Berkeley Landmarks :: House of Harris | Call Me Joe


House of Harris

150 Berkeley Square, Berkeley, CA

Daniella Thompson

Joe Harris standing in front of his newly completed store, 1938 (photo courtesy of Billie Jean Harris D’Anna)

1 September 2004

Beginning in 1923 and for over five decades thereafter, Call Me Joe was one of Berkeley’s best-known men’s and boys’ clothing stores. Founded by Joseph William Harris (1897–1978), the original store was a 10’ x 14’ leased space on the corner of Shattuck and University avenues. A born entrepreneur and a tireless promoter, Harris made his business flourish from the get-go, and several expansions followed in quick succession.

In 1938, Harris built a new Call Me Joe on the newly available Berkeley Square island at Shattuck Avenue and Center Street. Until then, the island had been the site of the Southern Pacific downtown station, a 1907 Beaux Arts building designed by SP company architect D.J. Patterson (some say by John Galen Howard). Between the station and University Avenue, SP had a small park with grassy plots and palm trees.

The Southern Pacific park in 1920; Studio Bldg. behind the palm (photo courtesy of the Oakland Museum)

With the demise of the train line, SP offered its island to the city for a park, but the latter preferred taxable property. In 1938, “L.C. Hall of the leasing department of Mason-McDuffie conceived the idea of wrecking the old Southern Pacific depot and using the valuable property for business sites,” reported the Berkeley Daily Gazette three years later, when additional buildings joined Call Me Joe on Berkeley Square.

The Southern Pacific downtown station in the 1930s (photo: BAHA archives)

As first built, Call Me Joe was a one-story, Streamline Moderne edifice crowned by an enormous neon sign. Midway up the building, a flat-roofed, sheltering overhang resembled the brim of a straw hat, while glass-block corners and clerestory windows provided daylight illumination from above. Continuous expanses of glass display windows wrapped around the store. The architect was John B. “Tony” Anthony, who two years earlier had designed the Harris residence at 2300 Le Conte Avenue, although in newspaper accounts of the period, Joe Harris claimed to have designed the store himself.

Joe Harris (center, in black hat & white shirt) and his salemen, 1938 (photo courtesy of Billie Jean Harris D’Anna)

The new Call Me Joe was so successful that the following year it was necessary to add another floor. The remodeled store opened on 9 December 1939 under the name House of Harris. On 8 December, the Berkeley Daily Gazette carried a special 8-page section devoted exclusively to the store. One of the lead articles informed:

Another Floor Added to Structure Erected Less Than Year Ago

Berkeley’s newest and most complete men’s wear store will be opened tomorrow night from 7 o’clock until 9 when Joseph W. Harris, who made the trade name “Call Me Joe” known throughout the West, throws open to the public his new “House of Harris.”

[...] The upper floor is the most daylight store of men’s clothing in the country. It is almost entirely surrounded with windows.

The “House of Harris” has 20,000 square feet of floor space and represents an outlay of practically $100,000—an expression of Joseph Harris’ confidence in Berkeley. On display will be a $100,000 stock of clothing, purchased especially for the Christmas season and offering a metropolitan city store variety of everything from shoes to hats pertaining to men’s dress.

Another front-page article (like the others, written to order—in essence an advertorial) recounted the accomplishments of Joe Harris:

Tells Rise of Local Merchant

[...] Call Me Joe measured his coin out of a well worn pocket—took stock of his assets and leased his first business home at 2000 Shattuck Ave.—10 feet by 14 feet, and with two and a half grand in merchandise launched on his own—blazoned across the portals to the startled public—“CALL ME JOE.” These were the days of the bewitching 20’s. Then in ’25 Joe expanded longitudinally 10x100, and then again in ’27 the address now read 2000–08 Shattuck Ave., 25x100 feet. Those were the days when Joe, flush with success, appended “Call Me Joe—the Bank of America Is Next to Us.” And then again in ’29—those days of “the sun’s in the heavens, all’s well with the world”—Joe upped the space ante again to 50x100 feet—and this was the peak up-Up-Up and a 10 year lease. This was but a prelude of what was to come in ’38, depression-recession not withstanding [...]

The expanded and renamed store as featured in the Gazette on 8 December 1939. “Call Me Joe” was demoted.

More factual information was offered in yet another page-one article:

Faith in City’s Future Shown by Businessman

Faith in the future of Berkeley, together with knowledge of his business and the untiring energy to develop that business have combined to make it possible for Joseph W. Harris to forge ahead here at a time when Pacific Coast business as a whole has been marking time.

If you were to stand on any prominent street corner in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco or Seattle and ask the first persons whom you met if they knew who “Call Me Joe” was, seven out of ten men would answer, “Sure, he’s in the clothing business and men’s furnishings business in Berkeley.”

