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The brown shingle home: A distinctive Berkeley feature

By Susan Cerny, Special to the Daily Planet
Sunday October 07, 2001

Between 1895 and 1915 Berkeley established itself as a city with a distinctive architectural character. As Mission Revival is to Santa Barbara, and Pueblo Style is to Santa Fe, in the early decades of the 20th century, unpainted wood shingles were identified with Berkeley.  

The use of unpainted wood shingles as exterior siding was Berkeley’s most popular means of expressing the philosophy of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Although other exterior siding materials were also used, they were used less frequently. A simple design, which blended with nature was advocated by the Hillside Club and became so popular that Berkeley became known as a city of brown-shingled buildings.  

The Hillside Club was the principle force in spreading the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Berkeley. It was formed in 1898 by the wives of architects Bernard Maybeck, Almeric Coxhead and John Galen Howard, developer Frank M. Wilson, photographer Oscar Maurer and Charles Keeler to “encourage artistic homes built of materials complementing the natural beauty of the Berkeley Hills.” In 1902 the men were invited to join the club to lend political clout to the woman’s cause. Charles Keeler, a naturalist, writer and poet, became its spokesman, advocating an artistic and spiritual life-style lived in a “simple home” which he described in his book The Simple Home, published in 1904.  

The large three-story brown shingle home at 1820 Scenic Ave. was built for the university’s eighth president Benjamin Ide Wheeler in 1900 and designed by Edgar A. Mathews. University benefactor Phoebe Apperson Hearst built her home and a reception hall next door; all three houses survived the 1923 fire and are still standing.  

When Wheeler moved into the new president’s house on campus in 1911, he sold the house to Edgar Bradley, who hired Lewis Hobart (architect of the Steinhardt Aquarium and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco) to remodel the structure.  

The house has grand proportions with a hipped-roof dormer in the center, classic details, and an elegant portico. The garden, also designed by Hobart, was behind the brick wall to the south; it is now a school playground, but still has a woodsy garden-like atmosphere. The tall old palm trees that line Scenic Avenue in front of the house can be seen from many locations in Berkeley.  



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