Berkeley Landmarks :: Allanoke (Allen G. Freeman House)

Allanoke (Allen G. Freeman House)

1777 Le Roy Avenue, Berkeley, CA

Daniella Thompson

Allanoke, north fa�ade (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

When Berkeley boosters publicized the city circa 1905, they invariably pointed to the 1700 block of Le Roy Avenue as their shining example. Situated one block to the north of the U.C. campus, the short stretch between Le Conte Avenue and Ridge Road boasted two of Berkeley’s most opulent and ballyhooed residences: the Volney D. Moody house, known as “Weltevreden,” and the Allen G. Freeman house, “Allanoke.” Each was designed by a fashionable architect—A.C. Schweinfurth and Ernest Coxhead, respectively—and was clad in clinker brick—a material popular with Arts and Crafts builders.

The two estates were separated by the north fork of Strawberry Creek, which could be traversed by two clinker-brick bridges.

Allanoke’s owner, Allen Gleason Freeman (1853–1929), was born on a farm in Flushing, Michigan, the third of seven children. As a teenager, he worked on the farm, as did his elder brothers. Eventually he migrated to Chicago and entered the firm of J.K. Armsby Co., wholesale commission merchants who would come to control the distribution of fresh and dried California fruit and Alaskan salmon. It was probably in Chicago that Freeman met his future wife, Jessie Katherine Marsh (1858–1940), who was listed in the 1880 U.S. census as a reporter living in Hyde Park, Cook County, IL. Their marriage took place on 25 May 1887.

The Freemans appeared in San Francisco in the year of their marriage. By now, Allen was general manager of J.K. Armsby Co. In 1903, the company’s office would be located at 138 Market Street and include departments for canned fruit, dried fruit & raisin, and beans. The canned fruit was marketed under the Argo, Ambassador, and Red Dart labels. Later, George Newell Armsby, the founder’s son, would engineer the merger that gave birth to the California Packing Corporation (Calpak), whose most famous brand was Del Monte.

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Lantern above entrance porch (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Looking west from entrance porch (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Living in San Francisco and then in Oakland, the Freemans were active members of the Unitarian Church. In 1890, Mrs. Freeman was treasurer of the newly established Pacific Coast Woman’s Unitarian Conference. The founding of the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley in 1891 gave the couple a reason to move here.

In 1897, the congregation purchased land on the corner of Dana Street and Bancroft Way, and the following year, a shingled church designed by Schweinfurth was erected (it is now the University Dance Studio). The Freemans lived nearby, in a duplex at 2401 Telegraph Avenue, a highly desirable residential address at that time. Duncan McDuffie would occupy the duplex’s other flat in 1904, and Louis Titus lived a short block to the north. In 1902, Freeman and Titus were among the founding directors of the University Savings Bank of Berkeley.

South fa�ade (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

South fa�ade (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

As the character of Telegraph Avenue was being transformed from high-end residential to apartments and retail blocks, the well-to-do began to move out. But even before the first business block went up, Allen Freeman bought a large parcel on the corner of Ridge Road and Le Roy Avenue, in Daley’s Scenic Park. Volney Moody, another prominent capitalist with connections to the Unitarian Church, had already built his manse on the same block in 1896, and a year earlier, the Unitarian Maybeck heralded the birth of the local Arts and Crafts movement by designing a brown-shingle house for Charles Keeler two blocks to the east.

Schweinfurth, the architect of the Moody house and the First Unitarian Church, was already dead in 1903, when Freeman engaged the firm of Coxhead & Coxhead to design his house. Like Maybeck and Schweinfurth, Ernest Albert Coxhead (1863–1933) was an important early shaper of the First Bay Region Tradition. English-born and -trained, in 1886 he and his older brother Almeric (1862–1928) established a practice in Los Angeles, moving to San Francisco four years later.

Le Roy Ave. & Ridge Road intersection, 1905 (photo: “Berkeley, A City of Homes” promotional brochure)

The same corner in 2004 (photo: Daniella Thompson)

Allanoke from the Strawberry Creek bridge on Le Roy Avenue, c. 1915 (Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley)

Ten years prior to the Freeman commission, Coxhead designed the Beta Theta Pi chapter house (now the Goldman School of Public Policy) a short block away. It resembled a row of houses in an old English village. For Freeman, Coxhead created a large Colonial Revival house with oversized gambrel dormers on the north and south fa�ades.

