THE MIXED-USE PROJECT AND THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE GILL TRACT
This is just a brief note to encourage Albany residents to attend the next planning and zoning meeting to support the hard work of P&Z and the city staff, who have worked diligently for months with UC and the developers to bring the mixed use project planning very close to completion.
The Planning and Zoning Commission will review some final documents on Wednesday night, Dec. 11, at 6 p.m. Please note the early start time. The mixed-use project is the first item on the agenda (here). You can also watch the meeting via the internet (here).
It would be good to hear from Albany residents who support moving the project forward. Sadly, P&Z and council meetings on this topic occasionally have been delayed by the Occupy the Farm (OTF) supporters, who may put in an appearance Wednesday night. It would be refreshing to hear from some more realistic Albany residents for a change.
And speaking of realism, the OTF have based their objections on a bizarre view of the history of University Village and the Gill Tract. Fortunately, this lack of realism is easy to correct. Below I have excerpted several paragraphs from the book, “A Selective History of the Codornices–University Village, the City of Albany and Environs,” by Warren F. Lee and Catherine T. Lee (Copyright 2000, Belvidere Delaware Railroad Enterprises Ltd. ISBN: 0-9675646-0-3).
Lee’s research makes clear that the Gill Tract has been used for agricultural research in recent decades, and before that as a horticultural nursery for roses. But there is no evidence that the Gill Tract was ever used for conventional farming. If the land was ever farmed, it was most likely before 1890.
The excerpts are below. As a former village resident who was living there when UC began tearing down some of the older buildings, I was especially amused by the final item.
[Page 9, paragraph 1, in full] The Albany land tract upon which approximately forty percent of the Codornices Village was built came down intact through the first four decades of the twentieth century because there were only two owners. Around 1890 Edward Gill established the future Gill Tract when he bought 104 acres of land from one Captain Boswell. Here Gill, a horticulturist and a renowned authority on roses, established a large nursery which flourished until his death in 1909. The tract stood idle until 14 February 1928, when it was purchased by the regents of the University of California for $450,000. During 1939 a large portion of this land, more than 16 acres, was turned over to the federal government for use as the site of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Western Regional Research Center. This impressive facility, built during 1939, began operations in 1940. In 1945 another 36 acres of land were assigned by the University of California at Berkeley to the Department of Biological Control for use as an experimental field station.
[Page 9, paragraph 2, excerpted] During 1943 the government informed local civic authorities that it intended to requisition most of the remaining acreage of the Gill Tract in Albany and an even larger amount of land in Berkeley to construct a wartime housing project. Soon after the initial announcement, organized resistance to the mass public housing plan, No. CAL 4479, developed very rapidly. Local government and business leaders in Berkeley and Albany, as well as some of the regents of the University of California in Berkeley, protested the selection of this land as a construction site for temporary public housing. Specifically, the regents did not like the idea that 42 acres of their Gill Tract in Albany were to be condemned and taken out of their control. Indeed they had just gained legislative approval for a half-million-dollar appropriation that would have been used to build a College of Veterinary Medicine on the Gill Tract.
[Page 9, paragraph 4, in full] By the middle of August 1943, the civic leaders of Albany and Berkeley realized that the near future construction of the Codornices Village was a fait accompli. This was borne out from the statements made by two local political leaders. Fitch Robertson, mayor of Berkeley, stated, “If Mr. Post [Landon Post, director, Region VI, of the Federal Housing Authority] has come to the conclusion that this is the only available site for this project, which we do not believe, naturally we will have to cooperate in the interest of the war effort.” W.R. McGeorge, mayor of Albany, was much more conciliatory. He simple stated that “the city did not want to hamper the war effort.”
[Page 9, paragraph 5, excerpted] During the latter days of October 1943, approximately sixty days after the exchange of correspondence between the mayors and the Federal Housing Authority, construction on the Codornices Village was already under way. The allocation of the number of planned units along the Codornices Creek, the center point of the village, kept increasing until there were 1,896 units instead of the 1,200 that were originally authorized. Eventually, 1,056 of the units would be located in Berkeley, and 840 of the units would be located in Albany. By 10 May 1944, 72 apartment units has been completed and were ready for occupancy.
[Page 23, endnote 7, excerpted] Early commentaries about the village often stated that the village was opened for occupancy during 1942 or 1943. Such statements are totally incorrect. The period of construction of the village, 1943–1944, is further confirmed by the issuing dates that appear on the California driver’s license, the Selective Service Registration Certificate, and other vital papers that were discovered in the long lost wallet of Charles Raymond Smith (1904–1978), a plasterer from Santa Cruz. The wallet was extracted after 54 years by Kandy L. Piper on 18 August 1998, from the bathroom wall of Unit F in Codornices Bldg. 17. An identification card, A–12402020, issued to Smith on 28 June 1943, by the U.S. Coast Guard, indicates that Smith may have needed to be approved by that service to work in the village.