Top of Marin Stewardship
with a concern for open space...
Top of Marin Stewardship
with a concern for open space...
When did it start?
The three buildings at the seminary were built in 1930-1931 (The Dobbins Estate), 1930-1931 (The John Henry Nash Estate) and 1965 (The Chapel)
The Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary at the top of Marin Avenue is a unique campus with a rich history. The fact of a Seminary campus is significant. Other localities are not as conducive to such institutions as Berkeley, but here, campuses are character-defining elements of our city. Within the campus, three principal structures are of special significance. These are Founders Hall (the“Nash House,”) built in 1930-1931, Sawyer Hall ( the “Dobbins House,”) built in 1930-1931, and the “Chapel of the Cross,” built in 1965.
The John Henry Nash house is a prime example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style. It shows exceptional craftmaship and detailing, with fine materials and finishes inside. The designer, Mark Daniels (1881-1952) was an important Berkeley architect who laid out the Thousand Oaks tract for
J. H. Spring, and who championed the incorporation of scenic beauty and inspiring views in the built environment. The original owner, John Henry Nash (1871-1947), was a well-known and highly respected printer of fine books. The house is built with classic symmetry, complemented by the symmetry of the formal front garden and the heavy, wooden, hand-carved front doors. The significant period landscaping is intact; it is rare to have designed landscape context survive with the architecture.
The Dobbins Estate, built for prominent Berkeley Presbyterians Roberta Lloyd and Hugh T. Dobbins, has aspects of the Mediterranean villa-style combined with features from a cloister or abbey. The cloister model is an unusual and satisfying architectural form, incorporating abbey-like courtyards and a bell tower in this case. The building’s hand-carved redwood capitals are exceptional. The Dobbins House is one of Berkeley’s most elaborate mansions, conceived on a truly grand scale, impressing the viewer with its opulence and elegance. The architect, James H. Mitchell (1889-1964), graduated with a B.S. from UC Berkeley in 1911, and trained as a draftsman with John Galen Howard from 1912-1915. The grounds of the Dobbins Estate were designed by the internationally famed landscape architect, Thomas D. Church (1902-1978), and his colored original drawings are still extant (see figures 5 and 6). Church was a major practitioner of the Second Bay Tradition (along with William Wurster, Joseph Esherick and others). Church integrated indoor and outdoor living, and this is evident in the flow of indoor and outdoor spaces in the Dobbins estate.
The Chapel of the Cross was designed in the style of Le Corbusier’s church (1954) at Ronchamps, France by architect James M. Leefe. It is a rare example of such an homage to Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame de Haut. It attracts architectural enthusiasts, and is instructive in how an internationally recognised icon can be reinterpreted in a local context. An emphatic termination of the progression up Marin Avenue, it lends an uplifting, spiritual quality befitting the hilltop. This is after all one of the highest points in a Berkeley neighborhood, and the Chapel is an expressive marker.
The entire campus is significant as the home of the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary from 1952 to the present. It is the only Lutheran Seminary west of the Mississippi, and has trained hundreds of Lutheran ministers. The Seminary will leave its campus in the spring of this year; the campus will be sold. It is incumbent upon Berkeley’s citizens to preserve these historic buildings and grounds, their magnificent views and open landscapes, as a resource for all.
Recorder: Mardi Sicular-Mertens for Top of Marin Stewardship
Note: Insert figures 4,5,6 here
The Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary is situated at the crest of the Berkeley Hills, Before California statehood was granted in 1848, the boundaries of three great ranchos, Rancho San Antonio, Rancho San Pablo, and Rancho El Sobrante met near this site.
With the advent of statehood, and the establishment of county lines, the twelve acres became part of an unincorporated area of Contra Costa County. A subdivision map of the area, signed Harold Havens and Co Inc. Subdividers, is dated January 12, 1927. The area is therein named North Cragmont and Berkeley Woods,, although this area was not yet part of the city of Berkeley. In early 1959, Berkeley Woods was annexed to the city of Berkeley, by a vote of the Berkeley Woods residents, adding 75 acres and 102 homes to the city. This Berkeley expansion necessitated moving the county line, to make Berkeley Woods and the PLTS campus part of Alameda County
The Nash House.
