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Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 

University History Series 

Interviews with: 

Igor Blake 

George and Helena Thacher 
Elliot and Elizabeth Evans 

Louis Stein 
Clark and Kay Kerr 

Janice Kittredge 

Norma Wilier, Anthony Hail, and Ron and Myra Brocchini 

Charles Hitch 
Toichi Domoto 
Walter Vodden 
Mai Arbegast 
Geraldine Knight Scott 
Florence Holmes 
Linda Haymaker 

With an Introduction by Libby Gardner 
Interviews Conducted by Suzanne B. Riess in 1986-1987 

Underwritten by the President '-s Office, University of California 
Copyright (7) 1988 by the Regents of the University of California 

Since 1954 the Regional Oral History Office has been interviewing 
leading participants in or well-placed witnesses to major events in the 
development of Northern California, the West, and the Nation. Oral 
history is a modern research technique involving an interviewee and an 
informed interviewer in spontaneous conversation. The taped record is 
transcribed, lightly edited for continuity and clarity, and reviewed by 
the interviewee. The resulting manuscript is typed in final form, 
indexed, bound with photographs and illustrative materials, and placed 
in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley and 
other research collections -for scholarly use. Because it is primary 
material, oral history is not intended to present the final, verified, 
or complete narrative of events. It is a spoken account, offered by 
the interviewee in response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, 
partisan, deeply involved, and irreplaceable. 


This manuscript is made available for research 
purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, 
including the right to publish, are reserved to The 
Bancroft Library of the University of California, 
Berkeley. No part of the manuscript may be quoted 
for publication without the written permission of 
the Director of The Bancroft Library of the University 
of California at Berkeley. 

Requests for permission to quote for publication 
should be addressed to the Regional Oral History 
Office, 486 Library, and should include identification 
of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use 
of the passages, and identification of the user. 

It is recommended that this oral history be cited 
as follows: 

To cite the volume: Blake Estate Oral History 
Project, an oral history conducted in 1986-1987, 
Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft 
Library, University of California, Berkeley, 

To cite an individual interview: Igor Blake, 
"A Nephew's Recollections, 1945-1962," an 
oral history conducted in 1986 by Suzanne 
Riess, in Blake Estate Oral History Project, 
Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft 
Library, University of California, Berkeley, 


Copy N'c. 



Photographs by G. Paul Bishop 

TABLE OF CONTENTS Blake Estate Oral History Project 

INTRODUCTION, bv Libbv Gardner 
INTERVIEW HISTORY, by Suzanne Riess 












A Nephew's Recollections, 1945-1962 

The Blake and Thacher Families and History 

Friends of the Blakes 

The Blakes and the Kensington Community 

The Blakes' s Gift to the University, 

Making Blake House into a Graduate 
Women's Residence, 1963-1965 

Remodelling and Decorating Blake House, 

The President's Residence, 1968-1975 

Mrs. Blake and Miss Symmes, Horticulturists 

Blake Garden, 1957-1986 

Mrs. Blake and the Garden in the 1950s 

Long-Range Plans for Blake Garden, 

The Flowers of the Garden 

The Historical Vitality of Blake Garden 














The story of Blake House begins with Anson and Anita Symmes Blake, who 
built a magnificent house overlooking the San Francisco Bay in 1922 and 
surrounded it with ten and one-half acres of matchless gardens. For some 
forty years the Blakes and Mrs. Blake's sister. Miss Mabel Symmes, lived in 
Blake House and devoted careful and loving attention to both house and 
garden. In 1962, the Blake Estate came to the University of California, an 
extraordinary gift that reflected the Blake family's longstanding devotion 
to the University. 

The idea of arranging for an oral history about the Blakes occurred to 
me in 1985 while I was redecorating a portion of the house. I became 
interested in learning more about Anson and Anita Blake and her sister Mabel 
Symmes their personalities, lifestyles and interests who designed and 
brought the house and garden into being and stamped their indelible and 
nurturing influence on this unique estate. Firsthand accounts were 
essential from those people who knew the Blakes personally and who were 
involved with the house and garden in significant ways. I also wanted to 
include interviews with those who were a part of the process which led to 
Blake House becoming the official residence of the President of the 
University of California. 

Thus, the voices in this oral history weave a fascinating tale of the 
people who lived in Blake House, cultivated its gardens, preserved its 
abundant beauty, and created its special charm. They give an equally 
fascinating account of local history and a wealth of information about Blake 
House its architecture, interior design, horticulture, and many other 
aspects as well over the course of its sixty-five-year history. Above all, 
the voices in this oral history tell the story of a family, a home, a 
garden, and a university, and how they all came together to create a place 
of rare loveliness and unusual interest. 

Blake House today blends the traditional formality of the past with an 
appropriate sense of the present in a unique and special way. The house is 
now used by the President and me to host members of the University's 
faculty, student body, staff, administration, and alumni from all nine 
campuses. It serves as a gracious and elegant home for welcoming v isitors 


from throughout the state and nation and from all over the world. Our 
guests come for luncheons, dinners, receptions, and meetings, enjoying its 
magnificent setting and spectacular view across the Bay to San Francisco and 
the Golden Gate. 

The marvelous experimental garden, cultivated by the UC Berkeley 
Department of Landscape Architecture, serves as an outdoor laboratory for 
landscape design classes and for plant identification. It is a unique 
"working garden" with a variety of environmental conditions for landscape 
architecture students. 

The story of Blake House is an important chapter in and contribution to 
the history of the University. You will find it presented vividly and 
interestingly on these pages. 

I wish to thank Willa Baum, Division Head of the Regional Oral History 
Office at The Bancroft Library on the Berkeley campus, who took an initial 
interest in this project. I am indebted especially to Suzanne Riess, Senior 
Editor of the Regional Oral History Office, who was enthusiastic about this 
undertaking, pursued many avenues of inquiry, conducted the interviews, and 
carried the project to conclusion. I wish to express my gratitude to all 
those who contributed their recollections to this oral history. To those 
who made this account possible, my thanks and appreciation for a wonderful 
story, wonderfully told. 

Libby Gardner 

Blake House 
November 1987 



Origins of the Blake Estate 

The origins of the Blake Estate and the history of Anson 
Stiles Blake and Anita Day Symmes Blake go back nearly one 
hundred years. Anson courted Anita and asked for her hand in 
marriage in 1890. Miss Symmes' father refused, saying to his 
daughter's suitor in a letter, December 1, 1890, "I ask you to 
trust your future to her continued interest in you and to the 
hands of Father Time who if sometimes slow is always sure." In 
1894 Anita Symmes graduated from the University of California, 
and she and Anson Blake married. They built a house in Berkeley 
where they lived until 1923. This house was on Piedmont Avenue, 
next door to Anson Blake's mother, Mrs. Charles Thompson Blake. 
The Piedmont Avenue property had come to Harriet Waters Stiles 
Blake from her father, Anson Gale Stiles, an original trustee of 
the College of California. 

In 1922 the University sent a message to the Blakes, Anson 
and his wife Anita, brother Edwin Tyler Blake and his wife 
Harriet Whitney Carson Blake, and to the widowed Mrs. Charles 
Thompson Blake informing them that the property on which their 
houses stood was being condemned in order to build the California 
Memorial Stadium in Strawberry Canyon. While this move on the 
part of the University was met with outrage by many of the 
faculty families who had built their homes in that sylvan area 
east of the growing campus, the Blakes had a ready alternative. 
The family owned sixty acres in Kensington, divided into four 
pieces, one for each of the Charles Thompson Blake children. 
Anson and Edwin and their wives chose to build on this location 
four miles north of Berkeley. The other children were Robert 
Pierpont Blake who lived in Massachusetts, and Eliza Seeley Blake 
Thacher who lived in Ojai, California. Their lots were sold. 
The senior Mrs. Blake moved into the house the Edwin Blakes 

"At that time the surrounding hills were covered with 
grasses and chaparral. The Blake property had fine outcroppings 
of Lawsonite rock, a generously rolling terrain, and a beautiful 
view of the bay below. The area seemed so remote from town... 
that the Blakes called their new home La Casa Adelante, Spanish 
for 'over there' or 'far away.'"* 

*Llnda Haymaker, "Blake House," Pacific Horticulture. Spring 


In December 1957, thirty-four years later, Mr. and Mrs. 
Anson S. Blake conveyed their estate to the University of 
California in a deed of gift that required the Regents to 
endeavor to "maintain the trust property in a manner 
substantially equivalent to the care and maintenance it has 
received heretofore to the end that it shall be an effective part 
of the instructional and research activities of the University." 
As for the house, the Regents were permitted "to use the same or 
any other structure which at their discretion they may erect in 
its place, for or in support of other University purposes, 
including but not limited to use as a residence or for 
conferences . " 

Now another thirty years has passed and Blake House, "a 
gracious and elegant home" as the lady of the house Mrs. David 
Gardner describes it, is welcoming students, faculty, staff, and 
administrators from the nine campuses of the University, as well 
as visitors from throughout the state, the nation, and the world. 

A History Proposed 

Beautifully hidden away by location and vegetation, Blake 
House still seems "far away." Even -today many in the University 
and Berkeley community have not heard of the Blakes or of the 
house and the garden. To bring together all the information 
possible about Anson and Anita Blake and to augment through 
interviews the scanty knowledge of the years of change, 
University of California President and Mrs. David Pierpont 
Gardner in June 1986 asked the Regional Oral History Office to 
develop an oral history record. Blake House, official residence 
of the presidents of the University since 1968, needed more than 
the brief historical summary printed on the welcoming brochure. 

A history of Blake House was perfectly suited to the oral 
history method. Leading actors or well-placed witnesses to the 
life and times of the house and the garden could be interviewed 
in a format similar to that developed for the history of the 
Julia Morgan-designed vice-president's house, 2821 Claremont 
Avenue in Berkeley. The Morgan House oral history had been 
completed in 1976. Now both of these significant University 
houses would be brought to life through oral memoirs. 

In July 1986 the oral history office outlined as prospective 
interview topics the Blake family, the University and the house 
and its remodelling, residents of the house since the Blakes, and 
the Blake Garden and its use and development by the Department of 
Landscape Architecture of the Berkeley campus. Interviewing 
began in the fall of 1986. The first interviews were undertaken 
to discover more about the Blakes themselves. 

The Anson Blakes 

Anson Blake was the grandson of Eli Whitney Blake of New 
Haven, Connecticut, and the son of Charles Thompson Blake and 
Harriet Waters Sti les--whose mother Ann Jane Waters Stiles had 
endowed Stiles Hall to house the University's YMCA. Anita Blake 
was the daughter of Frank J. Symmes, banker and president of 
Thomas Day & Co., a gas and electric company. These were 
prominent, well-to-do California families. The genealogy of the 
Blakes is appended. 

Anson Blake went into banking following his graduation from 
the University of California in 1891. After the San Francisco 
earthquake and fire in 1906, he and his younger brother Edwin 
took over the family sand and gravel business, variously named 
Oakland Paving Co., Blake & Bilger, and Blake Brothers Co. The 
business had been made possible two generations earlier by 
inventor-grandfather Eli's rock crusher. Considerable land was 
reclaimed in the Sacramento Delta by the company. This work 
engrossed Anson Blake. Supervising projects in the Delta, he was 
away from his wife Anita often, as we know from her letters to 
him now in The Bancroft Library. 

Those letters from Anita Blake were not written by a bored 
wife sitting listlessly at home, however. Mrs. Blake, who had 
studied Greek and Latin and the humanities in college, was 
immersed in hay husbandry, land management, and getting "A" 
grades in her Extension Division studies in swine husbandry and 
poultry husbandry. In 1908, with his fee for service as receiver 
for the construction company which completed under his 
supervision the Mare Island Drydocks, Anson Blake bought and 
presented to his wife their ranch property in St. Helena. There 
in Napa County, on Howell Mountain, she practiced her interest in 
agriculture and put her considerable managerial talents to work- 
as well as concerning herself with the lives of the tenants. 
Childless, she turned her time and energies to passionate and 
precise care for gardens and the land. The detailed, descriptive 
letters from Howell Mountain date from 1911 to 1920. 

In the University of California Archives is an interview 
taken for the University's Centennial History with Anson Blake in 
May 1958 in which he notes that Anita Blake used to go horseback 
riding with Benjamin Ide Wheeler "around the hills [after he 
ceased being president] until he died." Nephew Igor Blake 
describes in his oral history interview how his Aunt Anita 
"commuted" to Howell Mountain, a trip involving horses and boats. 
Today we look at pictures of a frail eighty-year-old woman, but 
her letters from more than a half century back are vigorous 
messages from a woman, if not with a hoe, most certainly with a 
shovel and a rake. 

The "eviction" notice of 1922 meant for Anita Blake an 
opportunity to create a new and very much larger garden than the 
garden on Piedmont Avenue. This was work she was ready to take 
on. Her sister was ready too. Miss Mabel Symmes, an 1896 
graduate of the University, had studied landscape architecture in 
1914. She would live with her older sister and brother-in-law in 
Kensington and the garden would be everything they wished a 
garden to be. Between the sisters they had all the determination 
and expertise needed to transform a remote grass and chaparral- 
covered hillside into a gracious Mediterranean garden. 

The Changing Blake Estate 

Each of the interviews in the Blake Estate Oral History 
Project has a brief introduction explaining the relationship :> 
the interview to the broad questions of the project, and 
describing the setting and the participants. The order of the 
sections of the interviews is: the Blakes and their house; the 
University and Blake House, 1962-1975; the Blakes and their 
garden, 1950s and early 1960s; and Blake Garden from 1960 to 

The interviews with Igor Blake, a nephew of Anson and Anita 
Blake, with George and Helena Thacher, also family members, with 
Mr. and Mrs. Elliot Evans, close family friends, and with Louis 
Stein, all concern Anson and Anita Blake as they were remembered 
at home in Kensington. In 1957 the Blakes deeded the estate to 
the University with the right to remain living there until their 
death. After they and Miss Mabel Symmes had passed on--Anita 
Blake was the last to die, in 1962--the University considered how 
it might use the house. For a period it was a dormitory for 
graduate women students. 

In 1967 Charles Hitch was named president of the University, 
and he and his family needed a residence. The Regents designated 
Blake House as the President's House which was particularly 
perfect because the Kensington address distinguished it from the 
University at Berkeley. A team of remodelling architects and 
decorators at once took on the task of turning the house into a 
suitable home for a president, making substantial changes and 
dealing with a generation of deferred maintenance. 

Changes were necessary in the garden as well, although 
generally the plantings had been responsibly cared for. Since 
1920 the Blakes had made the gardens, remarkable in their range 
of plant materials, available to students in the Department of 
Landscape Architecture on the Berkeley campus. In 1957 the 
department established the position of garden director to keep a 
watchful eye on Blake Garden. To have for study a garden now 
over sixty years old was the irreplaceable gift from the Blakes. 


Blake House Today 

The Hitches' succesors, President and Mrs. David Saxon, 
lived at Blake House from 1975 to 1983. But President and Mrs. 
Gardner with their larger family and different needs chose to 
make their home in Orinda and to use Blake House for receptions, 
dinners, meetings, and as a presidential office off campus. 

Mrs. David Gardner was our first advisor on this oral 
history project. Her respect and affection for the house is 
evident in her Introduction. She had in mind a number of people 
important to talk with. She and President Gardner wished first 
of all to have Marguerite Johnston interviewed. As chief social 
advisor and administrative secretary to five University of 
California presidents since 1957, Mrs. Johnston would have 
provided an historically continuous view of that role. But she 
died on June 29, 1986, just as the interviews were being planned. 

Blake House today is a 1 2 , 4 34-square foot building with 
seven bathrooms, two kitchens, and three bedrooms, "the biggest 
three-bedroom house in the world" as President Charles Hitch said 
to a reporter in 1968. The numerous bathrooms and extra kitchen 
result from the 1967-1968 remodelling to make the house suitable 
as an official residence. Yet despite its admittedly official 
designation, the house is a real home with a housekeeping staff 
and the warmth of people coming and going. Mrs. Pat Johnson, 
administrative secretary to the president, has her office in an 
upstairs room. Landscape students are visible in the gardens. 
And major and minor events are arranged and staged in the house 
all week long. And every time there is such an event visitors 
ask, What is this place? Whose house was this? How did these 
spectacular gardens grow in Kensington? 

Other Historical Resouces 

As I did the early research for this oral history I thought 
Anita Blake herself a perfect subject for a biography. She wrote 
often to her husband Anson, sometimes daily, both before and 
after their marriage, and he kept those letters. I have appended 
several of the letters to give a flavor of the woman that the 
interviews don't give. I have also appended a few letters 
written to Mrs. Blake by relocated Japanese friends, and excerpts 
from her diary of December 7 to December 29, 1941, to show her 
compassion for the Japanese families interned in World War II. 

We are without equivalent affective material from Anson 
Blake^ but his character is evident from the content of his wife 
letters and from the apparent pleasure he took in business and 


his concern for history. He joined and was a director of 
historical societies and wrote extensively and studiously about 
early San Francisco, Berkeley, and California history, and from 
1903 to 1952 was chairman of the board of Stiles Hall. As for 
Miss Mabel Symmes, Walter Vodden's interview is most descriptive. 
Some of Miss Symmes 1 papers and correspondence are in the library 
at Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and in 
the University of California Herbarium, Berkeley. 

It would be interesting to know more of President Robert 
Gordon Sproul's part in the gift of the Blake Estate to the 
University and of his friendship with Anson and Anita Blake. 
Miss Agnes Robb, secretary to the late president, wished to 
record that history but ultimately was not able to. In the 
Appendices are President Sproul's 1957 memos of conversations 
relating to the Blake property--memos which attest to Miss Robb's 
conscientious approach to presidential record-keeping. Future 
researchers may be able to find in the Sproul papers more 
information on the friendship between the two families. Both men 
served on the board of Stiles Hall. 

We were dissuaded from interviewing Ruth Kingman and Dyke 
Brown by their own testimony that although they were acquainted 
with Mr. Blake in the 1930s, or "had seen him at meetings [at 
Stiles Hall]," they could add no more. John Landon, a Stiles 
Hall board member in the 1950s and attorney in the office of the 
General Counsel of the Regents at the time of the official 
transfer of Blake House to the University, refers the researcher 
to the Regents and the General Counsel's records on Blake House. 

The Appendices to this oral history are extensive. They are 
included both to serve as indicator-guides to other resources and 
to enrich some of the stories related in the interview. An 
important byproduct of this oral history is the creation of a 
kind of bibliography of the Blakes, supplementing Igor Blake's 
compilation of twenty years ago which was invaluable in writing 
this Interview History. I am once again in debt to James R. K. 
Kantor who took time to read the interviews and make the kind of 
corrections to the text that only a very alert University 
archivist and social historian can make. 

This Blake Estate Oral History will be as much a beginning as 
a conclusion if it puts chroniclers of architectural history, 
landscape design, and local and University of California history 
on the track of new resources. They will join me in thanking 
President and Mrs. Gardner for initiating this work. 

Berkeley Suzanne B. Riess 

February 1988 




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Season's Greetings 


Greetings , from Aunt Anita and Uncle Anson 
Above left, 1938; above right, 1936; below right, 1934 


"Love and Christmas Greetings to 
George and Helena from Uncle 
Edwin and Aunt Harriet" 

s rr rtings 

Anson Stiles Blake receives LL.D. from President Clark Kerr while President Emeriti 
Robert Gordon Sproul adjusts the hood. (President W. E. Sterling of Stanford in 
background.) September 29, 1958. 

ASUC Photogrc 


Italian table and chairs dated 
1610 that belonged to the Blakes, 
now sits in living room looking 
out on reflecting pond [east] 

[living room view to the west] 

Mrs. Hitch shares this study with The "Taft bed," used by President 

her husband; his larger desk sits Taft in the White House, was a 

across from her French provincial Blake Treasure 
work table 

Photos and captions courtesy of Oakland Tribune, November 10, 1969 

Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

Igor Blake 

An Interview Conducted by 

Suzanne B. Riess 

in 1986 


1988 by The Regents of the University of California 





A Visit to the Slakes in California. 1945 5 

The Brothers and their Households 6 

Anita Blake in Chinatown 9 

Club and Social Life 10 

Mabel Symmes' Position in the Household 12 

, Distribution of Symmes Inheritance 13 

Anita Blake 14 

Anita Blake's Economies 14 

Anita Blake's Attitude Toward Religion and Suffrage 15 

Guiding the Family Finances 17 

The Blake Estate 19 

Tending the Gardens 19 

Robert Pierpont Blake 21 

Relations with the University of California 22 

The Staff 22 

The Carmelite Nuns as Neighbors 24 

The Architect, and Building the House 25 

Other Bay Area Gardens 26 

An son Blake and the Blake Brothers Company 29 

Epilogue 32 


When the Blake House Oral History Project was proposed to the Regional 
Oral History Office, among the first prospective interviewees was Igor 
Robert Blake, nephew of Anson and Anita Blake. Back in 1945, seventeen- 
year-old Igor visited the Anson Blakes and the Edwin Blakes, coming out West 
from Cambridge, Massachusetts where he was born and brought up. Igor Blake 
is the son of Robert Pierpont Blake and Nadejda Nicholaevna Kryzhanovskaya 
Blake. His father, Robert Pierpont Blake, was the youngest of the four 
children of Charles Thompson Blake and Harriet Stiles Blake. 

Igor Blake's recollections of the 1945 visit give us a glimpse at the 
two Blake households in Kensington, Anson's and Edwin's, and how they 
functioned to serve both the senior Mrs. Blake and at least this was the 
plan Mrs. Symmes, Anita Blake's mother. Mrs. Blake's sister Mabel and her 
mother were to be part of the Anson Blake establishment. Mabel was so, from 
1923 to her death. Mrs. Symmes passed on before she would have moved in. 
Mrs. Charles Thompson Blake, the mother-in-law, lived in a suite in the Edwin 
Blakes' house, just northeast of the Anson Blakes, until she died in 1928. 

The Blake House Oral History Project attempts to tell the most complete 
possible story of a house, its concept, planning and furnishing, 
antecedents, occupants, and surrounds, environmental and cultural. To this 
end, Igor Blake was able to answer questions about the everyday life of his 
aunt and uncle. His personal knowledge was enriched with a wealth of Blake 
history which he had assembled twenty years earlier at the request of 
President and Mrs. Charles Hitch, first occupants of the renovated house. 
[Appended to the oral history are several sections of Igor Blake's "Notes on 
the Blakes in England and America."] Like President and Mrs. David Gardner, 
the Hitches admired the house which became their residence in 1968, 
respected its history, and wished to know more about the original occupants. 

Mr. Igor Blake is a careful historian and interviewee and provided me 
an opportunity to meet a "real" Blake, which set the stage for my other 
interviews about the family. We met for a first interview in the conference 
room of The Bancroft Library, appropriate enough as its walls are hung with 
19th century lithographs reminiscent of the Westward Ho spirit that brought 
the Blakes to California. The second meeting was in the Regional Oral 
History Office, an impromptu taping of the answers to some supplementary 

Suzanne B. Riess 
Inte rviewe r-Edit or 

September 23, 1987 
Regional Oral History Office 
486 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 


(Please print or write clearly) 

Your full name 
Date of birth 



Father's full name 





' s !Lj_L name 

Where did you grow up ? 

Present community 


Place of birth 

(/l4-rp#r*/r ~~ V~> ( 


Special interests or activities 

^^ ^ 




University Address: 




Building 1 - 13 
Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory 
University of California 
Berkeley, California 34720 
(415) 466 6671 

1951 8. A. BoHdoin College 
1953 M.B.A. Stanford University 
Graduate School of Business 

August 1986-present: *Ataq Division Administrator Biology and Medicine Division. 
Chair LBL Parking Committee and htr of the panel of Laboratory Hearing Officers. 

1962-August 1986: Staff Position Plant Engineering, worked on space administration, LBL long 
range facility plans, institutional plans and site development plans. 

1977-1962: Department Head, Business and Auxilary Services, LBL. Responsible for Business 
Services including Audit Coordination, Insurance Risk Management, Caferteria, work for 
Others, and Property Management, Protective Services, and Administrative Data Procctsssing. 

1963-1977:Division Administrator, Biology Medicine Division. Responsible for budget 
preparation and monitoring. Introduced the use of a computer-based budget planning and monitoring 
system. Responsible for safety, facilities planning and operating which included hospital 
units, patient treatment facilities at the accelerators, research animal colony, and 
electronic and mechanical shops. Served as Chair of the Administrative Services Salary Committee of 
LBL, on the Emergency Preparedness Committee and on the Administrative Advisory Committee. 

1956-1963: Officer and Director Blake Brothers Company, Richmond, California, manufacturer of 
crushed rock, asphaltic concrete, and ready-mix concrete, and general contractors. Coordinated 
reorganization plan under which Standard Oil Company of California acquired the assets of 
Blake Brothers Company. Experience in real estate management and estate planning. 

1953-1955: U.S. Army, procurement. 

President and Chairman of the Board of Directors Stiles Hall, University YMCA, 1971-1974^ Trustee 
and member of the Admissions and Allocation Committee, United Way of the Bay Area and Chairman 
of the Membership Committee. (The Membership Committee was responsible for the selection of new 
agencies. ) 

Member of the Executive Board, Mt. Diable Council, Boy Scouts of America, 1962-1972, and holder of 
the Silver Beaver Award. 

Director, Richmond Chamber of Commerce, 1962-1963; Member of the Contra Costa County Highway 
Advisory Committee; Vice President for Contra Costa County, The Society of California Pioneers. 

A Visit to the Slakes in California. 1945 
[Date of Interview: November 19. 1986] 

Riess: How is it that you decided to compile your book on the family 

Blake: When President and Mrs. Hitch were planning to move into Blake 

House, they expressed an interest in a Blake family history, and 
wondered if I would write down what I knew of the family and its 

Riess: Of course your family is historically minded, isn't it? Anson Blake 
himself was 

Blake: He was very active in the California Historical Society and in the 
Society of California Pioneers serving at one time as president of 
each. One of his contributions to both of them was helping each 
survive during the Depression. He was on the board of both 
organizations. In the thirties when they were both short of money, 
he negotiated a lease so that the two organizations could share a 
building and thus save money. They carefully inventoried all of 
their property; they had one small joint office in the center with a 
single light, and a part-time secretary. I visited it in 1945. 
They led me in very carefully, saying, "Please don't bump things." 
There were boxes, things tied up with tags on them, pictures wrapped 
up and just stacked, books stacked it was just storage space. 

They were able to continue business by this frugality. My 
uncle said that after the war he looked forward to turning over 
these duties to others, but this was one of his wartime efforts to 
help them out. It did work, and he lived to see them both moved 
into new quarters, where they are now: one on Jackson St. and one 

*"Notes on the Blakes in England and America," Igor Robert Blake, 
1971. Appendix A. 

Blake: on McAllister St. My wife anc I had the pleasure of taking him to 
the opening reception of the California Historical Society on 
Jackson St. 

Riess : You said that you visited those quarters in 1945? 

Blake: Yes. 

Riess: So you were only seventeen? 

Blake: Right. 

Riess: Tell me about that visit. 

Blake: My father arranged for me to come out to California in 1945. I 

think the thought was stimulated by the death of his sister. Eliza 
Blake Thacher, the year before, and by the concern that I had not 
met my two uncles or seen any of California. That prompted a six 
week's trip by myself across the country, starting in southern 
California, meeting old family friends and relatives, and then up to 
the Bay Area. I think there were forty letters of introduction 
with which I was to dutifully trot around and call on people. 

Riess: What fun but that takes a lot of doing. 

Blake: Right, it was fun as a young person to make the trip across the 

country by myself and meet all the people. I stayed for the first 
week with Edwin Blake, and then the second week or ten days with the 
Anson Blakes. 

The Brothers and Their Households 

Riess: I want to hear about both. That means you stayed in what is the 
presentday Carmelite monastery. 

Blake: Yes. The monastery house, Edwin Blake's house, had been built at the 
same era as Anson' s, circa 1922. It had a wing on it for my grand 
mother, Mrs. Charles Thompson Blake. She was in her eighties at the 
time the University took over the three family houses on Piedmont 
Avenue, where the stadium now is, and she didn't wish to build a 
house for herself. I stayed in her suite of rooms, which consisted 
of a living room, a small kitchenette, bathroom, dressing room, and 
an entry hall. It had a pair of double doors which opened up onto 
the Edwin Blakes' hallway, so she could have free access into that 
house, but if she wasn't feeling well, or if they were having a large 
party in which she didn't wish to participate, she could close the 
door and have her own privacy. There was a separate entrance through 
that part of the garden for her. I remember enjoying that suite. 

Blake: That suite basically is the outside chapel now, and the quarters for 
the custodian, the lay contact who sees the outside world, does the 
marketing, meets people, goes out of the monastery, etc. The 
Carmelite sisters do not see people, except on very special 
occasions, like accepting a new member into the organization. Their 
nun contact with the custodian was called the pontis Latin for 

Riess: When you were in the house were your Uncle Edwin and his wife still 

Blake: No, his wife died in 1937. There were two widowed sisters who lived 
in the house and continued living in the house until his death. 

Riess: Family members? 

Blake: The Edwin Blakes had no children. 

Riess: Who were the widowed sisters? 

Blake: They were his sisters-in-law, not members of the Blake family: Mrs. 
Eleanor Batt and Mrs. Derby. Mrs. Derby was away, I did not meet 
her, but I did meet Eleanor Batt. 

Riess: Were they friends of Anita's, then? 

Blake: No, there was no contact. They never went to each other's houses. 

Riess: Really? 

Blake: No they never did. 

Riess: Even earlier? 

Blake: I'm not sure what happened before Aunt Harriet Harriet Whitney 
Carson Blake died. After that they never communicated. 

Riess: That's too bad. 

Blake: Anita never went up there. 

Riess: Is that more like it? Is that the feeling that you got? 

Blake: Anita had a very strict moral point of view, and she didn't consider 
it appropriate for them to be living in the house even though there 
were two of them. 

Riess: Luckily your father thought it would be all right for you. Were you 
aware at the time of the situation? 

Blake: I had been briefed of where there had been problems and what one had 
to watch out for, both here and in a couple of other cases, to sort 
of be on my guard with X and Y. 

Riess: Had any fences been erected between the properties? 

Blake: No, the gardens had been planned together so that you could walk 
between them. Anson Blake came up to greet me the day I arrived, 
and then Mabel Symmes came up to take me down to meet Aunt Anita the 
following day. 

Riess: It sounds like Anita was running things. But really the relationship 
was between Edwin and Anson, They were brothers. 

Blake: They saw one another daily at the office they shared at Blake 

Brothers Company. I think they drove separately, but they did share 
an office and work together. Edwin was the engineer who laid out 
the plant in Richmond in 1906 and developed the design for the 
hopper barge which was self- unloading and which took the products to 
San Francisco and elsewhere. That was his side of the quarry 
business, the engineering side. He had worked previously in the 
gold mines I don't remember which ones. Then, when they were 
starting to build the new plant in Richmond in 1906 which they 
planned before the fire, construction was underway, and it was 
completed after the fire he recruited a group of Cousin Jacks, 
which were the Welsh miners from the gold rush [days]. 

Riess: This term I don't know "Cousin Jacks?" 

Blake: "Cousin Jacks" is the term for the Welsh miners who came over to work 
in the gold mines in California. When that business was tapering 
off, he recruited them to come and build and run the quarry plant. 

Riess: When you were at the house, how were you entertained the first week? 

Blake: I don't recall anyone being invited to dinner. I remember going to 
the quarry and seeing that. 

Riess: Did you have a bicycle? 

Blake: No, I did not have a bicycle. I hadn't yet got a driver's license 

as it was still wartime, so I had to be driven I had my seventeenth 
birthday on the way across the country. I remember some of the 
activities that Anson Blake organized. There was a day of going 
down to Stanford. I was told how you got the train and I went down 
to Stanford and delivered one of the letters. I met a professor of 
history at Stanford, Thomas Bailey, I believe it was, and saw the 

Riess: Was there the #7 bus down the Arlington? 

Blake: Yes, there was the #7 bus, and I would take that, or they would drop 
me off on the way to the quarry and I would take the bus back. 

When I spent the week with Anson Blake, he sort of picked up on 
what I had or had not done with the letters, and who I had seen or 
not seen and got that organized. He took me to call on a group of 
older Blake family friends who had known my grandmother and my 
father I honestly don't remember their names at this time. I could 
look them up, because some of them would have been in the letters of 
introduction, but I don't have them readily available. 

Riess: Did he take you to clubs in San Francisco or that sort of thing? 

Blake: I saw the Pacific Union dub, etc., through meeting some of my 

father's friends when the letters of introduction were delivered. I 
went on the Key Route System on two or three trips to San Francisco, 
and then Mabel Symmes took me for a tour, and Uncle Anson took me to 
the de Young Museum, I recall. I went to Kent Woodlands with both 
Anson and Anita Blake to meet Mrs. William Sherman Kent, who was a 
Thacher cousin. She was the sister, I believe, of Sherman Day 
Thacher, the husband of my aunt, Eliza Seeley Blake Thacher. 

Anita Blake in Chinatown 

Riess: Did Mabel take you to see botanic splendors? 
Blake: Yes. 
Riess: Did Anita? 

Blake: No, Anita took me shopping, to Chinatown, because I wanted to get my 
mother a present. She was correct in recalling that my mother did 
not care for lacquer, even so, I did get my mother a set of 
lacquered demitasse cups, which Aunt Anita helped me find through 
her contacts in Chinatown. 

Riess: How was she with the Chinese merchants? Was she very familiar? 

Blake: She was indeed, because she had collected extensively and they 
recognized this. 

Riess: Did she go to just one shop usually? 

Blake: No, r think she went to a selection of shops, several different 

Riess: Would she be taken into a back room and given a lot of courtesies? 


Blake: A great deal of attention was paid. She didn't make any major 

purchases at that time, but she bought a few pieces of that nature 
for wedding gifts. Aunt Anita said she didn't mind having an extra 
gift on hand once she'd made the effort of getting over. 

Riess: I knew she gave a great collection to the University, and that she 
had an interest, from early days, in oriental art. Was she quite 
knowled gable? Did she know periods well? 

Blake: Oh, yes, she knew her periods well. She was Phi Beta Kappa, she'd 
read extensively she was certainly very knowledgeable. History, 
literature, painting the objects themselves. I think she was 
extremely well-read, she consulted a lot with the faculty in this 
field and they entertained a lot of them, so I think she was well- 

Club and Social Life 

Riess: Did she ever tell you anything about the Fortnightly CLub? 
Blake: No, she did not. 

Anson Blake belonged to something, and I'll have to think if it 
was like Town and Gown I can't remember what it was called. 
Professer Curt Stern, on the campus here, belonged to it. Uncle 
Anson said it began to peter out, as they didn't move fast enough to 
take the younger people in. They'd taken in Professor Stern, who, 
when I met him. was over seventy, and then the older people got to 
the point where driving in the evening was difficult. It was a half 
UC group, half town group. It faded out of existence sometime 
between '45 and '50. 

Blake Brothers Company moved its offices from the Balboa 
Building in San Francisco to the site of the quarry in Richmond in 
1939-1940. Prior to 1939-1940, both Anson and Edwin commuted to the 
city for their business. So it would have been logical that they 
had many contacts in the city, but I don't happen to know of any. 

But you asked about my stay in 1945. The Anson Blakes took me 
to I think it was that time the CLaremont Country CLub for a 
Sunday dinner. 

There was a club in San Francisco that Anita belonged to my 
wife may remember it, they went to lunch there. The older people 
knew her, and although she had great difficulty with her sight, once 
she knew who they were, there was recognition. I remember my wife 
Liz saying they went to lunch at one of those clubs. She knew the 
really older members. 


Blake: There were references, I know, to dinner parties. I think those 
were in the earlier days. Later, she seldom went out. I recall 
going out with Uncle Anson and Aunt Anita to old family friends in 
San Francisco, Esther Landsdate (Mrs. Philip). They had grown up on 
Rincon Hill together, and then moved to Broadway when that area 
developed in the 1890s. They were Anson 1 s contemporaries. My 
cousin Romola Bigelow Wood (Mrs. Samuel A. Wood) had us on Presidio 
Avenue, Uncle Anson and I. Aunt Anita didn't feel up to going and 
sent her regrets. 

They did come out to our house; they were interested to see the 
family things, the portraits, etc., that we had installed, and they 
were curious to see the garden. 

Riess: That was something they regularly did? 

Blake: Not regularly. They would occasionally come here from time to time. 
They usually dined at home. I think if they didn't if the maid 
were off, or something like that then maybe they would go out. 

Riess: How about music in the Blake House? Did they have a piano? 

Blake: They had a piano, but I don't believe anyone played it. Aunt Anita 
at times referred to having a musical evening and having a string 
quartet to play. They subscribed obviously to a record club in the 
twenties, because there were those classical selections from the 
twenties and the thirties. I don't know if it stopped during the 
Depression, or if they lost interest, but it was a definite period, 
and then it stopped to judge from what was left in the house. 

Riess: What happened to those records? 

Blake: My wife and I took some of them, and I think they're back on the 
farm in New Hampshire. I must admit we didn't play them, but we 
thought we might do something with them, and we were short of space 
so we sent them back to New Hampshire. 

Riess: I just want to get a sense of the pulse of life in the house. 

Blake: They entertained a few times when 1 was out. They had a couple of 

large teas, one hundred and fifty people, and did large entertaining 
and got it catered, and sort of did their thing. Occasionally an 
old family friend or some cousins would come to visit. I met a 
series of cousins: Naomi Howard she was a Taft cousin; Charlie 
Taf t was another; the Weersma cousins. Karel Weersma was Dutch, and 
he married Adelaide Blake, Kingsley Blake's sister, who is a cousin. 

Mabel Symmes 1 Position in the Household 

Riess: And then there were all those Symmeses. 

Blake: Aunt Anita's maiden name was Anita Day Symmes. Mabel Symmes lived 
with them. As I told you, the Edwin Blakes 1 house was built with a 
wing for Grandmother Blake. The Anson Blakes 1 house was built with 
two large rooms: one was for Mrs. Symmes, Aunt Anita's mother; and 
the other was for Mabel Symmes. Mabel Symmes lived in the house and 
made a monetary contribution of X dollars a month towards the 
household expenses, and then gave gifts in addition to that. I 
remember she gave a fence when part of the Edwin Blakes' house was 
subdivided and the land sold. They were concerned that the children 
who moved in were coming into the garden so they fenced the northern 
line of the property, and that was a gift from Mabel Symmes. 

Riess: Was her income from inheritance? 

Blake: Yes. She did well in her inheritance, she invested in stocks, 

something which Anita basically did not she kept the ones she had 
inherited, but did not invest further. Mabel Symmes' estate was 
well over half a million dollars, and it was basically stocks. She 
managed all that herself, was very efficient on those matters, and 
never said anything. She did, as you're probably aware, take a 
second degree or additional courses at the University of California 
when the Landscape Architecture Department was established in the 

I recall once when Mabel Symmes referred to Dean Wurster as her 
classmate. Liz, my wife, sort of went through mental calculations, 
looking at Aunt Mabel, and having had Dean Wurster in college and 
worked with him professionally as an interior designer, wondered 
about this, when Aunt Anita chirped in, "Elizabeth, Mabel did not 
explain that she had gone back to the University in 1922 when the 
Landscape Architecture Department was established and taken courses, 
and that's the time when she was associated with Dean Wurster." 
Mabel had graduated in 1896 from the University and then went back 
to take additional courses in landscape architecture at a much later 
date. She did practice landscape architecture and did various 
houses, such as the Olney's house on daremont Boulevard. She did 
landscape design professionally as well as doing landscape design 
for the Blake House. 


Distribution of Symmes Inheritance 

Riess: What happened at Mabel Symmes 1 death? Who was in her will? 

Blake: Her nieces and nephews. Whitman Symmes was one nephew, then there 
was Day Symmes. known as Bud. and Carol Symmes Kuechler. They were 
in her will, as well as a grandniece and grandnephew who were Carol 
Kuechler's children: Larry and Anne. 

Riess: I looked at the will, but I thought it was Anita's and An son's, so I 
was mystified why it was all going to these people. It must have 
been Mabel's that I was looking at. 

Blake: There were basically the same provisions in Anita's will. I never 
read Mabel's will, I've had nothing to do with it, but I read 
Anita's will because I was involved in helping them to settle the 
estate. Both drew up their wills at the same time and basically had 
the same heirs.* 

Riess: So the money didn't go in the Blake direction at all. 

Blake: No. Anson Blake had made some provision for the members of the 

Blake family. Anita Blake told me she was leaving her portion of 
Uncle Anson's estate to her side of the family, as she had little 
else to leave them. The house they had given to the University; she 
had a small amount of stocks; she had ploughed some of the money in 
to pay off the mortgage on the house during the Depression, and had 
used other of it to buy the art objects. 

I don't think Mabel bought anything. She had the contents of 
her room, and she used to have a car. I think Anita contributed 
half the expenses of the car. She gave up the car sometime after my 
first trip here, and it did not exist when I came back in 1956. (I 
did come to California in 1950 and Mabel still had the car.) 

*For a further note on the will, see Appendices. Appendix W. 


Anita Blake 

Anita Blake's Economies 

Riess: Were they on hard times, would you say, in genteel poverty up there? 

Blake: The Depression was rough. The thirties were extremely rough. We 
did pull through, and in the fifties things went extremely well. 
Real estate was paying very well my father had a third interest in 
the real estate 

Riess: You mean the other acreage in Kensington? 

Blake: No, other commercial real estate. My father had acreage in 

Kensington, but he and Aunt ELiza sold theirs after the war for 
subdivisions they never built. Each child was given ten to fifteen 
acres. (The thing was divided into four pieces, and it was something 
like sixty acres.) Anson and Edwin sold a few lots off their 

Riess: But when you're referring to real estate 

Blake: I was referring to commercial real estate in Oakland and elsewhere. 

