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The Dempster House: a prominent example of a Berkeley Brown Shingle

By Austene Hall and Susan Cerny
Saturday May 05, 2001

Berkeley Observed 

Looking back, seeing ahead 


Prominently perched on a steep hillside overlooking Spruce Street in north Berkeley, the Dempster House is an intriguing and distinctive mixture of Berkeley brown shingle and remnants of the Victorian era.  

A polygonal tower with a steep “witches cap” roof over the entrance is a legacy of the 1880s and 1890s.  

The house, however, is a simple rectangular shape with an open-gable roof with deep sheltering eaves.  

The large entrance porch repeats the shape of the tower and is sheltered by a polygonal- shaped roof supported by square posts and exposed beams and brackets. The house gives the appearance of being wrapped in porches.  

The Dempster House was designed by its owner, Roy R. Dempster, and constructed by the firm of Kidder and McCullough in 1908.  

The Dempsters had lost their house on Lake Merritt in the 1906 earthquake, so the house was designed to withstand earthquakes.  

Large structural beams were used and the house was bolted to the foundation. There is even a fire hose and hook-up on each floor. 

Roy Dempster graduated from the University of California in 1895 and had studied physics and philosophy. He managed the family’s interests in real estate, lumber and shipping.  

Descendants of Roy Dempster still live in the house and much of the furniture is original.  

Photos displayed throughout the house show older generations of Dempster family members sitting on chairs still used in the living room today. 

This house, and several other early 20th century homes designed by Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, and others, will be open on Sunday, May 6 for the Berkeley Architectural Heritage’s annual house tour. Call 841-2242 for information.