Announcing our 2018 House Tour
Sunday, 6 May 2018, One to Five oclock
Featuring twelve open houses designed by Menetta Daniel, James H. Mitchell, Mark Daniels, Michael Goodman, Frederick Reimers, Roger Lee, Mario Corbett, Ian MacKinlay, J. Caleb Cushing, and others.
Tour map, illustrated guidebook & refreshments provided
General $45; BAHA members $35
(see member discount limits)
“Our present garden is nearly a thousand feet up in the Berkeley Hills, just over the top in Contra Costa County, about three miles north of the University of California campus. It faces east and slopes down to Wildcat Canyon, now become the Tilden Regional Park,” wrote Professor Sydney Bancroft Mitchell in 1947. “When we built here, only one other house was visible, on the hilltop to the north of us, and even now it is a rather rural area, as the Salbach Gardens adjoin us on the south, and the canyon and the mountains which form our view are a part of the aforementioned regional park and are kept in a natural state.”
Mitchell and his wife, Rose, built their home on Woodmont Avenue in 1923. The house to their north, also on Woodmont Avenue, was the home of Professor John Franklin Daniel and his family, who had arrived about six years earlier. The Daniels, however, were not the first household to build in Berkeley Woods.
Tract map of Berkeley Woods & part of North Cragmont (Harold Havens Co., 1927)
The tract had its beginning in the Brissac Ranch, comprising 972 hilly acres bordering Wildcat Creek. In early 1906, the ranch land was acquired by the Syndicate Water Company, soon to become part of the People’s Water Company. In 1910, the company’s president, Frank Colton Havens, began planting over a million eucalyptus and Monterey pine seedlings on 3,000 acres of the company’s undeveloped watershed property, a 20-mile stretch between Richmond and San Leandro. The trees quickly grew to cover the grassy hills.
Frank C. Havens’s son, Harold Havens, owned the real estate company that had been marketing the North Cragmont tract, just across the county border, since 1908. In 1916, the future Berkeley Woods tract, comprising approximately 70 acres in unincorporated Contra Costa County, was acquired by the Harold Havens Company’s vice-president, Oscar I. Runnels, and financed with a mortgage from the Berkeley Bank of Savings. Runnels sold six parcels of this land to high-school and university teachers.
Rendering of Holt Manufacturing’s “English Cottage” exhibit at the PPIE (Horace G. Simpson, architect, 1915)
Carl Salbach’s iris field (Salbach’s Iris catalog, 1927)
A 1953 house by Roger Lee (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2018)
In the absence of documentary evidence, we put on our divining cap to surmise that the catalysts in the land sale to the teachers were Arthur Upham Pope, a U.C. professor of philosophy and aesthetics, and his wife, Bertha Clark Pope, a teacher of English at Oakland Technical High School. The only couple with their feet in both academic camps, they must have mobilized their colleagues to go in on a unique opportunity to own large parcels of bucolic hilltop land overlooking magnificent vistas in every direction.
Rear of the Mitchell House with double-flowering pink almond (photo: Alma Lavenson,* in “Your California Garden and Mine,” 1947)
The stated intent was, no doubt, to build artistic homes in a village-like community of friends. The Popes realized this goal right away by purchasing a ready-made “old English cottage,” previously the sales office in the Holt Manufacturing exhibit of farm machinery at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. Having barged the cottage across the bay and towed it uphill to Woodmont Avenue behind two of Holt’s Caterpillar tractors, the Popes engaged the building’s architect, Horace G. Simpson, to convert it into a grand library and design a new wing to accommodate the rest of their residence.
The Daniel children in front of their new house, c. 1918–19 (Daniel family collection, courtesy of Nancy Pakter)
The Popes built their house before Berkeley Woods was named or subdivided. They called their estate High Acres, and its location was listed in directories as either Cragmont or Creston Road (both Berkeley names). By the time the tract map was filed on 29 August 1917, Arthur Pope had absconded with his student, Phyllis Ackerman. The remaining land owners named the tract’s new avenues and lanes after the landscape: Woodmont, Vistamont, Rosemont, Sunset. Not by coincidence do the street names echo that of the adjacent Berkeley tract, North Cragmont. And although the tract was located in Contra Costa County, its owners named it Berkeley Woods, making their true affiliation abundantly clear.
Salbach House, north fašade (Salbach’s Iris catalog, 1943)
Of the original group of teachers, only four are known to have built their homes here. The second to do so, in 1917–18, was the aforementioned Prof. Daniel, whose wife, Menetta, reportedly designed the house, adhering to the English style. By the time the third group member, teacher Albert L. McDermont, began building his board-and-batten house on Vistamont Avenue in 1926, the Mitchell and Salbach Mediterranean-style homes were already in place, and their gardens were drawing throngs of eager visitors each spring to view the colorful spreads of bearded iris in bloom.
The Carbone greenhouses and newly completed residence in the late 1930s (McCullagh photo courtesy of Louise Carbone Colombatto)
The pure air of Berkeley Woods also drew John A. Carbone, the “Orchid King,” from West Berkeley. In 1929, Carbone established his greenhouses a block to the north of Mitchell and Salbach, and in 1937, he hired an Italian contractor to build his Mediterranean-style house at 571 Woodmont Avenue.
The Carbone residence and nursery in the late 1930s (McCullagh photo courtesy of Louise Carbone Colombatto)
In the 1930s and ’40s, new arrivals introduced a variety of house styles, from California vernacular built in redwood and painted colonial cottages to urbane Streameline Moderne. These were followed in the 1950s and beyond by Mid-Century and later modern styles. As the nurseries closed (the last one shut its doors in 1967), they were replaced by clusters of new houses on smaller lots. Notable among the latter is the Woodmont development, a horseshoe-shaped collection of houses surrounding Woodmont Court and sharing a communal swimming pool.
Carl Salbach and John Carbone showing off their prize hybrids, with Louise Carbone acting as judge, early 1930s (McCullagh photo courtesy of Louise Carbone Colombatto)
Berkeley Woods was finally annexed to the City of Berkeley on 1 February 1959, the sixth such expansion since 1891. At that time, the tract contained 102 houses. The houses included on this tour range from the beginning of the tract in 1917 through the 1970s.
The Dobbins estate in 1949 (sales brochure, Donogh files, BAHA archives)
Crowning the tour are two grand Mediterranean-style hilltop villas built in 1930 for a notable Presbyterian minister and a famous printer and set in expansive gardens.
The former John Henry Nash estate (courtesy of Anthony Bruce)
The great hall in the John Henry Nash House (courtesy of Duncan McCoy)
Spend a Sunday afternoon in May roaming this little-known neighborhood, take in the bucolic atmosphere amidst luxuriant gardens, and view a selection of unusual houses, many of them associated with fascinating histories, and designed in a panoply of architectural styles.
A redwood house built in the 1930s (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2018)
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Tour docents receive complimentary admission to the tour.
To volunteer, contact BAHA.
Copyright © 2018 BAHA. All rights reserved.
Text © 2018 Daniella Thompson. Top illustration of the Salbach iris gardens & the Mitchell house beyond was published in Salbach’s 1936 Iris catalog. *Photo of Mitchell House with double-flowering pink almond: Copyright © Alma Lavenson Archive. All rights reserved.