Berkeley’s Victorian enclave recalls city’s early days

Daniella Thompson

John H. & Arianna Whitham House (A.W. Pattiani & Co., 1889)

Whitham House in 1974 (photo: Elizabeth Crews)

30 January 2006 & 13 July 2011

In the late 1800s, Berkeley was a favorite retirement spot for sea captains. A number of them built imposing Victorians overlooking the Golden Gate in the North Berkeley hills (see Captain Boudrow House), but few people know that the Southside boasted its own enclave of sailors’ residences at the intersection of Fulton and Blake Streets.

This intersection retains its Victorian character to this day, with four intact houses—one Italianate and three Queen Annes—gracing its northeast and southwest corners. The original owners of all these houses had been seafarers.

Captain John H. Whitham’s house stands at 2198 Blake Street. This elegant Queen Anne, still surrounded by its original cast-iron fence, was designed and built in 1889 by prominent Alameda architect A.W. Pattiani. Two years later, Pattiani went on to build Captain James H. Bruce’s sumptuous Queen Anne at 2211 Blake Street. Both residences were featured in BAHA’s 2004 house tour, Berkeley 1890: “At Home” along Fulton Street.

Bruce-Blacker House in 1914 (Blacker family collection)

Bruce-Blacker House (A.W. Pattiani & Co., 1891) (Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2006)

But the oldest house in the Blake-Fulton maritime corner is the Alfred Bartlett residence at 2201 Blake Street. Erected in 1877, it is probably the most unspoiled Italianate dwelling in Berkeley.

An Englishman born in 1841, Alfred Bartlett served in the British navy in his early teens. Discontented, at age 15 he stowed away on a ship to New York. In 1857 he worked passage on a ship to California in a stormy voyage of 152 days around the horn. Once arrived in San Francisco, he bought a wagon and horses and began selling books.

Following a checkered and adventurous career, by 1877 Bartlett was prosperous enough to invest in real estate. Early that year he bought two lots on Blake Street in Berkeley and built the Italianate dwelling “for the sake of the health of my wife and two daughters,” then three- and five-years old. The same year, Bartlett joined with four other prominent businessmen—James L. Barker, William B. Heywood, George D. Dornin, and Charles K. Clarke—in forming the Berkeley Land and Building Company. The Berkeley Advocate of 25 August 1877 reported that “They intend to do a Real Estate business in conjunction with building and improvements that will contribute to the growth and prosperity of the town.” The company’s office was located at the Berkeley terminus, on the Shattuck Avenue island now known as Berkeley Square.

Alfred Bartlett House, west fa´┐Żade (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2006)

The two Bartlett houses in 1900 (BAHA archives)

At the time the Bartlett residence went up, the surrounding Blake Tract, newly subdivided in 1876, was still mostly farmland, yet on 24 November 1877 the Berkeley Advocate was calling for “a separate incorporation of Berkeley, like Cambridge, (Mass.), or any other university town.” Berkeley would incorporate the following year.

In addition to selling books and real estate, Alfred Bartlett also dabbled in local politics. In 1886, he ran for the office of Berkeley Town Marshal. In this campaign he was defeated by the popular contractor-builder and amateur painter A.H. Broad, who had been a member of Berkeley’s first Board of Trustees, was a founder of Berkeley’s first library, and later would serve as Town Engineer and as superintendent of reconstruction of Berkeley Schools injured by the earthquake.

Second Bartlett House, left, and Bruce House (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2006)

In 1892, the Bartletts built a second house next door, at 2205 Blake Street. Rumor has it that this Queen Anne residence was a wedding present for one of the Bartletts’ daughters, but it appears to have been used as a rental property, as demand for housing increased as the district grew around the thriving Downtown and Dwight Way Station commercial areas along Shattuck Avenue.

The two Bartlett houses, situated in their original setting with virtually no exterior alterations, are probably the most pristine representation of Victorian Berkeley remaining. They were designated a City of Berkeley Landmark in December 2005. Sadly, their owner at that time engaged in systematic mutilation and removal of the old Coast Live Oak trees around these graceful old houses, while in 2011, a new owner altered the almost intact interior of 2201 Blake Street demolished a portion of 2205 Blake Street without a permit.

This article was originally published in the Berkeley Daily Planet on 3 February 2006.


Copyright © 2006–2022 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.