Home & Garden Columns

East Bay Then and Now: Guy Hyde Chick, the Man Behind the House

By Daniella Thompson
Friday March 16, 2007

Guy Hyde Chick is the kind of name one doesn’t forget easily. In addition to its catchy concatenation of consonants, the name stands for one of Bernard Maybeck’s most famous houses. But what of the man who built the house? This shadowy figure, now all but forgotten, once played a visible role in Berkeley’s public life. 

Guy was born in 1868 in California to George Chick and Florence Hyde. His father hailed from Maine, his mother from Wisconsin. Little is known about the father, a real-estate agent who was usually absent when the census takers came around (and in Seattle, where the family lived throughout Guy’s childhood and adolescence, they came around annually). Guy was the eldest of three Chick boys, all recorded as born in California. 

The Chicks first appeared in the Berkeley directory in 1889, when Guy was a UC engineering student. Mother and sons lived on Chapel Street between Bancroft and Allston Ways—current site of UC’s Spieker Aquatic Complex. By 1891, Florence had bought a house at 2611 Durant Ave. near Bowditch, on a site now occupied by the UC Berkeley Art Museum. 

Following graduation, Guy went to work for the city as superintendent of streets, a position once held by contractor A.H. Broad. Here he became close to the city engineer, Charles L. Huggins—so close, in fact, that when Guy married Cora Mott in 1899, the young couple moved into the Huggins home at 2313 Channing Way. 

They didn’t remain there long. Guy assumed a new position as manager of Anthony Chabot’s Contra Costa Water Company, Berkeley Branch, with an office at 2142 Shattuck Ave. The new job made possible a new home at 1833 Arch Street, between Hearst and Virginia. The only other house on the block was occupied by the well-known geologist and geographer Harold Wellman Fairbanks. 

The Northside around the turn of the century was a heady place dominated by the Hillside Club and its myriad cultural activities. That the Chicks became active members is evident from the club’s minutes for December 12, 1903, which report that Mr. Chick, along with Mr. Coxhead, Mr. Maybeck, and Mr. Arthur Bolton, was appointed to a committee to draw up plans for laying out the intersection of La Loma and Le Conte Avenues. 

The committee appointment was entirely appropriate. Chick was by then not only a civil engineer but the president of the Contra Costa Construction Company, which engaged in street and road building in Berkeley and far beyond. The secretary and treasurer was Cora Chick’s brother, George Morgan Mott, Jr. 

In October 1904, Chick joined his neighbor Harold Fairbanks and Daley’s Scenic Park developer Frank M. Wilson in a petition to ameliorate the steep grade of the 1800 block of Arch Street by dividing it into two roadways. Wilson, who had sold the hilltop property now occupied by the Pacific School of Religion to Phoebe Apperson Hearst, was planning to repurchase it and reopen Daley Avenue (now Ridge Road) through to Arch Street. The petitioners’ request went nowhere; Ridge Road still ends at the top of Holy Hill, and pedestrian access to Arch St. is provided via a double stairway hugging a lion’s head fountain (now dry). 

Two months following the petition, Chick almost lost his life, tumbling down a 15-foot sewer ditch while supervising the laying of the 25th Street sewer in Oakland. Fortunately, the accident occurred near Fabiola Hospital, where Chick’s broken foot was treated. 

When the Hillside Club contemplated the construction of a clubhouse in September 1905, Chick was appointed to a five-member committee that would select a suitable site. To finance the building, the club intended to form itself into a corporation, with each of the 125 members purchasing stock. The committee dispatched its business so rapidly that a mere two months later, a lot had already been purchased, Maybeck had perfected the building’s design, and the newspapers were reporting that construction was soon to begin. 

Another committee in which Chick participated was an investigative body headed by John Galen Howard that analyzed the damaged Berkeley High School in June 1906. 

The San Francisco earthquake and fire drove many refugees into the East Bay, sparking a real-estate boom. Chick took advantage of the opportunity by forming the Chick, Sittig & Co. real-estate firm. Cora’s father and brother were treasurer and secretary, respectively. The newly built houses Chick, Sittig & Co. listed were often touted as available with “sidewalks and street work done.” 

By 1910, Chick and the two Motts had founded a third company, Contra Costa Building Materials Co., which they ran concurrently with the construction company. Flush with success, Chick and his brother-in-law turned their attention to building adjacent dream homes. In May 1913, George Mott, Jr. purchased close to two acres in Kellersberger Plot 72, Oakland Township, from Catharine Janssen Heimbold, widow of Julius Heimbold, who had bought the land from the Hibernia Savings & Loan Society in 1888. 

For the design of his new house, Chick naturally turned to Hillside Club guru Maybeck. The location, at 7133 Chabot Road, was a canyon upslope abounding in ancient oaks. The architect positioned the house parallel to the hillside, between terraces above and below. The shingled building is crowned with a broad, generously trellised gable roof. Enormous glass doors bring the outdoors into the elegant ground-floor rooms, where zen views delight the eye at every turn, and grand spaces are arranged for flowing connectivity. 

According to the building permit of Sept. 22, 1914, the house was built by Chick’s Contra Costa Construction Company. The architectural firm of Maybeck & White provided six pages of typed specifications plus a handwritten page of detailed color specifications. The plaster ceiling porch of kitchen was to be blue; the rafters, red; the roof corbels, green; roof soffits, yellow; bay and balcony soffits, red; four-by-tens, green; board-and-batten at the rear entrance, red and varnished, front door, Prussian blue. Cora Chick was doubtful about the color combination, finding it too bright, but Maybeck assured her that “in twenty years it will be beautiful.” Ninety-two years later, it still is. 

The Chicks and their five children enjoyed their house for a mere half-dozen years. Construction contracts signed before the US entry into World War One came due after the war. Prices had shot up in the interval, forcing the Contra Costa Construction Company out of business. Both Chick and Mott Jr. sold their Chabot Road properties and moved out of town. Mott Sr. retained the building materials firm and his house at 1516 Hawthorne Terrace. 

George Mott, Jr. moved to Rio Linda in northern Sacramento County and became a fruit farmer. He is remembered as “the father of the Rio Linda Fire Department” for helping to form the Rio Linda Fire District in May 1923. A few months later, his father’s Hawthorne Terrace house turned to ashes in the Berkeley fire, and Mott Sr. retired to his Nevada City country house. 

The Chicks relocated to Napa, but homesickness got the better of them. Within a couple of years they returned to the East Bay, settling at 6437 Colby Street. Guy established a real-estate and insurance company at 2140 Shattuck Ave., which he later moved to the Hutchinson Bldg. at 1706 Broadway, Oakland. 

Guy Hyde Chick was last listed in the directory in 1933. The following year, Cora was listed as his widow. She lived until 1950, spending her last decade at 3016 Avalon Ave., a fine house designed by Henry Gutterson in 1915. Upon her death, it passed to her son Gilbert, who owned it until his death in 1968. 

The former Chick house on Chabot Road changed hands many times. Since 1979, it’s been the home of art dealer Foster Goldstrom, who takes delight in generously sharing it with architecture lovers. The house almost came to perdition during the Oakland Hills fire of 1991. It was saved through the efforts of three firemen, who had to choose one house to protect. They chose very well indeed. 


Daniella Thompson publishes berkeleyheritage.com for the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA). 



Photograph by Daniella Thompson. Quatrefoils on the balcony over the rear entrance at 7133 Chabot Road, Oakland.