Telegraph Avenue elevation design for a new building at 2501 Haste, which would be partly clad in rock. Courtesy: Kirk E. Peterson & Associates

The owner of a blighted lot at Telegraph and Haste that has been vacant for more than two decades presented his plans for a fortress-like building on the property, although he said he wouldn’t build anything there as long as the city of Berkeley had a lawsuit hanging over him regarding the site.

Ken Sarachan, who bought the north-west corner lot on Telegraph and Haste in 1994, has visions for a Moorish palace-like structure inspired by Italian hill towns, Tibetan forts and the rock-cut architecture of Petra in Jordan. Architect Kirk Peterson introduced the blueprints and renderings for the project, known as “La Fortaleza” (as in “fortress” or “stronghold”), on Tuesday evening to a small group of interested parties gathered at Caffe Med a few doors down from the lot in question on Telegraph Avenue.

The proposal shows a six-story, 14,000 sq ft mixed-use building which includes a ground floor and sunken courtyard space for retailers, four residential floors of 79 one- and two-bedroom apartments, as well as a landscaped roof deck. The designs call for numerous terraces, balconies and “naturalistic” entrances created using either rock, or concrete made to look like rock. Peterson said “it could be really awful or really wonderful, it’s all in the detail”, and conceded the plans would likely be modified as they went through the review process.

Rendering of south elevation on Haste Street of La Fortaleza, Ken Sarachan’s new proposal for 2501 Haste. Courtesy: Kirk E. Peterson
Rendering of south elevation on Haste Street of La Fortaleza, Ken Sarachan’s new proposal for 2501 Haste. Courtesy: Kirk E. Peterson

Peterson is the architect behind many of Berkeley’s most prominent buildings, including the downtown Trader Joe’s and the Bachenheimer Building. He is working on the proposals for Acheson Commons, a significant development on University Avenue, and is also consulting with the Ent family on plans for the site across the street from the Sarachan lot which is empty after a fire destroyed the Sequoia Building on the property last year.

Sarachan called La Fortaleza “Kirk’s masterpiece, the best thing he’s ever done.”

Sarachan, who also owns Rasputin Records, Blondie’s Pizza, the old Cody’s Building and the retail development at 2350 Telegraph, has brought plans for the Haste site to the city before, including one that was based on a pagoda design, but they were not approved. A plan to build affordable housing and an expanded Amoeba Records on the site fell through after Sarachan bought the land.

Berkeley agreed to forgo existing liens on the site if Sarachan developed it, setting an initial deadline in 2004. In September 2011, the city lost patience and filed for non judicial foreclosure on the blighted lot which means Sarachan will have to pay the liens which are estimated to be in excess of $500,000. “We were pushed to the point of exasperation,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington whose district embraces this section of Telegraph Avenue.

The Woolley House at 2501 Haste St. needs to be removed before development of the site can proceed
The Woolley House at 2501 Haste St. needs to be removed before development of the site can proceed

Before the 2501 Haste St. lot can be developed a solution needs to be found for removing the 1870s Victorian Woolley House which is on the property, and also owned by Sarachan. Realtor John Gordon has offered to move the house to a lot he owns at Regent and Dwight where it would be renovated along with another historic house he plans to move there, the Blood-Tompkins House currently on Durant.

On Tuesday, Sarachan said that he had provided money for an Environmental Impact Report regarding the Woolley House but that the city was “sitting on it.” Dave Fogarty, Berkeley’s economic development project coordinator, said the issue was with how the EIR was processed.

Meanwhile, participants at the presentation stressed how eager they were to see something built on the site. “Just build, build, build,” John Gordon said, addressing Sarachan. Craig Becker, owner of Caffe Med, said he would like to see a nightlife destination go on the site and act as an anchor on the avenue. “My preference would be for a theater rather than more retail,” he said, adding that any building would be better than none.

Perterson said the plans for the La Fortaleza should be going to the city soon, although he couldn’t specify a date.

Can Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue get its mojo back? [04.18.12]
Imagining a future for Telegraph Avenue without blinders [04.11.12]
Telegraph fire site owner plans for temporary resurrection [02.06.12]
Urban think tank: Student visions for blighted Telegraph lot [10.03.11]
City hands ultimatum to Sarachan on vacant Telegraph lot [09.07.11]
What about that vacant lot on Haste and Telegraph? [08.11.11]
Berkeley students want better stores, fewer street people [05.31.11]
City says it is addressing Telegraph Avenue rats problem [02.10.11]
The rats of Telegraph Avenue (video) [01.28.11]

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...