The California School for the Deaf and Blind was founded in a small facility in San Francisco in 1860, with the State appropriating $10,000 toward building a structure. 130 acres of land adjoining a tract belonging to the College of California (later named the University of California, Berkeley) were purchased in February 1867 for $12,100.
Under Dr. Warring Wilkinson’s leadership, on July 29, 1867 ground was broken for the new school using locally quarried sandstone. The entire structure was completely destroyed by fire in 1875. New construction began in 1877, and the second design of the institution followed the cottage or segregated system of detached structures in an informal English garden design. The plan was considered safer, more economical and allowed for indefinite expansion.
Respected throughout the country as an innovative environment for the teaching of the deaf and the blind, the school’s success is directly attributed to the energy and devotion of Warring Wilkinson, who served as superintendent for over four decades until his retirement in 1909. Dr. Wilkinson reported in 1909 that over 1,100 students had attended the Institution since it opened, and fifteen had become college graduates.
By 1921 a third building plan for the site was necessitated, with the state mandate to separate the two schools. This time in striking contrast to the existing Romanesque revival buildings, a new Spanish Colonial Revival vocabulary of architecture was developed and would continue through the 1940s. By the 1970s all of the original masonry buildings were gone. The lovely Mediterranean-style buildings which replaced them, and now occupy the site, are the finest representation of the development of the Spanish Colonial Revival tradition in California’s public institutions today.
With concerns of safety arising again in the late 60s and early 70s, costs of renovating older buildings, and worries over earthquake fault lines (later proving to be inactive), research eventually led to the schools’ move to a new site in Fremont in 1980.
In 1982 the University acquired 50 acres of the site and began extensive renovations to turn the complex into a new housing facility for 750 University students, with a spacious and convenient conference center. The complex is a registered city, state, and national landmark.
The complex was dedicated to Clark Kerr in November 1986. He became Berkeley’s first Chancellor in 1952 having won respect for his thoughtfulness during the Loyalty Oath controversy. As chancellor he was determined to reinstate an atmosphere of freedom so damaged in the wake of the dispute.
As University housing and conference facilities, the Clark Kerr Campus has hosted Al Gore, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the inaugural of Chancellor Robert Berdahl.