John Henry Nash purchased his property, 2770 Marin Avenue in Berkeley Woods, after the 1927 subdivision. He hired the prominent Berkeley architect Mark Daniels to design a grand Spanish Colonial Revival mansion as a showcase for his collection of rare books. In 1944, his collection was donated to the University of California. The University Librarian stated, “The collection of books was hailed by university Librarian Harold L. Leupp as the best in 500 years of typography and binding. There are 2,417 rare books, numerous examples of Nash’s own printing, furniture, medals, and paintings included in the collection.” Nash was a printer and collector of fine books, and the house was designed with twelve rooms, including a large library with antique English mantelpiece and four stained glass windows depicting the invention of moveable type, imported from Berlin. To supply the extensive woodworking, three different wood carving firms were employed. Throughout the house, materials of the finest workmanship were used, many imported from Europe, and many purchased from William Randolph Hearst, one of Nash’s patrons.
John Henry Nash (1871-1947) was one of the founders of the Californian tradition of fine press printing. Here are some reminisces on Nash by Ward Ritchie, from My Life in Printing, an interview for the Library at UCLA, 1969.
In 1929, “ the two best printers on the Pacific Coast were in San Francisco- John Henry Nash and the Grabhorn Brothers.” In early 1930, “ I next went to see
John Henry Nash. John Henry Nash was the father of fine printing in San Francisco. He made fine printing popular. He was a rather pompous man who enjoyed knowing the wealthy people of San Francisco. He had not only made fine printing well-known, but he had been able to sell it to the Hearsts, the Clarks, and other well-to do and prominent people. He appeared to be quite well-off. He arrived in his great Cadillac each morning which was chauffeur driven. He had built a fine and beautiful house. He had a magnificent library of examples of the work of all the great printers from early times.”
(Ritchie was a master printer who considered Nash a mentor, and the long-time companion of Gloria Stuart, the actress who played the much older Rose DeWitt in the movie Titanic. According to Peter E. Hanff, deputy director of the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library, he took the two, at their request, to visit the Nash house in the early 1990’’s. “They posed in front of the house just to the southeast of it so that I could capture the roof line behind them.”
Nash was born in Woodbridge, Ontario Canada. At sixteen, he became an apprentice in the shop of James Murray, one of the leading printers in Toronto. He came to San Francisco in 1895, where he found employment as a printer. After several years, he established his own companies, and until 1937,” he produced books, pamphlets, broadsides and job printing which embodied the technical perfection he demanded.” (From the guide to the John Henry Nash Collection, UC Berkeley Bancroft Library)
We know that the Nash house was completed before March 12, 1931, as the Archbishop Hanna of San Francisco blessed the Cornerstone of The Nash Place on that date, at 12:30 PM. See the program from the benediction and the article from the Oakland Tribune. The cornerstone, still found near the home’s front door, is in Latin, and roughly translates: “This house designed by the architect Mark Daniels is built by me, John Henry Nash, master of arts, doctor of literature in the year of our Lord MCXXX. (A mistake; it should read MCMXXX., 1930)
A victim of the economic devastation of the great depression, Nash was forced to sell the house several years later., between 1936 and 1940. See the sale brochure from the Mason-McDuffie Company, printed by Nash himself. The house was bought by Herbert Watson Clark, a highly-accomplished San Francisco attorney who was later chairman of the State Bar of California. Clark and Nash were co- members of the Bohemian club. Clark sold the house to the Lutheran Seminary in 1950.
John Henry Nash and Mark Daniels (1881-1952) were friends and also co- members of the Bohemian Club. Nash hired Mark Daniels as the architect for his grand mansion. Daniels contributed to a booklet called Hillside Homes and Gardens, in which he praised the virtues of living on the crest of a hill, such as the one on which 2770 Marin is built. “If we wish to develop within ourselves the
capacity for inspiration, ambition and a sense of the bigness of things, there is no better way than to seek an environment of inspiring view, where may be seen a portion of the world of sufficient magnitude to give us better perspective and a better sense of the relative importance of things.”
Mark Daniels was born in Spring Arbor, Michigan, He graduated from UC Berkeley in 1905 with a B.S. degree in civil engineering. He started his career as a civil engineer, became a planner and landscape architect, and later came to be an architect.
