Kingsley family church

I’ve been interested in the story of Mrs. William Kingsley, the woman who built our house in 1927 under the name Mary Kingsley. The couple separated around 1917-1918 and the ex- Mrs. William Kingsley, formerly Susan Buek, began going by the name Mary Kingsley after she moved to California in 1918. I don’t know the reason behind the name change, but maybe it was a fresh start on the West Coast after the break in her marriage.

After I began researching the family background, I found the Kingsley family had previously been a very socially prominent family. William Kingsley had begun his career in the stock market and had enjoyed a meteroric rise in his career throughout the rest of his life, even appearing on the coveted Social Register for a time - which was a “who’s who” of prominent wealthy people in New York.

Like many prominent families of the time, they had a public life that included an association with a church. It would be hard to be considered upstanding citizens without appearing at church regularly and also giving “not so private” generous donations.

This idyllic family image the Kingsley’s has would not last forever. Religion may ultimately have been part of what divided the couple. William Kingsley was a conservative and devout Christian, but Susan/Mary Kingsley began to get more into Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, Spiritiulism and other “new age” spiritual beliefs around the turn of the 20th century that William might have found strange or even heretical. But previous to Mrs Kingsley’s interest in the occult, it seems she was supportive of the more traditional side of her family’s spirituality for at least the first decade after their marriage in 1890. Proof of that is evidenced by donations to the Madison Square Presbyterian Church by Mrs Kingsley and little Myra Kingsley, almost 4 years old in February 1901.



$27 dollars was a lot of money in 1901!

$27 dollars was a lot of money in 1901!

Pictured below is the newer church they may have attended in a few years later but the donation record is from a church kitty corner to the Beaux-Arts masterpiece below that was completed in 1906. From Wikipedia “The congregation's church had previously been located on the opposing, southeast corner of Madison and 24th Street, in a Gothic-style structure, also called the "Madison Square Presbyterian Church", whose cornerstone was laid in 1853 and which was completed the following year.“

  Madison Square  Presbyterian Church    (1906-1919)

 Madison SquarePresbyterian Church


Wikipedia: “The new church, valued at $500,000 and called the "Parkhurst Church" after its pastor, Reverend Charles Henry Parkhurst, was described as "one of the most costly religious edifices in the city"; it was awarded the Gold Medal of Honor of the American Institute of Architects.”

The reason I think they attended this newer church as well was William Morgan Kingsley and his father Ezra Munson Kingsley had been close with Charles Henry Parkhurst. William even named his first born son Charles Parkhurst Kingsley. (Other naming trends - I believe his first daughter was named Myra after his mother Almira Kingsley. His second son was named Mabon Kingsley after William’s first stock market business partner - and Mabon later named his son William M Kingsley after his grandfather.)


Charles Henry Parkhurst

Charles Henry Parkhurst

Charles Henry Parkhurst was also a notable figure in New York. From Wikipedia: “Charles Henry Parkhurst (April 17, 1842 – September 8, 1933) was an American clergyman and social reformer, born in Framingham, Massachusetts. Although scholarly and reserved, he preached two sermons in 1892 in which he attacked the political corruption of New York City government. Backed by the evidence he collected, his statements led to both the exposure of Tammany Hall and to subsequent social and political reforms.”

William Kingsley was also involved in the Union Theological Seminary in New York so you can see how there might be a conflict with Mrs Kingsley’s interest in Spritualism and the seances she began having at the family summer retreat in Elizabethtown, NY in the early 1900s. This could have created a wedge between the two that ended with their separation around 1918. William remarried and the ex-Mrs Kingsley, now going by Mary, lived with her adult kids where possible (1919-around 1923) but ultimately lived alone (with a servant) for most of the rest of her days in California. Mary called the breakup of the family “the great break” of her life in a letter she wrote to Helen Keller around 1923 after moving to Berkeley:

In 1923 I believe she lived with Mabon at 135 Tunnel Rd in Berkeley but after that he moved to student housing and she was alone at 135 Tunnel Rd until 1927 when our house was under construction. Around mid 1928 she moved into our house until the end of 1940, when Myra came and helped her, at age 70, move back east to Charles P Kingsley’s farm in Maryland where she lived her last two years. (Additions in 1939 suggest she was making the one bedroom house livable for two people, by adding a second bedroom and a dining room. Myra was at the peak of her astrology career, and probably didn’t have time to care for her aged mother.)

