Announcing our 31th Spring House Tour
and Garden Reception

The Residential Work of Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr.
in Claremont Park

Sunday, 7 May 2006, One to Five o’clock

We will celebrate the centennial of the architectural firm with a tour of eleven charming and elegant residences designed by the founder of the Ratcliff dynasty. Many of the houses were built in the early 1910s, several years following the 1905 opening of Duncan McDuffie’s Claremont Park.

Tour map, illustrated guidebook & refreshments provided
General $35; BAHA members & guests $25

(discount limit: 2 guests per individual member; 4 per household)

Order tickets online (see below) or use the ticket order form.

In Berkeley and the Bay Area, 2006 is a year full of meaning and crowded with centennial commemorations. It marks not only the 100th anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire but that of many Berkeley homes erected during the post-earthquake building boom. The urgent need for so many new homes was an opportunity that several promising East Bay architects seized to hang up their own shingles. One of them was Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr., founder of the architectural firm currently celebrating a hundred years of continuous practice. In celebration of this milestone, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association presents a tour of Walter Ratcliff-designed homes in Claremont Park, a trend-setting “residential park” that is also 100-years old.

Walter Ratcliff and his family came to California from England, settling in Berkeley. The young Walter attended Berkeley High School and graduated from the University of California with a degree in chemistry in 1903. He then pursued a long-time interest in architecture, worked in John Galen Howard’s office, and obtained his architect’s license on 15 March 1906. After a short-lived partnership with architect Alfred Henry Jacobs, Ratcliff opened his own office in Berkeley in late 1908.

Many distinguished architects have left their mark on Berkeley’s landscape, but Walter Ratcliff’s vision and talent can be seen everywhere you look: residences in almost every neighborhood, from bungalows and cottages to grand houses; commercial buildings in Downtown; and institutional buildings of every type.

It can be said that he possessed an abiding concern for the well-being and beautification of the city as a whole that went beyond the design of a certain building for a certain location. Ratcliff’s career began in the Progressive Era, when the City Beautiful Movement spread across America, with civic beautification and thoughtful planning the order of the day. Ratcliff shared this philosophy with another local visionary, Duncan McDuffie, the creative force behind Berkeley’s then-new subdivisions, such as Claremont Park, San Pablo Park, and Northbrae, noted for respect of the natural topography and for offering parklike surroundings for homelife. Ratcliff was tangentially involved in these ventures: he was the developers’ architect of choice, whose services were offered to prospective buyers. Ratcliff and McDuffie worked together to create Berkeley’s first planning commission (1913) and zoning (1916).

Ratcliff was in a unique position to realize a far-reaching vision. Unlike most architects, he was also a real-estate developer and lender, which gave him the freedom to decide where and what to build. Ratcliff and his business partner Charles L. McFarland purchased lots and erected houses all around town. These were not run-of-the-mill speculative houses; costing more than the average home at the time, they were refined and comfortable, and each made a distinctive addition to the streetscape. Ratcliff’s speculative houses seem to be almost strategically placed as if to set the standard for subsequent surrounding development. In Claremont Park, many Ratcliff and McFarland houses can be found, often two to three to a block, where they impart a certain distinctive graciousness to their environs.

His appointment as City Architect in September 1913 allowed Ratcliff to effect higher quality in the design of Berkeley’s civic buildings, in addition to helping improve its residential character. His first City project was a group of firehouses, designed to be harmonious with their residential neighbors. He went on to design four splendid public school buildings and the City’s corporation yard, a village-like cluster of small-scale brick buildings. Some of Berkeley’s most creative commercial buildings are his, and among his many institutional commissions, the campus of the Pacific School of Religion is considered one of the finest collections of modern Gothic structures in the West.



The Claremont Park houses that will be open for viewing on the tour will include private commissions as well as Ratcliff’s speculative houses. A gabled, brown-shingle house perched on a hillside was one of the first houses he built after starting his own practice. You will see a picture-perfect Craftsman bungalow with a riverstone fireplace, probably inspired by a trip to Los Angeles, where Ratcliff was intrigued by the hundreds of bungalows then being built there. Several examples of his elegantly-proportioned stucco houses of the early ’teens, with superbly detailed wood-trimmed interiors, will be open. A unique English-cottage studio home from 1910, a California Mission-inspired hilltop “mansion” from 1909, and a Spanish Colonial Revival, the design of which was based on his sketches from an architectural research trip to Mexico, as well as several other houses designed in the woodsy Bay Area tradition, will give tour goers an idea of the variety of Walter Ratcliff’s work, as well as its quality and beauty.

Pre-tour illustrated lecture

Walter Ratcliff, Architect

Walter Ratcliff in the 1920s
(courtesy of the Ratcliff family)

Speaker: Woodruff Minor
Author of Ratcliff Architecture
(to be published in the fall by Heyday Books)
Thursday, 4 May, at 7:30 pm
Claiborne Hill Chapel (Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr., 1949)
American Baptist Seminary of the West
2509 Hillegass Avenue, Berkeley

Lecture admission $10

Order tour & lecture tickets online

Or use the ticket order form to order by mail.

For directions, see map.

Copyright © 2006 BAHA. All rights reserved.
Photographs © Daniella Thompson.