Rochdale Village

View of Rochdale rooftops
Figure 1: Rochdale Village in 2020


Rochdale was planned as an alternative to the expensive, high-rise “Units,” which were faltering in the 50s and 60s. According to an architecture magazine,

“Students were adamantly opposed to having a monolithic, elevatored building with a single entrance and security control. They specifically requested a residentially scaled, wood-shingled building with as great a variety of spaces as possible…”1)

The search for land that could accommodate such a project led them to consider a lot at Haste and Dwight, owned by UC, which had formerly been home to the McKinley Continuation School.2)

Before Rochdale: McKinley School

For decades, the land that is now Rochdale Village was home to the McKinley Continuation High School. Originally built to serve wealthy settlers in the small town, McKinley became a major public high school in the 20th century.

Chinese immigrants who settled in Berkeley in the early 1900s attend English classes there. Many young African-Americans who migrated to Berkeley from the South finished education at McKinley.3)

At the midcentury, UC Berkeley was aggressively using eminent domain powers to acquire lots in the south campus area for future planned expansion. UC bought the land, and McKinley students were forced to relocate.

Former Berkeley grad student Frank Bardacke characterized this as a displacement tactic. “One of the first things the university did was buy up the land that McKinley high school was on and force the city school district to move this continuation high school down to 'the Black area' to get the working class kids and the young Blacks off the avenue.”4)

"A Nominal Fee"

To finance the Rochdale build, the BSC requested a loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which was only possible because BSC co-opers led by Harry Kingman had lobbied Congress to make them eligible for these loans.5)

With the loan approved, the co-op could begin working with UC to negotiate a lease on the Haste-Dwight lot. The university had previously promised the lot for a “nominal fee,” though it was not quite as small as the BSC expected!

Despite the Chancellor's support of the project, the university treasurer demanded one of the BSC's most valuable properties in exchange for leasing the land. BSC General Manager Dick Palmer said:

“The U.C. treasurer took the position that, sure, they would rent us the apartment site for a dollar a year; we would have to give them Cloyne Court for free for that.”6)

The Cloyne Court land was also on the university's radar for eminent domain takeover. Based on their expansion south of campus, they likely believed they could force it from the BSC's hands if needed. However, the creation of People's Park in 1969 on an empty university-owned lot likely called into question their ability to continue in such a manner.

After some negotiations, U.C. Finance Committee and the BSC reached a compromise: UC would buy out the BSC's mortgage on Cloyne for $140,000. Whenever the BSC eventually surrendered the property outright to UC (which they expected around 1980), they would pay the BSC an additional $320,000 - totaling its market value.7)

Despite some contractors balking over the political conflicts occurring so close by, construction began in 1970.


Cut view of Rochdale apartments
Figure 2: A cut view of Rochdale apartments, as shown in Progressive Architecture magazine.

Anyone who has lived at Rochdale may appreciate its large bedrooms! This was by design:

“To the architects' surprise the students did not favor the usual arrangements of relatively small bedrooms and a large common room. Instead, they saw the bedrooms as combination sitting rooms…”8)

Rochdale originally had a common kitchen and dining room, where communal meals were shared a few times a week!9)

A crowd waits for food from the grill in the courtyard.
Figure 3: A community BBQ at Rochdale in the 70s.

Save Rochdale! Campaign

In 2012, the BSC's lease with UC Berkeley expired. Members doubted the prospects of renewing the lease on favorable terms, so they organized a campaign to Save Rochdale, or “Save the Roach!”

Members signed petitions, filmed videos, wore t-shirts around campus, and organized a local, vital campaign within the apartments to keep Rochdale under member control.10)

Screenshot from a Save Rochdale video
Figure 4: Rochdale organizers say “Thank you” to petition signers!

Co-opers Alex Ghenis and David Velasquez wrote in the Daily Cal:

Rochdale is the best option for students with disabilities. For students on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) who require a roll-in shower, Rochdale and neighboring (but more costly) Fenwick Weavers Village present the only realistic housing options near campus … Furthermore, a vibrant community has formed at Rochdale that fosters activism and awareness. For example, approximately half of Latino student advocacy group Hermanos Unidos' leadership lives at Rochdale.11)

The campaign attracted the support of groups such as Hermanas/Hermanos Unidos and Queer-Straight Alliance. Members collected thousands of signatures through an online petition.

Members held strategy brunches, and workshift was offered for some tasks related to the campaign. People living at Rochdale were all invited to schedule one-on-one meetings with UC officials.

As a result of this organizing, the BSC won a 10-year lease extension!

Expired Lease

photo of band playing outside Rochdale with banners
Figure 5: A “Save Rochdale” block party and concert in spring 2022

As of 2022, the 10-year extension has expired.

A BSC committee is negotiating with UC Berkeley Capital Strategies for the future of Rochdale. UC Berkeley demands that the BSC pay for and immediately perform seismic retrofits on the buildings. The Interim Executive Director announced this is will be an expensive, multi-year project.12)

Sally Woodbridge, "Berkeley Bravado," in Progressive Architecture, August 1975, Vol.56 (8), p. 48-50.
"Regents to Vote on Apartment Plan," Nov. 18, 1969, in The Daily Californian
“A building that's gone but still remembered,” 26 March 1981, in The Berkeley Gazette
transcribed from "People's Park" (video), by SF Newsreel, in Prelinger Archives.
Guy H. Lillian, III, Cheap Place to Live, in The Green Book, p. 98
Sally Woodbridge, "Berkeley Bravado," in Progressive Architecture, August 1975, Vol.56 (8), p. 51.
Sarah Brady (and Alfred Twu), " Rochdale Village Co-op Apartments, Berkeley," January 30, 2012, It's a Coop
Alex Ghenis and David Velasquez (2009), "Rochdale: More than a Lease Issue," The Daily Californian