In many respects, Allanoke owes a debt to the Los Angeles house of business tycoon and art collector Edwin Tobias Earl, who in 1890 invented the refrigerated railroad car for shipping oranges to the East Coast. An earlier Coxhead design, the Earl house was built at 2425 Wilshire Boulevard in 1895–98 and demolished in 1957. Both designs featured steep roofs set with disproportionately large dormer gables (albeit in different styles); a projecting front porch fenestrated with arched openings on three sides and crowned with a neoclassical balustrade; a large, rectangular windowed bay projecting from the living room; and clinker brick exteriors. As in many other Coxhead residential designs, the rustic exterior belies a formal, rich interior.

Fountain & pergola (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

View from the pergola (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Wall fountain (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Allanoke was completed in 1904 and thrown open that fall in a series of cello and piano recitals performed by Frederick Stickney Gutterson and his wife, Minnie Marie. The musical couple had recently returned from Europe. The San Francisco Call described the first recital on 8 November as “one of the smartest musical affairs that has taken place on this side of the bay,” adding, “Mr. and Mrs. Freeman have just finished one of the most artistic residences in Berkeley.” The audience included “Oakland’s elite as well as society of the college town,” among them professors Soule, Rising, and Haskell; notable neighbors such as the Moodys, the Keelers, photographer Oscar Maurer, and his wife Madge; Thomas Rickard, president of the Town Board of Trustees from 1903 to 1909; architect Clinton Day and his family; and painter William Keith and his wife, Mary McHenry Keith.

On 3 December 1904, the Oakland Tribune announced that the second recital would take place in three days, reporting that the first recital had been attended by “two hundred of the musical and cultured people of Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco,” and going on to inform:

Mrs. Freeman introduced an innovation at Berkeley, and everywhere for that matter, for her cards carried the magic words “Evening Dress.”

There was a great scurry among the dressmakers of Berkeley, for necks had to be cut out of gowns in short order, and some of the demure little women of Berkeley went out in what they called “low-neck” for the first time in their lives, and really the goodly company that gathered at the Freeman home presented a bright and beautiful picture.

“Will Give a Recital,” in The Meddler, Oakland Tribune, 3 December 1904

The childless Freemans entertained regularly and famously. A luncheon offered in March 1908 for Professor Jacques Loeb’s mother-in-law numbered among its guests the wives of developer Frank C. Havens and U.C. president Benjamin Ide Wheeler. “The menu was served in Mrs. Freeman’s Chinese dining room,” informed the San Francisco Call, adding, “The details of the affair were carried out in the Chinese fashion.”

Beaten-brass mantel in the Freemans’ Chinese dining room
(BAHA archives)

A prominent clubwoman and patron of the arts, Jessie Freeman directed her charitable impulses toward the Berkeley Day Nursery and the Fabiola Hospital in Oakland. Her husband, meanwhile, went into business for himself as an importer of sugar beet seeds and traveled regularly to Russia, Japan, Scandinavia, and Western Europe. Jessie accompanied him on some of these business trips. Freeman was president of and a major shareholder in the Continental Salt & Chemical Company (later Alviso Salt Co.). He also owned agricultural land in the Sacramento Valley; his fruit orchard in Visalia was known as Allanoke Orchard.

Ad in Facts About Sugar, Vol. 14, 1922

Allanoke carriage house (photos: Daniella Thompson, 2004)
  In 1919, the Freemans erected a Georgian Revival carriage house across the street, at 2533 Ridge Road. Mirroring the materials of the main house (clinker brick walls, slate roof) and reviving the oversized neoclassical elements so often used by Coxhead (dormers, porch pediment), this charming two-story structure was designed by Clarence A. Tantau (1884–1943), a Bay Area architect best known for his Spanish-style buildings. The carriage house sports two decorative chimneys, two hipped and one arched dormer gables, a fanciful glazed entrance porch on the second floor, and an enormous carriage lantern appended to the fa�ade.

Allanoke carriage house gate post (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

The estate, intact to this day, boasts a formal garden designed in 1923, featuring a pergola, a fountain, and flower beds bordered by boxwood hedges. The imposing entrance gate is constructed of the same clinker bricks used for building the house and the surrounding wall. At the center of Le Roy Avenue in front of the entrance grew Annie’s Oak, a large double-trunk Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) saved by Annie Maybeck from the street pavers. The tree died in 1983 and was replaced in 1986.

Allanoke Orchard mentioned in Mrs. Freeman’s will , 21 Sept 1938

Mrs. Freeman died in January 1940, leaving an estate of close to $285,000. Wishing her house to go on being used “for the pleasure of many people,” she willed it to Robert Sibley, executive manager of the California Alumni Association. Between 1912 and 1924, Sibley and his family had lived around the corner, first renting the Bentley house and since 1919 as tenants in the flat of Mrs. Freeman’s sister, Laura Belle Kluegel.

