Rethinking Plans for McKay Avenue

Rethinking Plans for McKay Avenue

Gretchen Lipow & Dorothy Freeman

The search for the architect of the 1942 World War II-era U.S. Maritime Service Officers Training School ended in the Alameda Museum’s warehouse.

An Alameda Citizens Task Force (ACT) member who is also a museum volunteer, found the original architectural drawings, wrapped in paper, and resting on a shelf. One would have thought that City staff could have taken the same initiative before determining that the site does not have architectural merit by misstating that it was not designed by a “Master” architect.

The Historical Advisory Board could have also taken additional steps to research the matter further. In fact, no additional research was conducted since 1996 when Page and Turnbull was commissioned to evaluate the property for the federal government as it began a process to surplus a portion of the acres. A lot has changed in Alameda since 1996, and the site has fewer buildings now than it did then.

Some buildings remain as part of the Alameda Federal Center parcel are now at risk of full demolition. These buildings represent the last remaining Merchant Marine barracks and engineering training facilities, a group that did not receive their veteran status until 1988. We now know that the architect was Harry A. Bruno, a Bay Area architect, whose projects include the El Cerrito Library, Alpha Chi Omega Sorority at U.C. Berkeley, Santa Fe School and Jefferson School in Oakland, the Marina at Ballena Bay and the Jack London Square development in the 1950s and 1960s.

Bruno was born in 1908 in Tennessee; his family came t to Bakersfield where he attended high school. He went on to study at U.C. Berkeley and graduated in 1932. His career included notable residential projects in Piedmont, Orinda and Berkeley. In 1970 he served as the President of the East Bay Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Two years later AIA awarded Bruno the fellowship designation, the highest honor the Institute bestows upon its members.

On May 6, Alameda’s Historical Advisory Board (HAB) reaffirmed the historical significance of structures at 620 Central/1245 McKay Ave (formerly the U.S. Maritime Service Officers Training School, then Alameda Federal Center).

Due to a procedural error, however, a certificate of approval to demolish most buildings at the site was also issued in the same meeting. Per Municipal Code 13-21.5(b.2), if a site is not removed from the historical list, it should only be demolished if it is a “detriment to the community.” HAB did not discuss this topic at all.

An appeal of this certificate of approval to demolish will be heard at June 15 City Council meeting. ACT strongly encourages Alamedans to attend and voice their concerns. Remembering, and preserving evidence of Alameda’s significant contributions to the war effort in World War II should be a priority for all of us.

Fostering respectful and productive collaboration between City employees and volunteer citizen oversight bodies like the HAB should also be a priority. For city staff to ignore the facts in this case is shameful and fails to honor and respect the significance of these historical structures.

Gretchen Lipow and Dorothy Freeman write on behalf of Alameda Citizens Task Force.