Spring 2001 House Tour & Reception

Sunday, 6 May 2001
One to Five o’clock

Ten houses will be open for viewing.
Tour map, illustrated guidebook & refreshments provided

Tickets: $32 general; $25 BAHA members

Call (510) 841-2242 to order tickets

This year’s tour features two quintessential early Berkeley neighborhoods. Live Oak Park, created by the City in 1914, is one of North Berkeley’s gems and is the centerpiece of the several neighborhoods that surround it. The interiors and gardens of ten special houses dating from the first years of the last century will be open for viewing. These include the early work of architects Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, and Henry Gutterson. There will be a reception in one of the gardens, and a string quartet will perform in one of the houses.

About the Park

Live Oak Park is one of Berkeley’s oldest and most naturalistic public parks. Codornices Creek meanders through its grove of native oaks, accented here and there with large old specimen trees planted in the original gardens that preceded the park. However, the neighborhood did not grow up around the park. In fact, most of the nearby houses were built long before 1914, when the land was purchased by the City of Berkeley for a public park.

Two groupings of houses have been selected to showcase the architecture of the area, as well as to allow for exploration of Live Oak Park and a glimpse of the old Napoleon Bonaparte Byrne homestead. There will be two houses designed by Bernard Maybeck as part of a large family compound. Both still have their original redwood interiors, and one even retains its wine-red velvet wall coverings. A pair of Julia Morgan houses from 1906 and 1910 stand side by side further up the hill. They show the careful symmetry and attention to detail that reflect Julia Morgan’s Beaux-Arts training, which she translated into the local shingle vernacular. The 1908 Dempster House, perched on a large corner hillside lot, is the epitome of the Craftsman home and was designed by the owner to be earthquake-proof. It is owned by descendants of the original family. Next door, a large brown-shingle house features a wrap-around porch and a bay view; it was the recipient of a BAHA preservation award.

A Henry Gutterson–designed house from 1914, built for the Howell family (of San Francisco’s famed John Howell–Books), has a stage in the living room that was the setting for family theatricals (the string quartet will perform there on the tour). On a sunny southern slope is a 1905 house by Maybeck’s brother-in-law, John White. Its forest green attic feels like a treehouse. Another Craftsman house features a partially half-timbered exterior. Finally, the new house on the block, a large English Arts & Crafts house built in 1911 for a member of the Cutter family, (owners of the pharmaceutical firm) has just received the finishing touches of a loving and careful restoration.

The Napoleon Bonaparte Byrne house and grounds

Early History

In 1860, the vast area that now includes both the park and its neighborhoods, and which extended over the top of the Berkeley Hills, was acquired by one of Berkeley’s earliest settlers, Napoleon Bonaparte Byrne. He and his family—and Pete and Hannah Byrne, two former slaves who had been freed prior to the journey west—made the long trek across the continent from Missouri to settle on the banks of Codornices Creek, where they began farming their 800 acres. In 1868, the Byrnes built an imposing Italianate villa set to the east of the park on Oxford Street. The house stood for more than 100 years. In 1985, while undergoing a long-awaited restoration, the house was severely damaged in two arson fires and was subsequently demolished. The site of the house and its grounds, which includes a stretch of creek, continues to have significance as a reminder of Berkeley’s pioneers.

Beginning in 1873, after having invested in a farming venture in the Sacramento Delta, the Byrnes began selling off their Berkeley property piece by piece. Henry Berryman purchased the Byrne House with ten adjoining acres, and it became known as the Berryman Place. Other acreage, bought by investors including Berryman, was surveyed for subdivisions. Envisioning a developing town, Henry Berryman, as owner of the Berkeley Waterworks, built the Berryman Reservoir (still located nearby) and also extended the Shattuck Avenue steam train line northward from University Avenue to Vine Street (Berryman Station). Both ventures were intended to increase the desirability of Berryman’s North Berkeley lots. A few of the earliest houses built during that time are still standing today.

Glendalough, Dr. Michael O’Toole’s estate

Site of Live Oak Park

Several early homes were built to the west, on parcels comparable in size to the Berryman place. Two of those—the Russell Penniman estate and the six-acre homesite of Dr. Michael O’Toole, named Glendalough—became the nucleus of Live Oak Park. Following Dr. O’Toole’s death in 1897, Mr. Penniman purchased the O’Toole property to add to his own on the southern bank of Codornices Creek, in order that their beauty might be kept intact and not soon sacrificed to subdivision.

Through Penniman’s efforts, this large property was a practically made-to-order municipal garden when the City of Berkeley purchased it in March 1914. At that time Berkeley, like many other American cities, was swept up in the City Beautiful movement and had recently commissioned a report on city planning that revealed a lack of public parks. The City’s ambitious plan was to acquire gradually other properties along Codornices Creek and link the new Live Oak Park with Codornices Park, several blocks to the east. Eventually, the park was extended to Oxford Street, with an entrance opposite the old Byrne-Berryman property.

The gardens surrounding the house were landscaped in a natural park-like style, and for many years, the house served as the park‘s club house. Improvements to the park, such as the stone fireplace and bridge, were built about 1919. The park once held a branch of the public library and an aviary donated by W. E. Miles, who had served as a parks commissioner. Oak and bay trees shade Codornices Creek, which flows through the park.

Copyright © 2001–2015 BAHA. All Rights Reserved.