Berkeley Landmarks :: Joseph W. Harris House, Part 4

Joseph W. Harris House

Part 4: Joe Harris at home

Daniella Thompson

Joe Harris on the open balcony, looking into the living room, 1937
(photo courtesy of Billie Jean Harris D’Anna)

What Joe Harris would be seeing today (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Joseph W. Harris (1897–1978) moved to Berkeley from Brooklyn, NY, in 1923 and opened his first Call Me Joe men’s clothing store that year. In the mid-1920s, Joe and his wife Pearl Rosenthal Harris (1901–1940) resided at 1850 Arch Street, within a stone’s throw of 2300 Le Conte Avenue. The neighborhood was conveniently located just a few blocks away from the store. By 1928, they had moved to 1339 Allston Way, in West Berkeley. In the early ’30s, the Harris address changed again, this time to a Mediterranean-style house at 921 Euclid Avenue. When the Harrises’ adopted daughter Billie Jean was born in 1931, Joe successfully petitioned to have a path named after her. Billie Jean Walk is situated not far from the former Harris residence, between Euclid and Hilldale Avenues.

In 1937, the Harrises moved into 2300 Le Conte Avenue. According to Billie Jean Harris D’Anna, her father bought and sold the house more than once. Mrs. D’Anna says that her father sold it for the first time following his 1951 divorce from his second wife, Frances Ann Goody (1913–1990). Mrs. D’Anna’s recollections are borne out by the city directory and by the files of realtor Ormsby Donogh. In the 1951 directory, Joe Harris’s only listed address was F.F. Porter Co., real estate, 383 15th Street, Oakland. On 6 June 1955, F.F. Porter Co. bought back 2300 Le Conte Ave. from Jay and Doris Graves. Joe Harris didn’t reoccupy the house right away; for a few years it was rented by Frances’ brother and his family. The photos below were taken during Harris’s second residence in the house.

Joe Harris at home in the 1960s (photo courtesy of Billie Jean Harris D’Anna)

Photographs indicate that Joe Harris never furnished or decorated his Streamline Modern house in matching style. The 1937 photograph at the top of the page (see closeup in Part 1) shows a man sitting in an ornately carved armchair. In these 1960s photographs, the style can best be characterized as eclectic, mixing the oriental with overstuffed comfort furniture. It’s not clear whether Harris had just taken delivery of the plastic-draped easy chairs and sofas, or whether they were permanently protected in this fashion. However, it is possible to ascertain that by that time, the balcony had been enclosed.

Joe Harris at home in the 1960s (photo courtesy of Billie Jean Harris D’Anna)

In 1969, Harris listed the property for sale with Mason-McDuffie at an asking price of $55,000. The remarks on the realtor’s card read, “Very unusual artistic house across the street from U.C. Excellent for someone connected with the University.” It seem that the house was no easy sell, for it wasn’t until 6 April 1971 that the title was transferred from F.F. Porter Co. to Michael G. (1914–1987) and Esther Preston, who made it their principle to buy unusual properties in good locations for bargain prices. The Harris house sold for $28,000, or half the original asking price. As of this writing in October 2004, Esther Preston is still the owner. Since 1971, the house has been a rental property. The most celebrated tenant was Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecotopia and Living Cheaply with Style. Joseph William Harris died in 1978, at the age of 81. His last residence is recorded as having been in Berkeley.

Part One: The Ground Floor

Part Two: The Stairwell

Part Three: The Second Floor

Part Five: Description of the House in 1936


The Joseph W. Harris House was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on 21 June 1976. It is listed in the California State Historic Resources Inventory.

See also: Call Me Joe/House of Harris store



Copyright © 2004–2019 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.