Guy Hyde Chick:
The man behind the house

Daniella Thompson

13 & 21 March 2007

Rear view of the Guy Hyde Chick house, 7133 Chabot Road, Oakland (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

Guy Hyde Chick is the kind of name one doesn’t forget easily. In addition to its catchy concatenation of consonants, the name stands for one of Bernard Maybeck’s most famous houses. But what of the man who built the house? This shadowy figure, now all but forgotten, once played a visible role in Berkeley’s public life.

Guy Hyde Chick (1868–1930) was born in San Francisco to George Horatio Chick (1834–1912) and Florence Nightingale Hyde (1848–1924). His father hailed from Maine, his mother from Wisconsin, and both moved across the country several times before they met (probably in Seattle, where Florence had moved with her parents). They married in 1867 in Boise, Idaho.

Little is known about George Chick, a miner and sometime real-estate agent who was usually absent when the census takers came around (and in Seattle, where the family lived throughout Guy’s childhood and adolescence, they came around annually). In addition to peregrinating from one mining job to another, George apparently lived in California with another woman, the mother of three children who took his name.

The Chicks’ first Berkeley address was on Chapel Street, which has since been absorbed by the U.C. campus. Bancroft Way is on the right. (Sanborn fire insurance map, 1903)

Florence, who clearly did not relish the situation, brought up her three California-born sons—Guy, Ralph (1872–1928), and Maurice (1878–1934)—in the Seattle household of her parents, David and Mary Hyde. Her marriage to George ended in 1887, and shortly thereafter she took her sons to California, presumably to have them educated. Their first Berkeley home was located on Chapel Street, between Bancroft and Allston Ways (current site of U.C.’s sports complex between Dana and Ellsworth).

Guy graduated from Berkeley High School in 1889 and enrolled at U.C. the same year. In 1890, Florence had a house built by George Embury at 2611 Durant Avenue near Bowditch, on a site now occupied by the sculpture garden of the U.C. Berkeley Art Museum.

2611 Durant Avenue, where the Chicks lived in the 1890s. (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archive)

Guy, who would have graduated with the class of ’93, was already listed as a civil engineer in the 1892 directory. Since a degree was not required for practice in those days, he skipped graduation. By 1896, he was the City of Berkeley’s Superintendent of Streets, a position once held by contractor A.H. Broad. At City Hall he became close to the City Engineer, Charles L. Huggins—so close, in fact, that after Guy married Sacramento girl Cora Clark Mott (1875–1950) in November 1899, the young couple moved into the Huggins home at 2313 Channing Way.

They didn’t remain there long. Guy assumed a new position as manager of Anthony Chabot’s Contra Costa Water Company, Berkeley Branch, with an office at 2142 Shattuck Ave. The new job made possible a new home at 1833 Arch Street, between Hearst and Virginia. The only other house on the block was occupied by the well-known geologist and geographer Harold Wellman Fairbanks.

While living at 1833 Arch Street, the Chicks were neighbors to Phoebe Apperson Hearst, Benjamin Ide Wheeler, and Frank M. Wilson. The house burned in the 1923 Berkeley fire. (Sanborn fire insurance map, 1903)

The Northside around the turn of the century was a heady place dominated by the Hillside Club and its myriad cultural activities. That the Chicks became active members is evident from the club’s minutes for 12 December 1903, which report that Mr. Chick, along with Mr. Coxhead, Mr. Maybeck, and Mr. Arthur Bolton, was appointed to a committee to draw up plans for laying out the intersection of La Loma and Le Conte Avenues. The committee’s work resulted in the Hillside Club Street Improvements in the Daley’s Scenic Park Tract, City of Berkeley Landmark No. 75.

The committee appointment was entirely appropriate. Chick was by then not only a civil engineer but the president of the Contra Costa Construction Company, which engaged in street, road, and sewer building in the East Bay and far beyond (Cora would give birth to David Hyde Chick in Bisbee, AZ while Guy was working on a sewer project there). The secretary and treasurer of Contra Costa Construction Co. was Cora Chick’s younger brother, George Morgan Mott, Jr. (1877–1956), a civil engineer who followed his sister from Sacramento to Berkeley.

Contra Costa Construction Co. paved Northbrae streets in 1906. (photo: Richard Schwartz, 2006)

In October 1904, Chick joined his neighbor Harold Fairbanks and Daley’s Scenic Park developer Frank M. Wilson in a petition to ameliorate the steep grade of the 1800 block of Arch Street by dividing it into two roadways. Wilson had sold the hilltop property now occupied by the Pacific School of Religion to Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who intended to build a mansion there. By 1903, Mrs. Hearst had given up the idea and departed on a four-year trip to Europe and Asia. Wilson was planning to repurchase the land from her and reopen Daley Avenue (now Ridge Road) through to Arch Street. The petitioners’ request may have been granted but ultimately went nowhere; although the Sanborn fire insurance maps of 1911 show Ridge Road passing through to Arch Street, the road now ends at the top of Holy Hill, and pedestrian access to Arch Street is provided via a double stairway flanking a lion’s head fountain (long since dry).

