"Truthful to the many styles and variation of styles as reflects the people of California."
by Richard Brandi, Copyright 2007
The career of San Francisco architect Henry Gutterson spans the first half of the 20th Century. Beginning in 1905, when he graduated from the School of Architecture at the University of California Berkeley to his death in 1954, Gutterson's 50-year career most closely relates to the Beaux-Arts, Bay Area Arts and Crafts, and Academic Eclecticism periods. He attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts but was also influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and he became one of the acknowledged practitioners of the early Bay Area Style. What set Gutterson and other young architects in the Bay Area style apart from others in the U.S. was, "the peculiar way of using historical forms and details, the complexity of forms and spaces, miniaturization, and fully exploiting the site as a major ingredient in creating romantic aura."1
Although he is not widely known and has not been the subject of a biography, Gutterson's impact comes from the influence he had on architects during his period of greatest productivity in the 1920s and from the many examples of his work in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley.
Born in Minnesota in 1884, Gutterson attended U.C. Berkeley where he received his instruction in architecture from John Galen Howard.2 Howard (1864-1931) was a leader of the Beaux-Arts movement in the U.S. He worked for McKim, Mead & White, attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and created the architecture program at U.C. in 1903.3
As a pupil and admirer of Howard, Gutterson was soon steeped in the Beaux-Arts tradition. While still in architecture school or shortly thereafter, he assisted with the drawings of the Burnham Plan for San Francisco.4 After this introduction with the City Beautiful movement, he followed the example of his mentor and studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris during 1906-1909, working in the same atelier as Howard did years before. Gutterson left before graduating due to financial difficulties and worked briefly for Grosvernor Atterbury in New York City on his way back to Berkeley.5
At Berkeley he taught at University of California for a year (1911) and also got married to Helen Arnett. The childless couple remained together until Helen's death in 1953. Gutterson lost no time starting his career. He promptly joined John Galen Howard on the design staff for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and also designed a home for his new bride in 1912.6 A year later he was busy designing homes in Berkeley and in a new subdivision being developed in San Francisco, St. Francis Wood.
His own home in Berkeley demonstrates many of the traits he would use throughout his career. Gutterson took advantage of the steeply sloped site to highlight complicated roof forms including a large, asymmetrical clipped gable end on the north elevation. His other traits include casement windows, a combination of wood and stucco siding, and treating the garden as an extension of the living room.7
Gutterson also displayed other characteristics common to the Bay Area Tradition: small scale homes; woodsy; sheathed in redwood inside and out; vernacular and anti-urban; related to their place in the landscape; and filled with visual and ideological contradictions. This places him in the first phase of the Bay Area Region style of the Craftsman period along with Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, Louis Mullgardt, and John Hudson Thomas.8
One of his earliest commissions (1915), the Dutton house in Berkeley, is considered to be his masterpiece for its overall design, incorporation of the garden, and they way he satisfied his clients' programmatic needs. The design shows a mixture of Arts and Crafts and period revival styles but it defies easy characterization. Built on a steep slope with views of San Francisco, the Dutton house is T-shaped with four levels. The one and one-half story living room opens to a south-facing courtyard. All the rooms except the kitchen face west to take advantage of the views. Gutterson used board and batten siding, board eves, balconies, and small-paned casement windows that resemble a Swiss Chalet, in keeping with the Bay Area Tradition. But he also used arched French doors off the living room, stucco siding, a tile roof, and massive chimney that are associated with the popular Mediterranean style.9
The Dutton house demonstrates Gutterson's willingness to design for the programmatic needs of his clients. In this case, the client wanted a performance stage. Gutterson designed the living room so it could double as a theater by providing staircases at either ends of a raised section that is used as the stage. The stairs at either end provide the stage exits. Gutterson's penchant for incorporating the garden into his homes is seen in the provision for the living room to open to the garden through the three sets of doors.10 His ability to seamlessly incorporate gardens into his designs was mentioned by AIA judges in an award he received in 1927.11
But it was a commission for another Berkeley house that was to have far-reaching consequences for Gutterson. His design for Sophie McDuffie put him in close contact with her brother, the developer Duncan McDuffie.12 McDuffie was just beginning to develop his St. Francis Wood tract in San Francisco. This was a "garden city"-inspired suburb started in 1912. For Gutterson, it was the beginning of a 40-year association with St. Francis Wood as its supervising architect.
