aluminum storefront windows.

    It may horrify the preservation fundamentalists out there but in my opinion the proposed restoration is both compositionally superior and in richer in detail than the original. With its new two foot thick concrete matt slab foundation and other upgrades there’s no question it will be built better than than the original. And it won’t flood in the winter, consume excessive amount of energy to heat and cool and light, or kill its inhabitants in an earthquake.

    Architecture provides a frame for life and good architecture gets better over time. In time the building will have more life as the brick and integral color plaster takes on a patina, as tenants add their signs and window coverings and awnings, as the landscape matures. In that respect I found Eric Panzer’s photomontage (above) delightful.

    Here’s a project which maintains the same square footage as the original, maintains ground floor retail and preserves an important gateway site. One would think the community would heartily embrace such a project.

  43. As attractive as the rendering is, it depicts four grand-floor retail spaces where, apparently, there will only be two.

    Berkeley architect David Trachtenberg is working with Kaufman Construction, another Berkeley business, to transform the neglected structure into a 7,900 sq ft office building with two retail spaces on the first floor. The $3.2 million re-build will create offices to house Tom Sawyer Software which is moving its headquarters to Berkeley from Oakland. There is no news yet on who will occupy the stores.

  44. They have a guaranteed corporate tenant/owner for the office space, the report says. That should help give the tiny amount of retail a leg up by providing captive audience. This is mostly an office-space play. Presumably at least one of the two retail spots will be a place for lunch.

  45. I find it odd that so much money would be spent on this building; I’m not sure I see the financial payback, but I’m not the investor either. Problem is, IMHO, that the investors will have to charge such a high rent to recoup their investment that I doubt any business will be able to survive in the retail space. And without retail, the office space will be less desirable (having no place to grab a quick lunch or snack).

    “Marin neighbor” wants a bakery, but will enough people walk to this new neighborhood bakery to keep it alive? If we do get a trendy bakery that takes off as the next Berkeley fad place to eat, so many people will be driving to this neighborhood that neighbors are likely to complain about not being able to get a parking place when they come home. Unfortunately, the days where neighborhood retail businesses are used by the neighbors seem to be passed. I may wish for them to return, but I don’t see many successful models. Northbrae and Westbrae may be close, but both have relatively large retail stores (Berkeley Natural Grocery and Monterey Market) that serve a large geographic area, and enough parking (maybe, but maybe not if you ask neighbors) that people driving in find parking convenient enough to encourage their return shopping.

  46. What’s most missing from the architectural rendering is any reason to be there. In the historic photos awnings certainly add flair, but the most attractive feature is that the storefronts are occupied by real businesses. This was not only a neighborhood commercial area, but also a place for commuters to pick a few groceries, sundries or pick the laundry. This was a commute stop for people on their way to the Arlington.
    Whether “Modernist” or not, this building will succeed or fail as a neighborhood asset on the quality of the retail it can attract.

  47. I tend to agree. I and most people I know here in Berkeley love the historicist stuff like Bachenheimer, the New Californian, and Gaia. For some reason though, my saying so gets me funny looks sometimes.

  48. I agree that this is not all that bad a building and could be fixed up with some good detailing, as you say.

    I am really thinking of larger issues in contemporary architecture that this is a very small and muted example of.

  49. Thanks, Charles! I actually found myself liking the storefront sticking out once I made the changes. It reminded me a bit of the store fronts from the fictional town of Spectre, Alabama in Big Fish. You can find a couple of half-decent pictures here and here

    I chuckled a bit at “modernist awnings” because it seems such an unnecessary thing to modernize, but I wouldn’t put it past someone and your point is well taken. I agree that a bizarre or half-ass awning would probably not be a good thing.

  50. Lois, I don’t expect to be sorry. A thought-out criticism, rather than a
    one-liner, is at least a contribution to a discussion.

  51. That building has already been stripped of its cornice.

    If you look the image in my other comment, I think it becomes apparent that details like awnings, signs, and occupied storefronts make an enormous difference.

  52. That is an excellent visualization that makes it look much better. But the boxy storefronts sticking out beyond the second floor still make it look a bit odd.

    And you made this modernist building look better by adding traditional awnings to it. Want to bet that the architect would prefer modernist awnings that match the modernist building?

  53. The lines are similar, but it is stripped down to make it more box-like. In the early picture, the building to the right is box-like, but the building to the left has a pronounced cornice, which gives it some depth and character.

    Most modern architects feel compelled to remove this sort of traditional ornamentation, stripping their buildings of character. Then they alter the massing of the building in odd ways to try to give them some character, as this building has its boxy storefronts sticking out beyond its second story. But the altered massing just makes them look odd.

    I think they would do much better with a traditional design, like (for example) the Bachenheimer Building. I think this is what some of the comments are trying to get at.

    There is no reason for stripping buildings of ornamentation. That was a principle of mid-century modernism that many architects still accept as a dogma, though we should be able to move beyond it by now.

  54. Ha, you might be sorry you asked for that. When I have time I will write at length about incredibly ugly the new proposed facade is.

  55. While this design may leave something to be desired, I don’t think it’s remotely “fugly.” The historical photos show non-residential uses, so I don’t see how this renovation is any more “inappropriate” for this area.

    I took the rendering of the new building, made it black and white, and added awnings, signage, and windows with actual stores in them. Suddenly, whatever seemed remotely “inappropriate” or “fugly” about it seems to disappear, no?

    I think that we should stop these hasty, insulting, and reactionary responses to just about anything new or different.

  56. Not a fan. Looks like something out of an industrial zone or an office park out in the suburbs. Terrible.

  57. Thanks for that comment, Tizzlielish. I think dismissive, insulting comments
    that are tossed off like “fugly” are worse than useless. Engaged criticism
    is welcome. If all commenters want to do is insult or toss off something
    they think is clever snark they should go elsewhere.

  58. buffnutt. .. I gotta give this one to Phil, below. .. if you look at the photos presented here, the lines of the building are the same in the present photo as in the past. The only difference is awnings and, it looks like, new window casements. And adding the second story across part of the building and, again, I agree with Phil, that is not much of a change. All in all, it looks like this renovation maintains all the original lines that one sees from outside the building. . . . ANtikaughman’s ‘fugly’ comment puzzles me. Is it supposed to suggest funny and ugly? The lines have not changed.

    I think our public discourse has become so fractured and tense that folks voice negativity automatically, seeming to confuse disagreement with discourse. Cant we ever have a news story that allows positive changes to be perceived as positive?

    And has anyone heard that old saying ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything”. . .

    buffnutt or antikaughman: what is wrong with this project? What would you do instead? It’s there, these folks are restoring it, it seems all positive energy to me.

  59. Err…buffnut, you say the design retains “none of the historic architecture or scale”…as far as “scale” the only change is the extension of the second floor across the rest of the building, which is hardly a radical change. And the window and pillar size and placement are unchanged, so I’m not sure what you mean by “architecture.” I guess you mean there are no awnings anymore?

  60. Aye to that, new design is totally inappropriate for the residential setting. It retains none of the historic architecture or scale. Might be appropriate for an urban commercial zone, but in this context it’s ugly ugly ugly.

    BTW, the first of the two historic photos looks more like 1940’s based on the cars.

  61. Sounds like an intelligent restoration of the long-neglected Northbrae shops. Kudos to Madden and Trachtenberg for undertaking to repair what remains a charming corner of our world.