By Thomas Gordon Smith Copyright 1975 Master’s Thesis, U.C. Berkeley, 1975 For more information about John Hudson Thomas, please visit: • • • Photo Gallery: “johnhudsonthomas” Blog: John Hudson Thomas Journal Web Site: John Hudson Thomas Gallery




John Hudson Thomas developed his idiosyncratic approach to architecture during one of the most expansive periods of residential development in Oakland and Berkeley, California. From 1910 to 1920, Thomas' practice consisted of residential commissions for middle and upper middle class clients in new East Bay subdivisions. The forms which has buildings took were influenced by the enterprising values of his clients and by the hilly topography on which his buildings stood. Thomas' basic design must also have been an expression of an assertive and self-confident personality Hudson Thomas was intimately involved in defining the image of the new residential developments. He was not an entrepreneur. Rather, he interpreted the dream which the entrepreneurs had conceived for their developments. The first houses which he built in the tracts were the image setters. These houses were frequently chosen by developers to illustrate promotional brochures for their subdivisions. However few of them were built speculatively by developers. These buildings frequently appear in early photographs is the only houses standing in a development. Surrounded by open hillsides, they exerted an even more imposing effect than they do today. They were dominant objects in the landscape. They influenced the taste of potential clients of contemporary architects. Thomas produced a strong body of domestic works despite budgetary constraints which frequently surrounded his projects. For example, Thomas was forced to manipulate the material to which he was restricted, wood and stucco, to achieve effects which simulated more substantial construction.


Hudson Thomas was the most innovative architect based in the East Bay involved in the residential development of the early teens. Throughout this period, Thomas and his San Francisco contemporaries, Bernard Maybeck and Louis Christian Mullgardt, were the only Bay Region architects who designed houses in a style which consistently reflected the progressive spirit of their times. The diversity of imagery in Thomas' work conveys the impression of a young architect who admired the work of avant garde designers which he saw in the progressive architectural periodicals of the period published in Europe and the United States. Thomas was eclectic. Although his sources were avant garde and had little relation to the imagery of historical architecture, Thomas' approach mirrored the traditional nineteenth century eclectic design method. From his sources, he selected motifs which appealed to him and re-integrated them to form a personal style. His output was large and the style which he devised set the tone for residential development during the teens throughout Alameda County.


Oakland’s self-image, as expressed in her newspapers, changed dramatically between 1890 and 1915. An editorial in 1890 Oakland Enquirer suggests that the city was an exploited place without amenities. The sewer system is a rotten cesspool, filth pollutes the air because the drains are choked and broken. Every street is a break-neck in its disruption. Lake Merritt is a reeking pestilence, a breed-bed of slimy ooze.1 The city was exploited politically and had no monuments: “the city officials are the worst in the world, thieves, cut purses and abandoned wretches of the slums... the city is bowed down with taxation and has nothing to show for the outlay."2 The city was suffering from the political domination of the southern Pacific Railroad machine. However in 1913 the Oakland Tribune produced a series of Sunday supplement covers which celebrated visually a bright self-esteem in the city. While idealized, the illustrations symbolize the group of civic pride which was felt by Oakland residents. Throughout the 1890’s cries for reform in Oakland met with little success. However, in the early years of the twentieth century, a group of free enterprise enterprisers and upper middle class professionals mobilized as a strong political force behind the slogan “Progress through Development." The word “progress” became the keyword of this political movement and its members refer to themselves as the Progressives. The Oakland Progressive reflected attitudes defined by upper middle class businessmen throughout

6 urban California after the turn of the century. Mr. Progressive was aggressive in his pride of independence and in his belief in free enterprise.3 He saw these American ideals threatened by two forces struggling for power in California at the time, organized labor battling the monopolistic corporation.4 The Progressive made a smug claim to moral superiority, insisting “nearly all of the problems which fix society... have their sources above or below the middle class man. From above came the problem of predatory wealth...from below the problems of pigheaded and brutish criminality."5 Although the Progressive expected to make his fortune from the growth of Oakland, he saw his personal gain dependent upon the development of the resources and images of the entire community. He wanted businessmen and professionals in public office. He wanted city government to be committed to policies which would advance the economic growth of Oakland-at-large. The Progressives gained power and Oakland in 1905 with the election of Mayor Frank K Mott. In 1906, Mott expressed his optimism for Oakland's future. “The city is progressive, it is forging ahead after a remarkable rate; it is fostering public improvements and is giving attention to the needs of the rapidly developing municipality intelligently and broadly."6 After his election, Mayor Mott spearheaded the creation of the Chamber of Commerce.7 The secretary of the Chamber of Commerce wrote in 1906 that the Chamber “mirrors the civic pride and progressiveness of the community."8 Involved in fierce competition with its West Coast urban neighbors to attract new residents from the East and Midwest, the secretary explained that “every new family is of benefit to every line of business.”9

Although Mayor Mott in the progressives saw the Oakland Harbor as the primary resource to be developed and promoted by the city government, they saw the improvement of Oakland's physical image as the second major responsibility. An editorial in 1909 encouraged the “creation of municipal buildings which will give the city the appearance of stability and character.”11 Mott called for the development of Lake Merritt, boulevards, and parks,12 and envisioned

7 a new city hall which will be “an ornament to Oakland."13 The Progressive dream of development and expansion won popular support. In 1909 the Oakland voters passed a bond measure to improve the Oakland Harbor and to build a new city hall.14 In the same year, voters the adjacent towns of Fruitvale and East Oakland annexed themselves to Oakland. The city grew from 16.6 to 60.1 miles overnight. 15 Between 1900 and 1910 the rise of Oakland's Progressives was paralleled in cities throughout California. In the later years of the decade the movement defined itself on a statewide level. Conferences were held in 1907 and 1909 by one hundred delegates acted in the Lincoln-Roosevelt Republican movement, a national outgrowth of the Progressive spirit.16 In 1910 Progressives gained control of the California government with the election of Gov. Hiram Johnson and a Progressive legislature. Strong public support for the legislature developed in 1911 with the introduction of initiative, referendum, and recall.17 During the first five years of the century, when the Progressives are pushing to develop the public resources and image of Oakland, real estate speculators were promoting tracks in the Oakland hills as ideal residential districts. A sharp distinction between Oakland and Berkeley did not exist in the early twentieth century. Berkeley's residential subdivisions of the Progressive period were oriented to Oakland and San Francisco by commute trains and the development was primarily in the hands of Oakland entrepreneurs. One of the principal Oakland entrepreneurs of the period with was Francis Marion Smith. By 1900 Francis Marion “Borax” Smith had consolidated most of Oakland's independent street railways into the Key System line. With Frank Colton Havens of the Realty Syndicate, Smith hoped to “pyramid a Monopoly of street railway transportation into a monopoly of real estate ventures."18 In late 1903 the Key System ferry to San Francisco broke the southern Pacific monopoly on transbay traffic.19 By mid-1906 the Key System ferries provided swift commute service to four East Bay districts. Trains ran to downtown Berkeley in 1903. In 1904 a line opened to Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue. In 1906 trains

8 ran out of Oakland's Grand Avenue toward Trestle Glenn and Piedmont and up Claremont Avenue towards East Berkeley.20 The real estate holdings of the Smith-Havens interests rivaled the expansion of their transport ventures. By 1905 much of the hill property in Oakland, Piedmont, and North and East Berkeley was in the hands of Frank C. Havens and Francis Marion Smith in the name of the Realty Syndicate.21 In 1905 the goals for Oakland’s civic, commercial, and residential development were set. The success which these goals achieved by 1910 was largely a result of the stimulation provided by San Francisco's 1906 earthquake and fire. Oakland's response to the earthquake was immediate. Relief committees were organized, the Salvation Army provided clothing, and citizens opened their homes to the refugees. They were 150,000 refugees who fled to Oakland, and the Realty Syndicate opened the Idora Amusement Park to accommodate some of them.22 Realtors saw the possibility of attracting a larger residential population from San Francisco than they had imagined. Wickham Havens, the son of Frank C. Havens, ran a series of enticing newspaper advertisements which promoted the amenities of living in his East Bay hill subdivisions. Roughly 65,000 refugees remained permanently in Oakland.23 The population influx was immediately seen as a boon to Oakland's progressive spirit. Six months after the earthquake an article in the Overland Monthly states that: The great upheaval has already taken on the appearance of a blessing in disguise. New men and new blood or appearing to take the place of old men and old methods... Everywhere you may see new names and new faces, new firms, and energetic methods... The chances for fortune making are more abundance because the fire created larger opportunities for all.24 The influx of people put a new value in real estate. Realtor George Austin advertised the possibilities bluntly: “Buy real estate and make a fortune."25

