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Hillside club promoted idea of simple and healthy living

By Susan Cerny
Saturday June 30, 2001

Berkeley Observed 

Looking back, seeing ahead 


In 1898 a group of north Berkeley women founded a club devoted to educating the public on the healthful benefits of living simply in homes designed to provide plenty of fresh air, sunlight and greenery.  

The club was called the Hillside Club. The ideals promoted by the club were published in pamphlets and distributed to the public.  

In reaction to the excesses of the Victorian Age, the club advocated that homes should be simple and free of unnecessary decoration; wood siding should be left unpainted to weather naturally; and interiors should be filled with handmade or homemade furniture and decorative objects.  

The club believed that the benefits of country living could be developed in Berkeley, thereby creating a new kind of city that was in harmony with the landscape. 

Writer and naturalist Charles Keeler, a great proponent of this “arts and crafts” philosophy and an important influence in the founding of the Hillside Club, wrote a book “The Simple Home” in 1904 that describes how to achieve such a house.  

Architect Bernard Maybeck, whose name is associated with the concept of “building with nature,” designed his first “simple home” for Keeler at the top of Ridge Road in 1895.  

The house was built of unpainted redwood, both inside and out, and all the construction members were left exposed. Soon the north Berkeley hillside was covered with unpainted wood-sided houses set in lushly informal gardens. 

Even the neighborhood public Hillside School was designed in the rustic, back-to-nature style.  

It was built in 1915.  

It was covered with unpainted brown shingles and its wide covered porch was supported with posts of unpeeled redwood logs.  

The children went to school in a building very much like the homes they lived in.  

On September 17, 1923, a raging wildfire swept down from Wildcat Canyon destroying much of the early hillside neighborhood including the original Hillside School.  

Only a few of the early homes north of the university campus still stand.  


Susan Cerny writes Berkeley Observed in conjunction with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association