McDuffie had already hired Gutterson's mentor, John Galen Howard, in 1912 to supervise the architecture for the suburb which was modeled after Forest Hills, New York.13 Galen and Gutterson worked together on the fountains and public architecture of the tract, which was laid out by the Olmsted Brothers using a terrain-following, curvilinear design. After a couple of years, Howard turned over the supervision duties to Gutterson in 1914.
It is a remarkable coincidence that Gutterson started his career supervising a tract that was modeled after Forest Hills since he had worked for Atterbury in 1910 when Atterbury was designing the buildings for Forest Hills, New York. With his Beaux Arts training, close relationship with Howard, and first-hand experience with both the Burnham Plan and Forest Hills, Gutterson was extremely well-qualified to supervise the building of a garden suburb.
This assignment must have been a tremendous vote of confidence in the young, 30-year old architect. St. Francis Wood was seen then, and now, as a prestigious development. McDuffie self-consciously strived to produce an extraordinary place. It was a large tract for the Bay Area, containing 175 acres with 633 parcels on lots 50 feet wide by 100 feet deep, twice the average for San Francisco. There were no model homes and lot buyers were free to choose any architect they wished but they were encouraged to build in the Italian Renaissance style.14
This was not only popular at the time, but was also chosen for its affinity with the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi, whose name was taken for the town of San Francisco as well as the tract. Promotional materials implied that the climate in St. Francis Wood would be similar to that found in the Mediterranean. No mention was made of the often oppressive summer fogs. This climate may have induced Gutterson to curtail his predilection for making the garden an extension of the home, as he had done so often in Berkeley where the climate is sunny and warmer. The first St. Francis Wood homes, built in the late 1910s, reflect Mediterranean design while later homes embrace a variety of styles.
As supervising architect for St. Francis Wood, plans for homes had to be submitted to him for "criticism and advice," including the proposed color scheme, design of radio aerials, setbacks, and fence heights, with the goal of maintaining the high character of the tract. Homes built without his approval could be removed at the expense of the owner.15 Gutterson's contract was renewed yearly by the association so it is clear that they approved of his performance. The extent to which Gutterson influenced the designs of other architects is not known. Did he second guess them to reflect his own artistic preferences? Or did he strictly limit himself to planning issues?
Further research is needed to answer these questions but the tract does mirror most of the national housing styles of the 1920s. The tract is a loose assemblage of early 20th century revival styles of Italian Renaissance, French Renaissance, Colonial, Tudor, Spanish-Moorish, and Roman-Beaux Arts constructed from 1912 to about the mid-1920s. During the twenties, the English cottage styles were also built, along with Mediterranean revival styles through the 1930s, at which point the tract was nearly complete. Almost no Craftsman, Prairie or pre-WWII modern homes were built. This is not surprising since the Craftsman style rapidly passed out of favor after Word War I. The Prairie style did not enjoy a large West Coast presence and modern architecture was distinctly unpopular in residential construction until after World War II. St. Francis Wood was largely finished before WWII although a few in-fill homes built after World War II are of the postwar modern design.
It is not known whether Gutterson personally approved of the collection of house designs. If he had complete artistic control, would we see more homogeneity, complicated roof lines, or more Arts and Craft nuances? The answer is probably no for two reasons. He is credited with designing at least 83 of the homes and their design spans everything from Italian villa to English medieval manor, English thatched cottage, French Norman and even a house made of stone.16 All were designed within five years of one another. So he was quite capable and willing to design in a range of styles. He is quoted as saying that "California is a melting pot socially and the architecture should express that fact...to be truthful to the many styles and variation of styles as reflects the people."17
The second reason why Gutterson saw no need for homogeneity or to impose his will on others is two pronged. He was known for being sensitive to the desires of his clients (as in the Dutton house previously mentioned) and he wanted to encourage home ownership. He probably felt that he could live with a variety of designs as long as they met the needs of the clients, and to do otherwise and insist by dictating certain styles might compromise the willingness of people to build homes.