9 The demand for houses to accommodate the newcomers initiated a building boom. Subdivision activity was concentrated in North and East Berkeley and in North Oakland.26 The subdivisions were oriented to downtown Oakland and San Francisco by commute trains. Between 1904 and 1912, 43,000 new lots were created by subdivision in the East Bay. This represents more than five times the number created in the previous eight-year period.27 Although Francis M. Smith and Frank C. Havens and much of the East Bay hillside real estate, their methods of selling the land obscured their monopoly. Outside real estate firms were contracted to subdivide and market the lots. After Smith or Havens build rail lines to a subdivision, they split the net profits of the venture with the subdivider.28 In 1917, during a hearing of the California Railroad Commission, the relations between the Key System Lines and the Realty Syndicate were attacked as being similar to “the relations between the two pockets in the same man's trousers."29 By 1910 Smith and Havens controlled transport, real estate, and water supply ventures in Oakland and Berkeley. The progressive businessmen and professionals who had recently freed Oakland from the domination of the Southern Pacific Corporation supported the Smith-Havens combine. Smith and Havens made enormous fortunes from their exploits, but their corporation was acceptable because it was home-based. They poured money into sumptuous estates which enhanced Oakland's prestige. More importantly, from the Progressive point of view, the Smith-Havens monopoly provided the machinery which accelerated Oakland's residential expansion. There was no doubt in the Progressive’s mind that the hillside land which stretched north and east of Oakland and Berkeley should be developed and improved. A real estate promotional brochure written about 1912 looked back at the post-earthquake development proudly: Millions of dollars worth of new homes have been added to Oakland and Berkeley in the past five years...Large tracts of land have been wrestled from the farmer and the truck grower; the wooded hillside slopes...have

10 been dotted with new homes from modest bungalows to palatial residences.30 Developers were certain that they had enhanced the natural beauty of their sites: There are no streets the checkerboard the hills at right angles...without regard to contours as there are in some hill-slope residence districts in San Francisco. The avenues swing around the hills, giving at each turn new and surprising vistas of lawn and garden, with homes that have been adapted so intelligently to their sites that they seem to have grown where they are placed.31 The image of an ideal lifestyle was promoted by the developers. Speaking of Piedmont, the most exclusive of the post-earthquake developments, a brochure states: Over fields upon which cattle browsed and jack rabbits raced seven years ago, high powered automobiles now go purring over smooth and curving avenues. Between rows of palms, limousines and closed electrics convey elegantly dressed folk on pleasure bent. In practically seven years a grain field has become the social center of the county. Piedmont set the standard for residential developments throughout the East Bay. By 1915 the progressives had changed Oakland's image and they could look back at the previous decade with pride. The Oakland Harbor had been improved in commercial and industrial development had responded. The city had been developed to set a scenario for commerce and cultural life. The residential areas have expanded enormously. On a smaller scale, the Progressive saw his house, his garden, and his neighborhood as his personal contribution to Oakland's development



John Hudson Thomas was an architect who shared the Progressives’ values of assertion and individuality. During the early teens he developed an idiosyncratic approach to domestic design which expressed the confident progressivism of his clients. The buildings are dominant in relation to their sites and they convey the impression that their owners hold an esteemed place in the community. In 1909 Mayor Mott and his supporters called for the “creation of municipal buildings which will give Oakland the appearance of stability and character.”32 The diverse production of Thomas’ practice of the teens can be summarized as an attempt to develop an approach to design which would give wood and stucco houses the appearance of the stability and character which one associates with bold masonry buildings. In 1901, at the age of twenty-three, John Hudson Thomas began a special three year graduate course in architecture at the University of California at Berkeley. After completing his degree, he worked as a draftsman for two years in the office of his principal teacher at Berkeley, John Galen Howard. George T. Plowman was a supervisor in Howard’s office at the time. In 1906, in advance of the residential building boom in the East Bay, George T. Plowman and John Hudson Thomas opened an office in Berkeley. Plowman and Thomas were among a group of young architects based in Oakland and Berkeley whose work was limited to small-scale buildings. The buildings which Charles McCall, Walter Ratcliff, Henry Gutterson, James Placheck, Harris Allen, Frank May, and

13 Olin Grove designed for the residential developments of the teens were quiet period revival houses. They provide a foil for Thomas’ more expressive buildings. The complement to these architects was a group of established San Francisco designers who saw in the destruction created by the earthquake an opportunity to rebuild San Francisco’s monuments. Although Willis Polk, John Galen Howard, Ernest Coxhead, and Louis Christian Mullgardt participated in the East Bay residential development to varying degrees, none of them saw East Bay residential design as his primary concern. Hudson Thomas was ten years younger than George Plowman but he appears to have been the dominant designer in the partnership. Although drawings prior to 1910 are rare, Thomas’ imprint is clear in the few sets which exist. Suggestions of effects which became the hallmarks of Thomas’ later work are evident in many of the better early houses. During the period prior to 1910 much of Thomas’ work falls comfortably within the style of wooden Craftsmen houses designed by architects and builders throughout the United States during the period. These houses were generally built in the flat residential tracts which had been developed prior to the San Francisco earthquake and fire, south of the University of California campus. The Chisolm house of about 1907 is an excellent example of the Craftsman sensibility. Although the house is fairly large, its exterior mass is scaled down to suggest a smaller building. The second floor is hidden by a broad gable roof. Openings with casement windows are limited to the side walls and an understated dormer. Thomas combined three rustic wooden textural effects on the surface; horizontal lap siding, board and batten, and a grid-like batten pattern. A deck, surrounded by a parapet and spanned by a pergola, extends from the entry porch. The second floor projects several feet beyond the lower wall to shelter the entry. Although the projection is cantilevered, it appears to rest upon the horizontal members of the pergola. The entry door opens informally into a corner of the redwood paneled and beamed living room. Space flows horizontally from the living room to an inglenook and the dining

14 room. Access to the second floor is not apparent; the stairway is in an enclosed hall and is not visible from the public rooms. Rough redwood boards panel the upstairs attic-like rooms. Thomas designed the Rhorer house in 1908. Its interior could be compared favorably with thousands of Craftsmen interiors built in the United States prior to 1910. The axial fireplace flanked by windows, bookcases, and a settle is related to the room by a frieze which separates the beamed ceiling from the paneled wainscote. The scale, texture, and placement of the elements is similar to a living room designed by Frank G. Lippert in Orange Mountains, New Jersey about 1905.33 As in the Chisolm house exterior, Thomas chose a variety of wood materials to sheath the Rhorer house. However, the Rhorer house is more intricately massed and detailed. A gabled pediment and bay project strongly from the foundation line of the house. The beam ends are highly designed and the second floor is revealed by gabled dormers which interrupt the roof plane. In the later years of the first decade of the century, Thomas shifted his direction from the retiring Craftsman approach to a more assertive style. The tenets of Craftsman design which Thomas had employed are reversed. The exterior material changes from wood to stucco, underscaled masses and details are gradually overscaled, and the interior stair assumes a more public aspect. One of the earliest buildings to reflect the new approach is the Coolidge house of about 1908. The projection of its roof overhang and balcony create shadows in the dramatic contrast to the battered foundations. The entry stair juts forward emphatically and leads to a living-dining room flanked by a deep loggia to the west. The room’s redwood paneling is composed in the same board and batten patterns found on the exterior walls of the Chisolm and Rhorer houses. However, a high, tent-like ceiling which spans the Coolidge living-dining room has an expansive quality different from the horizontal spaces in the Craftsmen houses.


Thomas’ design for the Kelly house of 1909 accommodated the client’s desire for a “mission” house. Details of the building are reminiscent of monumental Mission Revival forms. The arches of the entry portico are deepened and the rough texture of the stucco increases their monumentality. Squat hipped roofs, which top towers, and corner walls which break through lower roofs to form parapets derive from the standard repertoire of Mission Revival buildings. The masses of the Kelly house, however, are casually composed and suggest a group of pavilions linked by loggias rather than the tighter compositional schemes of typical Mission Revival buildings. 1910 was a turning point in Thomas’ career. In 1909 notices appeared in trade journals that “Architect George Plowman of Berkeley has been greatly annoyed by a false report that he intends to move to Los Angeles.”34 Nevertheless, in early 1910, Plowman left Berkeley for Los Angeles, and Hudson Thomas gained professional independence. During his four years of practice with Plowman, Thomas had established a reputation as a designer of residences. At the time of Plowman’s departure, the hillside residential developments were in full swing and clients were looking for an architect who could design a house to reflect their pride of accomplishment in conspicuous terms. Craftsman rusticity did not fit the clients wishes. The “simple home” was replaced by the house which put on airs. In 1911 Thomas designed a house for himself which commands its site. The PrattThomas house is one of three houses built by John Pratt, who sold two and rented the third to Hudson Thomas. The house is an early member of parapet gabled buildings which Thomas designed in the early teens. The massive buttresses and parapet gables convey a sense of solidity. The windows of the façade are linked vertically to increase the scale. A cantilevered glass and stucco box, which houses the interior stair landing, projects from the side elevation to shelter the entry. In plan, the Pratt-Thomas house represents the first of two basic types which Thomas employed during the teens. An entry hall is flooded with light from the stair landing

