Phi Delta Theta Chapter House

2717 Hearst Avenue, Berkeley, CA

Daniella Thompson

Phi Delta Theta chapter house in 1915 (San Francisco Architectural Club Yearbook)    

21 April 2005

Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity was founded in 1848 at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Its California Alpha chapter was established in Berkeley in 1873. It was the second Greek-letter society to open in Berkeley (the oldest—and the first chapter established west of the Mississippi River—was Zeta Psi, which preceded it by three years). The California Alpha chapter apparently disbanded quite early, for the 1902 edition of the University of California Blue & Gold indicates that it was reestablished in 1886.

Jacob Reinstein in 1873 (Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley)
  One of the early Phi Delta Theta brothers at Cal was Jacob Bert Reinstein, a member of the first graduating class of 1873 (the Twelve Apostles). The first Cal alumnus to be appointed U.C. Regent, Reinstein was approached by drawing instructor Bernard Maybeck, who proposed the idea of an architectural competition for the Berkeley campus. Reinstein quickly became an enthusiastic supporter of the idea and suggested it to Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who undertook to fund the competition. It was also Reinstein who championed the hiring of John Galen Howard as the university’s Supervising Architect.

Phi Delta Theta chapter in 1902 (University of California Blue and Gold)

The Alpha chapter’s home was located at 2401 Durant Avenue, on the corner of Dana Street. In 1902, one of the nineteen undergraduates who resided there was sophomore John Reid, Jr. (1879–1968), a San Francisco native and graduate of Lowell High School’s class of 1899 (Reinstein had preceded him there too, graduating in the class of 1870).

A decade after he had graduated from Cal, John Reid, Jr.’s résumé appeared in the Bureau of Architecture pages of the San Francisco Municipal Blue Book. The entry informed:

John Reid, Jr., member of the Board of Consulting Architects, is a native of San Francisco, being the son of John Reid, for many years a merchant of this city. Mr. Reid’s early education was obtained in the local pubic schools, from which he passed to the University of California. Later he devoted five years to the study of architecture in Paris, where he was a student at École Nationale des Beaux-Arts. On graduation from this school and completion of his studies in various European art centers, he returned to San Francisco to engage in his chosen profession.

John Reid, Jr. in 1902
(U.C. Berkeley Blue & Gold)

John Reid, Jr. circa 1914
(San Francisco Municipal Blue Book)

The application nominating San Francisco’s Carnegie libraries for the National Register of Historic Places provides further information on Reid’s early career: “Upon returning to San Francisco, he was associated with Willis Polk and the Daniel Burnham firm, before opening his own office in 1911.”

The Municipal Blue Book continues:

With the inauguration of the present administration it was found necessary to create a Board of Consulting Architects, particularly to evolve a comprehensive Civic Center scheme and to supervise its execution. Mr. Reid was appointed a member of this Board and with his colleagues laid out the general plan and perfected the details of this project, consisting of a group of monumental public buildings enclosing an artistic plaza.

Under their direction the plan is being sucessfully carried out as evinced by the progress in the construction of City Hall and Auditorium buildings. In addition to this extensive work, the consulting architects have supervised the design and erection of many smaller public buildings, including a number of schools and Fire Department structures.

Mr Reid is a member of the University Club, Press Club, Bohemian Club, University of California Club, Societé des Architectes Diplomés par le Gouvernement Français, the San Francisco Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, The San Francisco Society of Architects, and the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity.

San Francisco Exposition Auditorium in 1915–16 (Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley)

What the Municipal Blue Book failed to say is that Reid’s sister Annie was married to San Francisco mayor (later Governor of California) James “Sunny Jim” Rolph, Jr. Rolph was first elected in 1911, the same year that Reid entered private practice. It is no surprise, then, that Reid’s trajectory as municipal Consulting Architect (1912–1918) and City Architect (1918–1930) follows closely his brother-in-law’s mayoral tenure (1912–1930).

