Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Haehl House, Palo Alto

Lowell Avenue facade. Photo: A. B. Clark, 1920

The house at 1680 Bryant Street, corner of Lowell Avenue, in Palo Alto was built for H. A. Haehl in 1914. It has elements of Art Nouveau, Viennese Secessionism, and Prairie School. A photo of this house appeared in "Art Principles" by A. B. Clark with a diagram illustrating the interplay of rectangles in the facades and window muntins. What stands today of this house is only the north half of a larger house at 275 Lowell Avenue. The original house was over 6,000 square feet and had an H-shaped floor plan with the entrance between the two legs of the H, on the Lowell Avenue side of the structure. There was apparently a porte cochere where the present entrance is.
I received confirmation from two sources that the house was split prior to 1950. Looking at the aerial views on Google Earth, the split appears to have been made prior to 1948.

Green: 275 Lowell, Orange: 1680 Bryant. Aerial Photo: USGS, 1948

Sandra Sigurdson sent a photo and wrote that her family lived this house since 1983. She said that what had been the south portion of the house was made a separate property sometime in the late Forties and that the owners of the south portion tore it down in 1997 for construction of a new house on that property.

This story dovetails with information I received from Rick Simpson, whose family owned 1680 Bryant from 1950 to 1968. He had been told that the passage connecting the two sides of the house had been severed immediately after WWII. Rick clarified that the south portion of the house had the address 275 Lowell Avenue and was owned by the family of concert pianist Adolf Baller from 1950 to sometime in the 1990's. After the Ballers sold it, the new owner tore it down to build a larger house.

Bryant Street facade. Photo: S. Sigurdson, 2003

Some remodeling was done to the present house but Ms. Sigurdson said the changes they made were true to the style of JHT's original design. This house is listed on the City of Palo Alto Historic Inventory.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Rise and Fall of Twelve Acres

Photo: Los Altos History Museum
I received a bounty of information from Jane Metz, describing a house in Los Altos that JHT designed as a country retreat for E. J. McCutchen, a prominent San Francisco lawyer. It was located on Pine Lane, near Adobe Creek. The house was featured in the January 1920 issue of Architect and Engineer.

Constructed for $20,000 in 1918, the 14-room mansion was sited on a sixteen-acre site that was beautifully landscaped by McCutchen's friend, John McLaren, who served as superintendent of Golden Gate Park. McCutchen died in 1933 and the rambling 2-story house was sold to Adolph Meyer of the Pet Milk Company. For a time, the house became known as the Meyer and Manning residence. In 1943, the house and 12 acres of land were sold to the Christian Science Church and served as a home for children until 1959. During this time the estate was known as "Twelve Acres". Once they had further subdivided the property and sold all but two acres, the church built their new children's home about 75 feet from the original house.

Photo: Los Altos History Museum
The old mansion was sold to a member of the planning commission, a contractor who planned to either remodel it or tear it down. Unfortunately, after standing empty for a year, the structure was destroyed in a suspicious fire on August 16th, 1960.

Photo: Los Altos History Museum
Stylistically, this house was transitional for JHT, fitting in after his Viennese Secessionist period and largely of the English Plaster Cottage style he would settle into throughout the 20's. With its clipped gables and thatch-like rolled shingle eaves, it bore some resemblance to the Blasingame House in Piedmont of the same year, or the Cherry House in Oakland of 1915. Ironically, prior to building this house in Los Altos, Edward McCutchen's home in San Francisco had been destroyed by fire--but that was in the days when fire wagons were still pulled by horses and house fires were relatively common.

Thanks to Jane Metz for digging up most of this information. She even found out that during the time the house was serving as a children's home and summer camp, Peter Ueberroth worked there as a recreation leader or PE teacher. Though the building no longer stands, due to its history as a children's home there must be scores of people who have memories off this place.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Three JHT Doors for Sale

Three redwood interior doors from a 1923 John Hudson Thomas house in North Berkeley hills. Dimensions are:
29 1/2" x 79 1/2"
31 1/2" x 79 1/2"
31 3/4" x 79 1/2" (2-way swinging dr.)
In the photo, the two doors on left are upside-down. They have partial hardware. Asking $40 apiece, or best offer. Respond to this ad on Craig's List if you are interested in acquiring these doors.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Anthony House Tour

I was unable to attend the Anthony House tour organized by Foster Goldstrom but Jim Stetson did go and took these marvelous photos. Enjoy this very special house by JHT!