16 above and behind the door. The kitchen is to one side of the hall, the living room to the other. The dining room is on axis with the entry hall and is separated by a wall. The upstairs circulation hall in the Pratt-Thomas house is large enough for Thomas to have kept a table on which he drafted at home.35 An inglenook in the master bedroom is recessed between two wardrobe closets and focuses on a small fireplace with over-scaled tile decoration. The Maddan house of 1913 is a bold house on a small site. It is turned so that the capped gable facades face the side yards rather than the street. A broad bay projects towards the street and creates a deep recess which accommodates the entry porch. From the street the entry path is direct, but the adjacent architecture is indirect. The parts of the building associated with the approach are designed to exaggerate the sensation of upward movement. The stairs constrict as they approach an arch. The arch is linked to the windows above it by several stucco strips formed by changes in the wall plane from vertical. As it rises, the chimney makes its final constriction at a point where a decorative drool of plaster relieves the upward mobility. The façade of the Maddan house illustrates a lack of relation between plan and elevation characteristic of Thomas’ work. The group of three windows in the projecting bay, for example, is shared by two separate spaces, the living room and an adjacent inglenook. In the Seabury house of 1911 Thomas extends the parapet gable beyond the side walls. This fragile planar surface is buttressed by a massive bay which projects forward. A geometric pattern of four squares appears on the chimney and the gable. The squares are turned diagonally on the gable and they are perpendicular on the chimney. For the Seabury porch, Thomas designed a thick and ponderous arch. An arch of this sort must not have been acceptable to Thomas’ Berkeley contemporary Charles Keeler, the apologist for the “simple home.” In his book, The Simple Home, written in 1904 Keeler instructs: Never…use plaster with wood as if the construction were of masonry. The

17 arch of masonry is the strongest use of stone or brick. An arch of wood, on the contrary, has no structural value, and is a mere imitation of a useful building form…Woodwork is vulgar when it is covered over to imitate the architectural form of stone. The rounded arch, although the most obvious type of faulty design in wood, is only one of many points in which the effect of stone construction is unwarrantably imitated in wood…(A house constructed in this manner) is unworthy as the home of an honest man.36 Keeler’s beliefs reflect the commonly held turn-of-the-century attitude that good design was related to honest intentions. By 1904 this idea had been distilled from the writings of John Ruskin and William Morris to become the seminal idea of the American Craftsman movement. Hudson Thomas was not interested in the honest expression of material. With the Seabury arch he carries the deception a step further and springs the arch from a corbelled position. This is easily accomplished in wood and stucco, but it would be a difficult feat in masonry. The allusion to the stage, suggested in many of Thomas’ interiors is fully exploited in the Seabury house. The front door is the curtain which, when swung open, reveals a glorious space. Beyond the proscenium arch which separates the foyer from the stairs; steps, railings and windows are designed more to be seen as a dramatic composition than to aid upward circulation. The left section of the first three stairs is halted by a wooden screen which substitutes for a banister. The rear wall is pierced with windows which flood the stair with back light. The arch halts the fluid flow of space from the foyer to the second floor. By providing an enormous stair hall, Thomas implies that such space continues beyond the wings. However, the Seabury house is not enormous and the first impression of spaciousness is meant to pervade adjacent rooms. Hudson Thomas designed the Peters “Hopi” houses37 in 1914. The large house and its smaller neighbor flank an entry court. They are composed in the bold cubic masses of the Pueblo Revival, a style popularized by Southwestern exponents of the Craftsman movement. The corners of associated with the approach are designed to exaggerate the sensation of upward movement. The stairs constrict as they approach an arch. The arch is linked to the windows above it by several stucco strips formed by changes in the wall

18 plane from vertical. As it rises, the chimney makes its final constriction at a point where a decorative drool of plaster relieves the upward mobility. The façade of the Maddan house illustrates a lack of relation between plan and elevation characteristic of Thomas’ work. The group of three windows in the projecting bay, for example, is shared by two separate spaces, the living room and an adjacent inglenook. In the Seabury house of 1911 Thomas extends the parapet gable beyond the side walls. This fragile planar surface is buttressed by a massive the buildings are embellished with sculptured finials and small faceted concrete blocks are placed in the plaster wall to draw attention to windows and doors. The complicated window muntin patterns which appeared in the Pratt-Thomas house are simplified here to a Greek cross pattern. A threesided bay projects from the cubic volume and windows are carved out of the corners without a mullion to separate them. A mullion centered in each facet of the bay links the two levels vertically. The Short houses of 1913 (31 Alcatraz, Belvedere) asserts itself from a waterside site with a boldness similar to cubic seaside Mediterranean buildings in Greece and Italy.38 Battered walls and thick buttresses extend to the ground which falls away steeply from the upper road approach. Thomas dramatizes the tower-like quality of the building from the lower road by thrusting bays out from the upper floor of the house. These bays accommodate elements of the plan which Thomas preferred not to limit to the box-like confines of the tower. The Kidd house of 1913 demonstrates that Thomas’ ability to assert buildings dramatically was not limited to houses with stark parapets. The Kidd house takes advantage of its hillside site to perch a balcony on a two storied bay which is thrust out from the main block of the house. Unfortunately, the balcony has been enclosed with a sun porch so that the effect of a strong projecting block sheltered by a hovering roof has been lost. Although the Kidd house features an interior garage, the approach to the door is

19 pedestrian. It begins with a small court defined by block-like planters. The path winds along the side of the house until it makes a hairpin turn at the buttressed porch. At this point a strong gable breaks through the rood to bring light to the vertically linked windows of its face. The entry is sheltered by a deep portico and a terrace extends beyond a second arch. The Kidd house represents Thomas’ second basic floor plan. A foyer with a stair hall beyond pierces through the building. A living room to one side of the hall, and a dining room and kitchen to the other side suggest a standard central hall plan. Thomas avoids the impression of a straight-forward plan, however, by bringing to the rooms an array of over-scaled decorative elements which occasionally replace standard functional items. For example, the enormous newel post of the Kidd stair functions more to halt the cascade of stairs than to gracefully terminate a handrail. The Kruse house of 1914 is a cubic building by a wide slab-like roof with geometric patterns designed in its soffit. A checked wood motif links the roof to the second floor windows and strong vertical piers bring the eye down to the large glass windows of the dining room. The foyer is only deep enough to accommodate the door swing and the corner of the living room provides circulation between the living room, dining room and stair. The over-scaled fire place commands the focus of the living room, a rare quality in Thomas’ interiors, which are generally less axial. In late 1914, Thomas designed the tiny Reid house (628 Middlefield, Palo Alto). In this project of limited budget, Thomas chose a solution in which the front and driveway elevations are highly designed and the two remaining elevations are hidden from view. The effect of the wide roof overhangs which shelter the house is exaggerated at the driveway entrance. Thomas cantilevered the roof ten feet to protect an automobile. The roof is supported by beams covered by tongue and groove sheathing. However, massive corner brackets and a network of two by fours pose as the supporting structure.


A project for the Ferrin bungalow (unknown address) is another small house, possibly designed about 1917 as a summer retreat for one of the warm valleys northeast of the San Francisco Bay. Wide overhanging eaves give the house protection from the sun and the front third of the house is devoted to a screened porch. A stair winds from the entry hall to an open “aeroplane deck” planned for healthful outdoor sleeping. The Stephens house of 1916 is a long, narrow building on a corner lot shaded by a giant oak tree. The roof overhangs are deepened in some places by the modulated wall surface and cut back to the wall in other places to bring light into rooms. On the second level, closets project as half-timbered boxes and provide a transition between the eaves and the first floor. Handsome brackets transfer the load of these projections to the ground visually, not structurally. The ambiguous relation between the narrow front elevation and the long side elevation in terms of entry gives the approach the spice which Thomas tried to achieve on a frontal site. A small court at the Stephens porch may be approached by a path which swings around the oak tree toward the broad façade. The entry is shaded by a deep overhang suspended by a heavy chain. Its mirror image covers the service door, which makes the approach to the formal entry more ambiguous than may have been intended. Throughout the early teens, Hudson Thomas designed a number of shingle and wood houses. Despite the use of innately woodsy materials, the houses project a more aggressive image than Thomas’ earlier retiring Craftsman buildings. The Hunt house of 1912, for example, is nearly identical in mass to the stucco Kidd house of 1913. The bold quality of the Hunt house has been tempered as the wooden materials have weathered and melded with the surrounding trees. A two story balcony and a broad bay jut out from the main block of the house. The balcony is supported by four corner piers of gray roughcast stucco which are strongly vertical in their contrast to the wood. The lower half of the house is sheathed with long shakes. The surface above is covered with horizontal tongue and groove redwood siding, super-imposed with an external skeletal structure of redwood

