William Wurster - Houses
by Donlyn Lyndon
Thinking back, an image that most endures in my mind is the white tower and compound of William Wurster's Gregory House (1929) in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Gregory Farmhouse, as it's usually referenced, is a misnomer: it is a country retreat designed and built between 1927 and 1929, a place of the soul, no doubt, for a very sophisticated San Francisco family.
The tower, slim and upright like a beacon, suggests a reincarnation of the water towers still occasionally visible on Northern California farms. The tower anchors one corner of a beautifully simple, embracing composition, with two wings perpendicular to each other bracketing the opposite side of a tree-filled court. These wings are joined by a porch tucked under their eaves.
The structures are beguilingly direct — yes, farmhouse direct — and narrow. They are mostly one room wide, the roofs low and unprepossessing, the interiors made with very wide whitewashed boards. Paned windows pace steadily across their sides and doors align strategically.
Photographs of the house made a singularly enchanting impression of the site, which I now realize was steeped in the most effective ways of forming memorable places: claiming place with a marker set upon the land, surrounding and giving shape to a calibrated set of rooms, both indoors and out, and investing them with thought and traces of a consistent sensibility applied to the ways in which things are made.
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This article is excerpted from The Houses of William Wurster: Frames for Living by Caitlin Lempres Brostrom and Richard C. Peters, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press.
William Wurster's design for the Butler House (1934) in Santa Cruz, California, used four square pavilions to anchor the corners of a courtyard. Along two sides, covered passageways linked the pavilions, while a service wing formed a third.
Photo: Roger Sturtevant
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Seen here in 2006, the Butler House has been extensively modified, with its original pavilions and south-facing living porch merged to form a single enclosed volume. Image does not appear in book.
Photo: Kevin Matthews/ Artifice Images
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