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John Hudson Thomas Self Guided Tour Originally presented Sunday, May 6, 1979 By the Ecole Bilingue, the

East Bay French-American School This tour of seven classic Berkeley homes by architect John Hudson Thomas was preceded by a slide lecture given May 3 by Thomas Gordon Smith at the Northbrae Community Church (designed by John Hudson Thomas). The Ecole Bilingue, located at 1009 Heinz St., is also by John Hudson Thomas. The following text is from the tour handout.

Overview Page [Added in 2009] 1. Kruse House, 564 Santa Clara Ave., 1914 2. Spring Mansion, 1960 San Antonio Road, 1912 3. Pratt-Verper House, 959 Indian Rock Ave., 1911 4. Pratt-Thomas House, 800 Shattuck Ave., 1911 5. Blum House, 1505 Hawthorne Terrace, 1926 6. Park House, 3115 Claremont Ave., 1914 7. Wintermute, 227 Tunnel Road, 1913 8. Ecole Bilingue, 1001/9 Heinz St., 1915 Find the tour on Google Maps. (Google Map created in 2009.) You can also view it and fly from house to house in Google Earth, once you’ve found it in Google Maps. You can also find photos of houses by John Hudson Thomas on the John Hudson Thomas Flickr feed, the John Hudson Thomas Journal (a blog) or the John Hudson Thomas gallery.

John Hudson Thomas (1878 to 1945) Jonathan Thomas was one of Berkeley's most innovative and prolific architects. Born in Nevada, Thomas spent his boyhoodin the Bay Area -- until he left for Yale University. After graduation from Yale, he returned to Berkeley to enter the Department of Architecture at the University of California, where he studied under such masters as Bernard Maybeck and John Galen Howard. Thomas completed the three-year architecture course and went to work as a draftsman in Howard's office. Two years later he formed a business partnership with Howard's office supervisor, George T. Plowman; and in 1910 he established his own independent practice. During the four-year period in which Plowman and Thomas were partners, they were associated primarily with the Craftsman movement of architecture. Their small-scale buildings were made of wood and were rustic in nature. When Plowman left Berkeley for Los Angeles, Thomas shifted his design approach from the unpretentious Craftsman to a more assertive style. His residences became dominant in relation to their landscapes, and wood gave way to stucco for their façades. The stucco acquired the appearance of more solid masonry, and Thomas created a feeling of massiveness for his structures by incorporating such techniques as overscaled elements. Many times he designed separate windows to appear from the exterior as one grand unit. His interiors, also, became more dramatic with such features as prominent stairways. In his designs, Thomas selected motifs from many different sources and attempted to combine them into a unified statement. In fact, this tendency to combine seemingly unrelated imagery into a cohesive design certainly became one of Thomas' trademarks. The style set by John Hudson Thomas established the tone for East Bay residential development throughout the early part of the 20th century. Helping to establish the Bay Area Tradition in architecture, Thomas continued his practice until his death in 1945. Commentary by Linda Hayes

1. 564 Santa Clara Ave. The Kruse House, 1914 (Residence of Richard and Judith Litwin, the second owners) Entry to the Kruse House is made by walking down several steps and through an ivy and oak shaded arbor. The cubic stucco building with its slab-like overhanging roof is a dramatic contrast to the wooded setting. A simple geometric pattern of squares and rectangles under the eaves and on the window muntins is repeated with some variation in the interior. Scrolled wrought iron eave supports were apparently added after the original construction, but may have been designed by Thomas. The juxtaposition of curves and angles is certainly a Thomas characteristic. One passes through a shallow entry alcove to a living room flooded with light by three immense rectangular windows. These windows are framed by ceiling-high wooden valences ornamented by a simple, straight-lined scroll. And overscaled fireplace provides a focal point for the room. The terra-cotta scrolled T’s to the left and right of the fireplace hood may well be a Thomas signature, and are repeated in the dramatic black and orange wall fixtures and dining room chandelier. The black onyx inkwell to the left of the fireplace was a gift to the original owner from the architect and was rescued from basement obscurity by the present owners. The kitchen remodeling, completed for the Litwin's three years ago by architect Carly Jensen, takes pains to preserve the simple geometric motif seen elsewhere. Note particularly the stained glass cupboard doors just to the right of the kitchen entry and the use of plain square tiles which echoed the window muntin design. Returning to the living room, step up at the fireplace wall to the almost hidden, narrow staircase, lighted by windows at the landing. In the original main bath at the top of the stairs, the pedestal sink is placed in its own mini-bay window and made starkly dramatic by its surrounding of black accented white tile. A

