Land Use at the Gill Tract
an exploration through satellite imagery
Although the Experiment Station for Biological Control was not established until 1944, agricultural experiments were conducted early on at the Gill Tract as evidenced in this satellite image from 1939. Projects were likely in collaboration with the USDA. It is unclear what the bright white patch south of today's Village Creek on the image indicates, but the high reflectance likley means this patch of land was undeveloped and barren.
No satellite imagery was found between 1939 - 1990 but many new land uses popped up throughout this period. In the 1960s, the City of Albany acquired 3 acres of the Gill Tract to build the Marin - Buchanan Street Extension (top left / northeast corner of image). Before its conversion, this area was utilized for orchard research and regarded as one of the most fertile areas of the Gill Tract. Dr. Ray F. Smith, renowned entomologist and faculty on the Subcommittee on Agricultural Land & Facilities at UC Berkeley, wrote in a memo to S.S. Elberg on February 25, 1960 protesting the acquisition:
"The Gill Tract is an essential part of the present teaching and research program of the College of Agriculture at Berkeley. The loss or impairment of this facility would seriously hamper the agricultural activites now centered on the Berkeley campus." and "...To maintain a reasonable level of research activity, the number and size of the areas should not be reduced further. At present, we have less than 20 acres of open plot land as compared to over 42 acres prior to 1943."1
Wartime housing was built on the Gill Tract during WWII and later reacquired by UC Berkeley for student housing (the portions adjacent to the baseball fields to the south in the image). Numerous greenhouses and agricultural research laboratories were constructed just south of the vegetated cooridor (in the middle of the image).2
A 1963 research study of Monterey Pines led to the creation of a densely forested portion of the northeastern portion of the Gill Tract.3 Many Albany residents regarded this as an iconic image of Albany as seen driving down Marin Avenue.
In 1998, the University of California Berkeley sponsored a creek enhancement project to daylight a 900-foot stretch of Marin Creek that was culverted underground along Marin Avenue and through University Village. This led to the creation of a 0.77 acre riparian corridor and acquatic habitat known as Village Creek. The goals of the project were to provide flood storage for a 100-year storm event, enhance aquatic habitat and recreate the natural stream dynamics.4 Today there exists a rich wildlife community along this corridor with frequent spottings of deer, turkeys, crows and butterflies.5
By 1999, the Center for Biological Control at the Gill Tract ceased operations.
In 2002, the University attempted to replace 7 acres of the Gill Tract with two little league baseball fields and a community center but strong opposition by the local community blocked the development plans.6
By 2008, the University concluded that the Monterey Pines planted in the 1960s had to be removed due to pitch canker, a disease that infected many of the trees making them suceptible to falling down and a public safety concern. The majority of the Monterey Pines were removed.7 Around the same time, efforts to demolish the old laboratory buildings and Wartime-era housing began.
Today, only two buildings that were part of the original laboratories for the Experiment Station for Biological Controls remain. The portion of land previously used by Monterey Pine experiments now house the UC Gill Tract Community Farm.
Current development pressures exists to transform the majority of current open space south of Village Creek (identifiable by the forested portion near the center of the photo) into a Sprout's Farmers Market grocery store, retail development and Belmont Village Senior Living facility. Agreements specify the open space north of Village Creek to remain in agricultural cultivation until at least 2022.8,9
Findings are drawn from: McKnight, Katie M. "ANALYZING CURRENT OPERATIONS AND FUTURE POTENTIAL OF THE UC GILL TRACT COMMUNITY FARM." Professional Report. UC Berkeley, November 8 2015. Draft.
Images: acquired from UC Berkeley's Earth Sciences and Map Library (1939) and Google Earth Pro (1990, 2007, 2009, 2015).
1 Bancroft Library Archives, Marin-Buchanan Extension on Gill Tract, Memo to S. S. Elberg from Ray F. Smith "Proposed Connection between Buchanan Street and Marin Avenue in Albany", B.F. # 110 - 80, 1961. CU-149, Box 14, Folder 9.
2 LSA Associates Inc. Report, Experiment Station Research and History - Gill Tract, Judith Marvin and Randy Roza and Andrew Pulcheon, compilers (Richmond: LSA Associates Inc., 2003).
3 King, J. (2008, January 23). Campus to remove diseased Monterey pines from Gill Tract in Albany. Berkeleyan. Retrieved from
4 Asher, M., & Atapattu, K. (2005). Post Project Appraisal of Village Creek Restoration, Albany, CA. eScholarship: Water Resources Collections and Archives UC Berkeley. Retrieved from
5 McKnight, Katie M. "ANALYZING CURRENT OPERATIONS AND FUTURE POTENTIAL OF THE UC GILL TRACT COMMUNITY FARM." Professional Report. UC Berkeley, November 8 2015. Draft.
6 Artz, M. (2002, October 3). UC Berkeley wants housing on seven acres of farm land. Berkeley Daily Planet. Retrieved from
7 King, J. "Campus to remove diseased Monterey pines from Gill Tract in Albany", ibid.
8 Occupy the Farm Film, Directed by Todd Darling. Berkeley: UA Berkeley 7, 2014.
9 Bidad, H., Broder, H., & Quinn, C. (2014). Spring 2014, Senate Bill No. 84: A Bill in Support of Preventing Development of the Gill Tract Farm. Berkeley: Associated Students of the University of California.