In addition to Reid, San Francisco’s Board of Consulting Architects included John Galen Howard and Frederick H. Meyer. The three architects are jointly credited with the design of the Exposition Auditorium (1914), which opened in time for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition and was later renamed Civic Center Auditorium (now the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium). The Auditorium is a key structure in the San Francisco Civic Center historic district. In 1922 Reid was a member of the architectural advisory committee of the San Francisco War Memorial Complex. Chaired by Bernard Maybeck, the committee also included Willis Polk, John Galen Howard, Ernest Coxhead, G. Albert Lansburgh, Frederick H. Meyer, and Arthur Brown, Jr.

Between 1912 and 1916, Reid’s projects for the city of San Francisco were not confined to the Civic Center but included three police stations at Potrero Hill, North Beach, and the Richmond district; the Potrero emergency hospital; four fire stations; and the Noe Valley Library.

Noe Valley Library, 1916 (San Francisco Public Library)

Despite his very crowded schedule, Reid found time in 1914 to respond to his fraternity’s request for a new chapter house on Hearst Avenue, just north of the U.C. campus. On 10 March 1914, the Daily Pacific Builder published the following announcement:

John Reid, Jr., Chronicle Building, is taking bids for a 3-story and basement concrete and frame Phi Delta Theta House in Berkeley, Hearst & Highland Place—reception hall and store room on 1st floor; living room, dining, reception and study rooms on 2nd floor; 10 study rooms, sleeping rooms, baths and chapter room on 3rd. Concrete on 2nd floor and frame above; exterior cement plaster; $25,000.

The block in 1911 (Sanborn fire insurance maps)

A month later, on 9 April, the same publication carried this notice:

NW Hearst & & Highland Place, W 100 x N 144.65
3-story and basement fraternity house
Owner: Phi Delta Theta, 2401 Durant Avenue
Architect: John Reid, Jr.
Brick & carpentry: P.N. Schmidt
Excavation: F.E. Nelson
Total cost: about $28,000

The Phi Delta Theta library (Architect & Engineer, February 1920)

The “sleeping rooms” mentioned in the call for bids were not traditional bedrooms, of which the house had none. The brothers slept in three sleeping porches on the second and third floors. One of these porches was contained in the third-floor front loggia between the towers on the south façade. That loggia has since been enclosed. Two more sleeping porches were placed in the wings facing north. On the same floors, two-person studies were fitted with built-in furniture, and the adjoining dressing rooms were equipped with washstands around which mirrors were positioned to catch natural light. Apparently, the living arrangements were considered far from onerous, since the Cal football team chose this house as its practice-season headquarters in 1918. In his article “The Phi Delta Theta Chapter House at the University of California” (Architectural Record, March 1918), V.H. Henderson ascribed the team’s choice to the house being “far more conveniently and agreeably arranged for student life than any of the houses possessed by the seventy different fraternities and house-clubs at the University of California.”

The first floor contained a large foyer and elegant, oak-trimmed library, living room, and dining room, all lit by French windows. Reid’s talent for combining the elegant with the useful would be noted again in his numerous San Francisco municipal school designs, among them Mission, Galileo, and Balboa high schools, considered the city’s top three from an architectural point of view.

     Two of the prominent Phi Delta Theta brothers who resided at the chapter house were the future San Francisco attorney and Save the Redwoods League director Herman Phleger (1890–1984) and San Francisco Examiner publisher William Randolph Hearst, Jr. (1908–1993).

In the National Register application for the building, written in 1982, Margaret Brentano noted:

In the downstairs reception room, Reid’s appreciation of the benefit of natural light and ventilation are further revealed by his use of balconies, French doors, and loggias to extend the living areas outside. The communication between interior and exterior is reestablished by the connection between the building and its surrounding. Hearst Avenue runs directly along the northern edge of the Berkeley campus, the principal plan and buildings of which were designed by the Beaux Arts–trained John Galen Howard in the Classical manner. Reid’s building, with its Classical columns, arches, and general symmetry, harmonizes with Howard’s work, as well as with the surrounding fraternities and houses.

