Home & Garden Columns

East Bay:Then and Now: Berkeley’s Victorian Enclave Recalls City’s Early Days By DANIELLA THOMPSON

Friday February 03, 2006

In the late 1800s, Berkeley was a favorite retirement spot for sea captains. A number of them built imposing Victorians overlooking the Golden Gate in the North Berkeley hills, but few people know that the Southside boasted its own enclave of sailors’ residences at the intersection of Fulton and Blake Streets. 

This intersection retains its Victorian character to this day, with four intact houses—one Italianate and three Queen Annes—gracing its northeast and southwest corners. The original owners of all these houses had been seafarers. 

Captain John H. Whitham’s house stands at 2198 Blake St. This elegant Queen Anne, still surrounded by its original cast-iron fence, was designed and built in 1889 by prominent Alameda architect A.W. Pattiani. Two years l ater, Pattiani went on to build Captain James H. Bruce’s sumptuous Queen Anne at 2211 Blake St. Both residences were featured in BAHA’s 2004 house tour, Berkeley 1890: “At Home” along Fulton Street. 

But the oldest house in the Blake-Fulton maritime corne r is the Alfred Bartlett residence at 2201 Blake St. Erected in 1877, it is probably the most unspoiled Italianate dwelling in Berkeley. 

An Englishman born in 1841, Alfred Bartlett served in the British navy in his early teens. Discontented, at age 15 he stowed away on a ship to New York. In 1857 he worked passage on a ship to California in a stormy voyage of 152 days around the horn. Once arrived in San Francisco, he bought a wagon and horses and began selling books. 

Following a checkered and adventurous career, by 1877 Bartlett was prosperous enough to invest in real estate. Early that year he bought two lots on Blake Street in Berkeley and built the Italianate dwelling “for the sake of the health of my wife and two daughters,” then 3 and 5 years old. The same year, Bartlett joined with four other prominent businessmen—James L Barker, William B. Heywood, George D. Dornin, and Charles K. Clarke— in forming the Berkeley Land and Building Company. The Berkeley Advocate of Aug. 25, 1877 reported that “The y intend to do a real estate business in conjunction with building and improvements that will contribute to the growth and prosperity of the town.” The company’s office was located at the Berkeley terminus, on the Shattuck Avenue island now known as Berkeley Square.  

At the time the Bartlett residence went up, the surrounding Blake Tract, newly subdivided in 1876, was still mostly farmland, yet on Nov. 24, 1877 the Berkeley Advocate was calling for “a separate incorporation of Berkeley, like Cambridge, (Mass.), or any other university town.” Berkeley would incorporate the following year.  

In addition to selling books and real estate, Alfred Bartlett also dabbled in local politics. In 1886, he ran for the office of Berkeley town marshal. In this campaign he was defeated by the popular contractor-builder and amateur painter A.H. Broad, who had been a member of Berkeley’s first Board of Trustees, was a founder of Berkeley’s first library, and later would serve as town engineer and as superintendent of reconstruction of Berkeley schools injured by the earthquake. 

In 1892, the Bartletts built a second house next door, at 2205 Blake St. Rumor has it that this Queen Anne residence was a wedding present for one of the Bartletts’ daughters, but it appears to have been used as a rental property, as demand for housing increased as the district grew around the thriving downtown and Dwight Way Station commercial areas along Shattuck Avenue. 

The two Bartlett houses, situated in their original setting with virtual ly no exterior alterations, are probably the most pristine representation of Victorian Berkeley remaining. They were designated a City of Berkeley Landmark in December 2005. Sadly, their owner has removed several of the old Coast Live Oak trees around the se graceful old houses.  


Photo by Daniella Thompson 

The Captain Whitham house, 2198 Blake St. ,