Craftsman Style Looks Forward to 20th Century

Photo Dennis Evanosky

Craftsman Style Looks Forward to 20th Century

Dennis Evanosky

When the Arts and Crafts movement arrived in the United States the curtain had already begun to fall on the Victorian era. In 1897, four years before Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, a pair of exhibitions that heralded a design reform emphasizing craftsmanship and handicraft opened in Boston. This reform encouraged originality and the use of local materials. The exhibitions included hand-crafted furniture, jewelry, lamps, metalwork, pottery, tile, textiles and wallpaper.

A group of New England architects and designers opened the first exhibition on Jan. 4, 1897, at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. They hoped to bring Britain’s Arts and Crafts Movement to America; they succeeded. With this movement, the British had rebelled against late Victorian-era excess and a perceived disregard for the common worker.

Two months later, on April 5, 1897, the first American Arts and Crafts exhibition opened at Boston’s Copley Hall. This exhibition showcased more than 1,000 objects made by 160 craftsmen, half of whom were women. The exhibition’s success led to the June 28 incorporation of the Society of Arts and Crafts with a mission to support and celebrate craft makers and their creativity.

As it has done for the last 124 years and continues to do today, the society brings designers and workers together into mutually helpful relationships, promotes artistic work in all branches of handicraft and encourages workers to execute their own designs.

A style was born from this movement — one with simple, elegant designs that featured locally handcrafted wood, glass and metal work. As a reaction to Victorian-era opulence and the increasingly common mass produced housing elements, the style — whose name comes from Gustav Stickley’s popular magazine, The Craftsman — incorporated clean lines, sturdy structure and natural materials.

Many designers no longer looked to England but found inspiration at home in sources like Shaker furniture. The style translated nicely from the simple to the complex; from furniture design to home design.

Charles and Henry Greene mastered the new design. “They developed a style of residential wooden buildings based entirely on craftsmanship principles,” says Lester Walker in American Homes. The Greene brothers’ best-known creation is the Gamble House in Pasadena. They designed both the house and its furnishings in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter and Gamble Company. The brothers built the Thorsen House on Berkeley’s Piedmont Avenue the following year.

Alameda boasts a Craftsman-style jewel of its own. In 1908, Danish immigrant James Hansen Hjul designed and built an impressive home for himself and wife, Emma, on Grand Street.

Hjul was the founder of the J.H. Construction Company with offices in San Francisco’s Mechanics Institute Building on Post Street. From 1907 to 1958 San Francisco city directories listed Hjul as a contractor, civil engineer, structural engineer and construction engineer. He did most of his work South of Market on warehouses and industrial buildings.

It’s easy to spot a Craftsman style home from the street. Handcrafted woodwork and stone serve as the first clues. Tapered square columns — with a front porch tucked neatly behind — support a low-pitched roof with overhanging eaves. Exposed rafters or decorative brackets complement the roof.

Majestic palm trees mark a trio of West End streets that any aficionado of the Craftsman style must visit: Burbank Street, Eighth Street and Portola Avenue. Together they form the Burbank Portola Heritage Area, originally known as the Bay Park Tract. San Francisco investor John Dunn sold the property to the South Shore Land Company, which included William Farragut Chipman, the son of William Worthington Chipman, one of Alameda’s founders, and prominent lumberman Charles Hooper.

In 1909 the younger Chipman chose the names for the two new streets in the tract. He named one for the famous horticulturalist Luther Burbank. The year 1909 marked the 140th anniversary of Gaspar de Portola’s discovery of San Francisco Bay, so William named the second new street Portola Avenue. Prospect Street, which already existed when the company laid out the tract, later underwent a name change to Eighth Street.

Sales got off to a slow start. William Thompson was the only taker in 1910. His house stood alone on today’s Eighth Street until 1912 when the Stang brothers showed up. At first, Edward and Vernal Stang bought 16 lots in the tract. In the next three years the Stang Bros., as their firm was known, built 47 bungalows here, three-fourths of the 62 homes in the subdivision.

Historian Woody Minor describes the typical Stang bungalow in the Bay Park Tract as a 1,400 square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath affair with a kitchen and breakfast nook.

In 1918 builder George Noble stepped in and built more homes in the tract. “His most telling change was in response to the auto mobile,” Minor says. The tract’s original improvements failed to include curb cuts for driveways.

Noble’s homes here included a novelty not found in any of the Stang Bros. designs — garages. In one of Noble’s 1925 homes, it’s interesting to note that the garage and the porch assume equal importance. By the time the Bay Shore Tract had seen its last home developed, the era of tract housing had been born and the automobile was here to stay.

Plan to stroll beneath the palms to enjoy the variety of Craftsman style homes this heritage area has to offer.

Dennis Evanosky is the publisher of the Alameda Sun.

Architects and builders turned to the Arts and Crafts movement in reaction to the Queen Anne style’s increasingly opulent mass-produced housing elements. The new Craftsman style featured handcrafted wood and features from nature like the river rock on this Alameda home.
Photo Credit By: 
Dennis Evanosky