The lot on the northeast corner of Haste and Telegraph has been vacant for more than 20 years. A few weeds grow fitfully, and, as Berkeleyside has reported, rats come out at night.

A group of UC Berkeley students taking the class “American Cyberculture,” taught by Reggie Royston, were asked to select a question posed on the civic website City Sandbox and use social media to galvanize people to act. Lily Lin, who is double majoring in physics and molecular cell biology, decided to explore why the Haste and Telegraph lot was vacant and ask people what they thought should go there.

Lin and other members of her class interviewed long-time Telegraph Avenue storekeepers and vendors, as well as relative newcomers. The result is a 12-minute meditation on the role the vacant lot plays on Telegraph, and what might be achieved by building a park, a memorial, a bar, or even a store there.

“The point of the video is to let people know about the lot and create momentum to get something done, said Lin.

Other members of the group built a website where people can post ideas for the lot. There is also a Facebook page to gather ideas.

Interestingly, neither the video’s narrator nor those interviewed mention the owner of the lot, Ken Sarachan, by name. Lin said this was intentional: she was more interested in exploring what could be done with the space than ascribing blame for its unsightly nature.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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17 Comments

  1. Businessman who leaves a festering lot sues Berkeley students for their class project asking questions about ideas to improve this fallow space near one of the nations most vibrant campuses. Just not thinking that kind of publicity goes over too well.

  2. Now that you mention it, the last time I saw her was on that corner, passing by Out Of The Closet, but that was a while ago.  I am not around there as often as I am on Telegraph.  

  3. I see her regularly on University near California St,  I think she lives in the senior housing nearby.

  4. Famous Julia Vinograd, poet and bubble lady of Berkeley, used to live there.  Does anyone know what happened to her?  I used to see her on the street blowing bubbles all the time, then she appeared less frequently, and I haven’t seen her at all in probably a couple of years. 

  5. I like the art pieces that have appeared there over the years.

    I would prefer some below-market housing, with inexpensive ground floor storefronts/office space restricted to non-profits. There are already so many market-rate-housing with ground-floor-retail developments in Berkeley, it’d be nice to break out & do something different. (Since the film’s about what people want to see, and not what will probably go in there, I don’t feel too much like Don Quixote about this paragraph)

  6. I happened to be milling around the avenue the afternoon the Berkeley Inn (a residential hotel) caught fire in 1990.  As I recall, everyone got out safely (thankfully!).  But when the contents of that building, its permanent residents, spilled out on the sidewalk, loitering about, looking befuddled, there was a level of creepy weirdness to that crowd which is hard to fathom or describe.  The only way I could succinctly describe this menagerie is to picture the ghastly crew of the Black Pearl in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

  7. Twenty years ago is about when Telegraph got really stinky. The City let that happen. Whoever the owner’s are, I applaud them for not playing along. The current council regime is on its last legs. Patience, patience.

  8. Comes to mind, as I read the hatefest in the comments:

    ‘I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want.’ — Andy Warhol

  9. Thanks to the Cyberculture class for taking on this project.  Whatever people can do to keep focusing attention on this public nuisance is welcome.

  10. I believe he also owns the big t-shirt store at Telegraph and Durant, too.  I think it’s called “T-Shirt Orgy?”

  11. It is my opinion that I may have heard from an undetermined individual at an undetermined time that perhaps Mr. Sarachan might occasionally be a litigious man who might consider pursuing legal action against them if they used his name in a negative way.

  12. “Interestingly, neither the video’s narrator nor those interviewed mention the owner of the lot, Ken Sarachan, by name. Lin said this was intentional: she was more interested in exploring what could be done with the space than ascribing blame for its unsightly nature.”

    That’s too bad, because Sarachan ought to be publicly shamed about the empty lot as often and as thoroughly as possible.  I get that they didn’t want a negative vibe for their whole video, but I think it ought to at least be mentioned that Sarachan has intentionally left the lot empty for 20 years now purely out of spite.