21 homes. A second story bay window nestled into the rhythm of the rafters is perched on a constructivist array of beams. Like Thomas’ stucco buildings, the actual construction of the Hunt house is invisible; the exhibition of structure is applied for decorative effect. A project for the Offield house of 1912 suggests that Thomas saw little conceptual difference between wood and stucco as materials. The building is stucco, but a network of three by six beams covers the surface and links the new windows in a strong compositional scheme. Had the house been built, the beam work would have contrasted more strikingly with the plaster than it does with the shingles and redwood sheathing of the Hunt house. However, this hybrid project which is a shingled house without the shingles, indicates that Thomas was aiming at the bold quality which he clearly achieved in the stucco buildings. The Hoskins house, designed in 1913, illustrates several details which are commonly found in Thomas’ wooden buildings. A sheltered gable projects beyond the main roof to cover a two foot irregularity in the perimeter of the plan. Thomas had used this device in the Chisolm house of 1908 to bring down the scale of the front elevation. In the Hoskins house, the roof extension is a result of Thomas’ freedom in planning the layout, not an attempt to achieve an exterior effect. A porch which projects out from the dining room bay is supported by large wooden brackets. In this case, Thomas expresses the structural members directly. In the fascia, however, he prefers to emphasize only three sides and hides the real roof supports. Emphasis is brought to the ridge beam by concentrating the exo-skeleton at the apex of the gable. Thomas projects three inch by eighteen inch beams from the side walls to support the fascia at each end of the gable The Hamlin house of 1916 culminates Thomas’ attempts to make wooden houses as dominant as stucco houses. The height of the main block of the house is emphasized by a wooden exo-skeleton which connects the window of the two floors. Visually, the broad sheltering roof is built up by three levels of beams and rafters. The beams are located to form a geometric pattern which runs under the fascia. The exo-skeletal unit, a grid-like screen under the ridge pole and two swag-like boards which break the shingled surface on

22 each side of the windows, relate to the roof to the façade. Thomas has exposed the beam work by simulating a sectional cut through the roof and demonstrates decoratively the principles of wooden roof construction. A project for a swimming pool designed about 1912 for George Friend reveals the range of structures for which Thomas considered shingles to be appropriate. The bath house, as it is called in the plans, takes on residential proportions because walls, required by modesty, surround the swimming tank. The entry is defined by two tiny buildings which house changing rooms and a toilet. Pergolas stop broad corner piers, heavy brackets which support the deck beyond the concrete tank, and the external skeletal structure of wood beams are details which reappear constantly in Thomas’ shingle work. During the early teens Hudson Thomas designed a small number of houses which derive from European vernacular sources. The Murdock house of 1911 and the Johnson house of 1912 are basically English half timber buildings. In both cases, Thomas personalized the houses by modifying authentic Tudor details to conform with his predilections for pattern and geometric detail. The stylistic isolation during this period of the Murdock and Johnson houses indicates that the clients demanded adherence to an established mode. The interiors support this contention; they are identical in spirit to Thomas’ contemporary houses and imply that Thomas was allowed free rein inside. However, in 1914 Thomas began to design houses in which the influence of European vernacular is more integrated. The Preble house of 1914 is unspecific in its reference to historic buildings, but the steep gable roof with its tiny sheltered pavilion conveys the feeling of cottage, rather than a castle. The manner in which the roof slopes nearly to the ground suggests an attempt to manipulate scale to make a large house appear small. Still, the decorative tile, the geometric muntins, and the “V” shaped bays are typical of other 1914 houses. The Anthony house designed in 1915 demonstrates that Thomas’ sensibility was definitely changing by that year. The basic element of the house is a massive thatch-like

23 roof which extends toward the ground. A two story section of the roof is cut out to reveal windows and a door which heralds its existence below street level by a giant arched hood. The Anthony house is actually a large building which accommodates three town house apartments, but the narrow end of the building is presented to the street and it conveys the impression of a small house. In the later years of the teens Hudson Thomas abandoned the decorative motifs and bold forms of his earlier buildings and affirmed his commitment to historic sources. The Gillespie house of 1917 is representative of the buildings which Thomas designed in the Dutch colonial mode. The house is a clapboard box punched with small paned windows and capped with a gambrel roof. It is similar to thousands of houses built in American suburbs during the period. No traces remain of Thomas’ geometric ornament in the Gillespie interior. The details of the mantel and stairway, for example, are designed in the eighteenth century vocabulary of the exterior. The Blaisingame house of 1918 represents Thomas’ rolled roof cottage style. The roof is stretched tautly over the attic and the two hipped gables are clipped to reveal windows. The windows are overpowered by giant balconies and wide shutters which decrease the scale of the building. By 1920 Thomas had found his architectural style in the picturesque English Cottage Mode. Throughout the twenties he refined his approach to this style. The best example of this work is a house which Thomas designed for himself between 1928 and 1931 called “Robinswold.” Its name connotes the romantic medievalism which motivated Thomas’ later design approach. The entrance to Robinswold retires behind a high hollow tile wall on the uphill side of the house. The introverted quality which is achieved in this scheme contrasts to the dominant siting of Thomas’ earlier entry facades. On the down hill side of Robinswold, tall, spiky gables and a wide hexagonal bay confront the spectacular view of San Francisco Bay. The primary exterior material is a rough, beige stucco, but several gables are sheathed with wood. Massive beams are composed in a constructivist manner to support the room

24 perched above the recessed entry porch. The twentieth century requirement for a wide garage opening is met with a medieval vernacular response made up of hefty timbers. In buildings of this period, as in his earlier work, Thomas concentrated material in the places where it would convey the most convincing impression. Several reasons may account for Thomas’ striking change in imagery in 1915. A recession occurred in 1915 in the Bay Region which limited Thomas’ domestic commissions.39 Imagery in progressive professional journals, such as the Western Architect, and in homemaker magazines, such as House Beautiful, was changing at this period from progressive to traditional sources. As early as 1915, the war in Europe inspired strong anti-German sentiments in the United States. Because many of Thomas’ early buildings had been associated with progressive German and Austrian architecture, hostility may have influenced his change. In 1918, America’s involvement in the war cut off non-essential construction.40 Thomas had affirmed his change in commitment by this point, but since only one house was constructed in 1918, he had time to reflect upon the change. By 1915 Thomas’ designs were being imitated in the speculative developments of the East Bay. A builder’s house of about 1915 pastes the gable and swags of Thomas’ 1914 Park house on its façade. Occasionally, Thomas’ imitators were former contractors for his houses, but his most consistent imitator was the young architect Maury I. Diggs. Between 1913 and 1920, Diggs designed hundreds of houses in Alameda County for speculative developments. Most of the houses employ massively overscaled decorative elements and intricate window muntin patterns in imitation of Thomas. Upper middle class clients who came to Thomas for a house probably would not stand for a design which resembled the speculative houses which were covering the flatland residential districts of Alameda County. The only projects in which Thomas reaffirms his interest in Progressive imagery as late as 1916 are located outside the Bay Area.41 The influence which clients played in Thomas’ change of style is difficult to determine. The implication has been made that about 1910 a series of Progressive clients, self

25 confident with a new sense of class power, fostered Thomas’ trend toward assertive architectural imagery. In 1915, the Progressive movement in America was over.42 When the domestic building slump of the recession and war ended, clients with different values were looking for an architect who could express a new sensibility. Thomas answered their call. The highly personal body of work which Thomas produced between 1910 and 1915 occupied a fractional part of his thirty-five year career. After 1915, Thomas’ buildings are scaled to appear smaller than they are and the forms, materials and decorative elements of the buildings are designed to convey an old-world hand-crafted manner. The full explanation for Thomas’ change in style may never be found. It may reflect a change in attitude which was barely perceptible even in 1915. Thomas was not alone in responding to this change. In the late teens all American architects who had been involved with progressive architectural forms changed style. Throughout the twenties they designed buildings which derive from the gamut of historical world architecture.



