Berkeley Landmarks :: Elizabeth M. Kenney Cottage

Elizabeth M. Kenney Cottage

Daniella Thompson

Update: The Kenney Cottage was dismantled and put in storage in October 2018.

Kenney Cottage on the move down Addison St. in 1906 (photo courtesy of the Berkeley Firefighters Association provided by Richard Schwartz)

The Kenney-Meinheit Cottage, a prefabricated panel house built in 1887 and whose design was patented by William R. Elford in 1885, is one of the oldest existing examples of this type of prefab construction in America, according to Howard Decker, Chief Curator of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Kenney Cottage is thought to have been designed by William Henry Wrigley (c. 1824–1882), a Massachusetts-born carpenter who lived in Berkeley in 1878 and ’79 and was one of the signatories to the memorial in favor of the incorporation of Berkeley, dated 21 January 1878. On 13 December 1881, Wrigley, then an Oakland resident, was awarded U.S. Patent no. 250,867 for his portable house design. Wrigley died in 1882 in the San Diego area while attending to the erection of some of his portable houses (information courtesy of Jill Korte).

Although Wrigley’s patented design for a portable house does not resemble Kenney Cottage, the Berkeley house in which he lived, located on Second Street between University and Addison, does. At the time of his residence on Second Street, Wrigley was listed in the city directory as a patent house builder.

Wrigley’s listing in the 1878 city directory

William Wrigley’s house on Second Street (detail from photo reproduced in George A. Pettitt’s “Berkeley: The Town and Gown of It”; original in Louis L. Stein collection)

It is not known whether William R. Elford (1841–1903), an Oakland carpenter and Civil War veteran, was familiar with Wrigey’s work. On 28 July 1885, he was awarded U.S. Patent No. 323,030 for a three-room portable house whose design closely resembles the Kenney Cottage .

Even before Elford was awarded the patent, his Patent Portable Houses were being sold (as were Wrigley’s) as far away as Australia. Elford’s houses were advertised in the Melbourne daily The Argus on 15 September 1883 and were said to consist of three rooms, measuring 20 by 24 feet, made mainly of California redwood, and with the pieces numbered so that they could be built by unskilled labour.**

** Information courtesy of Prof. Miles Lewis, AM FAHA, Faculty of Architecture, University of Melbourne.

On 2 July 1886, the following ad for Elford’s Portable Houses appeared on page 10 of the Sydney Morning Herald. Two house sizes (three and four rooms) were offered, featuring a verandah and galvanized iron roof.

Sydney Morning Herald, 2 July 1886

The portability of the Kenney Cottage—City of Berkeley Landmark, Structure of Merit No. 236—was tested for the first time in 1906, when the house was moved from its original location at 2114 Addison Street to 1725 University Avenue. On Sunday, 24 August 2003, the Kenney Cottage was moved again in order to make room for an affordable housing development.

See photographs of the cottage on the move and of the stucco removal party.

Moving day: Kenney cottage at 1275 University Ave. (photo: Jerry Sulliger)

In addition to a permanent site, the cottage requires complete restoration.

The cottage is built entirely of redwood. Dimensions: 25’ W x 40’ L x 20’ H. There is no insulation or plumbing. A preservation easement comes with the structure. Technical drawings in pdf format may be viewed and downloaded here.

Following stucco removal, September 2004
(photo: Daniella Thompson)

From August 2003 until October 2018, the City of Berkeley provided a temporary site for the 3-room cottage at 1275 University Avenue. The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association tried for 15 years to find a satisfactory permanent site for the cottage. All efforts having failed, and pressured by the City to move the cottage, BAHA transferred the title to Dmitri Belser and Tom White, who have a history of successfully moving and restoring historic structures. Until they find a suitable site, the new owners have dismantled the cottage and put it in storage.



Copyright © 2003–2019 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.