Despite their differences, after about a decade apart, it seems William probably paid for the construction of our house as it was pretty expensive for a one bedroom house at the time and Mary didn’t have much if any income to speak of. A couple expensive touches were the extensive use of redwood throughout and the industrial sash Fenestra windows had imported amber glass from Belgium for ALL of the original windows. (The additions she did in 1939 appear much lower budget).

From the limited information I can find on Mary Kingsley, I have to assume the most important things to her were family and spirituality - the latter interfering with the former. 

Reconstructing the Original Building Plans

I’ve come up with a theory to explain the Maybeck involvement with our house. I think it’s possible that Maybeck made the plans and simple got paid a flat rate - the rest of the details were up to his friend Rowland to execute. Early Maybeck work is very detail oriented but Annie Maybeck restructured his office in 1924 to ease Bernard’s workload. His work in general seems to take a turn around 1920 where he seems more concerned with layouts and city planning and experiments with concrete and open floorplans. The interior finishes depended on his availability. The 1937 Wallen #2 house for example - it’s said that Bernard walked 3 miles everyday from his house to supervise construction. I would call that very intense participation from an architect! I have worked on projects with architects and I don’t think I’ve ever seen an architect come to a job site more than 3 times. 

I guess it’s important to note what building plans used to look like. The Maybeck plans I’ve seen are basically only enough for the rough inspection. The rough phase is foundation, framing, plumbing and electrical and you need to get signed off in order to close up the walls and start the finish phase. To start construction, you need a plot map to locate the house on the lot, floorplans and elevations to determined how to frame the rooms and shape the house and what windows to install and what the roof looks like. The floorplan also lets subcontractors know how to run the plumbing and electrical because it depicts plumbing fixtures and lights etc. Sometimes they would include notes about flooring or wall coverings, but they didn’t always tell the builder all the information needed to build the house. Old plans used to be more like “the basic idea” of a house compared to the amount of detail that is specified now. This inset from Storybook Style by Arrol Gellner & Douglas Keister sums it up perfectly.


Back to my theory - I was rereading our “proof letter” with the insight I’ve gained into historic building plans and I had the realization that Rowland says the house was “designed by Maybeck” but then he goes on to say “I placed and replaced every board until Mrs Kingsley was satisfied” and he describes how he did the woodwork and everything... so since all other the details of the letter so far seem to be true, what does designed by Maybeck really mean? It seems like Rowland is really taking the initiative so does “designed by Maybeck” mean Maybeck just got a flat rate for basic plans and walked away? The exterior appearance and floor plan look to me like Maybeck designs and that would be on a basic set of plans. I thought it would be a good idea to explore what Maybeck plans looked like. If we understand how Maybeck makes plans, then we can know what details were likely specified by Maybeck on the plans (assuming Maybeck made no site visits. We have ideas about what we think looks like Maybeck and what is probably not. Then there’s some stuff in the middle. We can now approach it from the other end in sort of an “inductive reasoning” approach - where we use other building plans to tell us what kind of details he would specify on the plans. Then if there were still features we thought were Maybeck that he didn’t usually include on his plans, we could assume those would require a site visit. 

Here’s one example of using the house to determine what the plans looked like -

The house below is a “real” Maybeck Swiss chalet made for Albert Schneider. This is a southern elevation. The view would be facing downhill, to the West like a lot of the inland east bay hills up the coast.


Here’s our house, Southwest side. Look familiar? You can see that or house probably had a drawing like the one above to show how this side of the house was supposed to look. 


What else? Well the house has that Venturi chimney, so I think the plans must have included how to build one for this house. Below you can see the elliptical shape of the firebox for example is very specific to Maybecks ideas about draft and about Venturi’s principles. The Venturi aspect is the narrow point in the chimney which is supposed to accelerate draft because the smoke will be expanding as it rises to the larger upper chamber and that is supposed to help suck up air.


