Home & Garden Columns

East Bay Then and Now: A Viennese Epicure in the Athens of the West

By Daniella Thompson
Thursday May 21, 2009 - 10:20:00 AM
The courtyard at Cloyne Court, 2005.
Daniella Thompson
The courtyard at Cloyne Court, 2005.
Cloyne Court shortly after completion in 1904.
Louis L. Stein collection, courtesy of the Berkeley Historical Society
Cloyne Court shortly after completion in 1904.
Ludwig Boltzmann.
San Francisco Call, June 28, 1905
Ludwig Boltzmann.
The music room at the Hacienda del Pozo de Verona, circa 1900.
G.E. Gould, courtesy Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley
The music room at the Hacienda del Pozo de Verona, circa 1900.
Hacienda del Pozo de Verona, circa 1900.
G.E. Gould, courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Hacienda del Pozo de Verona, circa 1900.

There was a time when the University of California’s summer school was an instrument of adult education, created primarily for the benefit of elementary and secondary school teachers. Such was the case in 1905, when the eminent Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann (1844–1906) was invited to teach at the summer school, his trip financed by university regent and patron Phoebe Apperson Hearst. 

Boltzmann arrived in Berkeley on June 26, 1905 and was duly installed at Cloyne Court, along with several other visiting professors and Hammond Lamont, managing editor of the New York Evening Post. Although he was the most prominent of the summer school teachers that year, Boltzmann would not be remembered today in connection with Cloyne Court had he not written a memoir about his visit to California. 

In Reise eines deutschen Professors ins Eldorado, the Viennese scientist waxed eloquent about his West Coast experience: “One can be as happy as a king with a simple meal, but a journey to California is Veuve Clicquot champagne and oysters.” The culinary analogy was not misplaced since the physicist had made it clear from the outset that “far from being a negligible factor, eating and drinking is the central point. While traveling, it is most important to keep the body healthy in the face of manifold unaccustomed influences; above all the stomach, and especially the fastidious Viennese stomach.” 

After praising the Berkeley campus and some of its buildings, Boltzmann described his residence: 


More important for me was another building. A speculating innkeeper had read in an encyclopedia that Berkeley was an English bishop whose residence was called Cloyne Court. Consequently, he built a lodge for professors that he named Cloyne Court and where I, too, resided. On [incorporating] an element of exterior resemblance to an old English bishop’s residence he set no value. It was located on Euclid Avenue and had the form of a perfect parallelepiped without a trace of non-Euclidean structure. But inside, it was comfortable. I had a small bedroom, a somewhat larger study, and a bathroom, all with electric lighting. In the rooms, one could circulate warm water through thick pipes, achieving moderate warmth that was often welcome in July below the latitude of Palermo—so icy can the wind blow at times from the Pacific Ocean. On the other hand, the Berkeley winter is only a little colder than its summer; it’s only abundant in rain, which is totally missing in summer. 


Prof. Boltzmann was taking quite a few liberties, some from ignorance, others because the raconteur’s wit may have triumphed over the scientist’s quest for accuracy. Was there ever a house called Cloyne Court in Cloyne, Ireland? Did it serve as the residence of the philosopher George Berkeley while he was bishop of Cloyne? Not to my knowledge. The hotel was called Cloyne Court in honor of the bishop whose name was bestowed on our university town in 1860. The naming of Cloyne Court was done by the University Land and Improvement Company, which built the hotel and whose stockholders included the regents of the university, professors and prominent citizens, most notable among them Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who underwrote Prof. Boltzmann’s visit. 

Nor did any innkeeper determine the appearance of the building. That was the charge of John Galen Howard, supervising architect of the campus and a shareholder in the University Land and Improvement Co. Far from imitating an 18th-century Irish bishop’s residence, Howard utilized the Arts and Crafts idiom, executed in brown shingle, as were most of the houses then being built on the Northside. This was the style advocated by the Hillside Club. 

As almost every Berkeleyan knows, Cloyne Court is located not on Euclid Avenue but at 2600 Ridge Road. Is its shape a perfect parallelepiped? In plan, it is a large, straight-lined C, incorporating a long main body flanked by two wings of half the length, set at 90-degree angles and enclosing a central courtyard. With the exception of its gabled roofs, all the building’s angles are straight. 

True to his fastidious Viennese stomach, the professor had something to say about the cuisine at Cloyne Court: “The food was good. At least, one could usually bolt down something from one of the main dishes. Printed menus there were none. Before every meal, the menu was recited by the mostly bespectacled waitresses, so that it sounded more like a monotonous song, performed by subdued voices.” 