In the only article he authored in Architect and Engineer, written in 1919 at the height of the Red Scare, Gutterson extols the virtues of home ownership as a bulwark against Bolshevism. In the article, he urges people not to delay their home construction plans by waiting for material prices to fall, since labor was the major cost component. He sums up his argument by saying:
Good construction has always proven to be a worthwhile investment. When that investment involves the center of our affections it should allow for progress. Our house should be a substantial, adequate, artistic background for the expression of our development. How could it be better set than in a garden with free space and sunshine on all sides - a garden home. Build now!18
Gutterson was also active in city planning activities. While designing homes in St. Francis Wood and Berkeley, he also worked in the Oakland city architect's office before opening his own private practice in 1916. He remained active in civic planning, was a member of the Berkeley Planning Commission, and was co-founder and president of the Berkeley Planning and Housing Association.19
The 1920s was the period of greatest activity for Gutterson. He taught briefly at UC Berkeley from 1920 to 1921, was the supervising architect of St. Francis Wood, and took on independent commissions in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland. In Berkeley, he worked with Bernard Maybeck, helped to complete Maybeck's designs, and built additions such as the Rose Garden and Sunday School addition (1927) to the First Church of Christ, Scientist (Maybeck, 1910).20
Also during the 1920s, Gutterson found time to design a 5,559 square foot mansion in Carmel for Paul Flanders, called the "Outlands" in 1925 (which is on the National Register of Historic Places), and he supervised Flanders' subdivision in Carmel, called Hatton Field.21 In 1928, he also designed the Ardenwood Christian Science retirement home, near St. Francis Wood, in a French chateau style.
It the midst of this furry of activity, Gutterson's career was nearly cut short by an attempt on his life. He was shot in the shoulder and seriously wounded by a client in November 24, 1925 at his office at 526 Powell Street. Gutterson's draftsman, Angelo Hewetson, was killed before the client, John Hitchcock, killed himself. A newspaper account says the client was "laboring under the insane delusion that he was being cheated in the reconstruction of an apartment house."22 No other details of this event are available and it's not known what effect the shooting may have had on Gutterson's career.
He evidentially recovered from his wounds for he continued to design homes and became more active in professional associations in the late 1920s and 1930s. From 1927 to 1930, he served as president of the Sierra Nevada chapter of the A.I.A., was appointed to the state Board of Architecture (1929-1934), and served on the Berkeley City Planning Commission (1934-1936).23 Whether his growing involvement in planning and professional activities was related to the shooting or to his desire to devote more time to city planning is not clear. He continued his architectural practice through the 1930s but apparently had fewer commissions. As the Depression had taken a severe toll on construction activities, this decline may be related more to economic conditions than to the shooting or any change in focus on planning issues.
He continued to design in the 1930s and early 1940s with a notable assignment to take over Maybeck's work on the Principia College in Illinois.24 He died of cancer in 1954 after suffering with the disease for some time.
Gutterson's impact on Bay Area architecture is still to be determined. It is believed he had a noticeable effect on local architects as his work was regularly featured in Architect and Engineer magazine in the mid-1910s through the 1920s.25 He received an AIA award in 1927 and was active in professional architect and planning bodies. Someone who knew his work says that "everybody copied Gutterson."26
Nevertheless, Gutterson is not well known. This obscurity may be due to two factors. Lewis Mumford writing in 1949 said the "existing histories of American architecture pay no attention to" the Bay Area tradition.27 Second, Gutterson was a practicing Christian Scientist. His undeniable ambition did not extend itself to self-promotion perhaps due to religious scruples, although he was happy to earn the respect of his profession. Another clue may lie in his passion for sailing.28 While a challenging endeavor on San Francisco Bay with its changeable winds, fast-moving eddies and strong tides, it is also a contemplative, individual sport.
1.Woodbridge, Sally, 1988, Bay Area Houses, Gibbs Smith, Layton, Utah., page 16.
