Home & Garden Columns

East Bay Then and Now: Maybeck’s Boke House: Made by One Crusader for Another

By Daniella Thompson
Friday November 02, 2007

On November 14, 1901 an item in the Berkeley Daily Gazette informed: 


Swiss Chalets for Hillside Homes. 

Frederick H. Clark, secretary of the Homestead Loan Association of Berkeley and three kindred associations in San Francisco, is improving the property recently purchased by him in the University Terrace tract. This scenic plat is situated at the head of Channing way on a gentle declivity and is very beautifully located. 

Mr. Clark will build for Prof. G.H. Boke, and Margaret Deane [sic], handsome Swiss chalets which are the creation of Architect Meybeck [sic]. A.H. Broad, the contractor, will begin work at once. 


The article was referring to the houses at 23 and 25 Panoramic Way, only one of which—the former—was designed by Maybeck. It was the dwelling built for George H. Boke, a law instructor at the University of California, who at the time was residing with his wife and three children nearby, at 2630 Channing Way. Banker Frederick H. Clark was apparently the deed holder on both “chalets,” since Boke was never listed in the assessor’s records, and his neighbor, Margaret A. Dean (grandmother of Dan Dean, our former mayor’s husband) does not appear in those records until 1908. Both houses were completed on February 14, 1902. 

George Henry Boke (1869–1929) was born in Placer County, California. His father, Nick Boke, was an immigrant from the duchy of Saxe-Coburg in Bavaria. His mother, Orange Ann, was a mere kid of seventeen when she gave birth to him. At the time, the Bokes were living in Dutch Flat, a town settled by German miners in 1851. Nick worked as a store clerk. 

Ten years later, Orange was married to apiarist Jerry Moulton, and the family resided in Saticoy, Ventura County, where the fruit orchards provided ready fodder for Jerry’s bees. Nevertheless, the apiarist turned carpenter, and the Moultons trekked up north to Nelson, in Butte County. 

The road from working-class life in the sticks to a Berkeley law professorship, remarkable as it is today, was practically unheard of a century ago, and young George Boke passed through numerous stations along the way. In 1887, he graduated from the State Normal School at San Jose, obtaining a teaching certificate. After teaching for a short while in Modoc County, he became principal of the school at Newcastle, Placer County. 

The early 1890s found him a student at Berkeley, where he graduated in 1894, in the class of Julia Morgan and Frank Norris. By 1900, Boke had spent two years at Harvard, from which obtained an M.A. and later an LL.B.. Along the way he had married Grace Sophia Bray of San Francisco and fathered three daughters. 

On May 21, 1900, Boke was appointed instructor in jurisprudence at the University of California. By 1903, he was also the head of the YMCA night school. His trajectory at the university can be traced through city directory listings that show his rise from instructor to assistant professor, associate professor, and professor in the course of four years. 

In 1906, Boke was lured to Stanford to teach a course on property. By the following year, however, he was back at Berkeley and suggested to his students the desirability of forming an anti-graft league with branches in all American universities. The inspiration, reported the San Francisco Call on April 23, 1907, came to Boke after hearing a talk by Francis J. Heney, the special federal prosecutor who had been brought to San Francisco to prosecute Mayor Eugene Schmitz and Boss Abe Ruef for bribery. Speaking at a university meeting, Heney “declared that grafters flourished because only a few voters interested themselves in the business of the municipality, and the vast majority was ignorant of what was taking place. Professor Boke believes that college men should institute a movement to promote knowledge of civic affairs throughout the country, and at his suggestion a number of students are laying the foundation for an intercollegiate league, to be used as a weapon against municipal graft and all other sorts of grafts.” 

After the attempted assassination of a witness in the graft trial, a Citizens’ League of Justice was organized, and Boke agreed to become its executive officer. In his book “The System”: As Uncovered by the San Francisco Graft Prosecution (1915), Franklin Hichborn wrote, “In spite of the fact that he was jeopardizing his position at the State University by his course, Professor Boke did much effective work in bringing the conditions which confronted San Francisco squarely before the public.” 

