History of the J-School

North Gate History

"The walls are one layer deep, which is fine in the summer but less pleasant in the winter. I can brag that my office has a dozen windows, but they face west and are a special inconvenience during early autumn afternoons, when the sun beats into the office... North Gate is not a neutral environment. It is a building that engages and challenges its inhabitants." -- Tom Goldstein, Dean, 1988-1996.

From "En Charette / On Deadline"
Written by Sally Woodbridge and Susan Davis
Edited by Susan Davis, 1993

Building the Ark

Few university buildings inspire devotion in the hearts of their users. Yet North Gate Hall – home to architecture students from 1906 to 1964 and to the Graduate School of Journalism since 1981 – is one of the most revered buildings on the Berkeley Campus.

This affection may stem from the fact that generations of budding architects and journalists have spent hours "en charette," or on deadline, in this modest building. Yet outsiders, too, appreciate North Gate Hall as one of the last vestiges of an era and an aesthetic epitomized in the architecture of the hills of north Berkeley.

Known to generations of architecture students as the "Ark," North Gate Hall was built in 1906 to house the recently established department of architecture. The first department head and supervising campus architect, John Galen Howard, designed the new school, which would be its home for the next five decades. It was a two-story wooden structure clad in redwood shingles by the north entrances to the campus. The building had 1,800 square feet and cost $4,393.59.

From the start the atmosphere at North Gate Hall was intimate and informal. The small band of eight students in Howard’s first class called their floating operation "the Ark" and Howard, "Father Noah." The intimacy arose partly because the Ark was a self-contained world. After their sophomore year, students were not required to take courses in other departments; the building often encompassed the remainder of their college career. The demanding nature of the program also bound the Ark’s population together. Howard claimed the course of study demanded "a cruel lot of time," for which "twenty-four hours a day are not enough." In response, he noted, the department became "a little community of good will, off by itself on the edge of the campus."

"There seems to be some sort of magnet that brings the students round at night and odd hours... ," he wrote in the University yearbook in 1927, "There’s a homelikeness in the old shack that makes for deep and lasting friendships, rouses high ideals, and strengthens friendships."

Like most students, the "arkites" let off steam through festivities and pranks. The first annual balls, called the "Ark Jinks," featured guests dressed up as animals, and John Galen and Mary Howard attired as Mr. and Mrs. Noah. At later balls, students wore elaborate costumes and built sets and props celebrating architectural themes. Occasionally they decorated the building – especially the bathrooms – with paintings. As their reputation for imaginative mischief grew, students devised other pranks, such as throwing bags filled with water out the windows at passersby and dunking irritating classmates in the huge tubs of water that were used to soak watercolor paper.

With increased enrollment, Howard requested $6,000 from the Regents for expansion. In 1908 the building acquired 3,400 feet of drafting space. The addition, designed by Howard and his first partner, engineer John Galloway, had an entrance on the south side where the courtyard is today. The drafting rooms ascended the hillside east of the original building and were lit form the north by a bank of windows. Inside, the industrial lamps with green shades hung from wires that crisscrossed below the exposed framework of the ceiling. The lamps could be moved along the wires to where they were needed. Students later recalled that those who arrived in the drafting rooms first would often gang up the lamps over their desks, causing a genial fracas when the latecomers tried to distribute the lights more equitably.

In 1912 the student body had grown to 181 and 8,500 square feet of space was added to North Gate Hall at a cost of $10,000. The addition provided a 30-foot by 70-foot exhibition hall that terminated the building on the east. An adjacent lecture hall for up to 200 people extended south. New drafting rooms were added to the north side. A wooden pergola, originally open to the court but later glassed in, sheltered students moving from the drafting rooms to the lecture and exhibition halls. This plan remained unchanged for the next 23 years.

The Bay Area Tradition

Most of John Galen Howard’s buildings on campus looked very different from North Gate Hall. Howard is best known for the large, stately buildings that dominate the Berkeley campus, including: Hearst Memorial Mining Building, the Greek Theatre, California Hall, Doe Memorial Library, and Le Conte Hall, among many others.

Today North Gate Hall is nearly all that remains on campus of the stand of brown-shingled buildings that once covered the north Berkeley hills. Most of the houses were built in the Arts and Crafts style, which developed first in England in reaction to industrialism. Advocates of the style extolled the simple life as expressed in the use of natural materials that harmonized with the landscape.

