Home & Garden
It’s hard to believe now, but there used to be a time when Berkeley’s Southside was a fashionable place to live, dotted with the residences of professors and society people.
Precious little remains to remind us of those days. In 2003, a survey conducted by Jerry Sulliger on behalf of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) found that only 6 percent of 138 structures that stood on the Southside a century earlier remain.
One of the surviving 19th-century structures is a charming house located at 2727 Dwight Way. A large sign in front proclaims it to be the Gorrill House, but it was built for Professor Félicien Victor Paget and his wife, Emmanuel.
According to his obituary in the University of California Chronicle for 1903, Félicien Paget was born on June 27, 1833, at Petit-Villard, in Franche-Comté, eastern France. His college education was devoted to the classics and to history. In 1862, he received a degree of Bachelier ès Lettres from the University of Strasbourg, followed three years later by a degree of Bachelier ès Sciences from the University of Grenoble.
In the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, Paget served as an officer in the Francs-Tireurs. Returning home after the war, he found the family estate in ruins—both the French and the Prussian armies had tramped over the land numerous times, leaving it almost beyond repair.
Being the family’s only son and having three sisters to support, Paget was obliged to borrow a large sum so that the estate could be restored. This debt haunted him all his life and was fully discharged only after his widow’s death.
Also in 1870, Paget married Mlle. Emmanuel Marie Jacquet, born in Paris to a Normandy family in 1845.
Hoping for brighter prospects in the New World, the couple immigrated to the U.S. in 1876. Settling in San Francisco, the Pagets began teaching French (he also taught Spanish) as private tutors. The musically gifted Mme. Paget taught music as well as French. They did very well—Mme. Paget alone often earned as much as $250 a month, which she applied to paying off the debt on the French estate. Following the Pagets’ death it was revealed by the professor’s second-in-command, Marius J. Spinello, that Mme. Paget was the business manager of the household, while her husband loved only his books and did not want the annoyance attendant on business affairs.
Félicien Paget eventually became an instructor in French at the Urban School of San Francisco. A course of lectures that he delivered attracted the attention of the university, and in 1887 he was invited to Berkeley as instructor in French and Spanish languages. He was made assistant professor in 1889, associate professor in 1892, and attained full professorship of French and Spanish languages in 1894. In 1898 he began teaching literature as well as languages, and two years later the department was reorganized and Paget placed at its head as Professor of the Romanic Languages and Literatures.
Paget was much revered by his students. One of them, Frederic A. Juilliard, ‘91, gave the University $350 in 1916 for a marble chair in the Greek Theatre in memory of his teacher. The dedication chiseled into the marble reads (translated from the French): “To his former teacher, an honest man of old times through science, honor, courtesy, and a valiant defender of his motherland, Félicien Victor Paget, professor of French literature, who gave himself wholly to his students and left the university all his worldly goods, this chair is dedicated by F.A. Juilliard.” The donor was the nephew and heir of magnate Augustus D. Juilliard, whose will established and endowed the famous New York music school.
It was in 1891, while Paget was assistant professor, that he and his wife called on San Francisco architect Willis Polk to design a house for them in Berkeley. Polk was a disciple and neighbor of the Swedenborgian minister Joseph Worcester, an intimate friend of the Pagets. He created for the couple a half-timbered house that they named “Villa des Roses.”
Several years after the house was built, the Pagets had the front façade shingled in three bands of decorative patterns. The front continues to be clad in scallop-edge, diamond, and irregularly overlapping shingles that lend it a charmingly rustic look. Along the west elevation, the half-timbered wall gives an idea of what the house looked like when built, although the full-length dormers on the roof are a later addition.
“Villa des Roses” was the first but by no means the only testament left by the Pagets on Dwight Way. Mme. Paget was a prodigious clubwoman. In January 1902, the San Francisco Call devoted a feature to her in its series “The Best-Known Club Women of the Pacific Coast.” The article began:
It is a queer thing that a French woman who cannot speak our tongue without giving her race away in the first sentence should come to America to teach some of our women of Berkeley the most American thing that they have ever learned. Mme. Paget it is who taught them the art of clubbing.
