Vacant Telegraph Lot Soon to be Home to Mobile Restaurants
On November 18, 2011, a disastrous fire engulfed the Sequoia apartment building on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street in a blaze that many called the largest in Berkeley since 1991. The building, which dated back to 1916, had housed UC Berkeley students as well as several restaurants. No serious injuries were reported, but dozens of students were displaced.
The fire, which was found to be accidental, may have begun in an elevator equipment room. The building, composed of old wood with many concealed spaces, was structurally built in such a way that fire could travel quickly without easy detection from the building’s residents or the Berkeley Fire Department.
The City of Berkeley decided to demolish the building based on concerns that it would collapse entirely. The building’s structural integrity was a legitimate safety concern; the intersection was closed and traffic diverted to prevent harm to pedestrians. But the preventative action may have been excessive. Local architect Kirk Peterson stated, “I do not believe the building needed to be demolished to the extent that it was.”
Today, the site of the fire presents a gloomy spectacle. The entire building is gone, although part of the facade facing Telegraph remains intact, and in combination with another overgrown lot across the way, the effect is rather depressing. Closed businesses are alarmingly prevalent along Telegraph, including Cody’s bookstore. The many closures are due to the Internet hurting print media and record stores, an essential part of the area’s culture and economy. The tone of the neighborhood is a worrisome topic for small business owners on Telegraph.
But the emptiness is temporary. Nailed to a board is a yellow City of Berkeley notice informing passers–by of a bold, innovative project: “temporary tent and shipping containers to house previously existing restaurants.” The plan calls for housing the displaced restaurants under three canopy–style tents, and would include temporary kitchens inside several shipping containers, large steel boxes originally meant for transporting goods. The businesses with a spot under the canopy are Cafe Intermezzo, Raleigh’s, and Gabriella’s, a new eatery which had not yet opened at the time of the fire, but had neared the end stages of construction.
The future of Thai Noodle, another business destroyed by the fire, is still unknown.The restaurants will be fun and get more people and life on the avenue, but it’s a temporary plan,” commented Peterson, whose firm, Peterson and Associates, is working on the plans.
The project’s timeline is uncertain. Berkeleyside reported that the restaurants hope to be up and running by May 2012. This seems unlikely, with construction still in the beginning stages in late April. However, it is possible that the tents can be constructed very quickly. For Telegraph businesses, the sooner the better.
Cafe Intermezzo and Raleigh’s were exceptionally popular with UC Berkeley students, and a key component of Telegraph’s economy.
Intermezzo was lauded for its generous salads, delicious poppy seed dressing, and fresh bread, while Raleigh’s pub was ideal for burgers and beer.
Hopefully these staples will soon be revived and operating under their tents, once again bringing life to the Telegraph and Haste area.