Despite the diversity of Thomas' imagery during the period from 1910 to 1916, an overriding aesthetic forms a common ground for his work. This aesthetic has its roots in Thomas' belief in the assertive place of the building on its site. The details of his buildings reflect the priorities on individuality and conspicuous notice which Thomas’ clients held. The basic tenant which underlies all of Thomas’ work of this period is that the House must project an image of grandeur and solidity. If it is small, the house should appear to be large; if it is large, it should be a peer to be immense. Thick battered walls and heavy practices springing from the contours of hillside sites to support buildings which rise above the ground level and command attention. The scale of all visible parapet gables walls and art soffits is increased by making them massively thick. Rough cast stucco softens corners and implies the mass of masonry construction. Geometric decorative motifs are used sparingly. They are placed to bring attention to the particular massive element of the façade. The composition of windows strengthens the bold quality of the façade. Windows on two levels are often linked by mullions and project a strong vertical image. The elevations need not express the interior composition of the rooms. In fact, the plan and exterior elevations of some projects seem to have been designed from the first to achieve independent effects. Grouped windows may be shared by two rooms or by a room and an alcove. The kitchen is occasionally brought to the front of the house and its windows

often continue the compositional theme of the façade. The structure of construction never shows. When structural imagery is applied, it is overscaled and re-inforces a sense of strength and solidity for the building. Brackets and rafters occasionally appear under roof eaves and demonstrate the principles of roof construction decoratively. Although Thomas’ houses frequently accommodate the automobile with a porte cochere or an indoor garage, the intended mode of approach is by foot. On a small frontal side, the entry is apparent, but the approach is often made indirect by a small court with an off axis entry. On a large site, a path frequently begins with a small place. This provides a transition from the street and sets the mood and orientation for the approach to the house. As the path continues, the sequence of images of the building are revealed which provide more clues for the point of entry. An arch above the entry is frequently overscaled to define the door from a distance. As the path climbs its way to the entry, parts of the interior may be glimpsed through windows. At the point of entry, the scale of the door is dwarfed by the projecting arch which served as its beacon. The entry generally opens to a central stairhall plan. A generous proportion of space is devoted to the foyer which is flooded with light from the stair hall beyond. In smaller houses, the large proportions of the central hall create an impression of spaciousness which pervades adjacent rooms. A broad arch frequently separates the foyer from the stairhall. It provides a proscenium format for a dramatic play of light upon gracious stairs and rectangular stage flat-like panels which they serve as railings. In plan, the central hall scheme is straightforward. However the diversity of decorative elements which Thomas introduces in the hall, stair landing, living room, and dining room decrease one's awareness of the simplicity of the plan. The ornamental schemes work together for a visual effective richness, but the four basic spaces of the central hall scheme do not relate spatially. Walls, opened by arched doorways, separate the spaces and break the flow of the ceiling plane from room to room. The ceiling patterns in each

space reflect the perimeter of the room. A glass paned window frequently opens the living room or dining room to the stair landing. But the spatial flow is limited by the punchedout quality of the opening. The living room and dining room rarely have a dominant axis. The view through a large window or bay often suggests a focus for the room. However, an overscaled fireplace is frequently placed on a side wall and limits the axial effective the room in its long direction. Occasionally a fireplace is recessed in an inglenook. In this case, the fireplace is generally overscaled and dominates its surroundings. The upstairs circulation hall and the adjacent bedrooms are generally large. The stairhall provides a compelling entreaty to ascend, but subtle changes in design suggests an intended division between public and private areas. Occasionally the rich decorative scheme of the stairhall ends behind the wing-like arrangement of walls. In other cases, the stair may constrict to become utilitarian once it turns and becomes invisible from the foyer. The public spaces of Thomas’ houses are glorified to impress the visitor and to bring pride to the owner. The private spaces are spacious and comfortable, but they are intended solely for the inhabitants. The following case studies provide visual material to illustrate the tendencies in Thomas’ design approach which had been outlined above.

W. A. LOCKE HOUSE, 1911 The diverse elements which compose the Locke house are held together in a tense balance. The interlocking rings of the building are surmounted by a tower. The front wing and the tower are faced with eared parapet gables which project 18 inches beyond the roof and adjoining walls. The tower parapet steps back to meet the vertical wall. The parapet on the front wing steps back as it descends, but before it reaches the plane of the wall it splays out toward the ground and becomes a massive buttress. A wide bay at ground level adds lateral support to the façade. The bay is flanked by another pair of buttresses which constrict as they ascend. These forms imply that the lock house is constructed of stone. The effect is heightened by deep arches which are punched into the portico-porte cochere at ground level. The thick roughcast stucco which covers the building increases its massive effect. Tile decoration attracts the eye to the front buttresses and embellishes the tower window. Taut linear designs painted on the fascias and articulated in the window muntins heighten the effect of mass of the building. The Locke house conveys a convincing quality of solid mass. However, the freedom with which the volumes of the building are handled betrays a more flexible structure than masonry. Most of the Locke house walls are standard wood frame thickness; 6 to 8 inches. However Thomas concentrated material in the places which would convey the strongest impression of massiveness. All parapets and arch soffits are 18 inches thick and convey the image of pondorosity. The space created by the hollow buttresses which support the walls is put to use. Thomas provided recessed bookcases for the living room by sinking them into the front buttress cavities. The importance of the thickened walls in Thomas’ work is illustrated by a comparison between the Locke house and a building designed during the same year. Thomas’ drawings for the First Presbyterian Church of Patterson, California show thick parapets and arched soffits. The church was constructed without supervision, however, and the standard thickness parapets which were built are too weak to convey the bold quality which Thomas was striving for.

In the Locke house, a somber portico provides a transition to the interior. The theme of masonry construction is carried into the house with a growing vault which spans the circulation hall. The depth of the arches which terminate the vault is conveyed by indentation in their soffits. The hall provides circulation between the living room, the entry, the smoking room, the dining room, and the stairhall. All of these rooms are spatially distinct. The distinction is emphasized by the variety of ceiling textures and decorative ornamentation found from room to room.

GEORGE WINTERMUTE HOUSE, 1913 The Wintermute house is a large building which was designed to appear immense. An unsymmetrical gabled façade accommodates a three story wing which projects from the main block of the house. A smaller gabled volume is thrust out over the drive and serves as a porte cochere to define the entry. The buttresses and other structural details which appear on the entry façade are more massive than other Thomas projects. Because of their size they still appear overscaled in relation to the larger bulk of the Wintermute house. The entry stairs wind to the door from under the porte cochere. They change direction three times before the door is reached. At the final turn, a large window exposes the dining room. The door opens to a central hall, surrounded by four rooms. The pierced grill and an open archway admit light from the stair landing. Light reflects from the gold leaf surface of the dining room and from the large expanse of glass in the living room and conservatory to bring a rich, diffused light quality into the insulated hall. Despite the openness between rooms which accounts for the flow of light, each room is spatially distinct. Arches between rooms exclude the possibility of spatial flow from room to room. The ceilings emphasize the segregation. The hall is spanned by a vault. Recessed lighting fixtures form geometric ceiling patterns which follow the perimeters of the living room and the dining room. The conservatory is a two story space which links the upper hall and bedrooms to the first floor. The spaces are clearly distinguished, however, by window openings. One interior space can be closed off from another. The fireplaces in the living room and dining room assert themselves from their sidewall positions. However, light, which pours in from bays at the end of each room, defines a longitudinal axis. The gracious driveway and porte cochere of the Wintermute house suggest that the approach to the building was generally by automobile. However, Thomas designed an elaborate pedestrian path from the downhill corner of the property which was intended as

the primary approach. The transition point from street to path is marked by an enclosed court. The walls, fountain, planters, and seats compose the most elaborate court which Thomas designed. Concrete stairs flanked by pylons topped with urns lead to the house. The Wintermute house can be seen from its most impressive angles from points along this path. To approach by automobile is to enter through the rear door.

J. M. PARK HOUSE, 1914 The Park house is sited at the rear of a large lot behind a mature grove of oak trees. The working drawings reveal that the building is composed of severe cubic masses. However, this impression has never been perceptible behind the dense foliage. The path which Thomas designed to the house takes advantage of its obscured position. Elements of the building, such as the two-story gable facade, collaborate with the winding approach to suggest the direction of travel. A bold “V” shaped bag directs the eye to the point of entry. An overscaled arched hood above the doorway provides the basic clue for the entry location, but a bay window perched above the door, forms a strong composition which reinforces the importance of the area from a distance. At the entry, dwarfed by the enormous arch, one may integrate the visible elements of the house to form a composite picture of the whole. The highlight of the Park house interior is a stairhall which is similar to a proscenium stage. Behind the shallow arch a platform landing provides an uninterrupted surface for movement. A stair trickles in behind wing-like railings to bring actors to the stage. A brilliantly lit alcove is visible beyond the railings and suggests unlimited space. Behind the wall with a settle, however, the stair turns and becomes functional. The stairhall is designed to impress the visitor. The family members should be comfortable upstairs, but they do not require the sumptuous circumstances which the stairhall suggests.


