Ernest Coxhead Left His Mark in Island City

Architect Ernest Coxhead designed this house on Santa Clara Avenue for Dr. David Greenleaf. He designed a second Alameda home on Caroline Street for George Whittel. Photo by Dennis Evanosky

Ernest Coxhead Left His Mark in Island City

A British-born architect whose name we associate with the Arts and Crafts movement designed the house that Girls Inc. of the Island City call home today.

Ernest Albert Coxhead was born in 1863 in the English seaside town of Eastbourne, about 70 miles south London. He and his five siblings — Ernest was the fourth oldest — lived a peripatetic existence. They moved frequently as their mother, Mary, watched over them and their father, William, eked out a living as a schoolmaster. The family lived a more settled way of life after William took a job as a boarding house keeper.

As a youngster Ernest showed an interest in design, and in 1878 the 15-year-old he began a five-year-long apprenticeship in Eastbourne under architect and engineer George Wallis. With this experience under his belt, Ernest went to London, where he took a job as a building supervisor for architect Frederic Chancellor. Ernest spent the next three years working for Chancellor, studying at the Royal Academy of Art by day and attending evening classes at the Architectural Association.

In 1886 he emerged from his cocoon as a full-fledged architect. The following year he teamed up with his brother and fellow architect Almeric. The pair left Europe, moving first to Los Angeles and then to San Francisco. 
They found a patron in Episcopal bishop William Kip. The brothers designed and built some 17 churches for Kip with Ernest doing the design work and Almeric managing the construction. During this time Ernest designed a house on Santa Clara Avenue for Dr. David Greenleaf, the one that Girls Inc. calls home. He designed a second house in Alameda on Caroline Street for George Whittell and his family.

Ernest returned to Europe just after World War I. He went to LeMans, France, where he organized and directed the American Expeditionary Forces School of Architecture. He stayed only a year.

He returned to San Francisco and remained in partnership with Almeric until his older brother died in 1924. His shingled buildings bespoke the Arts and Crafts movement, which strongly influenced other Bay Area architects like Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan and Albert Farr. Coxhead’s work also finds echoes in the First Bay Tradition, which took the Arts and Crafts movement and shaped it into a distinct Bay Area style. 

Coxhead passed away in Berkeley on March 27, 1933. 


British-born Ernest Coxhead designed houses and churches throughout the Bay Area.