History of Holy Hill

Depiction of extent of 1923 Berkeley fire (courtesy BAHA)

Before the Graduate Theological Union began in 1966, the hills had an expansive history. Starting in the 1900s, patron to the University of California, Phoebe Hearst, began drafting her plans for the Heart University Architectural Plan, which would have built around the current GTU area. Due to funding issues, Hearst’s home, connected to a reception hall and Wheeler’s home were the only buildings completed. The homes were completed in 1911 and brought with them a new wave of architectural design to the area. Many new, up-and-coming architects moved into the area, and the Grisby home was built. In the early 1920s, a fire spread throughout north Berkeley and destroyed most of the homes on the hill.

What the area occupied by the GTU looked like prior to 1923

What the area occupied by the GTU looked like prior to 1923 (courtesy BAHA)

With most of the real estate up for grabs post-1923 fire, theological unions residing at the bottom of the hill quickly purchased land in a close proximity to one another. Over the next ten years, most of these churches would build their seminaries and create an alliance officially forming in the 1960s. The switch from residential property to institutionally-owned property brought along with it a new wave of architecture in the Berkeley hills area near campus. These buildings were styled in brick and often look like old European styled churches of the 1600s. They stood in stark contrast to the neoclassical Grecian theme spreading across UC Berkeley’s neighboring campus.

after the fire

What the area looks like now



  1. You copied the first two maps from the BAHA website without giving credit. Please insert appropriate credits into the caption.

    1. Our apologies! Credit has been given where credit is due.

  2. Thank you. You might also like to know that there are several glaring factual errors in your text. The Phoebe Apperson Hearst Architectural Plan for the University of California was meant for the campus, not for the top of this hill. It was conceived in the late 1890s, not after 1900, and Mrs. Hearst did not draft it, she paid for an international competition. The two Phoebe Hearst houses on this hill were completed by 1902, not in 1911, and the second map above (which I made) shows the houses that were already standing on the hill in 1911 (one of them dating from 1894, the others built in the first decade of the 20th century). “Many new, up-and-coming architects moved into the area”? Where is the source for this assertion? The only architect who built his home on this hill was John Galen Howard, who was neither new nor up-and-coming. The correct information can be found in my article on the Phoebe Apperson Hearst house, to which you link in the map caption: http://berkeleyheritage.com/eastbay_then-now/hearst-reed.html

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