The sources for Hudson Thomas’ work of period 1910 to 1915 were varied. During this period Thomas closely followed the literature of the world-wide progressive movement in architecture. In the manner of a 19th-century eclectic, he borrowed forms and details from illustrations published in progressive architectural journals and reinterpreted them to produce new effects. Thomas rarely attempted to reproduce the imagery of his sources in toto. He successfully integrated them and developed an innovative and highly personal approach to domestic architecture. The architectural imagery which particularly appealed to Thomas was produced after the turn-of-the-century in Glasgow, Vienna, Chicago, San Diego, Pasadena, and the San Francisco Bay Region. The photographic comparisons in this chapter are not presented to insist, for example, that Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Hill house in 1902 was the specific source for the massing of Thomas’ 19/11 Seabury house. The photographs demonstrate the similarities of intent and expression which Thomas’ work shares with the work of the better known figures of the progressive movement in architecture. The use of taut linear ornament in Thomas’ buildings of the early teens suggest that he was influenced by the work of the Viennese secessionists. Many projects part published in the Viennese journal Der Architekt relate to Thomas’ work. A sommer-pavillon designed in 1901 by Rudolf Tropsch is one example.43 A simple gable roof covers the richly textured pavillion and produces an effect similar to Thomas’ Martell house of 1911. A project for a house by F. W. Jochem published in Der Architekt has a pediment

gable which breaks through the roof overhang in a manner similar to the gable of Thomas’ Kidd house.44 The work of the major Viennese designers Josef Hoffman and Joseph Olbrich was presented to the American public in articles by Gustaf Stickley in the Craftsman Magazine.45 Thomas may have had his introduction to European progressive architecture through these articles. Thomas was aware of the Prairie School work of Frank Lloyd Wright and his contemporaries. The Loring house of 1914 is an unfortunate case in which Thomas attempted to duplicate the Prairie idiom without following the rules which govern Prairie composition. The Loring house is similar in intention, if not in effect, to many Prairie buildings, including Wright’s Gilmore house of 1908. The clean plaster soffit of the Loring roof hovers over the blocky mass of the building in a convincing manner. However, the horizontal and vertical elements of the façade are unresolved according to the tenets of Prairie architecture. Thomas made a commitment to a specific style, and the Loring house fails when it is held up to Prairie standards. On the other hand, it cannot be judged in terms of Thomas’ more accommodating design approach because the derivative elements were not personalized and re-interpreted. Thomas’ Haehl House of 1914 is more successful in its integration of Prairie School motifs. Replicas of the planters which Walter Burley Griffin designed for his Solid Rock house of 1911 cap the corner peers of each wing. Other Prairie features have been modified. Wide eaves overhang the broad base of the wings, but the Prairie style soffit is missing; exposed beams support the roof. A bold chimney breaks the roof line, a detail which is anathema to Prairie School principles, but accommodated by Thomas’ approach. The house accepts foreign elements but it does not attempt a charade. The Haehl house displays the exotic mixture of motifs held together in a fragile balance which is typical of Thomas’ work. A project for the Boise house of 1914 is another building which displays influence from the Prairie School. The corner piers capped by the “Solid Rock” planters were again lifted from Walter Burley Griffin. The source for the basic design of the house, however, is

second-hand Prairie. About 1910 a San Jose, California firm, Wolfe and Wolfe, produced numerous stucco buildings in an adapted version of the Prairie style. The work of the Wolfes has been described as “an example of what happens when a minor talent needs a major movement."46 If this statement contains the stature of the Wolfes, it is distressing that Thomas imitated one of the worst features of their buildings in the Boise house. The shallow parapet which extends above the roof slab destroys the sheltering quality of the wide overhanging eaves. In the Wolfes houses, a clerestory of leaded glass windows and the vertical projection of a central block suggest a high ceiling room inside. This promise does not materialize. In the Boise house, however, Thomas spans a two story living room with the barrel vault crowned by a skylight. He adds a complex system of overscaled ornament to the amenities of space and light to produce a quality richness which is rare for a room which measures only 300 square feet. In 1914 Hudson Thomas designed several buildings which he called “Hopi Houses." Apart from their blocky composition, the houses hold little in common with the Pueblo Revival style. The harsh, cubic purity of the Johnson house, in particular, suggests that Thomas was intrigued by the pristine buildings which Irving Gill designed in San Diego after 1908. The sources for much of Thomas’ a shingle work are also found in Southern California. Coupled with Thomas’ approach to wooden houses as dominant objects, this suggests that it is inappropriate to relate his wooden buildings to the quieter work of the Bay Region shingle tradition. The rhythm established by the projecting rafters of Thomas’ Hunt house of 1912 is reminiscent of the Blacker house roof in Pasadena, designed in 1906 by the Greene Brothers. The exposed, constructivist structural display sheltered by the Blacker eaves is re-interpreted in a bay window which projects from Thomas’ Hunt façade. The San Francisco Bay Region architects Louis Christian Mullgardt and Bernard Maybeck were the local designers influenced Hudson Thomas. When Thomas began

independent practice in 1910, both Mullgardt and Maybeck had well-established firms. Their offices were located in San Francisco, but they participated in the residential building boom which occurred in Oakland and Berkeley after 1906. Mullgardt designed a number of houses in Oakland and Berkeley which assert themselves proudly from their site on battered stucco walls.47 Frequently he imposed a horizontal force upon the surging foundations, however, with banded windows in emphatic horizontal shadows cast by low gable roofs. In 1910, however, Mullgardt designed the Sclater house in which the vertical surge of the walls is emphasized by parapet gables which cut through the roof structure.48 Although the Sclater gable does not determine the shape of the entire building, its effect is somewhat similar to the gables of Thomas’ Locke house of 1911. Mullgardt’s Taylor house of 1908 was one of the early buildings constructed in Berkeley's Claremont development. Thomas built 25 houses in Claremont between 1908 and 1918 and many of them reflect the dominant quality of the Taylor house on its spectacular site. Bernard Maybeck was 18 years older than Hudson Thomas. By 1910 he had established a mature approach to design which Thomas’ said to have admired.49 Maybeck drew motifs from the repertoire of Eastern and Western architectural history and blended them with a component of California agricultural vernacular to develop imagery which was wellintegrated and gained strength from its hybrid background. Maybeck’s Roos house of 1909 and his Chick house of 1913 seem to provide some of the imagery for Thomas’ Stephens house of 1916. The architectural styles which were popular during Thomas’ youth may have had an influence on his work. Elements of the Mission Revival style and the Queen Anne phase of Victorian design appear in Thomas’ buildings. The ponderous adobe walls which Mission Revival architects simulated in word and stucco buildings provide a prelude for Thomas’ massive buildings. Thomas may have assimilated his relaxed approach to forming decoration from the extravagant great extravagant Queen Anne buildings of his

youth. The effect of disparate elements massed together with minimal integration seen in Thomas’ Locke house bothers some observers. That same quality is acceptable, however, when seen in Queen Anne residences of the 1890’s. One expects architects of the early 20th century to be more single-minded in their orientation and John Hudson Thomas was. The image of architects aligned behind a manifesto which imposes an exclusive set of design criteria has been sketched by such diverse figures as Ralph Adams Cram and Frank Lloyd Wright. Whether the ideology was based upon correct interpretation of historic precedent or upon a progressive system of priorities it established guidelines which provided a strict outline for design decisions. The Bay Region was insulated from New York and Chicago, the centers of these two directions in architectural thought. California was considered isolated and provincial by the leaders of both movements. They pay little regard to architecture in the state, and California remained a place which permitted freedom from rigid ideologies. The better Bay Region architects were eclectic in their acceptance of foreign architectural imagery, but they re-integrated these motifs to design domestic buildings which formed the basis of a regional style. Most of these structures have as little relation to the climate and topography of the San Francisco Bay Area as Wright's houses built in suburban Oak Park have to the prairie. The imagery of the Bay Region houses is a product of an intellectual process in which a variety of foreign sources are completely revised. It is a process which leaves no room for strict ideology and which encourages rich hybrid results. Ernest Coxhead, Willis Polk, and Bernard Maybeck innovated this direction as first generation Bay Region architects. With different sources and a different clientele, John Hudson Thomas carried on the approach during the early teens and produced a large body of innovative and visually exciting work.



The buildings which John Hudson Thomas produced between 1910 and 1920 have been neglected until recently. On the other hand, the work of the early century Bay Region architects, Ernest Coxhead, Bernard Maybeck, and Julia Morgan has been re-evaluated by several generations of architects since the 1930’s. They saw in the Coxhead, Maybeck, and Morgan buildings a precedent for a regional style but their response to Thomas was negative. The traditional view of Thomas holds that he was a builder-architect who produced masses of speculative houses for entrepreneurs. To prove that Thomas wasn't really an “Architect,” critics cited awkward houses which were actually built by his imitators. Thomas work did not command the serious attention of architects and historians until the late 1960s. Two factors prevented the appreciation of Thomas’ work prior to this date. First, until recently a complete catalog of his work was not available. Superficially similar buildings by contemporary designers were frequently cited as his. Second, people in the Bay Region have long held a strong prejudice against as a material. Redwood and shingles have reigned and have been equated with humanity. The conception that the residential work of Coxhead, Maybeck, and Morgan consisted mainly of quiet single buildings nestled unobtrusively into wooded sites has persisted since the 1930’s. As recently as 1974, a book, Building with Nature, by Sussman and Frieudenhiem, supported this premise. This work contends that the East Bay domestic dwelling buildings of Coxhead, Maybeck, Morgan, Thomas (!), and others illustrate the