Architect Bruce Price wrote in one pamphlet put out by the Hillside Club, an organization committed to developing a homogeneous hillside aesthetic: "The California hills are brown, therefore, the house should be brown. Redwood is the natural wood of the country, therefore, it is natural to use it. A house should not stand out in a landscape, but should fit in with it. This is the first principle that should govern the design of every house."

Interiors for such houses were also of natural wood and opened easily to the outdoors. Exposed beams, large fireplaces, and casement windows were common, as were simple, craftsmanly furnishings. Ardent advocates of the style believed that this simple way of living would inspire people to cultivate beauty, character and culture.

In a 1906 Sunset magazine article, Herman Whitaker noted the result of such buildings, writing, "When the smoke of evening clings low on the hill, one sees hundreds of these dark shingled houses rising tier on tier up sunburned slopes to a crowning wood of eucalyptus. It causes wonder at the sense and good taste which brought a residential patchwork in such a pleasing harmony."

The movement to brown-shingled buildings in the hills began in the 1890’s when Bernard Maybeck designed a group of them on Highland Place, at the head of Ridge Road. The 1923 fire, which consumed 100 blocks and about 1,000 houses in the North Side district, forever changed its wood-shingled character. But even before the fire revealed the vulnerability of wooden structures, brick and stuccoed buildings had appeared in the area.

The Middle Years

In 1935, after Howard’s death, a new architecture library was designed by Walter Steilberg, who had graduated from the department in 1910 and later turned to structural engineering. Steilberg’s new library reflected both the continuing concern for building fireproof structures and the designer’s intense interest in concrete.

The library addition was far more innovative than the original building had been, and reflected the move toward new technology in the use of materials that modern architecture fostered. Steilberg designed concrete arches to span the main reading room and reinforced concrete beams to support a roof slab of pumice concrete, a relatively new material, used for its light weight and its acoustic and insulating properties. The exterior was clad in experimental concrete tiling, the forerunner of today’s concrete block.

The library was situated on the south side of the main building to create the fourth side of the courtyard, which acquired its spreading magnolia tree in this period. The open trellis of the 1912 addition was extended to the south to connect to the library.

Now anchored on the southwest corner by the concrete library, the Ark seemed more permanent. Doubtless Howard had looked forward to the time when a masonry building would replace his temporary wooden Ark; almost certainly he would have preferred one in a Classical style to match his masterful designs of other university buildings.

Changes to the building continued. Drafting stations in the form of wooden platforms were built along the inside wall of the main corridor to relieve crowding the studios. In 1939 the university had stairways and retaining walls constructed in the courtyard and the Architectural Association bought bricks, which the students laid as paving. Many of them scratched their initials in the bricks’ undersides, a gesture that later provided a kind of memorial for those who did not return from World War 11.

In 1964, the Department of Architecture, which had recently been incorporated into the College of Environmental Design, moved to the newly constructed Wurster Hall. In comparison with the Ark, the new building seemed outsized. Those who bridged the transition from the Ark to Wurster Hall later recalled that they particularly missed the daily contact with students and faculty members, which was customary in the smaller building. "North Gate was much more intimate," says Bijan Fouladi, who finished his degree in 1963. "Everybody knew everybody else. We used to spend nights in there."

The Department of Engineering inherited the Ark and the old nearby Drawing Building, which was slated for demolition. But an alliance of faculty, students, and townspeople – which eventually became the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association – prepared to sue the University for failing to prepare an environmental impact report on its plans. The threat of a suit brought a compromise and in 1976 the Drawing Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Several years later, the Neo-classical buildings that Howard designed for the central core of the campus, as well as the brown-shingled Ark and the old Drawing Building, were nominated and approved for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and as California State Landmarks.

The Journalism School

In July 1981 the Graduate School of Journalism moved into North Gate Hall. Formal Journalism instruction had begun at Berkeley in 1936, through the English Department, and an undergraduate major was established in 1940. A Master’s program was initiated in 1952 and a graduate professional school of journalism in 1968. But journalism never had a building to call its own.

"When I first arrived in 1969," recalls Edwin Bayley, the Graduate School’s first dean, "the school was housed in Sproul Hall. This was a terrible situation. We were right over Sproul Plaza, which was often filled with protesters. We frequently had to evacuate the building because it was filled with tear gas."