Boltzmann didn’t elaborate on the nature of the dishes, but they may have been more to his liking than some he was offered at Mrs. Hearst’s 53-room estate near Livermore. Designed by A.C. Schweinfurth in 1894, it was known as Hacienda del Pozo de Verona, after the Italian well head imported from Verona and installed in the courtyard. The physicist had been invited to the Hacienda with the other summer school professors. At table—seated on the right of the “alma mater Berkeleyensis,” as he called his hostess—Boltzmann thanked away a dish of blackberries, then a slice of melon appetizingly salted by the very hand of the patroness. Next came oatmeal, “an indescribable paste, which in Vienna might be fed to geese; although I doubt it, since no Viennese goose would deign to eat it.” 

Refusing the oatmeal was not an option, since the Herr Professor had observed Mrs. Hearst’s rather merciless look when he turned down the melon. Averting his face, Boltzmann choked down the porridge and was thankful for surviving the experience intact. “This the unpleasant part of an invitation in America,” he noted in his memoir. “In restaurants, you can leave what you can’t eat; but what can one do in the face of a housewife who is proud of the goodness of American cooking, and especially of her own? Fortunately, later there were fowl, stewed fruit, and other things that helped mask the taste [of the oatmeal]. 

Of Mrs. Hearst’s taste in architecture, Prof. Boltzmann had a higher opinion. Her estate, he wrote, was “a jewel of the kind that luxury, wealth, and good taste can bring off only in such sumptuously endowed nature. At the station [especially built by Western Pacific Railroad to accommodate Mrs. Hearst’s numerous guests] we were met by carriages and soon drove through a fantastic and not unattractive entrance gate to a park of fabulous trees and beauteous flowers. Here, wealth translates into water, and where it is not stinted, a carpet of flowers blooms in summer as in winter.” 

Boltzmann described Mrs. Hearst’s house as a kind of fortress, built in Portuguese-Mexican style and consisting of a garland of buildings surrounding a courtyard enclosed behind heavy iron gates. “The interior of the Hacienda,” he wrote, “is a treasure chest full of superb works of art and rare objects assembled by the owner from all regions of the Old and New World; the most original mixture of Greek, Roman, Medieval, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian rarities.” 

The music room was about “as large as the Bösendorfer Saal,” a 150-seat concert hall in Vienna, and adorned with “fantastic baroque decorations. I knew of no small concert hall in Vienna that could match it in beauty,” wrote Boltzmann. He was asked to open the postprandial concert. “After some protests I sat down at the grand piano, a Steinway of the highest price range. Without any preconceived notions, I pressed the keys. My ears may have heard such a beautifully sounding piano in a concert, but never had my fingers touched one. If I had occasionally rued the strain of my California trip, from now on, never again.” 

Already en route from the train station to the Hacienda, the professor was given some information about its architect: 


My companion in the carriage explained to me that the owner had engaged a German architect named Schweinfurt [sic], who built this [estate] after studying all the old Spanish and Portuguese buildings in Mexico. I said: “He must have had good taste!”, to which my companion replied, “Yes, he died over it.” “How did this happen?” I asked. “He loved California wines too much, and drank heavily until he died.” These Californians have a dreadful notion about their wine, which is certainly very strong. In the end it wasn’t so bad. I will also die some day and then stop drinking, so I will also continue drinking until I die. 


Again one must parse the content of Boltzmann’s anecdotes. The Hearsts’ architect, Albert Cicero Schweinfurth (1863–1900), was born in New York. He died of typhoid fever after returning from two years of travel in France and Italy. It seems that nobody told Prof. Boltzmann that a famous house standing only a short block away from Cloyne Court had been designed by Schweinfurth. 

We may never find out whether Schweinfurth was a heavy wine drinker or not, but Boltzmann’s drinking habits are fully discussed in his memoir. The professor had never drunk water from an open bottle or one containing carbonated river water. He credited this habit with keeping his stomach healthy even when subjected to strange food. Since Berkeley was a temperate city by law, he tried the local water, with disastrous results that kept him up all night. 

Appealing to a colleague, Boltzmann was directed on the hush-hush to a wine store in Oakland, from where he managed to smuggle in a full battery of bottles. “The route to Oakland became very familiar to me from then on,” he wrote, “and my stomach, too, said Amen. […] Sadly, I was forced to drink my glass of wine secretly after meals, so that I myself almost got the feeling that I was indulging in a vice.” 

“Finally came the evening when I listened for the last time to the one-note song of the bespectacled waitresses. As I cut my last omelette, the colleague at my side surveyed the number of pieces with a hawk’s eye and said: ‘there’s still half a minute left for each piece.’ Then the railroad carried me away.” 

Returning home on board the S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm II, Boltzmann drank not a drop of water but a great deal of Rüdesheimer Riesling. “This is so convenient on a ship,” he wrote, “if one totters a bit, everybody chalks it up to the ship’s movement.” He committed suicide the following year. 


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