attitudes which their contemporary, Charles Keeler, expressed in his 1904 publication, The Simple Home. In my opinion, the “simple home" is a literary concept of Keeler’s. It is not a visual factor of the work of Coxhead or Maybeck. However, the rich color and texture of weathered redwood sheathing has de-emphasized the complex and mannered qualities which are characteristic of the Maybeck and Coxhead buildings. These are the qualities, of course, which are most similar to Thomas’ approach to design. Keeler’s “simple home" concept reflects the ideal of a rustic utopia which is found in much of the literature of the Arts and Crafts movement. William Morris, for example, dreamed of his News from Nowhere utopia as a feasible place. In a letter which he wrote to a friend in 1874 Morris said, “I very much long to have a spell of the country this spring, but I suppose that I hardly shall...suppose people lived in little communities among gardens and green fields, so that you could be in the country in five minutes walk, and had few wants, almost no furniture, for instance, and no servants, and studied the (difficult) arts of enjoying life...then I think one might hope civilization had really begun." Between 1895 and 1910 a large number of professors and their families who resided adjacent to the north side of the University of California campus developed a community which, when one looks back romantically, realized Morris's dream. This accomplishment owes a great deal to Keeler's guidance. Many modest houses were built there. Swiss Chalet motifs and other vernacular forms were used to allude, along with the rustic shingle, to an unpretentious building tradition. However, the community was sprinkled with houses by Coxhead and Maybeck which were mannered and sophisticated despite their modesty. They were rustic in material perhaps, but highly refined in their design concepts. If it is the use of shingles which has attracted attention to the excellent buildings of Coxhead and Maybeck, it may be Thomas’ predominant use of stucco which has prevented architects from seeing his buildings as design sources. Thomas’ buildings frequently hold an aggressive relation to their site and their stucco composition enhances

their boldness. This relation between site and building is opposite to Keeler's approach. During the 1930s, when the Bay Region architect William Wurster was defining his nonheroic design approach, he can hardly be expected to have been attracted by Thomas’ assertive work. For Wurster, the woodsy houses of Coxhead and Maybeck provided a precedent for his consciously artless approach to design. The conception of the early designers as "simple” was being continued. In the late 1940’s and early 50’s members of the generation of designers have been trained in Wurster oriented studios looked at early regional architecture from a different angle. They were not looking for imagery, they were looking for pioneering uses of structural systems and industrial materials. Maybeck provided some inspiration in this regard, but Thomas, with his reliance on standard wood frame construction did not. Esther McCoy wrote Five California Architects in the late 1950’s. Her appraisal of Bernard Maybeck reflects the approach which Nicholas Pevsner has taken to several late 19th century European designers as proto-moderns in his Pioneers of Modern Design. For McCoy, and many architects of the 1950’s, Maybeck's work was a pioneering stab toward the ideals of rational architecture. In the Bay Region the astringency of the International Style was tempered by the use of natural materials in the anti-heroic stance of the designers. A Guide to the Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region was written in 1960 by John and Sally Woodbridge for an American Institute of Architects convention held in San Francisco. The book provides a good indication of the Bay Region buildings which are considered notable by professionals in the late 1950’s. The work of John Hudson Thomas does not appear within its covers. A second guidebook to the area was published in 1973 by a group of authors which includes the Woodbridges. A Guide to Architecture in San Francisco and Northern California notes 15 buildings designed by Thomas and one section of the guide refers to Thomas along with Maybeck and Wurster as one... “of the major practitioners of the Bay Area.” Thomas was rarely published during his lifetime and depended upon his local reputation among clients for commissions. It is only in recent years that Thomas’ work has enjoyed a wider audience.

Thomas’ work is of interest to architects and historians of the 1970’s because it provides examples of vital buildings which were built on relatively low budgets within a noninnovative system of technology. Thomas’ ability to make a simple material suggest a grand one, and a small space suggest a large one provides valuable lessons for today's architects who struggle with the constraints of expensive materials and high labor costs. In addition, architects with the caprice and will to let architectural forms tickle them can find in Thomas’ imagery a rich source of forms.


Hudson Thomas completed 125 documented projects prior to 1920. Eighty-five of these buildings have been included in the following list. Buildings which have been destroyed or significantly altered, and projects which were not constructed are not listed. Time has been kind to Thomas’ work. With the exception of about 15 houses which burned in the North Berkeley fire of 1923, few of his buildings have been destroyed. Although one-color paint jobs frequently de-emphasize the design effect of tiles and other decorative elements in his buildings, massive alteration projects are rare. Between 1910 and 1920 Thomas designed approximately 15 houses which were not constructed. During the same period, he probably designed 20 undocumented houses for speculative developers in Oakland subdivisions. These buildings are excluded from the list, but if they are his, they boost Thomas’ output prior to 1920 to about 145 buildings. Unfortunately no sketch books exist which might reveal additional design schemes which were not realized. Thomas was prolific. The volume of his production is even more impressive when one realizes that after 1909, he worked alone in his downtown Berkeley office. Working drawings for a project generally consisted of 10 sheets of drawings. Modifications in construction and frequent references on the drawings, quote, “full size detail to be furnished," suggest Thomas spent a good deal of time supervising his buildings.

Most of the buildings are listed in chronological order according to the date when their contract notice appeared in the Daily Pacific Builder, a trade journal published in San Francisco. Buildings constructed prior to mid-1908 are assigned approximate dates determined from city directories. (A more comprehensive list – with later year houses included as well - is now available online with links to photos of many of the houses. See the links on the title page of this document for details).
excellent condition good condition good condition, shingles painted altered good condition good condition altered sleeping porch enclosed good condition altered good condition good condition altered good condition good condition good condition good condition good condition good condition fair condition excellent condition good condition

1907 1907 1907 1908 c. 1908 June 11 1908 June 24 1908 July 8 1908 July 15 1908 July 27 1908 August 18 1908 August 20 1908 February 6 1909 March 9 1909 Sept. 1909 Sept. 3 1909 Sept. 27 1909 Nov. 10 1909 Oct. 10 1910 Nov. 16 1910 Feb. 17 1911 Feb. 17

Chisolm House Moody House Plowman House Coolidge House house James house Boyd House Chowen House Tieslau House Turner House Rohrer House Hall duplex Dubrow House Legge House Kelly House Randall House Tibbitts House Alderson House house Grigsby House Pratt-Thomas House Pratt-Verper House

2821 Ashby Ave 2826 Garber St. 2830 Garber St. 3003 Dwight Way 997 Vermont 1410 Holly Street 2814 Prince St. 94 The Uplands 6436 Regent St. 2400 Woolsey St. 2937 Magnolia 51 Oakvale 123 Parkside Dr. 3016 and 3020 Benvenue 455 Wildwood Ave. 2733 Benvenue Ave. 1035 Shattuck Ave. 2905 Benvenue Ave. 842 Santa Ray Ave. 915 Indian Rock Ave. 800 Shattuck Ave. 959 Indian Rock

Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Piedmont Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Oakland Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley

1911 Feb. 17, 1911 March 17 1911 April 28 1911 May 20 1911 May 25 1911 June 12 1911 July 20 1911 July 22 1911 Aug. 26 1911 Sept. 13 1911 Oct. 3 1911 Oct. 16 1911 Feb. 2 1912 March 29 1912 May 2 1912 May 2 1912 June 21 1912 June 27 1912 July 10 1912 July 16 1912 July 23 1912 August 3 1912 Dec. 26 1912 Jan. 25 1913 Jan. 29 1913

Pratt House Hoyt House Seabury House Merrill House Dungan House Locke House

961 Indian Rock 20 San Mateo 2710 Claremont Boulevard 10 Hillcrest Court 41 Oakvale 3911 Harrison St.

Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Oakland

good condition poor condition excellent condition good condition excellent condition good condition asbestos shingles replaced the wooden shakes good condition good condition excellent condition, some alterations good condition poor condition, altered good condition excellent condition fair condition good condition excellent condition some alterations good condition good condition good condition good condition altered, drawings specify shingle surface good condition good condition; some alterations by JHT in 1920s

Johannsen House Hunt House Kluegel apartment house Murdoch House Jeffres House Martell House Johnson House Conners House Spring House Spring gardeners cottage Hunt House Ferrin House Dow House Wright House Kay House Mitchell House Bosch House Gardner House Sill House

5000 Manila Ave. 2201 Los Angeles 2669 LeConte Ave. 1874 Yosemite Ave. 605 Mira Vista Ave. 1081 Mariposa 2 Hillcrest Court 1012 Ashmount Ave. 1960 San Antonio Road 1901 San Antonio Road 26 Tunnel Road 30 Oak Ridge Road 820 Calmar Ave. Terrace Walk 892 Arlington Ave. 1010 Oxford Ave. 1834 Monterey Ave. 1130 Shattuck Ave. 1936 Thousand Oaks Blvd.

Oakland Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Oakland Berkeley Berkeley Oakland Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Oakland Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley

March 8 1913 March 26 1913 April 21 1913 May 2 1913 May 9 1913 June 9 1913 Sept. 6 1913 Sept. 8 1913 Oct. 3 1913 Nov. 8 1913 Feb. 11, 1914 April 15 1914 April 30 1914

Hupp House Beasley House Maddan House Wintermute House Hoskine House Randolph House Newman House Runnels House

12 Hillcrest Court 878 Spruce St. 919 Mendocino Ave. 227 Tunnel Road 945 Cragmont Ave. 636 Vincente Ave. 1185 Cragmont Ave. 2507 Marin 683 Santa Barbara Ave. 31 Alcatraz 1730 Spruce St. 29 and 35 Hillcrest Ave. 14 and 18 Hillside Court

Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley

fair condition fair condition good condition excellent condition good condition excellent condition good condition good condition good condition; altered by JHT; his brother's house good condition; some alteration fair condition good condition good condition fair condition; two wings divided in 1930s t form two houses excellent condition; sun room added by JHT in 1920s good condition; wrought iron brackets not original good condition; upper right hnd wing enlarged good condition good condition good condition good condition poor condition good condition

Thomas House Short House Loring House Johnson House Peters Houses

Berkeley Belvedere Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley

July 1 1914 July 7 1914 July 11 1914 Aug. 7 1914 Dec. 19 1914 Feb. 23 1915 March 13 1915 Aug. 18 1915 Nov. 3 1915 Nov. 5 1915

Haehl House

1680 Bryant St. 3115 Claremont Ave. 564 Santa Clara Ave. 1121 Mandanna Boulevard 35 Oakvale 5950 Cross Road 1001-7 Heinz St. 1010 Cragmont Ave. 628 Middlefield 319 El Cerrito Ave.


Park House


Kruse House Jackson House Sellander House Cherry House Thomas house and store Antony House Reid House Ross House

Berkeley Oakland Berkeley Oakland Berkeley Berkeley Palo Alto Piedmont

c 1915 April 29 1916 May 22 1916 June 23 1916 c 1916 Sept. 8 1917 June 2 1917 June 8 1917 Jan. 18 1918

Kelly House Hamlin House Goldman-Pugh House Jarvis House Stephens House Garroutte House Gillespie House Crosby House Blassingame House

1111 Mission Ridge Road 6421 Benvenue Ave. 1033 Shattuck Ave. 1230 and 1232 Allston Way 756 First St. 1209 Oxford St. 865 Contra Costa Ave. 431 Wildwood 12 Sierra Ave.

Santa Barbara Berkeley Berkeley Berkeley Woodland Berkeley Berkeley Piedmont Piedmont

good condition; wood painted though excellent condition good condition good condition excellent condition good condition good condition excellent condition excellent condition


Anderson, Timothy J.; Moore, Eudora M.; Winter, Robert W. ed. California Design 1910. Pasadena: California design publications, 1974. Bean, Walton. California, An Interpretive History. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1973. Beringer, Pierre N. “Greater Oakland." Overland Monthly, October, 1906, page 278. Blishop, Harris. How Oakland Aided her Sister City, Souvenir and Resume of Oakland Relief Work to San Francisco Refugees. Oakland: Oakland Tribune, 1906. Clark, Robert Jenson. “The Life and Architectural Accomplishment of Louis Christian Mullgardt (1866 to 1942)." Unpublished Master's thesis, Stanford University, 1964. Comstock, William Phillips. Bungalows, Camps and Mountain Houses. 3rd ed. New York: William T. Comstock Co., 1924. Cummings, G. A.; Pladwell, E. S. Oakland, A History. Oakland: Grant D. Miller Mortuaries, 1942. Gebhardt, David, et al. A Guide to Architecture in San Francisco and Northern California. Santa Barbara: Peregrine Smith, Inc., 1973. Higginbotham, Halbert. “Oakland the Beautiful." Overland Monthly, October, 1906, Pete pages 301-302. Keeler, Charles. The Simple Home. San Francisco: Paul Elder & Co., 1904. May, Judith Vanish. “Struggle for Authority: A Comparison of Four Social Change Programs in Oakland, California." Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of

California, Berkeley, 1974. Mott, Frank K. “Oakland as a Municipality." Overland Monthly, October, 1906, page 280-281. Mowry, George D., “The California Progressive and His Rationale: A Study in Middle Class Politics." The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XXXVI (September 1949). Smythe, Dallas Walker. “An Economic History of Local and Inter-urban Transportation in the East Bay Cities with Particular Reference to the Properties Developed by Francis Marion Smith." Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1937. Stearns, Edwin. “Oakland Chamber of Commerce." October, 1906, page 282-284. Stickley, Gustaf. “Thoughts Occasioned by an Anniversary: A Plea for a Democratic Art." Craftsman Magazine, VII (October, 1904).

1 2

Editorial, Oakland Evening Tribune; June 3, 1890. Ibid. 3 George E. Mowry, “The California Progressive and his rationale: a study in Middle Class Politics,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XXXVI, No. 2; September 1949, pages 243-244. 4 Ibid., p. 243. 5 Mowry states that the source for this quote, the California Weekly published in San Francisco, was the statewide organ of the Progressive movement. Editorial, California Weekly, Dec. 18, 1908, p. 51. 6 Frank K. Mott, “Oakland as a Municipality,” Overland Monthly; XLVIII, No. 4, October 1906, page 280-281. 7 May, “Struggle for Authority, page 54. 8 Edwin Stearns, “Oakland Chamber of Commerce,” Overland Monthly, XLVIII, No. 4, October, 1906, page 283. 9 Ibid., page 283.
10 11

Editorial, Oakland Enquirer, October 28, 1909. Mott, “Oakland as a Municipality,” page 280. 13 Editorial, Oakland Enquirer, October 28, 1909. 14 Judith Vanish May, “Struggle for Authority, A Comparison of Four Social Change Programs in Oakland, California; unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1974, page 59. 15 Ibid., page 61. 16 Mowry, “The California Progressive,” page 244. 17 Walton Bean, California, an Interpretive History, (2nd edition, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1973), pages 326-328. 18 May, “Struggle for Authority,” page 23. 19 May, “Struggle for Authority,” page 53. 20 Dallas Walker Smythe, “An Economic History of Local and Interurban Transportation in the East Bay Cities with Particular Reference to the Properties Developed by F. M . Smith”; unpublished PhD. Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1937, page 100. 21 G. A. Cummings and E. S. Pladwell, Oakland: A History (Oakland: Grant D. Miller Mortuaries, Inc., 1942) page 87. 22 Lois Rather, Oakland’s Image, A History of Oakland, California (Oakland: Rather Press, 1972), page 77. 23 William M. Lunch, Oakland Revisited 24 Pierre N. Berringer, “Greater Oakland,” Overland Monthly, XLVIII, No. 4, October, 1906, page 278. 25 George Austin, Advertisement, Oakland Enquirer 26 Smythe, “An Economic History,” pages 98-99. 27 Ibid., page 130. 28 Ibid., page 130-131. 29 Ibid., page 104. 30 B. L. Spence, “Why Pay Rent?”, The Oakland Tribune, January, 1911. 31 Beautiful Piedmont: A Study in Contrasts (Oakland, 1913).
12 32 33

Editorial, Oakland Enquirer, October 28, 1909, page 1. William Phillips Comstock, Bungalows, Camps and Mountain Houses (3rd Ed. New York: William T. Comstock Co., 1924), page 42. 34 “Among the Architects,” Daily Pacific Builder, November 6, 1909. 35 Mrs. Taylor W. Bell, private interview, Piedmont, California, March, 1975. 36 Charles Keeler, The Simple Home (San Francisco: Paul Elder and Co., 1904), page 34. 37 Ibid., page 20. 38 John Wickson Thomas, private interview, Berkeley, California, October, 1974. 39 Judith Vanish May, “Struggle for Authority: A Comparison of Four Social Change Programs in Oakland, California,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1974, page 65. 40 “War Building to be Approved Only When Essential,” Daily Pacific Builder, October 15, 1918, page 1.


Hudson Thomas’ design work was centered in the hillside residential districts of Oakland and Berkeley. He designed a number of houses in the greater San Francisco Bay Area Region, of which the Short house in Belvedere is one. The client for these houses were generally family members or friends of local clients. The buildings are consistent with Thomas’ east Bay work and I am including them in the discussion of the Oakland and Berkeley buildings. 42 May, “Struggle for Authority,” page 65.
43 44

Rudolf Tropsch, “Sommerpavillon,” Der Architekt, April, 1904, page 40. F. W. Jochem, “Herrschaftliches Wohnhaus,” Der Architekt, January, 1902, page 28. 45 Gustaf Stickley, “Thoughts Occasioned by an Anniversary: A Plea for a Democratic Art,” Craftsman Magazine, VII, October, 1904. 46 David Gebhard and others, A Guide to Architecture in San Francisco and Northern California, (Santa Barbara: Peregrine Smith, Inc., 1973) page 178. 47 Robert Judson Clark. “Louis Christian Mullgardt,” in California Design, 1910, ed. By Timothy J. Andersen, Eudorah M. Moore, and Robert W. Winter, (Pasadena: California Design Publications, 1975) page 135. 48 Robert Judson Clark, “The Life and Architectural Accomplishment of Louis Christian Mullgardt, 1966-1942,” unpublished Master’s thesis, Stanford University, 1964, page 51. 49 Mrs. H.L. Dungan, private interview, Orinda, California, May, 1974.