Alameda Architectural Preservation Society
Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 7:00 pm
The Bruton House: A Gold Coast Landmark
A Presentation by Woody Minor
Free for AAPS members; $5 for non-members
Immanuel Lutheran Church
1420 Lafayette Street,
Alameda, CA 94501
(Parking available at the corner of Chestnut Street and Santa Clara Avenue.)
A Monumental Home
Story by Woody Minor
At the March membership meeting, Author and Architectural historian Woody Minor will present his recent research on the Bruton House, a Gold Coast mansion located at 1240 St. Charles Street, and owned by longtime AAPS member Jeannie Graham. The research was done for the landmark nomination report Minor submitted to the city’s Historical Advisory Board this past October. The HAB concurred with the findings of the report, giving its unanimous stamp of approval for the house’s designation as an Alameda Historical Monument.
The house has architectural significance, exemplifying a style, and historical significance for its association with persons important in the artistic history of California. The Bruton House is the eighth residential structure in the city so honored, and it will be formally listed later in March, when the City Council takes action on the issue.
The Bruton House ranks among the largest private residences in the city, enclosing over 4,000 square feet of living space on four levels. The parcel, covering nearly 13,000 square feet, is likewise among the city’s largest residential lots, graced with one of the oldest oak trees on the island. A gracious Colonial Revival residence with Queen Anne elements, it was designed and built in 1897 by the pioneer Alameda firm of Denis Straub & Son, whose junior partner, Fred P. Fischer, served as architect. Stylistically, it is transitional between Queen Anne and Colonial Revival. The boxy massing, hip roof, and classical detailing are signature elements of Colonial Revival, while the asymmetrical façades, gabled dormers, multiple bays, varied windows, and wraparound porch with eclectic columns are more Queen Anne in feeling.
Commissioned by San Francisco businessman Daniel Bruton, Pacific Coast agent for the American Tobacco Company, the house remained in the family through World War II. Daniel and his wife, Helen, were both natives of Ireland, hailing from the cities of Dublin and Belfast, respectively. Their three daughters, Margaret, Esther, and Helen, all born in the 1890s, were destined to become noted regional artists. They were raised in the house and spent much of their adult lives there at the height of their careers, in the 1920s and 1930s, using the attic as a studio. The Bruton sisters were frequently covered in reviews and articles in California newspapers of the prewar period. Their parallel careers followed similar paths, resulting in critically acclaimed paintings, etchings, sculptures, mosaics, and murals, and their works can be found in many private collections and museums.
Developing the Gold Coast
Woody will also discuss the significance of the house in its Gold Coast milieu, describing its architectural elements as well as its neighborhood setting. The Gold Coast comprises Alameda’s most impressive concentration of fine homes, and the lecture will include an overview of the area’s development beginning in the late nineteenth century, with a focus on St. Charles Street. The Bruton House was the first house in an 1897 development known as the Strybing Tract, extending along the east side of St. Charles Street south of San Antonio Avenue. A number of Bay Area architects contributed to the creation of this fine Colonial Revival/Craftsman streetscape, including Henry H. Meyers, Bert E. Remmel, and A. W. Smith.
The PowerPoint presentation will include numerous historic and contemporary images to elucidate the history, setting, and architecture of this notable Alameda property. Woody will give some tips on how to do research about your historic home, providing an overview of such indispensable sources as Sanborn maps, assessor’s maps, deed conveyances, building permits, newspaper articles, and census data. And he will tell us about the process of preparing landmark nomination reports, from onsite notes to online research to the final, grueling synthesis.
A fourth-generation Alamedan, Woodruff Minor has written extensively about Bay Area history and architecture. His books include “On the Bay”, “Pacific Gateway”, and “The Architecture of Ratcliff”.
Woody has been out of the country for over a year, and this is his first presentation to the AAPS since 2009, when he spoke about his book “A Home in Alameda”. He looks forward to sharing new insights he gained into the city’s history by way of the lovely Gold Coast home of Jeannie Graham.