Category Archives: Davis-House

Appraisal

Davis House faces a number of threats to its continued existence. On a tangible level, there are risks to the structural and aesthetic features of the house. On an intangible level, the house risks losing its historic and cultural contexts, and the lessons that may lie therein.

SUNLIGHT FROM ABOVE FOLIAGE FROM BELOW ARCHITECTURE IN BETWEEN

Maintenance of the structure requires a great deal of money. The house committee and the greater BSC organization have to pay for regular upkeep on all the historic features. Elements like brick and wood erode over time, and need restoration or replacing. Aesthetic features such as carved woodwork require costly specialized labor to restore. More significantly, the house sits almost directly over the Hayward Fault, but has never been retrofitted for earthquake safety. Doing so would cost a great deal of money; similar retrofitting at the university’s Archeological Research Facility cost upwards of $70,000.

To ease this financial burden, Davis House may be able to turn to the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. This organization advocates for heritage sites around Berkeley, and can be very useful in advocating for the procurement of grants and other financial packages. Similarly the National Trust for Historic Preservation may take an interest in the house because of its advanced age and architectural pedigree. Both groups could be very useful in the establishment of a heritage site at Davis House. Other interested parties may include the Julia Morgan school for Girls in nearby Oakland, as well as California Polytechnic State University, who keep an archive of material related to Julia Morgan.

Original Marble Fire Place in Dining Area

On an intangible level, what risks being lost is the history and heritage from Davis House’s past incarnations: first as private residence, then as sorority. Even its co-op history may be lost in the constantly revolving cast of residents. Much of our goal in establishing a heritage site is to preserve these histories and aspects of cultural heritage, and indeed our interpretive projects serve this goal directly.

However, we may also turn to local and national groups for added support. The Alpha Xi Delta sorority, although no longer at Berkeley, may have an interest in the histories of their alumnae. The Berkeley Student Cooperative may wish to engage more directly with their past, as well. And as a cooperative living house, Davis House may be of interest to NASCO – the organization that represents cooperative living across North America. Finally, we may look to the alumni community of Davis House, dispersed across the country, who continue to take an active interest in the time they spent calling Davis House home.

History of Davis House

The property now called Davis House was originally commissioned by Richard A. Clark, lawyer for the estate of the wealthy Hearst family. Clark had previously worked with the architect Julia Morgan, designer of some of California’s most famous landmarks from that period, most notably the Hearst Castle at San Simeon.

1914 photograph of neighboring Strawberry Canyon

When construction finished in 1913, the Clark house was in a fairly quiet hillside neighborhood; they were only a few steps from what was then open country in Strawberry Canyon. The house was a luxury dwelling, equipped with electric lighting, indoor plumbing, and three marble fireplaces. These features have remained, as have certain features of the house’s accessibility. Berkeley is a very walkable city, and the house’s construction in 1913 did not account for the expansive popularity of the automobile. As a result, the house is uniquely inaccessible. No entrances are near the street, and the main entryway of the house can only be reached by climbing bancroft steps, far from the street. Morgan built the house to feature a dramatic interplay of natural lighting and shadow, a feature that is still very noticeable today despite the addition of landscaping, particularly in the dining room. 

1914 block book showing makeup of neighborhood

In the next ten years, the neighborhood would radically change with the construction of Memorial Stadium only a few hundred feet from the Clarks’ backdoor. Around this time, the Clark family moved out and the house was purchased by the Omicron chapter of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority. Sorority houses became very popular during the depression as a cheap means of housing women attending school, and became a place of safety for women leaving home for the first time.

1928 Alpha Xi Delta Blue and Gold yearbook page

Houses like Alpha Xi Delta often had (and still do today) “house mothers,” a matron who would live with the girls and ensure that they behaved morally by curtailing drinking and monitoring activities with the opposite sex. Although our documentation is limited, it is almost certain that Alpha Xi Delta had a “House Mother” fulfilling such a role, as a house of so many young women living unsupervised would have been scandalous. Around sixty young women lived in the house during this time, and the sorority added two large sleeper porches onto Morgan’s original design to house them all. The surrounding houses are still mostly owned by other sororities, fraternities, and some co-ops. In 1930, the imposing International House was built at the bottom of the hill, bringing students from all around the world to what had previously been an all-white neighborhood.