The quarry, Blake Brothers Company, did not pay dividends from 
the late twenties through to the fifties. I think they paid two 
preferred dividends before my father died in 1950. The quarry did 
very well in the fifties, so there were funds then. They had given' 
the house to the University. Once when Anita bought a second-hand 
washing machine and I said, "Why not a new one?" she said, "Well, 
they said it would last three or four years, Igor, and I don't think 
I'll be around after that." 

There was a request from Anson Blake to my wife to take Anita 
shopping because her clothes were getting threadbare. He specified 
some money and they had a very successful trip. They ploughed 
through the San Francisco stores all day long, and maybe went to 
lunch, and she got herself eight or ten dresses, some of them made 
to order. But she did need help, and she did need to be encouraged. 




Riess : 



When would this have been? 

This was after we were married, "57 or "58, because I remember Uncle 
Anson asked my wife if she would assist and encourage. "I'm aware 
that prices have gone up." he said, "I do read the paper." (Anita 
thought it was terribly expensive.) "But our income has increased, 
and inflation is here, and we just have to pay these prices. Please 
tell Elizabeth" as he called her "not to worry about the cost of 
the thing, this is just something we have to do, and Anita needs a 
little encouragement." 

They went to San Francisco to do this? 

Yes. She had a dressmaker it may have been someone Aunt Anita 
knew, or it may have been the one my wife had at that time who had 
made her wedding dress and who also catered to older people and made 
things in the style they liked and were comfortable with. 

We were talking about social life, large tea parties and cousins, 
and got derailed a bit there. Were there other family events? If 
they went out at Thanksgiving, then I take it they didn't do a 
gathering of people at Thanksgiving. And yet there were you and 

Right. What did we do? There was certainly no large gathering at 
Thanksgiving. I think the first year we were married we had 
Thanksgiving, but the only other time I had Thanksgiving with them 
was the two years I was at Stanford from 1952 to 1953. Aunt Anita 
was very fond of the maid of honor at our wedding, Verna Hink 
(now Mrs. Robert John Stewart of Atherton), also a Phi Beta Kappa, 
and she entertained her together with a group of her Berkeley 
literary group friends at a tea. At one of those occasions there 
may have been some cousins I can't absolutely remember if someone 
else was there or not. 

Anita Blake's Attitude Toward Religion and Suffrage 

Riess: Then on Christmas was there a big, beautiful Christmas tree in the 

Blake: No, there was no Christmas tree because I never saw a Christmas 

tree, and I was also curious if there were any Christmas ornaments. 
We'd had some from my wife's side of the family which were fun to 
have, old ornaments, but when we were given permission to rummage 
through the house, there were none. 

Riess: Interesting woman. 


Blake: She was not interested in religion. When she went into the hospital 
she had let her Blue Cross insurance go because she didn't like to 
part with the dollars for insurance. So she had to pay for one of 
the trips to the hospital herself, and I talked Blue Cross into 
taking her back in at eighty- some thing. She said that when they 
asked her her religion, she said she was a Buddhist. She had 
actually been brought up as a Unitarian and resented the fact that 
when she was at Berkeley the YWCA wouldn't let her join because she 
was a Unitarian they didn't consider that acceptable. She could 
attend meetings but not join. I don't think she actually converted, 
she had no religion, she had a sort of philosophy rather than a 
religion, and therefore the religious holidays didn't have any 
meaning for her. 

Riess: Can you think of any little sayings that you associate with her? 
Any attitudes about spiritual issues, about one's stay on earth, 
that were part of her philosophy and were obvious and clear and 
accounted for some of her other attitudes? For instance, I gathered 
from something I read that she was not for women's suffrage, which 
surprises me, for someone as strongminded as she was. 

Blake: Yes, I knew that. Anson Blake was chairman of the local committee 
in opposition to women's suffrage. I discovered that when I went 
through his correspondence. He kept all of it, and I ploughed 
through that. There was a whole collection of advertisements from 
some committee in New York. None of the texts were there. They 
talked about "our cause" this was 1919 and finally there was a 
letter from Charles Lee Tilden, who was a classmate from the class 
of 1891: "Dear Anson, I enclose a check to your order and fifty 
dollars gold to support our cause in opposition to the women's 
suffrage." That was all pinned together, and then he had taken this 
few hundred dollars and placed ads in the Chronicle and some other 
newspaper. There was a sheet of how large an ad in which papers, 
the Examiner, the Chronicle, the Tribune, or whatever they were. He 
divided it up and reported to New York that that, he thought, was 
the best coverage for the Bay Area. 

She always asked for advice on elections. It wasn't quite down 
to the dogcatcher, but you had to sort of inquire, and you also had 
to say whom you inquired of. So I inquired of Henry Steinbeck in 
the office, and Henry Steinbeck personally did not know X, but he 
inquired of Y, and we would call Aunt Anita, but Y was somebody who 
knew Uncle Anson, and so we'd go through the ballot very carefully 
to be sure that she was adequately informed. Very definite opinions 
on, for example, no flourides in the water great opposition to 
that. She debated sending money, but I don't think the check and 
pen came together. 

Guiding the Family Finances 

Blake: I used to look at the checks for the income tax purposes. There was 
no balance in the checkbook and I couldn't make heads or tails out 
of the checkbook stubs. I needed things for deductions, so I used 
to get the checks and the statements and rifle through it to get 
what I wanted for income tax purposes, and have one of the employees 
at one of the banks look up all the dividends, because in that era 
you had no advice of dividends. She kept no records, so I figured 
out what the income was in the year before, and therefore the number 
of shares. Then I gave the banker the list and said, "Please 
calculate it." He'd groan and say, "This is not our service," and 
I'd smile and say, "I know, but Blake Brothers Co. has a very nice 
account with you, and we just would appreciate it." And he gave it 
to someone and it was done. 

Later I was able to verify that when she decided to give me the 
key to her safe deposit box. I went down and I counted all the stuff 
in there. F^erything was in its original envelope, and I got them 
all together. I'm sorry I didn't save the stamps; she took the 
envelopes home and I didn't wish to ask her. I got all the 
certificates together so that I could get the things organized and 
made a list so that I could tell if I had been accurate in the tax 

Riess: She would seem more likely to be for suffrage than to be against. 
You're saying that once she decided to vote, she wanted to be a 
fully participating voter. 

Blake: Yes, but she wanted advice very definitely. She always got advice. 
I guess Uncle Anson gave her advice on what to vote, and then she 
wanted advice from me after Uncle Anson died, so it was one of my 

One of the rituals was tea every afternoon. In my quarry days 
I used to stop on my way home and see her once a week or so. I 
would stop in time to have tea, and then I conducted what business 
there might be. Usually one topic an afternoon. 

Riess: These are the years after he died? 

Blake: After he died in '59, and she lived to '62. It was then that I 
would stop by. 

Riess: What do you mean, one topic an afternoon? 

Blake: If it was a business matter you brought up something about the 
estate and you went through that, and there had to be a check 
written or a letter composed. Then she said, "Fine, now we'll have 
tea and talk about something else." So you basically did one thing 


Blake: at a time. If the banker who was trustee wanted something the 

letter would be sent to her, but with a copy to me with the check I 
would take the checks, she would endorse them and I would deposit 
them, and we would get the answer to whatever question there was. 

Riess: You were quite a young man to be doing all of this, were you not? 
You were about thirty? 

Blake: Yes. My father died when I was twenty-one, so I had to pick up for 
my mother, our side of the estate, and that was one of the reasons 
that I knew something about the real estate, because I had a share 
of it as trustee, and I required all the lawyers to send me copies 
of everything. I also had received my MBA from Stanford in '53. I 
remember joining my uncle, slightly to his surprise, when there was 
going to be a meeting on the real estate. I said I would like to 
attend, I wanted to know what was going on which was fortunate, 
because the poor gentleman in the bank got himself arrested for 
fraud and left. It was fortunate that I knew what the situation 
was because shortly after that my uncle died. My father's estate 
had about 26 percent interest in Blake Brothers Company, and I ended 
up with about 33 percent of the Blake Brothers Company 

Riess: You must have been someone she trusted completely. 

Blake: She made a great distinction between heirs and non-heirs. She told 
me I was not an heir, and therefore when she had her terminal 
illness and the nurse asked her who did she look to, I was the one 
to oversee her medical care. Her nephew, who was a year or two 
younger than I, was an heir, and that would have been a conflict of 
interest. So I oversaw the last three or four weeks of her illness, 
and in those days it was daily trips in the morning on the way in, 
and again usually on my way home. The quarry was on the way from 
Lafayette; to go via Kensington wasn't that far out of my way. 


The Blake Estate 

Tending the Gardens 

Riess: Other topics she might take up would they be matters of the garden? 

Blake: She talked a lot about the garden. I did meet Professor [Leland] 
Vaughan and Mai Arbegast which was helpful. Professor Vaughan had 
given me his card, and he said if there are any questions on the 
house, please let him know [at the University]. He was extremely 
helpful. There were some things to be repaired; plumbing, etc., 
were getting in an ill state of repair, and he said, "Just have the 
work done and have the bill sent to me." I remember calling him up 
and saying that it was six or seven hundred dollars. He said, 
"There's nothing to do but have it done. I know it's a patch job, 
but you have to have hot water." I said I was sorry, I knew they 
were chronic problems. 

Riess: The landscape architecture department used the gardens? 

Blake: Yes, and Aunt Anita was surprised at the compartmentalization of the 
University budgets, which in retrospect I understand, [laughs] They 
had money for equipment but not money to hire students to water. 
She was upset with Walter Vodden's idea to put in a sprinkler system 
because she preferred handwatering, because with handwatering you'd 
not water particular blossoms and remember that the whatchmacallits 
liked a lot of water, and you didn't water those until they'd 
finished blossoming, etc. The sprinkler system was more of an 
institutional approach, not the hands-on technique. The Blakes used 
to water themselves on the weekend they would pull hoses and 
water that was their weekend activity. 

Riess: Anson and Anita. 

Blake: Yes. They both would be out in the garden, and he would help with 
the watering, moving the hoses, and discussing what should be done 
and how things were coming. She missed Mabel because she was the 


Blake: person with whom she discussed the garden. I've forgotten whether 
Mabel died before or after Anson * 

Riess: After. 

Blake: Yes. Then it was in between, I guess. So that left her alone in 

the house, and they had shared the garden and discussed it all those 

Riess: Was Mai Arbegast someone who was invited into the house? 

Blake: I think she joined them for tea. I think Professor Vaughan was in 
the house, and I think he was there for tea, yes, because I believe 
I met them in the house. I sort of had in mind that I was wanting 
to meet them, thinking it would be important not quite knowing what 
was coming along. I had heard from Walter about them, and I waited 
for the opportunity to meet them, and it finally did come around. 

Riess: How about other young people in her life over the years? 

Blake: She didn't refer to any. There was some correspondence with someone 
she had met. There was some reference occasionally to hearing from 
X or Y, but it may have been, say, that X is now in India or 
someplace, and there was something in the paper about them. It was 
in some general discussion like that. 

Riess: Of course she had lots of written contact with horticulturists all 
around the world. 

Blake: Yes. And a lot of people would come and see the garden. There were 
garden club tours. When they were younger she was very proud to 
have the tours. Other than a couple of garden parties my wife 
attended, I don't remember participating in any of the garden club 
openings, etc. I think those had been more an activity of the 
twenties and thirties. 

Riess: Did she have a horse up there too? 

Blake: I'm not sure if she had a horse there or if the horse was on 

Piedmont Avenue. She definitely had a horse on Piedmont Avenue. 
I'm not sure if there was a stable up there I never saw the 
stable whether it had been converted into a part of the garden. 
There were borzoi dogs there when I arrived in 1945. In that album 
of photographs there was a picture of them. 

Riess: And lots of cats, apparently. 

*Anita Blake d. April 25, 1962; Anson Blake d. August 17, 1959; 
Mabel Symmes d. February 1, 1962. 
Appendix X. 


Blake: There were a lot of cats. My mother described the cats as being 
kept in cages Persians, etc. but they didn't come in the house 
regularly. They were occasionally brought in and then taken out. 
This was my mother's description, and this goes back to the 

Robert Pierpont Blake 

Riess: Did your mother and father visit out there much themselves? 

Blake: They visited in the twenties, when Grandmother Blake was alive. 

They came out about three times I don't remember the exact years. 
My father then came out alone in 1934 to get the LLD degree from 
Berkeley, and then alone in 1948, when he came out and was drawing 
up his will. He wanted to see Anson. and I guess Edwin was still 
alive at the time. As well as draw up his will, he wanted to get an 
idea of the financial situation. My mother did not come out in the 
thirties and did not come out in 1948. 

Nineteen forty-eight was a funny academic year at Harvard. 
During the war he had taught in the summer school, so he had the 
fall off in either '47 or '48 to make up for the time, so he decided 
to do the trip. He also went down to Fresno to scrounge up some 
money for Armenian studies. He taught, in part, Armenian history, 
and there was a journal; they wanted to get money out of the 
Armenian groups in Fresno to support Armenian history subjects, etc. 
So the other part of his trip was a little fund raising activity. 

Riess: Did Aunt Anita like to talk about the past? Did you encourage her 
to tell stories, or was that kind of closed off? 

Blake: No. she had her definite views on things and expressed them. She 

talked a lot to my wife about some of her thoughts. She was a great 
believer in books. She had read various children's books, and if a 
friend had a child or friends had grandchildren she would give them 
the appropriate book on how to raise and rear children; although I 
don't believe she gave us one. it was her standard procedure. 

Riess: Her views were acquired through books. 

Blake: Yes. 

Riess: And maybe through her Unitarianism? 

Blake: I'm not sure, I don't think there was ever a reference to going to 
church or anything. 


Relations with the University of California 

Riess: Do you know anything about her relations with University people? I 
know she was friendly with Ida Sproul. 

Blake: Yes, they had an ongoing relationship. They had met dark Kerr 
just before he was president, and I remember when they had a 
discussion about adding him to the famous tea list. I was present 
when they did discuss that, and yes, Uncle Anson thought that would 
be appropriate, he was up and coming and he was very nice, and he 
got added to the tea list. He made that rung, and about six months 
later he became the President of the University, [laughs] But at 
that time they were still very much a part of the Berkeley scene. 

The Staff 

Riess: You said that there was a housekeeper. What was the staff over the 
years when you first met them, and then later? 

Blake: They always had a cook, one person most of the time. I think on my 
first visit, during the war, there wasn't anyone. They were 
younger, although they were still old. It was either '45 or '50 I 
don't remember which when there was no servant and had not been for 
several months. They hadn't found a suitable one. 

There were usually several in the garden, I believe three at 
the time: Walter, Jim Anderson, and Churchill Womble. 

Riess: I remember all three of those names from talking with Walter, and in 
fact he said that occasionally he was invited in to do something. 

Blake: Right. 

For some reason the University asked my uncle to hire Walter; 
they selected him. Uncle Anson hired him, and then in July of the 
year my uncle died he died in August Walter transferred to the 
University payroll. I remember because I'd straightened out the 
social security report for Walter and the other gardeners. My uncle 
had mentioned that he was doing that, so I'd seen that in the 
hospital and sort of got my hands on the pieces of paper, and then 
did the final report and gave them their W-2 statements and things 
like that. It was fortunate that the University then was prepared 
to take over that aspect of the thing. It had something to do with 
budgeting. They chose to do it that way for some particular reason. 

Riess: I know he was told about the job by Vaughan. 


Blake: But he went to work for my uncle for six or nine months. Perhaps 
they were working it into the state budget. There was some 
technical reason that I wasn't aware of. He was brought around as 
the person that they had selected, and I guess it was a courtesy to 
have an input from my aunt and uncle. I don't think they were given 
any other choice, but they were consulted. 

Riess: Was there a vegetable garden? Do you remember eating anything from 
the estate? 

Blake: There were gooseberries I remember those because you couldn't buy 
those in the market and there was watercress, but I don't believe 
there was a full vegetable garden with peas, carrots, potatoes, etc. 
There was some fruit, but again it wasn't the apples, it was the 

Riess: Persimmons and pomegranates. 

Blake: Something of that nature. But you didn't go out to look at the 
vegetable garden. 

There was a wonderful story of the cats: There were ten or 
twelve mongrel cats, and Professor Vaughan brought up the fact once 
to my aunt that the University was most appreciative of the house 
and the art objects and all that, but they wondered what was going 
to happen to the cats. So my aunt consulted the county health 
officer, and she did agree to have all the cats trapped and they 
were all altered that was awkward for her to discuss. The ones 
which the county health officer said were in quite bad shape they 
certainly looked mangy those didn't come back. So there were 
something like nine after that. 

Then there was the matter of who paid for their maintenance. 
Aunt Anita had a trust in the bank in the city and I paid out of 
that for the maid and things, nurse, food, during the last weeks. 
Professor Vaughan paid for the garden staff. But I didn't want to 
ask Professor Vaughan to pay for the cats. I personally paid for 
the cats for a couple of weeks and Walter had also paid for them. 
Then I brought up the subject with the executor of the estate and I 
told Walter we'd pay to have the cats terminated out of the estate, 
or the University can assume the cats, but Walter shouldn't have to 
pay for them. Walter agreed to check with Professor Vaughan who 
decided that the University would take over the cats. 

I don't know what's happened since then. That was one of the 
little bits of things we were tidying up and closing out and worked 
out with Walter. 

Riess: That's really nice, a very loving, sentimental gesture. 


Blake: But there would be some advantage to having cats who kept the mice 

Riess: You dashed the sentiment. [laughs] 

Blake: I guess Professor Vaughan wanted some rationale when he put it down, 
for when University auditors come around and they wanted to know 
what Professor Vaughan was doing. I presume they wanted a rationale 
so that they could authorize the expenditure. I can see that. I 
administer at the university. 

The Carmelite Nuns as Neighbors 

Riess: Did you have anything to do with the sale of the Edwin Blake house 
to the monastery? Did you know Noel Sullivan? 

Blake: No. My uncle handled that as executor. I remember his writing to 

my father when my father was still alive he died about the time the 
place was sold but they were needing funds and to settle the 
estate. They couldn't find anyone to buy it. and it was not a gift 
to someone as sometimes people have attributed it was for sale, 
and Mr. Sullivan made the best offer and Anson worked out the 
dividing up of the place. Mr. Sullivan bought the house and about 
three acres, and the rest of the garden was subdivided and sold off. 
I did not know Mr. Sullivan. 

Riess: Was there any problem for Anita having all of that religious 
activity up there? 

Blake: No. They invited her up. They wanted to buy some trees, and she 
didn't want to sell any, and there was something in the 
correspondence in remarks to the effect that the church is eternal 
implying that she was not.* [laughs] She did convey to them later 
that they were giving the place to the University. They did invite 
her, and she went up to witness one of the initiations into the 
monastery. She told them a lot about the garden, and they were 
terribly interested because she pointed out that the climate in the 
Holy Land is very similar to Berkeley, and therefore all the things 
mentioned in the Bible in theory could be grown in Berkeley. You 
know the Carmelites are a very sheltered group, no communication 
outside, and no contact, so that gave the nuns something to do for a 
project, they could get the seeds and the plants and the trees and 
everything, and they set about looking up in the Bible all the plants. 

She knew from something she read that there were close to two 
thousand plants mentioned in the Bible. They were going to be sure 
they had one of each in the garden. She gave them the list of the 
plants mentioned in the Bible. 

*See Appendices S, T. 


Riess: Did they really follow through on that? 

Blake: I don't know. She talked about it. I still get Christmas and 

Easter cards from the Carmelites. I got invited out once to talk to 
them, and I went out with Ralph Chaney because they got interested 
I guess they go through studies in Pierre Chardin. a Catholic 
theologian and paleontologist. They were reading his works. He was 
a great botanist, he was a friend of Ralph Chaney, and the question 
the nuns wanted to know of Dr. Chaney was if Tail hard de Chardin had 
seen both Anson and Edwin Blake's gardens because he had been in 
Berkeley in the twenties. Ralph Chaney said he couldn't honestly 
remember if he had or hadn't probably had because the gardens were 
in their prime. 

But that was more of Ralph Chaney's visit than ours; we decided 
to go together. I suggested it to Ralph Chaney and he thought that 
would be a lot of fun, so he and Marguerite Chaney, and Liz and I 
went out. Our discussion was with the portis. I'm not sure if 
others were listening; they could have been, but they didn't speak. 
Ralph Chaney did ask the portis her name, and it was, I think, 
Madeleine 0' Conner, and asked something about the class of the 
thirties. As it turned out she had taken one of Ralph Chaney's 
co ur se s . 

The Carmelites asked my uncle some advice and questions on 
things, and he pointed out that when they had virtually modified the 
house, they hadn't thought through the drainage system. It had 
originally been very carefully laid out because Edwin Blake was an 
engineer, and he had worked with an architect with the drainage 
system. Anson Blake had noticed that the Carmelites' modification 
of the drainage system was faulty and commented on it, but his 
advice was not taken. Then later when they complained about the 
drainage, he pointed out that they had not adequately provided for 
it, and said, "I think you'll have to do this and this and this." 

The Architect, and Building the House 

Riess: Speaking of the original, Gladys Wickson makes the mistake of saying 
that the Blake House was by Faville rather than Bliss, of Bliss and 

Blake: That's right. I'm quite sure it's Walter Bliss, because I'm quite 
sure Aunt Anita referred to him enough times. I guess Gladys 
Wickson made the mistake of getting the two principals mixed up. 

*"In Memoriam." Cal. Hist. Soc. Quarterly. Vol. 42, No. 2, p. 179. 


Riess: Did Anita ever talk about the building of the house with you? Do 
you have any lore about that, how they chose Bliss and how they 
decided how to lay it out? 

Blake: Something about the large living room, the books, some discussion 
about that. She worked very extensively with whoever was the 
plasterer or the artist who did the ceiling panels in the living 
room and in the dining room. There were references to planning the 
house and the rooms upstairs for her mother and Mabel Symmes. Some 
reference that it had been agreed that Grandmother Blake would go to 
the Edwin Slakes' because her mother was coming here. There was 
some discussion about that. She described moving the gardens, the 
planning, and how she had prepared and worked in getting ready to 
move the gardens when they were moving out, 

Riess: From Piedmont Avenue. 

Blake: Yes. 

Riess: What a thought, moving a garden! 

Blake: The lots on Piedmont Avenue were small, so there couldn't have been 
that much because they sold most of the land. I'm not sure if they 
used or had an arrangement to use some land behind the house on 
Piedmont Avenue. It was a point I couldn't make out. When I wrote 
the article I talked my way into the land office in University Hall 
in order to get the history straight. Anson Gale Stiles, 
grandfather of Anson, Robert, Edwin and Elizabeth, purchased seven 
acres from the Trustees of the College of California in 1868. The 
University later bought back from Mrs. Stiles most of the land 
except for three lots which she gave to her daughter, Mrs. Charles 
T. Blake, Anson and Edwin. 

Other Bay Area Gardens 

Riess: Did Anita know or make reference to Filoli and the Bourne family 
there, or any other great gardens? 

Blake: My uncle once referred to the other major gardens in the East Bay 
and said that they were both going to the McDuffies' garden party. 
I wasn't invited. They were among the few people in Berkeley who 
also still had a garden. 

They had some students who stayed at the house in the early 
days and helped in the garden, and there were some contacts with 
some of those because I believe there was a trip down to San Jose 
after I was out here. I came out in '56 and married in '57. They 
went to see someone's garden and have lunch, and that was a major 


Blake: motor trip for them. Anson drove. The garden was small but 

absolutely meticulous and they had a good time. Aunt Anita was 
curious to go see the garden and lunch there. I suspect earlier 
they did more of that. 

Riess: Of visiting other gardens. 

Blake: That was when Mabel had the car, and she and Anita went more places 
with the car. Without the car she became more isolated. And then 
Mabel didn't drive, and then Anson's driving was limited to trips to 
the doctor, going to the quarry, and the shopping. He did get his 
license renewed until he was ninety-one. [laughs] Let's say there 
were many bent fenders. He never had them repaired, he just drove 
with the fenders bent. 


Riess : 


Softened the edges. 

Softened the edges. When they were torn he took them up to see if 
they would weld them at the quarry. They said, "No, you take it 
down to the body shop." 

"No, youjustweld it." 

"But it'll show, it'll catch on someone's clothing or 
something" it stuck out like that. [gesturing] 

"No, you just take a hammer at the blacksmith's and pound it 


"Do we paint it?" 

"No, you don't paint it, you just weld it. That's all." That 
was the vehicle. [laughter] 

When they had students living with them, what room would the 
students have had? 

There were servants' quarters at the end of the house, and a 
separate stairway. They also had something, prior to that, on 
Piedmont Avenue, a spot for a student. I can't be sure if the 
students I recall were from Piedmont Avenue or the newer house, but 
they had a student room, and that may have been their early 
gardening help. You didn't need that much of a gardener on this 
small plot. You had the house and a small amount of garden, and 
maybe the student also did Grandmother Blake's garden I don't know, 
that could have been. 

Riess: Were Anita and Mabel involved in any way with the botanical gardens 
on campus, or the botanical gardens that are a part of Til den? 

Blake: I never heard anything about it, so I don't know. 


Riess: Perhaps Mai Arbegast will know. 
Blake: She may know, yes, I don't. 

Mrs. Hitch told me the story about her inviting a group of 
people who knew the Blakes, and the price of the invitation to lunch 
was a good story written out about Anita or Anson Blake. She 
rattled off the names, and some of them rang a bell with us, but I 
never heard if she got the stories, or what happened. 


Anson Blake and the Blake Brothers Company 

Riess: Do you think Anita Blake had a happy life? [pause] I don't know 
why I ask that. I'm having a hard time 

Blake: I think she was content. I don't know if there was something 

missing, but that was something she wouldn't have shared. I mean, 
she carried on with her interests and yet I don't know if she had it 
to live over again what she would have wanted changed. 

Riess: You referred to their stance against women's suffrage. Then I read 
that Anita did not support the openness of Stiles Hall, whereas 
Anson did. Did they get into discussions of this kind of thing in 
front of you? Stiles Hall was, after all, pretty much of a hot 

Blake: No, she felt that was his activity. She made a few comments 

afterwards, over tea, that she was sort of shocked and couldn't see 
how Anson could support it, etc. But I never heard anything between 
them. They seldom discussed or disagreed. 

Riess: It sounds like Anson felt that he was close to those boys at Stiles 
Hall. That would make a difference, wouldn't it? 

Blake: Right, he was chairman of the board, he was active in it. I'm not 
sure if he was the last few years he'd served fifty years as 
chairman of the board other than taking me there to show me the 
building. I got invited by Bill Davis to Anson's fiftieth year on 
the board. I was in Stanford when he stepped down. Bill Davis 
found out that I was here and invited me up for that occasion. I 
remember Dr. Sproul was there, and to my surprise he remembered my 
father, who had gotten an LL.D. degree while Sproul was president in 
1934, which seemed to me to be a remarkable memory. 

They [Robert Pierpont Blake and Robert Gordon Sproul] had 
corresponded a few years before that; he had asked him to represent 
the University of California at the founding of Brandeis University, 
and something else. The University of California wanted to be 
represented, but [Sproul] didn't want to fly across the country at 


Blake: that time. He was too busy after the war when the University was 
expanding. But they wanted a distinguished representative, and 
asked to impose on him to do a couple of things. So there had been 
a couple of letters of correspondence. But I was amazed that he 

Riess: A piece of history: At one point the name of the Blake Bros. Co. 
was Blake Brothers Company, Crushed Rock and Riprap, Asphaltic 
Mixes, Richmond. The first time I encountered the term "riprap" was 
through an Army Corps of Engineers project. I thought it was a 
corps term. 

Blake: It is a corps term. It's heavy rock, as you see around that wharf 

in the lithograph [on wall of The Bancroft Library conference room]. 
They could be pieces so big [gestures] which were placed for levee 
work and around wharfs or jetties like that. 

Riess: So it's not a term that was invented by a Blake? 

Blake: No. Eli Whitney Blake, Anson's grandfather, invented the rock 

crusher, which was one of the reasons probably that Charles Thompson 
Blake, Anson's father, went into the quarry business. As well as 
selling the crushers, he used them, and in the 1870's down by the 
Qaremont Country CLub, now in Oakland, Charles Thompson Blake, 
California Pioneer, Yale class of 1847, founded with his classmate 
C.T.H. Palmer the Oakland Paving Company. 

Riess: I haven't asked very many questions about Anson. I'm afraid that 
it's partly because he's not emerging as a colorful character. 
Maybe that's doing him a disservice. 

Blake: I think it is. He was much more socially inclined than Edwin. 
Edwin was a little bit quieter, did his engineering, didn't 
communicate. Anson was active in Stiles Hall, the Historical 
Society, and the Pioneer Society. I saw the tail end of his 
activitiy in the Pioneer Society. He certainly had been involved 
with activities in San Francisco, and he kept up his contacts there. 
It must have been once a week or something that he went to San 
Francisco rather than to the quarry. 

He was chairman of that centennial commission for the 
landmarks during the centennial California had a commission to 
identify important historical sites, and Anson chaired that group. 
They selected the historical sites to bear bronze placques such as 
Butter's Fort, and other sites. Anson knew his California history, 
actively collected texts on California history, which went to the 
California Historical Society. He also received an LL.D. degree 
from Berkeley in 1958 in honor of his being "the grand old man of 
Stiles Hall, University YMCA." 


Blake: He was active in banking. He was chairman of the National Recovery 
Act Code Committee for Rock, Sand and Gravel. He continued even 
when I was here to go to the Rock, Sand and Gravel Association 
annual meetings, etc. So he was the more out-going of the brothers, 
and kept in contact with members of the family. He followed up on 
the real estate. I had a lengthy correspondence with him on my 
father's estate and he helped to get that resolved. I worked with 
him and got his agreement that I should succeed my mother as co- 
trustee of my father's estate. I thought it was more politic that I 
got his concurrence, although it was not required. My father's will 
provided that I could be trustee rather than my mother, and she had 
had no interest and 1 felt that someone had to take a hand. 

Riess: Did he act as a kind of older brother to your father? 

Blake: Yes, he managed the family real estate. My father gave him power of 
attorney; my father paid no attention to those matters at all. 
Anson held all the stock certificates and managed all of it, just 
sent my father checks, so he had no records. 1 remember when my 
father died 1 was asked by the attorneys where all those holdings 
were. I said, "They're all in California." 

I think he became quieter in later years, but he still 
continued going to the office up to the last three or four months, 
although not on a regular basis. When I first started on the quarry 
in '57, he was going daily still. It then sort of petered down that 
he came to board meetings, and then the last two or three months he 
didn 1 1 make it. 

Riess: Do you think he felt very connected with the East Coast? In the 

material you gave me there's a great feeling of old family and old 
family history, Eli Whitney Blake, Yale, and so forth. 

Blake: He went back to New Haven in the year my father was born, in 1886, 
and met his grandfather, Eli Whitney Blake, and he spent the summer 
there. Eli Whitney Blake died later on that year. He saw all that 
generation Eli Whitney Blake was in his last year but I guess in 
good health and alert that summer. And then he kept up with the 
dozens of cousins, etc. 

Riess: Those ties were not broken, but this was definitely a California 

Blake: Right. He very much kept up correspondence with the older 
generation of the people in the east while being a part of 


[Date of Interview: 1 June. 1987] 

Riess: This second meeting we are having in part because I read a lot of 

Anita Blake's correspondence in The Bancroft Library and it brought 
up new questions.* 

I was curious about her deep connections with a lot of the 
Japanese and her apparent help to them in the war relocation period. 
I wondered if you could fill in any kind of background about that 
and in general whether you felt that she had a real affinity for 
the Asian population. 

Blake: She had a great respect for their art, their culture, their history. 
She was very knowledgeable on these subjects. She certainly had a 
respect for them as individuals. One occasion, she told me the 
story of keeping a package for a Japanese gentleman I don't recall 
his name who came to her just before the relocation effort was 
undertaken and delivered a package about two feet long and several 
inches thick. It was wrapped, and she kept it for him. After the 
war, she handed it back to him. He thanked her very much. She 
never opened it nor ever knew what the contents were. 

Riess: Did they have a Chinese cook? 

Blake: There was a Chinese cook on one of my earlier trips to visit them. 
I don't absolutely remember which one that was. But I do remember 
meeting one. There was also a nephew, a grandson, or some Chinese 
boy who was going to school, and Mabel Symmes was helping him with 
his reading. 

*This follow-up session was conducted in the oral history office six 
months after the first meeting. All the other Blake series inter 
views had been taken in the months between and several questions had 
arisen. The questions had been directed to Mr. Blake by mail, but a 
verbal response was deemed to be preferable to a written response. 


Riess: And how about on the gardening staff? Did they have any Japanese 

Blake: I don't really remember meeting the gardening staff in 1945. 

Riess: Well, that would have been difficult, wouldn't it. for them to have 
gotten back from relocation, 

Blake: They obviously had someone, but I don't remember meeting the 

individual on my first trip. On my second trip in the early '50s I 
think maybe Jim Anderson was already there at that time. But I 
couldn't be absolutely sure of when he arrived. 

Riess: Okay. The next thing 1 had asked you in my notes was about Anita's 
general health, because she does seem to have a lot of ailments. In 
fact, she went East for some eye operations when she was much 
younger went to Philadelphia for some operation. 

Blake: Yes, it was early, I think, a cataract removal. I remember someone 
describing her as being led to a garden party because she couldn't 
see, and she had to have someone take her. Her eyes did get better, 
but they were always a problem. I don't remember anything else 
about her health, other than that she was very sensitive about 
additives, such as flourides in water. She was opposed to the 
flouride initiative as she didn't feel those things should be forced 
on the public. 

Riess: You and other people have referred to students who lived with the 
Anson Blakes. Do you remember who Charles Grant might have been? 

Blake: Yes. I met Charles Grant when I was in the quarry business. At that 
time he had the C.H. Grant Equipment Company, which sold concrete 
mixer trucks and other types of equipment. I gathered he had been 
one of the students who lived in whatever those quarters were. I 
think it was where the horse was kept, and it may have been a 
quarters which was shared, and he also helped in the gardens of 
Edwin Blake and Mrs. Charles T. Blake. 

Riess: Because Anson and Anita had no children, I was curious as to whether 
you thought that the bonds that they formed with these students were 
particularly deep and meaningful. 

Blake: There were some certainly who kept up the correspondence and contact 
with them after they had left the University. I don't know what 
proportion, but there were references to the gentleman who later was 
president or manager of the Yellow Cab Company in San Francisco who 
had been was one of those students. 

Riess: They didn't turn up in the wills? 
Blake: No. 


Riess: In the interview that I had with Mai Arbegast, she mentioned the 

letters of James West, who was the really quite famous botanist who 
corresponded with Anita Blake. Mai Arbegast had seen some of James 
West's letters. She says that they were under Mrs. Blake's bed 
along with, she thought, other letters and memorabilia that were 
precious to Mrs. Blake, some oriental scrolls, some objects of 
sentimental value. 1 then assumed from that that perhaps that had 
also included the letters, which I can't find any place else, that 
Mrs. Blake might have received from Anson Blake. I wondered if you 
could tell me about the situation under the bed. 

Blake: The bed was a four-poster bed, with very high legs. Dr. [Helen] 

Christensen had expressed concern that Mrs. Blake had to slide off 
the bed onto the floor. So a stool was made so she could get out of 
the bed onto the stool and then onto the floor, rather than slipping 
off the edge of the bed, hitting the floor, and then steadying 
herself. I think there could have been a curtain or it has a name, 

Riess: Dust ruffle? 

Blake: Yes, a dust ruffle under the bed which shielded the boxes and 

whatever these things you may be referring to. That could have 
been. I looked at the height of the bed because I worked with my 
wife and we had the stool made which she got out of bed onto and 
then stepped down. We had a rather solid stool made at Dr. 
Christen sen's request. 

I did get my aunt to sit on the bed, as one of the questions 
was how tall the stool had to be. I also supported Dr. 
Christensen 1 s request to remove the small oriental runner, because 
it slipped on the hardwood floor. I think I found another place to 
put it, and so she could still see it. But I did not look under the 
bed as I had no occasion to. 

Then later in Mrs. Blake's last illness, after she had become 
unconscious, the nurses, through Dr. Christensen, requested that we 
get a hospital bed, and we agreed to that, and then the gardeners 
took down the four poster bed and took it upstairs and put it in the 
room which had been built for Aunt Anita's mother, Mrs. Symmes. 
That room was seldom used as a guest room because the bath was 
shared with Mabel. So they used the other guest room, which had a 
separate bath, for the guests when they had them. 

Riess: Mrs. Symmes lived in the house? 

Blake: The room was built for Mrs. Symmes. You may remember I mentioned to 
you that a wing was built onto Edwin Blake's house for Mrs. Charles 
T. Blake, Anson's mother, because it had already been the decision 


Blake: to build rooms for Anita's mother and Mabel into the Anson Blake 

house. But Mrs. Symmes either died before the house was complete, 
or shortly thereafter. 

Riess: But it was referred to as Mrs. Symmes 1 room? 

Blake: Yes. Into that room they put the bed. I don't know the rest of the 
material you referred to it might have been under the bed. if that 
was put up there or what happened to it. 

Riess: You said that Mrs. Blake's bed had somehow gotten confused with the 
Taft bed. The Taft bed, of course, is the great legacy. 

Blake: Aunt Anita had left a list of things which were to go to various 
people, which she had dictated to Dr. Christensen. In that list 
there was a reference to the Taft bed, which had been Fanny Edwards 
Taf t's bed, come down through the Taft family. It had come from her 
estate. Charlie Taft, the brother of Robert A, Taft, the son of the 
president and cousin of the Blakes not the Symmeses, Mr. Pettitt 
who wrote the history of Berkeley attributed the Tafts as cousins to 
Anita, which was a mistake he wrote to President Clark Kerr asking 
for some of the rugs and the bed to go into the Taft house in 
Cincinnati, which they are restoring.* 

President Kerr agreed, and in preparation of that the bed got 
taken down to get ready for shipment. Someone then managed to mix 
up the pieces of both beds. They stacked the two together. So I 
was asked to go in and sort pieces of the bed out. One of the 
gardeners helped me. So we sorted literally piece by piece. I 
recognized which was the Taft bed because of its posts. I had to 
get the side rails and the canopy pieces, and the only way I could 
be sure what all fit together was to partially assemble both beds. 
They were marked, labeled, and put in two sides of the rooms, and 
they went their separate ways. 

Riess: Yes. Walter Vodden, in talking about the canopy bed that Mrs. Blake 
slept in, said that the canopy protected the bed itself from 
whatever leaks there were in the roof. 

Blake: That part of the house had an opened area above it. I guess you 

could have walked out from Mrs. Symmes' room and Mabel's room onto a 
sort of little deck sitting area. There were leaks in that roof, 
from time to time. The ceiling was in rather poor shape. 

*From a May 8, 1970 letter from Charles P. Taft to Igor Blake: "I 
do have the bed, and I think also a rug. I do not think there was a 
Taft desk., ." 


Riess : 

Riess: So just to nail down, once and for all. this business about the 

goodies under the bed You were not party to doing anything with 
them? They could still turn up somewhere? 

Blake: The most logical thing would have been to have put them upstairs in 
that room where they moved the bed. But I'm not sure 

Riess: They're not among family memorabilia that at some disposition of 
family papers went one direction or another? 

Blake: No, because we would have recognized Anson Blake's letters. Anson 
Blake gave a couple of boxes of older family correspondence to me 
about the time I was married. Aunt Anita gave me a group of my 
father's letters to his mother from his era when he was traveling in 
Russia from 1916 to 1920. 

Robert Pierpont Blake. 

Yes. I did get that group of Robert Pierpont Blake correspondence. 

I was interested that in your note to me you said that the estate 
had been homesteaded to Anita. I wish you'd explain that. My 
question to you was why on an old map the estate was in the name of 
Anita Blake, because the Edwin Blake property was in his name. Of 
course, maybe this is because his wife had already died. But, in 
any case, maybe you could make that clear again, why it was done 
that way. 

Blake: My uncle told me that he had taken steps to homestead the house in 
Anita's name, which would give her protection in the event he went 
bankrupt during the Depression. Then, he felt, the house would be 
secure as her property. I've never looked up the legal implications 
of it, but as I understood it if someone went bankrupt and the house 
had been homesteaded, then it was a way of preserving it from the 
bankruptcy claims; and then also if it was in his wife's name, 
because she did not co-sign the notes, etc., which he had. 

Riess: Sounds like a fine solution, and probably it's not allowed these 

Blake: I'm not sure, but it was allowed in the '30s. That's when he took 

steps to do it because the Depression, as I mentioned earlier, was a 
difficult time for them. 

Riess: Yes. Anita's first letters to her husband were to him in Venice. 
What was Venice? 

Blake: Venice is an island in the Sacramento Delta, one of those islands 

built by building a levee around it and pumping out the water. They 
raised asparagus and other crops. We had some fraction of the 


Riess : 

Riess : 

Riess : 

Riess : 

You mean, it was owned by the Blake Company? 

It was owned somehow by the Blake family. It must have been sold by 
the time Grandmother Blake died in 1928 because it wasn't in her 
estate, as I recall, because I don't think my father ever had a 
portion. Grandmother Blake left one quarter of her estate to each 
of her children, minus a few small bequests. I've read the 
description of what he acquired from her, and he did not aquire a 
piece of Venice Island. So it looks like maybe they sold it at an 
earlier time. 

Do you know when it was created? 

My father referred to going up the Sacramento River as a teenager. 
That would have been about the turn of the century, 1899, 1900, or 
something like that. They still had it then. I'm not sure if that 
was something which may have been sold when they reorganized the 
quarry business. In 1914 we acquired basically the entire ownership 
of the San Pablo Quarry in Richmond and changed the name of the 
company to Blake Brothers Company, and split up the partnership 
which Grandfather Blake, Charles Thompson Blake, had had in the 
Oakland Paving Company. I'm not sure if that was one of the 
tradeoffs, or how Venice Island was sold. 

Well, that's interesting. I hadn't done any research in the history 
of the delta, but I would like to include, right here and now, 
anything of it that we can. 

