Company buys historic house

Education Realty Trust Inc. purchased Berkeley’s historic Westminster House and plans to make renovations.
Chris McDermut/Senior Staff
Education Realty Trust Inc. purchased Berkeley’s historic Westminster House and plans to make renovations.

After recent involvement in managing the Wesley House at UC Berkeley, the Education Realty Trust Inc. decided to purchase the Westminster House on Monday, taking control from the Presbytery of San Francisco, which originally owned the property.

The historic Westminster House, which has units on both the south and north sides of campus, is the first housing complex at UC Berkeley that is owned by Education Reality Trust, which develops and manages college housing across the country — from the University of Virginia to Syracuse University. The company, which bought the housing complex for $16.3 million, plans to make upgrades by installing new carpets and televisions in all units but intends to keep the historical quality of the building alive.

“We were made aware of the opportunity and saw that it was feasible and got to know the campus a bit more,” said Susan Jennings, vice president of corporate communications and marketing for EDR. “It’s a great distance from campus and has a rich history and was a good opportunity for us to enlarge our footprint at Berkeley.”

Total renovation costs at the three separate housing complexes located closer to campus than university-sponsored housing — North House, South House and Heritage Apartments — come to about $800,000 and will take place just before students move in this fall.

“We will change operations for the better by improving public spaces, bedrooms and corridors that will make it more attractive to the residents,” said Ryan Sullivan, the EDR regional director responsible for Westminster House. “We are adding carpet and paint in all of the units and will be adding televisions and comfortable soft seating areas to appeal to the technologically savvy Cal student.”

Westminster House has already undergone changes in the past, including expansive renovations in 2003 that led to a larger housing capacity of 128 beds with rooms fully furnished with microwaves and mini-refrigerators, according to Charles Oewel, director at the Student Center Associates, a company that specializes in development and management of Christian-based student housing.

Company representatives said Westminster House’s rates are priced better and are competitively much lower, in comparison to university-sponsored housing. For example, the average monthly rate for a bed over a period of 10 months at the Westminster South House starts at $999. Residents also have a choice of whether they want a meal plan or want to use the community kitchen in the units.

“We think some of the cosmetic improvements will attract current residents to stay and new residents to Westminster House,” Jennings said. “There is something that makes living places special for people, and Westminster house has it in aces.”

The property grounds at the Westminster House, whose buildings were designed by Bay Area architect Walter Ratcliff and Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan, were originally owned by the Berkeley chapter of the Presbytery of San Francisco, who held the property since 1910.

The Presbytery of San Francisco could not be reached for comment.

Wesley House, which EDR began managing in November 2010, was the first property the company invested in at UC Berkeley and offers student housing at slightly higher rates — around $1,200 for a double-occupant room. Because of the historical integrity of these housing complexes and their importance to the university and alumni, company officials said EDR’s ultimate goal is to preserve the legacy of the buildings.

“What excites us most about this property is that it follows our plan and two of the things we look at when buying properties — one being the University of California, Berkeley, is one of those schools we wanted to own property at due to its prestige — and two, because it has a location you can’t beat,” Sullivan said.

Anjuli Sastry covers housing.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Education Realty Trust Inc. purchased Wesley House in November 2010. In fact, the company began managing Wesley House in November 2010.

The article also incorrectly stated that Westminster House is the second housing complex at UC Berkeley that is owned by the company. In fact, it is the first.