The Trader Joe’s effect: A Berkeley building makeover

Berkeley Plaza, on the corner of MLK and Berkeley Way, has been renovated by a team of Berkeley companies. Photos: Tracey Taylor

It was known as “the Homeless Hilton” by the homeless people who used to camp out on the roof of the building on the corner of MLK and Berkeley Way. But now, following an extensive renovation orchestrated by a team of locally based companies, 1841 Berkeley Way is looking sharp — and its office and retail spaces are being snapped up.

It all started with the arrival of Trader Joe’s said the building’s owner, John Gordon. “Trader Joe’s has been a wonderful amenity for the whole neighborhood,” he said. “It has increased the foot traffic and this is a much safer corner now. We took the opportunity to upgrade the building with this in mind.”

One side of the Berkeley Plaza building with new landscaping

The team that undertook the remodel are all Berkeley-based. Charles Kahn was the architect, construction work was by Holland & Harley, and Robert Trachtenberg did the landscaping. [Update: Lighting was also by a Berkeley company: Alice Prussin Lighting Design.]

“The project has been well received by local residents and merchants — in a short period of time we leased all four of our vacant spaces,” said Gordon.

The building, which is now known as Berkeley Plaza, was originally built in 1977-78, designed by architect John Rolf Hattam as a Radio Shack store. It is unusual in having high-maintenance roof-top parking with a car ramp. The parking spaces are now more secured and used mainly by the building’s tenants.

These include Magee Scientific, a company that grew out of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and which makes smog measuring equipment. The business owner lives nearby and can walk to work.

Berkeley Plaza before the recent renovation

Other businesses in the building include Nino’s Pizzeria, a tenant for more than two decades, Catalog Choice, staffing company Kinetic, and Eclipxe hair salon.

Amid the many stories in Berkeley of vacant retail spaces, and hurting shopping districts, this project stands out as a modest, but encouraging, success story.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside. Email: tracey@citysidejournalism.org.