Mary Breunig, “Mary B” to many of those who worked with her, was passionate about the preservation of Julia Morgan’s “Little Castle”, the Berkeley City Club, a building she learned to love shortly after her retirement from the University of California’s College of Engineering. As a member of the Berkeley City Club and of the Berkeley City Club Conservancy (then known as the Landmark Heritage Foundation), Mary worked tirelessly to preserve and restore the building.
Mary was an effective fund‐raiser, administrator, and project manager who fully understood the scope of building preservation and who meticulously followed the Standards for the Treatment of Historic Buildings.
By identifying and partnering with expert craftsmen Mary ensured that the maintenance and restoration of the City Club met these standards, whether it involved metalsmithing, stuccoing, tiling, the repair of historic light fixtures, furniture repair, or the care of the Club’s pianos.
Mary was tireless in seeking out new donors and grant prospects and she spearheaded an astonishing number of major projects. She obtained a grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment, raised funds from Club members and loyal donors, and led the Conservancy in restoring the entire front façade of the club, repairing leaded glass windows, relining the Club’s water pipes, and replacing a boiler.
One enormous undertaking, the elevator project, encapsulates Mary’s extraordinary skills as both a fundraiser and a project manager. Although Julia Morgan’s plans for the Berkeley City Club specified two elevators, shortage of funds during construction in 1930 meant that only one was installed. By 2000 the original elevator had reliability problems. Spare parts were no longer being made and repairs were done with salvaged components. Mary raised funds to add a second elevator and to refurbish the failing one.
Mary faced a challenge in finding a company willing to perform the work, but that was as nothing compared to the necessity of meeting current code requirements. These requirements involved not just the elevator, but upgrading the fire alarm system, fireproofing the elevator tower windows, adapting the electrical system ‐ and making sure that these conformed to historic rehabilitation guidelines.
Mary’s charm and persuasiveness won over all who helped with (or were needed to approve) the elevator project.
Her brilliance, passion, drive, integrity, intelligence and good nature inspired many of us, whether Berkeley City Club members, employees, docents or others who love great architecture and seek to preserve it. She encouraged all that was best in us and challenged us to contribute whatever skills we had.
Mary herself spoke of her enthusiasm for the Berkeley City Club, and for all the pleasures of retirement in the UC Berkeley College of Engineering Alumni Society newsletter of Tuesday, March 28, 2006:
Having a long “to do” list, it was easy to decide to retire just 17 years after arriving as an employee on the Berkeley campus. Now, five years after retiring, my “to do” list is even longer. Where has the time gone? I review the calendar I rely on so heavily and realize that friends, chores, meetings, exercise appointments, travel adventures and family celebrations make up my retirement routine. Also, much of my time is spent at the Berkeley City Club. Swimming at their beautiful indoor pool for the last 20 years, I fell in love with this building by Julia Morgan, California’s first licensed woman architect. Little by little I began to volunteer, working to promote Julia Morgan’s legacy and preserve this very special Berkeley landmark. Now I spend more than 20 hours per week there volunteering for the Landmark Heritage Foundation… I believe the “little castle” holds me captive! There are many other women and men who contribute time as docents, writers, exhibit creators, project managers and fund raisers. Even when I’m not “working,” I find myself at the Club eating in their restaurant or attending plays, lectures, book club meetings, musical performances, and teas – what a special place.
At home in one of Berkeley’s early 1900s homes built when the flatlands were small farms, I enjoy… the usual pastimes – reading, sewing, working on the house, and gardening. Our three dogs take me walking early each morning only allowing a break in the routine when it rains! Sometimes I prefer to curl up for a few hours with a good book. It’s good to take a break from Berkeley now and then, so my husband and I have a second home in Cedarville (northeast California) that is a great escape. We love the high desert and the Warner Mountains that are at our front and back doors in Surprise Valley. And what is retirement without travel? We’ve been to Bolivia, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Italy and last fall enjoyed a two‐month car trip across Canada and back through the southern route of the U.S. No new destination is on our list, but we are known for last minute travel plans. Retirement is great… I am thankful for good health and wonderful family and friends. If you are looking for an interesting outing, try a tour of the Berkeley City Club…I’ll be happy to be your guide!
Mary was one of a kind and we will miss her.
Donations made to the Berkeley City Club Conservancy in memory of Mary Breunig will further the preservation projects she championed.