Construction work is underway at Haste and Telegraph. Photo: Susie Wyshak

Many doubted it would ever come to pass, but construction work has started at the long-vacant lot at Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue in Southside Berkeley.

A plan is afoot to build a dormitory there, at 2501 Haste St., for UC Berkeley graduate students. Readers told Berkeleyside digging at the site began last week.

“The end of an era,” said Stuart Baker, of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, on Thursday. Baker said a storage building, the Wicked building just north of the corner parcel, had been demolished, “and that signals construction of the site at Telegraph and Haste.”

The seven-story 254-bed dormitory, in the style of a “Moorish palace,” was dreamed up by Ken Sarachan, who owns a number of properties and businesses in the Southside neighborhood — though he has since sold 2501 Haste.

The original project team said the building was inspired by Italian hill towns, Tibetan forts and the rock-cut architecture of Petra in Jordan. The design calls for “naturalistic” entrances made of rock, or concrete that looks like rock.

Enclave dormitory at 2501 Haste St. Image: LCA Architects

The lot at 2501 Haste St. was home to the Berkeley Inn for decades. It burned down in the 1980s and Sarachan — who owns Rasputin Records, Blondie’s Pizza, the old Cody’s building and the retail development at 2350 Telegraph — bought the property in 1994. Nothing happened for years. The lot sat vacant and was infested with rats.

The Berkeley City Council voted in September 2011 to foreclose on the property, which would have meant Sarachan had to pay off $640,000 in liens or see the property sold at auction. Some two years later, the city settled the resulting lawsuit and did what it could to push Sarachan toward action.

Meanwhile, in early 2012, Sarachan had begun to present plans for the Moorish-style building, which originally was designed by architect Kirk Peterson and called El Jardin. (“It could be really awful or really wonderful, it’s all in the detail,” Peterson said at an early project preview.) In 2015, Sarachan and UC Berkeley nearly made a deal for the property, but it fell through.

The city repeatedly tried to use legal pressure to get Sarachan to act, to no avail, while he in turn blamed city staff for the lack of progress. Eventually, Sarachan sold 2501 Haste to Point Richmond-based West Builders, but reportedly required the new owner to stick with the exterior Moorish design. Under its new ownership, the project is now called “Enclave Dormitory.”

Last year, Berkeleyside reported that the building was set to become a dorm, which was a shift from its initial presentation as apartments. In May 2018, the project team sought to make some changes to the plans, which the Zoning Adjustments Board approved in July.

That month, LCA Architects — now on the project team — told the board the work would finally proceed. An LCA rep promised that the project would become “a special building for our city.” In addition to the student housing, the ground floor of the project is set to include five retail spaces. No detail has been provided as to what they might feature.

Baker, of the Business Improvement District, told Berkeleyside earlier this year that the project will give a much-needed boost to the neighborhood.

“Telegraph Avenue is struggling, and this lot is at the core, the geographic center, of our district,” he said. ”We are thrilled as to what this building means for the avenue: It’s kind of wild. It’s certainly not the minimalist stuff you see being built all over Berkeley.”

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...