It was only 16 years ago that Joseph W. Harris came to Berkeley from Brooklyn, N.Y., where he was in business with his father following the war. He liked the looks of the city and figured that a college community would be the ideal place to go into the haberdashery business. With a capital so limited that it was an effort to pay for his lease and buy merchandise at the same time, he opened a store at 2002 Shattuck Avenue. That store had some 200 square feet of floor space.

A year later Harris had moved to 2008 Shattuck Ave. and his larger store had a frontage of about 10 feet and a depth of a hundred feet, but the trade name of “Call Me Joe” was known from the bay to the hills and from Albany even to Oakland. Another year of progressive merchandising necessitated additional room, so another 10-foot frontage and a floor area that doubled th store space was added.

Outgrows his store

Two more years and Harris had increased his frontage to 45 feet. His business had necessitated his adding materially to his clerking force and soon he found that his business was growing to such an extent that larger quarters were needed. One can’t walk down Shattuck Ave. and find a desirable location available for a large store. There was nothing left to do but remain where he was until new downtown area was to be had. Harris saw the possibility of utilizing part of the old Berkeley Station property.

Just a year ago he moved into his new $65,000 daylight store fronting on Center St. right in the center of Shatuck Ave. That it was a wise move is evidenced by the fact that within a few months even the large new store was not large enough to meet customers’ demands. Hence this new daylight second story is being opened.

Active civically

Joe Harris has found time to take place in civic affairs. Throughout his long residence here he has been an active participant in civic and fraternal affairs of Berkeley. He is a director of the Chamber of Commerce. He is also a director of the Berkeley Downtown Association and the Berkeley Traffic Safety Commission. He is a past president of the Berkeley Exchange Club and a member of Berkeley Scouts. He has been active in Boy Scout work.

Harris is an active member and worker in the American Legion. He has served as commander of Berkeley Post, No. 7 and was vice-commander of Alameda county for the year 1933–34. Two years ago he travelled through Europe with an American Legion group headed by former National Commander Harry Colmary.

House of Harris in the 1940s. Call Me Joe had been phased out. (photo courtesy of the Berkeley Historical Society)

This group spent 10 weeks visiting the battlefields of France and participating in the dedication of commemorative monuments.

Harris has shown his confidence in Berkeley and the East Bay in investing his profits from his business in Alameda county real estate. Besides owning his store and a beautiful home at Hearst and LeConte Aves., he is a large property holder here and in Oakland.

For several years, the old name was kept underneath the new one on the fa�ade’s neon sign, but by the time the photo above was taken, “Call Me Joe” had been eliminated altogether, to be replaced by a sign advertising Harris supplier Kuppenheimer, whose slogan was “Good Clothes.” Call Me Joe had gone upscale.

Also from the ’40s was the taller annex in the rear of the store. Together, they made the establishment look like an elongated version of the Harris residence, which the modern architect Donald Olsen called “Steamboat ’round the Bend.”

Another Moderne Berkeley store designed by John B. Anthony during the same period is the Campus Textbook Exchange at 2470 Bancroft Way (1939). It operated continuously until 2002, when it was incorporated into Ned’s bookstore next door.

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005

Photo: Krista Osmundson, The Daily Californian, 2002

John B. Anthony spent the war years working in the engineering department of the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, where he toiled anonymously. In the National Register of Historic Places, the Historic District designation for Richmond Shipyard No. 3 does not include his name. Nevertheless, the design of the General Warehouse in that shipyard bears elements that appear in Anthony’s 1930s buildings. Although strictly utilitarian in function, the warehouse surprises with Moderne touches such as horizontal bands of ribbed concrete that alternate with bands of smooth concrete along the entire fa�ade, rounded corners, portholes, and a front entrance that could be adapted for a department store or a cinema. Anthony may very well have had a defining hand in the design of this structure.

General Warehouse, Richmond Shipyard No. 3 (photos: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

Around 1946, Anthony designed another Call Me Joe store for the Gallo Wine Company in Modesto. Several architectural drawings of that project are housed in U.C. Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design Archives.

Photos: BAHA archives

In 1958, House of Harris moved to the northwest corner of Shattuck and University. The Berkeley Square store was demolished and replaced in 1959 with the Berkeley Savings & Loan building, which featured a glass and aluminum exterior with precast concrete sunscreen panels. The new building sported a large roof sign with the legend Berkeley Insured Savings, displaying the current interest rate offered by the bank.

House of Harris demolition (photo: BAHA archives)
Berkeley Savings & Loan (photo: BAHA archives)

In 1965, the name was changed to American Savings. A 1970 alteration removed the concrete panels and added an ugly overhanging marquee, which required special variance from the city council, since the zoning law prescribed a horizontal distance of not less than two feet between a marquee and a curb line. For thirty long years, the American Savings building was a blight in the heart of downtown Berkeley. In 1999, the site was acquired by the Kaplan test-prep organization. The building, renovated by Kava Massih Architects of Berkeley, opened the following year.

Kaplan Building (Kava Massih Architects, 2000)

See also:
Call Me Joe store ads

Joseph W. Harris House



Copyright © 2004–2019 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.