Bernard Maybeck: Visionary Architect
The Boke House
The Boke House of 1902, a smaller and less expensive version of the chalet than the earlier Flagg house, is more straightforwardly rustic in appearance.
It, too, has an open plan on the main floor, and the stairs from the ground to the upper level are on one side of the house, an efficient way to save space for the living and dining areas.
The plan of the Boke house is a slightly irregular rectangle with projections for porches and windows. The upper floor extends beyond the lower part of the house by about two feet and is covered by a broadly overhanging roof.
Diagonal bracing enlivens the upper-floor walls. The sleeping porch and the front porch have railings decorated with cutout apple shapes.
One oddly extraneous bit of chalet imagery is the fake stack of log ends that adorns the southwestern corner of the house. The job specifications for the Boke house state that special care should be taken to have the fake logs match the color of the adjoining boards so that they will look like an extension of the wall, but it is obvious that they are nailed on.
Except for breaking up the hard edge of the corner and, like the cutouts, enhancing the play of light and shade on the wall surface, they are no more justifiable than the nailed-on ornament of the detested Queen Anne style.
Centered in the facade is a shallow bay composed of three sets of casement windows. The posts that frame the bay are hung by metal straps from the second-floor joists that cross the living-room ceiling and pierce the exterior wall. The casements are set between these posts, and a flower box is attached to the underside of the bay.
This method of construction made the bay a structurally discrete feature independent of the wooden skin of boards nailed to the frame of the house itself. The studs are exposed on the living-room interior, and the posts that support the upper-floor joists stand free of the walls, which are wide redwood boards and battens.
The four upper-floor bedrooms are as rustic as the exterior implies. Three-foot (90 centimeter) -long barn shingles cover the ceilings, and the framework of the central cross gable has been left exposed. The redwood walls were originally stained a mossy green, as advocated in "The Simple Home," to enhance their naturalness.
The ridge of the upper-floor ceiling is offset from the central ridge of the gable roof above. This strategy created a low, tent-like ceiling for the front bedrooms.
The client, a lawyer named George Boke, was a rising star in the university law school. Like Maybeck, Boke was a maverick and a visionary. He joined a group of crusaders for political reform in San Francisco that included the newspaper editors Chester Rowell (for whom Maybeck designed a house in Fresno) and Fremont Older, Rudolph Spreckels, and others.
When their efforts began to implicate members of the university's Board of Regents, Boke's career at the university was cut off. He pursued his goals for political reform independently and published a weekly in San Francisco called the "Liberator."
But, as Lincoln Steffens related in a posthumous tribute, "It was a long, dull deadening struggle and Boke, with all hope of promotion and appreciation cut off, stuck till something broke in the heart or the soul or — maybe it was only in the nerves of George Boke — and he was [physically] paralyzed [for life]."
Before this tragedy occurred, but after Boke left the university, financial strains forced the family to give up their Maybeck-designed house on the hill behind the university. Whether or not the popular chalet image had been their choice, it would have been considered right for the steep slope that continued to a high ridge well above the house; their street was named Panoramic Way.
Once again, Maybeck used the general form of the chalet as an antidote to the castle-like forms of the Queen Anne houses that were being built by the block in San Francisco.
Sally B. Woodbridge is an architectural critic and historian who lives in Berkeley, California.
This article is excerpted from "Bernard Maybeck: Visionary Architect," copyright © 1992, and is available from Abbeville Press and Amazon.com.