After listening to 35 people speak in favor of landmarking the West Berkeley Shellmound, the City Council unanimously voted to grant the site historic landmark status at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
The shellmound is believed to be a repository of ancient Native American artifacts and human remains.
“This is great,” said Stephanie Manning who wrote the 75-page application for the city’s Landmarks Commission to review. She said that radio carbon dating of material found on the site show that there was human habitation there in 3700 B.C.
“That means that there were Native Americans living at the site at the mouth of Strawberry Creek before the Egyptians built the first pyramid,” she said.
“It was a community where people lived, raised their children, fished, hunted and buried their dead.”
The newly approved historic landmark covers the area bound by Interstate 880, to Fourth Street between University and Hearst avenues.
The three-block area has a number of owners including Frank Spenger, Richard and Charlene DeVecchi, White West Properties, Cal-Trans and the City of Berkeley.
The DeVecchis had appealed the Landmarks Commission’s designation of the area as a historic landmark to the City Council.
The designation means that any development on the site that requires a permit will have to be reviewed by the Landmarks Commission. However, if the commission denies the permit application, the applicants can appeal to the City Council, which could reverse the commission’s decision.
Landmarks Commission board member Lesley Emmington-Jones said that Manning deserves most of the credit for the site’s designation. “She has led the way on this and has really sustained all of us throughout the process,” Emmington-Jones said. “She is really kind of a living treasure herself.”
Manning, who lives around the corner from the site, said when she heard Spenger’s was closing and that the site might be developed she remembered an archeology student telling her 20 years before that there was a Shellmound underneath the Spenger’s parking lot.
She enlisted the help of Archeology Mapping Specialist Christopher Dore who was able to pinpoint the site. Once the location was established Manning realized she could write the application.
Manning said the project was a labor of love and that some of the most exciting moments were when the site was being drilled by the Spengers in an attempt to verify the existence of a Native American Shellmound. The site was drilled in 29 locations and evidence of the Shellmound was found in six of the locations.
“It was exciting to watch the purplish colored shells fall from the threads of the drills,” she said.
Manning, chairperson of education for the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, describes herself as a lifelong preservationist and has been promoting historical education about the Shellmound through the existing third grade program called “Know Your Town,” in which students study aspects of their town’s history. Manning said the designation might make it easier to secure educational grants to establish the Shellmound as a integral part of the state’s historical education system.