BERKELEY -- Repairs to the fire-damaged Chez Panisse restaurant could be finished by mid-June "if everything goes well," according to the builder in charge.
The new building will summon elements from a Japanese Shinto shrine and American Craftsman style, said Gene DeSmidt, of Oakland, who is overseeing the rebuild of the Shattuck Avenue restaurant with original designer Kip Mesirow.
Finishing construction, DeSmidt said, is subject to a number of factors, and he cautioned that projects "always cost more and take longer."
The world famous restaurant was damaged March 8 in an early morning blaze that started under the front porch. The fire destroyed the porch and an adjoining porchlike structure on top of it. It has been closed since then. Owner Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971.
"When we had our first meeting after the fire, Alice asked if we could rebuild in six weeks, and we said 'no'; eight weeks? 'no,' so she resigned herself to 12 to 13 weeks," DeSmidt said.
A note from Waters on the restaurant website strikes a somewhat more optimistic tone, saying she is confident the restaurant will reopen the first week of June.
"We are of course working as quickly as possible and may be able to open earlier; we will update as the rebuilding progresses," the note said.
DeSmidt said he is excited about the "Shintu-Craftsman" style of the new building.
"It will be like a temple at the top, and it'll be way more beautiful and interesting and just as charming," DeSmidt said. "We're having to interview all the old hippie woodworkers who did the original work, and that is taking some time. We're putting woodworking teams together."
DeSmidt declined to say how much the rebuild will cost, but noted that Waters has "extremely good insurance." He said he won't be adding any square footage to the original footprint of the building.
DeSmidt said his crews have removed all the burned wood from the building and salvaged for reuse much of the old-growth redwood used in the original.
He said reconstruction work probably won't start for another two weeks as he waits for permits from the city. For the next couple of days, the entire building will be sealed in a giant bag to remove asbestos that was mixed in with the old stucco on the exterior walls.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.