Author: nccsah

Spring 2019

The Memorial Day weekend will find NCCSAH members exploring the historic architecture of Carson City and Virginia City, Nevada, and considering the impact the Comstock Lode silver strike of the 1860s and ‘70s had on San Francisco.

Our adventure begins with a 6-1/2 hour trip on one of Amtrak’s most popular trains, the California Zephyr, which takes us to Reno over the historic route of the first transcontinental railroad.

The one-day Carson City leg of the trip, on Friday, May 24, will take in the State Capitol and the old U.S. Mint, which today houses the Nevada State Museum. Saturday will find us riding the rails again, this time on the historic Virginia & Truckee Railroad. A day-and-a-half in Virginia City will allow a pretty thorough experience of what was once described as “the richest city in America”.

Much of the 19th century town remains remarkably intact, and will allow us to experience a mining boomtown of that time, including a visit to a once-productive silver mine. A morning departure from Reno on the Zephyr will return us to the Bay Area on Monday afternoon.


Fall 2018

NCCSAH members enjoyed a visit to Sacramento over the first weekend of November 2018. For many in the group who may have been to the capital before, perhaps to lobby legislators on a preservation issue or to do research at the State Library, it was the first time focusing on the many and varied historic resources the capital has the offer.

Most of the group stayed at the Citizen Hotel, placing us within easy walking distance of all the subjects on our itinerary. From the California Railroad Museum where our weekend began, to the 19th century Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, which was our final stop, expert guides provided lively and informative tours.

As it happens, in the last fifteen or twenty years, a great deal of money and talent has gone into the rehabilitation and restoration of these resources, including the Capitol, the Stanley Mosk State Library and Courts Building, the Crocker Museum, and the Stanford Mansion.

The Crocker combines a historic mansion with a fine collection of 19th century California art, as well as modern and contemporary works that are housed in a skillfully designed 2010 addition. The California Museum celebrates the state’s history and culture.

Read our Fall 2018 Newsletter:

Fall 2018

Spring 2018

Casting aside age-old rivalries, our members, mostly based in the San Francisco Bay Area, ventured south for a long weekend visit to Los Angeles. Pleasant spring weather greeted us over the Memorial Day weekend.

From our base at the historic Biltmore Hotel in the, now, much-revived 1920s era downtown, we explored our surroundings over two days, entirely on foot. Our focus on the first day was LA modernism, with excellent guided tours of Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall, the adjacent Broad Museum and, a short walk away, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Our group returned to the Disney, after a box lunch on the grounds of the cathedral, for an outstanding performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Sunday morning found us in Pershing Square where we met excellent guides provided by the Los Angeles Conservancy, for a downtown tour whose highlight was the famed 1893 Bradbury Building. After taking lunch at liberty, we had excellent guided tours of the Biltmore and the LA Central Library, an Art Moderne gem by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue.

The conclusion of a very successful weekend came during the cocktail hour at 71 Above, the 71st-floor lounge of the US Bancorp Building.

Read our Spring 2018 Newsletter:

Spring 2018

Fall 2017

NCCSAH offered two programs at the end of September 2017. The morning of Monday, September 25, began with a visit to the Fleishhacker summer estate, Green Gables, in Woodside, designed by Greene and Greene. We are grateful to estate manager, Hilary Grenier, who provided an intimate and detailed experience of this unique property. Carpooling took us a short distance, then, to Filoli, the estate of William Bourn, where we received quite special tours of the house and its gardens. Mondays the property is closed to the general public, and we had the place to ourselves. Our thanks to Jim Salyards, director of horticulture, who gave us an in-depth tour of the gardens, and architect Greg Mellberg, who led us through the house. We extend our gratitude, also, to the National Trust, owner of Filoli, and to the Fleishhacker family for opening their property to us.

The program on September 27 was intended to accommodate members unable to participate in the fall 2016 tour because it booked up so quickly. Two highlights of that tour, the Carolands and the Villa Delizia were included. New to the fall program was La Dolphine, designed by Lewis Hobart for George A. Newhall and later acquired by an heir of the Spreckels family. Thank you to the current owners, Barbara Bissell and Lincoln Howell, for giving us a tour of their lovely house and gardens.

Spring 2017

The chapter’s spring 2017 program took us, once again, to the San Francisco Peninsula, this time to explore two works of Frank Lloyd Wright. Impetus for this tour was the recent publication of Frank Lloyd Wright and San Francisco, by NCCSAH board member Paul Turner. Emeritus Professor of Art at Stanford University, Paul provided informed commentary throughout the day. Our first stop was the 1937 Hanna House, also known as the Honeycomb House, because Wright based his design on the form of a hexagon. After a Stanford-hosted lunch, the group traveled to a house in Atherton inspired by Wright and designed by Anshen and Allen (1950) as the personal residence for developer Joseph Eichler. We learned of Eichler’s profound interest in the famous American architect during our visit, next, to the Wright-designed Bazett-Frank House (1940), in Hillsborough. Eichler lived in the house as a tenant, early in the 1940s, and so admired the architect’s work that he wondered if a modern house such as this could be built for “ordinary people”. Out of this thought grew a twenty-year career as a tract-home builder of the, now much sought after, “Eichlers”.