greatly simplified version of the characteristic Thomas bay is also seen in the charming master bedroom which includes a corner window seat, placed to take full advantage of the lovely view. It is interesting to compare the restrained design and almost Oriental tranquility of this home with the overall impression made by other Thomas designs of the same period such as the Pratt and Spring houses ((houses 2, 3 and 4 on this tour). The Litwins’ home also invites comparison with the simple cubic forms associated with designers of the Prairie School, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, which were generally constructed of masonry rather than stucco, and which were characterized by an overall design pattern. As always, Thomas' unique style includes the use of diverse design sources and makes it so much more than a mere example of one particular architectural school. Commentary by Janet Hoehn and Susan Fisher

2. 1960 San Antonio Rd. The Spring House 1912 (Residence of Larry and Angela Leon) John Hopkins Spring was the grandson of a New England sea captain who brought his family to San Francisco shortly after the Gold Rush. As a real estate developer early in this century, Spring owned much of north Berkeley and most of Albany from the hills to the tidelands of Richmond. In 1912, he commissioned John Hudson Thomas to design a grand residence which would promote his development of the Thousand Oaks area. According to an account at the time: “…the virgin whiteness of the mansion will be admired from great distances on and around the bay and it will stand for decades as one of the magnificent showplaces of Berkeley." Daily Pacific Builder, Feb. 15, 1912 The house was sited on a 20-acre plot which included elaborate gardens, a swimming pool, a tennis court, and a gardener's cottage also designed by Thomas. Surrounding the house were broad terraces patterned after those suggested by the palace of Empress Elizabeth of Austria on the island of Corfu. Spring sold the mansion after his divorce in 1918. Sixteen acres of the garden were subdivided and sold, and the house and remaining four acres became the Cora L. Williams Institute of Creative Development, a small liberal arts college with a twoyear program. The Williams Institute was most successful in the 1920s and 30s. It continued to operate as Williams College until 1955 under the direction of the Hopkins family who had inherited the property upon Cora Williams’ death. The present owners acquired the Spring mansion three years ago and are working to restore it. John Hudson Thomas is noted for his deliberate overscaling, and the Spring mansion is built on a grand Roman scale. All the rooms in the house open into an immense central hall, extending to the roof and covered by a skylight 30 feet above the main

floor. Oak is used lavishly throughout the house -- in moldings, bookcases, doors, and handling. Structurally the house, including floors and roofs, is built entirely of reinforced concrete. Four massive doric columns anchor the mezzanine onto which the second-floor rooms open and flank a grand 15 foot wide staircase. Under their decorative stucco exterior, these columns are reinforced concrete pillars approximately a foot square and visible from a crawl space between the second-floor rooms and the roof. The doorways are over a foot thick, and the doorway openings are appropriate for huge rooms. The living room is 24 x 45 feet. The Spring mansion took over 18 months to build and is reputed to have cost $156,000. The house contains seven fireplaces, and each bedroom has its own bathroom. The velvet carpeting and the tapestries and silk damask wall coverings in the billiard room, dining room, living room, and study are original to the house. Also original are the draperies and cornices in the living room and dining room, and the lighting fixtures, including chandeliers and the brass sconces of winged flight fixed to the columns in the central hall. The mural in the central hall dates from the days of the Williams Institute. John Hudson Thomas' houses are most often characterized by bays, steep roofs, multishaped windows, and an eclectic and romantic, medieval quality. By contrast, the Spring mansion, with its ordered and symmetrical arrangement of solid and stately masses, suggests a repose and order based on classical models and represents Thomas at his most formal. This quality of calm monumentality, when combined with the technological innovation of the mansion's construction, stands as a testament to Thomas' architectural skill and ability to borrow elements from any mode and fuse them into a unique and powerful overall design. Commentary by Christinas Meyer

