Home & Garden Columns

East Bay Then and Now: Captain Slater’s House Is an Early Classic Colonial

By Daniella Thompson
Friday May 18, 2007

Not every house in Berkeley can boast of an illustrious resident. Fewer can boast of two. Fewer yet can demonstrate a connection between the two notables. The house at 1335 Shattuck Avenue is one of the latter. 

Built in 1894 by Captain John Slater, the house is one of the first Classic Colonial Revival buildings constructed in the East Bay. At the time it was erected, Queen Anne was the prevailing fashion, and the shingled Arts & Crafts style was just beginning to emerge from the cradle with a few examples such as the Anna Head School at Bowditch and Channing (1892). 

John Slater (1849–1908) was born on one of the Shetland Islands in Scotland. At the age of 15 he left school to join the crew of a fishing sloop. Four years later, he went to sea as a sailor before the mast, working his way up to an officer’s position. In 1871, he came to California as a mate on the ship Seminole of Boston. Impressed with the outlook on the Pacific coast, he decided to stay. After plying the coast trade for several years, he was lured into gold mining on the Stikine River in northwestern British Columbia but did not find it profitable. 

Going back to the sea, Slater became master of several ships belonging to the Sam Blair line. In 1889, he joined the shipping firm of William E. Mighell and Charles C. Boudrow. For seven years Slater was master of the bark Wilner. After this ship was burned at the docks in Tacoma, WA, he took charge of the clipper ship Charmer, which he commanded on the San Francisco-Honolulu route until his retirement in 1907. 

Captain Slater married Louise M. Colby in 1888. The couple lived in San Francisco before they built their house in the Berkeley Villa Association tract. The move to Berkeley may have been inspired in part by Slater’s employers—both Captain Boudrow and Captain Mighell owned mansions nearby, on what is now the 1500 block of Oxford Street. And they weren’t the only ones. North Berkeley was a mini-Mecca for seafarers, who no doubt were attracted by the sweeping marine vistas commanded from its hills. 

The Slaters picked a double lot directly to the south of Captain Jefferson Maury’s house. Sited on a double lot at 1317 Shattuck Avenue, the Maury residence featured a wrap-around porch and an angled corner turret. In 1922, John Hudson Thomas would transform this house into a shingled English country cottage. 

Across the street from the Slaters, at 1322 Shattuck Avenue, lived Captain William B. Seabury and his family. Like Captain Maury, Seabury was a commodore of the Pacific Mail Steam Ship Company. Also like Maury, he built his house in 1885. But while the Maury house survived to become a City of Berkeley Landmark, the Seabury house has been replaced with an apartment building. 

The Slaters engaged prominent San Francisco architect T.J. Welsh to design their residence. The contractor was Charles Murcell of East Oakland, whose Berkeley quarters were located at the lumber office of Barker & Hunter, on the southwestern corner of Shattuck Ave. and Dwight Way. 

In January 1896, the Berkeley Herald described the Slater house in detail, noting that it commanded “a magnificent view of the Golden Gate, the city of San Francisco, San Francisco Bay and the ocean beyond:” 

A notable feature of the exterior is a pleasant porch, running the entire width of the building, at the front entrance. 

The walls are covered from foundation to first story in rustic [wide wood siding] and from first story to cornice with clapboard. It is painted in Colonial yellow, with white trimmings. The roof is of slate. The building is 42x80 feet, which includes the front piazza. It contains eight large rooms, well arranged for light and heat. The front vestibule is trimmed in oak. The spacious exterior hall is trimmed with curly, native redwood, wainscoted with Lincrusta-Walton [an embossed, linoleum-like material] and lighted from transoms over doors of French bevel plate-glass. 

The staircase is separated from the main hall, the posts of which extend to the ceiling. Between the posts are spindle transoms supported on ornamental brackets. The parlors are finished in natural redwood and are provided with open fireplaces of Roman brick; hearth of same, and mantels of curly redwood of unique design. The dining-room is trimmed and finished in antique oak, including paneled wainscoting. The divan is built with arm-rest and lockers underneath. There is a spindle arch across the bay-window, resting on turned columns. The fireplace is built of Roman brick facings and hearth, mantels made of oak of exquisite design, including lockers and bevel plate mirrors. The walls are tinted a deep sea green, ceiling of Nile green. 

The article went on to describe the kitchen, pantry, butler’s pantry and china closet finished in natural redwood and “fitted up in modern style”; bedrooms “fitted up in like manner, with closets and dens attached”; a bathroom of oak, “with tile floor and tile wainscoting five feet high, and containing a porcelain bathtub with shower bath attached, oval wash-basin, all plumbing exposed, with locker and medicine closet attached.” The cost of the building to complete was $5,750, well above the $4,608 figure provided in the contract notice of Aug. 2, 1894. 

The first floor housed the Slaters and their four children, James Herbert, Marguerite, Norman and Colby. The basement is said to have housed the servants, although the 1900 census listed only one domestic living with the family. There were also rooms on the attic floor; these are said to have been reserved for guests (by 1970, the attic and basement floors were subdivided into six apartments each), but it appears that some if not all of the guests were of the paying kind. For several years in the first decade of the 20th century, one such “guest” was Andrew H. Irving (1875–1947), plant superintendent at the Paraffine Paint Company, a manufacturer of roofing materials under the Pabco brand name. 

The vice-president and manager of Paraffine Paint Co. was Andrew Irving’s elder brother, Samuel C. Irving (1858–1930). In 1906, Samuel acquired 1322 Shattuck Ave. from the Seaburys, who had moved to the Southside eight years earlier. We’ll return to the Irvings in part two of this series. 

Captain Slater died at the age of 58 following a bout of cancer. Twenty-one months later, his widow married Edward A. Phillips, a recently arrived magazine writer from Salt Lake City. Phillips, too, was not long for this world, and by the mid-1910s, the twice-widowed Louise and some of her children had moved to 1426 Spruce Street. This house, a modest Queen Anne, still exists, albeit altered, on a row of surviving Victorians. 


This is the first part in a series of articles on north Berkeley houses and the families that inhabited them. 


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


Photograph by Daniella Thompson. Symmetry and Classic elements, such as columns and a pediment on the dormer, distinguish the Slater house at 1335 Shattuck Ave.