Announcing our 38th Spring House Tour
and Garden Reception

Historic Homes Above the Claremont Hotel

Sunday, 19 May 2013, One to Five o’clock

Featuring houses by Albert Farr; Louis Christian Mullgardt; William C. Hays; William R. Yelland; Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr.; Vickery, Atkins & Torrey; Clarence Tantau; William E. Schirmer; Archie Newsom; and Louis Engler.

Tour map, illustrated guidebook & refreshments provided
General $40; BAHA members $30

(see discount limits)

Order tickets online or use the ticket order form.

The tour-day ticket booth will open at 12 noon in front of John Muir School, 2955 Claremont Avenue.

The Claremont Hotel under construction, 1907

At the beginning of the 20th century, along the gentle rise of the East Bay Hills where the Claremont Hotel and the Claremont district are now located, the land was open country dotted by farms, ranches, and Victorian country estates. As early as 1864, when Frederick Law Olmsted, popularly known as the father of American landscape architecture, was asked to lay out Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery and the early College of California property in Berkeley, he wrote of riding his horse across the ridges of the same terrain, envisioning a “pleasure drive” from Oakland into Berkeley that “. . . would lay open a most desirable region for residences all along the foot of the mountains.”

It wasn’t until 1903, after huge fortunes had been made in mining and land investments, that the idea was born to link the East Bay with San Francisco by an inter-urban electric train and ferry system—the Key Route—that would service picturesque subdivisions comprising fine homes situated along contoured garden parkways. The advancement of the idea was later successfully brokered by including plans for a splendid tourist hotel perched high on a 14-acre landscaped garden, “. . . long spoken of as one of the most beautiful private holdings in Alameda County,” to be called the Claremont Hotel.

Following an architectural competition, ground was broken in 1906 for the Claremont Hotel, designed by Charles W. Dickey. It was not only to be a glorious destination site, seen from all points around the Bay, but it was also to be a large park, enhancing the environment for the building of beautiful homes.

Alvarado Road and Alvarado Court, c. 1923–24

Olmsted did not have the opportunity to apply his suburban planning ideas to the Claremont, although he had formulated them while laying out the Berkeley Property tract (1865), to be followed by twenty subdivisions he designed in other states. All were based on the same principles, sited around a park or an open public space that integrated a natural setting with spacious lots for elegant residences with ample garden setbacks. Within this parklike setting, the particular characteristics of the local terrain were reflected along planted roadways aligned with the contours of the landscape, as well as in central transit parkways that connected to town centers.

It was Duncan McDuffie, the young, capable real estate developer and partner of Joseph J. Mason, who possessed the background and the personal qualities needed to assemble the many pieces of land for establishing the residential subdivisions of the Claremont district. McDuffie was also attuned to nature, being an intrepid mountaineer and an active member of the Sierra Club (in the 1920s, McDuffie’s efforts were central to helping create the California State Park system).

Following in Olmsted’s footsteps, McDuffie was the one who could muster the resources to complete the grand idea of laying out a suburban neighborhood that enhanced the spectacular Claremont Hotel and its gardens and made the Key Route lines built out beyond the centers of Berkeley and Oakland pay back the capital invested in them. It was Duncan McDuffie who was able to convince the various owners of the large land holdings to sell, persuade prospective investors to join real estate ventures, hire away the essential talent of the City of Berkeley Engineer, Charles Huggins, for laying out subdivision plans, and point prospective homebuilders to the best local architects.

The first subdivision to open around the Claremont Hotel was Claremont (1905), built upon the Edson Adams land that included The Uplands, Domingo Avenue, and The Plaza Drive. Next came the Hotel Claremont and Oak Ridge tracts (1906), including Alvarado Road, The Tunnel Road, and Oak Ridge Road. In 1907, the Garber and Palache property was developed as Claremont Court, including Avalon Avenue and Claremont Boulevard. The first house was built in the fall of 1905, and by the late 1920s the area reached its present form.

The houses that will be open on this year’s BAHA tour are all survivors of the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. They were constructed between 1909 and 1941 for well-to-do families by leading architects and designers of their day, including Albert Farr; Louis Christian Mullgardt; William C. Hays; William R. Yelland; Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr.; Vickery, Atkins & Torrey; Clarence Tantau; William E. Schirmer; Archie Newsom; and Louis Engler.

Join BAHA on 19 May for a memorable afternoon above the Claremont Hotel.

Order tour tickets online
(See instructions for using PayPal)

Or use the ticket order form to order by mail.

Tour docents receive complimentary admission to the tour.
To volunteer, contact BAHA.

Copyright © 2013 BAHA. All rights reserved.
Photographs © Daniella Thompson.