In 1909, Daniels was hired by John Hopkins Spring, the developer of the Thousand Oaks subdivision, to lay out the roads and lots of what would become Berkeley’s Thousand Oaks neighborhood. Daniels was responsible for contouring the streets to follow the natural terrain. He had a house built for himself and his wife at 1864 Yosemite Road, Berkeley, near the Great Stone Face. Daniels distinguished himself as the landscape engineer for Yosemite National Park (1914), laying out Sea Cliff and Crocker-Amazon in San Francisco, and in the development of the 17-Mile Drive and Pebble Beach in Monterey County. He was one of the chief architects of the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-1940., and a key designer in the development of Bel-Air and Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Mark Daniels designed a home for John Henry Nash whose exterior surfaces are relatively plain but imposing, and whose interior is full of art, including a frescoed ceiling, ornate carving, hand-painted tile, and stained glass.
The Dobbins House
The Presbyterian Minister Hugh Trowbridge Dobbins (1866-1943) and his wife Roberta Lloyd Dobbins (1871-1959), purchased this property in the late 1920’s. I was fortunate to speak with their grandniece, Judith Laws, on January 29, 2017. Judith was born in Berkeley in 1940, and spent many happy hours and days with her great aunt at the Dobbins House. The house was often filled with children, family, musicians , and actors.
She stated that the Dobbins started to build the house before the depression, and were able to finish it by early 1931. A note from Reverend Dobbins in the Princeton Alumni Weekly of July 2, 1931 stating that they have recently completed their home , corroborates this date. Roberta (called Aunt Robin by her grandniece) came from a pioneering family. Her father, Lewis Marshall Lloyd, from Virginia, discovered oil on his land near Ventura, California: when out riding, a cigar he was lighting blew up: there was methane coming from the ground, oil was discoverd, and the family became very wealthy. The oil wells
are still producing: Judith is one of 200 family members sharing the profits to this day.
With their family money, the Dobbins took many trips to Europe, where Judith says they fell in love with the Italian Villa style. They wanted an Italian Villa, and with the family resources, were able to create one of Berkeley’s great houses. Judith said,”The depression came, but it didn’t affect them: oil money is oil money .”
Judith speaking: “ The house was furnished with 16th century Italian furniture, antique rugs from Armenian dealers, and beautiful original art. The family was deeply musical, and the house was built to host musical and theatrical events. Aunt Robin played the piano for us children. She was a graduate of UC Berkeley, and Uncle Hugh had graduated from Princeton, as had his father, Hugh Hillis Dobbins. Dobbins the father was a pioneering Presbyterian missionary, a prominent member of the 19th century Presbyterian community of Berkeley, pastor of the West Berkeley Presbyterian Church.” Dobbins the son held many positions of leadership in the Presbyterian Synod and Theological Seminary. Hugh T. Dobbins died unexpectedly after a 2 week illness in 1943.
One of Judith’s favorite memories is playing in the bell tower or belvedere, a striking feature of the home’s architecture. She loved to turn around and around, enjoying the 360 degree view.
The Dobbins hired the architect James H. Mitchell to design their dwelling, and the landscape architect Thomas D. Church to design the gardens.
With the family in residence, it was a showcase estate. According to Charles Hinger,”There were formal gardens, a large garden lawn with lawn borders and outdoor stage, an arbor walkway and greenhouse; rose terraces overlooking the bay, a birch terrace and a “woodland walk”– an area carefully maintained to look like a pleasant walk in the forest.”
James H. Mitchell (1889-1964) , architect, was also a Presbyterian, and this may have been the connection between the Dobbins and Mr. Mitchell. He was born in 1889 in St, Helena California, and educated at UC Berkeley, where he received his Bachelor of Science in 1911. He then trained as a draftsman under the important Berkeley architect John Galen Howard. From 1925 he was in independent practice of architecture in San Francisco.
Thomas D. Church (1902-1978) , landscape architect was in his late 20’s when the Dobbins hired him to design their estate grounds. He was born in Boston and spent his childhood in California. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree
in Landscape Architecture from UC Berkeley in 1922. He studied design at Harvard, where he received his Master’s degree in 1926. He then traveled through Europe, and was fascinated by gardens of the Italian, Iberian and Moorish Renaissance, whose plants were adapted to the Mediterranean Climate and would thrive in California’s similar climate.