Here's a link to the Flickr set. Or enjoy these photos as a larger sized slideshow by doubleclicking on them below.

Many thanks to Foster for arranging this outing, to the owner for allowing appreciative visitors and to Jim for taking and sharing these photos. What a wonderful house.

Monday, April 6, 2009

San Francisco Earthquake

I happened to be channel flipping last night and by chance came upon the American Experience documentary on PBS about the SF Earthquake of 1906. It really made me understand at a much deeper level how this fueled the East Bay's growth from 1906-1918 (when World War I began). You can't see the show online, but you can view some of the photos of SF in 1906 here.
You can rent the program from Netflix
or buy it used on Amazon for $8.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Detailed Descriptions of 7 Berkeley Houses by JHT (from 1979 Tour Notes)

In 1979, the Ecole Bilingue offered a self-guided house tour of 7 houses by John Hudson Thomas. There are detailed descriptions for the featured houses:

1. Kruse House, 564 Santa Clara Ave., 1914
2. Spring Mansion, 1960 San Antonio Road, 1912
3. Pratt-Verper House, 959 Indian Rock Ave., 1911
4. Pratt-Thomas House, 800 Shattuck Ave., 1911
5. Blum House, 1505 Hawthorne Terrace, 1926
6. Park House, 3115 Claremont Ave., 1914
7. Wintermute, 227 Tunnel Road, 1913
8. Ecole Bilingue, 1001/9 Heinz St., 1915

I've added a brief overview map and list of the houses in the document. I originally photocopied the 1979 tour from the BAHA archives.

To see the whole tour, check out the document on

John Hudson Thomas Self Guided Tour (1979) of 7 Berkeley House

Many thanks to all the original contributors who wrote these descriptions.

I also created the tour in Google Maps. For those who are interested, you can find it here.

There's nothing particularly special about this house tour today (since the houses are not open as they were in 1979). But the descriptions are interesting and have occasional historical bits in them.

Coming soon - some self-guiding tours that focus on a particular theme or aspect of JHT's work - or works that are located in a specific neighborhood.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Kluegel House Offered in a Trustee’s Sale

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005

The Laura Belle Marsh Kluegel House (John Hudson Thomas, 1911) at 2669 Le Conte Avenue, Berkeley, is a designated City of Berkeley Landmark (see the full landmark application).

Currently in default, the building will go on the auction block this Friday, March 27, at 12:30 pm. The sale will take place at the Fallon Street entrance to the Alameda County Court House, 1225 Fallon Street, Oakland, CA.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"John Hudson Thomas and the Progressive Spirit in Architecture" Now Online

John Hudson Thomas and the Progressive Spirit in Architecture 1910-1920

The Best Writing on JHT - Coming to the Web Soon!

To date, the person who has written the most about JHT is Thomas Gordon Smith, who wrote his master's thesis, while a student at U. C. Berkeley in the early 70s, on Thomas.

Thomas Gordon Smith later became the dean of the school of architecture at the University of Notre Dame and a noted architect specializing in the classical style.

I called him this week to see if he might allow his 1975 thesis to be published on the web, so it will be more available to researchers and fans - and he's agreed.

This is a great gift and we are all grateful for his contribution and granting access to this work.

Loring House

The fabulous Loring house, done in the Prairie School style, is on the National Historic Landmarks building list. Anyone have more info about the Loring House? Or know someone who does? Anyone know the owners?

Pratt Thomas House, 800 Shattuck, Berkeley (1911)

This entire hillside was bare and unpopulated when developer Pratt commissioned JHT to design three houses, that cascade down the hill, on Indian Rock Avenue, beginning with the top house across the street from Indian Rock Park. A more commanding site could not be imagined. With thrilling views down the street to the Marin Circle and vast views across the Bay in all directions, JHT, who'd had the pick of the litter when it comes to lots, had the choicest location at 800 Shattuck.

