Builder-artist A.H. Broad left his mark on Berkeley

Daniella Thompson

6 February 2007 & 6 August 2009

One of Broad’s Arts & Crafts designs, this 1904 house stands at 1328 Bay View Place. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

If you’ve ever dined in the rear portion of the Great China restaurant on Kittredge Street, you might have noticed that this space is markedly different from the front part. Redwood board-and-batten wainscots; redwood doors and window trim; a beamed tongue-and-groove ceiling with elegantly carved brackets; and a doorway incorporating a fan of Victorian spindlework all suggest that these rooms were part of a former home.

A home is exactly what the building at 2117 Kittredge used to be. Behind the 1920s stucco fašade and its two storefronts hides a late 19th-century house. Clad in shingles but sporting the cross gables and the square turret of a Queen Anne house, this hybrid creation was constructed in 1894, at a time when practically the entire block was residential. The designer-builder was prominent Berkeley contractor, pioneer civic figure, and amateur artist A.H. Broad.

A.H. Broad (courtesy of the Berkeley Historical Society)

Alphonso Herman Broad (1851–1930) was born in Maine to a farming family. He came to Berkeley in 1877, on the eve of the town’s incorporation, and immediately took an active part in its civic life.

In 1878, Broad was elected to Berkeley’s first board of trustees on the Workingmen’s Convention slate and served for two crucial years in which the board put in place our property assessment mapping system (still in use); instituted the position of Town Engineer and the first infrastructure works; devised business licensing and tax collection systems; and created a police force.

In 1887 and ’88, Broad would serve as town marshal and ex-officio Superintendent of Streets, in which capacities he would improve Berkeley’s sanitation by building an underground sewage system and forbidding the discharge of “offensive effluvia” into Strawberry Creek.

A street contract to pave Shattuck Avenue, signed by Superintendent of Streets A.H. Broad in 1887. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004, courtesy of the Berkeley Historical Society)

Long after his death, Broad was remembered as a man of action. In 1959, when the city council was debating how to deal with the menace of pigeons in Constitution Square, it was goaded into action by a letter from Bertha Whitney Nicklin (1878–1964), who wrote:

I only wish Mr. A. H. Broad were still a member of our City Council, as he would certainly do something about it. The Southern Pacific built a new station but they would not put a “Chic Sale” (rest room) inside. They left the old one outside. So when the last SP train roared down from North Berkeley at midnight one night, Mr. Broad tied a rope around the “Chic Sale” and fastened the other end to the train, and it was scattered all the way to Sixteenth St. station. They put one inside the Berkeley station.

Broad’s earliest known surviving building, the Stick-style William Clark house (1883–1884) at 1545 Dwight Way (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2008)

Having started out as a carpenter, Broad went into business as a building contractor and designer in 1880. Within five years, he was well-known throughout Berkeley and Oakland for his Eastlake cottages. His earliest known surviving building is the large Stick-style William Clark residence (1883–1884) at 1545 Dwight Way. Over the course of five decades, Broad not only supervised construction of a large number of structures in all parts of Berkeley but also designed many of them.

The turreted George Edwards house (1886), 2530 Dwight Way, anchors a new housing development on the edge of People’s Park. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

For many years, Broad’s office was located on the east side of Shattuck Avenue (then Stanford Place) between Center and Addison, across the street from the SP station. His display ad in the 1894 directory proclaimed:

The Odd Fellows Hall mentioned in the ad had been built by Broad, an active Odd Fellow himself. The building was razed to make way for the Mason-McDuffie headquarters on the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Addison Street.

Broad built the Capitol Market building, 1500 Shattuck Ave., in 1891. The building was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on 3 Sept. 2009. (BAHA archives)

In 1892, Broad built the Whittier School, the Le Conte School, and the Columbus School. After the San Francisco earthquake and fire, he became “superintendent of reconstruction of Berkeley Schools injured by the earthquake,” rebuilding various sections of Berkeley High School and other academic buildings. It was at this time that he gained the distinction of being the first city official ever to seek a reduction in salary, on the grounds that reconstruction work was almost complete.

Haste Street annex of McKinley School, built in 1906, on an early postcard (BAHA archives)

Broad kept up with the changing styles in home design, and his work ranges from the early Stick-Eastlake to the rustic Brown Shingle of the early 1900s. He often worked as Bernard Maybeck’s contractor, and his early 20th-century designs reflect the influence of the First Bay Region Tradition architects.

While constructing Maybeck’s Boke house (1901) at 23 Panoramic Way, Broad built next door a shingled house of his own design for Margaret A. Dean, grandmother of Dan Dean, retired Berkeley High School counselor and husband of our former mayor.