After making various bequests to relatives and friends (including a combined $54,000 to Sibley and his wife), Mrs. Freeman willed the residue of her estate to the University of California. However, when the State inheritance tax appraiser filed his report on 27 September 1941, it transpired that bequests and taxes had reduced U.C.’s residue to a mere $1,181.

Robert Sibley (1881–1958), a graduate of the class of 1903 at U.C. Berkeley, was a student leader, chairman of the California Rally Committee in 1902–03, and editor of the California Journal of Technology in 1902–04. After graduating, he served as professor of mechanical engineering and executive manager of the California Alumni Association (the latter from 1923 to 1949). He also was the president of Fidelity Acceptance & Thrift Company and a director of the Bank of Berkeley. A notable conservationist and hiking enthusiast, Sibley led the movement that resulted in the 1933 legislation establishing the East Bay Regional Park District on EBMUD surplus watershed lands. He served as director and president of the district from 1948 until his death in 1958. In Sibley’s honor, one of his favorites parks, Round Top, was renamed Robert Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve.

During the 1940s, the Sibleys entertained countless students and alumni at Allanoke. In 1952, they published their recollections in the book University of California Pilgrimage: A Treasury of Tradition, Lore and Laughter, where they recount that “one time we had 400 people for breakfast.”

As noted by the University History Project, Robert’s second wife, Carol (1902–1986), “was a prominent community figure in her own right from the 1960s through the 1980s.�She served as President of the Berkeley Board of Education and presided over the successful racial integration of Berkeley’s public schools (as well as surviving a recall attempt launched against her and other board members who had voted for the program, the first voluntary desegregation of a public school district in the United States).�She contributed her time and energy to many civic groups, including the charitable organization A Dream for Berkeley and was a founder of the All Berkeley Coalition (ABC), which played a key role in Berkeley politics in the 1980s.”

Gate lantern, Le Roy Avenue (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Le Roy Avenue entrance, c. 1906–12. The car is Oscar Maurer’s Pope-Hartford. Annie’s Oak is visible in the road. (BAHA archives)

Le Roy Avenue fa�ade (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Following Sibley’s retirement, the couple built several rental income units on the estate. In 1949, a two-story, four-unit, flat-roofed redwood & stucco apartment building was erected in front of the carriage house by architect-builder John F. Pruyn. The following year, two similar buildings were constructed along the north portion of the main property. In 1956, the southern part of the clinker brick wall along Le Roy Avenue was replaced by four garages with a trellised roof garden. Another three-car garage was carved out of the brick wall in 1959. The same year, following Robert Sibley’s death, Carol Sibley converted the main house—made a duplex in 1952—into six units.

The 2533 Ridge Road carriage-house property was willed to Robert’s daughter Catherine, a proteg�e of Max Reinhardt and responsible for bringing his famous production of “A Midsummer Night's Dream” to Faculty Glade. In 1976, Mrs. Sibley built a Japanese-style pavilion, designed by Michael Severin, between the two apartment buildings north of the main house. There she lived until the end of her life. Three years before Carol Sibley’s death, Annie’s Oak succumbed. Mrs. Sibley was instrumental in having it replaced with the young oak that still grows there today.

Le Roy Avenue gate (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Le Roy Avenue frontage (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

In the late 1980s, after the university was offered but declined to purchase the estate, Allanoke was acquired by Dr. Frederick M. “Ted” Binkley (1924–2006) and his wife Marian Frances (1924–2017). An eminent vascular surgeon at U.C.S.F., Binkley had played varsity football and basketball as a student at Cal and lived at the Phi Kappa Psi house, located a block away from Allanoke, at 2625 Hearst Avenue. Under the Binkleys’ watch, Allanoke was restored to it original grandeur and single-family use. It was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark in November 1986.

Update: On 16 July 2018, Allanoke was sold to New Bridge Foundation, Inc.

 Allanoke from the air in 1994. The estate occupies the entire half block to the right. Across the street is the carriage house (dark roof with three dormers in mid-block on extreme left). Click the photo for an aerial view of Daley’s Scenic Park.

This article was published in the Berkeley Daily Planet on 21 March 2008 under the title “Allanoke Was a Scene of Hospitality for Five Decades.”

Recommended reading:

Bernard Maybeck: Hillside Building
(Illustrated booklet for the Berkeley Hillside Club, 1906)

Charles Keeler: The Simple Home
(San Francisco: Paul Elder, 1904)




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