“While the merry men pound the nails...the capitalists, who are to own the (Claremont) hotel...are thinking up new ideas that are calculated to put it in the front rank of modern hotels.”
— From the Berkeley Advance, Dec. 23, 1906 as quoted by Susan Cerny in Berkeley Landmarks
As today’s Claremont Hotel and Spa management contemplates a fresh expansion of its 279-room facility, neighbors are hunkering in, trying to preserve the residential character of their area.
Oakland and Berkeley residents living near the hotel, united as the Berkeley-Oakland Neighbors of the Claremont, have been to Oakland’s Landmarks Advisory Board and filed an intent to landmark the hotel, which was designed early in the century by noted architect Charles Dickey. Although the hotel sports a Berkeley address, it is (mostly or entirely, depending on whom you ask) located in Oakland.
The group has six months to file a formal application.
Wendy Markel, who lives near the hotel, points out that the business “gets the benefits of being in a residential area. It’s not a convention center,” she said. “Landmarking would give it prestige.”
It would also give the hotel hurdles to leap before they could make major changes.
Noting that he had good meetings with the neighborhood group and had attended a Dec. 11 Landmarks Advisory Board meeting, Claremont’s General Manager Ted Axe said he had not yet decided whether the hotel would support the neighborhood application. “I don’t know,” he said. “The landmark (status) is a change of our zoning.”
He said the document explaining the status was “over 1 inch thick” and he needed to study its implications.
Axe was vague about expansion plans. “Our thoughts are potentially adding guest rooms,” he said. “We’re preparing to file for an application.” After that, the hotel will have to complete a state-mandated environmental report.
While Claudia Cappio, Oakland’s manager of major development projects, underscored that no specific plan has been presented to her, she said the Claremont management had spoken of the expansion as two additions to the present structure, with a “total of over 100 new units.” A parking structure is also being contemplated, she said.
And that’s what has jolted the neighbors into action. “We have a great fear of the excessive congestion” the expanded hotel would bring, Markel said. “We can hardly move here as it is.”
Landmark status would add a layer of public input into any changes the hotel would propose. Oakland’s landmarks board advises the Planning Commission, which would rule on any major changes to the structure. The ruling could be appealed to the City Council.
Landmark status would also mean that the Environmental Impact Report, a legal document required by the state for large projects, would have to carefully consider what impacts changes would have on the historic structure.
Berkeley’s role would be an advisory one as well. Although both Oakland and Berkeley planners agree that Oakland has jurisdiction over the property, the exact status of the Claremont is still to be determined.
Cappio said she believes the entire property is located in Oakland, while Mark Rhodes, Berkeley’s head of current planning, says there is a piece along the perimeter that is in Berkeley.
Markel and others in her neighborhood group are urging the hotel to go along with the landmarks proposal.
Its historic nature is a good selling point, she said, adding, “It would be a good bridge to the neighborhood if they come along with us.”