Boke participated in the birth of the non-partisan Good Government League and in 1908 founded The Liberator, a weekly published by the Citizens’ League of Justice. He was also instrumental in raising funds for the new Boalt Hall of Law (now Durant Hall). When the building’s projected costs mounted 50% above Elizabeth Boalt’s bequest, Boke raised the balance by soliciting the lawyers of California. It is said that the Napa County lawyers’ association specified that its pledge would be paid after the harvesting of the raisin crop. 

As it turned out, Boke’s crusading did put a stop to his academic career when the reformers’ efforts began to implicate members of the U.C. Board of Regents. Although the Regents couldn’t fire Boke, he was shunted aside and spent the rest of his life between Carmel and San Francisco. While retaining the title of Professor of Law, he engaged in independent work, writing books and articles and speaking at legal gatherings. Although his friend Lincoln Steffens would posthumously paint Boke’s life as tragic, it was hardly as lonely and isolated as portrayed.  

Maybeck and Boke had much in common. Both were crusaders and lovers of amateur theatricals. In July 1910, Boke participated in Carmel’s first al fresco stage production, playing the prophet Samuel in Constance Skinner’s biblical drama David, mounted in a pine grove. “He was a striking, picturesque figure, admirably gowned and wigged in white,” marveled Walter Anthony in the San Francisco Call. 

Maybeck’s design for the Boke house was both traditional and advanced for its time. The upper story, clad in vertical redwood boards, extends two feet beyond the first floor, where the boards are horizontal. Two wings of a broadly overhanging roof part to admit a central gable with a pair of double casement windows. A trio of casements appears just below, in a square bay projecting from the first floor façade. On the north side, an open sleeping balcony is a reminder of hardier generations. 

The living and dining rooms are arranged in an open ell with no separating doors. Both are paneled in board-and-batten redwood, with exposed posts and beams and decorative bolster blocks. Atypically for Maybeck, the fireplace is small, with a simple bracketed wooden mantel and tile surround. The four bedrooms on the second floor are equally rustic, finished in redwood, originally stained a mossy green, and exposing the ceiling framework. 

The Boke house caused repercussions in Berkeley and beyond. An exact copy of it was built in Oakland. Maybeck’s office records indicate that duplicate plans were sent to Aberdeen, Washington in 1906 for the J. B. Elston house. Berkeley houses that appear to bear the Boke stamp are the neighboring Dean house (A.H. Broad, 1901); the Warren Cheney cottage (Carl Ericsson, 1902); the de Neiman house at 21 Hillside Court (builder unknown, 1906); and Carl Ericsson’s house at 1625 Jayne Court (1909). 

Boke’s tenure at 23 Panoramic Way was brief. From 1904 until 1913 or so, he rented homes at various locations in Berkeley, never again owning a house except the one in Carmel, built in 1906. His son Richard described it as a “modern” redwood house, which “shows somewhat the Maybeck influence.” 

Boke was succeeded at 23 Panoramic Way by Clifton Price (1867–1942), a professor of Latin who would later add to his holdings the Jerome C. Ford apartment house at 77 Panoramic (A.H. Broad, 1904) and commission Julia Morgan in 1912 to build another apartment house at 5–11 Panoramic. In 1920, he was recorded in the U.S. Census as sharing the 4-bedroom Boke house with his wife, three children, a brother-in-law, two cousins, and a servant. But the arrangement was short lived, as Price regularly moved his residence from one property to another. In 1924, Price married his second wife, Wilson Holden (1895–1979), who lived in the Boke house for the rest of her life. The current owners bought it from her estate in 1980. 



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




Photograph by Daniella Thompson.  

The George Boke house, above, at 23 Panoramic Way. George Boke raised a third of the building funds for the original Boalt Hall, below, now known as Durant Hall.