1969 USCA board minutes proposing purchase, naming of Davis House

The sorority resided in Davis house until the 1960s when the popularity of sororities and fraternities at UC Berkeley began to decline, and Alpha Xi Delta was forced to close their Berkeley chapter. Meanwhile, the Berkeley Student Cooperative was trying to decide how to make up for a shortage of student housing; each passing year had meant a long waiting list for entry into co-op housing. Over the summer of 1969, the Berkeley Student Cooperative purchased the old Alpha Xi Delta house for $75,000. Richard Clark house was renamed Davis house, purportedly in honor of a local community activist affiliated with the BSC. It was opened formally to junior, senior, and graduate student residents in 1970. Residency was eventually expanded to include lowerclassmen as well, but Davis has earnt a reputation for being clean and quiet. The house has remained a part of the student co-op housing system ever since, with nearby neighbours of Sherman Hall and Castro co-op.

Background

Entrance Hall with classic stairs

Davis House Cooperative sits at 2833 Bancroft Steps in Berkeley, California. It is a short walk from the University of California’s campus, uphill from the International House and shares a parking lot with Memorial Stadium. In its 102-year history, it has changed little despite its role has changed in the community.

Davis House from Bancroft Steps

An exterior of brick leads to a second floor of white stucco. A carved wooden trim, painted green, highlights the entire facade. Wrought-iron balustrades sit under the windows and iron lanterns sit by the front door. A gabled roof barely peeks above the neighboring trees and shrubbery; the house is so effectively hidden by its landscaping that it can be difficult to get an impression of the whole building from the outside. Yet the interior reveals a lush reminder of Berkeley’s past: heavy oak doors give way to grand halls with intricately carved wood paneling, mixing natural and classical themes in their scrollwork. Four large fireplaces feature heavy mantelpieces and marble framing. Elaborate neoclassical light fixtures hang from high, vaulted ceilings.

Click here to read more about the history of Davis House

Today, Davis House is a part of the Berkeley Student Cooperative (BSC). This system of cooperative living houses operate on a principle of student self-determination, with the day-to-day operations of co-op houses being implemented and managed by the students who live there. Davis House is therefore managed by a constantly rotating body of residents. The house currently holds 36 residents, and these students are responsible for cooking meals, for cleaning house, and for overseeing the house’s own budget.

 

Plaque and Mural Project

Davis House’s provision of student housing introduces unique challenges to its preservation. In a two-step approach, this project intends to take into account both the contribution of the inhabitants, as well as attempting to affix more permanent documentation in a way that will survive the constant turnover of student life. Step one of this project is a commemorative plaque mounted on the front of Davis house, in a space that is both visible and accessible. The plaque will give a brief history of the house detailing its construction and various histories. By affixing a plaque to the house, house members will have an accessible point of documented memory from which to draw, that will also be available to visitors and outsiders as well, opening the house to the public.

The second part of this project would be the creation of a living mural, documenting the history of the house while leaving stylized blank spaces for residents to create and add their own content to the mural. This mural would encourage the house’s history to evolve as the house grows and continues to exist.

The key to the success of this project lies in the blended approach of “official” and interpretive history practices that incorporate both elements of the institutional as well as the cultural values of the cooperative. We hope to retain the cultural values of the people to whom this heritage site belongs, while also encouraging longevity, creativity, and preservation.

Walking Tour

1923 block book showing house and surrounding area

As much as Davis House is the focus of our heritage projects, it doesn’t exist as an island. Rather, its history closely mirrors that of the surrounding neighborhood, and so any exploration of the site’s history is incomplete without looking at this house as part of a larger community.

It is with this in mind that we propose a neighborhood walking tour that incorporates audio and visual augmented reality technologies to bring history to the ears and fingertips of visitors. Much like the DeTour programs available in other parts of the Bay Area, this tour involves a cell phone app that instructs the visitor on where to go, and what to see. Narration guides the visitor along a predetermined path, with explanations of local history along the way.

Undated color postcard of International House and surrounding neighborhood

Augmenting all of this are aural and visual cues that help to more fully evoke the past and present of this area. In the century since Davis House was first built, this hillside has gone from quiet canyonland to bustling enclave of student life. What did it sound like 100 years ago? What might it have sounded like to walk past frat houses on game day in the 1920s?

This immersion also helps visitors more fully explore questions of racial exclusion, gender discrimination, community evolution, and the notion of progress over time. How did International House, at the bottom of the hill, shake up what had been an all-white neighborhood? How did sororities serve the growing female student body at the University of California? How might they have come to represent something outmoded? And when the co-op system radically altered the face of the neighborhood, was it all forward progress, or did some of these same questions still remain?

The goal of this walking tour is not to answer these questions in full, but to leave visitors with a critical understanding of the complexities of student life. This speaks not only to Berkeley’s past, but to the future of student life everywhere.