The Rev. Bentley house, 1900 (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

The Margaret A. Dean house, 1901 (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

A year earlier, Broad built a shingled Dutch Colonial house at 2683 Le Conte Ave. for Rev. Dr. Robert Bentley of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The house is a City of Berkeley Landmark, as is one of Broad’s earliest surviving buildings, the George Edwards house, a Queen Anne-Eastlake cottage at 2530 Dwight Way (1886). Several years ago, the derelict Edwards house was rehabilitated as the anchor of an attractive housing development on the edge of People’s Park.

Another designated landmark, the shingled Haste Street annex of McKinley School, (1906), was similarly destined for demolition but is now preserved as the First Presbyterian Church’s McKinley Hall.

The Broad family lived at 2117 Kittredge St. from 1907 to 1915, adapting it in the mid-1920s to residential-commercial use. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

A fourth Broad landmark is his own residence at 2117 Kittredge Street. This was just one of several houses he occupied over the years—all of them in downtown Berkeley. A few hundred feet away, at 2207 Atherton St. (now the site of Edwards Stadium), lived his close friend and artistic mentor, the famed landscape painter William Keith. The two made many joint sketching trips to the Sierras.

Largely self-taught, Broad was influenced by the Barbizon school of plein-air painting. He specialized in landscapes of California and his native New England. One of the many A.H. Broad stories circulated by Berkeley Gazette columnist Hal Johnson recounted that “Keith once said he wished he could paint trees as well as Broad. ‘If you had sawed and pounded as many trees into houses as I, you might be able to paint them better,’ replied Broad.”

A Road in the Redwoods

Wooded Landscape with Pond

Mountain Landscape

As his artistic skills developed, Broad began to paint a “signature” picture to be hung in each of the houses he completed. Many of his paintings are prized in Berkeley homes. Examples of his art are to be found at the Oakland Museum’s collection of California Art, the Shasta Collection at the College of the Siskiyous, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, and the Elks Club building. Broad’s name is mentioned in several art history books, including Artists in California, 1786–1940 by Edan Milton Hughes and Directory to the Bicentennial Inventory of American Paintings Executed Before 1914 (Ayer Publishing, 1976). He is now better known for his art than for his buildings.

Broad, his wife Julia (1850–1921), and their two daughters, Ursula and Julia Luella, lived at 2117 Kittredge St. from 1907 until 1915. Daughter Julia was married twice during this period but remained in the parental home with her successive husbands. In 1915, Broad built his final residence, a 3-story, 6-unit apartment building at 2030 Bancroft Way. The move may have been prompted by the building of the California Theatre next to his Kittredge home, but Ursula continued to live there for the rest of her life, and the Broad family kept the house as income property until the younger Julia’s death in 1962.

When the California Theatre fašade was updated in 1929, the storefronts at 2117 Kittredge St. were already in place. (BAHA archives)

It was Broad himself who added the storefronts to the Kittredge Street house in 1926. He was a practical man who adapted to the circumstances and often built two houses on one downtown lot, as was also the case at 2117 Kittredge.

2032 Bancroft Way

A.H. Broad’s final home, 2030 Bancroft Way (photos: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

One of Broad’s numerous Eastlake cottage designs featuring a typically asymmetrical roofline, this house used to be located at 2036 Bancroft Way. In the 1940s it was moved to 1137 Bancroft Way and replaced with the 3-story Corder Building annex, which housed several repair shops connected to the Stone Pierce furniture store at 2300 Shattuck Avenue. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

While Broad and his wife appear to have occupied one of the apartments at 2030 Bancroft Way, Julia and her second husband, Leslie Graham, lived at 2032 Bancroft, a Victorian that had previously occupied the same spot but was moved to the rear of the lot and divided into two apartments.

In 1930, the year of Broad’s death, the family was landlord to numerous tenants residing in various downtown buildings, including the houses occupied by the Broads themselves. The tenants represented a wide spectrum of the lower middle class and working class, including salespeople, bookkeepers, truck drivers, restaurant employees, a railcar upholsterer, a nurse, a sign painter, a telephone operator—people who today would be squeezed out of Berkeley’s housing market.

The former Brower residence at 2232 Haste Street is a twin of 1137 Bancroft Way. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

2232 Haste Street, a Queen Anne-Eastlake residence constructed by Broad in 1887 and now divided into apartments, was the childhood home of Sierra Club leader David R. Brower. His family owned the building from 1902 through the early 1960s. Brower planted the large redwood tree in 1941. The site was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on 7 August 2008.

An earlier version of this article was published in the Berkeley Daily Planet on 9 February 2007.


Copyright © 2007–2019 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.