Stairs from the PSR campus to Arch Street (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

The PSR campus, looking west toward Arch Street (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Two months following the petition, Chick nearly lost his life owing to a worker’s carelessness, tumbling down a dark 15-foot sewer ditch while supervising the laying of the 25th Street sewer in Oakland. Fortunately, the accident occurred near Fabiola Hospital, where Chick’s broken foot was treated.

On 20 November 1905, Chick was among the eighty citizens who took part in forming the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. He was named to the 20-person board of directors, which also included real-estate developer extraordinaire Duncan McDuffie and Shattuck heir John W. Havens.

When the Hillside Club contemplated the construction of a clubhouse in September 1905, Chick was appointed to a five-member committee that would select a suitable site. To finance the building, the club intended to form itself into a corporation, with each of the 125 members purchasing stock. The committee dispatched its business so rapidly that a mere two months later, a lot had already been purchased at 2286 Cedar Street, Maybeck had perfected the building’s design, and the newspapers were reporting that construction was soon to begin.

Maybeck’s design for the Hillside Club (San Francisco Call, 24 July 1906)

Construction on the Hillside Club building was completed in July 1906, and an elaborate tea, “the leading social event of the week in Berkeley” according to the Oakland Tribune, was offered there on 8 September. The following month, several matrons of the Hillside Club formed an exclusive dance club with membership restricted to 40 couples. Mr. & Mrs. Guy Hyde Chick were among the charter members, along with Mr. & Mrs. John Galen Howard; Mr. & Mrs. Oscar Maurer; Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Arthur Rickard; and Professors Farrington, Schilling, and Clapp and their wives.

Another committee in which Chick participated was an investigative body headed by John Galen Howard that analyzed the earthquake-damaged Berkeley High School in June 1906. The committee made various recommendations for improving the building’s safety, including suggestions for framing and materials of the roof, walls, and chimneys, and urged the School Board to ask the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects to recommend a consulting architect or engineer.

George and Nancy Mott’s residence at 1516 Hawthorne Terrace was built in 1906 and burned in 1923. (Sanborn fire insurance map, 1911)

The San Francisco earthquake and fire drove many refugees into the East Bay. According to Berkeley historian Richard Schwartz, Chick was one of 31 householders who offered to shelter refugees during the first meeting of the Relief Committee on 18 April 1906. The ten-room house he made available could hardly have been his own modestly sized home at 1833 Arch Street. More likely, it was the spacious house that his father-in-law, retired Sacramento banker George M. Mott, was constructing at 1516 Hawthorne Terrace.

The flood of earthquake refugees sparked a real-estate boom. Chick took advantage of the opportunity by forming the Chick, Sittig & Co. real-estate firm. Cora’s father and brother were treasurer and secretary, respectively. The newly built houses that Chick, Sittig & Co. listed were often touted as available with “sidewalks and street work done.”

Guy Hyde Chick and his children (clockwise) Frances, Gilbert, Nelson, and David, c. 1910 (courtesy of the Chick family)

By 1910, Chick and the two Motts had founded a third company, Contra Costa Building Materials Co., which they ran concurrently with the construction company. Flush with success, Chick and his brother-in-law turned their attention to building adjacent dream homes. In May 1913, George Mott, Jr. purchased close to two acres in Kellersberger Plot 72, Oakland Township, from Catharine Janssen Heimbold, widow of Julius Heimbold, who had bought the land from the Hibernia Savings & Loan Society in 1888, two years after the tract was subdivided.

Mott Jr. retained Warren C. Perry to design his family a house with a steeply sloping roof, a hexagonal entrance hall, and handsome redwood paneling (the house burned in the 1991 Oakland Hills fire).

Maybeck specified Prussian blue for the front door. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)
The main entrance is surmounted by a round trellis, entwined with a wisteria planted by Cora Chick in 1914. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

For the design of his own house, Chick naturally turned to Hillside Club guru Maybeck. The location, at 7133 Chabot Road, was a canyon upslope abounding in ancient oaks. The architect positioned the house parallel to the hillside, between terraces above and below (see Maybeck’s ideas for Hillside building in his booklet for the Hillside Club). The shingled building is crowned with a broad, generously trellised gable roof. Enormous glass doors bring the outdoors into the elegant ground-floor rooms, where zen views delight the eye at every turn, and grand spaces are arranged for flowing circulation.

According to the building permit of 22 September 1914, the house was built by Chick’s Contra Costa Construction Company. The architectural firm of Maybeck & White provided six pages of typed specifications plus a handwritten page of detailed color specifications. The plaster ceiling of the kitchen porch was to be blue; the rafters, red; the roof corbels, green; roof soffits, yellow; bay and balcony soffits, red; four-by-tens, green; board-and-batten at the rear entrance, red and varnished; mould at roof, green. Seventy-five years later, the Chicks’ daughter, Frances Chick Heidner, would reminisce:  
Quatrefoils adorn the balcony over the rear entrance. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

As the house was nearing completion my mother, Mr. Maybeck and I were standing on the downslope looking up at it. The painting under the eaves had just been completed in brilliant green, blue, and yellow. My mother said to Mr. M., “Do you think perhaps it is a little too bright?” With a great sweep of his arm, embracing the whole house, he said, “Madam, in twenty years it will be beautiful!” We were never quite sure whether he meant it would fade gently or would still be brilliant, but in any case we learned to love it.