A committee made up of academics and newspaper editors had plucked Bayley from National Educational Television in New York to be dean. The committee recommended that the department focus on teaching practical skills – rather than media theory – to students who wanted to be journalists. Bayley wanted to go one step further; his priority as dean was to transform the rather modest department into one of the country’s best journalism schools. To that end, he solicited some of the country’s best journalists, including Bernard Taper of The New Yorker, Ben Bagdikian of the Washington Post, Andrew Stern of ABC, and James Spaulding of the Milwaukee Journal.

The department’s growing prestige, however, wasn’t reflected in its headquarters. In the 1970s, the School was moved to Evans Hall. Rioters didn’t disrupt classes at that building, but it was widely regarded as one of the least appealing buildings on campus. "In Evans Hall, we just felt like cogs on an assembly line," recalls Steven Evans, who spent his first two semesters in Evans. "I liked the name of the building of course. But we were thrown in a wildly disparate group of mathematicians and engineers, those sorts. We couldn’t get any school spirit going."

It took several years to convince Berkeley administrators that a professional journalism school deserved its own building on the very academic Berkeley campus. Once the Graduate School had proved itself, it took more time to find a suitable building. But when North Gate Hall was suggested in 1975, Bayley was determined to have it, for a number of reasons. As a freestanding building, it offered the independent identity toward which most professional school strive. And the large rooms that had housed design studios met the need for simulated newsrooms. Besides, the large brick-paved courtyard offered a pleasant open space for socializing, studying, and teaching.

The department’s request was approved in 1978. But it took three years to accomplish the transition, because nearly a dozen other departments were involved in a shift, which created conflicts and consternation across the entire campus.

The go-ahead finally came from the chancellor two days before commencement in 1981. It was also several months after a national accreditation team had called the young department "the best journalism school in the country," blighted only with inadequate housing.

It was by no means a perfect alternative, however. "It cost $75,000 just to make it livable," Bayley says. "The roof leaked all over. The patio didn’t drain properly. The newsrooms were filled with mildew and smelled horrible. There was no proper lighting."

In July, 1981, the Graduate School of Journalism relocated. Street people who shacked up in the building, often had to be kicked out; thieves stole books and artwork from faculty offices, and the mildew smell remained. But the school actually had its own home. "As soon as we moved in, we felt cohesion," recalls Evans. "It was quaint and intimate. And the newsroom, with all the wood and open space, felt like a good old-fashioned newsroom, not a sterile classroom."

Today, from the outside, the Ark looks much as it did in the old days. Life inside, however, has changed. The old ateliers have been converted into state-of-the-art computer workstations. The old work slots, in which architecture students slipped their drawings, are nearly plugged up; journalism students rush to get their articles and tapes in professors’ mailboxes instead. In 1993 an $800,000 renovation upgraded classrooms and the lecture hall. The television lab, which had remained at Dwinelle Hall during the initial move, was moved into a classroom at the eastern tip of the building in 1991. This studio and the radio studio were built in 1999 with gifts from Nan Tucker McEvoy and others. The studios house some of the most advanced broadcast equipment available and allow live broadcasts from North Gate to the world.

Students still gather in the courtyard, North Side coffeehouses and North Gate Hall’s brown-shingled hallways. But their talk is no longer of watercolors, being en charette, and the merits of the Beaux-Arts tradition. It is of interviewing techniques, computer crashes and the "real story" in a current event.

Life at the Graduate School of Journalism is busy, full of opportunity, and often pressured. Students on deadline use both the newsrooms and the television laboratory until the early morning hours. As in the old days, this seems conducive both to a strong sense of community that lasts years after the students leave, and to warm feelings about the old Ark itself.

"It’s such a small, intimate building," says Nancy Bronstein, who graduated in 1988. "I just felt we were all together there. We were away from campus, in our own school, as if we were in a ship together. And it had such a unique smell. It was a dusty, musty, dark, historic smell."

Recalls Dana Nichols, also a 1988 graduate, "North Gate always felt like comfortable old clothes. It was something we wrapped around ourselves.

Abridged by Jason Witmer


Learn about admission to the J‑School


Support the J‑School

Berkeley AMI

Digital media workshops & custom training

Media Services

Available at the J‑School


Latest News

UC Berkeley Summer Journalism minor program scores record enrollment

Recent Events

Carmen Aristegui: "Trump from the Mexican Perspective"