McCreary-Greer House

2318 Durant Avenue, Berkeley, CA

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004

The McCreary-Greer House is an outstanding example of turn-of-the-century Classic Revival style and a City of Berkeley Landmark. Although we refer to the house as the McCreary-Greer House, and the McCreary family did occupy it from 1907 to 1981, they were not the first owners. The house’s origins have been shrouded in mystery, and there are conflicting stories about its construction. From existing records it can be concluded that the house was built in 1901, three years earlier than the commonly assumed date of 1904. However, the house may have been designed as early as 1896 by the architect and builder Cornelius Sarsfield McNally, and it was built for either Ada and Abner Lowell or Marie and Frank Luce Bateman (of the Bateman Tract).

The owner of the land between c. 1895 and 1901 was Abner Lowell; the Batemans were listed as owners by 1902. Donald Lawton, who lived nearby as a boy, remembers the basement being unfinished for quite some time (a favorite story: Donald Lawton paddling a raft from room to room when the basement had filled with water from the winter rains). The Lowells may have built the house, with or without McNally’s 1896 plans, before selling it to the Batemans. Or the Batemans may have built the house using the existing foundation, with McNally’s plans, or plans of their own architect. We may never know.

Intermediate owners before the McCrearys purchased it in 1907 were San Francisco attorney Burrell Gordon White and his wife Josephine, refugees of the 1906 earthquake and fire. J. Edward McCreary was in the oil business in Hanford and was typical of the prosperous businessmen and San Francisco commuters in the neighborhood who valued proximity to transportation and the University. The Lawtons lived a block west at 2211 Durant Avenue; Donald’s father was in real estate on Center Street. Across the street was Frank A. Naylor, officer of numerous Berkeley banks and realty firms. At Ellsworth Street were the Welkers, who had an “orchard” around the corner on Bancroft Avenue.

At Durant Avenue and Ellsworth Street was the site of what Lawton remembers as the home of the Dean Witter family, a huge verandah-encircled house built in 1895 for the family of Frederick H. Clark, another Berkeley banker/realtor. A little later, police chief August Vollmer lived at 2303 and would take Lawton and the other boys swimming at the Berkeley Pier; up the block around the City Club site, one particularly favored boy had his own roller coaster (“scenic railway”), inspired by the one at Idora Park; the firehouse at Shattuck and Durant Avenues was a favorite attraction; and the loft of the McCreary carriage house was a place to go eat a whole carton of ice cream undisturbed.

Installation of the Landmark plaque

In 1961, Alice Greer, who had grown up in the 2400 block of Durant and was a childhood friend of the McCreary children and had always loved the house, purchased it from the family. Miss Greer never lived in the house (the McCrearys continued to live there until 1981 and the upstairs was converted into two apartments), but entertained friends in the spacious halls and spent much time working in the garden. Miss Greer purchased the house at a time when other owners in the area were quick to sell to developers. What was once a gracious residential neighborhood has all but disappeared except for this one house, and this is because of her continued preservation efforts.

Her concern for the future preservation of the property prompted Miss Greer in June 1986 to offer the house to BAHA. The Association accepted this generous and slightly overwhelming offer, and on 18 July 1986, Miss Greer signed the deed over to BAHA with the understanding that the property would be maintained and its historic character preserved. On 18 August 1986, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the McCreary-Greer House a City of Berkeley Landmark. Two months later, Alice Greer died with the knowledge that her beloved house would be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

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