Home & Garden Columns
In the 1880s and ‘90s, few East Bay architects were as fashionable as Alfred Washington Pattiani (1855–1935). Italian name notwithstanding, Pattiani, who was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, was descended from a well-to-do German family. His paternal grandfather, Alois Fahrnbacher of Landshut, Bavaria, was a tobacco manufacturer, commercial court assessor, and a member of the Bavarian parliament.
His mother, Elisabeth von Bergen, came from the Baltic port city of Stettin and studied music—perhaps in Weimar, for she is said to have been a student of Franz Liszt, who taught piano there beginning in 1848. Possibly also in Weimar, Elisabeth met Christian Alfred Fahrnbacher.
Like many German students of their generation, the two were apparently involved in the 1848 revolution. They ended up marrying and fleeing to the United States, where they changed their name to Pattiani.
She became a published composer under the name Eliza Pattiani or simply Madame Pattiani and is known for marches she composed for Northwestern University and the California State Normal School (now San Jose State University). Her husband was a daguerreotype photographer in Cincinnati and Chicago.
In 1870, after having lived in St. Louis, Chicago, and Evanston, Ill., the family moved to San Jose for health reasons. Son Alfred began his architectural apprenticeship at age 15 while completing his schooling at the Business College of San Jose.
For two years he studied architecture under Theodore Lenzen, San Jose’s preeminent architect. When his father died in 1873, Alfred began working as a draftsman for various Bay Area architects. In 1879, he built himself a house in Alameda, where he established a building firm in 1882.
Billing himself as Real Estate Broker and Builder, Pattiani catered to the affluent class, designing and building hundreds of residences in Alameda, Oakland, and Berkeley. His styles included Stick-Eastlake, Queen Anne, Shingle, and Colonial Revival. Although a number of his Berkeley houses are extant—including a row of six cottages on the 2100 block of Ward St. and two elegant Queen Annes at Blake and Fulton—many that were built near the UC campus fell victim to university expansion. In 1973, the razing of a Pattiani house on a prominent corner in Alameda was the impetus that led to the passage of Proposition A, which saved much of that city’s Victorian residential character.
In 1889, Pattiani built his 185th house on the southwest corner of Ward and Fulton streets. This large Queen Anne sported a generous polygonal turret crowned by a bell-shaped cupola and displayed a full complement of gingerbread ornamentation. The client who paid $3,500 for the house was San Francisco wine merchant Samuel B. Stanley. Unaccountably, Stanley preferred the charms of San Jose to those of Berkeley. In February 1891, he sold the house and two additional lots to the Sadler family.
Caleb and Lydia Sadler were English immigrants who owned a San Francisco fancy goods and notions business. Their second son, Frank E. Sadler, would eventually own the Sadler’s store at Shattuck Avenue and Center Street, selling books, stationery, photographic supplies, and sporting goods. Sadler’s also carried a distinctive line of picture postcards, always displaying the photo in an oval vignette.
The Sadlers spent only a few years in the house. In 1894, they sold it to Mary E. and Charles E. Finney and moved to the Northside. A mechanical engineer, Finney was an enterprising man. In 1899 he built three houses directly to the south of his house. These were announced as the first in the area to contain indoor plumbing. Ten years later, Finney moved his house, which had sat in the center of a triple lot at 2154 Ward Street, to the northeast corner of the lot, changing the address to 2156 Ward St.
Shortly thereafter, Finney expanded his house to the rear and converted it to two flats. He also built a second house next door at 2154 Ward St. During World War II, a subsequent owner of 2156 Ward subdivided the second-floor flat into two apartments and added a fourth unit in the enlarged third floor. With every successive remodel, the roofline was altered, rooms assumed new functions, and kitchens and bathrooms sprouted in any available space.
In 1979, Stephen Johnson bought the house as income property. Five years later, he and Erna Andre decided to make it their home. The first floor still retained many original features, including the twin parlor fireplaces, ceiling rosettes, moldings and wainscoting. However, there was little clue as to many rooms’ original function.
The couple sought guidance from their neighbor, architect Ron Bogley, with whom they visited several Pattiani houses in Alameda. Anthony Bruce of BAHA introduced them to Pattiani expert Paul Roberts, who explained how the rooms would have been laid out by the architect (Pattiani usually arranged the front and back parlors along one side of the hallway, with the dining room on the other side toward the rear).
In 1985, after exhaustive research in several libraries, Bogley prepared drawings representing the house’s external elevations and floor plans as they would have been in 1889, 1910, and 1946, as well as a set of working drawings. During this first phase of the restoration, the Johnsons reclaimed the original bedrooms and bathroom out of the front second-floor apartment. Wood moldings were hand-stripped. Period brass hardware and antique light fixtures were installed. Bradbury & Bradbury Victorian wallpapers were put up. When authentic items weren’t to be found, replicas were made to order, as was the case with the master-bedroom doors, second-floor ceiling rosettes, and twenty corner blocks for the door frames.
In 1994, the front steps were rebuilt, receiving new railings and newel posts. A few years later, the Johnsons reinstated the house as a single-family home by creating an internal stairwell in the 1910 rear addition. They relocated the dining room from the back parlor to its original space across the hall, remodeled the kitchen, and created a large “antique” bathroom in the second-floor space previously occupied by the rear apartment’s kitchen.
Four years ago, it was time to attack the exterior, which not only looked haphazard but was seriously dilapidated. Contractor Christopher Osborn re-established cohesiveness, shingling the second- and third stories to set them apart from the channel rustic siding on the ground floor. The turret finial was taken down and repaired, and the turret was clad with scalloped copper shingles. The octagonal porthole in the turret’s dome illuminates a most unusual vaulted space that currently serves as an aerie bed chamber.
In the final phase, begun last year, the Johnsons renovated the first-floor rooms and interior staircase. Newel post replicas were made to replace the missing original ones, the wainscoting was taken down, cleaned, and reassembled, and the parlors and hallway were painted.
In 2004, the house was featured in BAHA’s “Berkeley 1890” house tour, and this week it was one of only two houses to receive BAHA’s preservation award for both exterior and interior restoration.
For homeowners who are contemplating historic restoration, Steve Johnson has some words of advice: “The original builder did it his way for a reason—try to understand it before you change things. Do the work to last; don’t take shortcuts, or you’ll be redoing it in a few years. Lastly, there is no financial reward for this kind of restoration. Your reward will come from the joy of living in a grand old house.”
The writer is indebted to Paul Roberts for information on A.W. Pattiani’s life.