The mansion sits atop a hill at 70 Rincon Road, Kensington.
It's a Mediterranean-style manor built at the turn of the century and surrounded by exquisite gardens.
The mansion's location affords impressive views of San Francisco Bay and has been home to five presidents of the University of California system.
But for all its grandeur, the Blake Estate has an uncertain future as it's owner, UC Berkeley, decides what to do with the aging mansion.
The home is currently unoccupied because much of the building is in disrepair and contractors have estimated a $10 million price tag to bring it up to standard
The last occupant, former UC President Robert Dynes, moved out last June when he left the university system. Current president Mark Yudof lives in another large home rented by UC.
University presidents and campus chancellors get free housing as part of their job but the posh residences are not for their private use only.
The homes are used for a variety of public functions including fundraisers, receptions for dignitaries and awards ceremonies, said UC Office of the President spokesman Paul Schwartz, UC Office of the President spokesman.
"It's really a business building that has a residence as part of it," he said
The home contains 13,239 square feet with 10 bathrooms and spacious public rooms. The presidents and their families occupied part of the residence that included three
The ties between the estate and the university go back to 1868, when Anson Gale Stiles, trustee of the College of California (predecessor to the University of California) purchased acreage on Piedmont Avenue, in Berkeley which he gave to his daughter Harriet.
After her marriage to Charles Blake, the couple moved to the Piedmont property. In time, her two sons, Anson and Edwin, married and built additional homes there.
In 1922, the entire Blake family had to relocate when UC purchased the Piedmont Avenue land to build Memorial Stadium. At hand were 60 acres of land in Kensington, also owned by Harriet Blake, who divided the land between her four children. Anson and Edwin built homes there.
As the oldest, Anson Blake, and his wife Anita, had first choice on where to locate their home within the property.The Blakes turned to architect Walter Bliss, favoring his Mediterranean style of architecture.
An extensive garden was a very important part of the plan because Anita Blake liked to garden and plant, and her sister, Mabel Symmes, had graduated from UC in landscape architecture.
Anita Blake was an ardent supporter of botanical organizations. With her sister, she planted bands of trees as windbreaks and other shrubs to form a complete canopy over their 10.5 acres. Early on, she opened the grounds to students of the landscape architecture department which maintains the gardens today.
The Blakes and Symmes, resided in Blake House for more than.30 years Though they never had children of their own, the house was busy.
"The Blakes used to have garden parties and they had tea every day. Friends and family members would often visit," said Lupe Jimenez manager of the house since 2001.
In 1957, the Blakes deeded the property to UC Berkeley, stipulating that all three live out their lives on the estate and that the gardens remain as teaching resources for the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design
By 1962, all three had died and the university considered how best to use their legacy.
Like many single-owner, older homes, the house was in a sorry state. Due to the property's geology, the foundation had shifted and deteriorated causing sloping floors and cracked walls. "The house was very dilapidated, in horrible shape, with no heating and a leaking roof," Jimenez said.
In 1967, the Regents selected Blake House as the official residence of the President of the University of California. Funds were allocated and architects Ron and Myra Brocchini were enlisted to transform the stately, but worse-for-wear home into a residence suited to the public and private life of a university president.
At a cost of $60,000 the lower floors on the western side were renovated and a gallery added. The garage was also enlarged, a carport was built, and a conference room was expanded.
President Charles Hitch was the first to make Blake House his home and since 1969, the estate has been home to five additional presidents.
Blake House is no longer fit for occupation, and the next part of its story cannot be determined until several site problems are addressed.
On a recent walk-through Jimenez pointed out bubbled and cracked plaster, water stains and sloping floors. Severe water damage has occurred in the study, lanai and dining room and there is dry rot in the walls. In the basement, the cracks are larger, temporarily filled with epoxy.
A study in 2002 estimated needed repairs at $7 million. Repairs were not carried out and conditions have worsened since then.
"There are some inherent issues with using this structure as a personal residence, one of which is the fact that it's in a public garden," Schwartz said adding that garden visitors have occasionally wandered into the mansion.
The separation of public and private spaces within the home has never been resolved, Schwartz said.
"When you go upstairs, even though there are bedrooms, it's not really a (separate) residence as there's no living room or kitchen." "There are a number of hurtles that would have to be overcome, some of which I don't know if they're surmountable," he added.
The latest estimates put the cost of renovation at $10 million and a full year would be needed to complete the work.
When the Blakes deeded the property to UC Berkeley in 1957, they stipulated that it could not be sold for 20 years. It's now up to Berkeley campus officials to determine the next chapter in the building's history.
"It's the campus' property and they need to be the ones to tell us what they think makes the most sense for future uses for this place," Schwartz said.
"It's one thing to see on paper — university-provided housing, 13,000-square-feet, million dollar view," he said. "And then you get here and the reality is very different," he added.