Home & Garden Columns

East Bay Then and Now: Shipping Magnate’s Mansion Is Rare Survivor on Oxford Street

By Daniella Thompson
Friday September 08, 2006

One of the most imposing Victorian-era homes in Berkeley, the Boudrow House at Sea Captain Corner was constructed in 1889, when Berkeley, whose population then numbered about 12,000, was a favorite retirement spot for mariners. 

The house was built for Charles C. Boudrow (c. 1830–1918), a Massachusetts-born master mariner who for many years was a shipping magnate in San Francisco. On June 8, 1918, the Oakland Tribune published his obituary, stating: 

“Captain Charles Boudrow died suddenly at his home in Berkeley last night. He passed his 88th birthday a few months ago and was then well and hearty. Boudrow was connected with the firm of Migeul [correct spelling: Mighell] & Boudrow, which owned many large square-riggers out of this port, later forming the California Shipping Company and purchasing many eastern craft, which are owned by the Alaska Salmon companies. He retired from active service a few years ago, but made regular visits to the Merchants’ Exchange to talk ‘ship’ with his old-time friends. For over 60 years Boudrow had been established in the marine business in this port.” 

Among the many ships owned by Captain Boudrow or by the California Shipping Company were the Star of Italy; the cannery tender Jabez Howes; the bark May Flint; the Abner Coburn; the A.J. Fuller; the Saint Frances; and the Joseph B. Thomas. 

Captain Boudrow’s office was located near the port of San Francisco, at 38–40 Market Street. His residence was not far from there, at 1933 Stevenson Street. Living near him (but never with him) both in San Francisco and in Berkeley was his nephew Charles E. Boudrow, a ship chandler and dealer in ship material born in Massachusetts in 1858. 

The nephew’s major claim to fame was his purchase of the decommissioned sloop-of-war Marion from the U.S. Navy in July 1907. He moved to Berkeley at about the same time as his uncle and first appeared in the 1891 directory living on Spruce Street between Vine and Rose.  

Beginning with the 1893 directory, the younger Boudrow’s residence was 1432 Arch Street, where he remained for many years. In 1894 and 1895 he lived with Miss Louisa F. Boudrow. 

Captain Charles C. Boudrow outlived two wives. The second, Christina (1852–1914), was German-born and 22 years his junior. Curiously, Charles E. Boudrow also married a German woman, Katharina Diehl (1857–1941), who in the 1920 census claimed to be eleven years younger than she actually was, but as a widow in 1930 owned up to her real age. 

The Boudrow house on Oxford Street was designed in the Queen Anne-Eastlake style by the noted San Francisco architect Julius E. Krafft (1855–1937), who was responsible for many stately Pacific Heights residences. Born in Germany, Krafft immigrated to the U.S. in 1872 and came to San Francisco two years later. He worked as a draftsman for Palace Hotel architect John P. Gaynor and later for Thomas J. Welsh, designer of 16 Catholic churches in San Francisco, of which the three survivors are St. Agnes, Old St. Mary’s Cathedral, and Sacred Heart Church in the Western Addition. 

Krafft was in charge of Welsh’s drafting department for twelve years before opening his own office in 1888. One of his most celebrated buildings was the Gothic Revival St. Paulus Lutheran Church (1893), whose design was based on Cathedral of Chartres. The church was destroyed by fire in 1995. Still intact are 31–33 Liberty Street (1892) in the West Mission district and an opulent 1902 Classical Revival residence at 2601 Broadway commissioned by bank president Isaias Warren Hellman as a wedding gift for his daughter. 

Two of Krafft’s children, the twin sons Elmer Jerome (1880–1944) and Alfred Julius (1880–1950), joined their father’s business. Having begun as draftsmen, Elmer became an architect and Alfred a structural engineer. In 1933, the firm of Julius Krafft & Sons would design an Art Deco wholesale grocery warehouse for Wellman-Peck & Company in what is now the Warehouse Thematic Historic District of San Diego. This building was recently converted to an office condominium & retail complex. 