I like to call The Calkins house, our house and the Wallen #1 house “Maybeck Chalets” because they seem to sorta diverge from his older Swiss chalets and take their own form which is a progressive floorplan, hillside hugging “fireproof” design. I think my plans probably were similar to the 1921 Calkins house - similar form and 6 years apart. One thing I noticed when I visited with the sweet folks at the Calkins house was we both have tan-stained concrete fireplaces. Well if you look very closely at this longitudinal section you can see it’s specified on the plans. I’d assume our plans had this detail as well.


To sum up, I think we had the following pages in our building plans  

-plot map: the house hugs the hillside and had a tree growing through the master bedroom roof so it needed to be located precisely on the lot and the floorplan is based around the slope and shape of the hillside (as mentioned in the Hillside Homes pamphlet)

-floor plans that depict locations laterally of walls, rooms, light fixtures, doors, windows, cabinets, plumbing fixtures, stairs etc

-elevations: elevations are flat perspective drawings, most often for the exterior appearance of each side of the house. 

-transverse section for chimney: like the Calkins house, the concrete chimney is poured pretty early with the maybe the first floor framing platform or foundation. Our Venturi chimney would need a cross section to get the geometry right

-fireplace drawing - longitudinal or interior elevation: all Maybeck designs have unique fireplaces. That means he would need to make a drawing or sketch to show what it was supposed to look like. 

-landscaping sketch: mentioned in the Rowland letter

-kitchen elevations?: the kitchen cabinets are original redwood that have some design to them.. there is even this weird hinged under sink box that looks like the Wallen #1 has the same thing. Interior kitchen elevations would show Rowland how to build them. 

-gate and door designs: the house has a lot of rustic redwood doors all around and they are all unique. One is similar to a gate at Maybeck’s own home - the “Sack house”. Maybe these were depicted on interior sections? Or maybe they were Rowland’s designs. Rowland says he carved all the handles and did the roadwork but I think at least some of the doors and gates were designed by Maybeck and shown on the plans somehow.


I am planning on ordering scans of real plans from UC Berkeley CED Archives who have a lot of original Maybeck building plans. Then I’m hoping to make reproductions of what the original plans looked like - as accurately as possible. Coming up sometime this year I hope!



Myra Kingsley: Astrologer to the Stars!

'30s New York advertisement  

'30s New York advertisement  


I decided to do some research into Myra Kingsley (born Almira 10/1/1897), daughter of Mary Kingsley (who had our house built at the age of 57). To remind you - our house was a 1 bedroom 2 bath 2 story house built in 1927-8. The house had a dinging nook and bedroom added in 1939 and in 1941 a Dr. Lamb is listed as living there so I think the house was sold by then. Mary and Myra were listed as living together in 1940 so I think Myra was taking care of Mary and Mary died shortly after the census was taken.

The family was originally based on the East Coast. Mary, the mother, took the family to L.A. after she separated from William Morgan Kingsley between '15-18. I don't know how Mary was connected to L.A. or the West Coast in general but it seems she wanted to get far away from her ex-husband. This separation seems right around the time that Mary took Myra to the professional astrologer Evangeline Adams. William was a devout Christian and did not approve of astrology so maybe this is why they separated. Who knows.

Back to Evangeline Adams... In 1914-15, Mary took Myra, age 18, to a meeting with the first "Celebrity Astrologer" Evangeline Adams where she told Myra that she was gifted in music, which she had been pursuing, but Evangeline predicted Myra would be a gifted astrologer. Myra's mother Mary had been interested in Astrology and in an article Myra describes reading the astrological and other mystical or magical books her mom had lying around the house. Mary was apparently a Theosophist, which is a belief system based on "a collection of mystical and occultist philosophies" (Wikipedia). Myra continued to pursue music for around another decade. 1916-20 she went to what is not called Julliard in New York. In '21 she married George Houston (who she divorced in 1927).

Myra says she went to San Francisco [Bay Area] to be with her mother and to study astrology (around 1925). It seems these two had a special bond since both in 1925 and 1940 Myra came to the Bay Area to be with Mary.

Mary suggested that Myra train as an astrologer under Milton P. Ropp in San Francisco (for 5 months) - who also had a bookstore in S.F. (that I presume to be of the mystical variety). By 1925 she was a professional astrologer. At this point, I am guessing she was staying with her mom in a large house on 135 Tunnel Rd. in Berkeley - Mary is listed as living there in 1924. I assume that Mary lived in 135 Tunnel Rd. until she moved into the house she was having built. That house, our house, was completed in early 1928.

1940 Census, and '39 additions

The music room, added to Mary's 1 bedroom house in 1939, seems to have originally been a bedroom for Myra Kingsley, who was 41 at the time. Why would you add a room for your successful 41 year old daughter? We believe it was because Mary was ill and dying. We believe the room was built for Myra because she is listed as living there with her mother in the 1940 Census. I assume that Mary had given up the much bigger rental 135 Tunnel Rd. when her house was finished but now she didn't have a room for Myra. Our house was originally a 1 bedroom with 4 rooms - living room, kitchen, downstairs bath, and master bedroom suite upstairs. In 1939 Mary Kingsley tacked on a small breakfast room (erker) to the front of the house and a bedroom with a skylight to the side. The design of the additions didn't go out of their way to blend in, even though they were built by the original builder. Both rooms had vertical 1x10 redwood panel siding and interior walls covered with pecky cedar - a material that was heavily used at the Maybeck-designed Aikin house in 1940-1. The original house is stucco outside and plaster on the inside. I believe the additions are consistent with other additions that Maybeck did to houses - where his additions fit in with his latest style - but the level of detail is definitely less than the original house and they may have been based off of only a sketch and no site visits (he was now 77).

It was at this point that the master bath needed to be rearrange to make a hallway between the bedrooms. This creates a loop in the floorplan that accentuates the original loop of the floor plan. The reoccurring loops in the floor plan are very disorienting and may have had something to do with the affinity of Mary and Myra to the cycles of astrology over the linearity of time. The typical floor plan is a linear branching floor plan which gives the feeling of progressing from point A to point B along a timeline an along the physical linear path of a hallway. It sounds crazy to speculate about this, but our floorplan is very unusual for the time and Maybeck, Mary, and Myra had pretty wild ideas about these things. I certainly wouldn't put it past Maybeck to come up with a circular floor plan for astrology people.

Myra Kingsley: Astrologer to the Stars

Later on, Myra seems to have become the "top" famous astrologer in the U.S. for about 10-20 years. In the "This is New York" column from the Oakland Tribune in 1934, writer Lucius Beebe describes it actually like Myra is inheriting the throne from Evangeline who died in 1932. "The successor to Evangeline Adams as New York's court astrologer is Myra Kingsley, and the great world accepts her in this high office."

Her prominence was noted in many magazines, especially LIFE which proclaimed her "No. 1 astrologer of the U.S." in 1939 and photographed her giving readings to top movie stars of the time.

Her "peak" seems to be a several page article in a 1939 LIFE magazine where she's shown giving readings at a Hollywood astrology party. 

Her "peak" seems to be a several page article in a 1939 LIFE magazine where she's shown giving readings at a Hollywood astrology party. 

1937 bio

1937 bio

1937 bio

1937 bio

In 1946, LIFE again writes about her but this time says she's the "Most publicized" while a different person is now "Hollywood's favorite". Her career continued into the '50s - she came out with a book in '51 and she was still written about in the '50s, but it seems her peak in term of being the fashionable celebrity astrologer was 1939. It seems odd that she would move back in with her mom at the peak of her career but it makes sense when you realize that she died between mid 1940 and mid 1941.

In 1951 she published a book about astrology and was able to remain "relevant" in the eyes of popular media into the '50s

In 1951 she published a book about astrology and was able to remain "relevant" in the eyes of popular media into the '50s

May of '41 has a permit listed for Dr. Lamb for the back 2 bedroom 1 bath addition - I think the presumed new owner wanted to add rooms for his children.

Myra died at the age of 99 in Florida.

A great summary about Myra comes from a a blog called "From an Oblique Angle." The post is located at