The future of the fire-damaged Sequoia Apartments at Haste and Telegraph remained uncertain today, as crews worked to board up the ground floor storefronts and a fire investigation remained ongoing. All but one Telegraph Avenue business on the blocks adjacent to the fire is open, and all the open businesses can be reached by pedestrians.
The historic 96 year old building, a visual icon of the Telegraph district, looked much as it did on Saturday after the Friday night fire was largely extinguished, with a missing roof and many of the windows gone, while others looked incongruously normal with blinds closed behind the glass.
Pieces of fire debris, including charred fragments of wood, lined Haste downhill from the building, where water had flooded along the street during the fire-fighting efforts.
Early Wednesday morning I briefly talked to Berkeley Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong, who came by to take a look at the building. I asked him about the status of the structure. He said that the “building owner is supposed to work on getting a permit” and portions of “the upper floors are what needs to come down.” The owner has a structural engineer, he said, who should be submitting plans to the City.
The City’s investigation of the fire origins has not yet been completed. The Fire Department is waiting, Dong said, to get access to portions of the structure that are still off limits. Fire investigators want to look at one area in particular. “The area of interest is in the basement”, he said.
A full list of building residents has not yet been compiled, but Dong said the City has no indication at present that anyone is unaccounted for. The City had one report of a missing resident, but that individual turned up via a Facebook posting after the fire.
Dong said that the Fire Department would also like to talk to residents so they can get firsthand accounts of what was happening with the fire in the building in its early stages Friday night. He encouraged all residents to contact the Red Cross and / or the City.
While we were talking, a displaced resident of the building came by to look. He identified himself as Tyler, and said he had been in the elevator when the fire began to spread. “It got hot, it filled up with smoke,” he said, before heading off up Haste, holding a paper cup of coffee. He said he was staying with friends in central Berkeley.
Circulation and Shopping
Most of Telegraph Avenue between Haste and Channing remains off-limits to vehicles and pedestrians, although it is possible from the Channing end of the block to reach all the businesses on both sides of the north half of the street, including Rasputin’s Records. The only un-burnt business that can’t be reached is Thai Noodle II which is in the shadow of the north wall of the Sequoia and remains closed.
On the block between Haste and Dwight the sidewalks are primarily open, except in front of the old, vacant, Cody’s building, and all the businesses including Moe’s Books and Amoeba Records can be reached from Dwight.
The City has posted an update on Telegraph access and shopping It notes that the Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Faire, a long standing Berkeley tradition, is still scheduled to take place as planned on December 16, 17, 18, 22, and 24, from 11 am to 6 p.m. Usually the popular street fair closes the four blocks of Telegraph north of Dwight and some 200 arts and crafts vendors set up a double row of booths.
Pedestrians are currently unable to walk on Telegraph between Channing and Haste, or go down Haste from Telegraph, meaning they must divert up to Bowditch, or down Dwight to Dana and go around on those streets to Channing. Dong said that Telegraph between Haste and Channing would remain closed to through pedestrian traffic for the time being.
Late Tuesday when I walked home, I saw an uncomfortable situation at the intersection. A unshaven man dressed in black pants and turtleneck was standing at the barriers shouting abruptly at pedestrians and bicyclists that they could not go north on Telegraph. He had no visible identification, and most passersby seemed startled to be so accosted. I asked him who he was. He said he worked for a company, “UPS” (although it could have been URS) involved with the building clean-up.
Wednesday morning the situation seemed more organized. Uniformed City staff were out along the barriers monitoring traffic and directing pedestrians.
A temporary traffic arrangement has been put in place. Haste Street is now open above Telegraph. Traffic coming westbound on Haste must turn left onto Telegraph at Haste, a situation that allows southbound traffic on Telegraph north of Dwight for the first time since one-way streets were put in place in the 1970s.
When the southbound traffic reaches Dwight, temporary stoplights allow vehicles to cross Dwight. One of the northbound lanes has been converted with orange barriers into a temporary southbound lane, so vehicles heading south then merge into the two regular southbound traffic lanes on Telegraph.
This arrangement may ease traffic tangles north of Dwight, but as I watched cars navigate the new system early on Wednesday morning, I saw another problem developing. Most vehicles headed down Haste are aiming westbound to reach Shattuck Avenue.
Every single car I saw that found itself on the Telegraph detour drove south of Dwight, then immediately crossed over both southbound lanes of Telegraph and made an abrupt right turn onto Blake Street. Most of them did this without any signaling.
The drivers are probably assuming they can go down Blake to reach Shattuck, or perhaps double back to Haste. However, Blake has a diagonal barrier at Fulton, so these cars will be diverted further south, to Parker Street. The end result, while the temporary traffic arrangement is in place, will probably be a steady stream of stop and go traffic and confused drivers on Blake, Fulton, and Parker through the residential Le Conte neighborhood.
If you are seeking to reach a destination in the immediate Telegraph business district by car, a good course is probably to approach via College Avenue or Shattuck Avenue, and then take Channing, Durant, or Bancroft to Telegraph. The City is encouraging shoppers to head for the Sather Gate Garage, just west of Telegraph, which can be reached eastbound on Durant, or from either direction on Channing.