I've a sneaking suspicion he liked to look at his own work, and designed the two houses below 800 Shattuck - the Pratt-Verber House next door and the Pratt House adjacent to it - at 959-961 Indian Rock so that he could view them from his living room window.

I had a lovely visit with Dorcas Kowalski, owner of the Pratt-Thomas house. She gave me a tour of the property. It was thrilling to sit in what was once Thomas' house and look across the living room to see his other houses, just below.

It's sometimes called his honeymoon house for he moved here in 1911 with his new wife and lived here for two years. The master bedroom has matching his and her walk in closets, each with a window. In the middle, in the master bedroom, is a fireplace.

The Pratt Thomas house has a fireplace centered in a spacious inglenook with a wide arch framing the opening. Mr. Kowalski papered the inglenook ceiling with art works.

The Kowalskis have owned it since 1960.

The Pratt Houses: Three In a Row

Here are the photos of the Pratt Thomas House series I took the other day.

You don't usually get to see them as a triplet, which is the way they were designed - i.e. to all go together. They function beautifully that way. All three are in his interpretation of the Viennese Secessionist style and are filled with incredible charm. The outside is a veritable symphony of mass, shapes and adornment. One can see motifs and structures he later uses in his grandest work Wintermute, built 2 years later in 1913.

Robinswold: JHT's Residence and Workspace

A week ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Dick and Irene Riemann, who purchased 31 Norwood (Kensington) from JHT's family in 1972. This is the house JHT designed and lived in from 1928 through 1945. It also contains his office and workshop. The Riemann's have taken extremely good care of the house and, except for adding a carport and remodeling the kitchen, have kept it original for the most part. They made the necessary improvement of adding copper gutters and downspouts and they added a beautiful landscape pond at the rear of the house.

Not only is this where JHT lived and worked, but some of his personal affects are still there. His desk, books and many drawings are there. His self-portrait hangs in the entry. Even a treadle-driven scroll saw is there, near the desk in his office. Throughout the house are examples of what are presumably the output from this machine, such as the floral cutouts in the stairway railing, carved brackets, and small appliqu├ęs in the shape of griffins. You almost get the feeling JHT still lives there--like he'll be returning soon from a walk in the hills.

The house is an example of the English plaster cottage style. It has all the standard features: lots of gables, heavy timber beams, columns and brackets, dormer windows, exposed beam ceilings, half-timbered plaster walls, wood siding, and a very steep shingled roof. The walls around three sides of the living room and the south wall of the kitchen are made of what appear to be very large bricks. I contacted Dan Mosier, of California Bricks, and he explained that these are actually hollow clay tile. At 6x6x12, they are much larger than standard bricks. The walls are only one brick wide, with no interior or exterior finish. This is unreinforced masonry but it has held up very well considering there have been a number of earthquakes over the last 80 years.

Timber corner posts are visible at the exterior of the living room wing. At first I thought these were just trim but if the brick is non-bearing infill these would need to be structural to support the heavy timber beam that runs along the top of the wall and supports the rafters. I need to go back and take a closer look.

Something else that's different about this building is the use of steel factory sash that has been elegantly let-into the heavy timber at the head and jambs. It is a modern detail that takes nothing away from the old world feeling of the overall design. See photos at the JHT Gallery or on flickr. I could go on and on about this house but it has been covered very well by David Weinstein in Signature Architects and Thomas Gordon Smith in Toward A Simpler Way of Life. Both books are recommended.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Did You Know You Can Get Your House Plans?

Just a brief note to let people know that they can order a copy of their house plans, if they are on file, from the U.C. Santa Barbara Collection of Art and Design. I mentioned this to a JHT home owner I met today who didn't know about this, so I thought it was worth sharing with a wider audience.

I've published a listing of all the collection holdings of JHT plans. I will be adding links like these to a forthcoming Wikipedia article about JHT (in process now - about half written) so if you don't take note of these links now, you should still be able to find them later on wikipedia, for sure.

List of Plans by Date

• List of Plans by Client Name

These lists are only of projects with plans. Many dates are missing on this list, but often their dates are available on the JHT Gallery site.

