H.J. Heinz Co. Factory

2900 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA

Susan Cerny

Berkeley's most elegant industrial building (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

31 August 2002 & 30 January 2012

When Berkeley was incorporated in 1878, West Berkeley, then known as Ocean View, was well established as the city’s industrial center because of its proximity to the bay and to transportation. A wharf was built in 1853, and by 1856 there was a grist mill and a lumberyard. The H.J. Heinz Building, constructed between 1927 and 1928, was a late-comer to industrial West Berkeley.

Located on the northwest corner of San Pablo and Ashby avenues, the two-block-long building is a prominent and distinctive feature on the San Pablo Avenue streetscape. With its elegant Mediterranean-style fa�ade, the building looks like an impressive high school or college from the exterior, but behind the nicely detailed fa�ade was once a real industrial manufacturing building engaged in the production of 28 of the H.J. Heinz company’s famous “57 Varieties.”

What might have been a large and simple utilitarian building was designed to be beautiful and to enhance its San Pablo Avenue location, which, at the time, was the main highway.The one-to three-story building has beige concrete-stucco siding and a red tile roof and is richly decorated with Mediterranean motifs. The entire site’s area is ten acres, and the building is a wide U-shape facing west. Facing San Pablo Avenue, the two-block-long building is symmetrical, with a three-story central section containing a richly decorated arched entry with an open loggia above. Flanking the entry are two-story sections with courses of deeply recessed metal sash windows separated by flat engaged columns with decorative capitals. The two-story sections are flanked by one-story sections divided by square bays with hipped roofs and arched windows. Square bays with arched windows also appear at the corners.

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005

The Berkeley Daily Gazette commented in 1927 that “Architecturally it will be one of the most beautiful industrial establishments in the West [...] an inspiration to the workers and an example for others.” Like Samuel Kress of the Kress Five and Dime stores, who owned rather than leased his stores, commissioned beautiful store buildings, and collected and donated works of art, Howard C. Heinz (1877–1941), son of the founder Henry John Heinz (1844–1919) did the same. Howard was an avid traveler and collector, whose ivory and watch collections are in the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh. He may have also been instrumental in having his industrial buildings beautifully designed.

Albert Kahn (1869–1942) was the architect of the building, and he designed a large percentage of America’s industrial buildings, many in period-revival styles not unlike the Heinz building.�This is believed to be the only building designed by Kahn in Berkeley.

The Cleveland-based Austin Company constructed the building. It was a firm founded in 1878 that specialized in all phases of design and construction of industrial buildings. It was the largest such firm in the world. By the time the Heinz building was constructed, the firm had built hundreds of projects, including General Motors automobile plants, the NBC Studio in Hollywood, and an automobile factory in Russia, among other industrial plants.

One-story wing at the north end (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

Side door at the north end
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

In Berkeley, between 1920 and 1945, the Austin Company built all or parts of First Pacific Guano Fertilizer, Calide Oil Co., Cutter Laboratories, Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Co., Byron Jackson Pump, Marin Mfg. Co., Linde Air Products Co., Tuttle Mfg. Co., Hall-Scott Motor Car Co., and Pacific Electric Clock Co. In addition, the company built parts of Durkee Famous Foods, California Ink, and Standard Die & Specialty Company, the latter three designated City of Berkeley Landmarks.

The Heinz Company opened its first Berkeley plant in 1926 in a small building on the current site. The building that still stands was built in three phases, between 1927 and 1928.

The company was founded in Pittsburgh in 1869, beginning with the production of horseradish. By 1896, it claimed to be producing the “57 Varieties” that the company used in its advertising. In 1947, the Heinz Company reported that the Berkeley plant was producing twenty-eight of its fifty-seven varieties, and employed, seasonally, between 200 and 1,000 workers. During tomato season, the smell of cooking tomatoes filled the air. The plant closed in 1956 and was moved to Tracy. It has been remodeled into a retail and office center. One of its many tenants is the Kala Art Institute.�

A shorter version of this article was published in the Berkeley Daily Planet on 31 August 2002.


The H.J. Heinz building was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on 17 November 1986. It is listed in the California State Historic Resources Inventory.



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