This tall, thin, gray, powerful Frenchwoman has led them over there in the college town across the bay. She has said “You shall” and “You shall not,” and they have followed. She found them without a club such as she considered they needed. She told them they must have such a club; she organized it and formed it. She went about raising money that the club might own its house and lot and this she accomplished. All the women of Berkeley obeyed.
The club was the Town and Gown Club, which Mme. Paget founded in 1898. It was a formidable task, as the San Francisco Call described it: “The driver of a hundred-and-seventy-five-in-hand must have a finger that feels the least twitch on any one of the lines. Somehow Mme. Paget got hold of those whims and complexities and nerves and wove them into a harmonious whole.”
In its early days, the club held its meetings in members’ homes or in church parlors. But this phase did not last long. On March 15, 1899, the Club Building Association filed articles of incorporation, its purpose being to build and lease all structures that may be required by the Town and Gown Club. The capital stock was stated at $4,000, of which $1,060 had been subscribed.
By April 13, 1899, the Club Building Association had acquired a lot on the corner of Dwight Way and Dana Street for $1,750. Bernard Maybeck, then instructor in drawing in the University of California, was recruited to draw up the plans for the clubhouse. Although the building budget was limited to $2,500, the architect nevertheless managed to create a stir with his design, in which the outrigger roof bracketing stood out.
The San Francisco Call writer who reported on its progress on Aug. 9 didn’t know what to make of the building, noting that it was “attracting much interest and curiosity on account of its peculiar oddity and eccentricity of design.” In fact, it was a simple rectangular mass, clad in redwood shingles:
Its chief characteristic is an almost severe simplicity. Redwood will be used throughout the entire structure, without plastering of any kind. Save for the interior of the roof, which is to be painted in a shade of bluish green, all the finishing for the walls, panels and furniture will be of natural wood. The inside dimensions are 23 by 40 feet. Of the two stories, the lower has a height of but eight feet, the upper of thirty feet. The latter will be used as a meeting hall, the lower floor being left for a library, cloakroom and kitchen. All the furniture has been specially made to order, and, like the rest of the building, will be severely plain.
The Town and Gown Club took an active role in the life of the community. In 1902, it joined the Hillside Club in promoting the planting of shade trees along Berkeley’s principal streets. As a result of their efforts, all residents of the Northside pledged to plant a redwood tree in every fifty-foot lot. The Town Board of Trustees signed a decree making the first Monday of each December Arbor Day, a town holiday to be observed by the planting of trees.
The clubwomen were also “trying to arouse on this coast an organized sentiment in favor of the Government preservation of some sequoia grove like the Mariposa forest, which can be permanently protected from ravages of timber cutters,” reported the San Francisco Call on Aug. 10, 1902.
Professor Paget died on Dec. 23, 1903, after a long and costly illness. His wife, who had worn herself out caring for him, followed thirteen days later. Her lengthy obituary, published in the San Francisco Call on Jan. 6, 1904, revealed that Mme. Paget bequeathed to the university her husband’s library and one-third of her estate, for the founding of the F.V. Paget scholarship fund for the benefit of deserving students in the French department.
The lion’s share of the estate was earmarked for paying off the old debt in France, which the Pagets never managed to eradicate during their lifetime.
Within a few years, “Villa des Roses” was acquired by the Pagets’ neighbors, James and Catherine Bunnell. Their eldest daughter, Louise Mapes Bunnell, had married Charles Keeler. Their son, Sterling Bunnell, M.D., revolutionized hand surgery. The younger daughter, Katherine Bunnell, married attorney William H. Gorrill, hence the name on the sign in front of the house.
As for the Town and Gown Club, it underwent several expansions, some of them constructed and perhaps also designed by A.H. Broad. The tall Maybeck core is now sandwiched between those additions. On the exterior, only the main roof and its outrigger brackets attest to the master’s touch.
Daniella Thompson publishes www.berkeleyheritage.com for the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA).