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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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 http://www.joshuablubuhs.com/blog/three-minor-forteans-myra-kingsley-michael-blankfort-and-e-l-brancato
 

 

Original Eave Color Scheme - Key Maybeck Detail

As we were repairing the roof, we noticed the paint peeling away in places and began to piece together the original color scheme of the underside of the overhanging eaves.

 

a hint of the cerulean blue soffit stain

 

The original house had stucco up to about the height of the top of the windows in most places. Above the stucco, on the gable ends of the main roof, are vertical 1x10" redwood boards. The undersides of the eaves and the gable  trim were all painted brown at some point, so that the house would have a unified two tone look - brown on the top half and grey, raw stucco on bottom. The later color scheme was more restrained than the original color scheme, but it masks a key Maybeck feature - the colorfully stained eaves.

Here is the back of the house right now, as it is, under construction  

 

Above on the left side is the gable end of the roof - the A shaped side of the two-planed roof. The eave roof rafters on this end, supported by the projecting brackets (far left) are sometimes called bargeboards. The underside of the eave is called the soffit, and in this case it's the same as the roof sheathing boards - or the boards that go on top of the rafters to make the roof plane. (Sometimes the soffit plane is below the rafters - it's made of boards that are added to the underside of the rafters). On the bottom right you can see the redwood soffit/roof sheathing. The projecting roof rafters on the non-gable sides are simply called rafter tails. On this house, they use 6x8" faux rafters to give the appearance of heavy timber framing though they do not extend up to the ridge beam.

 

It seems like the soffit was a cerulean blue stain, the rafters were dark brown and the bargeboards (gable end rafters) were green! Here is a drawing I made to show what I think it looked like:

 
 

Yes it is pretty wild what the first layer of stain under the eaves looked like. Maybeck didn't like paint on the exterior of the house at this point so the only paint was on the windows, window sills and back doors. The windows which were steel needed paint for protection from rust and the back door was painted to match (though the other doors were 3" thick and faced with redwood). It's unclear whether the bargeboards were painted or stained green. For practicality of already having chrome green paint on hand I'd guess they were painted. The regular rafter tails were brown. The yellow in the pic is for the amber glass in the original windows. The color is a pleasant surprise to visitors to the house - it's almost entirely invisible from the street minus a tiny bit of green window paint and the bargeboards of the master bathroom that overlooks the front walkway.

Maybeck tended to use rich, simple, historic colors that usually echoed from nature. I read in "The Simple Home", by Charles Keeler, that colors from the surroundings were recommended as they were least likely to go out of style or clash with the natural beauty of the surroundings. The colors of our eaves easily match the blue of the sky, the brown of dirt or aged redwood, and the green of English ivy crawling nearby.

I read about a green creosote stain in "The Simple Home" (1904) giving a mossy appearance and thought that it must be what we have that in the master bathroom / changing room. I looked it up and found this in a paint book from 1908

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When I read that it mentioned chrome green - which seemed to be the window paint color as that matched best from a Sherwin Williams color wheel - the gears started turning. I had also read in "The Simple Home" about a silver stain made from "sulfate of iron" which seemed to be what was on the pecky cedar in the dining add-on. All the colors were not just "natural" in terms of matching the natural palette, but were also simple in their make-up. Chrome green is simply from chromium oxide and would have been an off the shelf paint color as it still is at Sherwin Williams. The mossy stain is chromium oxide and creosote oil with added umber. The brown exterior stain made to look like aged redwood looked like it matched the paint color "burnt umber." Once I started making the list, I found the assumption of simple colors and stains seem to illuminate the path forward in terms of determining the "intent" of the artist. Intent is important because colors can change a lot in 90 years, especially with the caustic chemicals, so this way I can infer what it looked like originally and use that to recreate the color scheme, rather than just color-matching the existing colors.

Original house colors (best guess):

  • chrome green paint - chromium oxide
  • moss green stain - creosote oil and chromium oxide
  • silver stain - iron sulfate
  • brown stain - burnt umber?
  • light blue stain - ?mysterey? 
 

chrome green

mystery blue stain

 
 

"sulfate of iron" silver stain

 

Maybeck did not use really use light blue very often, but I think it was worked into the color scheme by the owner - who is described as adding her own artistic touch in the Rowland letter. I think this mainly consisted of her using blue throughout - there's blue on the soffit, blue under the balcony over the fireplace to match the soffit, blue painted inside the kitchen cabinets and possibly blue in the master bedroom. Oh and the same blue in our mystery cuerda seca tiles from ~1938.

 

blue under the fireplace balcony to match the exterior soffit stain. Also a touch of gold paint

blue paint in the master behind a shelf that was added... maybe the original color 

 

Back to the exterior bright blue stain... The stain became a sky blue color when rubbed into the redwood soffit and its makeup is still a mystery. The other colors, from research, sort of all fell into place. I have a large blob of the blue stain in the stucco which I think was a cup of the stuff spilled in the dirt next to the house while someone was on a ladder trying to get the master bedroom pop-out area. It's really bright like cotton candy. Using the simple chemical formula theory - I looked up ancient blue colors. Historically, blue mainly came from indigo dye, or related to minerals or based on copper chemical reactions. The closest color seemed to be copper(II) sulfate, which is made by putting copper into sulfuric acid. I read about it in a book about furniture finishing from the Middle Ages. It used to be called "blue vitriol."

Blue Vitriol seems like something that would go along with the themes here and Maybeck's taste for the Middle Ages as well as simple chemical stains like the iron sulfate stain. I could also believe that it was simply a sky blue colored stain. The color, when not applied to the wood, would have made it a pretty wild stain for the era which is why it might be a home remedy. As you can read in the painters book from 1908 about the creosote stain - people with woodshops apparently used to have jars of caustic chemicals on hand to make these things. I may have a chemistry friend help me try to determine it's makeup. Stay tuned for the mystery of the blue vitriol stain...