View from the living room through the front hall to the dining room (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

We were a family of seven—four boys and a girl in the middle. We bought the property along with my uncle George Morgan Mott, who had two boys [...]. We had many picnics there while the building was going on and the boys soon conquered the oak trees. By the time the houses were completed we visited each other via the trees and the second story windows. Naturally our friends called it the Monkey Ranch.

As we grew a little bit older it became a great place to entertain. Nelson, the oldest boy [...] was the first to give a dance. [...] the dancers going from the living room, through the front hall, down the back hall, through the library and back into the living room.

The library’s concrete fireplace (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

Through the doors: ancient oaks (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

From the intimacy of the library to the grandeur of the living room (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

The Chicks and their five children enjoyed their house for a mere seven years. Chick family lore maintains that construction contracts signed before the U.S. entry into World War One came due after the war; prices had shot up in the interval, forcing the Contra Costa Construction Company out of business. (Chick was still doing business under his own name; he enlarged the pump house and installed new pumps and electric wiring for the newly formed Knightsen Irrigation District in east Contra Costa County.) Chick and Mott Jr. sold parts of their lands in 1920 and the houses in late 1921. Both moved out of town to become fruit farmers. Mott Sr. retained the building materials firm and his house on Hawthorne Terrace.  
Humphrey, Guy, and Gilbert at the front door, March 1920 (courtesy of the Chick family)

George Mott, Jr. moved to Rio Linda in northern Sacramento County and began to cultivate cherry trees. He is remembered as “the father of the Rio Linda Fire Department” for helping to form the Rio Linda Fire District in May 1923. A few months later, his parents’ Hawthorne Terrace house turned to ashes in the Berkeley fire, and the elder Motts retired to Mrs. Mott’s hometown, Nevada City, where they passed away in 1930.

The Chicks relocated to the rural Big Ranch Road in Napa, where they engaged in prune ranching. The kids hated it. The younger boys lived with family members in Sacramento and went to school there. Gilbert remained in Berkeley, where he worked as a service station operator. Cutting short the farming experiment, the Chicks returned to Berkeley’s Northside in 1923 and were living at 1516 Hawthorne Terrace when the Berkeley fire decimated the area.

6437 Colby Street, circa 1940 (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archive)

Their next home was at 6437 Colby Street, Oakland. Guy established the Guy Hyde Chick Co., a real-estate and insurance firm. His associate was Franklin W. MacMillan, who would marry Frances Chick in 1930. The company was first located at 2140 Shattuck Avenue and later moved to the Hutchinson Bldg. at 1706 Broadway, Oakland.

Cora Mott Chick (courtesy of the Chick family)

Guy Hyde Chick passed away on 2 May 1930, after an illness of two months. At the time, his sons Nelson (29, a contractor), Gilbert (27, a radio singer), and Humphrey (19) were still living at home, daughter Frances (25) had married in January, and son David (22) was a milk salesman in Sacramento.

In the late 1930s, Cora Mott Chick bought an elegant 11-room house at 3016 Avalon Avenue. The house was designed by Henry H. Gutterson and built by the Mason-McDuffie Co. in 1915 for Duncan McDuffie’s parents, Marshall B. and Sophie B. McDuffie, who had moved from Santa Barbara to Berkeley a few years earlier. Mrs. McDuffie lived here for the rest of her long life, and Cora Chick followed suit.

3016 Avalon Avenue in a Coldwell Banker 1982 real-estate mailer (BAHA archive)

During Cora’s last five years, she shared her house with her second son, Gilbert (1902–1968), his wife, Roma Rivolta Chick (1907–1985), and their sons, Gilbert Hyde Chick, Jr. (1943–1971) and Warren Hyde Chick (b. 1945), who continued living here after Cora’s death. Roma sold the house in 1978.

Gilbert Hyde Chick’s sons, Warren (l) and Gilbert Jr., at 3016 Avalon Avenue with their faithful
dog Tina. Their mother, Roma, is seated behind. (courtesy of the Chick family)

The former Chick house on Chabot Road changed hands many times. Since 1979, it’s been the home of art dealer Foster Goldstrom, who takes delight in generously sharing it with architecture lovers. The house almost came to perdition during the Oakland Hills fire of 1991. Several hours after the fire had passed the canyon, George Fisher and two of his colleagues from the Berkeley Fire Department came down Roble Road in Emeryville’s fire truck no. 5 and discovered a small fire that had just caught the Chick house under the roof eaves. Fisher instructed a youngster in the nearby crowd to climb onto the roof and passed him the hose. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer house.

The living room chimney (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2007)

A previous version of this article was published in the Berkeley Daily Planet on 16 March 2007.


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