This historic Berkeley school could be overhauled as a tech billionaire's fantasy home
A former Berkeley Hills school and designated city landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places faces a new fate after the recent approval of the city’s zoning board. If all goes according to plan, it will be transformed into the personal dream home of a tech billionaire.
Built in 1925, 1581 Le Roy Avenue ceased its operations as a K-8 school in 2017. Berkeleyside reports the structure was built over the land where several homes were razed in the 1923 Berkeley fires. Decades later, the site was deemed unsafe for school use and consequently left empty, partially because of the cost of bringing it back up to code, according to SF Curbed.
Now, the 50,000 square foot community gathering space — which also appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 war drama, “The Master,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman — has been purchased by Samuli Seppälä, Berkeleyside reports. He’s the owner of the Finnish online marketplace Verkkokauppa. The popular online retailer sells electronics, home goods, and private label products.
In a plan submitted to the Berkeley Zoning Board, Seppälä said he aims to renovate the school into a “single-family residence and accessory dwelling unit,” with eight classrooms being converted into non-commercial art studios. Luxurious proposed installations include a swimming pool, hot tub within a new roof deck and elevator penthouse above the second story.
While some worry about continued public access to the property, particularly a well-used pedestrian path that could serve as an emergency evacuation route in the event of a natural disaster, others applauded Seppälä’s improvements of the historic space in Berkeleyside’s latest report on the status of the home. The Berkeley City Council still must approve plans for the landmark building before renovations can go ahead.
1581 Le Roy Avenue was reportedly valued at $6.87 million at the time it was purchased.
Amanda Bartlett is an SFGATE digital reporter. Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @byabartlett