It was one of the things Anson Blake was involved with, 
than the fact that it existed, I'm not sure. 

But other 

Well, do you think that he also worked on riprapping the rest of the 
islands in the delta, or was this the only one? 

We sold a lot of riprap because the Blake Brothers Company, the San 
Pablo Quarry as it was called, was built with the idea of shipping 
the product by water to San Francisco and up along the delta. So we 
did an extensive amount of water delivery of rock and asphalt. The 
early roads to Sacramento were paved with the products of the quarry 
as they went along the river edge. They took the material by barge 
and built roads on the edge of the levees all the way to Sacramento. 

The riprap business was a very important part of the quarry 
business, much like Basalt Rock still has such a capacity to supply 
riprap along the delta area of the islands. The difference now is 
that the landowner paid for the riprap in the early days, rather 
than the state. When the island flooded, it was a major financial 
loss to the individual. There was no federal or state help. Now 
the farmers expect to be helped when there is a flood. 


Riess: These letters were written to him when she was at Howell Mountain, 
at the Hacienda de los Posadas, early in their marriage. 

Blake: That would be logical. He might have stopped there coming back 
down. There was an extensive ferry and bay commerce business. 
There was a regular route for ships stopping at wharfs, delivering 
passenger mail and freight. Early freight bills indicate the extent 
of local commerce on the bay, and my father referred to going up 
with Anson, and the boat would stop at the Blake Brothers Company. 
They would stop at the Venice Island Wharf. They would stop at 
these various places, leaving off material, and picking up freight. 
On the way back they could stop in San Rafael. 

Riess: San Rafael rather than Benicia, or 

Blake: I mentioned San Rafael because when the Richmond-San Rafael ferry 
was put in, Anita used to take that, referred to taking it in the 
very early days when she still had the horse. 

Riess: That's how she got up when she would come from Berkeley? 

Blake: Right. It would take, I think, two nights, if you stopped one place 
and then had one second day's ride. 

Riess: She was in a horse and carriage, or just on horseback? 

Blake: Horseback I presume. When they went to Howell Mountain, if they 
went for a longer period of time, she took the horse with her. 

Riess: So when she would come back she would stable the horse somewhere in 
San Rafael, come back on a ferry 

Blake: Come back on a ferry the horse too. Or maybe she'd spend the night 
in San Rafael, and then come back for the rest of the ride. It 
would be a few hours ride from San Rafael to Kensington. Wasn't 
that bad a ride. 

Riess: But she didn't bring the horse back to Kensington? 

Blake: I never knew if the horse was at Kensington. There was apparently a 
stable at Piedmont Avenue, and I don't quite know when she stopped 
keeping horses. 

Riess: This might have been journeys from Piedmont Avenue, actually. The 
time at Hacienda de las Posadas is a very early time, 1916 or so. 

Blake: They also referred to riding to Sleepy Hollow, riding over the 
Berkeley hills. They both rode. 


Riess: It's really hard for me to imagine Mrs. Blake leaving Piedmont 

Avenue on horseback and riding to Richmond. I mean it doesn't sound 
like something that ladies do. Just off by herself for a four hour 
ride, or three hours. 

Blake: Or something, yes. 

Riess: And what could she possibly carry by way of clothing? 

Blake: A travel bag on the back saddle would be a minimal thing. That's 
about all there would be. Aunt Anita never described that detail. 

Riess: But there were no brigands along the road in those days. 

Blake: Well. Edwin Blake used to take the payroll for the quarry out to 
Richmond on payday, and he always took a revolver because the 
payroll was in gold coin. It was all counted out in envelopes. He 
drove out, Blake, in a buggy but he had his army service revolver on 
the seat next to him, because payday was a known day, and he was a 
recognized person. One of his trips to the quarry always coincided 
with payday. He went there other times, but he always arrived on 
payday with the revolver. 

Riess: By that very token, that's why I'm really surprised at Mrs. Blake 

riding off on her own. It's what's come down in the family history 
to you, apparently. 

Blake: Yes. 

Riess: Those reports from Howell Mountain are very vivid, and she seemed to 
enjoy her position as kind of the manager. I am going to include 
some in the oral history. 

When she was in St. Helena, I don't know whether you know that 
she got a couple of degrees from University Extension, one in dairy 
husbandry, and one in hay husbandry.* 

Blake : No. 

Riess: By correspondence. She managed to deal with the railroads and to 
get a whole carload of hay, delivered from somewhere in southern 
California, or some area. Anyway she was busy and very effective. 

*Anita Blake's correspondence course work with Agricultural 
Extension is in the University of California' Archives in The 
Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley. 


Riess : I asked you whether you had ever visited that property, or what the 
ownership of the property was. I guess it was maybe out of her 
hands by that time? 

Blake: She gave it as a gift to the state for a conservation area and was 
very unhappy because in those days the state's concept of 
conservation was recreation, not the sort of wilderness, natural 
state type of thing which she had envisioned it as. 

Riess: Do you know the land? Have you been out there? 

Blake: The area was pointed out to me when both of them went to St. Helena 
to the Seventh Day Adventist place for physical therapy and rest. 

Riess: This was in the fifties that they were going up to the sanitarium 

Blake: Right. 

Riess: Had that been a regular kind of rest cure program? 

Blake: They had been up once or twice before, and I guess she persuaded 
Uncle Anson to join her on this occasion. So they both went up 

Riess: How is it that that property came into the family, the Howell 
Mountain land? 

Blake: My uncle bought that with the fee he received as being trustee for 
Scofield Construction when it went bankrupt. Scofield 
Construction had the contract to build the Mare Island drydocks. In 
those days they just had begun to have a bonding company. So the 
courts took over, and my uncle was appointed by the court as 
receiver for Scofield Construction. 

Then he ran Scofield Construction and kept the crew and the 
people and equipment together in order to complete the Mare Island 
contract. The bonding company had to pay for that. With that fee 
that was a two or three year job he acquired the piece of land and 
gave it to Anita. 

Riess: And this was long before they moved, long before they had any reason 
to think that they might move to that Kensington property. It's 
evidence that Anita had an enormous need for land. 

Blake: Yes. So obviously they had been thinking of the Howell Mountain 

place. I don't quite have the sequence of the Sleepy Hollow property, 
but they were sort of debating what they wanted, and where they 
wanted to build whatever they were going to build. Then they decided 
to have the garden and build the Kensington place, and they sold the 
place in Sleepy Hollow. But I don't have dates for these transactions. 


Riess: It was only the University's need for the Piedmont Avenue area, 
though, that propelled them out to Kensington, 

Blake: Correct. Yes. 

Riess: Otherwise do you think that the scheme would have been to have the 
Piedmont Aveue house, and then a second 

Blake: Maybe a second place for a ranch, or a . I think a ranch was in 
mind, maybe. 

Riess: Because Anson would always have needed to have been near the 

business. He couldn't have been living in St. Helena, could he? 

Blake: That would have been more difficult in those days, but possible, to 
get to San Franciso, and to get to Richmond, again by ferry. 

Riess: Think of that passion for land. 
Blake: Yes. 

On the gift of the property, Anson Blake had a small piece of 
Edwin Blake's garden, which he had taken in his name. So he joined 
in signing the deed because he had a fraction of an acre. They took 
a small fragment of Edwin Blake's estate, when Edwin Blake left his 
estate to his two brothers and his sister. In the settlement, Anson 
took a small piece, half an acre or three quarters, or something, to 
round out their garden and protect a certain part of it. 

Riess: In the gift to the University? 

Blake: In the settlement of Edwin Blake's estate (1949 or 1950) before the 
gift to the University in 1957. Then he had a small piece of the 
garden in his name, a fraction of an acre, or whatever it was. I 
have the correspondence on Edwin Blake's estate. 

Riess: In fact, the gift is ten and a half acres, so maybe that explains 
the half acre. 

Do you know when Mabel Symmes came to live with Anson and 
Anita, and where she had lived before that time? 

Blake: I assume she had lived with her mother before. The Symmeses had a 
house in San Francicso in 1906; in the fire they were living there 
and I assume they must have rebuilt. As Mrs. Symmes was getting 
older in the '20s, they decided to move into the Kensington house. 
I don't believe they were living in the Piedmont Avenue house which, 
I think, was rather small. 

Riess: But you do think that Mabel Symmes was in the Kensington house from 
the beginning? 


Blake: dearly, but perhaps Mrs. Symmes had died by the time the Kensington 
house was completed. The rooms were designed for Mabel and her 
mother. So Mabel moved in in the very beginning. Anita, I think, 
was the oldest, and there were at least two brothers. 

The decision that Mrs. Symmes and Mabel move in together was 
the plan. If Mrs. Symmes ever moved, or if she died before she got 
there, that's the chapter I don't know. But I assume Mabel was then 
living with her in whatever quarters she had. 

Riess: Thank you. And thank you for coming by to clarify these points. 

Transcribers: Johanna Wolgast and Catherine Woolf 
Final Typist: Shannon Page 


Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

George and Helena Thacher 

An Interview Conducted by 
Suzanne B. Riess 
in 1986 


1988 by The Regents of the University of California 

George and Helena Thacher, 1986 

Photograph by Suzanne Riess 





The Charles Thompson Blake Family 47 

Thacher School 49 

Dining at Grandmother Blakes's 50 

Helena and George Thacher' s Marriage and Years in the Sierra 52 

An son and Anita Blake 57 

Family Finances in the 1930s 57 

Business and Home Life. Separate 59 

Mabel Synnnes 1 and Anita Blake's Horticultural Interests 61 

Family Photographs, Family Memories 63 

Being Entertained at Blake House 69 

Anson Blake's Business and California History Interests 71 

The Estate 73 

Looking at Photographs Memories 77 

Ties with the University 79 


George Thacher and his wife Helena are "family." George's mother, 
Eliza Seeley Blake, the only daughter of Charles Thompson Blake and Harriet 
Waters Stiles, married Sherman Day Thacher, founder of the Thacher School, 
and went south to live in Oj ai, California. Every summer the Thacher 
children, six including George, came north for visits. A Blake house on 
Piedmont Avenue in Berkeley was where vacations and holidays were 
celebrated. Grandmother Blake Charles Thompson Blake had died in 1897 was 
a small, imperious matriarch as George Thacher describes her. She insisted 
on having her family around her every summer. In a photograph from Piedmont 
Avenue days they lounge in splendid individuality children, dogs, and the 
tiny matriarch. 

I interviewed Mr. and Mrs. Thacher in Orinda where they live a country 
life. In their small comfortable house firmly set on a hillside, surrounded 
by fruit trees, they could be back in the Sierra foothills they lived in 
after their marriage in 1934. That life did not permit a lot of contact 
with the Anson B lakes they didn't "come out of the woods" until 1959 but 
Helena remembers very well being "looked over" before the marriage by the 
very proper Mrs. Blake and found satisfactory, particularly because of a 
shared interest in wildfl overs. She also shared Anson Blake's interest in 
the California Historical Society. Helena Thacher was close enough to the 
Blakes that she was willed all of Aunt Anita Blake's personal possessions, 
"knowing she would distribute them according to my wishes," as Helena 
ruefully quotes the will. That was not an easy job. 

It was a pleasure to join George and Helena Thacher in Orinda to look 
at photographs of the young Anson, and to acquire for the oral history and 
for the permanent collection in The Bancroft Library copies of Anson's 
papers written for presentation at the California Historical Society, as 
well as photographs of and from Blake House sent as greetings at Christmas. 
The interview echoes the genial give and take between the Thachers, whose 
beginning married life in tents and mountain cabins and years of Sierra 
seasons deserve more space than they get in this record of Blake family 

Suzanne B. Riess 

September 23, 1987 
Regional Oral History Office 
486 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 


(Please print or write clearly) 

Your full name 


Date of birth QcT. 13. IS & fa Place of birth 

Father's full name 




Mother's full name 

Where did you grow up ? 
Present community 

V-^*"\ C-O-ti 

I n^ Q 



c-^e_- . ^V\ . 









Special interests or activities 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

, Room 486 The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 94720 

(Please print or write clearly) 

Your full name $ gQ (I fr -E>M K I? THAC H R. 

Date of birth F&h, 6 > / l OS Place of birth _S <Z,D 

Father's full name S'HER VA A/ ->A Y" T/"/ A CH 

Birthplace A/"K/ HAV//, C*0A/ A'2: 77 /, T 

Occupation ^ QL <"> C\&~ & HcGtcl HtX-SJ'e/* 7~k CcC 

& t>0yS C<?//G?e f>r?/oa r cLfory ic 

Mother's full name EL\1A &L -^ L- & Y 

Birthplace Set ft P rfr H C /> C0, <^A /- ) F~C?FL W I A 

Occupation H D ti ^ E \&'\ I^'E' 

Where did you grow up ? C?J/4/ VAl~l~Y> 

Present community {/ &l N 


Y A L- Z . PH B . *2 


Occupation(s) C '/ '// ^ I^'S&'/M /2 T // 

Special interests or activities T"/2A \/^Z. - OA 

Ct L 

The Charles Thompson Blake Family 
[Date of Interview: November 24, 1986] 

Riess : Mr. Thacher, you were born in San Francisco in 1903? 
G. T. : Yes. 

Riess : 
G. T. : 

Riess : 
G.T. : 
Riess : 
G.T. : 

Riess : 

G.T. : 

Your mother came up to San Francisco for your birth? 

Yes, and after I was born she went to her mother's in Berkeley and 
stayed there for some weeks, and then she went back down to Oj ai, 
where she lived. 

Her mother's in Berkeley would have been on Piedmont Avenue? 

Yes, 2235 Piedmont Avenue. 

We can't have any memories from you about that, [laughs] 

Well, about the house, yes. because we spent all our summers over 
there, but not at the time. My first memory of that house was on 
Christmas, when they say that I was only about three years old. I 
remember the Christmas tree in the living room. I'd never seen one 
before, of course, or if I had I didn't remember it. 

There 1 really was a Christmas tree? I asked Igor whether they ever 
had Christmas trees out at Blake House, and he said no. 

I don't think they did out at Blake House, but my grandma did. She 
moved there around 1889; I think that's when that house was built. 
I don't know when her sons built their houses up there, but it was 
probably soon after. 

Grandma was a very imperious person. She was about four-feet- 
ten and she wore a size one shoe, Mother told me. That's a pretty 
small foot. But she had a mind of iron, and she ruled her children 
to the day of her death. Mother said it was fine, because she had very 
good judgment until towards the end when she was slipping a little. 


Riess : Was it that she was very virtuous, or very moral, or very New 

G.T. : Well, she was New England, and very intolerant of certain things 

what's called racist now, but we all were. We had Chinese help, and 
Chinamen were not people, they were rather like the horses on the 
place. But they did speak to us, and some of them we had great 
affection for. She was also very class-conscious, according to my 
mother I wouldn't have noticed that. Mother said she'd ask if she 
could bring a girl home from school and Grandma would say, "Who is 
she?" Mother would say her name, and Grandma wanted to know, "Yes, 
but who is she? Who are her parents?" And if Mother didn't know or 
couldn't say she didn't come to Grandma's house. 

I don't think Grandpa was that way at all, but I never knew 
him, he died quite a while before I was born. My father said he was 
a wonderful storyteller, and of course I knew he was because the 
letters that he wrote back to his family in New England were 
absolutely fascinating. They're all in the California Historical 
Society if you want to read them. 

H.T. : I have a whole lot of copies. 

G. T. : Have you got copies of all of them? 

H. T. : Yes. 

G.T. : Bless your heart. 

Riess: That's Charles Thompson Blake. When you're talking about 

Grandmother, are you talking about the woman who endowed Stiles 

H.T. : I think it's the next generation back. [Mrs. Anson Gale Stiles (Ann 
Waters), who was Charles Thompson Blake's mother-in-law, endowed 
Stiles Hall.] 

Riess: Stiles Hall has become such a liberal institution on campus that 
it's interesting to think that it was endowed by a woman whose 
attitudes would not be so tolerant. 

G. T. : I'm sure Grandma did not endow it, no. It seems out of context, to 

Riess: Originally Stiles Hall was a Bible-reading group, of Presbyterian 
persuasion. Were the Blakes a Bible-reading family? 

G.T. : No, I don't remember Grandma Blake ever reading a Bible. She went 
to church, and Mother used to go with her. My father was from a 
very strict family of good old New England Congregational ists who 
believed in the Bible and all sorts of things. But he backslid 


G. T. : somewhere along the line and became an agnostic. He just didn't 

believe that the word of God was in the Bible, but he thought that 
church was good for you, and believe me, you went to church, whether 
you liked it or not. [laughs] 

Thacher School 

Riess : I was reading about the Thacher School, and it didn't look like 
there was a required chapel. 

G.T. : No, there wasn't. He didn't believe that much in it. 
H. T. : Well, all the boys went down to church. 

G.T. : Yes, they had to go to church on certain days. On Sundays they'd 
all arrive down at the church on horseback. 

Riess: How is that, to be brought up in a boy's school? 

G.T. : I don't know, that's my life. It was perfectly normal to me. It 

was rather strange to be brought up in a house with no kitchen. My 
mother never cooked a meal until the summer in World War I, when it 
got rather expensive to keep a Chinese cook there, so she started 
learning to cook. [laughs] She never learned very well. 

H. T. : Once she asked me how much water to put on a roast leg of lamb. 
Riess: Did you all eat at a family table in the dining room? 

G.T. : No. The children, until they went to the school, ate beforehand. 
We had a nursemaid, and we would eat beforehand or afterwards, but 
we ate in the school dining room, after breakfast, and beforehand 
at lunch and dinner. 

Riess: Did your mother hold you up to the same standard that your 
grandmother would have? 

G.T. : No, she was a very understanding person. Sort of a buffer between 
us and our father, who was pretty imperious. His word was law; you 
never questioned it, you did what he said when he was there. 

There were very few women at the school, other than Mother and 
Grandmother Thacher you took care of your elderly relatives in 
those days, and she lived out next to us and Mrs. Barnes, and the 
school nurse. That's all, four women at the table. 

Riess: During the time you were down there you came up regularly? 


G. T. : Every long vacation we'd come up to Berkeley and stay with Grandma. 
Mother said that she had no choice. She would have liked to have 
gone somewhere else sometime, but Grandma said, "You will spend all 
your vacations with me," so that's what they did. 

Riess : But she couldn't get Robert Pierpont Blake to come, could she? 

G.T. : He came along much later, and also he disappeared into the depths of 
Russia and didn't show his head for years. All during World War I 
he was there. He just loved languages and he loved history. He was 
amazing, he spoke all sorts of languages. 

Dining at Grandmother Blake's 

Riess: Edwin and Anson were obedient to their mother's will. 

G.T. : They lived there all the time, and they ate dinner with her every 
Sunday night, and they dressed for dinner as long as they were in 
the old house in Berkeley I think they did. 

H. T. : Uncle Anson and Aunt Anita did, and we had to dress in evening 
clothes for Sunday supper. 

G.T. : Did we? 

H. T. : Heavens, yes. I remember the dresses I wore. 

G. T. : I probably wore my tux then, [laughs] 

H. T. : You certainly did. 

Riess: Sounds as if you're one of the few people who's worn out a tuxedo 

G.T. : Well, I grew out of it, actually. I had it for a long time. 

Riess: And the wives were of the same ilk? Did Anita and Harriet rebel, or 
were they chosen by their mother-in-law? 

G. T. : Oh. no, certainly Aunt Harriet, Edwin's wife, wasn't. I don't think 
either of them were chosen, no. Aunt Anita fitted right in with 
that, she was the last of the Victorians. Oh, you can't believe 

Riess : Tell me. 


G. T. : Gosh sakes! It's hard to remember the stories. I wrote some of 

them down, if I can find the place I wrote them and read them when I 
find them. I just wrote down that she was proper, and formal, and a 
marvelous gardener. 

Riess: When as a teenager you first knew Anson and Anita, they were a 
couple in their late forties, probably. 

G.T. : They were the same as Mother, although Anson's older than Mother 
two years. Yes, he was a genial person. The only time really I 
would see him would be Sunday evening after dinner. (I didn't go to 
Sunday night dinner until I was twenty-one.) After Sunday night 
dinners they'd all gather in the living room and converse. Uncle 
Anson was very fine, very genial. Didn't know how to say anything 
to children because he never had any, but he was nice to us. Uncle 
Ned, Edwin, would get off in the corner and smoke his cigar and not 
say one single word the whole evening. I thought he was tongue- 
tied, until much later, after I'd started to work in civil 
engineering he was a mining engineer then you couldn't stop him 
talking about his mining days, and about engineering, and so forth. 
He just wasn't interested and he stayed in his corner and sulked, 

Riess: The rest of the family would talk politics, or literature, or what? 

G. T. : I don't know what they talked about. It was very dull to me as a 
teenager or younger. The last summer we stayed there was 1919 or 
1920. I would have been sixteen or seventeen, and I didn't pay 
much attention to what they said. 

Riess: You were there for the whole summer, as well as for Christmas 

G.T. : The only Christmas we went there they said I couldn't remember 
because I was too young, but I do. They never believed it. 

Riess: But for the summers there was enough room to keep all those 

G.T. : We got pretty much overflowing towards the end, because there were 
six of us. 

Riess: In fact it was a remarkably large family. 
G.T. : Six children? 
Riess: Yes. 

G.T. : No, not for then. We should have been nine. Mother lost three 
between my older sister and me. That's the reason I was to be a 


Riess: It must have been a source of enormous satisfaction to your 

grandmother that your mother was so "prolific" is not the word 

G.T. : [laughing] "Prolific" is right! There wasn't much choice in those 
days, actually. You had babies, if you got married, once a year. 

Riess: Do you know why Anson and Anita didn't have children? Was there 
ever any discussion? 

G.T. : If there was I most assuredly would not have heard it. 
H. T. : Goodness, no. Nor did Uncle Ned have children. 

G.T. : You didn't talk about babies. [to Helena] How much younger is 

Harriet than I? Ten years? (Harriet Thacher Herrick, my sister.) 

H.T. : Something like that, yes. 

G.T. : I was down in the orchard eating oranges and Father came down and 

said, "You have a new sister." I had absolutely no idea that Mother 
was pregnant. I mean it just wasn't mentioned, anything like that. 

H.T. : And a little kid wouldn't notice. 

G.T. : Mother was kind of fat anyway, you couldn't tell. With my sisters 
you couldn't tell at all that was supposed to be good. It was a 
different world, oh, goodness, you don't know how different. 

Riess: When you say that Anita was such a Victorian lady, maybe you should 
describe her to me. 

G. T. : She doesn't stand out at all in my mind when I was young. She did 
later, long after we were married. 

Helena and George Thacher 1 s Marriage and Years in the Sierra 

Riess: Where did the two of you meet? 
H.T. : In Ojai. I was born in Palo Alto. 
Riess: Why were you in Ojai? 

H.T. : I was a guest of a college friend of mine whose grandparents had a 
house down there. They came from Milwaukee and came there in the 
winter, so we could go down to my hostess's mother's and stay there 
in the summertime. 

Riess: Where did the two of you meet? 


H. T. : On a blind date. 

G.T. : Fourth of July, 1930. I'd just come down from the job I was working 
on at Salt Springs out at Jackson, for PG&E, for the weekend. (Salt 
Springs is the name of a flat on the Mokelumne River where the PG&E 
was building a dam.) My brother was there all alone, but he had two 
guests that had shown up, a classmate, and his new wife. He wanted 
to entertain them. 

H.T. : So he called up my hostess and asked if she would go out and have a 
picnic with him, and she said, "I can't, I have a houseguest." "Oh, 
that's all right, T have a brother who arrived here at four-thirty 
this morning, and he'll go." It was proper in those days for the 
hostess's mother to ask people over beforehand for iced tea. Did 
George arrive? I should say not. Well, he'd just gotten in. 

G.T. : Tired. 

H. T. : Well, yes, you were tired. 

G. T. : And diffident. 

H. T. : I should say you were. I didn't care if I ever saw him again. 

G.T. : But somehow it worked out. 

H.T. : Four years later it worked out. 

Riess: How old were you? 

G.T. : Twenty-seven. 

H. T. : I was almost twenty-eight when we got married. 

Riess: Did you have a career? 

H.T. : I was a grammar school teacher in Needles, California. When I got 
out of school it was hard to find a job, and also I had horrible 
sinus trouble, and the doctor in Palo Alto said, "If you could find 
a job in the desert it would be wonderful." I thought if I could 
find a j ob anywhere it would be wonderful, so the two worked out 
very well. 

Riess: Then, after you got married, where did the two of you settle down? 

G.T. : Let's see: we got married, went on our honeymoon, and we were going 
to go up to a job in Lake Almanor I was construction engineer for 
PG&E. But they cancelled the job, didn't need me, so when I came 
back from the honeymoon they didn't have a j ob there, but they did 
give me a job in the office, which I didn't like much. 


H. T. : And I had to quit a teaching job everybody did at that time when 
I got married. Only unmarried girls and widows had jobs teaching. 

G. T. : That was the Depression. 

Riess: Is that because of the scarcity, or was it a policy? 

H. T. : I'm not sure; I think it was the policy. I knew that I had to stop 
my job if I married, 

G. T. : It was the policy, yes. We lived in San Francisco for a year in an 
apartment. Just barely made it financially. For five months we 
were four dollars behind. 

H. T. : We never sent a letter if we could send a postal, and we never took 
a streetcar if we could walk. We couldn't get gasoline for the 
car he kept his car in a garage but now and then we could splurge 
and take a picnic up in Marin or something like that. 

G.T. : It was pretty tough, and then PG&E did start a job. 
H. T. : We went to Vacaville first. 

G.T. : Oh, that's right, to work with this Soil Conservation Service in the 
Three C*s Camp in Vacaville. Then at the end of the year PG&E said 
they were going to drive a tunnel up on the Stanislaus River, and 
would I go? I said I certainly would. It was a raise, and also it 
was work I liked. They didn't start that for quite a while, but 
they sent me up to another job up at Lake Pillsbury in Lake County. 
You were pregnant at the time. 

H. T. : Yes, I was. 

G.T. : I should say you were! Helen, my sister, came up and camped with us 
for some months. It was a camp job, most of the jobs were in those 
days. Then the job did start up at Stanislaus and I went up there 
and Helena went home to her mother, where she had our first son. 
PG&E was very nice and built a little house for us up there. 

Riess: Before then you were in a tent camp? 

H.T. : We didn't have a tent, we just camped out. 

G.T. : On the ground. I used to eat most of my meals in the cookhouse 
breakfast and lunch anyway. And the cook was very nice, he'd send 
us cookies and things to eat. 

H.T. : Dilly and I went up to get cookies every day until I happened to see 
myself in a store window, and I was horribly fat. [laughs] I felt 
fine, you know, and I didn't notice it. George had a brother that 


H. T. : weighed 256 pounds and I wore his old jeans and filled them. 
George just brought down cookies after that. 

Riess : I see. not that you gave up the cookies. 

H.T. : No, I didn't give up the cookies, but I gave up being seen by 

Riess: You and who did you say? 

H.T. : Dilly. Her name is Helen, she's a sister of George's. [Helen 

Thacher Griggs] She came up and camped with us, and later on she 
came up to help me take care of the children. 

Riess: How many children did you have in all? 

H.T. : Two, boys. 

G.T. : After the house was done we could drive in the summertime 

H. T. : There's no road there. 

G.T. : But we had to go up on a tram, which was an open flat car that they 
pulled up the mountain on a cable, and then we got on a little 
construction railroad that ran on top of a flume for some miles, and 
then we walked up to the house, where the tunnel was being built. 
We were there for three years. 

Riess: Do you remember that fondly? 
H. T. : Oh, very. 

G.T. : It was wonderful. Although Helena was kind of lonely, she was the 
only woman at first. 

Riess: By the time you emerged from that the Depression had abated 

G.T. : Yes, we had no trouble living after that. I stayed with PG&E all 
the time. 

H.T. : Between jobs I went home to mother, which was very handy, because I 
didn't know where to settle. He'd go work to start jobs 

Riess: And then locate someplace where you could 

H.T. : Yes, and sometimes one week he'd be told he was going to such-and- 
such a place, and the next week he'd find out he wasn't going 
there, we were going someplace else, so it was very handy for me to 
have some 


G. T. : Home base. 

Riess: I can imagine that those early days with PG&E were kind of an 

G.T. : It was the end of an era. There are no camp jobs now. People drive 
to work whether it's a hundred miles, and seldom stay up there in 
the hills. But then, when I started with PG&E in 1927 at Salt 
Springs, they gave me two days off a year, Christmas and the Fourth 
of July. You worked every other day, 363 days a year. 

H. T. : And if you took a vacation, you quit. 

G.T. : You were through. 

H. T. : You didn't know when you came back if you'd have a j ob or not. 

Riess: One of the things that's associated with San Francisco and the 

thirties is the general strike, and a heightened awareness about 
being a laboring man. 

G.T. : There was a surplus of labor then, and PG&E was very anti-union at 

that time. B. H. Downing, PG&E General Manager, was violently anti- 
union. PG&E workers tried to start a union, but as long as he was 
in they never had one. 


Anson and Anita Blake 

Family Finances in the 1930s 

Riess : Did other members of the family, Edwin and Anson, have sufficient 
money to get through that? Could they help you out if you had 
really applied to them for some money? 

G. T. : They were in pretty bad shape. Uncle Anson at that time was 

director of the Bank of Oakland, which went broke, and he got hit 
with a big bunch of money he had to pay up. I think he had to pay 
eighty thousand dollars which is like eight hundred thousand would 
be now although it wasn't his fault the thing went broke. He 
objected to the loans they made, but didn't have enough clout to 
stop them. No, they were just about on the rocks. He borrowed 
money from everybody he could, and the business, the rock quarry he 
ran, they had to borrow money. Borrowed about $450,000, and most of 
it from his mother, who had inherited it from somebody I guess her 

Riess: She was living with them out in Kensington? 

G. T. : With Edwin. She had an apartment in his house. 

Riess: And she was holding that much money? 

G. T. : Yes. I don't know just where they raised all that money. I know 
that Mother had quite a few of the bonds, and I inherited them 
eventually. They were seven percent bonds, which was usurious in 
those days that was awful for those days. 

Riess: Where were you when they made the move from Piedmont Avenue to the 
Kensington address? 

G.T. : I was in school, at Yale. That was 1922, wasn't it? 
[tape interruption] 


Riess: Your parents sent the boys back to Yale, to get a Yale education? 

G.T. : Oh, heavens, yes. I had no choice on that. 

Riess: When you were back at Yale did you come home in summers? 

G.T. : Yes, all except the last one. Then I went to MIT after I was 

through at Yale, for two years, and I didn't come home for that 
summer either, so it was quite a stretch there that I was away from 

Riess: When they sent you back to Yale were you sent with letters to 
eastern relatives? 

G. T. : Oh, heavens, they were all over, thousands of them. 
Riess: How was that? Did you feel like quite a different breed? 

G.T. : I never liked the East at all, or the people. They were awfully 
stick-in-the-mud, they never went anywhere, whereas we did move 
around a little. I would have much preferred to have gone to 
Stanford or Cal. Mother went to Cal, and of course Uncle Anson and 
Uncle Edwin did too. I don't know about Robert, don't know where he 
went. I know he ended up at Harvard. 

I don't know much about the move from Berkeley to Kensington. 
I would visit them in the summers. I remember one time we went up 
there and spent a night, my brother and I, on our way back to 
college, and it was the year of the Berkeley fire. We got there the 
day after the fire. 

I don't remember whether 

Riess: September, 1923. 

G.T. : We did see the house at a very early time. 
we stayed with Anson or Edwin. 

Riess: Both of those houses imply prosperity. 

G. T. : Oh, yes, they were doing pretty well then, though they never did 

very well until the Second World War, and then they paved everything 
in Richmond and around there. That's when the company really took 
off and put the rip-rap around Treasure Island for the 1939 fair. 

Riess: I've always thought of it as a wealthy family. 

G.T. : Well, it was, it was a very wealthy family indeed. They had big 
houses, they had help until towards the end they always had a 
couple of gardeners at the Blake House. I should think Uncle 
Edwin, as long as he lived, had a cook. I can't remember. I'd 
just come down there once in a while from the mountains and have a 


Riess: Were they particularly fond of any one of the nephews or nieces? 
G.T. : I don't think so. 

H. T. : Elizabeth Thacher, George's older sister, lived with them for a 
while. [Elizabeth Thacher. 6/13/97-8/8/84.] 

G.T. : Elizabeth lived with Grandma when she went to Cal. I don't know. 
There was a while there when I didn't see much of them, and then 
when Uncle Edwin died Uncle Anson asked me if I'd like to be a 
director, because they had a vacancy on the board. That didn't mean 
anything: he'd send me the reports of how they were doing 
financially. I think he wanted a director who wouldn't pay any 
attention to the place. He ran it. I'd come down to the annual 
meetings, annual directors meetings, where we'd re-elect ourselves. 
I guess the stockholders had to sign their proxies, but they always 
ended up in the same gang. 

Business and Home Life, Separate 

G.T. : The business and home were completely separate. Aunt Anita visited 
the quarry once, I believe, and the only reason I know that is 
because the old blacksmith out there said, "I saw Mrs. Blake one 
time. She was out here with Mr. Blake, and he was showing her this, 
and showing her that. She didn't seem to be very interested." 
[laughs] And when they had their fiftieth anniversary dinner, there 
was a terrible fight, according to my brother who happened to be out 
there working weekends, about whether they should include the wives 
in the celebration, which was to be a dinner at the Qaremont 
Country CLub. They asked me, and they said that if I said to do it, 
why, it would be all right. I said, well, I think it's the modern 
thing to have the wives. [laughs] 

I remember one of my sisters was at the meeting, and she asked 
Aunt Anita who these people were. She said, "I haven't the 
slightest idea." She didn't know any of the people that worked in 
the quarry. Well, there weren't very many of them that were 
invited, that would be acceptable even to Uncle Anson. You were 
there, weren't you? 

H.T. : Yes. 

G.T. : I know Gus Kuppe, the secretary and accountant, and Henry Steinbeck, 
the president, Ronald Nelson, the bookkeeper he was single. But 
she'd never seen them, never met their wives, didn't know whether 
they were married or not, didn't know who they were. It was 


Riess: I'm trying to think when their fiftieth anniversary would have 

G. T. : In 1954. 

Riess: I guess they were so far along they were allowed to be kind of 
cranky characters. 

G.T. : [laughs] Aunt Anita was a cranky character from the beginning of 

her life, I think. She wasn't cranky, there was just one way to do 
it that was correct, and that was her way. 

Riess: And yet that way was not in conflict with your grandmother's way? 

To have her up in the Edwin Blake house and Anita down in the other 
house sounds like they were the two queen bees. 

G.T. : I don't think she bothered Uncle Edwin very much. 

Riess: But she could not have lived in the same house with Anita, I 
wouldn't think. 

G. T. : Probably, that's why she was at Edwin's. I wouldn't know that. 

That was intramural and I wouldn't have been in on it, certainly. I 
might have heard rumors afterwards. 

Riess: [to Helena] Were you very much welcomed into the family by Anita? 

H.T. : Oh, yes. Uncle Anson came to call on Mother in Palo Alto while I 
was there. Evidently we met with his approval. 

G.T. : Oh, yes, sure. 

Riess: What were your first impressions of them and of the house when you 
met them? 

H.T. : I was frightened. She was austere, and I was afraid I'd trip on the 
rug or do something, because she was a very, very proper person. 
Uncle Anson wasn't at all, he was just so pleasant. But she was not 
unfriendly at all. 

G.T. : No. 

H.T. : And I think she began to like me because she knew I was very 

interested in wildflowers and she was also. She'd take me around 
the garden lots of times when we lived in San Francisco, and also 
many years later, after we'd come out of the woods. About twenty- 
five years, wasn't it? 

G.T. : Yes. 

H. T. : We'd see them now and then in between jobs or when I was in Palo Alto. 


H. T. : I want to go back and say that I have understood that the reason 
that their houses were so elegant was because the University had 
given everybody that had to move from the future stadium site enough 
money for land and a modest house, but they had already had this 
land on a bad debt or something so that they didn't spend any of the 
University money on the land, they already had it. So they spent 
everything on the house. 

G.T. : Well, the University took the house under eminent domain. They 
gave them a good price for it. 

Mabel Symmes' and Anita Blake's Horticultural Interests 

Riess: You say that she had a fondness for you because you both had an 

interest in wildflowers and flowers. Was that Anita's interest as 
much as Mabel Symmes 1 ? Who came first in all of that, do you think? 

H.T. : I think that Aunt Anita was the botanist. 

Riess: By training, or just a hobbyist? 

G.T. : Just a hobbyist. She never did anything. 

H. T. : I don't know what her major was in college. 

G.T. : I think it was botany, but I'm not sure what it was. 

H. T. : And Mabel was a landscape architect, and she did that. 

G.T. : Mabel Symmes landscaped the Blake House. 

Aunt Anita always impressed me with her knowledge and the way 
she would go out and get things. 

H.T. : Mabel never said a word when Aunt Anita was there. 

G.T. : No. She lived there I don't know how many years, and they made her 
pay board and lodging too. 

H.T. : We just learned that a little while ago. 

G.T. : She had a room, and she said. That is my room and no one else ever 
goes into it," and nobody ever did during her lifetime which was 
fine, she needed it. 

Riess: Why is it that Anita and Anson didn't travel? 
H. T. : I don't think people traveled so much then. 


G.T. : No, they didn't. 

H. T. : Actually Miss Mabel and Aunt Anita went twice to England to furnish 
that house. 

G.T. : I didn't know that. 

H. T. : I told you that just the other night. 

G. T. : Well, maybe so. If you'd told me forty years ago I might have 
remembered it. [laughs] 

H.T. : I think that's what I understood from Aunt Anita. 

Riess: Horticulture was an interest that could be carried on by 

correspondence, with a great deal of sending of seeds back and 
forth, rather than actually traveling from place to place? 

H.T. : Yes, that's right. She was the only one in the United States or at 
least this is what she told me that could grow a mate plant from 
South America, and she was very, very proud of that, because no one 
else had been able to. 

G.T. : I know she got journals and seeds from all over the world, because 
I remember one time she sent me over to the Crocker Bank to get 
whatever kind of checks made out in the currency of the country 
where she wanted to get the magazines. The man said, "What in the 
world is she doing this for? She could send dollars over and let 
them change it." But no, she wanted them in pounds or whatever they 
might be. I remember South Africa was one of them. 

H.T. : Yes, because she had quite a lot of South African things. 

Riess: Once she discovered you had an interest in her interest was she much 
friendlier to you? 

H. T. : It augmented her friendliness. 

G. T. : I think she got very fond of you. 

Riess: It's such a wonderful passion, the passion for flowers and plants. 

H. T. : I remember once when we lived in Vacaville they all three came up 
and we went on a picnic up to what's now the bottom of Berryessa 
Lake it was Monticello Valley then when the redbuds were blooming 
and all that. They both of them practically rolled under the fence 
to try to find some flower that was up there. I said I'd get it for 
them, but no. 

G.T. : Mabel Symmes spent the whole time with a magnifying glass trying to 
identify what the flower was it was completely invisible to me. 


H. T. : It was fun. 

G.T. : They were crazy about flowers, plants and things, and that was a 
beautiful place to take them. Quite a shame they flooded it. 

Riess: Can you think when Mabel and Anita might have gone to England to do 
the shopping? 

H.T. : It was before the war, probably. I know they didn't have anything 
over the fireplace for a long time, because until the second time 
they went, they couldn't find the right portrait to put over the 

Riess: Yet it wouldn't have been right in the middle of the Depression, so 
it must have been even before the thirties. 

H.T. : Oh, I imagine so. I imagine toward the very beginning of when they 
were first there. 

Riess: But the two of you weren* t married until 193A. 

H.T. : It was before I ever went there that they took these trips. It was 
just that she told me about the portrait, and that's how I know that 
there were two, because it was on the second trip that they found 

Family Photographs, Family Memories 

Riess: Tell me more about the social life up there, when you were in 
tuxedos and dinner dresses. 

H.T. : That would be just us, there wouldn't be anybody else there. 
Riess: Just the two of you for dinner on a Sunday night? 

H. T. : Yes. But George warned me, he said, "You've got to wear an evening 
dress," because he'd been there before we were married and he'd had 
to wear a tux. 

Riess: How often were you there for Sunday nights? Was that a regular 

G.T. : Maybe three times. They did have guests in for dinner, that was a 
way of entertaining, and they called on people. 

H.T. : You did, you called on people instead of telephoning. 
Riess: He would drive her, or did Mabel drive? 


G.T. : I don't know how she got around. Grandma always had a chauffeur 
when she lived in Berkeley. I just don't know. 

[tape interruption] 

H. T. : I remember a time when our little boys were about six and four, 
something like that, and I was really worried about taking them 
there because there were all these beautiful antiques and things 
they had. Well, we saw that wolfhound [borzoi] slide on the 
oriental rug and bash into that marvelous piano, and my children 
mentioned that to me afterwards. [laughter] 

Riess: They had a "marvelous piano?" Where is that? 
H. T. : It's now at the music department at Cal. 
Riess: Who played it? 

H.T. : I think Aunt Anita did, but I don't know. I never heard anybody 
play it. She went to the Symphony, I know. 

Riess: With whom? 
H. T. : I don't know. 

Riess: [looking at a photograph] This is Anson and the Russian wolfhound, 
a greeting card from 1934. 

H.T. : And these are the only pictures I have of Aunt Anita, and these are 
from much later. 

Riess: This is an interesting choice of picture for the greeting card. 
H.T. : They're all of the house. 

Riess: Here is a very dramatic view of things, through the rock: "Best 

Wishes." This is 1936. And the plantings are looking a little more 
established in these. 

H.T. : Bancroft Library has a picture I sent them of the Blake House when 
it was first built, absolutely barren. 

Riess: This one is from Edwin and Harriet Blake in 1934. Quite a charming 
entrance to their house. 

G.T. : That is the house that's livable. 

H. T. : Yes, much more livable than the other. 

G.T. : Also they weren't so formal. 


Riess: The house was less formal and the people were less formal? 

