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.