Thomas Church is considered the founder of the Modern California Landscape school, a true pioneer of 20th century landscape architecture. His four principles of design include unity, function, simplicity and scale. His work was informed by and complemented the work of such modernist architects as William Wurster and Joseph Escherick. He built gardens to live in. One of his innovations is the “outdoor room”, areas in the garden which invite a flow between interior and exterior dwelling spaces. He was a key designer in the landscapes of Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and UC Santa Cruz and designed Park Merced in San Francisco. His most famous garden is the Donnell Garden in Sonoma, California.
The Dobbins family enjoyed their home until 1950, when their estate, along with the adjoining Clark estate, was sold to the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary .
The Seminary Years and the Chapel of the Cross
The Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary ‘s mission is to train Lutheran clergy and lay leaders. The Seminary is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. It was established in Portland, Oregon in 1910. The Seminary then moved to Seattle, and closed in 1934. The funds for that Seminary were put in trust, and were used to purchase the current campus grounds in 1950. According to Anthony Bruce, the founders of the Seminary looked at several sites in the East Bay, including the Spring Mansion property on San Antonio in Berkeley before choosing and purchasing the contiguous Clark (formerly Nash) and Dobbins estates in 1950. The first theological classes were held here in 1952.
Berkeley was chosen as the site for the Seminary because of its central location on the West coast, because it is a major educational center, and because it was already home to several other seminaries. The Lutheran community hoped to establish cooperation between the religious educational schools of Berkeley. In 1962 PLTS helped found the Graduate Theological Union, which now boasts nine theological seminaries and eleven academic centers; it is the largest theological community in the United States.
The Seminary adapted the existing buildings, the Nash House and the Dobbins House, to serve the needs of an educational and religious institution. The Nash
House was renamed Founders Hall. The north wing of Founders Hall became the President’s residence: The home’s original living room, 24’ x 36’, was renamed the Great Hall, and used for faculty meetings, staff meetings, special gatherings of the Seminary, and sometimes small group discussions. Other rooms are used for reception, and faculty offices.
Phyllis Anderson served as president of PLTS from 2005-2013 ; the first woman to serve as president of a Lutheran seminary in the United States. While she was in residence in the President’s wing of Founders Hall, she hosted an annual Christmas party in the Great Hall for all of the neighbors, complete with refreshments, music , and a visit from Santa. As one of the neighbors enjoying her hospitality, we were very impressed by the generosity and warmth of the Lutheran community.
The Dobbins house was renamed Sawyer Hall, after the Rev. Dr. John Lester Sawyer, the first president of the PLTS Board of Directors. The Hall has been used historically as classrooms, offices, a student lounge, and to house the campus hospitality directors. The building also housed the Seminary’s Center for Multi-Cultural Ministry.
The growing Seminary added three major buildings to the campus. The first, Beasom Hall, was named for the Reverend Dr. James Prince Beasom, a primary mover in establishing PLTS. It was built in the mid-1950’s, and designed by architect Okie Johnson.
Giesy Hall, added to the campus in 1959, was designed by the architect Robert Ratcliffe, 40 year leader of the distinguished three-generational firm Ratcliff Architects. A 1937 graduate of UC Berkeley’s Architecture School, he was educated in classic techniques, but was inspired by Mies, Gropius and Le Corbusier to adopt the new Bauhaus style of architecture. His design emphasized a Modernist aesthetic, looking at form and light in new ways. Robert Ratcliff’’s accomplishments include the design of the charming Berkeley Art Center at Live Oak Park, several Berkeley Public Schools, buildings on many UC campuses, the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School, and numerous commercial buildings and residences throughout the Bay Area.
The Chapel of the Cross was built for Lutheran worship and classroom space in 1965. It is the last building added to the campus. It was designed by San Francisco architect James Morrision Leefe (1921-2004) of the San Francisco firm Leefe and Ehrenkrantz. Leefe was born in New York City, and received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Columbia University in 1950.
The chapel is an homage to Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp
France, built in 1955. Le Corbusier designed curving and sinous walls, and gave his church the shape of a ship, with a prow, and hollow, swooping concrete roof. Leefe has utilized these same features, reinterpreting what had become an international icon just 10 years earlier, in a local context.