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Some radical changes in Berkeley add charm to a former university student’s memories

I cherish memories of my student days at UC Berkeley, an era when campus life flowed down Telegraph Avenue and into its colorful indie coffee houses. My husband, Paul, joined me recently for a weekend in Berkeley to revisit my past and to discover what’s new. I succeeded especially with the latter, thanks to BAMPFA (UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive), which opened in February. The tab: $440 for two nights, breakfasts included, at the Berkeley City Club; $350 for other meals and museum tickets; and $60 for local transportation. Airfare not included.

The bed

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With its charming blend of Gothic and Romanesque architecture, the interior of the 35-room Berkeley City Club [2315 Durant Ave.; (510) 848-7800, www.berkeleycityclub.com] resembles Hearst Castle. It’s no accident. Julia Morgan, California’s first licensed female architect, designed both. I admired the lobby’s grand staircase and vaulted ceilings, and it was a hoot to have breakfast in a baronial dining room worthy of “Citizen Kane.” The guest rooms, however, are small, prim and TV-free, the way I imagine they were when the building opened as a women’s club in 1930.

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The meal

How could we go to Berkeley and not dine at the foodie shrine Chez Panisse? We came close enough upstairs at the restaurant’s more moderately priced Chez Panisse Café [1517 Shattuck Ave.; (510) 548-5049, www.chezpanisse.com]. The farm-to-table cuisine and friendly service delighted us, as they did the next night at the lively, more relaxed Gather [2200 Oxford St.; (510) 809-0400, www.gatherrestaurant.com]. The standout dish was the juicy Five Dot Ranch burger with cheddar and aioli.

The find

Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architects of New York’s High Line and L.A.’s Broad Museum, transformed UC Berkeley’s 1930s printing plant into its dazzling new visual-arts center, BAMPFA [2155 Center St.; (510) 642-0808, www.bampfa.org. $12 general admission]. A full-size movie screen on the building’s brushed stainless-steel exterior shows previews of exhibits and films. Inside, overlooks and small, unexpected windows draw visitors from one gallery into another. We spent a few hours admiring the exhibits, then returned for an evening screening of a silent film by French filmmaker Jean Epstein. The drama — and our enjoyment— of the movie, “Le Double Amour,” was heightened by live piano accompaniment.

The lesson learned

A college friend who lives in Berkeley warned me that Telegraph Avenue had lost its charm. Sad, but true. The “Med” (Caffe Mediterraneum) is the only indie coffee house still standing, and I spotted more homeless people inside than students. I was glad to discover that the lively street ambience I remember exists elsewhere: It now spills west off of campus to Oxford Street and down to Shattuck Avenue. The area brims with coffee houses where students hover over board games (yes, old-fashioned board games). It’s also home to BAMPFA as well as trendy cafes and restaurants, including those we visited.

travel@latimes.com


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