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 **