The historic redwood clubhouse in John Hinkel Park, gutted by fire. Photo: Lance Knobel

A fire gutted the John Hinkel Park clubhouse early on Friday, Jan. 16. The Berkeley Fire Department received reports of sparks seen in the clubhouse at 6:45 a.m. on Friday, and four engines, a truck, an ambulance and a batallion chief were dispatched to the scene.

When engine 4 arrived at the park, just off the Arlington in north Berkeley, they saw the west end of the clubhouse in flames, according to Deputy Fire Chief Avery Webb. Because of pre-planning at the site, the department knew the building was not in use and the location of the nearest water supply. The fire was under control in about 30 minutes, Webb said. 

Damage to the clubhouse has been assessed at $500,000, and the building has been red tagged because of instability resulting from the fire. Webb said the fire is being regarded as suspicious and investigation is continuing. No injuries were reported.

The view of the clubhouse from the John Hinkel Park amphitheatre. Photo: Lance Knobel

The clubhouse was built in 1918, to the designs of John Gregg, then a professor of landscape at UC Berkeley and president of Berkeley’s parks commission. The redwood structure has been unused for the last decade.

“It’s been an attractive nuisance for 10 years,” said Councilman Laurie Capitelli, whose District 5 encompasses John Hinkel Park. “Now I’m afraid it’s a high risk attractive nuisance.”

Capitelli said that nine years ago, necessary repairs to the building, including foundation work, retaining wall and dealing with extensive rot, were estimated at $1-2 million. In addition to the cost, he said there was concern from neighbors about the intensity of use, should the clubhouse be restored.

The land for John Hinkel Park was donated to the city of Berkeley by the eponymous businessman, who lived on Channing Way. Built into a hillside oak grove, the park has an amphitheatre where theater productions are regularly staged in the summer.

Commission, public discuss priorities for Berkeley parks (10.04.13)

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...