G.T. : Yes. Well. Aunt Anita was formal. 

Riess: Did she and Harriet get along? 

H.T. : As far as I know. After Uncle Ned's wife died her widowed sister 

was living with them, and she stayed on. After that time they were 
never invited down to the other house. 

G. T. : Anita never spoke to her. 

H.T. : And never spoke to her brother-in-law since. 

Riess: That's because of the impropriety? 

H.T. : You bet. 

G. T. : You don't do that. You can't believe it. but it's true. 

Riess: She sounds very unforgiving. 

H.T. : She wasn't forgiving at all. 

G. T. : Oh, heavens no, not at all. 

H. T. : And she was quite critical of several people. 

Riess: Where is this picture taken? 

H.T. : At the Anson Blake house, and this was later made into a room, 
glassed, there. The front door is over here. 

Riess: This is now the solarium. Beautiful ceiling. 

H.T. : It's a beautiful house, but it truly wasn't very livable. 

G.T. : I didn't think it was. I never felt at home in it. 

Riess: Why do you think that was? 

G.T. : Oh, formality. 

Riess: Lovely views 1938 Christmas greeting this is one of their pieces 
of statuary, a Kuan Yin. 

H.T. : Oh, yes, she loved those. I always forgot which one was which. 

Riess: How did she acquire them, do you know? 


H.T. : She just knew all about oriental art, and she had friends over in 
San Francisco who would get things for her, or if they got things, 
they'd tell her immediately because they'd think she might buy them. 
She had marvelous things. 

Riess: Friends who were dealers? 

H.T. : Yes. Later on they and their families, some of them, were sent to 

internment camps, and she kept track of them, and they wrote to her. 
The letters to her I think The Bancroft Library has now. It's 
funny, I just don't know whether she would have ever asked them to 
dinner or not. 

G.T. : No. I'm sure not. 

H.T. : But she thought these people knew a lot, which they did, and 

through them she knew a lot. She gave scrolls away this may be 
after Uncle Anson died marvelous Japanese scrolls, to the 
University, $2,000 worth each year. 

G.T. : She didn't, she gave them all in one year. If she'd spread them out 
she would have gotten more deductions, but Uncle Anson never 
understood that the income tax was taking all his money away never 
understood it. For years he refused to make out a joint return 
because Anita would have to sign it and then she'd see what the 
finances of the family were. 

Riess: So even though he had perfectly astute treasurers down at the 
quarry, nobody could advise him. 

G.T. : He didn't trust Anita. When he gave her money she'd spend it on 
these things. 

Riess : She didn't have an income of her own from her family? 
G.T. : She may have had a little. 

Riess: How did Mabel Symmes, for instance, get along? How was she able to 
pay the rent? 

G.T. : She had a little income of her own. When she died I think she had 
$125,000, or something like that. 

H.T. : She worked. 

Riess: She was supposed to be quite astute about the stockmarket. Wasn't 
that one of the things that she did up in her room, follow the 


G. T. : Oh. yes, she always followed all the stocks, and she went to all 
the shareholder meetings. I guess when her father or mother died 
she settled the estate without a lawyer. It was easy. She was a 
businesswoman, all right. 

Riess: But Anson felt that Anita would have just lavished this money on 
plants and on art? 

G.T. : I think so, yes. 

Riess: [looking at photographs] "Aunt Nita" who was allowed to call her 

G.T. : I called her Nita, and you did. 

H. T. : I did, yes. 

G.T. : I think that was a baby name. 

H. T. : Didn't Uncle Anson call her Nita? 

G.T. : No, he called her Anita. 

H. T. : That 1 s right. 

G.T. : But I called her Aunt Nita always. 

H. T. : And Miss Symmes called her Anita. 

Riess: She looks a good deal more approachable here, as a matter of fact, 
[photograph from 1954] 

H. T. : She became more approachable, 1 thought, or maybe I grew older. But 
I didn't truly like her. 

G.T. : She was a difficult person to like. 

Riess: You always felt on guard around her? 

H.T. : Yes. 

Riess: She didn't mellow in her old age? 

H.T. : I think she mellowed, yes. 

G.T. : Some, but she still 

H.T. : I walked lightly. 

Riess: Do you think Anson walked lightly? 


H. T. : Oh. no. 

G.T. : With her? I don't know. He respected her views, I know that. He 
said once. "You know my wife is the last Victorian." He started to 
say something else, and he realized that you don't say things like 
that about your wife, and he stopped. I always wondered what he was 
going to tell me. [laughs] 

Riess: She certainly is clear-eyed and with her head held high here. 
G.T. : Though she got almost blind before she died. 

Riess: It's interesting. The Edwin Blakes 1 greeting card shows plants with 
quite a different feeling from the Blake Garden's look. 

H. T. : This willow tree was sort of between their yards. They had a rose 
garden together, which was between the two houses. I've forgotten 
what happened when the nuns got that place. Did they divide the rose 

G.T. : The nuns stopped their wall on their side of it and started it 

again on the other, and they wanted to buy that little corner of 
land but Anita would not let them. The Mother Superior said, 
"Well, the church will last longer than you do." I don't know 
whether they have that now. 

H. T. : They didn't the last time I went over there, which is probably 
about five years ago. 

In a very short hallway between the living room and their 
bedroom was a display I've forgotten whether in wall niches or in a 
narrow glass-topped table of tiny treasures of ancient oriental 
carvings. On the wall above were small, framed ancient etchings, 
paintings, etc. A new addition, since Uncle Ned Blake d;.ed and the 
nuns moved in, was a blessing sent to Aunt Nita by the Pope, via the 
nuns. The only time I can remember a real twinkle in her eyes was 
when she told me about it. She just knew the nuns were trying to 
get that extra corner of property that had been the rose garden 
jointly owned by the Anson and Edwin Blakes. She had told the nuns 
she would not sell it. (Besides, she was a Unitarian.) But the 
Mother Superior said the church would eventually get it as it was 
forever and would outlive her. We have often wondered what became 
of that piece of land, University of California, Berkeley, or the 
Catholic Church? 

When I was clearing out the Blake House, the Mother Superior 
offered me from the Edwin Blake house a one-foot high plaster statue 
of a naked baby boy listening to a conch shell. I have it now. (We 
saw a similar one on a fountain in Charleston, South Carolina.) 


Riess: What did Harriet Blake do? Did she have any special interests? 

G.T. : Birds, she was a bird watcher. She used to trap them and band 
them. That's all I remember. 

H.T. : That's all I remember too. A very pleasant person. 

G.T. : Oh, yes, she was an awfully nice person. It was a shame she didn't 
have children. 

Riess: You wouldn't say that of Anita? 

G.T. : I would certainly have pitied the child. I'd hate to be brought up 
by Anita. 

Being Entertained at Blake House 

Riess: Tell me about the tea parties. What would you eat? Who would be 

H.T. : I'm just thinking about when we went there for tea. I went to a 

great "do" one time, the only time I ever saw Uncle Robert [Pierpont 


Riess: Yes, when he was there she had a reception. 

H.T. It was crowded with people. 

G.T. : They were all over. 

H. T. : And I didn't know any except your siblings. 

G.T. : I remember they served drinks; wine, I think, and probably tea too. 

H. T. : I don't remember anything but seeing Uncle Robert loom up above 

everybody else. She served tea just to the two of us, or maybe with 
our children, or somebody else, often. 

G.T. : Miss Symmes. 

H. T. : She sat in the window, up by where Aunt Anita always sat, lots of 
greenery, indoor plants, which practically crowded out the view. 
Miss Mabel would come and sit behind the greenery and doze. 

Aunt Nita served tea on an East Indian, carved sandalwood table 
about this big, and it sort of tipped. Sometimes, if the cook or 
the maid wasn't there, later on, she'd ask me to bring in the tray 
because she couldn't. 


G. T. : And we had sandwiches or something. 
H. T. : Tell about the cigarette case. 

G. T. : Oh, yesl They asked me if I would like a cigarette after dinner one 
time. I don't know when it was, probably fifteen years after the 
Second World War. It was a Lucky Strike in a green package. 'lucky 
Strike Green goes to war" that was the slogan at least fifteen 
years before. It was the stalest cigarette I ever smoked in my 
life the package had been opened during the war! 

H. T. : Uncle Anson didn't smoke, did he? 

G.T. : No, Uncle Ned did. 

Riess: All the greenery would have been on the western side? 

H.T. : It was sort a bowed place, and Anita always sat in a certain place 
on the side of that. 

G.T. : It was fine for her because the light bothered her eyes. She had 

Riess: Did they have fires in the fireplace? 
G. T. : Every evening. 

H. T. : Let me tell you about the first dinner that I went to there. For 
dessert they served persimmons with whipped cream in these very 
tall, elegant Venetian glass goblets, with color that went down the 
stem and all that. Well, the cook hadn't really chopped the 
persimmon up enough, so that I would lift up this huge gob I love 
persimmons and I couldn't make it into a bite size. I sort of 
poked around, but I didn't want to really push down on it very much 
because of that beautiful stem. I never did eat the dessert, 
because of that glass stem. That was when the cook was the waitress 
also, I'm sure. 

Riess: Were the cooks Chinese? 

H.T. : No. 

G.T. : She had Chinese cooks at one time, but not then. 

Riess: Did she invite other garden people to see the gardens, and did she 
have garden events there? 

G. T. : I don't think she had garden events. 

H.T. : I don't know. You see, we were gone a long time. 

Anson Blake's Business and California History Interests 

Riess: It was twenty-five years that you were up in the mountains? 

G. T. : Yes. Then we came down here in 1959. and Uncle Anson died in '59. 
She died in 1962. because we sold Blake Brothers Company in 1963. 

H.T. : Every now and then we'd be down here, between jobs or something like 
that, and then we'd see them. It wasn't an absolute twenty-five 
years without seeing them. 

G. T. : You saw a lot of her when she was ill, in the last years of her 
life. You were over there at least once a week. 

H. T. : Oh, yes. I went over often. 

Uncle Anson asked George to join the company a year before he 
died, and George said that he would after he finished a certain 
underground powerhouse that he was building for PG&E, and that's 
what he did. He quit PG&E and 

G.T. : Started to work for Blake Bros. But Uncle Anson was never there 
after I got there, he never went to the office except I think he 
was out there once he was ill at the time. He said, "Did you 
settle with Henry Henry was the president how much your salary 
would be?" and I said yes and told him what it was. He said, "I 
don't believe you'll be worth it to the business." 

Riess: But he was joking. 
G. T. : No, he was not. 

Riess: I think it's funny that he kept Anita so in the dark about the 

G.T. : Women had no place in the business, I can tell you that. 
H. T. : Well, you had a secretary. 
G.T. : Oh, yes, a typist. 

Riess: But Anita let him in on the gardening part. He was keen about the 
gardens, wasn't he? 

H.T. : Oh, yes, bushes, that kind of plants, not necessarily flowering 

G.T. : California shrubs. As for California history, he knew everything, 
he was marvelous. If you got him started talking about history. 


G.T.: and about the early days, he was a marvelous storyteller. 

H.T. : Yes, I suppose that's why I joined the California Historical 

G.T. : That's the reason I joined the Pioneers. 

Riess : Why was he so interested in California history? 

G.T. : He got it from his father. He gathered all the letters together 

that his father had sent back east, and edited quite a few of them 
and published them in the California Historical Society Journal. 
And then he had some of the diaries of the two fellows that came out 
with Grandfather. He didn't send those in because they were a 
little too frank. 

Riess: It started out as an interest in family history? I suppose that's 
why people get into historical societies and so on. 

G.T. : Yes. He always was interested in it, though. It started at a very 
young age as far as I know. 

H.T. : He wrote a lot of things. 

G.T. : He wrote a few good books. He wrote a story about the early days 
in San Francisco, when he was young. 

Riess: The letters that are too frank ? 
G. T. : It was a diary that was too frank. 
Riess: Too frank for what? 

G.T. : Oh, they'd say they'd gotten drunk the night before and felt 

terrible. He didn't want anybody to know that about his father. 

There was a good story my mother told me about Grandpa: When 
he came out here he wasn't going to stay, but of course he did, and 
he died out here. The people back east sent a preacher out here to 
look him up and report on him. This preacher never found 
Grandfather, but he found these really disreputable friends who'd 
say, "Oh, Charley Blake, sure, that old drunk," and this one guy 
told him some terrible stories about Grandpa, and he went back and 
reported what he'd learned. And Grandpa didn't know anything about 
this for years, and he wondered why his family and relatives back 
there were so cold toward him. Some years later he found out, but 
he never disillusioned them. Mother said, "But Papa, why didn't you 
tell them about this?" He said, "They wouldn't have believed me." 


The Estate 

H. T. : For a few years before, and after we moved to Orinda. Mrs. [Igor] 
Blake helped Aunt Anita buy her clothes. 

When her younger sister Mabel Symmes died about a year before 
she did, her lawyer said that Aunt Anita had to make a will she had 
not made a will.* She asked me to mark her possessions that she 
wanted to give to certain people. I went over every single day with 
a whole lot of tags and what-not, and then she couldn't talk. So 
except for certain things that she'd told me about before, I didn't 
find out anything else. Except the last day I don't know how she 
could talk the last day but evidently the day she died Dr. 
Chris tensen was there, and Aunt Anita asked her to write down 
certain things for certain members of the family. 

So when the will came out I was willed all her personal 
possessions "knowing she would distribute them according to my 
wishes," [laughs] So that's all I had, with the doctor's list and 
what she had told me before. It was awful, dreadful, you just have 
no idea how hard that was. Well, her relatives were pretty feisty 
about things. The Thacher and Blake families were reasonable, but 
they were certainly sort of mad about some of the things that the 
University took like monogrammed silver. 

Riess : It was the Symmeses that you're thinking of? 

H. T. : Yes, the Symmeses were pretty hard, two nephews and a niece. 

G.T. : They fought over everything. 

H. T. : They fought over things among themselves. 

Riess: You had to divide it between them and you? 

H. T. : And Liz and Igor. Well, we got sort of mad because the rugs were 
Aunt Anita's mother-in-law's, and the monogrammed silver she'd 
inherited, and the University took that and the rugs. The interior 
decorator, a teacher at Cal, they called him "Duke" Wellington, he 
took a lot of things that really shouldn't have been taken. 

Riess: How did that happen? 

*For a further note on the will, see Appendices. Appendix W. 


H.T. : Mrs. Strong and Mrs. Kerr came in and we sorted out lots of things. 
I had a whole house of things to do, and I took the things to give 
to the people that the doctor had written down. It was very 

G.T. : "Personal effects" was what she said jewelry is a personal effect. 
The lawyer said that in law a lot of things that I would have 
thought were personal effects, like monogrammed silver, were not, 
but I think the University got to the law firm that settled it. 
Checkering and Gregory I'm sure they did. 

Riess: Chickering and Gregory were the Blakes' lawyers? 
G.T. : Yes. 

Riess: But they certainly are University-connected, you're perfectly right. 
Did anyone contest that? 

G. T. : No, of course not. It isn't worthwhile contesting. 

Riess: There is a copy of a will in the papers, and I don't know if it was 
Anita's or Mabel's, but there's a division of things among five 
members of the Symmes family. 

H.T. : That was all done for Miss Symmes. 

Riess: That was Miss Symmes' will, not Aunt Anita's then? 

G.T. : Yes. 

Riess: She had a woman doctor? 

H. T. : Yes. Dr. Christensen. 

Riess: That's interesting. 

G.T. : Good heavens yes! [laughs] I once asked her if Dr. [Wayne] Chesbro, 
who was Anson's doctor, was hers too. "Certainly not!" [laughs] 

Riess: Well, for someone who was active in the campaign against suffrage 

G.T. : Was she? 

Riess: Apparently she was. 

H. T. : I didn't know that. 

Riess: Yes, and so was Anson. They gave a good deal of money to defeat 

G. T. : I think that would make sense. 


Riess: I'm thinking that a woman doctor is in what she may have thought to 
be a man's province. 

G. T. : Maybe so, but you get a little intimate, and that was it. 

Riess: That's nobody's province, [laughs] This business about the Taft 
bed the family was very proud to be connected to the Taf ts? 

G. T. : Oh, yes. Grandma had him to lunch one time when he was President. 

H. T. : Seems to me I remember something about the Taft bed, but I don't 
remember what. 

G.T. : I don't remember about it either. Was that the four-poster? 
H.T. : Yes, and they sent it up to Ohio. 

Riess: It's interesting to hear that there was a beautiful piano. What are 
some of the other objects in the house that you think of right away 
when you think of the house? 

G. T. : I think they're all still there. 

H. T. : A lot of them are there. All the bedroom furniture went to the 
greatniece, Kuechler's girl. A piece of jewelry, white sapphire 
jewelry, that all the Symmeses fought about, I finally gave to Aunt 
Nita's niece. Carol Symmes Kuechler. I had to do something with it, 
we couldn't carve it in two like Solomon. 

G.T. : She took it to a jeweler first, and he looked at it, and he said. 
"It's paste." 

H.T. : That wasn't first, was it? Did I take it to the jeweler first? 

G.T. : Yes. 

H. T. : I know I learned it was paste. 

G. T. : He said, "It's very good paste, but it's paste Spanish paste not 
sapphire." Good lord! It would have been priceless if it had been 
sapphire, it had stones all over it. 

H.T. : It was an enormous broach. 

G. T. : It was a necklace, wasn't it? 

Riess: Did Anita wear it? 

H.T. : No, I never saw it before, but that was one of her personal effects. 


H. T. : I gave to the University drama department hats, clothes, and shoes 
that they wished. 

Riess: Did you see Anson at Historical Society meetings? Did you go to 
meetings when he was there? 

H.T. : No. 

G.T. : No. I never did. I didn't join the Pioneers until after he died. 
I couldn't afford it. 

Riess: We talked about the Piedmont Avenue house. Did they bring 
furnishings from that house, do you know, in 1922? 

G.T. : I was seldom in Anson Blake's house. I did stay for a while with 
Uncle Ned. When this family got too big we overflowed into Uncle 
Ned's, but I was in Anson's house seldom. I wouldn't have noticed 
the furniture anyway. 

H.T. : I can tell you about some of the furniture that was in Grandma 
Blake's apartment. It had this big desk in here [referring to 
furniture in Thacher living room], and this table, and what else 
came from Grandma Blake's? 

G.T. : From Uncle Ned? Some of the rugs. 

H.T. : When Uncle Ned died he left some money, and Uncle Anson said, how 
would we like to take out our money in Uncle Ned's furniture? I 
said, "Marvelous!" So these chairs, that sideboard, this 

G.T. : We got a lot of furniture. Helena picked it out. Also we got some 

H.T. : Yes, we got some rugs, that rug there. 

Riess: Did you take family portraits? Are any of the portraits around 
here from there? 

H. T. : That's my family. 

Riess: Your maiden name is Duryea. 

H.T. : Yes. 

Riess: From the east or from the west? 

H. T. : Froc. west of the Hudson. You understand that that's not good, 
that's west. From Ithaca, New York State. My father was from 
Craigville, New York I bet you don't know where that is. 

Riess: No. 


G.T. : Orange County, Goshen. New York. 

Riess: You've just come up with some more pictures; I want to see what you 
have there. 

H.T. : Both of those are of Grandma Blake. Anson Stiles Blake's mother. 
Riess: And this nice, fat baby? 

H.T. : Yes, that's Aunt Harriet Carson Blake. And this is Grandpa Blake, 
Charles Thompson Blake. 

Riess: Well, now that looks like the sort of person who settled the west. 

G.T. : He was. 

Riess: Tell me more about him. 

G.T. : I don't know too much about him, actually. I know he was blind as a 
bat, terribly near-sighted. He wore glasses when he was five years 
old. They didn't know he was near-sighted, but he put on somebody's 
glasses who was also near-sighted, and he said, "I can see the 
leaves on the trees!" 

H.T. : Did you know anything about the Taj o Mine? 
Riess: No. 

G.T. : That wasn't the Blakes 1 , that was Grandma Stiles', I guess. That 

was a mine in Mexico that they invested in that paid off. According 
to Igor it was the basis of their capital. Taj o is the Spanish word 
for "deep." The mine's gone now, flooded and caved-in. 

Looking At Photographs Memories 

H. T. : These are all of Uncle Anson. I think. George's mother said he grew 
a beard because he had a very little chin. 

G.T. : That's right. 

Riess: What's the key that he is wearing here in this 1954 picture? 

G.T. : I don't know. I think it's just a watch fob. 

Riess: In 1897 he had no beard, and whenever this was taken he'd gotten a 
mustache with a little waxed curly tip on it. 


H. T. : This is another one of Grandpa Blake when he was older. I presume 
you saw that at Igor's. 

Riess: I haven't been to Igor's, and he didn't bring it with him. Oh, this 
is Asa Waters [grandfather of Harriet Water Stiles], And then you 
have this collection of letters and articles. 

H.T. : These are articles that he wrote. 

Riess: "The California Centennials," "The Hudson's Bay Company in San 

Francisco," "A San Francisco Boyhood," Berkeley in Retrospect." 

G.T. : He would have been twelve or fourteen when he moved there. 

Riess: "My San Francisco," "The Land on Which We Live." 

G. T. : He wrote a lot of things, and he wrote well. 

Riess: Did he do that at home or in his office? 

G.T. : I don' t know. 

Riess: California Historical Society luncheon program, where he is the 

speaker on "California Life in the Mines, 1851-1852." That would 
have been a research paper? 

G.T. : No, I think that was probably mostly based on Grandpa Blake's 

Riess: These are interesting little [1 3/4 inch by 2 1/2 inch] photographs; 
what were these for? 

H. T. : Isn't that wonderful that top hat there I don't know. There are 
no dates on it. 

G.T. : He had thousands of photographs in that house, none of which had the 
names or the dates on them. 

H.T. : Igor and Liz and George and myself and one of the Symmeses were over 
here; there were people we'd never seen, and the photographs were 
certainly not dated. 

G.T. : They had no names on them, either. They said that Uncle Anson, if 
you asked him who they were, would tell you not only the last name 
but the first and middle and what they did. But he wasn't alive 

Riess: "Seventy Letters of Charles Thompson Blake, Mostly to His Parents, 
from Nicaragua, California, Oregon Territory." [1849-1864] 



Cltft Hotel, Roof Lounge 

WEDNESDAY, MAY 31, 1933. 


Portlier Experiences of Cnarles T. Blake and kis Associates 

Lunckeon will t>e served promptly at 1 2: 1 5. Friends of members 

are welcome. Price $1.00 per person, payable at tke door. 



H.T. : The handwritten originals are in the California Historical Society. 
I did that because I thought that that's where Uncle Anson would 
want them. As a matter of fact. I was terribly surprised that they 
weren't already there. I was surprised to find a hand-written 
holograph at Blake House. 

Ties with the University 

H. T. : I don't remember what arrangements were made about giving the house 
and garden to the University. 

G.T. : Oh, he gave it before he died. 
Riess: In 1957 it was given over. 

G.T. : They had a life tenancy. He was delighted to do that because it was 
a tremendously valuable piece of property and his estate was very 
short of cash all he had was the quarry. You couldn't have sold 
that for what it was worth, and you couldn't have realized what it 
would have been appraised for, and the tax on it would have been 
prohibitive in those days. 

Riess: Did the University compensate them in some way during their life? 

G. T. : Oh. no. He was delighted he gave it, and they took it without an 
endowment. He wanted to keep it the way it was, too, especially 
Aunt Anita did. after all the time she'd spent there. 

Riess: Had they been very close to the University? Had they had a lot of 
ties with it? 

G.T. : He had a lot of ties with Stiles Hall, and with the University. 
She was good friends with Willis Lynn Jepson, who wrote the 
book about flowering plants of California. I know he used to go to 
dinner because I met him there one time. Before we were married. 

Riess: Did you ever meet any of the students who apparently lived with them 

G.T. : Yes, I certainly did, and I couldn't tell you their names or 

anything about them, but I know there were some that I would see 
once in a while. 

H.T. : I remember a gardener 2y had. The University would have nothing 
to do with him. He was an Indian, and he was a wonderful shot. 
You could get a permit to shoot deer if they were ruining your 


H. T. : garden and all that, which is what was happening. But the 

University didn't think much of him, and they got somebody who is 
still there, I guess. 

Riess: Walter Vodden. He came in 1957 when the University acquired the 

G.T. : I know he didn't know anything at first. 

H.T. : No, he didn't. He studied every noon, and she said, "He doesn't 

know anything, but he's learning and he's trying," and she thought 
that was very good. But she liked her old American Indian because 
he got rid of the deer. 

Riess: He didn't do it with a bow and arrow, did he? 
H.T. : No, he didn't. He was a good shot. 

H. T. : Aunt Anita and Miss Symmes gave me plants for this yard, mainly 

the clivia, I said I would never remember that name, and Aunt Anita 
said, "Just remember Lord dive." I thought, "Why should I remember 
Lord Clive? " But I have never forgotten it. 

G.T. : He was quite a famous man. 

Riess: Did they come out to this place and help you decide what you should 
have here? 

H.T. : Oh, yes, and Miss Mabel said. "Just shake all of those leaves down 

out of the poplars and take them and put them on your mulch and make 
a mulch pile as green as possible." Oh. yes, they came out. I 
wonder whether Uncle Anson ever came here. 

G.T. : I don't think he did, no. He was too ill. 

Riess: Did they actually dig things out to give to you? 

H.T. : The gardener did, yes. 

Riess : Well, thank you. Our tape is just coming to an end. 

Transcriber: Johanna Wolgast 
Final Typist: Shannon Page 


Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

Elliot and Elizabeth Evans 

An Interview Conducted by 
Suzanne B. Riess 
in 1987 


1988 by The Regents of the University of California 



TABLE OF CONTENTS Elliot and Elizabeth Evans 



Anson Blake and the Society of California Pioneers 85 

Family Friendship with the Blakes 88 

The Fortnightly Club 90 



I interviewed Elliot and Elizabeth Evans in order to learn more about 
Anson Blake. Dark-suited, forever agelessly bearded, Anson Stiles Blake 
gazes pleasantly out of yellowing photographs. He was, by all reports, a 
good husband and a good businessman, and a good friend of the University of 
California. The family rock-quarrying business engaged him, but he joined 
in his wife's interests in gardens. He and his wife Anita loved each other 
dearly, as testified to by their letters in The Bancroft Library. They 
gardened together on weekends. He pursued family history and California 
history. He was a lifelong supporter and member of the board of Stiles 
Hall. But throughout the oral history he gets overlooked: Mrs. Blake and 
the Gardens steal the show. 

Fallacious as such conclusions might be, they were good reasons to seek 
out as interviewees men friends or acquaintances of Anson Blake's. But that 
was difficult to do for a man who died in 1959 at a fine old age. If I 
could find some member of the Society of California Pioneers or the 
California Historical Society who recalled earlier years of those groups and 
could tell us how engaged Anson Blake was with them he was the author of 
many papers read to the latter society it would color in the picture 
somewhat. Elliot Evans, curator of the art collection at the Society of 
California Pioneers, was recommended for an interview. 

I met with Elliot Evans and his wif- Elizabeth at their ridgetop home 
in Orinda. Both of them had memories of the Blakes. Elizabeth Evans's 
mother, Mrs. Charles Janin, had been a friend of the young Anita Blake and a 
member of the Fortnightly Club, of which Anita was a founding member. The 
Fortnightly CLub had been mentioned by Gladys Wickson in her "In Memoriam" 
piece written for the California Historical Society Quarterly and I wished 
to know more about it. Thanks to leads from Mr. and Mrs. Evans, this 
interview and the appendices that follow include notes on the club. 

Mr. Evans's health was not good, and it took some arranging to find a 
day that was just right for interviewing. But with the help of the Evans's 
daughter everyone was comfortably arranged around a table and the recollec 
tions flowed. As Mrs. Evans said, "The visit with you made a very pleasant 
interlude in our day. . .we are happy that we could add a few 'crumbs' to 
your research project." 

Suzanne B. Riess 

October 29, 1987 

Regional Oral History Office 

486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

Room 486 The Bancroft Library 84 Berkeley, California 94720 

(Please write clearly. Use black ink.) 

Your full name jj 

Date of birth &C*V JL. \lOl Birthplace ^JAnV QL 

Father's full name ^*.y>^ \A*JL V^V\rKtMr lL.Wpi.vv, S 

Occupation _ fr^v* C\/T^> * '* f Birthplace _ N^\A.V\ A 

Mother's full name 

Occupation Va^u.c.oiA. r>A>X\\vi\ z*> Birthplace Sa.nV"f 

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Present community \}t\v> Q> 4 

Education M K "T V T> 

Occupation (s) 

Areas of expertise 

Other interests or activities 

Organizations in which you are active_ 

Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 


University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 


(Please write clearly. Use black ink.) 

Your full name 

Date of birth 

Father's full name 

Mother's full name 

Occupation VNWXAAM**^*^ 

Your spouse 


3>. F, 

Your children 


IT U ^g /I Uj 

Where did you grow up? 

Present community vWi f\ <Aa-* 


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Areas of expertise 

Other interests or activities 


Organizations in which you are active T" t U 



Anson Blake and the Society of California Pioneers 
[Date of Interview: April 1. 1987] 

Riess: I've come to talk to you about Anson Blake because I understand 

you worked at the Society of California Pioneers. When was that? 

Evans: There's a tiny story there, I suspect. When did I go to work for 
the society, Mama? 

Mrs. E. : I have a blank on that. 

Riess: What were you doing before that? 

Evans: I taught at Santa Barbara and at the University of Colorado, art 
history and so on. 

But the story I was thinking of was that Mr. Blake had a 
preference in favor of two-and-a-half percent American treasury 
bonds for the Society of Pioneers' income fund. Well, that 
produced just half the interest they were capable of, and it 
seemed very wasteful, and the board really forced the issue. He 
promptly resigned and never went back. It was too bad because we 
all liked him, were very fond of him. 

Riess: That's a man of great principle? 

Evans: In the first place, it wasn't his money, it was the society's 
money. No one ever did discover, including myself, after a 
diligent search of my uncle's quirks, why he too liked those two- 
and-a-half percent bonds because he had the same, and I did his 
affairs when he was infirm. Why didn't Uncle [Reginald Bertram] 
approve of the five percents, Mama? 

Mrs. E. : Was it the length of holding? 
Evans: I don't think I ever found out. 


Riess: I've entertained and enlightened myself by spending the morning 

reading some of Anson's writings. His father took him, when he 
was four years old, in 1874, to a celebration of the twenty fourth 
anniversary of the admission of California to the union. It was a 
Society of California Pioneers excursion on the bay. Anson said 
there was, as in all subsequent events, an abundance of food, more 
bottles on the table than plates, and afterwards a good deal of 
oratory. I would really love your recollections of the earliest 
kinds of events that the Society had, and what the quality of that 
oratory was. 

Evans: I don't know; I wasn't connected that early. See, I'm an honorary 
member. I became one of the rare things, which is an honorary 

Mrs. E. : It must have been in the sixties. 

Riess: That means you don't have to have been a Calif ornian by birth? 

Evans: Yes, you don't have to have it because you've already got it. 
They've always been pretty careful about their membership. 

Mrs. E. : You did go on a lot of their excursions, didn't you? 

Evans: No, because in my time there weren't so many. 

Riess: You were in charge of pictures at the Society? 

Evans: Oh, yes. 

Riess: What does that mean? 

Evans: Curator sort of thing. 

Riess: People would give their collections to the Society. 

Evans: Yes, and I looked after 126 collections and the exhibits and so 

on. We also had the librarian, who was Mrs. Helen Giffen, such a 
remarkable person. She knew them well, because she had is Helen 
a hundred? 

Mrs. E. : No, not that old, but she's going along I know. 

Riess: Was Anson Blake coming to meetings when you had your job as 

Evans: No, I can't remember that he came to a single meeting after that 
difference over the percentage point. 

Riess: In what year did that difference occur? 


Evans ; 

Riess : 
Ev ans ; 

Riess ; 
Evans : 

Riess : 

It was the year that Ed Keil was elected president. [Keil 
president 1948-1952] His brother was also president, so it would 
be the Ed Keil connection there, because I don't think Mr. Blake 
really cared very much for Mr. Keil. 

Had Mr. Blake been a real leader of the Society up to that point? 

I'd say a sitter, rather, [laughs] and that's what blew the fuse 
over the finances. 

In other words, he wasn't pushing the organization forward. 

He was just like my uncle, who had, for his retirement, a damn poor 
portfolio. It was topping off at around fifty thousand, when with 
a few gentle scratches of the pen we got a quarter of a million 
out of it. He had just sat, as Mr. Blake had, on the most 
comfortable things except handling the scissors for clippings was 
not convenient, his rheumatism was a little troublesome, 
[laughter]. But it seems to me that Mr. Blake never came back 
after they voted to loosen up on the two and-a- half s. 

Mr. Blake was very much more a solid businessman than my 
uncle was, and they were well known to be leaving the University a 
bite, which they did. There is a little incident there: How in 
the hell I happened to get there in the garden on the morning 
Anson got his honorary doctorate [September 29, 1958], I don't 
know. That's cloudy. But I was there. When I got admitted we 
never went in the house, you wandered around the yard where it was 
flat Mrs. Blake said, "Dr. Evans, have you greeted Dr. Blake this 
morning?" I said, "No, I haven't seen him, but I was looking for 
him." She said, "Well, he is " wherever he was. I said, "Well, 
I think it's just very, very nice for him," because I had recently 
gone over the things that had happened to him. 

Mrs. Blake said, "Well, they didn't hurry it, Anson will be 
ninety at his next birthday" or something of that sort. She was 
not bitter but I couldn't say I blamed her much because the 
Blakes had given to the museum and University, and I guess the 
municipality too. 

Did the Blakes give any of their pictures to the Society of 
California Pioneers? 

Evans: I can't remember. 

Riess: These papers I have, Anson' s writings, some of them were printed 

for the California Historical Society Quarterly, so clearly that's 
where they appeared. But some of the other typescripts did the 
Society of California Pioneers have it's own quarterly or 


Evans: Yes, from time to time, and I suppose he must have written for that. 

Riess: Was that something that the members did, assign themselves to do 
a report on some subject? 

Evans: I don't think so. I can't recall anything of the sort. 

Riess: The impression that I'm getting is that there was a lot of good 

fellowship and food in the Society of California Pioneers, whereas 
the historical society was more academic? 

Evans: I think so. The Pioneers liked a good table, and a good bottle, 
but so did the California Historical Society. [laughter] 

Mrs. E. : They shared the same building for a while. 
Evans: Oh, for years. 

Riess: So what niches did they occupy that were separate? What did they 
stand for, each of them? 

Evans: The Society of California Pioneers was much less taken with its 
historical mission, I think. You had to be born with it. The 
Historical Society was always a little I shouldn't say pushy, 
that isn't the right term concerned over it's historical 
reputation. And I should say that Anita and Mabel, her sister, 
were concerned for it. 

Riess: Other than being a Californian, did you have to have money or a 
certain social class to be a Pioneer? 

Evans: No. You had to be reputable. I guess, and that was expected. 
Elizabeth's rife with it, their family in all directions is 
eligible, but mine's not, I'm only honorary. 

Family Friendship with the Blakes 

Riess: When did you meet Mr. Blake? 

Evans: Along with Mama, in 1957. They were friends of her [indicates 
wife] parents. 

Riess: [to Mrs. Evans] Your parents? 

Mrs. E. : My mother [Mrs. Charles Janin], who was brought up on Claremont 
Avenue near the Blakes, lived in Berkeley. She also had known 
Mrs. Blake as a young girl, I believe. Didn't you know them 
beforehand, Elliot? 


Evans: I may have met them through Aunt Mary [Mrs. George R. Greenleaf] . 

When our daughter Caroline [Carol Elizabeth Ibold] gave us 
our twenty-first anniversary party she asked the Slakes, and Mrs. 
Blake said she'd be delighted to come. Some of Anson's relatives 
were visiting at the moment, so Caroline said, "Bring them." 
Turned out it was their sixty-third anniversary and our twenty- 
first. (We were then living in a hovel over on Parkside, in 
Berkeley. We've had much pleasanter places since then.) So the 
Blakes came. 

Mrs. E. : Did Joseph Ewan know the Blakes? 

Evans: Certainly, and Mrs. Blake's sister, because of their botanist 

Riess : Who is this person you mentioned? 

Mrs. E. : This was Joseph Ewan. He's quite a well-known botanist. I know 
he must have spent quite a bit of time with them. 

Riess: At what occasions would you see Anita Blake? 

Evans: Oh, like at his sixty- third wedding anniversary, our own party. 

Why did I meet them? 
Mrs. E. : Did you meet them through Joe [Ewan] maybe? 

Evans: No, I think I had met Miss Symmes through Joe, but that was later. 
When Auntie Helen's granddaughter Barbara Bachman got married, "I 
got stuck with Anita." We always got along nicely, if somewhat 
slowly. [laughs]. 

Riess: Your little asides need explaining. 

Evans: She was making her way rather tortuously up the stairs, the brick 
steps on the front porch, and I said to her, "Can you use an arm, 
Mrs. Blake?" I knew damn well what she needed was a wheelchair. 
I was wondering what was going to come of that. She said, "Yes," 
wheezily, "Anson is so independent in these matters." I had 
merely grabbed hold of the old lady, knowing she was ninety, and 
feeling that she needed a chair for the ringside activities which 
she was certainly entitled to witness. 

Riess: And Anson had charged up ahead? 

Evans: He had abandoned her completely. She was so cute and with such 

dignity and apparently no hard feelings. "Anson is just that way 
on such occasions." I think I must have witnessed a similar thing 


Evans : 

Evans : 

Riess : 
Evans : 

Mrs. E. 
Evans : 

Mrs. E. 

on a different occasion, because over the years we have been 
living north, as it were, his independence was always noticeable, 
if not conspicuous. 

Yes, what were you impressions of him? 

Well, in the first place I guess I liked Anita better. I found 
Mr. Anson a little stuffy, and Mabel very pleasant. But they were 
really always so nice, and they were patient. Our children were 
very fond of them, as little kids, and Blake was a name to be 
considered favorably. 

Were you ever invited to garden parties up at the house? 

Yes, Edith [daughter, Edith Ann Evans] says we were, and on 
occasion she recalls the sprinkler system got turned on and sent 
everybody scurrying for cover. 1 don't remember that at all, do 
you, Mama? 

I don't. I think sometimes you might have gone when I didn't go. 

We went sometimes I think with Erwina [Mrs. Charles Janin] because 
she always enjoyed going Erwina being Mama's [Elizabeth Evans] 
mother, and friend of Anita's and Anson's. 

Mrs. Blake was very kind and invited us up to have tea very 
shortly after my mother passed away. I thought that was a very 
kind thing to do because it was nothing one felt like doing in a 
moment of sadness. 

The Fortnightly dub* 

Riess: Was Mrs. Blake connected then with the town and gown of Berkeley? 

Mrs. E. : I think she was mostly, as my mother was, in a circle of old 

Evans: See, their people had lived in Berkeley since the early 1850s. 
Mrs. E. : Might have been in Fortnightly Club. 

Riess: She was one of the founders of it. I'm so glad you brought that 
up. What was that? 

*Additional material on Fortnightly Club in Appendices, K, L. 


Mrs. E. : It was a club of rather intelligent women, I believe, and they met 
fortnightly. It was mostly old-time Berkeley people. They had 
plays, readings, that kind of thing it was intellectual. Didn't 
you speak to them one time, Elliot? 

Evans: Yes, I was just beginning to remember that I did. I don't know 
what about or when, but I think we were living south then. 

Riess: I thought the Fortnightly Club was a San Francisco group, but 
you're saying it was Berkeley.* 

Mrs. E. : Yes, it was Berkeley, definitely Berkeley. 
Riess: Berkeley town? 

Mrs. E. : Berkeley town, I believe. It might have had its base in Anna Head 
School graduates, or some of them might have been women that 
attended Cal early, too I know my mother did early it might have 
been based on that. 

Riess: Do you think they would discuss political issues? Or was it more 

Mrs. E. : I have a feeling they wouldn't have discussed political issues too 
much. I think in those days people didn't bring up political 
feelings with friends. 

Riess: I was wondering, for instance, whether these women might then have 
become suffragists, eventually. 

Mrs. E. : [laughs] I don't think so, they were more or less a passive type 
of people. Was it Miss Locke who was a dramatic person that 
type? She often gave readings, things like that. 

*"A year after her marriage, Anita was one of the seven 
"organizers" of the Fortnightly Club of San Francisco. Twenty 
years was the minimum age limit and the membership was limited to 
sixty in addition to honorary members. The "objects" of the 
Fortnightly dub were "mutual sympathy and counsel in all further 
development," and were to be carried out "under the direction of 
sections." Included were such studies as French, English, history 
of religions, music, and art. One program, two years after the 
founding of the club, was to be devoted to a debate: "Resolved 
that study and society are compatible." Apparently the 
afiirmative won, because the club continued its existence for some 
decades, Anita and her co-organizers bearing witness to a 
thoroughly flourishing "compatibility." (Gladys Wickson, in 
California Historical Society Quarterly "In Memoriam, " Vol 42, 
No. 2, June 1963, p. 178.) 


Riess: Your mother and Anita can you think of the names of any other 

women who were part of that group? 

Mrs. E. : There was Mrs. [George R.] Greenleaf, but she became a member 
later, didn't she? 

Evans: Yes, because she lived down in San Jose. 

Mrs. E. : But maybe when she was first married she was in Berkeley. Her 
daughter is living, and she was a member of the Fortnightly. 
She's in Sacramento now, Frances Helmke. She might be able to 
tell you quite a bit about all that. 

Riess: I wonder if they kept minutes, and whether all of those minutes 
were put anywhere. 

Evans: They'd be in Bancroft, it seems to me, if anywhere. 

Riess: Do you know why it ended, whether it became something else, 
whether it drifted into being another group? 

