There are several residential streets in Berkeley which are almost pristine examples of early 20th century development. Walking down one of these quiet streets (often by-passed and hidden because of street barriers) is to experience a different era.
Etna Street and Piedmont Avenue, south of Dwight Way to Derby Street, are two such streets, and they will be the focus of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association's spring house tour on May 5.
This residential neighborhood is known as the Kearney Tract and the area developed shortly after the opening of the electric streetcar line along College Avenue in 1903. The majority of the homes that line the streets were built between 1904 and 1915. They represent the quintessential Berkeley home, an expression of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, often clad in unpainted shingles and containing exquisite redwood paneled interiors.
The house tour is also a venue for conducting an historic survey of the neighborhood. The survey not only documents the dates of buildings, the builder or architect's name, but also the people who built the houses and, through directories, what they did for a living and how many members of the family were living in the house at a particular time.
By comparing historic Sanborn Maps with current ones, other kinds of information can be gathered. A fascinating revelation gained from these maps is the large number of garden cottages tucked behind the houses.
COTTAGES/From Page 3
Sometimes these cottages were converted from carriage houses, art and music studios, or even garden sheds. Sometimes they were built expressly as additional living units.
The existence of backyard cottages, particularly in neighborhoods within walking distance to the university, is one of Berkeley’s most charming qualities. These hidden treasures provide picturesque and romantic dwelling units, usually in garden settings, while the original house and streetscape is preserved.
One unusual and compelling cottage (although now in disrepair and never used as a dwelling) was designed by University architecture professor, Christopher Alexander as an “Experimental House” in 1976. Lesley Emmington and Anthony Bruce discovered this “cottage” during their survey research. Alexander used the structure for experiments in building construction. It is located in the rear of a lush garden behind a brown shingle house believed to have been designed by Julia Morgan in 1906. Alexander inspired a number of devoted students and future architects in this idyllic setting, outside the classroom, infusing views of the future with the patterns of the past as described in his popular and influential book, “A Pattern Language: Towns/Buildings/Construction.”
Discover this and more at the Berkeley Architectural Heritage's spring house tour on May 5. Please call 841-2242 for further information.
Susan Cerny is the author of Berkeley Landmarks and writes this in conjunction with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.