AKA: University of California, Stern Hall, Berkeley, CA; University of California, Berkeley (UCB), Stern, Sigmund and Rosalie Meyer, Hall, Berkeley, CA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - housing - student housing; built works - public buildings - schools - university buildings

Designers: Elkins, Frances Adler, Interior Designer (firm); Gregg, John William, Landscape Architect (firm); Marquis Associates, Architects (firm); Parker, Kingsbury E., Company, Building Contractor (firm); Saph, A.V., Structural Engineer (firm); Simonson, G.M., Engineer (firm); Wurster, William W., Architect (firm); Theodore C. Bernardi (architect); Frances Adler Elkins (interior designer); Donn Emmons (architect); John William Gregg (landscape architect); Robert B. Marquis (architect); Kingsbury Eastman Parker (architect); Augustus V. Saph Jr. (structural engineer); G. M. Simonson (electrical engineer); Isabella Warn (landscape architect); William Wilson Wurster (architect)

Dates: constructed 1941-1942

3 stories

Berkeley, CA

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A tardy counterpart to the men's dormitory, Bowles Hall (built c. 1929), Stern Hall was the first university-owned housing at Berkeley for women. Rosalie Meyer Stern (1869-1956) provided $285,000 for the building, intended as a memorial to her husband, Sigmund Stern (d. 1928), alumnus of the UCB Class of 1879. Sigmund was the nephew of Levi Strauss, the San Francisco clothing manufacturer. San Francisco architect William W. Wurster (1895-1973), who was becoming a star among Regional American Modernists between 1935-1941, collaborated with the New York firm of Corbett and MacMurray on the design of Stern Hall. Mrs. Stern was actively involved in the planning and interior furnishing of the dorm. She consulted her brother, Eugene Meyers, owner of the Washington Post, for advice on architects. He knew Harvey Wiley Corbett (1873-1954), a noted New York designer of skyscrapers, and a UCB alum, and contacted him about his interest in the project. Corbett responded that he had too much work to travel frequently to Berkeley, so he would need to rely on an active collaborator. After consulting Howard Myers, Editor of the Architectural Forum in New York, Myers suggested that Corbett contact Wurster about his availability. Myers provided information on Wurster's recent projects, and Corbett responded to Wurster impressed. He said: "I then telephoned Mr. Howard Myers, Editor of the “Architectural Forum”, asking for suggestions and illustrations if he had them of the work of the more modern men in San Francisco. He sent me quite a collection, and in reviewing these illustrations I was very much pleased with the character of your work. It impressed me as having a very rational modern approach, of which I am greatly in sympathy. I sent your name through to Mr. Meyers, with the recommendation that you should do the work." Wurster responded with interest. The University of California and Mrs. Stern wanted Corbett to play a leading role in the building's design, and that he should work with Wurster's office to produce it. The two architects agreed to associate, with Wurster's office doing initial site visits and producing early conceptual designs (dated 04/05/1938) for Corbett's comment. Wurster brought in other members of the design team, including A.V. Saph, Jr., (1896-1966), the structural engineer, and G. M. Simonson, the heating engineer, by 1938. Cost over-runs with the first site considered spurred the university to shift the dorm to a less costly location. During this time of reconsidering the project, Mrs. Stern, who originally had promised money for a men's residence hall, agreed to have the funds accommodate female students. Alterations of the dorm to fit women entailed more delays and architectural expense. She originally had a somewhat tense relationship with younger Wurster, but this changed after she traveled to the 1939 New York World's Fair and visited with Corbett. Thereafter, in Wurster's words: "Mrs. Stern came back from the east with such a different viewpoint on this office that I have been pondering ever since as to just how you worked this miracle. There was more trust in us – more personal liking and consideration – I no longer dreaded the conferences. And so it has remained through all this delay, which has been trying to her." The specifics of siting were undertaken by Wurster with John W. Gregg, of the UCB Landscape Architecture faculty in 08/1941. Mrs. Stern knew Frances Adler Elkins (1888-1953), a renowned West Coast interior designer based in Monterey, and asserted that she wanted her to do the interior design work. She and Wurster had a prickly if respectful relationship, with the architect generally following her dictates on furnishings. Wurster also had worked with Elkins on the women's Yerba Buena Club, but her aesthetic and his had some strong differences.

Wurster had very strong ideas about siting, and relayed these to Gregg. Gregg summarized his basic siting plan: "When the site was allotted to us it was realized that we best embrace the grades, irregularities, and scattered trees . . . the bedroom wings are arranged to reach down into the natural rolling land. The uncared-for grassy slope which is now present seems perfection to me." Both men agreed that the site would be left as natural as possible, with minimized grading and retention of a many existing trees as possible. Wurster asked that Isabella Warn, a florist with a strong background in botany (with whom he had worked in 1938-1939 on the design of the Yerba Buena Club Pavilion at the Golden Gate International Exposition), be included in the project team to provide insights on specific plants to use. Interior work on Stern Hall concluded in 10/1942, while landscaping efforts continued to 06/1943. After Mrs. Stern's death, a mural painted by the controversial Mexican painter Diego Rivera (1886-1957) that hung on the dining room wall of her Atherton, CA, home was donated to UCB and hung in and alcove of Stern Hall on 06/17/1956.

Additions were made to Stern Hall in 1959, by William Wurster's post-war firm, Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons (WBE), consistent with the original, and in 1981, by Marquis Associates, deviating somewhat from the original in materials and plan. The 1959 addition extended from the U-shaped original portion of the dormitory to the southeast. It served as a perpendicular linkage to the 1981 addition made further to the southeast. All additions were rectangular in form.

PCAD id: 18735