Mrs. E. : No, it definitely ended, and we had one of the last meetings at 
our Parkside home. My aunt was a member, and by the time my 
mother passed away the membership was dwindling, and the people 
were elderly, and it was quite a chore to entertain. She asked me 
if I would do it for her she was in an apartment then. So we had 
them over for their last meeting, and I don't think they continued. 
Mrs. Elizabeth Malozemoff, I remember she was a member too. She 
was taken in more recently than some of the others, and so was my 
aunt. Miss Annabelle Carney. I think she hoped that maybe they'd 
pick up new members and keep on going, but I think it just kind of 
petered out. 

Transcriber: Johanna Wolgast 
Final Typist: Shannon Page 


Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

Louis Stein 

An Interview Conducted by 

Suzanne B. Riess 

in 1986 


1988 by The Regents of the University of California 


Louis Stein, hand on the Berkeley horsecar that 
was in the backyard until acquisition in 1987 by 
the Society of California Pioneers. 

Photograph by Suzanne Riess 





Excerots from a Conversation about the Slakes in Kensington 97 



This short interview is quite literally excerpts transcribed from a 
tape of conversation with Kensington, Berkeley, and El Cerrito's font of 
local history, railroad buff, and general community resource, Louis Stein. 

Mr. Stein and I met at his home where he had at hand a part of his 
treasury of maps and scrapbooks dating back sixty years or more. Frustra 
ting as it was for him not to have everything to turn to he has given some of 
his collection to the Contra Costa Historical Society it was probably just as 
well we didn't have more datal It was his memories I was after. 

What I wanted to tape was Mr. Stein's recollections of the people who 
lived at Blake House. Perhaps Mrs. Blake or her sister Mabel Symmes had 
visited Louis Stein's Kensington pharmacy on Arlington Avenue, or he could 
recall the conversations he had with his comrade-in-devotion-to-Calif ornia- 
history, Anson Blake. My questions led off into interesting tangents, and 
while there were not quite the anecdotes that Mr. Stein and I would have 
wished, there is a feeling of what the small town of Kensington was like in 
the early years, and the involvement of Anson Blake in the community. 

Elsewhere, in the Contra Costa Historical Association and Berkeley 
Historical Association archives, and in the Berkeley Architectural History 
Association files, Mr. Stein has answered the Who? What? Where? How? and 
Why? questions of generations of students of local history, from grade 
school to graduate school. His collection of historical photographs is well 
known. When he and I reviewed the transcript after his editing we were 
seated in the office of the director of The Bancroft Library, where Mr. 
Stein was warmly greeted by friends who know him and his admirable archives. 

Mr. Stein's home is on a very ample lot in Kensington. My photograph 
of him on board his streetcar hadn't been planned he was ready to give me the 
photograph, included, of Anson Blake and himself at the historical society 
meeting but I had my camera, and when we were taking a look outside, after 
the interview, at his trees and his garden, he asked whether I'd like to see 
what was housed in the rather large shed in the back part of the property. 
It was a streetcar! This streetcar has since been donated by Mr. Stein to 
the Society of California Pioneers. And so, the photograph of the 
streetcar, the man, and the garden now constitutes another piece of history. 

Suzanne B. Riess 
Interv iewerEditor 

November 11, 1987 
Regional Oral History Office 
486 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 


University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 


(Please print or write clearly) 

Your full name 

T v T r 

Date of birth Au 6 2l 190S Place of birth Berkeley Cak 

Father's full name Louis Lorenz Stein 


Occupation Butcher 

Mother's full name Dorothea Reismann 


Occupation House wife liillinery 

Where did you grow up ? North Berkeley 

Present community 



Chemistry S -.n Fr 

years at Cak Berkeley Cne year Pharmacy School $ 

l st 

SP.CRF. rV;?r-vr? 4Q veara 




Special interests or activities History ,of Pharir.acy. Railroads, "Berk-ply 
Costa County, California. Gave Druestore at Co.un.bia Sta 
Granc Fur.bu - --- 


irTTT _ ___,. , ~ ---.-, - UClia. Ulictp ler S U.LAJ/ir'Ub V 



Excerpts from a Conversation about the Blakes in Kensington 
[Date of Interview: December 10, 1986] 

Riess : You said on the phone that you used to drive Anson Blake to meetings 
on occasion. 

Stein: Here's a picture taken in 1958. We went to the famous Paul's 

Restaurant in Martinez. This picture shows myself. Justice Bray, 
George Harding, past president of the California Historical Society, 
and Anson Blake. I don't recall just what that talk was about, but 
I took him to many regular meetings of the Contra Costa Historical 
Society, he and George Louderback usually. Louderback was from the 
geology department, and they were classmates at the University of 

We used to enjoy talking and reminiscing about early Berkeley. 
(I happen to have been born myself in Berkeley.) I also have 
pictures from when Mrs. Stein and I purchased the Martinez adobe, 
which is now part of the John Muir complex [John Muir National 
Historic Site], and we had a dedication of the plaque on the 
building. Mr. Louderback was there; also Anson Blake. I have some 
beautiful shots, but they're over there now in the Contra Costa 
County Historical Center we call it the library in Pleasant Hill. 

Riess: Was Anson Blake very scholarly? 

Stein: Yes, very scholarly. A very quiet man, very quiet. But he could 
give you lots of information about early Contra Costa County. He 
told me about purchasing the Schmidt and Fink tract down in El 
Cerrito. And there is a street in El Cerrito, out near Potrero 
Avenue, called Blake Street after him. This was in 1894, the first 
subdivision in El Cerrito. [looking at subdivision map Stein 
unrolls] He later had his quarry out there. 

Riess: In 1894 he was quite a young man, twenty-four. 


Stein: This date, 1894, is the Schmidt and Fink tract. Later he went in 
with George Schmidt and purchased most of this tract here. That's 
where the famous French Lafayette Park was located, a very popular 
picnic ground. [continue to look at map and discuss turn of the 
century El Cerrito] 

This is Moeser Lane, and this is Fink Lane. I went to high 
school with Mr. Fink's daughter. It's now called Portola. They 
didn't like the name [Fink]. It wasn't unionized. [laughter] 
Here's Schmidt Lane, named after George Schmidt. His family came to 
Berkeley in the 1860s and got a lot of the Domingo Feral ta land down 
by Sacramento Street. They were in the construction work, building 
streets, and they had a quarry up on Grizzly Peak when I was a boy. 

Riess : Was Anson Blake a good investor? Was this a good investment on his 

Stein: Well, you can see here that in 1894 the lots sold for $375. But he 
just speculated. Maybe he was interested in the quarry. There's a 
quarry up on the top of the hill there. It was Hutchison Quarry. 

Riess: I wonder if he studied geology. 

Stein: I don't know. I have an old Blue and Gol d, and I see he was 

interested in sports. Usually was the manager or something. Edwin 
Blake, his brother, was the athlete, and Anson was the engineer. Ed 
was the more loquacious one than Anson. Anson was very quiet until 
you got to know him. 

Riess: Did he always have a beard? 
Stein: All the time that I knew him. 

He got me to join the California Historical Society, and I've 
been a member over thirty-five years. I used to go once a month 
over to the Palace Hotel where they had their luncheons at that 

Riess: How did you first meet Anson Blake? 

Stein: Oh, through my drugstore. I had a drugstore in 1928. Down in 
Kensington. I was the second businessman out here. It was the 
Arlington Pharmacy, Louis B. Stein. (My Kensington book is out at 
the Contra Costa Historical Society. I just loaned it to them to 

[discussion of early railroads in Berkeley-El Cerrito area, 1890s, 
and where the rail ran through property in the Schmidt and Fink 
tract that was owned by Anson Blake] 

Riess: You met Mr. Blake because of the pharmacy. He and Mrs. Blake used it? 



Riess : 

Riess ; 

Riess : 

Yes. And Mrs. Blake, his mother, was still alive, and she had a 
chauffeur who had been a delivery man for Sills Grocery Store, which 
was a very fine grocery store, like the Goldberg Bowen Store [San 
Francisco] . 

Where was Sills? 

The corner of Allston Way and Shattuck. 
Edy 1 s, the creamery. 

Later the location of 

The chauffeur would drive her around in a nice, fancy car. 
Then when the Depression came along he [Anson] drove an old Dodge 
we had one too one of these old four-wheel hard Dodges that you 
couldn't wear out. And you'd see him every morning driving to his 
quarry out in Richmond. 

Were the Blakes a real part of the Kensington community? 

Yes, they were. They were very interested in politics. Later he 
got control of the cemetery [Sunset Cemetery]. He got there 
because of keeping up the roads and selling them aggregates and so 
on. Anson did, and Ed. 

[looking at a 1936 map that shows the Blake lands in 
Kensington] E.T. Blake, Ed Blake, had 11.9 acres; R.P. Blake, 
9.926; E.B. Thacher. And then here 1 s Anita Blake. 

Why is this land in Anita's name and not in Anson 1 s name? 

I don't know. Maybe it was homesteaded. They homestead it to the 
woman, and they can't sue them if anyone tries to take it away from 
them. That's the Homestead Law. The wife can be assigned a 
property and nobody can seize it for debts or anything. Could have 
been that. He was a smart fellow. 

And this shows how the Sunset Cemetery was located. That swung 
along Franciscan Way up to the E.B. Thacher part here. This part, 
after they developed it after the War Number Two, was known as 
Blakemont. It was all subdivided, and it was very poor land, kind 
of clay and big boulders in it and so on. And it had all these wet 
spots on it. It had been a cattle ranch. A man named John M. Balra 
had a dairy there.* 

*Recalling the spring day in 1922 when the family went out to choose 
the site of their new home in Kensington, Mrs. Blake wrote that the 
property at that time "was a mile from where the little street car 
ended, and it was open land, largely pasture land, but sloping down 


Riess: Did Anson have to do with locating the Sunset Cemetery there? 
Stein: I don't know. I do know he sold them the aggregates and so on. 

Riess: Back to Anson Blake's historical society interests. He was involved 
in Contra Costa? 

Stein: Yes. 

The California Historical Society met where the Society of 
California Pioneers met there weren't too many and then Mr. George 
Harding came along and they bought the Whittier Mansion where they 
are now. 

Riess: And did Anson discuss any of the talks he gave with you? 
Stein: No, he didn't like to show off. A very quiet man. Shy. 
Riess: Was it that they were quiet, or were they rather above things? 

Stein: No, no, just shy. Ed [Edwin] was the more outgoing one. He was 

younger and he ran the plant out there. He did all the engineering 
and so on and so forth. 

Riess: Did the two of them, Anson and Edwin, go to work together? 

Stein: I don't recall. I imagine Ed went separately, because he might have 
to take his car to go to downtown Oakland. You see, the original 
quarry was Blake and Bilger, across from Oakland Technical High 
School, where the big shopping center is there now [Rockridgej. 
There was a big canyon there, a big lake in there where the old 
quarry was, that was called Blake and Bilger Quarry. 

from the top of the ridge above us to the more level land below. It 
was bounded by two little lines of drainage, really streams at that 
time, and there were wild flowers everywhere: houses were not in 
sight. Down below we faced El Cerrito, that big mound on the 
shoreline, with an adobe of the Castro family which was still there. 
Down at the foot of the grade not far away was the 'metanza', a 
slaughtering field for the cattle owned by the Spaniards. Along our 
southern stream was a trail... followed by the coyotes...When we got 
there we heard almost the last howls of the coyotes. There were not 
many left, but everything else was left, and it seemed as though we 
would never have a garden." [From Blake House files] 


Riess : What were your impressions of Anita Blake? 

Stein: Oh, she was very quiet. But later I got better acquainted, after 
Anson passed away. They had prescriptions at the drugstore, and 
they had a Chinese cook, and the Chinese cook had a young boy who 
they sent to the local schools there, sent him through school. And 
during the Depression he had one niece living there her married 
name was Hooper. She had a little Ford coupe that she used to go to 
Cal in, a little Model A. She'd stop in the store all the time. 

And there was a nephew there, a relative there who was in the 
lighting business. Is there a Day Lighting Co. in San Francisco? 
He had something to do with that. And they all lived out there with 
them during the Depression. All lovely people, very friendly. 

They had a man out there named Mr. [George] Isola who was sort 
of the grounds keeper. He lived on Temescal, in north Oakland, and 
came out to work. He'd water down the old macadamized road, and it 
would get dusty every day. You always wondered why he didn't ever 
pave it with tar, so it wouldn't be dusty all the time. [laughter] 
Of course Anson was in the rock business, see! 

I've been into the house. Of course you had that beautiful 
Italian pool there, in front of the place. And he planted all those 
redwood trees there. That beautiful grove. 

Riess: Yes, but I think of it as her doing, not his. 
Stein: Probably Anita. 

When I was at the house I found a lot of stationery. I don't 
know why I didn't keep it. She corresponded with different flower 
groups, getting seeds. And Anson also had a privilege of getting 
from the United States Agricultural Department, or whatever it was, 
all the new, exotic plants as soon as they came out. They farmed 
them out, to see how they would grow. 

Riess: Where did you see the correspondence? 

Stein: I think in some old letters laying around. There was stuff there in 
his old library that I went through with the groundskeeper. He was 
just watchman for the place, a very friendly fellow. This was after 
they had died. He had a German name, as I remember. [Walter 

Riess: Apparently she had gotten seeds from many people. There would have 
been a lot of correspondence. 

Stein: That's right. I remember it there, but I never had sense enough to 
keep it. 


Riess : Was this in a library, or in her bedroom? 

Stein: A library. It was on the east side, and there were a lot of glass 
doors there in front of it. Books and so on, and all kinds of 
papers lying there. There was a lot of stuff just laying there. 
They just didn't want it. But everything was gone, except some 
stuff in piles there. They had weeded through it. All of those 
letters most of them addressed to Miss Symmes. 

She [Miss Symmes] showed me they had a cactus garden just 
below the house, where it was sunny, the south side, and there were 
all these quail down in there, lots of birds and so on. But kids 
would get in there, and they finally put in a cyclone fence around 
it that went all the way down to Franciscan Way. [Mr. Stein also 
noted that a nephew, Lester Symmes, lived with the Blakes in the 

Riess: Who did they socialize with in Kensington? 

Stein: Anson knew Walter Baxter very well, who ran the cemetery. The 

Baxters were very close to the Blakes. Anything that Anson wanted 
Kensington was unincorporated then, and they wanted to take the 
cemetery in, for taxes I dare say. So Anson would get into a little 
politics once in a while. 

Riess: Apparently Anson spent a lot of time, early in his career 1 before 
they moved to Kensington in Venice, in the Delta. 

Stein: I know that the Napoleon Byrne family was in Venice. They owned 
Venice Island and lost their shirt on account of the flood. They 
had a beautiful house in north Berkeley up on Oxford Street, just 
caught fire, the oldest house in Berkeley. [discussions of oil 
speculations in Wildcat Canyon, ca. 1906] 

Riess: I'm interested in the names on this map of owners of land adjacent 
to the Blakes in Kensington. Here we have Stebbins. 

Stein: That' s Lucy Stebbins. 
Riess : Did they live up there? 

Stein: No, it was an empty tract for a long time, and then it was sold to 
the Mormon Church around the late 1960s. They were going to put a 
church out on that hunk of land there. It was very poor land, very 
unsteady land. There have been a few houses put up there now. 

And this is Reverend Westwood. 

He was with the Episcopal 


Riess: And Annie Maybeck. The wife of Bernard Maybeck. 

Stein: The Maybecks owned land up along the ridge there, the extension of 
Purdue Avenue, and they would sell you a lot, but you had to have a 
house that he would design. One of those houses out there is made 
of slabs of concrete with rice hulls in it, and it has a tin roof on 
it. It's still there. 

Transcriber: Suzanne Riess 
Final Typist: Elizabeth Eshleman 


Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

Clark and Kay Kerr 

An Interview Conducted by 

Suzanne B. Riess 

in 1987 


1988 by The Regents of the University of California 

Clark Kerr with the family at home in El Cerrito. Left to rights 
Caroline; Clark E. ; Alexander, on chair with Clark. March 1952. 

Kay Kerr with 


TABLE OF CONTENTS dark and Kay Kerr 



Meeting with the Slakes to Discuss Disposition of the Estate 109 

Stiles Hall HA 

The Condition of Blake House 116 

The Valuables in the House 120 

Prytanean Undertakes Making Blake House a Graduate Women's Residence, 

19631964 122 

Turning Blake House into a Livable President's House 125 

Maggie Johnston 128 



When I was planning the Blake House Oral History Project I looked 
forward to linking three University of California presidents' wives in 
the story: Libby Gardner, the wife of the present President David P. 
Gardner, whose enthusiasm for the Blake House got the oral history project 
going; Nancy Hitch, whose devotion to remodelling, and residence in the 
house with President Charles Hitch, gave it the face it has today; and Kay 
Kerr, who championed the house's role as a gracious residence for graduate 
women in the interim between the demise of the Blakes and the advent of the 

I met with President Emeritus Clark Kerr and Mrs. Kerr at their home in 
El Cerrito, about a mile north of Blake House's Kensington address. The 
Kerrs 1 is a big, generously-situated modern house of the California indoor- 
outdoor living school, and they have always preferred, when chancellor and 
wife, or president and wife, to live there rather than in the official 
residences University House, or Blake House. 

Dr. Kerr opened the interview with his recollections of visiting Blake 
House with Mrs. Kerr in 1958. They were the guests of Anson and Anita Blake 
at tea. The Kerrs remember a pleasant meeting at which a gentleman's 
agreement was reached as to how the University of California would handle 
such a gift as the Blake Estate. But four years later, after Anita Blake's 
death in 1962 when the property came to the University, the house that 
seemed dark and conservative-looking at that afternoon tea was revealed more 
accurately to be dilapidated. And the job fell to Mrs. Kerr to do something 
about it. 

After Dr. Kerr left for his office on campus, Mrs. Kerr and I continued 
our interview, talking further about her response to Blake House, and she 
gave some background on her role as president's wife in the early 1960s in 
seeing to completion the creation of appropriate housing for chancellors on 
the expanding campuses of the University of California. For the story of 
how the Prytanean Alumnae group took on the project of using Blake House as 
a women's residence, she referred me to Janice Kittredge, and an interview 
with Mrs. Kittredge follows. 

Busy in those years as president's wife, travelling from campus to 
campus, Mrs. Kerr was helped greatly by Maggie Johnston, who brought 
imagination and zip and the proverbial Old Blue Cal spirit to her job as 
assistant to the president's wife. Between Kay Kerr and Janice Kittredge's 
interviews, Maggie Johnston and the projects she dreamed up are vividly 
recalled. Indeed, one of the intentions of President and Mrs. Gardner in 
initiating the oral history series was to have naggie Johnston interviewed, 
but she died before the interviews actually started. It requires no reading 


between the lines of the Kerr and Kittredge interviews to see how important 
Maggie Johnston was to the presidents' wives. The notion of grace and 
graciousness ties her to Blake House history. 

Suzanne B. Riess 

October 29, 1987 
Regional Oral History Office 
486 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office , Q g University of California 

Room 486 The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 94720 

(Please write clearly. Use black ink.) 

Your full name Clark Kerr 

Date of birth Ma Y 17,1911 Birthplace Reading, Penn. 

Father's full name Samuel William Kerr 

Occupation teacher - farm adviser Birthplace Pennsylv. 

Mother's full name Caroline Clark Kerr 

Occupation housewife Birthplace New York state 

Your spouse Catherine Kerr 

Your children dark Edgar. Alexander William. Caroline Mary 

Where did you grow up? Berks County, Pennslyvania 

Present community El Cerrito - Berkeley 

Education see WHO'S WHO and University file.?, 




Areas of expertise 

Other interests or activities 

Organizations in which you are active_ 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

Room 486 The Bancroft Library 108a Berkeley, California 94720 

(Please write clearly. Use black ink.) 

Your full name Catherine Mary Spaulding Kerr 

Date of birth March 22. 1911 Birthplace Los Angeles, CA . 

Father's full name Charles Edgar Spaulding 

Occupation electricl engineer Birthplace Iowa 

Mother's full name Gertrude Mary Smith Spaulding 

housewife Poughkeepsie, NY 
Occupation ra Birthplace 

Your spouse Clark Kerr 

Your children clark Ed S ar ' Alexander William, Caroline Mary 

Where did you grow up? Los Angeles - summers in the Santa Clara Valley 

Present community El Cerrito 

Education B.A. Stanford University 1932 

Occupation(s) housewife - 

Areas of expertise community leader - public relations - journalism 

Other interests or activities See Oral History on Save S.F. Bay Association 

Organizations in which you are active East Bay Regional Park District - Adv. Board 
Vice-Pres. Save S.F. Bay Association 

formerly active with Univ. groups such as YWCA, Mortar Board, Theta Sigma Phi (hone' 

journa ' 


Meeting with the Slakes to Discuss Disposition of the Estate 
[Date of Interview: March 3, 1987] 

C. Kerr: Our meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Blake was probably about the spring 
of "58, wasn't it? Is there any record of that? 

Riess : No, there are very few records, and that's exactly why we're doing 

C. Kerr: My remembrance is as follows: I think the Blakes asked us to come 
to see them. My impression was that there had probably been some 
comment in prior years by the Blakes to Robert Gordon Sproul about 
the desire to make a gift to the University.* They were good 
f riends. 

Riess: I know that Ida and Mrs. Blake were friends. 

C. Kerr: Sproul had been a member of Stiles Hall, hadn't he? as an 

undergraduate, and shown some interest over the years, and I just 
assumed there had been some contact there. 

As well as I remember the occasion, the Blakes asked us to 
come to see them, and we went one afternoon I was on the way back 
from the office, and Kay came in. I had met him before, I knew 
him somewhat, but if I'd ever met her before, it was just to say 
hello. It was a very dark house in those days, with very subdued 
lights and very conservative furniture and so forth, and we sat 
there and had tea in the big room. I guess the fireplace was 

Anson Blake said something about having been devoted to the 
University all of his adult life, and they wanted to give their 
house and their garden to the University. They wanted two 

*The deed of gift of the Blake Estate is dated December 4, 1957. 
See Appendices, U, V. 


C. Kerr: assurances, which I gave: one was that the garden would be 

retained and kept up properly Mrs. Blake in particular had spent 
a lot of her life developing the garden and that the house they 
didn't, as I remember, say anything about maintaining the house, 
and they didn't make any specific request about it, except that it 
be used in some worthwhile way, for the sake of the University. 
Kay can take up on how we did initially use it, and then it became 
the president's house after that. 

Anson never asked us how we would use it. He just asked for a 
commitment that it be put to a good use, and we said "Well, there 
are lots of ways it could be used, and we have to consult various 
people," and we could assure them it would be called Blake House. 
I don't know whether he asked that; I don't think he did. He was 
a rather shy person, but I made some comment that we would of 
course want to recognize the Blake name. Because it was the Blake 
estate, and the area around there was called Blakemont. 

Riess : Yes, Louis Stein said that it was called Blakemont. 

C. Kerr: Yes. And he'd had such a long connection with the University. He 
was a very nice and sincere person, not asking anything for 
himself, or for the family; he just wanted to be sure that the 
things that I've mentioned, the garden, and then the house would 
get some good use. It was polite, and friendly, and that was 

I don't know if there's any follow-up correspondence or not. 
There may have been, but he didn't ask for anything in writing at 
all; he just wanted personal assurance. If I remember correctly, 
that meeting would have been after I had been appointed as the 
incoming president, but before I was president. It was more as 
the incoming president, as I remember it, than it was as the 
outgoing chancellor, at Berkeley. It is easy to remember 
situations. I can see the room, and see them sitting there, and 
so forth. But to remember what the dates were is another matter, 
without looking at the record. He certainly didn't ask for any 
commitment by the University. I guess at some point we took it to 
the Board of Regents, as a kind of a routine matter, but I don't 
remember having been involved in drawing up any contract. 

K. Kerr: I think after he died she took over, and it went through the 

landscape gardening department, and I don't think much was done 
until she died. 

C. Kerr: That could very well have been. As far as I remember, it was done 
very much on the oral level, and there were no commitments by the 
Regents or by the University except what was said alone. 

Riess: But you certainly thought it was a good thing? 


C. Kerr: Oh, yes, sure. Well, it was a wonderful garden, [laughs] We 

K. Kerr: We didn't know anything about the house, [laughs] 

C. Kerr: It didn't occur to me at that time that it might become the 

president's house. Or if it did occur to me, I don't remember it, 
because we had our own place here, where we had lived as 
chancellor, because the Sprouls lived in the main house on campus, 
and we were perfectly content to keep on living here in fact, 
wanted to. University House was reserved for the chancellor, and 
as the incoming president we were content with where we were. It 
was when Charlie Hitch came along, and he didn't have a facility 
which could be used as a president's house, then we developed it. 

Riess: When the Blakes were giving it, do you think they were thinking in 
terms of a University-wide or Berkeley-wide use? 

C. Kerr: I don't think that was a distinction that they made. In those 
days the University was Berkeley. Since then there's become a 
whole University-wide system, but when people particularly 
Berkeley alumni thought of the University, they thought of 
Berkeley. I don't remember any distinction drawn between the 
Berkeley campus and the University. It was to be given to the 
University of California, that was clear, but the University of 
California in his mind was Berkeley. It was said "to the 
University of California;" it wasn't said "to the University of 
California for the use of the Berkeley campus." 

Riess: Mai Arbegast said that she "babysat" Mrs. Blake towards the end, 
and kind of fostered something. Had you felt that it had been 
fostered by the landscape architecture department, this whole 

K. Kerr: With the landscape department, sure. 

Riess: The whole gift? 

K. Kerr: I don't think they were interested in the house at all. 

C. Kerr: My impression was that it was an unsolicited gift, that they 

wanted it done of their own accord. Did they have any children? 

Riess : No. 

C. Kerr: That was my impression: that they had none. The institution they 
were closest to was the University of California. In my opinion, 
it was done out of their own initiative, out of their devotion to 
the University, and with the hopes which I have expressed. 


K. Kerr: But there really weren't any strings. 
C. Kerr: No. 

K. Kerr: They didn't say, "You can't sell it, "and they didn't say, "You 
have to use it for this," it was just: "This is for the 
University." It was very casual. 

C. Kerr: As I say he was a very gentle, reserved person. 
K. Kerr: Very much a gentleman of the old school. 

C. Kerr: The University wasn't out there soliciting it, and he was sort of 
hesitant: "Are you sure the University will want it and make good 
use of it?" Most gifts come in other ways [laughs], with people 
having demands, and they are solicited, but this they did on their 
own and just with a sense of goodwill. 

The other brother had had his house become a nunnery is it 
still with the Carmelites? 

Riess : It is, yes. Noel Sullivan apparently purchased that and then gave 
it to the Carmelites. 

C. Kerr: I carried the impression that they didn't want anything done there 
which would disturb the Carmelites. They didn't visualize 
having a big dormitory put there, you know, or a lot of faculty 
housing. They hoped it would be kept somewhat as it was, 
particularly the garden less the house. 

Riess: It sounds like he dealt with you as gentleman to gentleman. 

C. Kerr: That's right, it was. 

K. Kerr: And somebody else carried the ball afterwards. 

C. Kerr: Afterward we all must have said something. 

K. Kerr: Maybe not until it was done. 

C. Kerr: It wasn't even done in the sense of a formal handshake, as some 
things are, where you shake hands after you make an arrangement; 
we shook hands when we left, but that was as friends, not as 
somebody who had made a deal. 

Riess: Did Anita have any input in this conversation? 
K. Kerr: I don't even remember her saying anything. 


C. Kerr: I don't think she said very much, I think he carried it, and 

carried it for her, about how devoted she was to the garden. She 
certainly was polite and friendly, but it was his conversation. 

Riess: Was Mabel Symmes, her sister, there? 
K. Kerr: No. 


Stiles Hall 

Riess: One other thing: you said that he was certainly a friend of the 
University. I do know that Stiles Hall was such an interest of 
his, and he was an Old Blue, but in fact had he been a donor 
and an active friend of the University? Why is it your impression 
that he was a great friend? 

C. Kerr: Through Stiles Hall, and wasn't he on the board for fifty years or 

Riess: Yes. Did you have dealings with him in Stiles Hall? 

C. Kerr: I would see him, yes. Stiles Hall played a much more important 
role then in the life of the Berkeley campus than it has since. 
There was something called Rule 17, which I did away with, and for 
my pains in doing away with it, I paid some costs, both left and 
right but that's a separate story. Rule 17, among other things, 
said you could not have controversial speakers on campus, and it 
was ruled that anybody running for public office was 

But anyway, Stiles Hall took the burden of the controversial 
speakers. I always thought that Robert Gordon Sproul supported 
Stiles Hall in part because it was the safety valve. But Anson 
Blake, all through those years, supported the right of people to 
speak, and he was a fairly conservative person and a leading 
businessman in the community, and owner of property, etc. He was 
always absolutely 100 percent behind having Stiles Hall open to 
the expression of any point of view. He, to me, represented the 
spirit of that board. 

Riess: This was just tacit, or was he actually outspokenly for freedom of 

C. Kerr: No, he was just always there, and would join in any statements in 
its defense. He was not an aggressive person; he just took his 
position in a quiet way, but it was always known that Anson Blake 
was there. I admired him greatly. 


Riess : Actually, one of the things that he felt very strongly about, and 
put some money into, was the idea that women should not vote. 

C. Kerr: Oh, really? I didn't know that, [laughs] 

K. Kerr: That doesn't look well for his sister-in-law and his wife. 

[laughs] I think he was a very conservative person in certain 
respects, the "old school" type. But the "old school" would also 
be very much in favor of American freedom. 

C. Kerr: Yes, sure, the Bill of Rights and all of that. He was a very 
upright, principled person. 

K. Kerr: Very conservative in dress, was how I 

C. Kerr: Oh, yes, and the house was just sort of out of the 1890* s. 

Riess: Did they walk you around to look at any of the paintings or 
scrolls, or the things that they loved in the house? 

C. Kerr: No. 

K. Kerr: We weren't there very long. We were there an hour at the most. 

C. Kerr: Well, the conversation was about a half an hour, and with the 
pleasantries and so forth we were there about an hour or so. 

Riess: That's quite a good picture of the whole thing. Thank you. 
[Clark Kerr leaves] 


Riess : 

The Condition of Blake House 

Your impressions of that first meeting were the same? Did Mrs. 
Blake take you aside? 

K. Kerr: No. we all sat together. I was trying to remember, but I don't 

recall that she had any help. She must have had live-in servants 
at some point, but I don't remember any help, and I don't remember 
having any great impression of the tea. I know we sat around and 
had tea, but I don't think we had anything else, in other words. 
The house was, as dark said, very dark and dingy inside, and not 
inviting. We had a feeling that they lived for the garden or she 
lived for the garden. 

After Maggie [Johnston] and I got in there, after Mrs. Blake 
died, we had Mr. [W.A.] Parish in the crew from the University 
looking at it and we found the structural problems you know, the 
foundation had sunk, and the front hall was maybe one foot lower 
from the front door to the window. As you walked, you were sure 
you were on a boat. [laughs] That whole side of the house had 
sunk. There was nothing in the sunroom, it was just kind of a 
hole, which was later turned into a nice sunroom. 

Riess: It was just an open loggia, wasn't it? 

K. Kerr: Yes, just an outside patio kind of a thing, under the overhang. 

The condition of the house it's awfully hard to tell because she 
was so old, whether it was the result of being old, or whether she 
never had any interest in keeping up the house anyway. I mean, I 
can't imagine living in a house, even old, where everything was 
wrong. The furnace didn't work, the plumbing had to be replaced, 
the lighting was no good, the foundation was off, the curtains 
had to be everything had to be done. Whether that was because 
she was really only interested in the garden, and had never been 
interested in the house because I never knew her or whether it 
was because she was old, I don't know. 

Riess: Or, is it possible they didn't have money to put into it? 


K. Kerr: Oh. I think they had plenty of money; all that development down 
below the house brought in lots of money. 

Riess: I know money didn't come with the gift of the house; the gift to 
the University was not endowed. 

K. Kerr: I don't know where that money went because they owned so much 

land. It would be interesting to find out what happened to it; 
they must have given it to somebody. You might call Ruth 
Kingman do you know her? 

Riess: I have talked to her. 

K. Kerr: And see if she has any idea where the Anson Blake money went. 

Riess: The will I saw was Anita's will, I think, and I haven't seen 
Anson 1 s. 

K. Kerr: What happened to her will? 
Riess: There were nieces and nephews. 

After this first meeting, then, you had no reason to return 
for further teas or anything in that five-year period? 

K. Kerr: Never did. 

Riess: In fact there was just no thought about it? It was just being 
taken care of by the landscape architecture people? 

K. Kerr: All we knew was, as Clark said, that the house and gardens were to 
go for the use of the University, but I didn't even know Mai 
Arbegast was that involved until you told me. 

Riess: Then I take it also that in the years before, the house hadn't 

been a place where Mrs. Blake would have teas, or invite people to 
come and look at the garden? 

K. Kerr: I don't think they entertained even when he was alive; I didn't 

get the impression it was that kind of family. But Hunky [Helena 
Thacher] could tell you more about the social life, maybe.* 

Riess: You were saying that you and Maggie went in, and then what? 

*Before the taping began Mrs. Kerr explained to the interview that 
Helena Thacher and she had been classmates, and that Helena's 
nickname was "Hunky." 


K. Kerr : Well, everybody came in. As soon as it became the property of the 
University the garden had already become the property of the 
landscape architects, as I recall, because as soon as she died, 
they came in with an enormous crew and cut, cut, cut, cut. As 
Maggie and I said, she'd turn over in her grave if she could see 
what they were doing. But nothing had been done for a long time, 
and it took about three years for it to look normal again. There 
was so much taken out, and so many shrubs cut way back, and so 
many trees removed. They could hardly wait to get in there and 
fix that garden up. [laughs] I'm sure Mai has told you. 

Riess : Yes, and Geraldine Knight Scott, who was in charge of that, has 
talked about it. Did you, as president's wife, hear from the 
neighbors about this? Apparently the neighbors were in a great 
state of shock and alarm to see it all cut back. I wondered 
whether any of that had come to you. 

K. Kerr: All we knew was that there were crews out there working. 

Actually, there was such a problem with the house . You 
see, it was rather unfortunate that this followed after the Sproul 
house. University House, was vacated. I don't remember what year 
was it that the University got Blake House? 

Riess: In April, 1962, when she died. 

K. Kerr: So about '58 Maggie and I went into University House, where the 

Sprouls had lived for twenty-eight years and had done nothing, and 
so for two years Helen Seaborg and I and the University crew took 
that house to pieces. All the plumbing, all the wiring, 
everything had to be completely changed and redone. The furnaces, 
the kitchen, the downstairs, the ballroom, the attics anyway, it 
took two years, and we were sort of fed up with old houses. 

Then here comes the Blake House, which was even in worse 
condition, and Maggie's reaction was, "Just tear it down! There's 
no reason to keep it: the amount of money that you would have to 
put in to salvage it could make something a lot more useful, 
because it was never designed to entertain in." But the Regents, 
or the University, or whoever made the decisions . I think by 
that time I suppose it was Regent [Dorothy] Chandler because she 
was most involved in redoing University House and she liked this 
authority, although her concern was usually not the "best" but 
"taxpayer's gothic." 

Riess: Yes, she was actually all for it. 

All of the work that you did on University House, I imagine 
money had to be appropriated by the Regents. 


K. Kerr : The Regents had already put out a lot of money for University 

House. I don't think they were very much interested in putting 
out a lot of money for another old house that they weren't sure 
anybody was going to use. 

Riess: There was no public fuss about that in the way that there was 
about the cost of renovating Blake House? 

K. Kerr: No. The reconstruction was done by University crews and the 

budget for interior furnishings was so meager that each chancellor 
added to theirs for a new stove, or chairs, etc. 

Riess: In refurbishing University House, you knew that it would be used 
as an official residence? In fact it was already being used? 

K. Kerr: Well, no, because when dark was made president he made a policy 
decision which was approved by the Regents, that the president 
should not live on any one campus, because there was a lot of 
dissatisfaction at UCLA over the fact that Sproul lived in the 
north, and they thought that they weren't getting proper 
treatment. University House was primarily for the Chancellor. 

Since we were already living here [El Cerrito], the 
possibility of using Blake House by the President didn't arise. 
Since the policy was that on every campus there would be a 
University House, we worked with the chancellors' wives at Santa 
Barbara and Riverside and San Francisco, and with the various 
architects to design a kind of a University House that could be 
used for both entertaining and living in. The idea here was well, 
if the chancellor didn't want to live in it and neither Mrs. 
Strong nor Mrs. Seaborg wanted to live on the Berkeley campus it 
would still be University House," and it would be for 
entertaining, and we could use it or they could use it. And 
that's the way it was set up. 

Riess: So one old house was all pulled together, and then suddenly it was 
1962 and you had another one to deal with. 

K. Kerr : Blake House, right. 


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K.Kerr: wa with any consultation which things ought to go where, whether 
to the art history department, or the design professors, or 
whatever. I remember he would say "There's no intrinsic value in 
this piece, but it's a good teaching device." And so off it would 
go to some department for teaching. 

Rsss: The whole arrangement, in your report of it, sounds very 

K Kerr: It was, but after all we were supposedly using very good experts; 
nobody ever questioned his judgment, as far as I know, and Maggie 
and I never made any decisions. 

Rass: But without going back into the documents which isn't easy to 

do what I don't understand is whether "Duke" Wellington had been 
appointed to this position, or whether he thought, "Aha, this 
looks like an interesting collection of stuff; I think I should 
make myself visible." 


K Kerr: Probably I'm just guessing the building department, the 

carpenters and all of those people there, didn't want to touch it 
until they had had some expert advice. They probably just went to 
the art department, and it was just done that way: "We aren't 
going to tear up the floor or do the roof or anything until you 
get everything out of here that's worth anything." I remember 
once we had Hunky come and asked her if she had any ideas about 
anything. I can't remember whether she said she didn't want to 
come, or that there wasn't anything that she wanted, I got the 
impression that everything the family wanted, they had taken. So 
I imagine that's where the books went, and the papers, and 
everything else, because I'm sure they weren't there by the time 
Maggie and I got in the house. But it's interesting that they 
apparently don't know what happened to them. 


The Valuables in the House 

Riess: I said on the phone that I was interested in what had happened to 
various items that are considered to be lost from the house. 
There's a first edition of David Copperf ield that disappeared, 
seed lists, letters from James West, some scrolls. Mai Arbegast 
had been shown them by Mrs. Blake, and Walter Vodden apparently 
knew that Mrs. Blake kept everything that she valued under her 
bed. Towards the end the bed itself apparently was being dripped 
on by the leaky roof. 

K. Kerr: Everything was falling apart. [laughs] It's a wonder the house 
didn't fall down, it really is. 

The only things I remember that Maggie and I found of any 
value we didn't see any papers or any books; all that kind of 
thing left before we got in the house all we saw were rugs, and 
pieces of furniture, and two or three sets of china. I remember 
one Minton set that we thought maybe could go to Santa Cruz. They 
were furnishing some of the chancellors' houses at that point. 

Riess: Yes, there were some bowls, vases, serving pieces, Canton dishes, 
silver and linen that went to University House on the Berkeley 
campus in 1962. 

K. Kerr: Some went to University House, and we could ask Mrs. McHenry if 
some went down to Santa Cruz. 

Riess: I think so. yes. 

K. Kerr: I think she said she wanted that pink Minton, but I'm not sure 
whether it's still there. 

Riess: How did you work with "Duke" Wellington, Winfield Scott 

K. Kerr: Well, he'd make an appointment, and Maggie and I would be at the 
house, and he would come and make an inventory of the stuff that 
we had found, and then he would decide I don't know whether it 


K. Kerr: waa with any consultation which things ought to go where, whether 
to the art history department, or the design professors, or 
whatever. I remember he would say "There's no intrinsic value in 
this piece, but it's a good teaching device." And so off it would 
go to some department for teaching. 

Riess: The whole arrangement, in your report of it, sounds very 

K. Kerr: It was, but after all we were supposedly using very good experts; 
nobody ever questioned his judgment, as far as I know, and Maggie 
and I never made any decisions. 

Riess: But without going back into the documents which isn't easy to 

do what I don't understand is whether "Duke" Wellington had been 
appointed to this position, or whether he thought, "Aha, this 
looks like an interesting collection of stuff; I think I should 
make myself visible." 

K. Kerr: Probably I'm just guessing the building department, the 

carpenters and all of those people there, didn't want to touch it 
until they had had some expert advice. They probably just went to 
the art department, and it was just done that way: "We aren't 
going to tear up the floor or do the roof or anything until you 
get everything out of here that's worth anything." I remember 
once we had Hunky come and asked her if she had any ideas about 
anything. I can't remember whether she said she didn't want to 
come, or that there wasn't anything that she wanted. I got the 
impression that everything the family wanted, they had taken. So 
I imagine that's where the books went, and the papers, and 
everything else, because I'm sure they weren't there by the time 
Maggie and I got in the house. But it's interesting that they 
apparently don't know what happened to them. 


Prytanean Undertakes Making Blake House a Graduate Women's 
Residence. 1963196A 

Riess: Regent Catharine Hearst and Regent William Coblentz apparently 

were taken on a tour of the house in December, 1965 and they felt 
that $25.000 a year was too high a cost to keep it operating. 

K. Kerr : Was this at the time of the students living there? 

Riess: That was after the Prytanean students had been there. I wondered 
whether you had any dealings with these Regents. You had 
mentioned Mrs. Chandler. She was helpful in finding some funding 
from the Regents, but apparently Catherine Hearst thought it was a 
great drain. 

K. Kerr: Yes, I'm sure there was division in the Regents about whether any 
more money ought to be spent on it. I think that all I remember 
about that discussion was what I heard from Maggie, that maybe 
they'd tear it down, and maybe they wouldn't, [laughs] 

Riess: That's what Mrs. Hearst suggested, to tear it down and build a 
new, more practical house. 

K. Kerr: Well, it cost a fortune when they did decide to keep it. It was 
unbelievable, I think. And then of course every president's wife 
that's lived there has redecorated in a very expensive way, thrown 
out all the china and all of the regular things and secured their 
own preferences. 

Riess: The Prytanean residence plan, November, 1963 who pulled that 
together? Was that your idea? 

