The term Gill Tract refers to 104-acres of land in Berkeley and Albany, California that the regents of the University of California purchased from the family of the late Edward Gill in 1928. Since its acquisition by the University of California, the Gill Tract experienced iterations of development for industrial, residential, agricultural and educational use.
The University Village rests on 52.5 of the original 104 acres. A sixteen-acre portion was granted to the Federal government for a United States Department of Agriculture research campus. A nine-acre portion is the current site of Ocean View Elementary School and public baseball fields.
Urban gardening plots are available to University Village residents on 6.6 acres at the western edge of the Gill Tract. Ten acres of arable, undeveloped land are used for urban agriculture and agricultural experimentation and research; bound by Buchanan St. to the north, Village Creek to the south, Jackson St. to the west, and San Pablo Ave. to the east.
Four acres of trees and grasses known as Albany Meadows, formerly University Village residential buildings, serve as part of a wildlife corridor in the East Bay. The remaining six acres held facilities for agricultural experimentation and student residential buildings until their demolition in 2007. These two areas; bound by Village creek to the north, Codornices creek to the south, San Pablo Avenue to the east, and Jackson Street to the west, are included in a plan for commercial development by the University of California, Berkeley.
- 1 Pre-Colonial
- 2 Spanish Colonial
- 3 Post Mexican-American War
- 4 Sale to University of California
- 5 World War II government acquisition and development
- 6 Racial integration of public housing during World War II
- 7 Post World War II
- 8 Reacquisition by the university
- 9 Urban agriculture
- 10 Agricultural research
- 11 Ocean View Elementary School
- 12 University Village
- 13 Occupy the Farm
- 14 References
Post Mexican-American War
Sometime after the 1848 Mexican-American War, a person by the name of Captain B.D. Boswell assumed ownership of land that includes today's Gill Tract. This Captain Boswell then sold the piece of land to its namesake, Edward Gill, around 1890. Edward Gill, a horticulturalist, built a home on the land and established a large nursery, which he operated until his death in 1909. Gill's son continued to operate the nursery until he sold his father's land to the University.
Sale to University of California
On February 14, 1928, the regents of the University of California purchased the 104 acre Gill Tract for $450,000.
World War II government acquisition and development
In 1943 the Federal Government announced to local officials of its plan to requisition a portion of the Gill Tract and construct a wartime housing project. After the announcement of this plan, War Housing Project No. CAL 4479, an organized resistance emerged that included political and business leaders in Berkeley, Albany, and some of the regents of the University of California. City officials opposed the potential loss of tax-revenue to public housing. The University regents were opposed to the loss of 42 acres of the Gill Tract from their control. John Blanford, administrator of the National Public Housing Authority, railroaded this plan for development with the assurance that, under the Lanham Act, by two years after an end to the emergency of war, the land would return to its owners in the same condition that it was received.
Construction by the Federal Housing Authority of the Codornices Village began by October 1943. By August 1944 the Codornices Village made-up 1,896 residential units, of which 1,056 were located in Berkeley on 75 acres over 15 city blocks. The section of Codornice Village in Albany lay on 42 acres of the requisitioned Gill Tract. The initial unit rental charges with all furnishings and utilities included were $31.50 per month for a studio, $36 a month for a one bedroom, $42.50 a month for a two bedroom, and $47 for three bedrooms.
Racial integration of public housing during World War II
Throughout World War II the majority of civilian war workers in Codornices Village worked as shipbuilders at Mare Island, while another large portion of residents were Navy personnel who worked at the nearby Naval Landing Force Equipment Depot adjacent to the Albany Bulb.
John Melville, the first on-site manager of Codornices Village, stressed that no racial restrictions would apply to applicants for housing. Beginning in May 1944 with some of the initial residents, Codornices Village became home to a large portion of Black migratory workers from the South, and an equal portion of caucasian workers and Navy personnel. All of the social services in the village were racially integrated from the onset, a decade before the Civil Rights Movement. These services included child-care centers, an elementary school, and a church.
Post World War II
In the Spring of 1946 the Federal Housing Authority disassembled nine two-story fourteen-unit apartment buildings in Oregon and reassembled them in Albany on the Gill Tract near the intersections of Jackson and Buchanon Streets. The project was known as Albany Veterans Village at Gill Court, and became the home to veterans and their families from its opening on November 15, 1946 until June of 1959, when it was demolished due to health and maintenance concerns.
Additionally, the US Navy constructed a complex of fourteen apartment-buildings on the Gill Tract by March 1945. This one-hundred-unit development, known as the Kula Gulf Navy housing project, was home to Navy Veterans and combat personnel and their families.
Reacquisition by the university
On June 28, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed the McGregor Act, which allowed the Federal Housing Authority to relinquish its portion of Gill Tract to the University of California. On October 31, 1948, the Albany City Council transferred ownership of the nine buildings and furnishings that comprised the Albany Veterans Village back to the University of California.
Additionally, on April 15, 1956, the UC Regents purchased 40 buildings of the portion of the Codornices Village located on Gill Tract and 14 buildings that comprised the Kula Gulf Veterans Housing from the Federal Housing Authority for $44,000. One week after this purchase, the business manager for UC Berkeley, William W. Monham, recommended that the entirety of the married-student housing project be known as University Village. On April 30, 1956 the name change was approved by President Robert Sproul.
Beginning in 1969, plots for urban agriculture were available to residents of the University Village. Until 1975 the University would provide irrigation and an annual till free of charge. In 1979, a 12 x 20 foot plot cost $1 per year. By 1984 a plot cost $5 tilled, and $2 without a till. By 1990 and thereafter, the charge for a plot was $10 for the first one and $5 for each additional one. Hoses and water were always provided free of charge and a till cost $8 per plot.
Today, small plots for urban agriculture are available exclusively to University Village residents on 6.6 acres at the western edge of the Gill Tract.
Since 1944, 36 acres of the Gill Tract were used as an experiment station for Biological Pest Management; known as the Experiment Station for the Center for Biological Control in the College of Natural Resources. In 1998, experimental land for the Center for Biological Control was drastically limited in order to accommodate epigenetic research of non-GMO corn to patent genes for the genetic modification of organisms.
August 10, 2013 marked the beginning of a participatory research project between UC professor Miguel Altieri and forty participants from surrounding neighborhoods. The participants split into ten groups of four and each managed a small plot of land as part of a competition to see which group could grow the most pounds of food per square foot.
Currently, a community farm on the Northwest corner of the Gill Tract is open to the public to participate in agroecological urban farming research.
Ocean View Elementary School
Ocean View Elementary School is located on the former site of the Albany Veterans Village.
Occupy the Farm
Occupy the Farm is an ongoing social movement that started with the occupation of the Gill Tract in Albany, California, in protest of planned commercial development of public land and in support of preserving the land for the creation of an open center for urban agroecology and food sovereignty.
- "Agricultural Lands," Bancroft Library Archives, 364-B, Office of the President, 27 March 1950.
- Oakland Tribune, 16 September 1943, p. 31; Berkeley Daily Gazette, 18 August 1943 pp. 1, 3, 6.
- U.C. Berkeley Housing List, June 1955, Bancroft Archives, 364-B.
- Monahan to Clark Kerr, Chancellor, memo dated 13 April 1956, Bancroft Archives, 364-B, 1959.
- "Village Gardens Ready for Use," The Villager," U.C. Berkeley Housing, Village Office, Albany, California, April, 1984, p.1.
- "The Garden Patch," The Villager, April 1988, p.4.
- "Why This Farm?". Take Back the Tract. Retrieved 21 May 2012.