Arts Listings

Thursday Lecture Focuses On Berkeley Architects

By Steven Finacom, Special to the Planet
Tuesday July 24, 2007


“Who were the important architects in Berkeley? There’s Julia Morgan and … that guy, what’s his name?” a newcomer to town asked me a few weeks ago. 

“Maybeck,” I answered, while wondering whether I should launch into a list of Berkeley’s overlooked architects. Why are only those two so widely remembered? 

That’s just what local journalist and author Dave Weinstein asked himself several years ago. He began researching and writing an occasional series of articles for the San Francisco Chronicle about designers who substantially contributed to the Bay Area architectural landscape but are not well known. 

This coming Thursday evening Weinstein discusses some of those architects, their work, and the Arts and Crafts aesthetic in an illustrated talk entitled “Arts and Crafts Houses in the East Bay: Why They’re More Art than Craft.” 

“These architects were more artists,” he says in explanation of his theme. And they shouldn’t be typecast as always designing in one style. “It’s always been my feeling that in looking at architecture in general, people tend to think of it in categories. And I like to go beyond that.” 

“Even architects whose work we think we know often surprise us,” he adds. Much of his writing explores remarkable eclecticism in the design careers of those he’s studied. 

Along with his take on the Arts and Crafts movement, his perspectives on several local architects—including Leola Hall, Walter Ratcliff, John Hudson Thomas, Ernest Coxhead, Carr Jones, and Albert Farr—will be a focus of the talk. 

Hall, one of the first women to design in Berkeley, specialized in affordable, interesting, “spec” homes, particularly in Berkeley’s Elmwood district, after the 1906 earthquake. Ratcliff had an extensive professional career, contributing hundreds of homes and commercial and institutional buildings to the local landscape.  

Farr, in particular, interests Weinstein in part because he’s sometimes unfairly pigeon-holed as an architect who simply designed “English cottage” homes. “Roses ‘round the door’ picturesque-ness’” one architectural historian wrote.  

But Farr also worked with “Arts and Crafts … French, American Colonial, Spanish Colonial, even touches of Moderne,” Weinstein writes, and “fans know him for exquisite and imaginative design.”  

Farr designed homes in Belvedere and Piedmont. One of the Bay Area’s great residential architectural losses was the 1914 fire that destroyed the nearly complete Wolf House in Glen Ellen, a 15,000-square-foot lodge which Farr designed for Jack London. 

If you can’t attend the Thursday talk—or even if you can—a copy of Weinstein’s book, Signature Architects of the San Francisco Bay Area (Gibbs-Smith, 2006), is a good introduction to these interesting designers and an excellent reference. Copies will be available for sale at the lecture. 

The book profiles 15 Bay Area architects or design firms over a span of more than a century, from the 19th century Newsom brothers who built many prominent Victorians—but also Craftsman homes—to Berkeley’s 20th century International Style architect Donald Olsen, and Oakland’s Ace Architects. 

It’s a handsome book, with beautiful photographs by Linda Svendsen who, Weinstein notes with sadness, died recently. There’s a chapter apiece in a conversational journalistic style on the work of each designer or firm, with small sidebar profiles of each architect and highlight lists of their buildings and where they can be seen.  

Weinstein not only sleuthed out old records on the architects but also knocked on the doors of the houses they designed gathering anecdotes and perspectives from the people who live there. He also interviewed several of the architects who are still living—and, in most cases, still designing. 

In the process, he resurrects the memory of near forgotten designers such as Luther Turton, who did many Napa homes and buildings, and Frank Wolfe who built extensively in the South Bay, particularly San Jose, and often worked in the Prairie style. 

Several of the architects he wrote about had a strong influence on Bay Area design or did remarkable work that should draw national attention, but are strangely unremembered outside the world of local architectural historians and preservation societies. 

“If these people had been active in Southern California there would be books out about them” individually, Weinstein says of architects such as Gardner Dailey, who “brought Modern Architecture to the Bay Area.”  

Weinstein was a leader in the restoration and reopening of the Cerrito Theater (“I started raising a fuss to get the city to rebuild it,” he says). He grew up on Long Island, first came to the Bay Area in the 1970s after college at Columbia, and now lives in El Cerrito.  

His career includes journalism school at UC Berkeley and many years working for local papers, including the Hayward Daily Review, and the West County Times and Contra Costa Times as a reporter and editor. After retiring from full-time journalism several years ago, he has been concentrating on research and writing about architecture and local history.  

A book on Berkeley is in the works. He’s also involved with California Modern magazine and the “Eichler network” ( that celebrates the mid-century homes of another Bay area trendsetter, developer Joseph Eichler. 


Photograph by Linda Svendsen. A sheltering fireplace alcove in North Berkeley’s Thomas Pratt house shows how John Hudson Thomas incorporated unusual forms into his home designs.  


The Weinstein lecture this Thursday begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St., a few blocks east of Shattuck. To be sure of a seat, call the Berkeley Association of Realtors at 848-4288. Refreshments are served after the talk, and books can be purchased. Tickets cost $20, $15 for members of the Hillside Club or the Berkeley Association of Realtors. 

B.A.R. President Arlene Baxter organized the lecture series (Weinstein’s talk is the third of four), with proceeds going to the B.A.R. Youth Arts and Education Fund. The series is sponsored by Kevin Eves of Wachovia Mortgage.