K. Kerr: We were trying to think: here was this empty house in poor 

condition, which nobody wanted to spend any money on at that point 
because the Regents were certainly not going to fix it up any more 
than just to make it livable. I think that the roof was fixed so 
it wouldn't leak, and I don't remember if the furnace was fixed I 
don't think so, maybe a little bit. But at that time there was a 
housing need, we thought, for graduate women. There wasn't any 


K. Kerr : way of having undergraduates out there, and there wasn't any way 
of anybody in the University taking charge of it, so we went to 
Prytanean. Maggie was a Prytanean, and I was an honorary, but I 
seldom participated. 

We asked Imogene [Mrs. Eric C.] Bellquist, who took charge 
really, whether they would have a committee that would look at it 
and see it there was any way it could be operated. So they were, 
1 guess, enthusiastic at first, and they provided the sheets and 
the towels. As I recall they got less expensive china and things 
that the girls could use. It was a surprise to me when after two 
or three years Imogene and the committee announced that it wasn't 
worth it. that the girls had transportation problems; they had a 
hard time finding enough girls who wanted to come out that far, 
and the alumnae women who were being housemothers really were fed 
up. So that's why it was stopped. 

Riess: It sounds like a nice idea, though, doesn't it. 

K. Kerr: It sounded great at the beginning, but I think it was very 
difficult transportation wise. 

Riess: The University hadn't provided a shuttle? 

K. Kerr: No, no. A bus went out to The Arlington, but a graduate student 

spends a lot of time in the library, and that meant that they came 
back at night. The buses didn't always run very much at night, so 
that there were real problems, partly I think because they didn't 
have cars. If they had had cars it would have been easy. I think 
today you wouldn't have had any problem at all, because there's 
such a terrible shortage of housing. But in those days you could 
get apartments in Berkeley. Graduate students weren't really 
completely left out of housing like they are now. 

Riess: Yes. The phrase in one of the publicity releases is that "a noble 
Spanish house had been secured as a home for women scholars." 

K. Kerr: I wonder who wrote that one. [laughs] 

Riess: The Berkeley Barb later said that the house was once used 

for women students but was so poorly maintained, it had to be 
abandoned. I think that's perhaps their interpretation. That 
isn 1 t what your impression was? 

K. Kerr: Well, it was poorly maintained because in the first place nothing 
had been really fixed up by the Regents. The Prytanean house 
mothers raised enough money to put in sheets and pillow cases and 
towels, but it wasn't any luxurious living. But it certainly 
wasn't poorly maintained, except for the fact that it had been 
poorly maintained for twenty years before the girls came in. 


Riess: After putting some time into arranging that, you didn't 
remain involved? 

K. Kerr: I didn't have time. I was spending my time going back and forth to 
seven campuses and trying to raise a family at the same time. 
There would be teas and lunches, and I'd get on the plane in the 
morning, go to lunch, and come back; or go down and have tea at 
UCLA or Riverside or Santa Barbara. That took a lot of time. 

Riess: It seems to me that of all people you really would have had an 
important point of view about whether Blake House should be 
brought up to a condition to be used, or whether it should have 
been razed. 

K. Kerr: I think I was really trying to distance myself from any more old 
houses. I had really spent entirely too many years of my life on 
University House on the campus, and I did not want to go through 
that again. It's no fun. You operate daily with painters, 
carpenters, interior decorators, everybody; it just takes an 
enormous amount of time, and when the Regents have to be involved 
for funds well, once was enough. 

Riess: It wasn't that you anticipated the difficulties with the Regents 
about it, or the difficulties with the community? 

K. Kerr: No. I didn't even know there were difficulties with the 

community. The only difficulties we ever heard about were the 
fence and the deer. The community complained because a couple of 
times the landscape department would call the sheriff to come and 
shoot some deer that seemed to upset people. Other than 
that I didn't know anything about the community. 


Turning Blake House into a Livable President's House 

K. Kerr: Was Blake House made into a president's house after the Hitches 
were made president, or just before? In other words, did they 
move into a completely finished house? 

Riess: They moved into a mostly finished house. He was named president 
in September, 1967. By October and November Norma Wilier, the 
University project architect, was already having meetings with the 
Hitches and with an appointed architect to work on the renovation 
of it, and Nancy Hitch was saying what it was that she would 
require for the house. Then she spent the entire next year and a 
half at least doing what you're talking about. 

K. Kerr: I remember early on, or maybe after Nancy had taken over, when I 

talked with Nancy and Maggie about the circulation problem, and it 
was my idea to put this outside room on the front the gallery so 
that you could get to the dining room. I thought what they did 
was very minimal; they could have added another two feet in width 
without making it that much more difficult, and much more useful. 

Riess: Because your idea was that there could be tables out there too, 
and seating, which there really can't be now. 

K. Kerr: Right. The dining room was too small, and there was no way to get 
to it, really, and by the time they closed off some of the other 
rooms Maggie had a telephone, in a little office on one side, so 
that you couldn't go around anyway. The way it was designed, 
there wasn't any way to make use of that room, so it looked like 
there just had to be an outside room. This was agreed to I don't 
think there was ever any problem, except that it costs money. 

Riess: But that was the major structural change in the house, that 

K. Kerr: We probably wouldn't have even been able to do that, but they had 
to completely take out and redo the foundation on that side 
anyway, so it wasn't all that much more difficult. 


Riess: Norma Wilier in a file note says that the first mention of having 
the gallery is in the conversation that she had with you in 
September or October. 

K. Kerr: I don't remember whether she was there when we were talking about 
the impossibility of using the dining room the way it was. 

Riess: Did Nancy Hitch consult you in any way? 

K. Kerr: We probably talked, but I don't remember. As I said, I didn't 
encourage it because I thought she was going to live there, she 
would know, and it's really not anything I particularly enjoy 
doing redoing old houses. 

Riess: And yet it has been very much your role, as the president's wife, 
I can see. In fact, I didn't realize there was a University 
House, or the equivalent, on every campus. 

K. Kerr: Well, I learned a great deal. That's one reason why the 

circulation problem here was so obvious, because by the time 
you've built a new house at Riverside and one at Santa Barbara, 
and the disaster at San Francisco because the chancellor's wife 
there was a. very stubborn and peculiar woman who had to do it just 
her way, and it had to be completely redone after she left. Both 
Mary [Mrs. Vernon I.] Cheadle and Evelyn [Mrs. Herman T.] Spieth 
were very wise ladies, and we talked a lot of times, because in 
those days the Regents meetings included the chancellors' wives. 
We had Thursday together when the chancellors were meeting before 
the Regents would meet on Friday. I always went down, and we'd go 
over the architect's plans. 

In fact I remember when Evelyn Spieth' s husband was appointed 
chancellor of Riverside. We were meeting before a Regent's 
meeting, at the Beach and Tennis Club in La Jolla. She told me 
that just casually somebody handed her the plans for her house. 
She said, "Kay, you can't believe it; they're just impossible." 
So we spent the day and we made a long list of all the things that 
were impossible. The Regents and architect finally decided that 
since she was going to live in it they'd listen, but nobody had 
even thought to ask her, and the architect hadn't thought to ask 
her what ought to be considered about the house. So that was the 
beginning, and after that we had no problems except with San 

Riess: Well, it's interesting. If I had been able to talk to Nancy Hitch 
I certainly would have asked her how much she had the future in 
mind, as well as the short term I mean, how you do both things. 

K. Kerr: There wasn't an awful lot more that you could do to the Blake 
House. The study in the back well, the sunroom was a great 
addition, because that meant another spot for entertaining: you 


K. Kerr : could put the bar out there, and so the living room wasn't too 

small. But it's still a limited house in terms of the number of 
people that it's convenient to have. 

Riess: But perhaps a house can be furnished once and for all. or is that 
not possible? You always have to think of the furniture as 

K. Kerr: Well, it depends how much money you have. When we did University 

House, Regent Chandler was there with her eye on the budget, and so 
everything was done in the least expensive way, and we used the 
oriental rugs that were there, and we had inexpensive drapes, and 
put grass cloths on different areas and so on. The first 
person who came to live there was Esther Heyns, and she took a 
look around and said, "I won't live in this dismal room," so down 
came the drapes, and the rugs became orange, and there was a lot 
of color the whole thing was changed. 

Well, Nancy Hitch always did believe in the most expensive 
and the most beautiful things. Maggie would came and say, "You 
can't believe how much money it's going to cost to upholster one 
chair," but Nancy wanted to have everything just the best. She 
was able to get the money from the Regents, and so as long as 
you've got the money . But then she brought some of her things; 
she had several antique pieces of her own which were recovered, 
and so she took them back with her. Mrs. Saxon was completely 
different: I don't think she even looked at the furniture, or 


Maggie Johnston 

Riess: It's too bad, obviously, that Maggie Johnston isn't around to 
talk. This project started with the wish that Maggie be 
interviewed, and then Maggie died. [June 29, 1986] 

K. Kerr: Oh, Maggie would have been able to give you all of the history. 
Riess: How did you first meet Maggie? 

K. Kerr: At the time Clark was appointed chancellor in 1952, I was in the 
habit of frequently having afternoon coffee with my neighbor, 
Marjorie Galenson. One day she included Maggie Johnston, whom she 
had met at nursery school. Maggie had volunteered to take care of 
a neighbor's small boy whose mother had died suddenly. Our coffee 
hours were incidental to supervising our youngsters and nursing 
our babies. (Caroline Kerr was born in October 1951.) Maggie 
came frequently. 

After Clark's appointment and our coffee-hour discussion 
about how this was going to change my life and how I needed help, 
Maggie volunteered on a part-time basis. She was paid through the 
Chancellor's Office and not only arranged social events but kept 
the records and paid the bills which were incurred within the 
chancellor's budget. 

Riess: Did she work for the president's wife or was it president's and 
chancellors' wives both? 

K. Kerr: When CL ark was made president, Maggie continued with me and with 
all future president's wives. The chancellors' wives made their 
own arrangements and these jobs differed among the campuses, some 
having more responsibility within the chancellor's staff. 

Maggie was a very likeable person, good friends with all the 
wives, and the public ceremonies staffs. She was generous with 
her advice and she had the responsibility for all the activities 
hosted by the president or the Regents regardless of which campus 
they were held on. She was the social secretary of each wife and 


K. Kerr : worked with public ceremonies, really, on all the campuses, not 

just Berkeley. She did the inauguration for the new chancellors. 
The last thing she did, I think, was at Irvine, the new chancellor 
there now. She took it as a profession we worked on it as a 
profession. She worked for me first, and we worked out all kinds 
of office procedures and record-keeping, and policies for whom you 
invite to what kind of thing, and how you mix up the community and 
the alumni and the students, and whom you invite to what, and do 
you need a list of the principals of the high schools and when 
this kind of thing. So we had a real professional attitude toward 

Riess: Did Mrs. Sproul have anyone? 

K. Kerr: Mrs. Sproul never made a decision on her own; Robert Gordon made 
the decisions, and Miss [Agnes] Robb made the arrangements and 
decisions. Ida had a wonderful personality and she survived. I 
would never have been able to under those circumstances. 

Because Maggie was such a professional, I don't think she was 
close friends with anybody but me, and we were very good friends 
all the time. She used to come over in the morning for coffee, no 
matter who she was working for. She'd call and come over for advice 
and to let off steam about how so-and-so had to have her sheets 
ironed in a laundry; she couldn't have them hanging out, and they 
had to be a certain type I won't go into it [laughs]. So every 
chancellor's wife and the staff of each campus's public ceremonies 
departments had their foibles, and Maggie adjusted to them. 

Riess: On every campus, it wasn't just Berkeley? 

K. Kerr: Maggie started when Clark was chancellor of Berkeley. Later, the 
principal things she did on the other campuses were the public 
ceremonies, such as Charter Day and the meetings of chancellors 
and Regents. Each chancellor's wife had help with her own campus 

Riess: Drawing up these procedures sounds like it was an essential thing 
to do. 

K. Kerr: We were both very concerned that this should be a professional 
type of operation. 

Maggie got asked to go back to Pennsylvania State when Rose 
[Mrs. John] Oswald became the president's wife there, to set up 
her records and talk to her staff to get it started. And she was 
giving somebody help at some other college whose president's name 
was Spaulding I don't remember which college it was. She always 
was going to write a book on how to do these things, but Maggie 
was much more interested in doing than in writing, so it never got 


Riess: She made your job considerably easier. 

K. Kerr: Much easier, and much more fun. We both had a lot of fun, both cf 
us were activists. I'd get an idea about what was wrong with 
foreign student hospitality, and she'd inquire around, and we'd 
decide that we could do this, and we could try that, and we'd have 
all of the faculty wives that might be involved cut here for a big 
breakfast in the morning. We'd say, "We've got a problem. 
Foreign students come, and they don't ever meet a family, or they 
meet a family when they come for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner 
but they never get to know them." So we set up a whole new 
foreign students' hospitality system. 

And we decided that the faculty was not treating well the 
famous visiting foreign celebrities that come to Berkeley to talk 
to our famous professors, who would say, "Well, we've got fifteen 
minutes for this guy" this would be a Nobel Prize winner but "we 
can't spend all day with him, we can't show him the campus." So 
we started another group called Alumni Hostesses, where we asked 
women who were alumnae of the Berkeley campus to be the hostesses 
for the campus and entertain and take around these famous 
visitors. That still goes on today. 

But I never would have had as much fun, and we wouldn't have 
had all these ideas come to fruition without Maggie, because it 
takes two. You get an idea, but somebody else has to help you 
implement it. 

Riess: And then Maggie continued to keep those good ideas alive and well 
so long as she was able to work. 

K. Kerr: Right. And added new ones of her own. She played a very 

important role in the University Art Museum. Maggie had a great 
number of friends on the Berkeley campus. These things that we 
started when Clark was chancellor only related to the Berkeley 

In addition to public ceremonies and the routine arrangements, 
we did things on the other campuses mostly in relation to how the 
chancellors' and Regents' wives could get to know each other. 
Nancy Hitch and Shirley Saxon didn't like large groups of people. 

Nancy was an artist, and Shirley liked to cook and didn't like 
large groups, so that the kinds of things that Maggie and I 
enjoyed doing were not done, and weren't carried on. Mrs. Gardner 
is much more interested in reviving these interpersonal kinds of 

The chancellor's wife at Irvine was so excited when I saw her 
last week because they were going to have a chance for the 
chancellors' wives to meet each other, and talk together, and 


K. Kerr : discuss their problems.* It takes a president's wife who wants to 
get involved. Blake House is now being used for many more 
University activities. 

*'Vhile the Regents met at Santa Barbara February, the spouses of 
UCs president and chancellors held a meeting of their own, 
arranged by Libby Gardner. In addition to talks on the "Spousal 
Role and Expectations, 1 led by Mary Regan-Meyer [Davis] and Karen 
Sinsheimer [Santa Cruz]; 'Recognition for the Spousal Role, 1 by 
Sue Young [Los Angeles]; and 'Achieving a Separate Self Identity,' 
led by Rita Atkinson [San Diego], the group also discussed 
pertinent University issues and policies with Senior Vice 
President Ronald W. Brady." UC Focus, Vol. 1, No. 2, June 1987. 

Transcriber: Johanna Wolgast 
Final Typist: Elizabeth Eshleman 


Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

Janice Kittredge 


An Interview Conducted by 
Suzanne B. Riess 
in 1987 


1988 by The Regents of the University of California 


TABLE OF CONTENTS Janice Kittredge 



Prytanean Alumnae Association Approached to Run Blake House as a 

Residence for Graduate Women 136 

Difficulties with the Experiment 139 

Prytanean Alumnae Association Projects, and Relationship to the 

University 142 

Efforts to Salvage the Experiment 145 

Maggie Johnston, Kay Kerr, and the Alumnae Hostess Committee 147 



In such a mul tif aceted undertaking as this Blake House Oral History 
Project, the best results often come from one thing, one person, leading to 
another. Mrs. Clark Kerr referred me to longtime Prytanean Alumnae 
Association board member Janice Kittredge for the particulars of the 
Prytanean Alumnae Association's project of using Blake House as a residence 
for graduate women. In this interview Mrs. Kittredge talks about why the 
project, first considered at the suggestion of University President Clark 
Kerr's wife Kay at a meeting in September 1962, didn't work. Certainly 
there was a real lack of appropriate housing that the University could offer 
graduate women, but the freedoms of the sixties were apparently in some 
conflict with the givens of a "dorm" at Blake House. The place, and in some 
ways the time, was not right. 

Janice Kittredge, Kay Kerr, and the late Maggie Johnston whom Janice 
Kittredge admires and speaks of these women took on roles in the University 
and in the Berkeley community that went a long way beyond that expected of 
wife, mother, or faculty wife. Their intention was to improve the quality 
of the school experience for University students, to enrich the time spent 
here by foreign visitors and their families, and to salvage and improve the 
environment for residents of the San Francisco Bay Area. And these things 
they did effectively and with style. Specifically they created housing, 
formed the Alumnae Hostess Committee, and created an entity to save San 
Francisco Bay. [In a recent oral history, Save San Francisco Bay 
Association, 1961-1986, that organization is documented through joint 
interviews with the three women who founded it: President's wife Kay Kerr, 
Regent's wife Sylvia McLaughlin, and Professor's wife Esther Gulick.] 

I met with Janice Kittredge in her office in downtown Berkeley where 
she is the paid staff person for Save San Francisco Bay Association. July 
3rd was a holiday for most everyone else in town, but for her a good day to 
get things done. Prior to setting a date for the interview Mrs. Kittredge 
had reviewed all the minutes of the Prytanean boards for the years in 
question, in order to bring the most precise information to the interview. 
And she offered additional comments that filled in the picture of how a core 
group of enthusiastic women came to volunteer for the University. I left 
with my questions answered. The Prytanean Alumnae Association's project at 
Blake House was clarified. And in my wallet there was a receipt for a 
renewed membership in Save San Francisco Bay Associationl 

Suzanne B. Riess 

November 11. 1987 
Regional Oral History Office 
486 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 


University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 

Your full name 

Date of birth 


Father's full name 

Mother's full name 

Your spouse 

Your children 


(Please write clearly. Use black ink.) 



- -*J/ 



Where did you grow upl 

Present community 



Areas of expertise 

t^fc t- *- 


Other interests or activities 

Organizations in which you are active 

^ &<. t 


Prytanean Alumnae Association Approached to Run Blake House as a 
Residence for Graduate Women 

[Date of Interview: July 3. 1987] 

Kittr: The very first mention of Blake House in the minutes is in September 
of '62, and evidently Kay Kerr came to the Prytanean Alumnae 
Association meeting and "gave a complete explanation of the Anson 
Blake property and residence that had been willed to the 
University. "* 

Sometime in the summer of 1962 Maggie Johnston had gathered up 
a lot of Prytaneans that she knew. We went out and looked at this 
house. Evidently nothing had been done to it since it was full of 
Mrs. Blake's furniture, and the curtains were drawn. It looked like 
she'd probably been living in this very dungeon-like place 
throughout her last few years of life, maybe. 

Kay and Maggie stood up there and said, "What are we going to 
do with this?" I wouldn't be surprised if Maggie had a great deal 
of input in it, because she was familiar with our working on 

*Quoted material is from Prytanean minutes. Mrs. Kittredge notes: 
"I had really sort of forgotten that at that time Prytanean had two 
boards. There was Prytanean Alumnae Association, and there was an 
incorporated board, Prytaneans, Inc. They decided they needed to 
incorporate to do some of the business things they did, one of which 
was running Blake House, so they had two different boards. (There 
was a lot that I really couldn't remember from my own memory until 
it was brought back by reading the minutes.) There were a lot of 
disagreements between the two boards, and they eventually were 
merged. Prytanean only has one Alumni Incorporated board now. But 
to review the history I found that I needed both of these sets of 
minutes, but especially the Incorporated minutes because they are 
the group of women who actually ran Blake House." 


Kittr: dormitory things. Prytanean had Ritter Hall, which was a co-op, and 
fairly low cost. It was to help girls with financial difficulties 
and so forth. The Prytanean Alumnae Association had started Ritter 
Hall in the '30s. 

I think Maggie thought that there never had been, up to that 
time, any kind of residence for graduate students. They must have 
started before the married student housing before '62, but for 
single graduate students I seriously doubt whether there was any 
kind of university housing. They thought, well, here this was way 
out there in Kensington, and they couldn't put undergraduates there, 
but they could use it for graduate women. 

At this point it was just before the years when everybody 
stopped wanting university housing; they felt that there would be 
quite a need for this. Later, in the mid to late '60s, they 
couldn't even get people to fill the dorms, and Ritter Hall had to 
be sold because we couldn't get enough people even to go into a 
subsidized co-op. Everybody wanted to live in apartments, and they 
didn't want university housing. I think, if you look back, they 
were running all those big dormitories that they had built right 
after the war they were running those not completely full. It's 
absolutely incredible now, of course, because people are standing in 
line, and there are waiting lists, and what have you to get in them, 
because there's no other place to live. But at that point, I guess, 
it was still reasonably priced enough to get rooms in apartments 
elsewhere, and so forth, so kids would much rather go three and four 
to an apartment and live on their own than to have university 

Riess: When Kay said, "What are we going to do with this?" was she saying, 
"What are we Prytaneans going to do with it?" 

Kittr: No. "What are we, the University, going to do with it," because she 
was the wife of the president of the University, and one assumes it 
had sort of been handed to her. The University at that point didn't 
want to put any money in it, or any more money than they had to. 
Actually, it was pretty obvious from some of the minutes that Kay's 
interest diminished after the start. After all, dark was president 
of all the universities. Gertrude Strong was more involved then 
because Chancellor [Edward] Strong was the chancellor then, so she 
was active throughout the two years that we operated it and was the 
one that, when we finally gave up, we were giving it up to. We 
notified her. Oh, I guess they notified Kerr too. 

Anyway, Kay and Maggie said, "What are we going to do with 
this?" and "What do you think about this idea? You are all 
Prytanean board members, or past board members, or what have you. 
How about running this as a graduate dorm like you've been running 
Ritter Hall as a student co-op?" So it was taken under advisement. 


Kittr: The original thoughts, I gather, were even that we would provide the 
money to renovate and buy furnishings and everything. My feeling is 
that we did some of that, because we had a rummage sale evidently at 
Mrs. [Eric] Bellquist's house, and we put together a couple of teas 
that raised money. Then, of course, the first year at least, we had 
money from the residence. 

There's a letter here, a copy of a letter from Joe Mixer 
[Chancellor's Office] to Mrs. [Parker] Trask, who was on the 
Incorporated board, as to what it would cost, and the way's and 
how's of raising money [letter dated January 31, 1963]. To the best 
of my knowledge, nothing about this was ever carried through from 
Prytanean anyway. At some point originally they thought they would 
have to come up with some thousands and thousands of dollars to 
equip it for a future, take out a Chirty-year loan, you know, all 
these kinds of things for what was really an experiment, and I guess 
they [Prytanean] sort of realized pretty quickly that they couldn't 
really obligate themselves to such an incredible degree. 

Riess : But at first it must have seemed rather exciting. 

Kittr: Oh, yes! There were things in the minutes about leasing the house, 
and having so many, twenty graduate women, each paying four hundred 
dollars a semester. 

Riess: That was for room and board? 

Kittr: Yes, and all kinds of things. They had to have a house mother, and 
maids, and a cook, and so forth. Anyway, the beginning was that 
summer meeting, and then the next step was that Kay came to the 
first meeting of the fall semester of '62, on September 25th. and 
gave the official proposal to the board. They agreed to take it on. 

Riess: Who drew up the official proposal then? 

Kittr: I don't know, and I could find no record in the minutes. I'm kind 
of inclined to think that if there is one, it's in the University 


Difficulties with the Experiment 

Riess: I wonder if the whole thing was modeled on anything else that was 
fairly closely detailed. 

Kittr: I don't think so. I think the whole thing was an experiment, and as 
it turned out, a somewhat disastrous one. It really never served 
the original purpose. They thought it would serve twenty graduate 
women; they never got twenty. Even the very first semester in 
September of '63 nineteen was the most they could get, and it 
dropped very quickly by the end of that semester to something like 
sixteen or fourteen. There were several rooms upstairs, one room 
downstairs, and those girls downstairs felt isolated. They set it 
up originally for four or five girls to a room, if you can imagine. 
So study desks had to be out in the hall. 

I'm sure you've been to Blake House. You know what a gracious 
place it is, but it wasn't as nice then. That lovely hallway where 
you go to the dining room, that didn't exist, that's been added on. 
Two little doorways were the way you got from the hallway into the 
dining room-kitchen area. That I remember very well because I was 
one of the people in charge of the first big fund-raising tea we had 
in the fall of '63. We got a tremendous crowd because everybody 
wanted to see what Blake House looked like. So we had tours of the 
house, and we had this tea. But trying to get people from the big 
living room areas into the dining room through these tiny little 
doorways was a mammoth traffic jam. It was just really incredible. 

Riess: What kind of redecorating had been done then? 

Kittr: I don't think they really did anything. As it turned out, the 
University did do some structural work. As I went through the 
minutes, there were several places where they suggested that 
Prytanean buy this or do that. But Prytanean didn't own the house, 
and it's really the owner of the house that should make these kinds 
of expenditures, so some of the things were done by the University. 


Kittr: I remember that we did spend four or five hundred dollars on a gas 
heater for the study hall because the girls were absolutely 
freezing. I think the heating facilities in the house were pretty 
antiquated at the time. Mrs. Blake probably lived in one room with 
a little tiny heater or something. It just really was not good heat 
for winter time there, and it's a pretty big house with not very 
many bedrooms, which was part of the problem. It was a problem, I 
think, for some of the presidents who lived there, not having enough 

You have this enormous living room-study-lanai area, and this 
tiny little dining room. Maggie always used to say what a problem 
it was. Maggie was instrumental in the purchase of what they now 
call Morgan House, that marvelous house that was designed by Julia 
Morgan [2821 Claremont Avenue].* I remember being there very early 
on when the University first took it over. She said, "You know, 
the best thing about this house is that the dining room and the 
living room are exactly the same size. So if you have x-number of 
people in the living room, they can all sit down in the dining 
room. " 

Blake House was better, of course, after they built that sort 
of porch, gallery, whatever they call it. You could stretch dining 
tables along there as well as in the dining room, and that helps. 
But you still can't seat anywhere near the number you can have 
milling around in that enormous liv ing-study- lanai area. I think we 
used the lanai area as the study hall. I think that's where 
Prytanean needed to buy the heater because it was so cold. There 
was no heat at all in there, and the girls couldn't stay in there 
without turning blue, I guess, in the winter time. 

Anyway, just as a quick run down, we did raise money, and they 
did get nineteen girls. There was a lot of changeover. 

Riess: Do you remember how it was advertised? What glowing words? 

Kittr: They didn't do much advertising. 
University, really. 

Riess: Just offered as an alternative? 

I think it was just through the 

Kittr: Well, as the only housing for graduate women. You see, at that 

point it was still a question of you know, if graduate women were 
coming, there was no place for them. The University was still a 
little bit in the "mother" business even though graduate women, of 
course, were over twenty-one, and they didn't have to do the same 
sort of things that they did for undergraduate women. I mean, all 
the time I was in school I had to have my father sign a permit for 
me to live at home. It was so silly. You couldn't live at home. 

*Julia Morgan, Her Office, and a House, an oral history interview 
conducted 1976, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, 
University of California, Berkeley, 1976. 


Kittr: You had to live in an approved house, you had to have a signed 

permit even if you lived in your own home with your own family. It 
was a ridiculous situation. 

I'm assuming graduate women were sent housing options, and I 
suppose this was one of those. But, as I said, they had nineteen 
instead of the projected twenty. So they didn't get the maximum 
amount of money even from the very beginning. 

Then they had some difficulties with house mothers and cooks. 
They sort of came and went. Then very soon it was down to fourteen 
or twelve. Then by the second year eight was all they had, which 
didn't even make it pay. So Prytanean was subsidizing it, although 
by then they were making economies, and one of the members of the 
board was doing the books herself instead of hiring a bookkeeper. 
It was too small to buy food in quantity. It had to be bought at 
retail sources. So that was more expensive. 

One of the main problems was that even though there was a bus 
connection, the No. 7 bus came right downtown so there was fairly 
direct bus transportation, still it was pretty far and it took quite 
a while. So that wasn't too convenient. 

Then the idea of having four and five girls, especially 
graduate women, in a room was terrible. So when they finally 
finished up I guess the six or eight or whatever that were left by 
that time were only two left in a room, and they could have their 
desks in their own rooms and that sort of thing. But you couldn't 
make it pay. There just weren't enough rooms. 

Somebody who knew something about it should have looked at the 
physical layout in the very beginning and said, "You never are going 
to do this. This is not going to work." But it was an experiment 
because nobody had done any graduate housing before. So they really 
didn't know what it was. We gave it the good try, and we did it for 
two years, raised money, and spent money. Prytanean probably spent 
a good couple of thousand over what they took in, running it for 
that time. 

Riess: But it wasn't really a financial disaster. 

Kittr: It wasn't terrible, but a thousand dollars was a lot of money in 

those days. The $750 we raised on that tea, I think, was the first 
time we had ever raised anything like that amount of money, and the 
tea tickets were $1.50. (You can't imagine going to a tea or 
anything for $1.50 today.) So a thousand dollars was a lot of money 
in those days. 


Prytanean Alumnae Association Projects and Relationship to the 

Riess: What is Prytanean Alumnae's basic commitment to the University? 

Kittr: Some of the original Prytanean members started the Prytanean Alumni 
Association in the mid '30s in order to help the students by running 
some kind of low-cost housing. Then they bought the building where 
Hitter Hall was (the Alpha Delt House now) and ran that. By the 
time 1 was in school in the '40s, the Alumnae Association was 
already ten or twelve years old, and it was a going concern, and 
I've been off and on the various boards for most of the forty years 
I've been an alum. 

Riess: So the bylaws require that Prytanean alumnae do some project for the 

Kittr: I haven't seen the bylaws for years, but since the Prytanean Society 
was founded for service to the University, I'm sure the Alumnae 
Association has that same creed, and it started out being housing. 
Earlier on, in the early 1900s, the Prytanean Society helped found 
the first student infirmary, which then was turned into Cow ell 
Hospital. So they've done all kinds of things like that. Since 
leaving the housing efforts, we put up the funding and did some of 
the major work to start the Women's Center. Now we're doing this 
faculty enrichment project where we're raising an endowment so that 
we can give a $10,000 grant every year to a non-tenure faculty 

In between, when they finally found they could not run Ritter 
Hall there wasn't the demand, and this was in this period I told 
you about when the demand for dormitory housing was nil they sold the 
physical building for $80,000 and then invested that money and used 
the income. There are strict rules about what kinds of things you 
can do with this income because Prytanean is non-profit, We had 
incorporated previously, as I explained, so there were many years 
there where we were giving grants anywhere from very small hundred 


Kittr: dollar grants to several thousand dollar grants to any and all who 
applied, as long as it had something to do with students and with 
the University. 

A couple of years ago, we agreed to start a faculty enrichment 
fund and raise an additional endowment of $100,000 whereby we hope 
we can get about $10,000 for an annual grant. We have been using 
our regular interest money so far for this because they wanted to 
start giving this gift right away. So that's what we have done 
recently. Once the fund raising for this endowment is finished, I'm 
pretty sure we will go back again to projects. 

But there's a lot of change. Whereas one year it was nice to 
give many small, five hundred to a thousand dollar grants, then 
somebody said, "Are we frittering away our money? Shouldn't we look 
for something really big?" When we did the Women's Center, for a 
couple of years we concentrated our efforts and did a large project 
instead of having small little grants. But those small little 
grants were very helpful too. It just met different needs at 
different times. I'm sure we will go on to doing something else 
like that. 

Riess: [Reads from notes] "November, 1963. Pry tanean Alumnae Association 
delegated to direct operation of Blake House. Chancellor Strong's 
decision. Mrs. Strong and Kay Kerr secured the noble Spanish house 
as a home for women scholars." 

Kittr: My recollection I mean, it wasn't a chicken and an egg thing, you 
know, which came first. What happened was the University had this 
white elephant, and they wanted something to do with it that would 
be useful. Maybe "conned" is a little strong, but in a way, they 
really convinced those Prytaneans into saying, "We will do this," 
without really giving them much of any support. 

At some point in the minutes, when something major needed to be 
done, there was some mention of Prytanean board members saying that 
they didn't think that we should put that sort of money in because 
we didn't own the house. At least everything that we did at Ritter 
Hall presumably we could get back in the selling price eventually. 

Riess: Ritter Hall was undergraduate? 

Kittr: Ritter Hall was undergraduate. It was a women's co-op run by 

But there really wasn't much remodeling done at Blake House 
until the Hitches decided to move in. I think maybe the Blakes 
thought this would be a nice house for the University president. The 
Kerrs were not the least bit interested in moving from their 
home. (Well, when he was chancellor they couldn't, of course, 
because President Sproul was still living in the President's House 


Kittr: University House now.) But when dark became president he certainly 
didn't want to move into the President's House on campus which has 
since been turned into University House, and no chancellor wanted 
it. The next two chancellors all lived around here, [Glenn] Seaborg 
and Strong, and didn't want to move in. It was only when we finally 
got a chancellor from someplace else who didn't already have a house 
that they turned University House back into a residence. 

Save San Francisco Bay Association had its beginnings in 
University House in those days. When I first started working for 
Save the Bay I had my own key to University House because there was 
so much stuff still stored there. They had moved the office out at 
that point, but there were still things stored there that I was 
trying to move out. University House was only used for entertaining 
and housing an occasional Regent, or something. They had a 
housekeeper and that was it. 

But Blake House, there again President Kerr didn't want to live 
there, and nobody did. When Kerr left and Hitch came in as 
president, he had a very small house on Cragmont, and they needed 
the entertainment space that the Kerrs had in their own home. So 
that's why they made the decision. I just remember this from 
conversations with Maggie, because I wasn't involved in that, of 


Efforts to Salvage the Experiment 

Kittr: At the end of the first year they discovered that they could run it 
with less than the maximum twenty they thought to have, and they 
could cut it down so that there wouldn't be so many girls in a room. 
The graduate women objected to a house mother, so they went to a 
graduate manager, which most of the board members agreed to. One 
that didn't, and I was astounded to read this, was Ruth Donnelly, 
who was a former dean and a very good friend of mine. She was just 
determined that these girls, even though they were graduate women, 
had to have a house mother! It's really interesting, the girls 
themselves wanted a graduate resident manager, which of course is 
obviously what the University has gone to long since. They don't 
have house mothers in any of their dormitories. 

There was some question about whether there should be a non 
resident manager too. I think for expediency and for financial 
reasons Imogene Bellquist, whose husband was a professor on campus, 
took it on. She was a marvelous woman, and if it hadn't been for 
her the whole project would not have lasted one year, much less the 
two years that it did. She did the books herself, so they didn't 
have to hire a bookkeeper. She was doing all the sorts of things 
that maybe a house manager did in assisting the resident graduate 
student. I think she was very important to the project the whole 
two years. 

Riess: Did they have cleaning services and all of that for the girls? 

Kittr: The minutes say they hired maids. They had two maids, so they 
obviously had maids cleaning rooms. 

Riess: Did they ever consider having the girls clean their own room and do 
co-op cooking or something like that? 

Kittr: I found no indication of that. So it sounds like maybe they didn't 
want to. I don't know. It's really interesting, they even had 
somebody who stayed there one night a week, because she came down 
for a seminar one night a week, and they charged her so much to 
sleep there and eat breakfast and dinner there. Then they had 


Kittr: somebody on a month-to-month basis. There was one notation in one 

of the minutes that they are now down to seven girls. One had left, 
"the one that had such interesting ways." [November 16, 1964] I 
thought, "Oh, I wonder what that meant." I gather she was some sort 
of a problem, but that's all that was mentioned in the minutes. 

Riess: Just what were the dates of operation of Blake House by Prytanean? 
Kittr: It started in September 1963 and closed in July 1965. 
Riess: Did Kay Kerr remain involved? 

Kittr: I do not see any of that in the minutes. Almost all of the 

references about that have to do with Gertrude Strong. Gertrude was 
an honorary president of Prytanean, and she's been on the board a 
number of times. I don't remember offhand whether she was actually 
on the board, but she was evidently more the liaison with the 

Riess: Did Maggie Johnston remain involved? 

Kittr: Maggie was involved only as all of us were as Prytaneans. I 

remember her helping at this tea that we gave, and I don't think she 
was actually on the board during those times. I think Maggie and 
Kay then went on to other things. You know, the '60s were a very 
busy time. 

Evidently there was some question that the Department of 
Landscape Architecture would use Blake House for their graduate 
students as housing. This was mentioned several times, but then 
obviously that never came to fruition. 


Maggie Johnston, Kay Kerr, and the Alumnae Hostess Committee 

Kittr: I would call Maggie my mentor. I graduated in '47, she graduated in 
'43 but she was still around here, and I immediately went on both 
the Prytanean Alumnae board and Mortar Board Alumnae board because I 
was in both of those undergraduate organizations and so was she. 
Mortar Board was a much smaller organization so somehow it was much 
closer, and I think it was because of the Mortar Board alumnae 
situation that Maggie and I got to be the good friends that we ended 
up for the rest of her life. Even after I married and moved away 
for a couple of years, when I came back we just carried right on. 

She was very active in some of the projects that we did in 
Mortar Board in those days. The war was just over, and we sponsored 
a school through Save the Children Foundation. When that was no 
longer necessary, she had relatives and a great interest in the 
Southwest. (I don't know if this has come up in any other thing.) 
We raised money and sent Christmas presents and things to the Hopi 
Indian children in Second Mesa, Arizona. 

We both were very involved with Mortar Board alumnae for many 
years, raising money for various projects and so forth. Then they 
finally ran out of a project and the alumnae association sort of 
fell apart. I think Maggie and I, and a lot of us who had been so 
active in the Mortar Board group when Prytanean sold Ritter Hall 
we were so determined that we had to have projects because otherwise 
Prytanean Alumnae, which was much much larger because it was a much 
larger organization, would fold. If you don't have anything to meet 
about, or have teas about, or raise money for, or what have you, 
there isn't a reason for being in existence. That's why I think 
Maggie was one of the chief people instrumental in starting the 
Prytanean project process to give grants in the years after we 
stopped having Ritter Hall. 

Maggie was so involved in every facet of the University. I I 
don't know if you're familiar with the Alumnae Hostess Committee. 
Kay and Maggie started that in 1960. (I had known Maggie very well 
through the years, and I knew she had gone to work for Mrs. Kerr, 
even before she had her little girl, Peggy. She retired and then 


i A7 a 


Tuesday, July 2, 1986 

Mike Lassiter (415) 642-2325 

Office of the President Be'keiev a -i~2C 

university of California 

Marguerite K. Johnston, chief social advisor and administrative secretary to five University 
of California presidents, died Sunday, June 29, after a short illness. 

As the principal social affairs and protocol advisor to former UC Presidents Clark Kerr, 
Harry Wellman, Charles Hitch, David Saxon and current UC President David P. Gardner, Mrs. 
Johnston organized countless social events and welcomed thousands of prominent guests to the 
University, including Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Prince Philip and 
Prince Charles of Great Britain, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren. 

Her expertise on protocol was sought by many other colleges and universities around the 

Mrs. Johnston, a resident of Berkeley, had worked for the University for more than 30 
years. A memorial service will be held July 29 from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Alumni House on the 
UC Berkeley campus. 

She was a 1943 graduate of UC Berkeley. Mrs. Johnston served three terms as vice presi 
dent of the Class of 1943 alumni organization and was elected president of the group in 1985. 

Mrs. Johnston was a member of the Prytanean Alumnae Association, a women's honor 
society; the UC Berkeley Alumni Association and the University Art Museum Council. She 
served as president of the museum council from 1977-79. 

An avid conservationist, Mrs. Johnston served on the board of People for Open Space and 
was a member of the Sierra Club and the Save San Francisco Bay Association. She was also an 
active supporter of the arts. 

Mrs. Johnston is survived by her husband of 45 years, Ted D. Johnston; sons, Mike of 
Berkeley, Stan of Los Angeles, and an adopted son, Armando Hurley of Australia; and a daugh 
ter, Peggy of Concord. She also leaves a brother, Stanley Kulp of Santa Cruz. 

The family requests that any remembrances be sent to the Class of 1943 UC Berkeley Fund, 

2440 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, 94720. 


# # # 


Kittr: went back again later.) Anyway, the Alumnae Hostess Committee is an 
interesting group. I seem to be chairman, and I've been chairman of 
it for twenty-seven years. It's a kind of a weird thing to say, but 
obviously nobody else wants to be chairman of it. 

Mrs. Kerr discovered that foreign VIP's were coming to the 
Berkeley campus, and nobody was taking them anyplace. This is an 
interesting thing: she and Clark were going to go to Peru so she 
asked somebody at the Bureau of International Relations, or whatever 
it was, "If you have anybody from Peru, call me. I'd like to take 
them to lunch. I'd like to learn more about Peru before we go." 
Well, she did, and took him on a tour, and had lunch, and talked to 
him. When she and Clark got to Peru, it turns out this man was very 
important. She didn't know. She thought he was just somebody 
visiting on campus. When she got back from that trip she got to 
thinking, "Here all these people come on campus, and there is no 
setup for anybody to greet them." They came to visit a particular 
professor and if he had time to take them to lunch, fine. If he 
didn't they were just left. 

Out of that eventually evolved the International Visitor Bureau 
at the University. Back in 1960 Kay and Maggie decided there needed 
to be some personal contact, so they got to thinking, "Well, the 
faculty wives are already taking care of foreign students." They 
decided that alumnae women were not being used as much as they could 
be. So they invited a whole group of alumnae women to work on this 
idea. Maggie called me because we were good friends, and I knew 
Kay, but not well. She said, "Come and do this." Well, I had a 
three- year old and a one-year-old, and I was pregnant. I said, 
"Maggie, I need another project like a hole in the head. This is 
ridiculous." She said, "Oh, come out. You have never been to the 
Kerr's home, and the bougainvillea in the garden room is lovely." 
At that time the bougainvillea covered the entire ceiling. It was 
absolutely spectacular. This was in April of 1960. 

