Old art museum building possibly to be used for academic purposes

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Jasmany Flores/File

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More than a year after the center opened at its new site in Downtown Berkeley, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Archive’s old building remains unrenovated because of the structure’s landmark status.

Woo Hon Fai Hall, the former BAMPFA building located on Bancroft Way between College Avenue and Bowditch Street, is being used as a storage space, in part for furniture from Wheeler Hall, a campus building undergoing renovations. The gallery was moved after a 1997 engineering survey that discovered the building did not meet seismic standards.

“We are exploring further seismic retrofitting and possible academic uses,” said Carol Christ, interim executive vice chancellor and provost, in an email. “The old BAMPFA building has a kind of landmark or protected status and could not be demolished to be replaced by student housing.”

Woo Hon Fai Hall, which was designed by Bay Area architect Mario Ciampi and founded in 1963, hosted its final exhibit Dec. 21, 2014 after being in operation for more than 50 years. Relocation to BAMPFA’s new location on Center Street commenced Sept. 28, 2015 and opened for the public near the end of January 2016.

Though the campus is determining the future purpose for Woo Hon Fai Hall, it will likely be used as an academic space and to provide extra room for campus units, according to a 2014 campus press release.

According to Alexandra Croft, a member of the BAMPFA student committee, the old building was larger in square footage size but had less wall space that could effectively be used for art displays.

“UC Berkeley has spent quite a bit of money retrofitting all of the campus over the last few years and it will require another several million to retrofit the old museum building to a point of being considered safe, or earthquake resilient,” Croft said in an email.

At its Center Street location, BAMPFA has seen a tremendous increase in traffic due to its proximity to the BART station and popular eateries in Downtown Berkeley. The new building also includes an increased variety in its galleries and improved storage and study spaces, according to Lawrence Rinder, the director of BAMPFA.

“The only thing I miss from the old building is the opportunity to present events for up to 1,000 people in our former atrium space, as we did on multiple occasions with (composer) Terry Riley and many others,” Rinder said in an email.

David Johnson, campus assistant director of landscape architecture said Woo Hon Fai Hall met seismic standards when it was first constructed, but over time, more earthquakes have resulted in stricter earthquake standards.

Johnson added that even Wurster Hall, the architecture school on campus, had to be fixed to meet current seismic standards.

“The fact that (Woo Hon Fai Hall) is empty today is good because it’s waiting for the next step,” Johnson said.

Parth Vohra covers student life. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @ParthVohra622.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article misattributed a statement about the future usage of Woo Hon Fai Hall to Christine Shaff. In fact, the information came from a 2014 UC Berkeley press release.