Announcing our 42nd Spring House Tour
and Garden Reception
Sunday, 7 May 2017, One to Five oclock
Featuring 11 open houses designed by John Hudson Thomas, Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, Albert Farr,
Walter Ratcliff, and Harris Allen.
Tour map, illustrated guidebook & refreshments provided
General $45; BAHA members $35
(see member discount limits)
This year, BAHA’s Spring House Tour will feature the work of Berkeley architect John Hudson Thomas, as well as the residential work of several of his contemporaries. The setting will be the leafy Claremont Park neighborhood, where tourgoers will have the opportunity to visit several glorious creekside gardens.
John Hudson Thomas is best known today for the exceptional and daring house designs he produced during a very short time, from 1910 to 1914, the mid-point of his long and creative career.
Claremont Park was developed and opened in 1905 by conservationist Duncan McDuffie and the corporation of which he was a director. The intent was to create a residential subdivision that respected the natural contours of the land, celebrated the existing creek and ancient oaks, and enhanced the natural setting with parks, pathways, and a series of rustic, inviting entry gates. A new concept for Berkeley (most previous subdivisions were laid out on the grid), Claremont was touted as a “residence park.”
Only about a dozen homes were built during the first year, and early photographs of the area show a scattering of brown-shingle houses. The slow initial growth of Claremont Park may have been due to its remote location. The promotional brochure had promised a Key Route station, whereby a “San Francisco businessman can reach his home in Claremont in half an hour.” It was not until 1910, however, that an interurban train line was established on Claremont Avenue, running from the Claremont Hotel to the Key Route ferry terminal in Oakland. This gave Claremont residents a speedy and convenient direct route to San Francisco. Finally connected to the outside world, Claremont Park experienced a building boom in the early 1910s.
At the same time, a shift in public taste influenced the type of house that would grace East Bay subdivisions after 1910. The civic pride and boosterism of the Progressive Era led homebuilders to forsake the nature-infused imagery of the ubiquitous shingled houses, and turn to a more assertive model. Between 1910 and 1911—almost overnight—houses clad in stucco became de rigueur. Gone was the attempt to blend a building unobtrusively with the landscape. Instead, stucco houses—and especially those with strong massing favored by architects such as John Hudson Thomas—began to make a bold statement on the hillsides and around town.
In Claremont Park, quite a few homebuilders turned to John Hudson Thomas to design their new homes in his eye-catching signature style. Thomas’s houses of this period were unique to Berkeley. They proclaimed a sense of place with their bold, geometric masses. They combined parapet gables and flat roofs, and offered plenty of porches, both covered and open. Thomas often employed elaborate garden entrances, stairways, pergolas, and even, in one case, a bridge, designed in keeping with the architectural character of the house. The interiors, although featuring abundant natural wood, were more formal and mannered than those of the redwood houses that had come before. Signature details, such as his famous grouping of four small squares, abounded. John Hudson Thomas’s houses were a personalized synthesis of Prairie Style from Chicago, Arts & Crafts from England and Scotland, and Vienna Secession from Austria. Thomas would have been well aware of these latest architectural expressions from the architectural journals of the day. Thomas’s houses from this period still exhibit a very modern, forward-looking aesthetic today.
Thomas also designed some of his most evocative shingled residences during the same period, and his most romantic redwood house will be included on the tour.
Oddly, this highly imaginative, avant-garde style of John Hudson Thomas, for which he is best known, was short lived. Between 1910 and 1914, he designed a prodigious number of his signature, Progressive Era houses. Prior to that, he was in partnership with George T. Plowman, and together, between 1907 and 1909, they designed over fifty exemplary Craftsman-style residences in Berkeley. After 1914, Thomas turned to designing gentler, and often picturesque, Period Revival houses. Thomas Gordon Smith, in a Ph.D. dissertation written in 1970, gave some possible reasons for this change in the architect’s style. Contractors had begun to use some of Thomas’s design vocabulary, thus taking the edge off his designs for prospective clients. The homebuilding public may have retreated to comfortable historicism as World War I persisted. The Progressive Era and its aspirations had ended by 1915. As Smith summed up Thomas’s change in emphasis, “It may reflect a change in attitude which was barely perceptible even in 1915.”
Claremont Park is the setting for over twenty John Hudson Thomas–designed residences, most of them dating from the peak of his career in the early 1910s. To place Thomas’s work in the context of the time, the tour will also present work by some of his contemporaries. Included will be houses by Bernard Maybeck (1915), Harris C. Allen (1913), Walter Ratcliff and Albert Farr (both from 1911), and a 1921 Julia Morgan, embodying the sensibility of the post-Progressive Era..
What more beautiful setting for an architectural tour than Claremont Park in the spring? And what could be a better way to enjoy Claremont Park in the springtime, than with a tour of its architectural gems?
Order tour tickets online
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Or use the ticket order form to order by mail.
Tour docents receive complimentary admission to the tour.
To volunteer, contact BAHA.
Copyright © 2017 BAHA. All rights reserved.
Text by Anthony Bruce, photographs © Daniella Thompson & Anthony Bruce.