Note: in some cases, some of the houses on the Gallery site are not listed in the UCSB collection because, apparently, they do not have a copy of the plans.

Add Your Photos to Our Online Photo Pool (on


Hi, I'm Pam Strayer and I am a John Hudson Thomas homeowner. Thanks to Jim for allowing me to join his blog as another contributor. I've lived in the Bourne Melvin house on Majestic Ave. near Mill College since 2000. The area was known as Chevrolet Park in 1927 when the house was built (probably because there was a Chevrolet Plant in nearby Eastmont). It's a doll's house version (although it's 1700 sq. ft.) of Thomas' own house which he built the following year in Kensington.


Thomas fan Foster Goldstrom, who lives in Maybeck's Chick House in Berkeley, recently shared with me hundreds of photos of Thomas houses taken in 2002 with Hiro Morimoto, the architect who worked for many years on restoring Thomas's biggest project, Wintermute, on Tunnel Road in Berkeley.

I've uploaded the 500+ photos to a group pool where people can view the photos and contribute their own. There may be a few houses here that are not JHT that Foster and Hiro just wondered about. As I work my way through the lot, I will set those aside in a separate set or delete them altogether. Also, Hiro and Foster sometimes took pictures of house interiors but these have not been included in the publicly viewable photo sets unless owners have given permission. (If you remember that Hiro and Foster took pictures of the interior of your home and you want to give us permission to put these online, please email me at strayerpam at

In the process of trying to identify many of the houses, I have not been able to sort them out from the notes well enough, and besides, I decided to try to start taking a look at them in person. My other post today lays out the day's adventures.

But before moving on to that, please visit the collection. I am in the process of attaching names, dates, and addresses to the photos, and as there are 500+ it may take me some time. You can add comments to photos on Flickr, so be sure to add any you'd like to and upload more photos. You can also tag photos that are similar and sort them to view that way.

Flickr has a lovely slideshow viewing feature you can use as well. You cannot click on that apparently from the "collection" mode, but you can once you are at the "set" level. Enjoy and feel free to spread the word to any other JHT enthusiasts you may know.

 Photos of John Hudson Thomas houses

If you can't for some reason use this link to find it, go to and search for "John Hudson Thomas" which is the tag on all the photos. You can also search for the user "johnhudsonthomas."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Oakland Tour of JHT Houses: 1910-1914

I spontaneously ended up touring 5 of Thomas's 8 Oakland houses (from the outside) yesterday so I started a collection of just the Oakland houses, as a start. I recommend viewing them in slideshow mode.

JHT Oakland House Photos

Conners House, 1012 Ashmount and [unknown owner] 1016 Ashmount
Today I ventured out to 1012 Ashmount Ave., in Oakland, which is currently for sale. I'd hope to see an open house, but the house wasn't open. However, I did get to see the outside and was seriously wowed. Perhaps this is the best study Thomas did before Wintermute (which he did the following year.)

The house around the corner at 1016 Ashmount is another very fine Thomas house, far more horizontal than 1012.

1012 was built for Conners, the managing editor of the Oakland Tribune and it has a commanding view with spectacular views of the Bay.

1012 Ashmount Photos (exteriors)
1012 Ashmount Photos (interiors, from realtor's site)
1016 Ashmount Photos

I also went off to see some of the nearby Thomas houses, including:

Dow House, 820 Calmar (1912)
A very fine Secessionist/Prairie style house where Thomas has nicely punched out the sides to exploit the spatial possibilities as he did so often in whatever style he was working in.

Dow House, 820 Calmar photos

842 Santa Ray (1910)
A fine shingle style - tweaked with some Secessionist touches, including the massive stucco covered side suports and again the punched out windows on the sides.

842 Santa Ray photos

Jackson House, 1121 Mandana, 1914
A California Prairie style house that was one of the first houses to be built in the area, this impressively sited house also has an incredible commanding view - in this case, looking straight down the street toward downtown Oakland like it was the grandest allee of all time.

One of the owners, Jacki Schier, was kind enough to let me see some of the inside rooms as well and shared a few details about the house with me:

• The capacious three car garage was added in the 1920s.
• Inside the house, the back has been moderately expanded, enclosing a former porch, to build onto the kitchen/den area and a bathroom installed where once there was a coat room. The original maid's room was remodeled to be part of the kitchen.