3. 959 Indian Rock Ave. The Pratt-Verper House, 1911 Photos on JHT Gallery Photos on Flickr (Rresidence of Joel and Karen Zeldin) The three houses that John Hudson Thomas built for John R. Pratt on Indian Rock Avenue in early 1911 provide a splendid opportunity to view the architect’s unique use of stucco and to savor the startlingly disparate sources upon which he drew for ornamentation. This year marked a change in Thomas' style from the understated, rustic wood designs associated with the Craftsman style to a bolder, more assertive approach. Rough stucco is used to simulate the solidity and massiveness of masonry. The stucco on 959 Indian Rock Ave. results in a startlingly different visual impact than that of the Pratt-Thomas house. Here the impression is of massive masonry cubes and a horizontal, rather than vertical, relationship to the site. The overhanging eaves trimmed with a horizontal timber, the squat dormer window above, and the rectangular windows on the first floor all enhance the first impression. Upon entering via an arched front door, one is all the more surprised, then to confront an array of plaster and wood arches and a variety of ornament not hinted at by the simple angles of the exterior. The central floor plan is one of two most frequently used by Thomas. Just inside the front door, one's eye is immediately invited up the stairway to a dramatic window on the landing which lights both the entrance and obscure circulation hall. To the left one looks through the dining room to an over scaled arched window framing outdoor greenery. (Thomas is said to have designed the windows of the three Pratt houses so that none has a view of each other through their side windows). To the right of the entry one looks through the living room to a large greatly curved bay window which invites the impression that the room is larger than it is. The fireplace inglenook is set apart by an

archway which has the simulator four-square Thomas signature. Simple copper trim draws attention to the fireplace. More elaborate hammered copper hoods were a feature of later Thomas houses. Craftsmen details are again seen in the fir and redwood entry bench and shelves and in the twin seats by the fireplace. An angular scroll motif, used in both the dining and living rooms, heightens the contrast between curves and rectangles in the house. Few alterations have been made to the kitchen and pantry area. A sun porch just off the living room has been enclosed and oak flooring added -- giving additional interior access to a first floor rear bedroom. While the original Thomas-designed light fixtures have not survived, a previous owner installed wall fixtures of the same era, as well as the unusual dining room chandelier which is thought to be a Thomas design originally created for a local billiard parlor. Commentary by Susan Fisher

4. 800 Shattuck Ave. The Pratt Thomas House, 1911 (Residence of Ted and Dorcas Kowalski) Photos on JHT Gallery Photos on Flickr The Pratt-Thomas House commands its site as a result of its massive buttresses and parapet gables and by the vertical linking of the large living room and second story windows via decorative woodwork. Characteristically, Thomas' elaborate muntins blend windows of otherwise radically different sizes and shapes into an overall design. The entry on the Shattuck Avenue side is sheltered by a massive cantilevered stucco box is enormous window floods the interior stairway and entry hall with light. While he lived in the house, Thomas himself is said to have taken advantage of this lovely window by making the upstairs landing large enough to accommodate his drafting table. The floor plan is one of two often used by Thomas: the living room is to one side of the entry; the kitchen is to the other; and the dining room is just on the other side of the entry’s interior wall. Few changes have been made in the original design. The door from the pantry-dining nook has been widened slightly, and a side sun porch has been enclosed by door and window. Fir cabinets in the pantry were returned to their natural finish by the present owners. Fixtures throughout the house are the original gas outlets electrified. Fir was used for ornamental trim in this home: note the bench alcove in the entry and the small candle alcove at the top of the stairs, two charming echoes of the Craftsman tradition. Wood in a four-square decorative motif directs the eye to the ceiling in both the living and dining rooms. This Thomas signature is repeated in plaster and tile on the living room and master bedroom fireplaces and is prominent in other homes on the tour. Both the living room and master bedroom feature cozy fireplace inglenooks, a design repeated in larger Thomas houses. The large rectangular windows of the living room and the curving dining room bay are

additional features that foster the illusion of a much grander scale than the actual size of the house would otherwise suggest. Commentary by Susan Fisher Note: The house at 961 Indian Rock Ave. is the third house in the set of three that John Hudson Thomas designed for John R. Pratt in 1911.