Plaque and Mural Project

Davis House’s provision of student housing introduces unique challenges to its preservation. In a two-step approach, this project intends to take into account both the contribution of the inhabitants, as well as attempting to affix more permanent documentation in a way that will survive the constant turnover of student life. Step one of this project is a commemorative plaque mounted on the front of Davis house, in a space that is both visible and accessible. The plaque will give a brief history of the house detailing its construction and various histories. By affixing a plaque to the house, house members will have an accessible point of documented memory from which to draw, that will also be available to visitors and outsiders as well, opening the house to the public. The second part of this project would be the creation of a living mural, documenting the history of the house while leaving stylized blank spaces for residents to create and add their own content to the mural. This mural would encourage the house’s history to evolve as the house grows and continues to exist. The key to the success of this project lies in the blended approach of “official” and interpretive history practices that incorporate both elements of the institutional as well as the cultural values of the cooperative. We hope to retain the cultural values of the people to whom this heritage site belongs, while also encouraging longevity, creativity, and preservation.

3-D Virtul Interior Interactive Tour of Davis House

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The virtual tour of the inside of Davis House is completely based online and out of the privacy of your very own home. It is based around web-enhanced software and allows the participant to engage with the interior of Davis House. This tour enables users to gain intimate access via the virtual touring world and has audio and textual implementation and stimulation throughout the tour. The user will be able to start on the outside of the house, enter various rooms and also be able to interact with inanimate objects inside of each room, all whilst being able to hear and conceptualize different stories in the home.

Prospective students are able to gain access prior to living in the space and investors are also able to see and experience their investments in an entirely new digital representation. Those looking or intending to destroy  the site may also benefit from this tour and intimate, virtual interaction and be able to connect emotionally and empathetically. Those stake stakeholders are able to interact and hear the intimate stories and intangible heritage of those dwelling in the residence and are able to empathize with those  of whom will be affected and the heritage in which the stakeholders potentially intend to destroy.

Interpretive Plans

With a history stretching back more than a century, Davis House speaks to a large number of people. Current and former residents, either from the sorority or the co-op, have a personal stake in this site as a notable part of their lives. So too can the general public appreciate this site for its architectural, historical, and cultural significance. Our goal is therefore to engage all of these groups while still respecting the fact that this is a private residence. For nonresidents, this means using virtual tours instead of physical access, as well as neighborhood tours to help ground Davis House in its historical and cultural settings. Current residents may use the same, as well as material that speaks to the history of the house and of the organization to which they belong.

All of these projects will consider how Davis House fits in with broader social and cultural trends, and how this particular site can serve as a focal point for these changes. At the same time, what are the changes still needed in today’s society, and how can Davis House help illustrate these for us? Our interpretive plan looks to the past, present, and future as we examine this site and its place in our world.

Informative Website

Davis House informative website.png

Davis House is not well known yet. Therefore, our first step is to inform about Davis House to potential audiences. To reach larger audiences, we will build an informative website. The content of the website will be the history of Davis House, links to the virtual tours, a brief description of the walking tour, a bulletin board, a local map of the area, and a sample of schedules of current residents living at Davis House. We will share the link of the website on many other websites such as Berkeley Student Cooperative (BSC) website, general housing pages and blogs. We aim to reach UCB students and Berkeley residents through BSC website and housing pages, and Julia Morgan fans and history enthusiasm through representative blogs. The strength of the website is that it will bring all information and features together in one place. Also, it eliminates physical limitations to know about Davis House.

Management Plan

Our heritage site at Davis House focuses primarily on four major themes: community, gender, race, and progress. In the short term (5 years), our focus is on the immediate and pressing needs of the house, as outlined above; maintenance of structural and aesthetic features must necessarily be a priority because the house in its current state is so vulnerable to damage. This need for preservation does not, however, preclude the establishment of heritage projects in the property, and may in fact be helped by increased visibility and the procurement of grants and other funds available to heritage projects.

Long term goals (up to 25 years) focus more on the broader social, historical, and cultural footprints of the building. To attempt to preserve the legacy of the house without considering its functionality would be impossible, as it is still a home that houses 36 residents. Their needs must be considered and it is best if we view the house comprehensively as a living organism that will grow and adapt with changing times. Therefore, we are proposing a series of heritage projects that will speak to everyone from house members to people outside the community. All of these projects will consider how Davis House fits in with broader social and cultural trends, and how this particular site can serve as a focal point for these changes. At the same time, we ask “What are the changes still needed in today’s society, and how can Davis House help illustrate these for us?” Our interpretive plan looks to the past, present, and future as we examine this site and its place in our world.