The house has only had three owners: the Jacksons, the Hunts, and the Schiers, who bought the house in 1973 as a young married couple and raised their family in it.

• During the Hunts ownership, the Hunt family added a third bedroom and a bath upstairs filling in the space under the upstairs eaves - which you can see on the upper right in the photos.
• The outside and the inside of the house were painted pink when the Schiers purchased it from the Mrs. Hunt.
• There is a lovely copper trim over the fireplace and the trademark JHT squares.

I'm hoping to find an old photo of the house when it was the first thing on this hillside. Does anyone know of one?

Jackson House, 1121 Mandana photos

Locke House, 3911 Harrison (1911)
Another masterpiece, this house took my breath away. A stunning jewel, it should have been protected from being squeezed in by the huge looming apartment building on one side and the large Victorian mansion on the other, but it is still a shining example of Thomas's Secessionist work at its sculptural finest. I am dying to go inside sometime and see the top room, which has windows on all four sides. On Sunday, it appeared that the main front rooms are housing a business and the former living room serving as a conference room.

The garage in the back is yet another example of the attention to complete design - i.e. so far, all the garages I've seen are works of art. Mine is - and it made me laugh when I first saw the property to see how beautifully designed it was.

• Locke House, 3911 Harrison photos


While I hadn't planned this as a tour, afterwards, I realized this would make an excellent tour for anyone interested in seeing a fine variety of styles. If you have to prioritize, the starred houses are Must See's but all these houses are worthy and they are very close together. They're too far to comfortably walk to and fro between (especially the Locke house) but you could, depending on how inspired you are.

If I have enough inspiration, I'll map it out and post it here later:

1910: Shingle/Craftsman - 842 Santa Ray
1911: Viennese Secessionist - Locke House, 3911 Harrison St.*****
1912: Viennese Secessionist meets California Prairie - Dow House, 820 Calmar St.
1912: Secessionist style: 1016 Ashmount
1912: Secessionist/Fusion Masterpiece: Conners House, 1012 Ashmont *****
1914: California Prairie - Jackson House, 1121 Mandana **

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ashmount Avenue: Before & After

Photo: Oakland Library History Room
I found some old photos of 1016 and 1012 Ashmount Avenue taken shortly after these houses were built, in 1912. After 95 years, the house at 1016 Ashmount looks pretty good, as you can see by comparing the old photo, above, to the one I took in February of 2007, below. 

Photo: Jim Stetson, 2007
You really have to study the photos to see any difference in the house. It looks like someone added a louver in the gable but that's about the only change. It always bugged me that someone would have cut the fascia out around that second floor window and it made me think that window was not original. But the window shows in the old photo,  so maybe it was planned that way. It's just one of those inexplicable odd things you see in JHT's buildings sometimes. In the right hand side of the old photo of 1012 you can see a portion of the house at 1016 Ashmount.

Photo: Oakland Library History Room
This house is known as the Conners House and it is one of JHT's best. You can see pictures of this house taken in 1997 in the
JHT Gallery, but the place is for sale now, so check out these very good pictures: 1012 Ashmount It looks like it was restored to like-new condition. Wish I had an extra $2M hanging around. Crocker Highlands is glorious in the spring but it would be even better sitting on that terrace.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How the Cherry House Survived the Fire of '91

Photo: Jim Stetson, 1986
This is a great story I received back in December of 2002. It's the kind of item that is perfect for this blog so I offer it as an example for any of you who might have similar anecdotal tales on the subject of JHT and his work. 
Dear Jim,                                                                                                   
From 1959 through 1987 my family owned the house at the corner of Cross Road and Romany Road. We were the third owners and some older families still referred to the house as the "Cherry" house all through those years. The address was always 5950 Romany Road, sequential to other houses on Romany. However, I remember that its original construction address  may have had a Cross Road number. What a kick to see the photos on you gallery site. My mom was looking over my shoulder as I opened up the site. "That's my little car!", she said. Sure enough - and that's my old Fiat sedan at the side. Great house to grow up in. It has spoiled all the other homes I've ever lived in!