I don't know why, but when I walked in the door with this large 
group of women of all ages, mostly older than me, they handed me a 
note pad and said, "Why don't you take notes, Janice." So I took 
notes and ended up helping to write the original draft of what we call 
Questions and Answers of what foreign visitors would like to know, 
and so forth. We called it the Alumnae Hostess Committee, and it's 
still functioning through the auspices of the International Visitor 
Service. There are alumnae women who donate their time and their 
automobiles to meet foreign visitors and take them to and from appoint 
ments, take them on tours of the campus if they want it, or pick them 
up at bus stops and take them to their appointments and what have you. 

In those years in the '60s there was plenty of government 
money, and the USIS, the State Department, was sending lots of 
people from the other parts of the world on tours of the United 
States. Berkeley and Cal were always on the itinerary, so we had 


Kittr: many visitors, singly and in groups. It was very interesting. We 
also meet with each other several times each year and have tours or 
talks about particular places on campus. We just compile as much 
knowledge about Cal as possible to use when we take our foreign 
visitors around. 

Anyway, Maggie and Kay started that, and Maggie was extremely 
involved all the years even after CLark was no longer president of 
the University. Kay has remained a member of the committee and 
occasionally will come to a meeting. I don't know that she's 
actually done a tour for quite a while or met with a visitor, but 
she would if the occasion arose, I'm sure. 

Riess : What is the official connection of organizations like Alumnae 

Hostesses and Prytanean and Mortar Board to the University? Is 
there always one member of the group who is the liaison? To whom? 

Kittr: Well, Mortar Board Alumnae does not exist anymore. Prytanean along 
with probably Golden Bear Alumni, etc., really has only a social 
connection, I would say. I don't think there's any official 
connection. Alumnae Hostess Committee is just a group of volunteer 
women that operates out of the International Visitor Service, which 
is under Public Relations. Professor Ollie Wilson has recently been 
put in charge. 

I became more familiar with Kay Kerr through the Alumnae 
Hostess Committee. Kay was also one of the three founding women in 
Save San Francisco Bay Association in 1961. In 1964 I was sort of 
interested in a part-time job, and so when Kay and others felt they 
needed a paid person, they hired me at Maggie's suggestion. The pay 
was very small and I only worked part-time. I think all volunteer 
organizations sometimes get to this point where they like to have 
somebody they can tell to do something, because if everybody is a 
volunteer you can't tell anybody to do anything. You have to ask 
them to do things. I've been working for Save the Bay ever since. 
For a long time I was the only employee. 

As you see, Maggie was directly instrumental there; it wouldn't 
have occured to me to ask for the job. Kay might not have known 
that I was interested in having a part-time job. It was just 
totally happenstance with Maggie as the main person. Maggie worked 
on a number of conservation efforts. She was always willing to help 
with the Save the Bay project. Then she went on to be secretary to 
the other presidents' wives. She was always interested and involved 
in the Alumnae Hostess Committee, and was always interested in 
helping me and brainstorming about who would be a good speaker, and 
where could we do this, and so forth. 

As a matter of fact, we [Alumnae Hostess] had our twenty-fifth 
anniversary in 1985 and I said to Maggie, "Well, we haven't had a 
meeting at Blake House for a long time." (Blake House isn't 


Kittr: technically a place we take a visitor to, but it's a nice, gracious 
place, and we hadn't seen the gardens for a long time.) Maggie said, 
"Well, this is special. Why don't we make it a potluck luncheon?" 
I would never have presumed to ask to use somebody else's house, 
even though I knew that Mrs. Gardner didn't live there. But still, 
you know. So she talked to Libby Gardner and we worked together, 
the three of us. 

Riess : Did Mrs. Gardner attend? 

Kittr: Oh, yes. It was just a marvelous event, all really due to Maggie 

who had said, "Well, let's do something special." because it's been 
twenty-five years of this committee, and we're still going strong 
helping the University. It's the old Prytanean attitude of giving 
service to the University, which we're still doing as alums for all 
these years and years. 

Riess: And linking the town and gown, it seems to me. 

Kittr: Well, I don't know. An awful lot of the women on the Hostess 

Committee, a lot of the women on Prytanean are connected with the 
University a lot more than I am. I'm only connected with the 
University through alumni activities such as this. I've never 
worked on the campus, which almost everybody else has, it seems 
like. My husband has no connection with the University, and only 
one of my three children even went there. 

Whereas that's not true with many of the other people on both 
the Hostess Committee and Prytanean. For example, Maggie. I mean, 
Maggie went to Cal, and Maggie has continued to work, have many 
connections, alumni connections as well as job connections and so 
forth, with the University all these years. 

Was there anyone ever like Maggie before Maggie? 

No. I don't think there was ever. I haven't the vaguest idea what 
President Sproul had in the way of social secretary or someone to do 
entertaining. I have no knowledge of that. I would have been at 
school at the time. There would have been nothing I would have 
known about that. 

Riess: So Maggie and Kay kind of created Maggie's position in the 

Kittr: Yes. Definitely. Then it carried on after Kay left. Maggie didn't 
know if Nancy Hitch would want her, but of course she did. Then she 
did the same thing for all of the others. 

Riess : 

Transcriber: Catherine Woolf 
Final Typist: Elizabeth Eshleman 


Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

Norma Wilier, Anthony Hail, Ron and Myra Brocchini 

An Interview Conducted by 

Suzanne B. Riess 

in 1987 

Copyright (c] 1988 by The Regents of the University of California 


TABLE OF CONTENTS Norma Wilier, Ron and Mrya Brocchini, and Anthony Hail 



Renovating Blake House 156 

The Condition of the House in 1967 156 

Selecting the Architects 157 

Regent Dorothy Chandler 159 

Keeping in Mind the Multi-Campus Presidency 160 

Budget 162 

Working with President and Mrs. Hitch's Requests 164 

Selecting a Decorator 166 

Making the House Livable 169 

The Garden 170 

A Private Life 172 

Bees I 75 

Furnishing the House 178 

Blake House Since the Hitches 180 
The Working Drawings 

The Public Response 185 



In 1962 Anita Blake died and the vast Mediterranean-style house that 
she and her husband Anson had built on Rincon Road in Kensington, California 
came to the University of California. By the terms of the Blake's 1957 
gift, the house could be put to any use the University chose, and an idea 
occurred to Mrs. Clark Kerr, the president's wife. She urged the Prytanean 
alumnae group to undertake transforming Blake House into housing for 
graduate women. Minor remodelling was done with an eye to the immediate 
logistics of turning a three-bedroom house into a women's dormitory, and 
accomodations were ready in the fall of 1963. For many reasons, however, 
Blake House failed to attract enough residents to make it viable, and the 
residency program was discontinued after 1965. 

The deferred maintenance that the University inherited with Blake House 
had not by any means been faced in the 1963 "remodelling." When the Board 
of Regents decided in 1967 to upgrade Blake House to the status of official 
residence of the President of the University of California Charles Hitch 
had been named president in September 1967 major renovation was in order. 
No longer a property solely associated with the University at Berkeley, 
Blake House would be the statewide University's White House. But 
considerable work would need to be done to make it equal to the honor, and 
the new president wanted to occupy it as soon as possible. 

The design challenge was to allow for a gracious pairing of functions: 
a private place for the University's top executive to relax in after a hard 
day, a home in which his wife could carry on her creative and social life, 
normal surroundings for their daughter to grow up in, as well as a public 
place where Regents, visiting dignitaries, delegations of one sort and 
another could park their cars, find a chair, have a conversation, eat a 
meal, use the towels, enjoy the view, and conduct official business. It was 
a challenge that was carried out with great spirit by the four professionals 
here reunited to recall that year together, architects Ron and Myra 
Brocchini, interior decorator Anthony Hail, and University architectural 
liaison Norma Wilier. 

By all testimony the undertaking was great fun, gratifying, appre 
ciated, and full of anecdote, as the interview will show. The Brocchinis 
and Tony Hail acknowledged Norma Willer's essential role in articulating the 
needs of President and Mrs. Hitch, coordinating the work of the architects 
and contractors, and following through on the ultimate decorating decisions. 
Mrs. Wilier, who suggested the joint interview, arranged for us to meet at 
the Brocchinis' San Francisco office. We were joined there by Mr. Hail to 
record this roundtable conversation a vicarious look at how design people 
get things done, as well as valuable documentation of Blake House. 


Editing the oral history was done by passing the transcript from one 
interviewee to the next. There were few changes. The editing, like the 
interview, went smoothly despite the involvement of more than the standard 
two persons. Mrs. Wilier had been interviewed for another Regional Oral 
History Office interview, a history of the Women's Faculty Club at the 
University, and on several occasions has been able to offer valuable advice 
in planning architecture-related interviews. Her familiarity with the oral 
history process made her at times seem a co- interviewer, which gave a parti 
cular strength to the interview. 

Suzanne B. Riess 

November 20, 1987 
Regional Oral History Office 
486 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 



| MORE THAN 1,000 foreign businessmen, teachers, 
government officials and students visit the Berkeley campus 
each year and the number is increasing. Many of them 
come on business, and many of them often find themselves 
business completed, or between appointments with 
nothing to do, and nothing planned. 

Such was the case four years ago with a young Peruvian 
official with whom Mrs. Clark Kerr was discussing Uni 
versity President Kerr's anticipated trip to South America. 
During the conversation, Mrs. Kerr discovered her com 
panion was interested in flowers and that he had an entire 
afternoon with nothing planned. Although she was ex 
tremely busy with her own heavy schedule, Mrs. Kerr 
invited the young man to visit the beautiful garden which 
surrounds the Kerrs' modern, glass-front home high on the 

El Cerrito hills, overlooking the Bay. Later, she drove i 
to his San Francisco-bound bus. 

When the Kerrs arrived in Lima, Peru, a few moi 
later, the official welcoming committee was headed by 
young guest, and it was apparent that at least one b 
Peruvian official's opinion of Berkeley and of the U.S 
had been strongly influenced by Mrs. Kerr's hospita 
that afternoon. 

Mrs. Kerr also was strongly influenced by her guest- 
more precisely, by the fact that foreign visitors to Bei 
ley were not "being taken care of" while they were h< 
The Bureau of International Relations had, on occasi 
used student guides for campus tours, when request 
however, students proved too unreliable some di< 
even show up. No funds were available to hire guides. 

C.alUornia Month 



Undaunted, Mrs. Kerr asked a group of 21 Bay Area 
University alumnae to her home in April 1960 to "discuss" 
the problem. Mrs. Kerr already knew how she wanted the 
problem solved; before the women left, they had formed a 
unique, little-publicized organization the Alumnae Host 
ess Committee which, during the past four years, has es 
corted some 800 foreign visitors on one- to two-hour 
campus and community tours. Some hostesses have assisted 
their guests on shopping expeditions. Some even have in 
vited their guests home for dinner and "to meet the 

The Hostesses are a loosely-knit, informal organization 
of approximately 30 former Berkeley students who meet 
as a group three to five times a year. They have no official 
status. All are volunteers. Most are housewives with grown 

ON A TYPICAL assignment, a 
hostess may find herself, as did 
Mrs. Marjorie Watt '33 (at right in 
photo at left), showing the campus 
to a group of Ryulcyian science stu 
dents from the top of the new 
chemistry building. Often, however 
a hostess is asked to escort only one 
or two visitors. Such was the case 
with Mrs. Helen Weis '33, shown at 
right greeting George Spentzas. 
deputy director of the Bank of 
Greece, as he arrived at the School 
of Business Administration office. 
During an hour-long tour, mostly by 
automobile, Mrs. Weis showed her 
visitor the Campanile (below), 
where both were startled when 

chimes began to play, and the 
Greek Theatre (left). Returning 
past Memorial Stadium and Inter 
national House (below), Mrs. Weis 
delivered her charge on the door 
step of his next appointment. 
Hostesses drive their own cars 
often pay for their own meals but 
may park on campus while escort 
ing visitors. Just prior to his return 
to Greece. Spentzas wrote Mrs. 
Weis: "America is ... now the 
country where many of our friends 
live. We leave much richer in ex 
perience, and more optimistic 
about the future of the world and 
better international understanding. 
Farewell and thank you." 

JANUARY, 1964 


HOSTESS COMMITTEE meets three to five times a year. Each meet 
ing usually includes a special orientation program a Library tour, 
for example. The first meeting each fall, however, is held at University 
House (above). During this meeting, under the chairmanship of Mrs. 
Janice Kittredge '47 (above, right), the Committee is organized for 
the coming year, new members are welcomed, and each member is 
provided with the latest information and resource materials. The 
Committee's sponsor, Mrs. Clark Kerr (below, right), attends most 
meetings; sometimes bakes bread or cookies to be served. Day-to-day 
coordination between visitors and hostesses is capably handled by 
Dora Seu (below, left), of the campus' International Visitors' Bureau. 


or teen-age children. Hostesses provide transportation 
their own cars, often pay for their own lunches, since 
expense funds are provided in the campus budget 

The Committee's activities are coordinated by an ei 
vescent bundle of energy, Janice Kittredge '47, w 
mother of three school-age children, and one of the o 
inal group called on by Mrs. Kerr. Scheduling of tours i 
assignment of hostesses is handled by Dora Seu at 
International Visitors Bureau on the Berkeley campus. 

Lest one think the hostess' life is an easy one filled v 
suave, sophisticated dignitaries and businessmen e 
hostess can describe incidents which made her wish 
were back in the kitchen, working over a hot stove v 
children running 'rampant through the house. One host 
for instance, recently guided a group of Japanese fami 
complete with children. As she was pointing out vari 
local landmarks from the top of the Student Union, she 
horrified to find several of the youngsters doing a baL 
ing act on the platform railing four stories above 
pavement below! 

Another hostess recently led her group of visiting 
dents into the middle of a prohibited construction ; 

Perhaps, however, the fear of many hostesses was 
lized one day last summer when, as is the hostesses' cust 
one hostess casually mentioned that there were two 
dents at Berkeley from her guest's country. "Fine, 1 ' 
said. "Let's find them!' 

Fortunately, both were soon located at Internatit 

As the number of foreign visitors coming to Berk 
increases, the Alumnae Hostesses will be called upon n 
and more. And it will be largely through their efforts t 
in years to come, these visitors will remember Berkele 
a "friendly place to be." 

California Monti 

Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 


University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 


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Your full name 

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Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 


University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 


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Your full name 
Date of birth 


Place of birth 

Father's full name Q|U0 AA/TJ^IO 

Birthplace && fl^Att^/*^^ 

Mother's full name 


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Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley," California 94720 


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Renovating Blake House 

[Date of Interview: February 19. 1987] 

The Condition of the House in 1967 

Riess: What did you think of Blake House when you first saw it? 

Myra: I thought it was just great. 

Ron: I think it's a good example of that period of architecture. 

Norma: Yes, but it was pretty shoddy when we got it. 

Myra: It was in bad shape. 

Ron: It had collapsed. I think the garden was stronger than the house 

because Mabel Symmes apparently had traveled the world and collected 
plants. I recall that the first time that I ever saw a kiwi was in 
that garden out there by that loggia, and it was bearing fruit. I 
thought it was a walnut because it looks like a walnut in growth. 
There was one of everything. There were redwood groves 

Myra: And hose bibs in the closets. 

Ron: To take care of indoor planting. It was just a hose bib like on 

the outside of the house, so you had to be very careful. Those were 
inside all of the upper bedroom closets, but there were no drains, 
so if it leaked it would go all over the hardwood floors. 

Riess: Had alterations been made at Blake House by the Prytanean group when 
they moved the women graduate students in there in 1963? 

Norma: Yes. Ron, you remember what it was like. 

Ron: They did a lot of wallpapering and painting, and cosmetic 
remodelling to the building. 


Myra: Didn't they partition off a toilet? 
stalls in it? 

Wasn't there a toilet with 

Nonna: I remember that. It had a kind of barracks look to it upstairs. 

Ron: They had remodelled the house in a distressed situation because the 
house had sunk about seven inches in the middle, right opposite the 
grotto. One of the major things we had to do was to try to level 
the house. When we did that, then put new foundations in there's 
concrete columns that support the ground living floor. We had to 
lift the house, and when we did that it popped a lot of the 
remodelling that had been done by the Prytaneans because we were 
restoring it to its original shape. So walls cracked and wallpaper 
came off that was expected to happen. And we raised the house to 
within three quarters of an inch of level. But it took about two 
months to do that, just to raise the house. 

[Tony Hail arrives] 
Riess : Women were not in residence, I guess. 

Ron: The house was vacant, I believe, when we went in. The stories that 
we heard were that they moved out because it was a scary situation 
to live out there all alone in the building at nighttime. 

Myra : It was too far away. 

Ron: They would hear noises at nighttime, probably deer or raccoon, 

things like this, and call the police. And the University police 
and El Cerrito police both got a little tired of driving out there 
and finding nothing. I think because of the distance, plus the 
separation from campus activities, plus the scare factor, they had 
moved out. 

Selecting the Architects 

Riess: Norma, what is your recollection of the beginnings of the work at 
Blake House? 

Norma: I can't really remember the very beginning. I think that we got 

word in my office from University Hall. Bob Evans called and wanted 
somebody assigned to the project from our office, and I was the one. 
Then we met with the Hitches, and the first thing we did was to 
select an architect, and we interviewed Ron and Myra. [to Ron and 
Myra] Do you remember that? 

Myra: Vividly. 
Ron: Yes. 


Riess: Why vividly? 

Ron: It was an interesting interview. I think we ended up having a one 

o'clock interview on Saturday scheduled at the house site. I called 
up and got it changed to eleven o'clock, the reason being that I'm 
involved in Cal sports. Men's Intercollegiate more so now than I 
was then and it was a football game day. We had an appointment to 
go to the football game. It was the starting time for Golden Bear 
Athletic Fund 

Myra: The truth of it is that he hasn't missed a Cal football game since 
1938, and he wasn't about to miss one for this occasion either. 

Ron: And it amazed me when Norma said we got the job. As I was leaving, 
somehow Charles Hitch asked me why we changed the meeting, and we 
were talking about that, and I said that it was very important to me 
not to miss a Cal football game. As we walked out then I think 
[Dan] Warner was walking in to be interviewed. He was one of the 
other architects, I guess. We switched times. That was an 
interesting anecdote about how to be selected or not be selected for 
a commission. I don't know that it appealed to Charles Hitch at the 
time, but I think it did. 

Myra: I think it probably did. You certainly were an Old Blue. 

The other funny thing was that I had lived part of my childhood 
about two blocks away and never seen the house. It was fun to 
actually see it. 

Riess: Norma, how did you decide who you were going to interview? 

Norma: My memory is a total blank. I can't even remember the other people 
we interviewed. I'm sure they were selected from a list of people 
who had experience in residential remodeling. 

Ron: Dan Warner. They were the heirs to Gardner Dailey's office. I 

think Gardner Dailey had just died, and it eventually became Warner, 
Yuill- Thornton & Levikow. That was the firm. We didn't know the 
third one, but we knew the second one because we passed each other 
in the garden. 

Riess: Are you aware that Catherine Hearst thought that it would be a waste 
of time to put thirty-three thousand into the house? She thought it 
just should be razed. 

Myra: Really? 

Ron: No! 

Riess: That's in the files. [July 16, 1966] 


Regent Dorothy Chandler 

Ron: We went through two interviews with the Hitches, and I think the 

third one was a lunch at their house. Myra can't forget the salmon 
on pewter plates. We met Buf fy Chandler, who was the Regent who was 
put in charge. This was a Regents' project, as I understand it, not 
a Berkeley project. 

Norma: No, it was a University-wide project. 

Ron: I know Bob Evans [University architect], when we met him, was 

filling in for Elmo Morgan [University vice-president], who was on a 
one-year sabbatical. I think Buf fy Chandler came to one or two of 
the meetings, and then she sort of disappeared from the scene. 

Myra: I remember that differently. I thought what happened was we were 
going along in the preliminaries and somehow it came up that there 
wasn't going to be room for the help. 

Myra: She said, "Come on you guys," and I thought that meant somebody was 
going to cough up some more money. And as soon as she said that, 
there was money to do that addition. 

Tony: For the servants' bathrooms mainly, that's what she said. I didn't 
know who she was; nobody introduced anybody. I said, "We have very 
nice bathrooms planned for the servants." She said, "Have you ever 
given a spur-of-the-moment lunch for four thousand people?" or 
something ridiculous like that. (I've told this so many times and 
it gets bigger.) [laughter] She said, "I have." So I said to 
somebody, "Who is that woman?" and they told me who she was. She 
said, "They don't like using each others' bathrooms." Do you 
remember that? 

Myra: Yes, right. 

Tony: "Permanent servants don't like having someone come in from outside 
to use their bathrooms, and men certainly don't want women or vice 
versa using the same bathrooms, and you'd better provide them now 
because you won't be able to do it later, and find the room for it." 
She was very firm about that. She asked me a great many questions, 
Mrs. Chandler. Mrs. Hearst didn't say anything I knew who she was, 
she spoke with a southern accent. But Mrs. Chandler was very 
strong, just what you'd expect, and knew exactly what she was 
talking about. 

Riess: She was very much in favor of the project too. 

Tony: Very much in favor of the project, but also a very strong woman who 
intended to have her thoughts listened to, let's put it this way. 


Riess: That must have been very hard for Nancy Hitch, I should think. 

Norma: No, she was quite open to it. She was soliciting ideas from Mrs. 

Chandler and anyone else who had experience in running a big house. 

Tony: She had no false pride about that, and she was very intelligent not 
to, because very few people are accustomed to running a house on 
that scale, and also very few who would be expected to give lunches 
like that, and she was to be expected to, wasn't she? 

Norma: She was, and she really didn't have that much experience, but she 
knew Mrs. Chandler did, and she had invited Mrs. Chandler to give 

Keeping in Mind the Multi-Campus Presidency 

Riess : 



Tony : 



In the files there are many of Nancy Hitch's notes. She was 
planning constantly, it appears. I wonder how she communicated with 
all of you. 

All the time. [laughter] All the time, and she took it as a 
personal chore, as if it were to be her house. She chose the china, 
the silver, the glasses, the napkins well, let's say we did. She 
was interested in every detail of a pepper shaker, right down to the 
kitchen things and where the family was to sit. 

This is a good thing? 

It's an excellent thing from my point of view, 
wanted, and then we got it. 

She told us what she 

But also I always had the feeling that it was slightly turned 
towards the fact that it was University- owned. It wasn't like she 
was picking out what she wanted. 

It wasn't selfish, or that she was interested in her personal 
aggrandizement at all. It was just to make sure that if it was done 
under her auspices, it was going to be a job done correctly. That's 
the way I felt. 

Wasn't there something about the china? 

I forget what that was all 

It was about the gold emblem. 

Yes. You had to search all over creation to find somebody to do it. 


Tony : 


Riess : 


Tony : 


Tony : 


Tony : 


That's it. She wanted the seal of the University on all the china 
in Blake House. Nobody knew how to get that made. I had to 
scrounge to get it done. 

You got it from North Carolina someplace? 

Something like that, another college. North Carolina, or Vanderbilt. 
I got it to show Mrs. Hitch what it would look like. It wasn't on 
everything then. Now you see it everywhere, but you didn't see it 
then. It was a good-looking thing, wasn't it? Mrs. Hitch loved it. 
Rather than their initials and you had to have something on it. 
But it was supposed to serve all the campuses, not just Berkeley. 

What number of settings did you decide on? 

Not four thousand I take 

No, but a great many, it was a very big service. 

I remember that we had to have place settings for fifty-four people, 
and the reason I remember it is 

That's how many you could seat. 

Yes, and the reason I remember is that we had to figure out where to 
put it. Remember how I went around and measured how tall the plates 
were going to be? 

We chose every single thing, and they made provisions to store it. 
It was a vast amount. 

That was Italian china, Ginori. 

That's why it was so difficult to get that coat of arms [seal of the 
University] on it. 

That point keeps being made that the University is not Berkeley. In 
recalling Mr. Hitch's term there, and some of his wishes when he 
came on as president, people mention that he was very clear that he 
didn't want even to set foot on the Berkeley campus unless he was 
invited to, that he was head of all the campuses. 

The Hitches wanted that point to come across all the time, in 
everything, that it was not just a Berkeley thing, and it certainly 
wasn't anything to do with them. 

However, I don't think there were any other labels where the 
University seal was placed, other than on the china. 
I can't recall that there was any place where we could make that 
statement, other than verbally. 


Tony: No, but I do remember that the absence of initials is odd on napkins 
and silver, so that was their way of getting around it. I thought 
that was very nice of them not to want their name on anything. 

Riess: Whoever supplied the Stieff silver offered to initial the back of it 
free. Was it initialed? 

Norma: I think that was one thing we decided not to do. 

Tony: We sat around at Mrs. Hitch's house on all these little things and 
decided, and she never, ever put her personal stamp on it, never 
pushed herself forward. 

Norma: She was really a very quiet person, so quiet in fact that it was 
difficult to hear her often. 

Myra: That's right, I'd forgotten that. She spoke so quietly. 

Norma: And she had laryngitis to begin with. I remember that very clearly 
because she used to call me on the phone, and it was very difficult 
to understand what she was saying. About that same time I was 
dealing with Bill Wurster, who also had problems speaking, and I was 
a nervous wreck. [laughter] 


Riess: That $458,000 budget, how was that determined? On July 5th, 1966 
Cliff Dochterman gave President Hitch three proposals for different 
ways of handling the renovation costs. Big money was involved, but 
not anything like $458,000; it was more like $200,000. Did you make 
up the budget, Norma? 

Norma: It originated in the office of the University architect and was 

based on an assumed program, not knowing really what had to be done 
to jack up the house or about the additions. 

Riess: That was before you found Ron and Myra. 

Norma: Yes. An outline program and a budget was always developed for every 
project before we ever hired an outside architect or any outside 
consultants. There had to be Regents' approval given of that budget 
and program before we started. Later it would have been turned over 
to Ron and Myra to develop a budget, and they would have come up 
with the first real estimate based on the program that developed. 

Ron: I think it's important to understand the difference between the 

construction budget and the project budget. What we were involved 
with was the construction budget. Beyond that is the project budget 


Ron: that takes in all the costs involved, and having A & E [Architects 
and Engineers] on it and Tony on it. We would only be involved in 
restoring the house and adding onto the house. It's not unusual to 
have a $300,000 construction budget that might be a $400,000 project 
budget, depending on what goes into it after it's completed. 

Riess: In choosing the architect, is that a competitive bid? 

Norma: There are no bids, no discussion of fees at the time of the 
interviews, but it is competitive. 

Ron: In the past few years, I have been involved in selecting architects 
for the state and for the University, and I think it has always been 
traditional to select on talent and experience if you have a 
building type yet you don't want to leave anybody out that doesn't 
show experience but does show creative talent that could develop 
that experience. Otherwise we never would have done Bodega Marine 
Biology Lab for the University because it was the first one of its 
type. You don't go out and bid competitively for it. 

Everyone going in and working with the University realizes that 
they have a fee schedule. So if you're doing a lab building, and 
you know the approximate cost, you know what your fee is going to 
be. It's pretty straightforward: I think basically professional 
talent and capabilities. 

Myra: Theoretically that's the way any job is supposed to be done, not 
just University work. 

Riess: Was the bid for construction also very straight- forward? Was Al 

Heff ley- 
Ron: That was a competitive bid. Al was on the bidder's list. 
Myra: He'd done a lot of work for the University and everybody liked him. 

Norma: He had done some work for the Hitches, on their house on Hilldale. 
Prior to the actual house remodeling and addition, we leveled the 
house, and did some work on the foundation. Another contractor did 
that work. 

Ron: I don't remember who bid against Al. Mario somebody. He's an 
expert in lifting buildings. 

Working with President and Mrs. Hitch's Requests 

Ron: Even before that aspect of the project, I recall that the Hitches 
were some of the easiest clients that I'd ever had. 

Tony: I was going to say that, too. The nicest. 

Myra: It wasn't that they went along with everything you said. They 
weren't easy that way. 

Ron: They were nice, they were easy, but when we went to meetings and we 
had frequent meetings in University Hall we would present three 
alternatives, and Charles Hitch would ask us what we thought was the 
best, and we'd try to justify it, and then he'd make a decision. So 
when you left, you knew where you were going, there was no 
vacillating. After the decision was made, that was the decision. 

Our contact with them was extremely easy. We didn't work with 
a committee, we worked with the two of them, and I imagine Nancy did 
a lot of the background and notes and gave it to him, and said, 
"This is what we want to do." and he digested it. He was a very 
busy person. Just like he had a staff person do his reviews and 
hand him conclusions and directions, I'm sure that it worked that 
way with the house. It meant that it was extremely easy for us. We 
sort of went from A to B without a lot of going sideways on that 

Myra: A good part of that is right here. Norma's the one who orchestrates 

Ron: Norma took the brunt of most of that. 

Tony: I've never had that middle person on any other project I've done. 

Myra: You always have the person in Norma's position, but most of the 

people in Norma's position are not Norma. A lot of times the jobs 
just get 

Ron: I think we established a sort of system in the day-to-day dialogue 
that went on between Nancy and Norma. Our contacts were only at 
those meetings, about every other week. A lot of the resolutions 
and options were handled by Norma before they got to us. 

Riess: I'm a little surprised that Mr. Hitch was involved. 

Ron: He was. I think we had a half dozen meetings with him in the 

conference room at University Hall. We worked rather rapidly on 
this job because they wanted to get in before he was no longer 


Tony: That's it. [laughter] 

Ron: The job moved rather quickly. 

Myra: How long did they live in the house? 

Norma: Probably seven or eight years. 

Ron: The only concern besides the house itself was security. 

Tony: And the child. 

Ron: Also their ability to live there and have a private life in the 
building as well as the life of a university president. 

Tony: That was very important to her. 

Ron: It had to do with the scale of some of the spaces: a small kitchen, 
a small dining room 

Myra: We put the elevator in for that reason too. 

Ron: The elevator so that they could communicate without going down the 
main stairway. But also the garden itself. We added that entry 
gate around the grotto particularly to keep that part more or less 
as a private garden. The remainder of the garden was to be left open 
and accessible to public and public tours. We worked with Walter 
Vodden who was in charge of all the garden, and decided where we 
could develop an exterior use space that was enclosed. We worked 
with Gerry Scott, landscape architect, as well. The whole back area 
was lifted. There's about fourteen feet of fill out there where 
that lawn area is, so that there'd be an outside area. And then we 
built a crafts room downstairs for Nancy and Caroline. 

Riess : This memo from the conference on October 12, 1967, at which Mrs. 
Hitch and Mr. Evans and Frances Essig were present 

Norma: Fran Essig was Dr. Hitch's executive secretary or administrative 

Riess: At that time Mrs. Hitch was outlining the things that she 

particularly wanted. One of the things was an outdoor roofed dining 
terrace with a fireplace. 

Norma: She didn't get that. [laughter] 

Riess: And a game room or play room downstairs to accomodate the children. 

Norma: That was done. 


Riess: Is that what is now the housekeeper's apartment? 

Ron: No, this is down below in the back side, adjacent to the new west 

loggia that was added. The house was a very large house, but it was 
designed as a very small house, and you had to circulate through 

Myra: It was your basic three-bedroom house, wasn't it? 

Ron: That's right, and you couldn't get in and out of the living room 
except by one set of doors. 

At first guess I can see why Catherine Hearst might say that it 
was totally unsuitable as a house where you have to give teas for 
five hundred and hold receptions. There was no way of moving people 
gracefully through the house. This was a major reason for 
developing the west loggia, which was all added on, so they could 
come through the receiving line, go back out and circulate through 
the dining room. That was a major problem. It was just a three- 
bedroom house, not designed for that kind of social use. 

Norma: It was Mrs. Kerr who suggested that loggia. She [Nancy Hitch] said 
that others had been given credit for that idea, but she wanted it 
to be noted that it was Mrs. Kerr who suggested it. 

Myra: She was right; it was the right place to do it. 

Selecting a Decorator 

Riess: [to Tony] When did you first see the house, and what did you think 
of it? 

Tony: I don't remember. I remember I went to Mrs. Hitch's house. You'd 
gotten me to come, hadn' t you? 

Norma: Mrs. Hitch and I came to see you at your house and talked to you a 

little bit before you came over to Blake House. And then I think we 
walked through Blake House together and then went to the Hitches' on 

Tony: Yes. I don't know when that was. It was very near the beginning. 
[to Myra and Ron] You'd just been chosen, I know that. 

Norma: Because we did talk about furniture layouts and arrangements at a 
very early stage. You people did some furniture layout plans, 
didn' t you? 


Myra: We usually do. although I don't remember. 

Norma: Tony gave you his ideas on that and you laid it out for them. 

Tony: We never had any problems professionally with any of it. 

Myra: Right. 

Riess: The business of having furniture layout plans: was that because 
this was more of a set piece, or do you do that anyway? 

Tony: You always do. 

Myra: You can't design a conference room unless you know where you're 

going to put the furniture because you don't know what to do with 
the lights or plugs or doors or anything, so you do it for 

Riess: Including residences? 

Myra: Oh, absolutely. 

Riess: [to Tony] Anyway, what did you think of the house? 

Tony: I'm used to working in California on houses that aren't necessarily 
pretty houses. I think we get used to it. You probably build more 
than you remodel, but I'm always remodeling, called in to change 
houses that exist. Far more often than I'm asked to build new ones. 

Riess: As a piece of architecture you're saying it wasn't 

Tony: It's an interesting location, and a marvelous garden, and it just 
never entered my mind that it should be criticised. It was a fait 
accompli by the time I got there. There was no question that that 
was going to be the case. You were already into your loggia things, 
and jacking it up. It was going when I got there, so I had no 
critical views. 

Norma: I think we were all caught up in the enthusiasm. 

Tony: And the excitement of it. It was quite exciting to be asked to be 
included. It's a wonderful location, and the gates, the whole 
thing was attractive. 

Riess: How did you and Mrs. Hitch decide on Tony? 

Norma: Someone, Regent [William] Coblentz I believe, whose wife is a 
decorator, suggested several people. We made a list of those 
people, and I think the only one we really did interview was Tony. 
We felt that what we saw at his house was just what we were looking 
for, so we didn't go any farther than that. I think Michael Taylor 


Norma: was one of the ones that was suggested, but we thought the 

warmth that we found in Tony's house, and the kind of informality 
that was there, was just right for the Blake house. 

Riess: You said once that twenty or even ten years later you never could 

have done what you did at Blake House because of the National Trust 
landmark implications for a house as old as that. 

Norma: The addition of the bedrooms and the gallery were really an 

improvement to the house. The attitude today with many of the 
houses considered historic landmarks is that you can't change any 
part of the exterior, so if it were considered to be an historic 
landmark, we couldn't have done those additions. 

Riess: Was that ever a consideration? 

Norma: It wasn't, but it probably would be today, because even little 
shacks in Berkeley are considered historic landmarks. 

Myra: You have to fight tooth and nail not to give it that status. 


Making the House Livable 




Riess ; 



Myra : 

I think that they were incredibly lucky to have found a use for this 
house, and by the same token the people who use the house are lucky 
to have a house like that. They never would have found such a 
handsome house and they never would have gotten such a location. 

Plus the garden which the kids still use. 
landscape architecture? 

Isn't it a lab for 

Oh, yes, that was one of the agreements, that it would remain. Ron, 
you were talking about people going through the garden, and that the 
gate was placed there to create an element that would suggest 
privacy for the Hitches, and that is true. But they allowed people 
to come through that gate and look at the fountain and at the 
reflecting pool and then go beyond that to the redwood grove. Mrs. 
Hitch used to look up and see people who were going on that tour 
peering in the windows of the living room and the lanai from time to 
time. She had some screens in the window which she used to pull 
across when the tours were going on and when she had guests. 

Some of the other things that she wanted back in 1967 were the 
potting room for her ceramics, a play yard outside with swings, and 
a swimming pool. 

The play yard developed, but the swimming pool didn't. 

I don't even remember that that was even a cost factor. It's too 
cold out there. It's sort of in a draw and the fog comes up. I'm 
sure we said that it was just too cold to build a pool. 

Gerry Scott probably also said that because that would have been her 
area, and she wanted to preserve as much of the garden for public 
use as possible. 

But I remember we talked about it. 

I don't think she was too enthusiastic about the pool. 


Ron: We talked about how if the pool went in. it would be very remote 
from the house, out in the public area where the fill was. 

Norma: There really was only one place to put it, and that was in the fill 

Ron: Yes, and it would be difficult to maintain privacy out there, so 
they'd be very self-conscious using it while people came through. 
And the hazards of having a pool 

Tony: I think you ask for everything when you start a project like this 
and see what you get. 

Norma: I don't think they got the play yard either. There was a space not 
swings, but there might have been a sandbox. 

Myra: She was sort of getting beyond that age anyhow. Wasn't she almost a 

Norma: Caroline was nine. 

Riess: Then a dog kennel and dog run. 

Norma: Beatrice, [laughter] that was the dog. 

Ron: Wasn't that underneath the loggia? And we had the doghouse right at 
the end of the loggia, with a dog door. 

Norma: The dog door was in the ceramics room. 

The Garden 

Riess: Gerry Scott would list these things as the "demands" of the Hitches. 
Was that because so many of them intruded on the gardens, so they 
would be seen by a landscape architect as demands? 

Norma: Well, Gerry really felt that the garden was hers. 

Myra: And in fact she had single-handedly been taking care of it for a 
long time. 

Norma: She had, yes. She was a member of the faculty in landscape 

architecture, and when she took over the directorship of the garden, 
she tore out a lot of the overgrown shrubs and things, and she'd 
taken a lot of heat for that. She improved it greatly, but still, 
you know how people are when you go to cut down a shrub or a tree. 
So she had scars from all of that activity, and she really jealously 
guarded the garden. 


Ron: I think Gerry's real concern was the private intrusion into the 
Blake gardens, and how to control that. 

Myra: You mean making it so that it wasn't available. 

Ron: Right. Her argument on the swimming pool was that it was such a 

private use in a public garden. We worked together on the dog run 
and kept it very close to the house so it wasn't obtrusive, and were 
able to get the dog in at nighttime. It's coordination and design 
review between the architect and the landscape architect as to who's 
going to do what. We talked to her carefully about where we'd put 
the gate in the wall, and the entry, and how we'd handle the 
turnaround and how to get service into the building and not make it 
too obvious at the end of the turnaround. 

I think we had several schemes. One of the requirements was 
additional parking, and we built a parking platform behind the house 
that served as a turnaround it goes over the gully. We all wanted 
to keep that as a non-element in the landscape. 

Myra: Didn't we talk about there being an actual garage once, or carport? 
Ron: Right off the turnaround we had carports at one time. 
Riess : Yes, that was one of her requests. 

Ron: It finally rationalized itself that we'd put parking under the new 
wing and the garage would be inside the house. How do you get 
groceries in and out? We had a separate entry for the servants, but 
the landscaping disguised all that when you arrived at the bottom of 
the turnaround. So we tried to augment the parking requirements by 
making them non-building elements. We created the parking lot up 
near the top, and the parking down below on the edge of the turn 
around so that it would be adjacent to the formal garden. I think 
this is just the dialogue that occurs during the design process. 

Frequently clients tell you that they want this, but as you 
talk to them you find out they don't want this, they really want 
that, but they have difficulty in telling you what they want. So 
when you look at all of these things you discuss the good points and 
the bad points. Like the swimming pool: you'd be out swimming in 
that backyard and you've got all these tourists going through 
gawking at you. So that's a very uncomfortable feeling. Would you 
ever use it? Would the next University president have a need for a 
swimming pool? All of these points were discussed. Where can you 
put it? Where can it be private? The north side of the house was 
too shady; the fill area was pretty windy, although it got sun. I 
think that she just changed her ideas. This dialogue that goes on 
in the design development should reinforce all these ideas cast 
aside all the ones that don't prove to work well, and strengthen the 
ones that do work well. 


Riess : But a client typically asks for as much as possible? 

Ron: I don't know if she was asking for as much as possible, but I 

imagine she was putting down what she thought would be necessary to 
have a house of that type. 

A Private Life 

Myra: But also she had to live in it. and they had a dog, so you have to 
do something about the dog. 

Tony: I think she was thinking about that all the time, living in it and 

raising a young child, and having as normal a life as you could have 
in that situation, and as many concessions towards that as were 
possible. So you could get a glass of milk at night, and all that 
kind of thing. 

Ron: Right. Two kitchens, the commercial kitchen and the private 

Tony: And all of her private furniture in her private dining room. 

Ron: And that little extension on the bay where the three of them could 
eat dinner and not feel that they were sitting in a huge vacant 
dining room. 

Myra: The other thing is that with a house of that size, whether it was 
the Hitches or anybody, those requirements would be the same. 

Ron: I think as history has proven, it's fairly difficult to do that kind 
of an official residence that's going to be acceptable to everyone. 
Apparently Gardner feels more comfortable living in Orinda than he 
does at Blake House, primarily, from what I've heard, because of the 
social problems of having teenage daughters that would almost be 
isolated in an island. I think Caroline was isolated out there. To 
have friends over was a big effort; you didn't just go down the 
block or next door. It probably does make it difficult to have kids 
in a circumstance like that. 

Riess: It's rather too bad, isn't it, that they were only there for seven 
years. [1968-75] That's not really enough for the amount of work 
that went into it. 

Ron: Well, I think the other way. If you look at anybody at the 

corporate level that he was at, they probably move every four years. 
If you 1 re in government 


Tony: Think of the President. 

Ron: The President's in for four years, maybe eight. He was president 

[chief, economics division] of Rand Corporation [1948-1961]. He was 
someplace, somewhere for four years [assistant secretary of defense, 
1961-1965]. I think people at high corporate levels do move a lot, 
and maybe seven years is a long time to be in one place. How long 
does the University keep a president? After all Sproul was there 

Tony: For more than seven years. 
Norma: Twenty-seven or eight. 

