Berkeley LGBTQ center must move after building sold

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday July 20, 2022
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The building that houses the Pacific Center for Human Growth in Berkeley has been sold, and the LGBTQ community center will need to find a new space. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
The building that houses the Pacific Center for Human Growth in Berkeley has been sold, and the LGBTQ community center will need to find a new space. Photo: Courtesy Facebook

After 50 years in the same Berkeley location, Pacific Center for Human Growth — the oldest LGBTQ mental health and community center in the Bay Area and the third oldest in the country — must move after the building was sold. Yet officials there are not sure when that's going to happen.

Housed in a light-colored shingled Edwardian two-story house at 2712 Telegraph Avenue, the center offers therapy, peer-to-peer support groups, community outreach services, and facilitated workshops for the East Bay's LGBTQ and queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities. In the 2017-2018 year, the center offered direct services to more than 1,220 clients, according to its 2019 annual report.

For Executive Director Lasara Firefox Allen, a nonbinary pansexual who started in the position on May 16, the news that the center would need to leave its offices came rather unexpectedly and only about a month after they'd been hired. It certainly made getting settled more challenging, they said.

"Things are definitely in flux," Allen, 51, said in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

The building sold June 15 for $1.8 million, according to PMZ Real Estate records. While realty advertisements praised the old house as being an "architecturally significant" building, it's going to be torn down, along with another similar structure on the same lot, to make way for a proposed five-story, mixed-use building containing 35 apartments.

According to planning documents on file with the city, the developers are taking advantage of the state's density bonus law to increase the number of units from 26 to 35. Eleven percent of the units would be designated for very low-income households, according to the documents.

While Allen has spoken with the developers, Panoramic Interests, a couple of times, there is no — as of yet — timeline for the project. The executive director is hopeful the Pacific Center won't have to move until next year, after it's observed its 50th anniversary in August, and completed a fall capital campaign.

"I am really hopeful the development company is going to be an ally to us," Allen said, "and I acknowledge that doesn't always work out that way. It's refreshing for everyone to start from a collaborative frame, and we're doing our part to make sure that collaborative element thrives."

A call placed to Panoramic Interests was not immediately returned.

This isn't the first time, however, the center has faced having to relocate. As the B.A.R. reported back in 2010, the Pacific Center was threatened with having to move that year after its owner, Bernard Spiro, announced he was going to put it and its twin structure up for sale for $1.7 million. A downturn in the real estate market, however, prompted Spiro to withdraw the buildings from the market. This time, Spiro was able to make the sale.

A number listed on city planning documents for Spiro was answered by Tamara Spokane, his real estate agent. She told the B.A.R. that Spiro, who is 91 years old, determined it was time for him to sell the property.

"He never occupied it," Spokane said. "He bought it in 1977 and provided a space for the Pacific Center."

She added that Spiro has not physically managed the property for some time.

Former Pacific Center executive director Leslie Ewing, a lesbian who led the organization from 2008 to 2019, is watching the proceedings with concern. She pointed out that the center itself is not the building, but the services it provides to the community, and said that she has every confidence the center will "come out stronger" for the experience.

Nonetheless, "I don't know how this is going to end," she said. "I don't think anyone does."

In the meantime, Allen is looking at properties and is intent upon staying in Berkeley. A survey of Pacific Center stakeholders showed that folks want the center to be accessible, both in facilities and in location, they said. Locations near BART and bus service would be ideal.

Allen is hopeful for help from the City of Berkeley. The center counts allies among City Council members and the mayor of Berkeley, Jesse Arreguín, Allen said, and they have "been incredibly supportive of Pacific Center."

Calls placed to the mayor's office and a city spokesperson for comment were not immediately returned July 20 for this article.

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