We found out that the house survived the '91 fire even before the current owners were allowed back to the property. In 1987,  I worked on the house for 3 months with a small crew to put the house in top shape for sale. It had always been kept up, but we wanted to put the house in "restoration" quality condition. We were very proud to be the "current caretakers". Two of my friends who helped work on the house were so taken by the detail and design of the house. Devastated by its possible loss in the fire, they separately snuck in through the fire lines and took photos. I had moved to Portland the day before the fire. I was at a "welcome to the neighborhood" party narrating the fire street-by-street, sure that the house was gone. The next day, both of my friends who had worked on the house called to say that 5950 had survived.

A contributing factor was certainly the steep pitch and a 1987 reshingled roof--but more probably the oscillating sprinkler placed on the "little house" ( garage) bedroom dormer rooftop that saved the day. The story I got is: an older gentleman (80) who always referred to the house as "The Cherry House", stopped on his way down Cross Road. He inched along the built-in gutter of the "little house" carrying the hose and sprinkler, placed the sprinkler on the dormer top, climbed down and turned on the faucet. His house was already on fire a few blocks up the hill!
The photos you have are circa 1986, guessing from the cars. The ramp to the house was replaced and the stone stairs restored for the sale.  There is now an ivy covered fence around the yard, as my Mom started collecting Newfoundland dogs about 1984. She moved back to her family home on the Ohio River in '87, restored the house here, and is still collecting Newfoundlands- three big beasts out in the yard here as I write.

Marie and George Converse
New Cumberland, West Virginia

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Conger House

I have just photographed 832 Oxford Street in Berkeley. This is a beautifully maintained example of the type of house JHT was doing in 1928. It is stucco with steep sloped roofs. The stucco on this house is a warm brown with gold colored pebbles scattered through it. It has never been painted and looks as good as new after more than 80 years. The owners were kind enough to let me borrow the original drawings so I could scan them and post them on the JHT Gallery. Click here to go to the Gallery and see the photos. Then scroll down and click on BLUEPRINTS to see the drawings.
Photo: Jim Stetson, 2009

Welcome to the JHT Journal

In 1997 I assembled my photos of the work of John Hudson Thomas on a website and called it the John Hudson Thomas Gallery. Over the years I have received many emails from people who own houses designed by JHT. I have also been given tips on where to find other JHT houses that are missing from the Gallery. I try to keep the site updated but because this is just one hobby among others, and they all have to compete with my "day job", I don't always have time to keep it up as I should. When someone tells me about a house I haven't posted yet, I try to get out and photograph it, research the background a bit--at least enough to confirm it actually is by JHT--and post it to the site. I create new pages the old fashioned way, by tediously entering HTML code and I try to keep links updated and remove any dead ones.

I try to keep the the information on the Gallery site as factual as I can. I'm not always convinced when someone tells me a house is JHT's. I need to see it for myself, see signed drawings, names on building permits, or photos from old periodicals. It's a lot of work, but it is exciting to find little fragments of fact and fill in the missing pieces of the story. It is difficult to find biographical information about JHT (the best reference I've found is Signature Architects of the San Francisco Bay Area, by Dave Weinstein). I have heard from just one living relative of JHT but, unfortunately she didn't have much information about him.

Combing through old newspapers and magazines in Cal's CED history room or shuffling through old photos in the files of the California History room of the Oakland Main Library is very solitary work. Over the years, some of these resources have made their way onto the web (here's a site I love: CALIFA) But at some point it's hard to find anything anymore. That's why it is so helpful to hear from other people who just happen to live in a JHT house; or who have an uncle whose father used to rent office space to JHT; or who have some old photos in their basement or attic. So I am starting this blog as an adjunct to the JHT Gallery. Blogging may be a little outside the box of traditional historical research, but I think it has potential. It is a two-way street. I can pose questions and answer questions--and so can others who come upon this site. If enough people each have just a little information it can add up to a huge resource when it is all focused and organized in one place. So that is the purpose of this blog. It's an experiment and it will certainly have some rough edges in the beginning but I would like your feedback and ideas for improvement so feel free to speakup. And get over to the JHT Gallery--I've added a few new things recently.