5. 1505 Hawthorne Terrace The Blum House, 1926 (Residence of David and Bebe Thompson) Built for Professor Blum of the University of California Economics Department, this house is the most recent example of Thomas's work included on the present tour. The house is sited at approximately 45° to the lot lines -- an ingenious way to deal with a steep upslope. From an environmental point of view the siting is well-chosen, for it creates a southwesterly orientation which, in the East Bay hills, gives residents ample opportunity for light and Bay views without their having to suffer the extreme glare of late afternoon sun. In addition, the siting serves Thomas’ aesthetic tastes very well. From the street the house actually appears even larger and more imposing than it actually is. The northwesterly side, predominately in shade, is made the formal entrance or “front.” There are few windows; and even with its textured surface the resulting expanse of relatively blank wall creates a massive castle-like scale. The oversized, cantilevered bay and support brackets heighten the effect. By contrast, the opposite or “back” side of the house, which encloses a sunny garden space accessible from both living and dining rooms, is open, airy, and entirely domestic in scale. For those admitted to this private zone, the house becomes a cottage. There is almost an Alice in Wonderland quality in the way that Thomas has sifted scale from front to back. Indeed, there is a comparable wit and playfulness which abounds throughout the house and which is characterized by the way Thomas takes the detailing and opening of the front door and completely inverts them on the two doors leading from the dining room to the garden. The study at the top of the stairs is the only room with four right angled corners. After construction was begun, this room was added to the plan at the request of the client, who developed a sudden and confining illness that made it necessary for him to work at home. The overlook from this room to the clerestory space of the living room is a true period piece, as it was highly fashionable at that time to have entertainers use such a space for recitations or musical performances. Originally, the study space

was to have been an open area which would have given the front elevation of the house an additional gable and an even more complex appearance. Commentary by Jay Claiborne

6. 3115 Claremont Ave. The Park House, 1914 (Residence of Laurence and Joanne Brownson) Access to the Park House is over a creek, through a grove of oak trees and up meandering garden steps. It is difficult to get an overall view of the house, secluded thus in the trees, in order to appreciate the bold massing of stucco forms, stepping back at each floor and terminating in a small penthouse. Apparently this basic form was derived, in part, so as not to obstruct the view available from the existing house directly above and which Thomas had designed a few years earlier. What would have been an austere design is countered with a playful variety of windows, porches, bay windows, archways, gable ends, chimneys, and square tile motifs. Before going up to the front door visitors should walk to the right side of the house and pause to admire a beautiful example of window design characteristic of the architect’s work. A grandiose effect is achieved by tying together the living room windows above with those of the music room below, capping the whole with a simple, bold arch and parapet gable end and bringing down on each side a cascade of articulated stucco bands. A dramatically simple, triangular bay window directs one up the stairs toward the front door, which is delineated by a projecting archway. Once inside, the visitor is impressed, as was intended, by an elegant stairway with two ample landings graced with carved wooden paneling and abundant windows. The interior wall finishes are of white plaster with all openings cased in generous amounts of Australian Gumwood trim. Particularly noteworthy are the French doors leading from the living room down to the garden room, which was an addition designed by Thomas six years later. The fireplace designs are similar to those in the Wintermute house which have hammered copper goods. However, here Thomas achieved an equally graceful design by sculpturing the plaster material and adding ubiquitous tile accents.

