BAHA :: Spring House Tour Will Explore Picturesque Villas in Arlington Heights


BAHA Spring House Tour will explore picturesque villas in Arlington Heights

Daniella Thompson

The Spring Mansion (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

27 April 2011

The residential neighborhood gracing the hills east of Arlington Avenue and above the Spring Mansion is one of Berkeley’s most scenic early 20th-century garden suburbs. Tree-shaded streets are lined with picturesque period-revival houses reminiscent of Italian villas, Norman country houses, Tudor manors, and beguiling “storybook” cottages.

Beginning in 1909, John Hopkins Spring, owner and developer of most of what became Albany and North Berkeley, subdivided a succession of tracts, the first of which was Thousand Oaks, followed by Arlington Villa Sites (1910), Arlington Heights (1911), Arlington Oaks (1912), and Thousand Oaks Heights (1912). All these tracts were laid out by landscape engineer Mark Daniels, who worked in partnership with Vance Craigmiles Osmont, an expert in the volcanic rock so abundant in this area.

Like Spring’s other subdivisions, Arlington Heights boasts quiet, sylvan streets that undulate with the hills, sweeping marine vistas, generous lots, and secluded walking paths that used to provide easy access to streetcar lines, commuter trains, and ferries. Early residents of the neighborhood enjoyed a bucolic lifestyle within a 30-minute ride to San Francisco.

Although John Spring began construction on his own mansion in 1912, World War I delayed the full development of his tracts. Most of the lots in the Arlington subdivisions remained vacant until the 1920s, a boom decade in Berkeley, when the city’s population ballooned from 56,000 to 83,000. Much of that growth took place in hilly areas such as this one, which had streets and transportation lines ready for new homebuilders.

One of the few early houses built in the area was the residence of philosophy professor George Plimpton Adams. Built in 1913 at 745 Santa Barbara Road, the redwood house was designed by Walter H. Ratcliff.

Prof. George P. Adams and his family at home on Santa Barbara Road (photo: Sidney Webb)

The Adams family was living on the Southside when Mary Adams talked a realtor into driving her and her visiting mother-in-law for an outing in the Berkeley hills, ostensibly to look at property. “The hills were brown and bare,” wrote her daughter, Cornelia Lonnberg, 63 years later. “There were no houses to the north to be seen, and my mother fell immediately in love with the area. Needless to say, three lots were bought on the spot.”

Just before Christmas 1915, John Spring left his wife for a younger woman and moved away from Berkeley. The Spring estate was sold in late 1917 to the educator and mathematician Cora L. Williams, who established in it her Institute of Creative Development (later Williams College), a tony elementary and secondary school known for its focus on languages, poetry, music, and literature, along with interpretive dance inspired by Isadora Duncan.

The Adams children attended the William Institute, and their mother was engaged to teach various subjects, including history, English, Latin, and geography. For her first class in ancient history, Mary Adams focused on Egypt. She enlisted the help of Bernard Maybeck, who came to class and assisted the children in making models of early Egyptian buildings. “We made our own bricks for these huts out of grass and mud and used modeling clay in making the pyramids,” wrote Cornelia Lonnberg. “Mr. Maybeck was very helpful also when we made enormous posters of the Great Sphinx of Giza, the sun god Ra, and the god Osiris, drawing them first, coloring them, and hanging them at the top of the red plush carpeted stairway for the whole school to see.”

Rear view of the Adams house in its early days (courtesy of the Adams family)

One of Prof. Adams’ closest friends was Prof. Jacob Loewenberg, his colleague from the U.C. philosophy department and later his next-door neighbor. Jack Loewenberg was famous for having no sense of direction. When Mary Adams invited him to dinner for the first time, he paid no attention to the explicit directions she provided on the phone. Upon arrival, Loewenberg reported that he had taken the Euclid Avenue car to the end of the line, whereupon he walked fifteen minutes up Grizzly Peak Blvd., eventually passing Prof. Calhoun’s house (George Calhoun of the U.C. Greek department lived at 1056 Euclid Avenue). Calhoun was working in his garden, and Loewenberg asked him how to get to the Adams house. Fifteen minutes later, Loewenberg passed Calhoun’s house again, and the latter told him that he spent most of his time directing lost metaphysicians to the Adams house.

The Adams house, designed by Water H. Ratcliff in 1913 (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2011)

Clad in barn shakes, the Adams house is a singular Arts & Crafts presence in its neighborhood. Most ofArlington Heights reflects the taste of the 1920s, favoring the various romantic styles known collectively as Period Revival. Here you will find Mediterranean houses with red tile roofs and stucco walls alongside half-timbered and turreted English and French country houses or Italian villas.

The picturesque houses of Arlington Heights were designed by local architects, from Maybeck and Ratcliff to a younger generation of U.C. graduates, including Edwin Lewis Snyder, Henry Gutterson, John Hudson Thomas, Roland Stringham, and the brothers Sidney and Noble Newsom (Noble was John Spring’s son-in-law). Designer-builders such as Joseph M. Walker, Walter W. Dixon and Richard K. Schmidt also left their mark with fanciful designs.

Ten Arlington Heights houses, among them the Spring Mansion, the Adams house, and two houses designed by Maybeck, will be open on Sunday, 8 May 2011, during BAHA’s Spring House Tour. The tour will be preceded by a lecture on Storybook Style, to take place at the Hillside Club on 5 May 2011 at 7:30 pm.


This article was published in the Berkeley Daily Planet on 27 April 2011.


21 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.