High-Peaked Colonial Revival

Part 5: Steep roofs by “name” architects

Daniella Thompson

Adolphus Barnicott House by A.D. Coplin, 2630 Piedmont Ave. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

4 March 2005

The High-Peaked Colonial Revival house has never been luxurious or upscale. More often than not, it was put up in pairs and threesomes by developers building speculatively in middle-class neighborhoods. Yet even leading architects did not shy from adopting this style when clients’ wishes so dictated. When well-known designers undertook commissions in this idiom, the results were both off the beaten path and indicative of major stylistic trends.

Nelson Kofoid House by Julia Morgan, 2618 Etna St.
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

Early in her career, Julia Morgan designed a High-Peaked Colonial Revival home for Nelson Kofoid at 2618 Etna Street. This 1904 structure is far from flamboyant and apparently was designed at the client’s request for a house that would evoke the family’s Pennsylvania roots. Shingled above and clapboarded below, the Kofoid house is distinguished by a projecting “skirt” of roof eaves (also seen at 3024 Harper Street) that surrounds the house below the gable. Another unusual but subtle touch is the tall and shallow shingle “awning” above the gable’s triple window.

Oakland architect Albert Dodge Coplin designed two of Berkeley’s Colonial Revival commercial landmarks, the E.P. King Building (1901) and the Morgan Building (1904). At 2630 Piedmont Avenue, he erected an elaborate house for Adolphus Barnicott. Built in 1905, the house mixes various idioms, including a hefty dose of Arts and Crafts. Seen from certain angles, it even recalls the Anna Head School in miniature.

Gable, 2630 Piedmont Ave.
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

Front door, 2630 Piedmont Ave.
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

Porch posts, 2630 Piedmont Ave.
(photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

The Barnicott residence boasts a two-level front gable, whose lower level is more steeply pitched than the upper part. On each side, dormers with extremely pitched overhangs give the impression of flapping wings. An oval wagon-wheel window at the top of the gable is mirrored by a smaller window on the garage in the rear. Horizontal bands of sawtooth shingles run across the gable. Artificial stone lines the porch parapets and columns. These columns are augmented with sturdy wooden posts that widen toward the base.

The front door is exactly as described by A.W. Smith in his 1899 interview (see Part 1): “the distinctive features are low wide doors, [...] and the most popular front doors are those having little brass grills and a wicket, through which those from the inside may look out on the porch without opening the door.”

Front porch, 2630 Piedmont Ave. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

If you stand on Shattuck Avenue with your back to Andronico’s, you’ll notice a curious High-Peaked Colonial Revival house above Cha-Am restaurant. Thomas D. Newsom designed this house in 1902. Not content with the regulation triangular gable, he appended a square turret to its southwestern corner.

1543 Shattuck Ave. by Thomas D. Newsom (photo: Daniella
Thompson, 2005)

Between the turret eaves and its windows runs a fine frieze with a leaf-and-flower motif. On the front gable, a rosette of leaves—possibly Valley Oak—stands out in relief.

Leaf-motif frieze, 1543 Shattuck Ave. (photo: Daniella
Thompson, 2005)

1543 Shattuck Ave.

Leafy rosette on gable (photos: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

More than any other designer, Alfred William Smith (1864–1933), architect of the landmark India Block (1903) and Barker Building (1905), made the High-Peaked Colonial Revival style his own. His was the fanciful design at 2529 Benvenue Avenue, which was demolished in the 1960s to make way for a box-like apartment building.

2529 Benvenue Ave., demolished in the 1960s (Ormsby Donogh files, BAHA archives)

A.W. Smith’s fully shingled Bartlett residence, built in 1899 at 3040 Fulton Street, is an early example of the steep-roof style. It is also a wonderful illustration of the living-with-nature credo, which the architect espoused in an article titled “The Shingled House in California” and published in The Architect and Contractor of California in May 1905:

The prevailing taste for the shingled buildings had its origin in our university towns, and the use of wall shingles is yet comparatively greater in these places than elsewhere. From these centers of education and culture we have learned that the proper maerials to use in our structures are those that are indigenous, that are natural and not an imitative deception. [...]

Bartlett House, 3040 Fulton St. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

In congratulating ourselves on our superior taste and culture in selecting building designs calling for construction of this sort, due thanks must be rendered to Mr. Chas. S. Keeler [sic] and also to the Hillside Club of North Berkeley, as they by word and example as well as in print, have preached to us of the advantage of a natural construction using local material, that looked like what it was and that left in the colors that nature will give them would produce a result combining happily an economical construction, harmony of color and design and the best possible effect from an artistic point of view.

3040 Fulton St. (photo: BAHA archives)

3040 Fulton St. (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2005)

What accounts for the enormous stylistic difference between Coplin’s and Morgan’s shingled houses at one end of the design spectrum and Newsom’s clapboarded and turreted one at the other?

Architectural historian Susan Cerny believes that during any period there are ususally two parallel styles—one formal and the other informal, one conservative, the other less so. She writes:

Just as there were two parallel Colonial Revival styles during this period—the old New England Shingle and the Southern Classic Revival—so are some of the steeply pitched-roof houses Shingle style, while others are Neoclassical.

Continue to Part 6

See also:
Colonial Revival buildings in Ashby Station

Essays & Stories

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