It appears that this house is still mostly as originally designed except, perhaps, for the addition of the mirror over the dining room fireplace. Notice, for example, the brass and white opal glass light fixtures in the living room and dining room. Note the original large grounds were subdivided a few years ago to make room for other houses, one of which was designed by Julia Morgan and was moved here from its original site. Commentary by Helena Vilett

7. 227 Tunnel Road (Enter on Vicente Road) Wintermute House, 1913 (Residennce of David and Patricia Strauss) The Wintermute House is a romantic and picturesque fantasy. Steep gabled roofs, large projecting bays, intricate window patterns, and thick parapet walls partly hidden by foliage create an immediate and forceful image replete with associations and overtones. The relentless traffic of Tunnel Road rushes by -insisting on its present-day schedules -- while this stately mansion with majestic winding paths and processions of stone urns suggests the slower approach of coaches and horses, and even of leisure itself. The house is from another era where as many as seven servants lived in the separate carriage house nearby and now gone is the butler's pantry and the special live-in maid who attended only two young Marjorie Wintermute. The Wintermute house was built in 1913 for Dr. and Mrs. Wintermute. It was Mrs. Wintermute of the Culver-Bell family (descendents of Alexander Graham Bell) who actually commissioned Thomas to do the work. This house was one of Thomas's biggest commissions and came in a period of his assertive stucco structures designed in the “grand manner” -- a period of obvious social striving and conspicuous aspirations. As with many of Thomas' houses, the Wintermute house defies any single stylistic classification. Many sources are identifiable: Tudor and medieval references, Austrian secessionists and Roman ornament, Prairie school, Gothic and Indian elements. In short, the house is a virtual gamut of historical architecture transformed into a complex composition obviously meant to dominate its site and impress the visitor. It was this ability to control what could easily have developed into a chaos of unrelated design elements that defines Thomas' genius in this period of his work. The Wintermute house is composed of grand spaces with much ornate detail and lavish finishes. Its spatial organization is clear

and distinct. Major spaces around a central entry hall, with a sense of expanding spaces yet to unfold. The entry hall is the starting point and crossroads for all major spaces in the house. In common central hall plans of this type, the entry space is two stories high and includes the main staircase within this volume. In the Wintermute house the central hall is one story high and the main stair, a gracious 6 feet wide with large landings, wraps around the central hall and this becomes a major “promenade” with outdoor vistas at every turn. At the top of this stairway is the upper hall from which it is possible to see not only the major upper spaces, but also down into this two-story high conservatory, with glimpses of living, dining and garden below. The interior concept has thus been to visually connect the house both horizontally and vertically. In doing so, however, Thomas has gone out of his way to keep each space separate and distinct, complete in itself -- which partly accounts for the remarkable quality of restfulness and calm felt in each room. The mood that pervades the Wintermute house is one of spaciousness, variety, and the suggestion of ritual -- that the events of everyday life are somewhat special. This mood is felt at the onset in the complex sequence of approaches to the front door and on the main stair, and in a similar manner in the dining room, living room, master bedroom, study, and conservatory. The conservatory is by far the “glorious” space of the house. Here, in a virtually two-story glass enclosure looking out over the garden and pool and with the sound of the fountain in the projecting bay as a background, the ritual of four o'clock tea was a reality until recent times. The sense of ritual and importance was further heightened by Thomas's manipulation of scale -making elements such as corbels and walls thicker and bigger than they needed to be in order to convey the most convincing impression. The upper east wing was built for the Wintermute daughter, Marjorie. It was over the design of this wing that the Wintermutes had a falling out with Thomas, and some of it was constructed over his objections. This dispute notwithstanding, the wing is a child's fantasy -- with delicate plaster foliage on the walls, small scaled doors, built-in roll down desk, watercolor wall paintings by Mrs. Wintermute, and a bathroom designed to

charm the heart of any child. The Wintermute house stayed in the family until the early 1940s. As a child, Marjorie Wintermute had played often with her favorite companion, Amy May. Amy grew up loving this house, too, and vowed to someday own it. In the 1940’s as Mrs. Charles Rose, she was to realize that dream, and she continued the four o'clock tea ceremony she had always enjoyed with Marjorie. The house now has its fourth owners, David and Patricia Strauss, who have continued to sustain its original vitality while making necessary improvements such as kitchen remodeling and the even more timely addition of solar heating for all domestic hot water. When the Wintermute house was being completed, the world of architecture was on the verge of "modern movement” which in the 1920’s was to involve radical spatial experiments and revolutionary aesthetics. In the midst of this period of upheaval, John Hudson Thomas was to proceed from the Wintermute house, with full conviction, to further develop a more thoroughly consistent romantic medieval architecture. Commentary by Jim Daniels