The Phi Delta Theta living room (Architect & Engineer, February 1920)

Much has changed in the intervening years. By 1948, university enrollment had reached 22,000, and adequate housing had become the number-one problem facing the student body. That year, the California Alumni Association published the book Students at Berkeley, which analyzed potential student housing sites. The Northside—and in particular the Wilson Tract on the hills north and east of the campus, where the Phi Delta Theta house is located—was judged unsuitable for student housing owing to “very unfavorable topography” and “remoteness from the center of student activities.” Older buildings—the Victorians and Colonial Revivals now prized as historic resources—were also deemed inadequate for student habitation.

The 1962 Long-Range Development Plan (LRDP) for the campus proposed other uses for the Northside. The map detail below is part of the plan developed by Thomas Church. It shows new university buildings to be constructed on four city blocks facing the campus between Highland Place and Scenic Avenue. These included the entire block on which the Phi Delta Theta house is located. The new building shapes indicate that all existing structures (in private hands at the time) were to be demolished. Furthermore, the plan envisioned the demolition and replacement of Cloyne Court; the Beta Theta Pi chapter house; North Gate Hall; and the Drawing Building—all of which have since been designated landmarks—as well as the Frank Wilson house at the top of Holy Hill (demolished in the 1970s for the Graduate Theological Union library).

1962 LRDP map with new buildings planned for
the Northside (source: U.C. Berkeley)

On the Southside, the suggested university housing development as published in Students at Berkeley dictated a radically clean sweep of the twenty city blocks between College Avenue, Bancroft Way, Fulton Street, and Dwight Way, retaining only “institutions of quasi-public and social character” and the Telegraph Avenue-Bancroft Way business district. The rest was to be occupied by “elevator-type living centers” with “generous open space for recreation and amenity.” The highrise Units 1, 2, and 3 student housing complexes emerged from that plan, resulting in much destruction to the Southside’s historic housing stock.

2401 Durant Avenue on a 1905 postcard. The house was demolished and
replaced with a parking lot. (Sarah Wikander collection)

In the 1960s, strong anti-Greek sentiment caused fraternity and sorority memberships to decline, and the university was exerting pressure on the Northside societies to move south of the campus. The Phi Delta Theta chapter house was sold in the late ’60s to a nonprofit called Project Community. In November 1973, the building was acquired by the Unification Church, operating under the name New Educational Development Systems, Inc. (NEDS). At the time, there were five buildings still standing on the block, including two small duplex apartment houses along Highland Place and two houses facing La Loma Avenue. The remainder of the block had been bought by the university and was largely used for parking.

The block in 1929 (Sanborn maps)

The block in 1950 (Sanborn maps)

Other Greek-letter societies in Daley’s Scenic Park met the same fate. Some chapters closed, others moved to the Southside, and their houses were torn down or acquired by religious institutions, student co-ops, or the university (the nearby landmarks buildings occupied by the Goldman School of Public Policy (1893), Tellefsen Hall (1896), and Kingman Hall (1914) are all former chapter houses, as are the Nyingma Institute (1912) and several buildings owned by the Jesuit School of Theology).

Following the sale of 2717 Hearst Avenue, the California Alpha chapter of Phi Delta Theta was homeless for several years. In the mid-1970s, the chapter acquired a house at 2714 Durant Avenue (now the Sigma Alpha Mu house), where it stayed for five years. Since 1980, the chapter has been based at 2726 Channing Way, a former sorority house. The fate of Alpha chapter’s first house at 2401 Durant Avenue is of some interest as a marker of changing times. After the chapter moved to the Northside, the house, a 19th-century Colonial Revival with twin attic dormers, changed hands a number of times. In early 1956, architect and developer Paul Hammarberg floated a proposal to build an eight-story co-op apartment building on the site. Nothing came of this plan, and the property was acquired by the U.C. Regents in May 1956. It is not clear when the house was demolished, but the site has served as a parking lot ever since.

