Berkeley Shellmound Site Listed as One of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places

In a extraordinary turn of events, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced today that they have placed the West Berkeley Shellmound and Village Site on their 2020 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

“We are incredibly honored and grateful to receive this recognition for the sacred site we have been fighting so hard to preserve,” Corrina Gould of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan said. “Not only does it validate the historic significance of this site to the Ohlone people, but is also establishes one of our sites in its rightful place as a significant and essential part of the history of this region and the entire nation.”

Indigenous women calling for preservation of the West Berkeley Shellmound (photo: C. McLeod)

“In many ways, the West Berkeley Shellmound is a cautionary tale that teaches the pain a people can experience when they are confronted with the loss of connection to their history, and in particular, their sacred sites,” Katherine Malone-France, Chief Preservation Officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation stated at Thursday’s press conference. “Halting the further destruction and desecration of the Shellmound and acknowledging this site as a sacred resource of the Ohlone people demonstrates that preservation can be a powerful force for reconciliation and justice.”

The National Trust has released an annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places since 1988, focusing attention on threatened one-of-a-kind treasures to galvanize the public to help save them. According to the National Trust, of the 300 sites they have listed to date, 95 percent have ultimately been preserved.

Help us preserve the West Berkeley Shellmound site

You can help the Confederated Villages of Lisjan and the Coalition to Save the West Berkeley Shellmound to take legal action to preserve the West Berkeley Shellmound and Village site by donating to the Shellmound Defense Fund today.

You can also help by signing up on our Take Action page as a "friend of the Shellmound" and offering your talents to the movement as a volunteer.

What’s the current status of efforts to preserve the Shellmound site?

The threat: Rendering of proposed retail and residential project at the Shellmound site

Property owners Ruegg & Ellsworth and the Spenger Family are continuing to seek permits to build a 6-story mixed retail and residential project at the West Berkeley Shellmound and Village site. However, their development efforts have faced major setbacks as a result of community organizing and legal action by the Confederated Villages of Lisjan and the City of Berkeley.

Most recently, the property owners sued the City of Berkeley for denying the approval of a fast-tracked development permit for their project at the Shellmound site. In October of 2019, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the City of Berkeley (and the Confederated Villages of Lisjan who joined the lawsuit on the City’s behalf), asserting that the City’s decision to deny the permit was correct because the Shellmound constitutes a historic structure and a designated historic landmark, among other reasons.

Unfortunately, the Shellmound property owners have doubled down again, filing briefs to appeal the 2019 decision. A ruling in the case is expected in June of 2021. That means further legal expenses will be required to achieve the preservation of the site.

Currently, the Confederated Villages of Lisjan is tens of thousands of dollars in debt from attorney fees incurred by defending the Shellmound. Please help us achieve the preservation of the Shellmound and prepare for the next round of legal action by donating today to the Shellmound Legal Defense Fund!

Key Facts about the West Berkeley Shellmound from the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The West Berkley Shellmound and Village Site was the first Ohlone village on the shores of San Francisco Bay, founded 5,700 years ago. The last remaining unbuilt portion of the village (1900 Fourth St.) was landmarked by the City of Berkeley 20 years ago but is today threatened by a 5-story retail and apartment complex that would excavate 10-feet into the earth. Local Lisjan Ohlone leader Corrina Gould has led a four-year effort to protect the historic site and create an inspiring park that would daylight Strawberry Creek and build a memorial cultural center.

  • This site— one of the most important and earliest known Ohlone settlements on the shores of San Francisco Bay, with a village dating back 5,700 years—served as a burial and ceremonial ground, as well as a lookout and communications site, with the repository of shells, ritual objects, and artifacts forming a massive mound.
  • When Spanish missions began enslaving Ohlone people, many remaining villagers fled. Shell material was later removed by Gold Rush settlers to fertilize farms and line streets.
  • The site was mapped in 1907, and UC Berkeley archaeologists removed 94 human burials and 3,400 artifacts before the shellmound was leveled in the 1950s.
  • Today, the site is still an active place of Ohlone prayer and ceremony, and burials remain under the surface throughout the area—currently a paved parking lot. Although plans to build a large condo project on the site are now on hold, the privately owned site’s future is uncertain.
  • Advocates would like the site to be repurposed and landscaped to better serve the ceremonial purposes of the Ohlone and to return the property to a more natural state, with native plants and trees.

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