California Hall

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California Hall
California Hall.JPG
California Hall in 2006
Location University of California, Berkeley campus
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Built August, 1905
Architect John Galen Howard
Architectural style Beaux-Arts (Classical Revival)
NRHP Reference # 82004638
BERKL # 147
Designated BERKL February 25, 1991[1]

California Hall is one of the original "classical core" Beaux-Arts-style Classical Revival buildings on the UC Berkeley campus. Construction began in 1903 under the lead of University Architect John Galen Howard after the university's adoption of the Phoebe Hearst master architectural plan for the Berkeley campus. The building opened in August, 1905. In 1982, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places, and is designated as an architectural feature of California Historic Landmark no. 946. In 1991, the Landmarks Preservation Committee of the City of Berkeley designated it Berkeley City Landmark no. 147.[2] It currently houses the University of California Berkeley Chancellor's Office and the Graduate Division.


California Hall was one of the first buildings to be constructed upon adoption of the Hearst architectural plan. It was officially opened for the start of the fall semester on August 17, 1905, though part of the interior was still off-limits to the public as construction continued. The building was paid for through a state appropriation of $250,000 and university funds of $19,000.[3][4]

It was originally intended to be used as the university's central administrative building, along with the offices for the History, Political Economy and Commerce departments.[5] The administration remained in the building from inauguration until 1941, during which time a remodel took place. From the end of construction in 1941 through 1968, California Hall housed the Institute of Industrial Relations and classrooms. The building was again remodeled in 1968 (by Germano Milono and Associates), and its classrooms were removed. After this remodel, the building became the designated Chancellor's Office and the site of the Graduate Division, which it houses to this day. In 1982, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1990 received seismic renovations.[5]

Exterior design

Spanish roofing tiles (tejas)

The building's frames are made of steel, chosen for its strength and durability, and are covered in reinforced concrete, protecting the frames from the threat of oxidation and reinforcing their strength. This shell was housed in granite mined from the nearby Raymond quarries, chosen for its uniform color and hardness. The granite was then lined with brick.[3] Though it was known that granite is not fireproof, the original campus plan was meant to space buildings far enough apart from each other so that the external threat of fire would be minimized.[4] Many of the older campus buildings were made of wood, causing concern that the university collections and records were vulnerable to fire damage. California Hall was the first building on the university campus to incorporate fire-proofing architectural technologies. Accordingly, the interior partitions of the building were built with metal studs, wire lath and fireproof plaster.[3]

In its 1905-1906 volume, the UC Berkeley journal, the University Chronicle stated: "If there is a building in the State that is perfectly fireproof, in which a fire cannot start, or could find nothing to make headway on if possibly started, it is California Hall."[4] Like the shell of the building's body, the shell of the roof was made of a steel frame encased in concrete, and the external rooftop is covered in Spanish mission tiles (tejas), reflecting Howard's desire to create a uniquely "Californian" architectural style. The rooftop was given skylights studded by decorative copper finials.[3]

Original interior features

The original doors, window-casings and other wooden features of the building's interior architecture were made of solid oak, and the building's original furniture was of solid oak and mahogany. The floors were originally made of metal and concrete, and carpeted in cork. The entire building was wired for electric lighting, which was intended for use in the evenings. Light during the day was provided by ample windows (one in each room) and the skylights dotting the rooftop. Similar to the Hearst Memorial Mining Building being built on the university campus by Howard at the same time, the interior was made to be architecturally “elastic”—these same subdivisions could be cheaply and easily removed without compromising the structure’s exterior steel shell.[4]

File:Phoenix Stereopticon.png
Phoenix Stereopticon

The main entrance on the west side of the building opened to a first-floor lobby that had marble paneling in a wainscot fashion. The doors to the original lecture room on the north end of the first floor were made of solid oak.

The lecture room had tiered seating that could hold 500 people, and was originally equipped with a stereopticon. The room was intended for the university’s large History, English and Botany classes, which were difficult to accommodate previously due to a lack of adequate indoor space on the campus. Behind the speaker’s platform was a door that allowed the speaker and the audience direct access between the lecture room and the outside of the building. To the south of the large lecture hall were classrooms and faculty offices, uniformly painted ivory in color.[4]

The second-floor corridor, lit by skylights, was inspired by the plan of an atrium of an ancient Roman house.[3] The corridor served as a central lobby connecting together the university’s administrative offices, including the recently founded Recorder’s Office and Secretary’s Office. The university’s information bureau and a private telephone exchange were located across from the stairwell that lead up into the lobby. From the south end of the central lobby, one could enter into the Faculty Room, where meetings and conferences were held. Connected to the Faculty Room were the private office of the President, the President’s Secretary’s office, and the office of the President’s stenographer. The furniture in these rooms was made of mahogany. Located to the north of the central lobby were a lecture room and the offices of the Department of Education. To the northeast and east were the offices of the Appointment Secretary, the Advisor, Assistant Advisor, Medical Examiner and Professor of Hygiene, and the Director of the University Extension at that time, Professor H. Morse Stephens.[4]

File:Astragalus danicus Herbar.jpg
Example of a pressed herbarium specimen (Astragalus danicus Herbar)

On the top floor of the building were the headquarters of the University Press and Editorial Committee, and the Botanical Museum (herbarium), which was brought there to protect it from fire.[3] The attic was fitted with steel bookshelves in 1906, becoming the first on-campus location of the recently acquired Bancroft Library, which had previously been housed in San Francisco.[5]

In the basement, one could find the mailing room for University Extension, storage for the Department of Paleontology’s collections, and restrooms. The basement is also where the heating and ventilation chambers could be found. This system drew in outside air, filtering it through a fine cloth mesh to remove dust, and was warmed after being passed across the surface of steam coils. The steam was supplied from the university’s central power plant, and was used instead of gas as a fire safety precaution. A large revolving fan pushed the heated air through the ventilation system, with units installed in each of the rooms throughout the entire building. This heating and ventilation system was unique on the campus at that time to California Hall.[4]


John Galen Howard, 1886

Howard was member to an architectural trend of his time of a search for an authentic, modern "California" style. Previous architects had drawn heavily from Spanish California mission architecture, Stanford University being a prime example of this Mission Revival style. Howard said of California Hall that it was a:

free study of modified classic forms without recourse to...columnar orders. An attempt has been made to realize in this building a type of architecture characteristic to Central California.[3]

The University Chronicle alluded to the building’s strength and elements of Classical Revival explored by Howard through a parallel with the Greek Parthenon:

It can safely be said that no building in the State better represents the most modern and advanced ideas of durable construction. It has been built to be permanent, and will be permanent as the Parthenon has been permanent, and will be used by generations of students hundreds of years hence.[4]


  1. "Berkeley Landmarks". Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. Retrieved 2013-03-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Thompson, Daniella (2003-2012). Berkeley Landmarks, Designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Berkeley, CA. Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Woodbridge, Sally B. John Galen Howard and the University of California: The Design of a Great Public University Campus. University Press, Berkeley, 2002, pp.74-88
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 "California Hall". University Chronicle. 8: 44–48. 1905-06. Check date values in: |year= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Helfand, Harvey Zane. University of California at Berkeley buildings: planning, design, and construction. The University, 1992, Item #48