Plan for an 8-story apartment block at 2401 Durant Ave.
(Berkeley Daily Gazette, 2 February 1956)

Berkeley Daily Gazette, 2 February 1956

In 1980, U.C. proposed to build student apartments on the city block bounded by Hearst Avenue, Highland Place, Ridge Road, and La Loma Avenue. The university sought to purchase the remaining privately owned properties on that square block, including 2717 Hearst Avenue. All buildings on the block were to be razed for the new housing project. On 29 July of that year, the Berkeley Daily Gazette announced:

New student housing plan irks residents

A proposed northside student housing project that could swallow up an entire block has touched off yet another town-gown battle in the city.

UC-Berkeley planners and about 75 residents attended a two-hour meeting Monday evening on the proposed La Loma/Ridge project, which would house from 253 to 520 UC-Berkeley students depending on how much privately-owned land becomes available. Residents repeatedly voiced concerns about parking, noise and density problems that such a project would cause.

NEDS refused to sell its property for the price offered by the university. The university’s response was, “We’ll build around you.”

U.C. shelved its plans for the block until the mid-1980s, when it proposed a new development—the Foothill Student Housing Complex—that would include the La Loma block and extensive campus land south of Hearst Avenue. Comprising residential suites instead of apartments, the new project was no more popular in the community than its predecessor. The plan as proposed would have extended student residential buildings across the hillside behind the Greek Theatre and included an addition to Bowles Hall. It was ultimately scaled back to about half its original size, in part because of geotechnical studies of the hillside land.

U.C. purchased four of the five remaining buildings on the La Loma block. Following an Environmental Impact Report, the four buildings were demolished. This did not sit well with the community. On 31 March 1988, the Berkeley Voice reported:

Northside Demolition Halted

City, UC Officials Meet in the Street for Development Negotiations

It’s spring, and there is no telling where those university bulldozers are going to sprout next.

Monday morning this week, Berkeley Mayor Loni Hancock, state Assemblymember Tom Bates (Hancock’s husband), and Dan Boggan Jr., University of California Vice Chancellor of Business and Administrative Services, engaged in tense, middle-of-the-street negotiations to save two university-owned apartment buildings located on property targeted for the multimillion dollar Foothill Student Housing Project. [...]

Bates and city activists Carla Woodworth and Clifford Fred, who had positioned their cars to wedge in a large gold bulldozer, received $20 university-issued parking tickets. [...] Assemblymember Bates said he and Hancock had come “prepared to be arrested” in protesting the university’s plan. [...] Bates said the plan to raze the Northside duplex was “another instance of them [the university] not being good neighbors.” “This is not a return to the 60s,” the assemblymember said, “when they did whatever they wanted, when they wanted.” “This is synonymous with the larger problem of the university’s lack of coordination of projects, inadequacy of Environmental Impact Reports, and other things people have been concerned about,” Bates said.

But it was a return to the ’60s, and U.C. again did exactly as it wanted. As every Berkeley resident knows, the 776-bed Foothill Student Housing Complex was built largely as planned, although heights of the final buildings were modified to protect views from private buildings on the east side of Highland Place. The La Loma block now accommodates some 300 students.

The building today (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2010)

The former Phi Delta Theta chapter house is the only non-university building left on the block. It is hemmed in and cut off from the rest of the community, and its once glorious views are reduced to glimpses from the top floor. Since 1988, the university has been pressing the city for an encroachment permit in order to build a pedestrian bridge across Hearst Avenue that would further isolate the landmark building, which is currently being restored.

The Phi Delta Theta chapter house was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on 24 May 1982. It is #83001172 on the National Register of Historic Places (added on 11 January 1983).

Phi Delta Theta from the air (1994), surrounded by the green roofs of the Foothill Student Housing Complex. At bottom right are the La Loma-Hearst intersection and Founders’ Rock. At bottom center there’s a glimpse of the upper Hearst parking structure, former site of College (Hansford) Hall. The parking lot to its left is the former home of Newman Hall. Click the photo for an aerial view of Daley’s Scenic Park.



Copyright © 2005–2019 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.