Home & Garden Columns

John Hudson Thomas’ Legacy

By Dave Weinstein, Special to the Planet
Friday February 23, 2007

Unlike many of his contemporaries, the architect John Hudson Thomas has not been forgotten—at least not completely. He has fans who compile lists of his houses, which liberally dot the Berkeley Hills, are also common in Oakland and Piedmont, and can be found as far afield as Los Gatos and Woodland, in the Sacramento Valley. 

Perhaps most tellingly, whenever one of his homes comes onto the market, realtors brag that it’s by Thomas. 

Nonetheless, when I put together my book, Signature Architects of the San Francisco Bay Area, about residential architects who are too little known, Thomas made the cut. In fact, I concluded, there are only two Bay Area architects who escape that fate—Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan. 

My thinking was: Could the average, well-educated Bay Area person, the sort who knows about novelists and artists, recognize the name of a given architect, or tell you anything about his or her architecture? This was excluding, of course, other architects, architectural historians and fans, and real estate brokers who focus on fine architects.  

There were people who told me that Thomas was simply too famous for my series. But is he really? 

The more I looked into his life and career, in fact, the more mysterious he grew. What do we really know about Thomas (1878–1945), besides the basics? Born in Nevada, an undergraduate at Yale, studying architecture at UC Berkeley with John Galen Howard and Maybeck, designing houses first as part of a partnership, then on his own, marrying the daughter of