West Berkeley Shellmound and Village Site named 1 of 11 most endangered historic sites in US

Photo of The Campaign to Save the Historic West Berkeley Ohlone Shellmound and Village Site and the National Trust for Historic Preservation meeting
Maya Akkaraju/Staff
According to Brian Turner, the Shellmound is the first site to be named to the America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list in an urban area.

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The West Berkeley Shellmound and Village Site was named one of the 11 most endangered historic places of 2020 in the United States by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, or NTHP, as announced at a press conference yesterday

Corrina Gould, Lisjan Ohlone leader and spokesperson for the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, discussed the Shellmound’s new status at the press conference yesterday. According to Gould, the Shellmound’s addition to the list validates its historic significance to the Ohlone people, as well as establishing it as an important part of the Bay Area’s history.

“Each year, our America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage,” said NTHP Chief Preservation Officer Katherine Malone-France at the press conference. “More than 300 places have been included on the list in its 35 year history and in that time, fewer than 5% of the listed sites have been lost.”

Efforts to conserve the Shellmound began more than four years ago when a development project was first planned for the site, according to Gould.

Although the Shellmound, which once stood four stories tall, was leveled in the 1950s, the site is still a space for prayer and ceremonies for the Ohlone people, Malone-France said. The remains of the site are currently underneath an asphalt parking lot on 1900 Fourth St

The Ohlone people hope to see the lot turned into a green space and cultural park, according to an animated sequence presented at the press conference. The site would include flowing water, a memorial park at which to rebury removed ancestors and a place for reflection and ceremony.

The Shellmound is the first Native American cultural site to make the list in an urban area, according to Brian Turner, NTHP public lands attorney. Typically, the list includes sites in rural settings, and this is the first time the list has addressed sacred site protection in a big city.

“Through this recognition, we are acknowledging the legacy of our ancestors and the continued importance of this sacred site for those in this present moment and for the next seven generations,” Gould said at the press conference.

Gould added that this is a culmination of decades of work to protect not only sites sacred to Native American tribes in Berkeley, but all throughout the Bay Area.

The city of Berkeley has previously made efforts to recognize the Ohlone people’s space in the city, according to Berkeley City Councilmember and Vice Mayor Sophie Hahn. Last year, the words “Ohlone Territory” were added to all “Welcome to Berkeley” street signs, and in 2000 the Shellmound was landmarked by the city of Berkeley the first Native American village site to be given this designation in the Bay Area.

“Preserving and enhancing this site will help bring Ohlone history and current life back to our collective memories and take us one step closer to truth, healing, and hopefully someday, some measure of justice for indigenous people,” Hahn said at the event.

Contact Taylor Rudman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @TaylorRudman.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the West Berkeley Shellmound and Village Site was the first site in an urban area to make the Endangered Historic Places list. In fact, it was the first Native American cultural site in an urban area to make the list.