Fall 2016

Our fall 2016 tour of the great houses of the Peninsula drew a capacity crowd. Featured were some of the surviving country estates of San Francisco’s Gilded Age: the Kohl, the Ralston, the Carolands and the Uplands. Today three of these grand properties are in institutional ownership, in use and well maintained. Only the Ralston mansion sat vacant and forlorn, abandoned due to concern for seismic safety. William Ralston was a pioneer settler on the Peninsula, acquiring an existing house and engaging John Gaynor (who later designed Ralston’s Palace Hotel) to enlarge and remodel it. The other mansions date from the early 20th century, a time when Willis Polk’s career was at it height, and the San Francisco architect had a hand in others we visited. He executed the design of Parisian architect Ernest Sanson at the Carolands and designed the Uplands for Charles Templeton Crocker. For a change of pace, we visited Villa Delizia (Willis Polk & Co.), in Hillsborough, where its current owner, Ms. Willy Werby greeted us warmly and hosted our lunch break. This comparatively modest-sized Spanish Colonial Revival house is the only one of the houses we visited that remains very much a home, and, as her personal residence, it reflects Ms. Werby’s character extremely well.

Spring 2016

Once called the Egg Capital of the World, the attractive Sonoma County city of Petaluma greeted our members in June. We gathered at the former Carnegie Library that now is home to the Petaluma Historical Museum and Library. Local historian Katherine Rinehart provided a background talk on the area’s history, while we enjoyed coffee and pastries. There followed a tour of the downtown, which has a noteworthy collection of cast-iron front buildings. We headed then to D Street, where Paul Heavenridge and Paula Freund greeted us at their home; we took a break for box lunches in their beautiful garden. Homes we viewed along the D Street corridor are among the finest in Petaluma and represent the work of such architects as Albert Farr, Julia Morgan, Warren Perry, as well as prolific local architect Brainerd Jones. Christine Balch, the owner of an 1893 Queen Anne residence, welcomed us with a pause for cool drinks in the shade and gave us a tour of the interior, undergoing a careful restoration. A particular pleasure was St. John’s Episcopal Church by noted San Francisco architect Ernest Coxhead (1890). The congregation generously allowed us entry and provided an informed description of ongoing restoration work. Chapter members and Petaluma residents Todd and Janet Gracyk organized this day’s program for us.

Fall 2015

Continuing our chapter’s observance of the year of Julia Morgan, we undertook an ambitious long-weekend program down California’s central coast. Two of Ms. Morgan’s most famous works, works that illustrate the wide-range of her talent, were our goal. We gathered at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove on the morning of November 7, where we heard informative lectures on the history of what was originally a conference center Morgan designed for the YWCA, on Morgan’s site planning and on subsequent additions expanding on Morgan’s original plan. After lunch, armed with this information, we had a tour of the camp by Asilomar historian Michael Meloy.

A trip farther down the coast brought us to one of the icons of California architecture, Hearst Castle, where Morgan’s grand gestures are a long way from the cozy, woodsy feel of Asilomar. We were fortunate to have as host architectural historian Victoria Kastner, who drew on her 36 years of work at the castle to lead a rich four-hour tour. The Hearst Corporation provided lunch and tour at San Simeon Village, at the Pacific’s edge. Morgan designed most of the village’s buildings for staff employed at the Hearst ranch.

On Monday morning, many of us visited the Benjamin Patterson Ranch north of Paso Robles. Five generations of Pattersons have farmed this land, and the structures, tools and machinery reflect that time. We learned of the technique of rammed earth construction used in building the main house (1896) and smoke house. Dawn and Lester Patterson provided a hot lunch.

Returning to our Morgan theme brought us to Fort Hunter Liggett army base. This land was part of the Hearst Ranch, and Ms. Morgan designed a Mission Revival hacienda (1930) to accommodate the ranch manager and ranch hands. Hearst sold it to the army in 1940. Today, a private concessionaire operates the hacienda as a hotel. Phil Bellman organized Monday’s events.

Spring 2015

Once the AIA granted its (long-overdue) Gold Medal to Julia Morgan, in 2014, describing her as “the first great female American architect,” we decided to devote our 2015 programs to the San Francisco architect’s work. For our spring offering, trying to contain our range geographically, we decided upon San Francisco’s Chinatown, where Morgan designed buildings for the Chinese-American community. Anticipating a great response, we scheduled the program for May 30 with a repeat on June 6. We were fortunate to engage historian and retired architect Philip Choy, who generously agreed to lead the identical tour on both dates. His well-informed commentary on Morgan’s buildings, the Chinatown institutions she served, and the larger context of “orientalized” architecture in the district proved most illuminating. Frequent anecdotes from his life growing up in Chinatown added color and richness to our experience. Morgan-designed buildings in Chinatown were the Chinese YWCA (now home to the Chinese Historical Society of America), the YWCA Residence and Gum Moon House. We gathered at the former YWCA in the morning for a brief introduction to our subject, before hitting the streets. Mr. Choy was able to gain access for us at least to the “public” interiors of the Y Residence and Gum Moon, as well. Of course, the tour’s scope took in the larger Chinatown context, and Mr. Choy pointed out Morgan’s skill in her allusions and references to a “Chinese style” architecture, more subtle and true than the colorful and exotic tourist-oriented Chinatown that emerged from the ruins of 1906. A fine dim sum at mid-day gave us strength to keep up with Phil’s vigorous pace, and a visit to a Taoist temple later in the day was an unexpected pleasure.     

Fall 2013

The all-day tour of Mare Island Navy Yard included the interior of the base commander’s classical revival residence and the craftsman chapel, which houses the largest collection of Tiffany stained glass windows west of the Mississippi. Members viewed numerous other structures representative of the yard’s periods of significance, dating from 1856 through World War II, including a massive glass-curtain-wall factory building constructed in 1940.