06 June 2004

Ernest Coxhead, revisited

Beta Theta Pi (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

The latest article in Dave Weinstein’s monthly SF Chronicle series Signature Style deals with Ernest Coxhead.

The article is interesting and informative. It even quotes our own Anthony Bruce. It is therefore puzzling why Weinstein omitted two of Coxhead’s most significant buildings in Berkeley.

Having written, “Some [Coxhead homes] look like medieval cityscapes, with varied rooflines and wings that make them look like individual row houses,” Weinstein fails to offer the clearest example in this vein, the Beta Theta Pi chapter house (now the Goldman School of Public Policy), built in 1893 at 2607 Hearst Avenue.

Similarly, the statement “Coxhead slyly mixed seemingly incompatible styles and the rustic and refined in a single building, creating drama on one fa├žade, repose on another, and surprise throughout” would have been aptly illustrated by Allanoke (1903) at 1777 Le Roy Avenue, one block north of Beta Theta Pi. In this clinker-brick manorial house, the rustic exterior with its out-of-scale dormer gables contrasts with a formal, opulent interior.

If you’re inclined to go on a walking tour of Coxhead’s Berkeley houses, Daley’s Scenic Park offers two others from the turn of the 20th century, albeit not as architecturally interesting as Beta Theta Pi and Allanoke. Phoebe Apperson Hearst’s house at 2368 Le Conte Avenue offers the surprise of enormous scrollwork on the portico of a rather plain stucco house. Around the corner at 1816 Scenic Avenue, diamond panes distinguish the bay window of another stucco house. This used to be the reception hall that Phoebe Apperson Hearst built next to Benjamin Ide Wheeler’s house a year or two before her own house was constructed.

Mrs. Hearst owned a large tract of land at the top of what has come to be known as Holy Hill. She had intended to build a mansion there but never got around to it. Her appropriation of her son’s Hacienda del Pozo de Verona (A.C. Schweinfurth) in Pleasanton might have diverted her attention. The two Coxheads (and perhaps the lion’s head fountain on the Arch Street end of the Pacific School of Religion campus) are all that remains of her residence in Berkeley.


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