After having to relinquish plans for a costly Toyo Ito-designed building, the staff at the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive may be on their way to discovering a new appreciation for Streamline Moderne. That is the architecture of the 1939 printing plant that currently occupies the site intended for the new museum, at the intersection of Central and Oxford streets.
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It looks as though there will be no new building, however, as the museum staff is planning on revamping the printing plant instead of replacing it with a new building. In an interview, museum director Lawrence Rinder said the current plan is to renovate the old 20,000-square-foot building and build a new addition that will double its size, giving the museum the added space it needs for a viable expansion. The museum board is expected to vote yea or nay on the new plan in mid-February.
“It’s really an undiscovered gem, and another great part of the story is that it also happens to be a WPA project,” said Rinder of the building. Designed by San Francisco firm Masten & Hurd, the building was commissioned by the university and funded in part by the federal Works Progress Administration.
According to a 1992 Page & Turnbull report, the plant qualifies for a National Register of Historic Places listing, and it is already on the state register. This mean there could be substantial restrictions placed on any renovation, though the museum might also be able to tap preservation tax credits to help fund the project.
Some of the architectural highlights of the building include a spiral staircase and sawtooth roof. The addition would likely be built beside the plant. The plant, which closed some years ago, has been taken over by squatters, and its interiors are lined with graffiti—some of which might be kept in the renovation, said Rinder.
The museum is working on the renovation plan with EHDD, the firm that would have been the architect of record on the Ito building. Whether another firm will be brought in to design the addition—where there would be the chance to do something distinctive, if not quite as bold as the Japanese architect's vision—has yet to be determined. The budget for the new building has not been finalized, though the museum had raised $80 million toward its new home. (That it had not raised more is part of the reason the Ito project was abandoned.)
Rinder pointed out the site itself, at the main entrance to the campus, would be enough to give the museum new prominence on campus, regardless of the architecture. “You could get away with putting a Quonset hut there,” he said.