2. San Francisco Bay Area Arts and Crafts Movement, www.geocities.com/SiliconValey/Orchad?8642/Gutterson.
3. Winter, Robert, 1997, Towards a Simpler Way of Life, University of California Press, page 31-30 by Joan Draper.
4. Burnham, Daniel, Report on a Plan for San Francisco, 1906, reprint by Urban Books, 197, page 211.
5. Winter, Robert, 1997, Towards a Simpler Way of Life, University of California Press, page 73 by Susan Cerny.
6. Winter, Robert, 1997, Towards a Simpler Way of Life, University of California Press, page 73 by Susan Cerny, page 78.
7. Winter, Robert, 1997, Towards a Simpler Way of Life, University of California Press, page 73 by Susan Cerny, page 78.
8. Woodbridge, Sally, 1988, Bay Area Houses, Gibbs Smith, Layton, Utah., page 10.
9. Winter, Robert, 1997, Towards a Simpler Way of Life, University of California Press, page 73 by Susan Cerny, page 76-77.
10. Winter, Robert, 1997, Towards a Simpler Way of Life, University of California Press, page 73 by Susan Cerny, page 76-77.
11. Architect and Engineer, June 1927, Honor Awards of Northern California Chapter AIA, page 39, "we wish to commend the garden treatment about these buildings, which was so successful in keeping with the architecture."
12. Winter, Robert, 1997, Towards a Simpler Way of Life, University of California Press, page 73 by Susan Cerny, page 76-77.
13. Homes and Grounds, April 1916, page 97.
14. Homes and Grounds, April 1916, pages 97-99.
15. "Procedure of The Approval of Plans," St. Francis Home Association, undated.
16. From unpublished list provided by St Francis Homeowners Association, 2005.
17. Quoted in Winter, Robert, 1997, Towards a Simpler Way of Life, University of California Press, page 73 by Susan Cerny, page 81.
18. Architect & Engineer, June 1919, page 50.
19. San Francisco Chronicle, August 24, 1954, page 23/3.
20. Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association website, http://www.berkeleyheritage.com/berkeley_landmarks/landmarks.html
21. National Trust for Historic Preservation, Western Preservation News, July/August 2004, page 2.
22. San Francisco Chronicle, November 25, 1925, page 4/1.
23. San Francisco Chronicle, August 24, 1954, page 23/3
24. "Maybeck and Principia", web site www.prin.edu/maybeck/hd, "In 1940 when Maybeck retired from the supervision of the Principia College project, he turned over much of the later work to a Berkeley architect he knew and trusted, Henry Gutterson...Gutterson reworked Maybeck's design for Sylvester House, and also designed a number of the smaller buildings...his work was not as bold as that of Maybeck but he maintained the scale and English atmosphere of the older buildings."
25. For example in the June 1919, April 1920, May 1925, June 1927 of Architect & Engineer, and the August 1922 issue of The Building Review.
26. Conversation with Susan Cerny November 3, 2005.
27. Freeman, Richard, et. al., 1949, Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region, San Francisco Museum of Art, no page number.
28. Conversation with Susan Cerny November 3, 2005
Alexander, James Beach, 2002, San Francisco, Building the Dream City, Scottwall Associates, San Francisco.
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Wilson, Mark, "Mason-McDuffie and the Creation of St Francis Wood," The Argonaut, San Francisco Historical Society, Fall l997
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Architect and Engineer, June 1919 and December 1926.
"Duncan McDuffie: Visionary Developer Who Created Elegant Urban Residential Parks," San Francisco Chronicle, February 7, 2004.
Homes and Grounds, April 1916.
San Francisco Chronicle, various dates.
www.SFGov.org, Assessor/Recorder's Office, City and County of San Francisco
McDuffie, Duncan, speech given to the St. Francis Homeowners Association on December 11, 1932
Rough draft of speech with background details written by Elmer Rowell, former head salesman of St. Francis Wood Development, given to McDuffie for the speech, 1932.
"The Story Behind St. Francis Wood," printed by the Board of Directors of St. Francis Wood 1937.
Conversation with Susan Cerny, November 3, 2005.
"Procedure of The Approval of Plans," St. Francis Home Association, undated.
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