06 February 2018

C. M. Cook, the mysterious architect


Courtesy of Anthony Bruce

In 1904, upper Telegraph Avenue underwent a character-changing transformation. The stretch between Bancroft and Channing ways, then an elegant residential enclave dotted with imposing mansions, was invaded by commerce. The person responsible was the developer John Albert Marshall, who dared to defy the resident millionaires by erecting the neighborhood’s first mixed-use building.

“Ground was broken to-day for a three-story business block at Telegraph avenue and Bancroft way, to be erected by J. A. Marshall at a cost of $40,000. Five stores will face Telegraph avenue and two on Bancroft way,” announced the San Francisco Call on October 17. Construction of the Marshall Apartments was the shot across the bow that set the millionaires fleeing.

The architect of the Marshall Apartments was one C. M. Cook, who had his initial foray into Berkeley only two years earlier. Within less than a decade, Cook’s buildings proliferated through Berkeley. Many of those structures survive, and a few have been designated City of Berkeley Landmarks.

It all came to a stop in 1910, and the architect remains a cypher—two initials and a short surname. The C. M. Cook mystery is all the deeper, since his 1940 U.S. Census record reveals that the architect’s education did not go beyond the fourth year of high school. Who, then, was Cook, how did he become a sought-after architect, and what led to his sudden disappearance following a brief, meteoric career?

The mystery is solved in this newly published article.

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