The hilltop campus of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary has been sold to Zaytuna College, a Muslim undergraduate institution.
The sale, which involves about 10.4 acres, was announced Friday by California Lutheran University, which took over Pacific Lutheran in 2014 in what has been variously described as a merger or a friendly acquisition. Pacific Lutheran had occupied the sprawling hilltop property at the top of Marin Avenue since it was founded in 1952. It relocated to downtown Berkeley this year, at 2000 Center St., Suite 200.
Zaytuna College, founded about a decade ago, is currently located at 2401 Le Conte Ave. in the "Holy Hill" neighborhood just north of the UC Berkeley campus.
The purchase will allow Zaytuna, currently the only Muslim liberal arts college in the United States, to expand as it develops a master's program and seeks to join the Graduate Theological Union, according to a joint news release Friday from California Lutheran and Zaytuna.
"We are delighted that the property is going to another nonprofit, faith-based educational institution," Cal Lutheran President Chris Kimball said in the news release. "We are also pleased that Zaytuna is committed to preserving the campus and its buildings as neighbors had wanted."
Pacific Lutheran's announcement last year that it would move out raised fears among neighbors that the property would be sought by developers, possibly for a residential subdivision. A neighborhood group, Top of Marin Stewardship, formed, and in March sought landmark protection for parts of the property and some of its buildings, including two historic houses — the Dobbins House, now Sawyer Hall, and the Nash House, now Founders Hall; the Chapel of the Cross; the gardens surrounding the Dobbins House; and the decorative Spanish tiles with scenes from Don Quixote de la Mancha on outbuildings of the Nash House.
Some of the fears appeared to have been assuaged, for now.
"I'd describe the moods of the neighbors as elated," Mardi Sicular-Mertens, vision chairwoman of Top of Marin Stewardship, said in a telephone interview Friday. "I got many emails saying, 'This is exactly what we were hoping for.'"
A remaining concern is access to the property, which neighborhood residents long enjoyed until Cal Lutheran restricted it for several weeks this year. Initial interactions with representatives of Zaytuna have raised optimism among the neighbors, she said.
"We feel like we reached out with a positive spirit, and we seem to have gotten a friendly and positive response," Sicular-Mertens said.
Zaytuna official Amna Mirza, in an email Friday, said, "Keeping in mind that the campus will be private property, we intend to work with our neighbors and be accessible to our surrounding community."
She added, "We are working with Cal Lutheran to safely transfer any religious artifacts, displays and property."
Zaytuna President Hamza Yusuf, commenting about the sale in the news release, said, "We are humbled and honored by this beautiful display of interreligious cooperation."
"The Lutheran community built and maintained this lovely campus, and has seen fit to entrust us with its next chapter, and we intend not to disappoint them," Yusuf said. "We will honor the intentions of its founders, whose expressions of love and excellence in service of the sacred remain manifest across the campus.
"We hope for a continued cooperation with all the great schools on Holy Hill, with special affection for our Lutheran brothers and sisters after this sincere and heartfelt demonstration of trust and solidarity."