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old postcards provide views of the past

By Susan Cerny, Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday June 01, 2002

The picture postcard became extremely popular during the first two decades of the 20th century and this era is often referred to as the “golden age of postcards.” Most postcards were published by companies that specialized in the printing of postcards and would usually depicted popular views of a town or important buildings. But during this period people also created their own postcards from a photograph of their home.  

The postcard pictured here shows the house at 1511 Edith St. shortly after it was completed in 1908. This area of north-central Berkeley was just being developed at that time and recently completed houses can be seen on the left-hand side of the card and in the background a house is under construction. 

The message on the back of the postcard is signed by L. T. Bailey and the number on the pillar of the front porch says 1511. From the 1908 Oakland-Berkeley Directory (available at the Berkeley History Museum) it was easy to discover that L.T. was Lottie T. Bailey, widow of Angelo, and that she lived in the house with Mark G., a student, Lloyd E. a train conductor, Edith C. a teacher, and Effie L. a nurse. Perhaps these were her children, but they may have been a combination of her children and relatives as it was common at the time for extended families to share a house together.  

The style of the house is a variation of the Colonial Revival, also known as Classic Box. The exterior treatment of the first floor is typical of a Classic Box with a recessed entry, window bay and narrow clapboard siding. However this house has an extremely tall and steeply-pitched gable roof which shelters a second story and is faced with unpainted brown shingles. In some examples the face of the gabled roof was treated with half-timbering as in a Tudor Revival. The style was quite popular between 1900 and 1910 in Berkeley and Oakland. 

These houses were most often built or adapted from house plans that could be ordered from companies such as Alladdin, Gordon-Van Tine, and Radford Homes. The 1910 Gordon-Van Tine catalogue proudly boasted that they “shipped wherever railroads go...we guarantee safe delivery and satisfaction...we save the home-builders of America over $1,000,000 a year.” 

Although popular styled houses such as 1511 Edith Street were not individually designed for a specific client or lot, they provided a comfortable and affordable house for the middle class. These types of vernacular structures, looked at from the prospective of cultural geography, social or economic history, contribute as physical artifacts to an understanding of how an average family lived almost one-hundred years ago. Today 1511 Edith Street remains standing proudly, little changed, and a type of home eagerly sought after by contemporary buyers.  


Susan Cerny is author of Berkeley Landmarks, and writes this in conjunction with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.