Captain Boudrow’s house was one of the early buildings in the Antisell Villa Lots, a tract comprising eight blocks bounded by Rose St. to the north, Shattuck Ave. to the west, Cedar St. to the south, and Arch St. to the east. Thomas M. Antisell was an attorney and real-estate agent with an office at 1069 Broadway in Oakland. In 1874, just after the U.C. campus moved from Oakland to Berkeley, Antisell began selling lots in the tract bearing his name. The subdivision map he issued advertised the upcoming auction sale “on liberal credit” of 260 lots, to take place on November 6, 1874. 

Thomas M. Antisell himself lived across the street from the future Boudrow property. At the time, Oxford St. was called Pine. Between 1876 and 1883, Antisell was listed in the Berkeley directory as residing variously at “Vine nr Pine,” “Pine nr Vine,” “E s Oxford bet Cedar and Vine,” and “Cedar.” He also was a piano manufacturer and dealer in San Francisco, and on November 15, 1887 received a patent for a wrest plank for his pianos, which were advertised as “the leading instrument of the world.” In numerous newspaper ads, Antisell offered his pianos on a $10 monthly installment plan and admonished readers to “buy only from the largest manufactory in the world.” 

Sometime in the 1880s, the Antisell house was purchased by Captain Boudrow’s partner, William E. Mighell, who made his first appearance in the Berkeley directory in 1889. The Berkeley Daily Advocate Holiday Number of 1892 included the house in an article on opulent residences in town: 

Captain Mighell purchased some years ago the then very handsome home of T.M. Antisell on the east side of Oxford Street, north of Vine [sic]. Since then he has spared neither time nor expense in making it one of the finest homes in town. Situated on a knoll, the views from his windows are superb. 

The same holiday issue also described the Boudrow house: 

Captain Budrow [sic] purchased a large lot on the corner of Oxford and Cedar streets, upon which he has erected one of the largest and finest dwelling houses in town. From every window the view is a panoramic scene of mountain, sea, and valley. 

The entire Boudrow house is constructed of redwood. Multiple gables and bays, floral and geometric friezes, plaster reliefs, and scalloped shingles ornament its façades. A balustraded flight of 15 steps leads up to a front porch whose gable roof is supported by turned columns linked by trelliswork arches. A round turret crowned with a witch’s hat rises four stories on the southeastern corner. The central gable features a balconette surmounted by a sunburst.  

There were seven rooms on the main floor and four rooms below. The main floor was famed for its 12-foot ceilings. The house boasted no fewer than six fireplaces. 

The Mighell and Boudrow houses were both situated on oversized lots—each the equivalent of five standard lots—and surrounded by large gardens. As Berkeley grew, the lots shrank. By 1929, the block was fully built. Further development occurred in the 1960s, when large apartment buildings were erected on this block. Many of the original houses, including the Mighell residence, are long gone. Apartment buildings are currently the predominant element along the 1500 block of Oxford Street. 

In 1922, Captain Boudrow’s heirs sold the house to mining engineer Roscoe Wheeler and his wife Erminie. According to the U.S. census, the Wheelers had previously resided in Oakland, but not always together. In 1920, Mrs. Wheeler and daughters Erminie (16) and Helen (14) were living in the home of the Misses Ellen and Cecilia Neylan on Wickson Avenue, while Mr. Wheeler was residing as a boarder on nearby Walker Avenue. 

The Wheelers are said to have had in their yard four 100-pound boulders that had served as ballast aboard the clipper ship Rattler. 

Helen Wheeler married the future colonel Robert Beard and owned the Boudrow house until 1970, when she had to let go of it. The house was in danger of being demolished until it was purchased by Dr. Paul F. Hocking and his wife Ann, who divided it into ten apartments. It was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on June 21, 1976. 

The house changed hands again in 1994. The current owners restored it, rebuilding the front staircase and painting the exterior in more than ten colors. They received a BAHA Preservation Award in May 2006.