Riess: Maybe doing houses is just the j ob of a president's wife. Do you 
think that's how Nancy Hitch saw it, that that was her job? 

Ron: Yes. 

Myra: It's fun, you know, people like to do it. I'm sure she really 
e nj oye d it. 

Tony: She enjoyed the whole thing and liked the results. 

Myra: It's not a chore; it's a fun thing to do. Especially when it isn't 
your own money. 

Riess: Well, I guess that has a lot to do with Norma, and all of you, then, 
that it is a fun thing to do. I don't think it's fun. 

Tony: It was really a rather pleasant experience for everyone, I think, 
including the Hitches. 

Norma: Oh, yes. 

Tony: Unlike a lot of jobs that are not necessarily altogether pleasant. 

Riess: Well, there was the money. But there certainly was some negative 
publicity about that. Though by now when I mention Blake House to 
people they don't even know what it is, or where it is. 

Myra: Clever old usl [laughter] 

Norma: We did have some monetary difficulties from time to time, and we did 
have to go back for additional funds. So that wasn't all roses. I 
can remember one meeting that we had with Nancy when I told her that 
we didn't have enough money to finish the basement. Do you remember 
that, Tony? 

Tony: Yes. Now I do. 


Norma: She was very upset with that news, and she went to Charlie who must 
have talked to the Regents and it was shortly after that that we got 
a little infusion of funds to finish the basement. That was 
referred to in the program as the recreation room. And for 
refurbishing the dumbwaiter that went down into the basement, the 
wine cellar and storage room for odds and ends, extra chairs and 

Tony: Well, that's par for the course, isn't it, in the course of a 

Norma: Sure, it's not unusual. But it wasn't that we had money flowing in; 
it didn't flow; there was an effort that had to be made to get it 
when we ran short. I think that we did everything we could to make 
it an economical job. Certainly Ron and Myra didn't splurge on the 
architecture, and neither did you, Tony, on the interiors. It is a 
huge house so the square foot remodeling cost was low but when that 
cost was multiplied by the number of square feet in the house it 
came to what seemed to be a large amount then. 

Riess : Ginori china and Stieff sterling were considered an investment for 
the lifetime of the house? 

Tony: Well, it's just dignified. It is the president of nine colleges. 

and in a sovereign state like this I think you would expect to go to 
the President's House and see something rather attractive. You 
don't expect pottery. 

Myra: [to Riess] You've interviewed other people for this? And you've 
read a lot? 

Riess: Yes. 

Myra: I get the sense that you have a feeling that there was a very 

negative thing about this house, about the job. Boy, I didn't feel 
that. Several times you've talked about demands. 

Norma: I think she's getting that from the notes. 
Tony: I don't think that was the case at all. 

Riess: Well, I'm not in the field, and I see files full of notes, and it is 
not possible to know what the tone of it all was. That's why we're 
talking, partly. 

Tony: You should read the communications between Julia Morgan and Mr. 

Hearst. [laughter] It's fascinating. It's a love affair. "What 
do you know about trees?" says Mr. Hearst. She says, "Plenty, more 
than you ever will." It's all on the drawings. I think there's an 
awful lot of dialogue going on between clients. 


Ron: There's no way of understanding what you're doing with someone 

unless you have that dialogue. It takes a long time to do a house. 
It's a very personal thing. I can do a twenty-story office 
building, it's totally impersonal, in half the time it takes to do a 

Tony: Particularly this kind of a house. 

Norma: There was one instance also that I remember I don't know why but 
we were talking about what to do with the towels in the master 

Tony & Myra: I remember that. 

Norma: What will we do with the towels? I think finally Ron said, "Well, 
you dry yourself, and then you throw them into the bin for the maid 
to take and wash. The bathroom didn't have enough wall space for 
enough towel racks to put the towels up to dry. So Ron said, "No, 
you don't put the towels up to dry, you just throw them in the bin 
after you've used them." It's that kind of detail. 

Ron: Yes, and I think some of those things crept into this design. That 
was her lifestyle, was to hang all the towels on towel bars. That 
was the way she lived. The next president maybe didn't use towels, 
maybe they wanted electric dryers. So there is a certain amount of 
personal lifestyle that creeps into any design you're doing for a 
public building, which this was. 


Ron: Did you have a chance to talk to Maggie Johnston before she died? 

Riess : No. 

Ron: Because Maggie came on after we were through. I remember that there 
was no office in Blake House, and we finally did the anteroom to the 
dining room, we stuck it in there because she needed an office. She 
wasn't too happy with that. 

Myra: It was tiny, wasn't it? 
Norma: It was really a coat closet. 
Ron: It was a passageway. 

It's unfortunate you couldn't talk to her because I'm sure that 
she knew more about the on-going situations that developed at Blake 
House. We took it through construction, and there were a couple of 


Ron: f tinny things that went on in construction, and in the beginning of 
design. Besides the hose bibs in the closet, every closet had a 
ventilator in the ceiling, the theory being that in older houses we 
don't do this today but frequently there's a window in the closet 
in an older house so you can open it up and air the clothes out. In 
the Blake estate they had these grills in the ceiling, and the attic 
was ventilated. 

The theory was that that would dry those areas. But they had 
ten thousand bees, and there was honey dripping down from these 
ventilators. When I walked through the first day, at first I 
thought it was roofing tar coming through. We looked at it, and I 
could hear this "bzzzz" going on. I thought, gee, there's rattle 
snakes in the attic, or bees or something. 

It turned out that Charles Hitch was extremely allergic to bee 
stings, they were toxic to him, so I remember that one of the first 
things we did was that Norma's office got a bee killer, a DDT 
exterminator. We sprayed the house, and we couldn't go into it for 
a week. I remember walking into the house at the end of the week, 
and I think every three square inches on the upper floor was a dead 
bee. It was amazing. 

Well, we thought we'd gotten rid of the bees, and then we got 
into construction. Because of distress in the house, in certain 
areas that we had to reinforce, we had to remove the stucco, 
especially around the fireplaces, and put plywood back, and then 
stucco back in its place. When we took off the stucco, we found 
that the spaces within the stud walls were solid honeycomb. We had 
honeycomb fourteen inches wide and six feet high, full of honey, 
except no one could use it because there had been DDT and everyone 
was fearful of it. 

Well, we figured that everything was solved until the day of 
the dedication. We knew that the bees had come back, and I think 
Norma hired this old beekeeper [Mr. John Watson], who was the only 
guy who would come to the house to get rid of the bees. We kept 
getting after him to come get them, and he wouldn't come. I guess 
he was the only beekeeper within many miles, and he would come when 
it suited him. If the weather was right in the morning he'd come. 
They had this huge dedication at the Blake House on the lawn, on the 
opposite side of the turning circle, and in the midst of this this 
guy comes down the hill in a Model A truck going pop! pop! bang! 
bang! boom! boom! 

All these people from the University Regents were there, and I 
don't know who was talking at the time everybody turned around to 
look at this guy driving down the road. He parks right in front of 
the house, and everybody gets back to the ceremony, except I had my 
back to the house as you watched the people up on the podium, they 
kept looking up like this. [laughter] So everybody turns around. 


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Ron: and here's this guy, about eighty years old, dressed in this silver 
suit with a helmet, and he's walking across the roof ridge on the 
house, on the clay tile, with a box to lure the bees. I thought I'd 
die. The funniest memory I've got of Blake House was of this guy. 

They finally sent somebody up there to get him off, because we 
were afraid he was going to fall off and kill himself in the middle 
of the ceremony. People were saying that it was the first ceremony 
they'd been to with entertainment, this highwire act up there on top 
of the roof. 

Norma: He got the bees. 

Ron: I think they're still a problem, aren't they? The come back every 
time. You just couldn't get rid of them. 

Riess : So the honeycomb stuff you just threw away. 
Norma: Where we could get at it. 

Ron: Yes, where we tore it out, we got rid of it. I don't know where else 
it is in the house, but we sealed the house up pretty tight. 

Riess: That's weird. It must have been buzzing for years. 

Norma: Oh, my, yes. 

Myra: No wonder those girls were scared. 

Ron: We heard another rumor we weren't actually there, fortunately: At 
the first Regents' dinner we had put up a thing in the kitchen 
called an "Instant Hot." They were just new on the market. It's 
one of these electric units that you can put a cup under and get hot 
water and make coffee or tea. Apparently, during the dinner this 
thing started steaming. They were sitting in the dining room, and 
they didn't know our number 

Norma: Fortunately they knew mine. 

Ron: and the plumber went out at about ten o'clock at night. 

Myra: What did you do, give him Heffley's number? And Hef fley gave them 
the plumber's number. [laughter] 


Furnishing the House 

Riess : [To Tony] You bought a refectory table and chairs from San Simeon; 
weren't there Hearst rugs and things that the University owned 

Tony: We were taken to see a whole batch of rugs someplace, where the 
president of that campus had lived. 

Norma: We had rugs in the house that came from the Blake estate. 

Tony: That was in the house on the campus, on the top floor of the 
chancellor's house? 

Norma: That's right. It was the chancellor's house on campus, up in the 

Tony: I had to choose a whole batch of rugs that we thought were 
possibilities. We didn't use them all. 

Norma: No. but we had them all delivered over there. 

Tony: We had them delivered and tried them out. And we had a lot of the 
furniture that I had to recover. 

Norma: Yes, that was from the Blakes' furniture. And then there was 
furniture that the Hitches moved from their house on Hilldale. 

Tony: Yes, but that they wanted to be kept in a separate area, so that 
they could feel at home. 

Norma: They used some of it in the living room, in the lanai dining room, 
in the study, in the upstairs hallway as well as in their bedroom. 

Tony: They had careful plans made, so that we knew where everything was 
going, and what had to be bought new. 

Norma: You suggested the new sofas on either side of the fireplace and the 
two chairs. What else? 

Tony: We tried to get it up to date. Then we did a lot of curtains for 

that house, and a lot of windows were left without curtains, like in 
the loggia, the lanai. Didn't we buy new furniture out there? 

Norma: Yes. That was McGuire. 

Tony: Then we did all the private places upstairs using the Hitches' 
things just like a normal job. 

Norma: I remember a lot of things about Caroline's room. 




February 15 , 1968 

Dear Mrs . Hitch: 

Here is the item from Herb Caen's column that 
you wanted to see: 

"Dr Edward Hitch, the new Pres . of UC , 
thinks big. He has hired S.F.'s inter 
nationally-known interior designer, 
Tony Hail, to turn his Kensington house 
into a work of art, or even Tony. On the 
other hand , Chancellor Roger Heyns lives 
on campus in a house with beige carpets , 
beige walls and beige curtains. 'This 
place, 1 he explained one night, 'was 
decorated by a committee - and the only 
shade a committee can agree on is beige' ." 

Sincerely , 


Tony: Yes, I do too. 

Norma: You suggested that little canopy at the head of the bed for 

Caroline. She had two beds in her room, so that she could have 
friends for overnight. 

Tony: She liked it, I remember that. It all went very smoothly, didn't 
it? It seemed to me it did. 

Myra: Yes. 


Tony: Colors were chosen that everybody seemed to agree on. And also Mrs. 
Hitch was extremely helpful with Norma taking a lot of the 
conversation, before it ever got to us. I think you talked it over 
with Mrs. Hitch, and then you'd come tell me what she said, and I'd 
go looking, and do it. 

Riess: Did you have things given by Regents or by families? 

Tony: No, I don't think so. We had things that the house inherited, that 
belonged to the Blakes. Then we didn't have much given, did we? I 
don't recall we had anything given. 

Norma: I think you bought the dining room table and then we had some 
chairs made to match the ones that you got. 

Tony: You said you wouldn't be able to do this house now [because of the 
landmark constraints] but you wouldn't be able to do it financially 
either. It would have been a much more expensive project now. 
Really ridiculously expensive. 

Riess: Does the University, because it is the University, get discounts on 

Tony: They get it at wholesale cost, but I don't think they get it below 

Norma: We did buy everything through the purchasing department and that 
was quite a task. [laughter] 

Tony: Enormous task, but it got done, and I think we got always the best 

price we could, but I don't think we got below wholesale. We did it 
as economically as we could. We made more sense there than we 
normally would, at least I think so. 

Riess: What do you mean? 

Tony: Well, I mean we weren't extravagant because we knew it was 

University money. There was some furniture that we got from the 
chancellor's house [University House]. 


Norma: Yes, we got a few chairs and things. 

Tony: Some, but then I insisted on nice, up-to-date upholstery and 

curtains, which made everything look like it was more up-to-date, 
and not so old and fuddy-duddy. I think the house was quite dark 
and depressing. 

Norma: I remember that you suggested quite strongly let's put it that 

way that we have very fresh-looking fabrics on everything, and that 
really lightened the house. And also that the carpets were light. 

Tony: You were asking earlier about my first impressions: I remember it 
being very dark, with dark red bricks, and so I think anything one 
did to the house to lighten it improved it enormously. Because it 
was sitting in this beautiful garden, a dark old house from the 
twenties. I think we successfully got rid of that, between all of 
us, completely, so it never appeared to be very depressing at the 
end of the project. 

Myra: Right. No, it seemed very sunshiney at the end. 

Tony: Yes, very cheerful, and I remember thinking at the beginning it 
was pretty un-cheerful. 

Riess : When was the solarium glassed in? 

Ron: That was before we arrived. 

Riess: Have you seen the pictures? That used to be just an open loggia. 

Myra: We didn't enclose that? 

Ron: No, I don' t think so. 

Norma: I think there was glass in the north end. 

Myra: Maybe that's it, it was partly glazed. 

Norma: Then you added the glass on the east, and the doors. 

Blake House Since the Hitches 

Tony: Is the house still the way it was? 

Norma: The Saxons lived there. Of course all the Hitches' furniture was 
taken away, and they never really bought anything to replace it. 
The Saxons had Danish modern furniture that they moved in there, 


Tony: So the answer is no, it's not the same. 

Norma: But since Dr. Gardner became president they have had it redone, with 
Jean Coblentz and Janet Lam as the decorators. 

Myra: Nobody lives there now? 

Norma: No. 

Myra: So what they've done is left the bedrooms upstairs empty? 

Norma: I'm not sure how they use it. I haven't seen it since it was 

redone, but it's possible they may use it as a guest house. I do 
know that they still use it for large entertainment and that David 
Gardner works there sometimes in the study. Remember the study 
where the Hitches had their desks? 

Tony: All their desks? 

Norma: Yes. Dr. Gardner told me, when I was designing his office in 

University Hall, that it was his intention to use Blake House when 
he wants to get some peace and quiet away from University Hall. 

Tony: It's a pity it's not being used more. 

Norma: I think it's used quite a lot; it just isn't being lived in. 

Riess: Yes, I think there's a lot of official social activity that goes on 
there. President Gardner's study is nice: it has a painting of his 
wife and various family pictures, and it has an at-home study 
feeling. I think he meets people there rather than on campus 
occasionally. Upstairs I think Mrs. Gardner has a study, and then 
of course there's all the running of the house that goes on from 
upstairs. Pat Johnson is the person who has taken Maggie Johnston's 

Myra: What room was Maggie in? 

Norma: One of the bedrooms down at the end of the hall, right at the top of 
the kitchen stairs. 

Riess: Every time I've been there it's been very cold. It must be very 

expensive to warm that house. I end up just huddling, and searching 
for sun, as a matter of fact. The sun doesn't exactly stream into 
that house. 

Tony : No. 

Riess: Even though it may be lighter. 

Ron: Well, the solarium is on the northeast side. [laughter] 


Myra: I don't remember that the heating was a problem at the time. 
Riess: They may not keep it heated. 

Ron: That's what they do. Once you get a building up to heat it's not 

hard to keep it heated, but if you turn it off, turn it on, turn it 
off, it's very inefficient. 

Norma: It was also pretty warm when I went out to see Nancy. She used to 
call me quite often to come out and talk over changes and repairs 
and things of that nature. 

Myra: There was a fire there once, wasn't there? 

Ron: No. When they first moved in, the first time they lit the 

fireplace, they didn't open the damper, and it smoked up the living 
room. They had to call the fire department. 

Norma: There was a fire when the physical plant people were preparing the 
windows for painting. They had a torch that they were taking the 
old paint off with, and they ran into a rotten spot. There was no 
flame, and obviously to the person who was operating the torch 
things were okay, and he went to the men's room. When he came back 
the entire living room was aflame. So there was a lot of damage 
that was done to the walls, ceiling and to the curtains and we had 
to replace those. [to Tony] We got the same fabric, I think I 
called you about it. 

Tony: Yes. 

Ron: They had a burglary too, of the rugs, wasn't it? 

Norma: Yes. During the time that they were doing the foundation, the house 
wasn't really secured, and we had those rugs all stacked up for the 
cleaners to come and get the following day. When I came to meet the 
cleaners to tell them what to do, there were only half the rugs 
left. They took the best ones. I had pictures of all those rugs. 

Ron: And within the last year, didn't somebody go out there and steal 

Norma: I don't know about that. 

Ron: I think I talked to Maggie. They cut a hole in the garage door, and 
got in that way, and stole a bunch of rugs. 

Norma: I do remember that I had taken pictures of all the rugs that were in 
the collection, and I was going to turn those over to the police. I 
had them in the pocket in my jacket, and I went to the ladies room, 
[laughter] and somehow my jacket pocket got tipped up and they went 


Nonna: in the John. [laughter] So I had to fish them out, of course, and 
wash them off and dry them. They never were the same. [laughter] 
Never found the rugs, however. 

The Working Drawings 

Tony: [looking at drawings] And there was new furniture for the dining 
room, I remember now. 

Norma: (I think that's my drawing.) 

Tony: (I think it is too.) 

Myra: (Yes. Is that your signature?) 

Norma: (Yes.) 

Riess: So this is a color-coded furniture layout. What color is the Hitch 
furniture? This seems like 

Tony: I don't know if that's the case, I just know what is Hitch 

Norma: I think we actually color coded it in the colors of the upholstery 
that was used to cover them in. 

Tony: We got all new upholstery, but we used all the existing chairs and 
furniture that we could and got new upholstery which brought it 
all to life. [looking at plans] I haven't seen these in twenty 

This is the porch, lanai isn't it? And that's all McGuire, I 
think. They had visions of having lunch up there and never did. 
This was quite attractive. 

Myra: Yes. We had the flag from when he was 

Norma: I think there was the University of California flag, and the 
secretary of defense's flag. 

Tony: And we were given some very nice paintings. 

Riess: There's the famous "Duke of Shrewsbury." 

Tony: Yes, and here's Queen Anne but I don't think it was. 

Norma: Yes, I'd forgotten about that whole episode about getting the 
paintings restored. 


Tony: We had quite a few to place around, and wonderful tapestries. 
Riess: Those were the Blake tapestries? 

Tony: Yes. And we had them cleaned, or backed, or something. We did all 
the things we'd do to a normal house. 

Riess : Was this considered an art gallery, along the back? 

Tony: I don't think we thought about that particularly. We just thought 
that this was a way to get there. 

Myra: Exactly right. 

Tony: Because it was a bottleneck. You had to go out that door again. 
This way you could come in and have a reception line, and go out, 
and go down here, see the whole house, and go out. 

Norma: Nancy used to use that as a picture gallery. She got paintings from 
the faculty of the various schools of art on various campuses. I 
know she had people from Davis and Los Angeles and others. It was a 
rotating exhibit. 

Tony: Yes, I remember that too. I also think that this turned out to be 
very comfortable and like a family's house. That's why it was 
successful, don't you think? 

Myra: Right, yes, I do. 

Tony: It didn't look just like a president's house. 

Myra: Because it's huge. 

Tony: Enormous, like a big tennis court. 

Myra: But it never felt like that. 

Tony: There was a lot of furniture, and a lot of different seating groups. 
I remember I was big on three seating groups at the time. 

Riess: Wasn't the carpet one continuous piece? 

Norma: No, this was especially woven to size, wasn't it, Tony? 

Tony: Yes. And then we put an oriental on top of it. 

Norma: Yes. They were both laid on the hardwood floor. 

Tony: This was a new rug that we bought. 


Norma: And that was on hardwood. Then we carpeted the stair with a new 

ribbed carpet, and everybody said. "Well, when are you going to put 
the carpet down? I see the padding doesn't look too bad, but when 
are you going to put the carpet down?" [laughter] 

Tony & Myra: I remember that! 

Norma: [looking at pictures] That's Caroline's bed. 

Tony: That's m^ drawing. I didn't know people kept all these things. 

Riess: Everything is in the files at Blake House, and that's where I 

gathered that Nancy Hitch was as involved as she was because there 
are just so many of her personal notes, as if she woke up every 
morning and made notes on everything. 

Norma: I think she did. 

Tony: I think that's exactly what she did do. 

Riess: And various inventories of the things that went from the house, back 
and forth, the odds and ends that went from University House to 
Blake House, and from Blake House to Santa Cruz. That's another 
thing you were involved in, wasn't it Norma, recovering a lot of the 
furniture that had been dispersed? 

Norma: Yes. We did lend some Myra, you were involved in that, weren't 
you, with the rugs that went down to Santa Cruz for a provost's 

Ron: For Merrill College. 

Myra: They used some of the rugs from up here? I didn't remember that. 

Norma: I recall that they were some of the tan runners. They were 
particularly interested in those and I was not. [laughter] 

Myra: Worked out well. 
Norma: Yes, it did. 

The Public Response 

Myra: "Where Charley Crashes." Gosh. [looking at publicity files]* 
Tony: Is that the scandal thing? [looking at newspaper article] 
Norma: That's the scandal thing. "Million-dollar Pad." 

See Appendices. Appendix Y. 


Tory: Well, it wasn't so bad. was it? 

Norma: If you look at it from today' s perspectivel 

Myra: "Kitchen repairs and equipment for $5, AGO." I can't believe it. 

Riess: You've certainly put up with a lot of this, Norma, because the same 
thing happened with the McCorkle house, the Julia Morgan house. 
There will always be a community that will say that it's too much 

Norma: Oh, sure. 

Myra: Or not enough. You can't win. 

Tony: (There's everything in this file.) 

Norma: It's like choosing a paint color for a public area. When you choose 
a paint color, and fifty percent of the people like it, you're a 
success. Don't you think so? 

Tony: Oh, yes. 

Norma: Another funny thing that happened I don't know if it's in this 
article or some other article there was a discussion about the 
project manager for the Blake House keeping a secret set of files. 
She kept it in the trunk of her car. I did, as a matter of fact, 
keep files in the trunk of my car because I was constantly on the 
move from my office on campus to meetings. Wasn't like our 
University project files. But I did keep those I used constantly in 
the car. 

Tony: You lived in that car. 

Norma: I did, yes, I was back and forth all the time. Somebody in our 

office was very much against the project going ahead, and so they 
took it to the newspapers that I had these files in the car. 

Myra: Do you know who it was? 

Norma: No. It wasn't who I thought it was. [laughter] 

One of the women in the office, who was a bookkeeper at the 
time, told my boss that she wasn't going to work on this job because 
she disapproved of spending state money on it. He told me then that 
she wasn't going to keep the books, I was going to have to keep the 
books myself from now on. I had a number of assignments in addition 
to Blake House. I was project manager for the University Art Museum 
and a married student project in Albany, etc. So I want back and I 
wrote him a letter, and I said, "I'm sorry, but I can't work on this 
job for these reasons, and I can't work on that job for those 


Norma: reasons, and I can't work on this for those reasons. It's all a 

matter of conscience, and I simply can't do it." [laughter] So he 
called me into his office, and he said, "I get the point. The 
bookkeeping will be done by the bookkeepers as usual." (You have to 
realize that that took place in the late sixties.) 

Transcriber: Johanna Wolgast 
Final Typist: Elizabeth Eshleman 


Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

Charles Hitch 

An Interview Conducted by 

Suzanne B. Riess 

in 1987 

Copyright uT) 1988 by The Regents of the University of California 

President and 
Mrs. Hitch and 
daughter Caroline 
at Blake House 

San Sfnmdstt COjromdf 





He led UC in tumultuous times 

Charles J. Hitch, 
Former President 
Of UC System 

Former University of Califor 
nia President Charles Johnson 
Hitch, an economist who played a 
major role at the university during 
seven tumultuous years from 1968 
to 1975, died yesterday of pneumo 
nia in a San Leandro rest home. 

Mr. Hitch, 85, had suffered 
from Alzheimer's disease for sev 
eral years. 

He was a prominent adminis 
trator during years of upheaval on 
the Berkeley campus, centered on 
protest against the Vietnam War, 
the People's Park project and oth 
er issues. He also figured in contro 
versies over the university employ 
ment of Angela Davis and Herbert 
Marcuse, who were outspoken in 
their Marxist views. 

Mr. Hitch was born in Boon- 
ville, Mo. His father, Arthur, was a 
teacher and administrator at the 
Kemper Military School and Col 
lege in Boonville. Mr. Hitch gradu 
ated from the junior college in 

Mr. Hitch went on to graduate 
from the University of Arizona in 
1931. He then went to Oxford Uni 
versity as a Rhodes scholar and 
earned his master's degree in eco 
nomics. He was the first American 
Rhodes scholar to become an Ox 
ford don, and taught at Oxford un 
til 1948. 

He served in World War II as a 
member of the first Lend-Lease 
mission to Britain, under Averell 

Harriman, and then joined, the Of 
fice of Strategic Services. 

Mr. Hitch came to Calif ornia in 
1948 as head of the economics divi 
sion of the Rand Corp. in Santa 
Monica. He rose to the chairman 
ship of its research council, and re 
mained with Rand for 13 years. 

In 1961, he was appointed by 
President John F. Kennedy to be 
assistant secretary of defense and 
comptroller of the Pentagon. The 
appointment came after Defense 
Secretary Robert McNamara read 
Mr. Hitch's "The Economics of De 
fense in the Nuclear Age," one of 
his three books. 

Mr. Hitch left the Defense De 
partment in 1965 and was hired by 
UC as vice president of business 
and finance. . 

The student rebellion that, 
made Berkeley world-famous as a 
symbol of the 1960s was in full cry. 
In 1967, UC President Clark Ken- 
was fired by then-Governor Ron 
ald Reagan, and Mr. Hitch replac 
ed Kerr at the beginning of the 
next year, with Reagan's support 

"Charles Hitch was president 
of the University of California dur 
ing a very challenging period, with 
escalating student violence and de 
clining financial support," Kerr . 
said yesterday. "His leadership 
was marked by total integrity, 
steadfast good judgment, great in 
telligence, and seemingly inex 
haustible patience." 

Mr. Hitch's term was punctuat 
ed by some of the most bitter con 
flicts to strike the university sys 
tem. One of his first challenges 
came in 1969 with violent deirion- 
strations over the use of a patch of 
land that had been declared a 
"People's Park" by community ac 
tivists. UC administrators sought 
to build a student residence hall on 
the site. 

Mr. Hitch was notable in his at 
tempts to moderate the situation, 
criticizing police for their use of 
shotguns and the National Guard 
for helicopter spraying of tear gas 
during street disturbances. 

The same year, Mr. Hitch resist 
ed demands by Reagan that Ange 
la Davis and Herbert Marcuse be 
fired from the faculty, with vary 
ing success. Davis was fired, but 
Marcuse was retained. 

Mr. Hitch also fought against 
cuts in the UC budget 

He retired in 1975, becoming 
president of a Washington, D.C. 
think tank, Resources for the Fu 
ture. In 1979, he joined a research 
group studying national energy 
policy at the Lawrence Berkeley 

He is survived by his daughter, 
Caroline Hitch Rubio of Hay ward, 

and two grandchildren. His wife, 
, Nancy, died in 1983. 

Plans for a memorial service 
are pending. 8lepltM ScluoaHt 





Blake House Designated as the President's House 192 

Nancy Hitch and Art in Blake House 195 

The Neighboring Carmelites 201 

Entertaining at Blake House 202 

Public Relations, and Publicity 205 

Maggie Johnston, and Official Houses and Functions 206 



This interview with President Emeritus Charles Hitch was to have been a 
joint interview: Nancy and Charles Hitch talking about Blake House, about the 
planning and renovating preceding' their residency, about normal family life in 
Blake House, about how the house functioned as an official residence, the 
events that were held there, and about the "Blakeness" of the house, if there 
was such a thing. However, Nancy Hitch died on January 15, 1987. 

I had been pleased when several months earlier Nancy Hitch agreed by 
phone to be interviewed for the Blake House Oral History Project. Norma 
Wilier, who suggested I ask Nancy, had been the University's liaison between 
the Hitches, Nancy in particular the initials NSH are visible on many of the 
memos and documentation regarding the remodelling and decorating and the 
architects, Ron and Myra Brocchini, and the decorator, Anthony Hail. Mrs. 
Wilier knew firsthand how completely involved Mrs. Hitch was throughout that 
remodelling and decorating period. I also hoped to be able to understand more 
of the real presence of the house by talking to this woman who had been the 
second "lady of the house." I thought Mrs. Hitch must have had reason often 
to think of Mrs. Blake for whom another architect had forty years earlier 
designed this unusual house. 

Unusual indeedl President Hitch described it in 1968 to a reporter as 
the biggest three-bedroom residence in the worldl Remodelling was necessary 
to make it larger, to accomodate official gatherings, and to make it smaller, 
to make it livable. Reports of the cost of the remodelling, sensationally 
headlined in the late sixties when the University of California was embattled 
by the Free Speech Movement, were the single thing that brought the house from 
relative obscurity on Rincon Road in Kensington to a certain notoriety. 

While the controversy was soon forgotten, the house was not granted such 
peace. Because of the Blake Garden, and the furnishing of the interior by a 
pre-eminent society decorator, it was considered a showplace, a favorite for 
tour groups. I suspect that Nancy Hitch, had I interviewed her, would have 
said what her husband and others have said, that she never completely got used 
to being at the mercy of the curious viewing public. 

President Hitch and I met in the Hitches' apartment on Oxford Street in 
Berkeley, comfortably and beautifully furnished with the Hitches' period 
furniture that had for a time been part of the Blake House furnishings. It 
was a little over a month since his wife's death. I would have chosen a later 
date, but this timing was what he preferred. If the interview has something 
of the nature of a memorial to Nancy Hitch, it is certainly understandable. 
And probably that is not entirely a matter of timing. Clearly both Charles 
and Nancy Hitch enjoyed life in Blake House, and the work they undertook there 

Suzanne B. Riess 
November 11. 1987 
Regional Oral History Office 
486 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

Room 486 The Bancroft Library 191 Berkeley,' California 94720 

(Please print or write clearly) 

Your full name C W A?\ 1~ C <T . ) V H ti * ^~ * /V I M.-' / -| 
Date of birth J/ 1 // u l , I 1; Place of birth P;t> <v,V / L L- i^ 

Father's full name /)R7HlP A / /frl? A> U iTC / -f 

Birthplace I ' ^ (^ A A/ -' 

Occupation -^ (- ^- C"t^t n A? v K it5r"'- ^T ,:""* 

Mother's full name r >/=.C'TH N v/'l/A/S iTr X 

Birthplace /> ^' J-- A t r / ^ ^ ,'--' / j_L^> 

Occupation I U'^'-Cv <--- (~< 

Where did you grow up ? !*?<?**.' \ L <- \_ / 

Present community _ /y< l l<- < <- ; , C. / ^ 

Education / - ff >T '^ C< f-i I i- \T A 1^f 5 ^ /.-/ c t i- _. A I v y V^ 1 ) 26 / 

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Born, January 9, 1910, in Boonville, Missouri, Mr. Hitch received his B.A. 
with highest distinction from the University of Arizona in 1931. At Oxford 
University on a Rhodes Scholarship, he was elected in 1935 a Fellow of Queen's 
College, a position he held until 1948. He was general editor of the Oxford 
Economic Papers. 

Mr. Hitch was with the RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California, from 
1948 to 1961, first as Head of its Economic Division and later as Chairman of its 
Research Council. He was appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) 
by President Kennedy in January 1961, a position he held until September 1965. 
He then became Professor of Economics and Vice President Business and Finance 
of the University of California in September 1965, Vice President of the 
University for Administration in July 1966, and was President of the University 
of California from January 1, 1968 to June 30, 1975. He joined Resources for the 
Future as its president on July 1, 1975, a position from which he retired in June 
1979. Mr. Hitch has written and edited several books and has been active in 
professional organizations, serving as President of the Operations Research 
Society of America, 1959-60, and Vice President of the American Economic 
Association, 1965. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the 
Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the 
Econometric Society. He served as a trustee of the Asia Foundation, the 
Aerospace Corporation, and the Center for Biotechnology Research, and as a 
member of the Advisory Councils of the Gas Research Institute and the Electric 
Power Research Institute. He was chairman of the General Advisory Committee 
of the Energy Research and Development Administration during 1975-77, and a 
member of the Energy Research Advisory Board of the U.S. Department of 
Energy 1978-85. He was a member of the Assembly of Engineering of the 
National Research Council 1975-78, and a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar 1977- 

Mr. Hitch is now living in Berkeley, California, and has an office in the 
Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory of the University of California. 


Blake House Designated as the President's House 
[Date of Interview: February 20, 1987] 

Riess : I think it was when you were a vice-president of the University that 
Regent Catherine Hearst said that it would be like throwing away 
$33.000 to "pave over the termites" to make Blake House habitable. 

Hitch: I don't remember that, but Catherine Hearst was very much against 
it. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was because [Dorothy] Chandler 
was for it, and they were great rivals on the board. 

Riess: That was in July, 1966. And then very soon after that, in the same 
month, Clifford Dochterman put together a draft of the various ways 
that the house might be used and what the costs would be. Were you 
involved in considering all of this from the vice-president for 
administration point of view? 

Hitch: [pause] I don't remember being involved, but that isn't very 

significant. At that time I had no personal interest in Blake House 
and no thought of becoming president. 

Riess: You had no thought of becoming president? 

Hitch: No. 

Riess: It seemed so inevitable. 

Hitch: Not to me, and certainly not at that time. In 1966 I wasn't 

thinking of the Blake House as a place for me to live. I was very 
much in favor of the idea, of doing it, if it was done right, which 
it was. 

Riess: Why were you in favor of it in general? 

Hitch: I thought it was very important at that time to separate the Office 
of the President from the Office of the Chancellor at the Berkeley 
campus, and saw this as a part of meeting that need. I thought it 


Hitch: was a plus, for example, that the postal address was Kensington 

rather than Berkeley that the official president's house would have 
a Kensington address. 

At that time we were thinking quite a lot about that problem, 
and we were seriously considering a move of the President's Office 
to San Francisco, just because of the confusion between the responsi 
bilities of the president and the chancellor. We thought that if it 
were in San Francisco we could draw a cleaner line; then people 
wouldn't go to the president with problems that were really the 
responsibility of the chancellor. Reinforcing that consideration were 
strong feelings at UCLA that the proximity of the President's Office 
to Berkeley led to favored treatment of the Berkeley campus over UCLA. 

I don't think any of this is very important now, with what has 
happened since. 

Riess: The strength of UCLA? 

Hitch: Yes, I think that UCLA is reasonably happy with the present 

arrangement. I'm puzzled that they keep talking about relocating 
the Office of the President when the principal reason for it has 
disappeared. But anyway, that's somebody else's problem. 

But in 1966 we thought it was also important that the president 
have an appropriate place to entertain and perform other official 
functions, like putting up visiting dignitaries. 

Riess: Would dark Kerr have agreed? 

Hitch: I don't know. Not for himself. Clark of course had built his 

present house, which is large and suitable for many official social 
functions, and insisted upon living in it as a condition of his 
accepting the presidency. At that time it was thought that Kay 
Kerr, who suffered from severe arthritis, was probably going to have 
to be put into a wheelchair before long. (She fooled them; her 
arthritis didn't get worse, and she's never had to go into a 
wheelchair.) But that house, if you've been in it, is all on one 
level, made for a wheelchair. So he was not interested at all, in 
fact would have refused to live there. Of course he had an El 
Cerrito home address anyway, though it wasn't quite official since 
it didn't belong to the University. 

Riess: When you were offered the presidency in 1967 was Blake House 
already going to be the house or could it have been another? 

Hitch: It was an open question. The search committee of Regents had spent 
a lot of time talking about it, and when they approached me they 
said that if I wanted to move into Blake House, and wanted to have 
it fixed up as an official residence, that they would support this 
before the Regents. 


Riess: It was the presidential search committee? 

Hitch: Yes. 

Riess: And that was Elinor Heller and was Mrs. Chandler on that? 

Hitch: Mrs. Chandler and Ed Carter were on it, and Ted Meyer and Phil Boyd. 

Riess: Had they already addressed the question of the cost and the means of 
financing it? 

Hitch: No. That all had to be done, and that was one reason it took so 
long. We had to do so much planning before we could start the 
actual work of reconstruction. 

Riess: So the matter of beginning to jack it up and level it had all to 

Hitch: It all had to wait, yes. 

Riess: There is a letter in the file from Mrs. Chandler, on October 16, 

1967, saying to N.S.H. [Nancy Hitch] that she will bring Blake House 
matters to the Regents for a policy decision as to usage and degree 
of repair. 

Hitch: Yes. 

Riess: Once it was brought to them, were they able to decide quickly? This 
was October, 1967. 

Hitch: I can't remember precisely, but not long. 
Riess: What about your long-range vision of the house? 

Hitch: Well, I hoped and expected that it would be occupied as the official 
residence of the president. Is that what you mean? 

Riess: Yes. So all of the decorating decisions were made with two thoughts 
in mind then? One, yourself, and one a kind of second-guessing 

Hitch: Of the future, yes. Of course my successor David Saxon did live in 
the house. I don't think he and his wife were enthusiastic about 
it, but they lived there. The present President, David Gardner, has 
decided, for personal reasons which I understand and fully respect, 
to live in his own house, but he and Mrs. Gardner make extensive use 
of the Blake House for social functions and business meetings. 

Riess: So the Saxons weren't too fond of it. Did you enjoy it? 


Hitch: Oh, I enjoyed it very much. Almost made it worthwhile to be the 
president. It was a lovely place, once we fixed it up and moved 
our furniture in. We employed a Chinese couple, cook and 
housemaid. We were very comfortable and happy in it. 

Riess : It was your house: you came home from your office, and drove in 
your driveway, and it was home. 

Hitch: That's right. Now, Nancy was very sensitive about her privacy, and 
on occasion she resented the large numbers of people who came to 
visit the garden and then would come up to the house. Let me show 
you a picture that she painted. [Hitch and Riess walk over to look 
at painting of ghostly faces pressed against a window.] 

Nancy Hitch and Art in Blake House 

Riess: I know that Mrs. Hitch had the studio and the arrangements for 

potting and painting. She was able to settle in and do that? She 
did find time? 

Hitch: She did. It was a pretty productive period for her. That was when 
she painted that [round painting over fireplace]. Do you know the 

Riess : No. 

Hitch: These were from my remarks at the service for Nancy.* They were 

about two events in her life, the second of which relates to Blake 

When Nancy and I moved into the refurbished Blake 
House one thing that struck her as not quite perfect was 
one's first view of the magnificent living room as one 
entered it from the entrance hall. One faced a large 
fireplace and over it a great mirror reflecting nothing 
but a featureless white arch. We thought and talked about 
what to do, but took no action until Christmas approached 
when we received, as a present from Regent John Canaday, a 
very handsome Christmas wreath which inspired Nancy to 
suggest: why not hang it in the center of that empty arch 
to greet visitors as they enter the room? We tried it and 

*From President Hitch's remarks, spoken at the February 8, 1987 
memorial service for Nancy Hitch, who died January 15, 1987. 


Hitch: liked it. The shape and dimensions seemed just right. 

But, of course, we couldn't sport a Christmas wreath the 
year 'round; we needed something appropriate throughout 
the year. So I said to Nancy: 'Why don't you paint the 
picture we want there a striking picture the same shape 
and size as John Canaday's wreath? 

Well, Nancy was thrilled. "You know," she would say, 
exaggerating somewhat, "my paintings have always been 
relegated to bathrooms and kitchens, and this one is to 
hang in the most prominent place in the President's 
House." But she was confronted with many problems. Round 
paintings to serve as models are rare in the history of 
art and most are Madonnas by Raphael not quite Nancy's 
style. She had somehow to obtain a round piece of wood on 
which to paint, and a round frame of the right size and 
character. Then there was the painting itself: she knew 
she wanted it non-objective and started with some general 
ideas about its design and color, but the main job had to 
be accomplished with brush and palette. She was working 
hard to complete it in time to hang before the official 
opening of the University Art Museum, when we were 
entertaining at brunch at Blake House a large number of 
visiting art dignitaries here to celebrate the occasion. 
But the day before the party the painting was simply not 
finished almost but not quite and Nancy had a block she 
couldn't see how she wanted it finished. So sadly to 

She woke up early the morning of the party and all 
had changed. She saw in a flash precisely what she had to 
do to finish the picture and dashed down to the studio to 
do it. Almost breathless, she produced the picture and 
had it hung in its niche minutes before the first guests 

Among the early guests was Erie Loran, Professor of 
Art at Berkeley and great expert on Cezanne, Nancy's 
favorite painter. He was a friend of ours but did not 
know about Nancy's new painting. Also among the early 
arrivals was Harold Rosenberg, the famous art critic of 
the New Yorker. By coincidence they were talking together 
when Rosenberg spotted the painting in the arch and 
remarked to Loran, "That is an interesting picture. You 
don't suppose it could be a Paul Klee." Maggie Johnston 
was nearby and overheard the conversation, and dashed 
across the room to where Nancy was standing to tell her 
about it. Soon Loran joined them to confirm. 


Nancy was walking on air for weeks after that to 
some extent, I think, this success buoyed her spirits to 
the end. It was an inspired painting. It was not a Paul 
KLee but a genuine Nancy Hitch. Interestingly, while 
Nancy had some knowledge of Paul Klee, she had not seen 
any of the few Klees which bear a close family relation to 
her Blake House creation. Hers was an independent 
invention. I have brought two of the Klees for those who 
may be interested in making the comparison. The Klees are 
not round, but in other respects composition, style, 
color and 'feel 1 they seem to me, as they did to Harold 
Rosenberg, very close to Nancy's. Except, as I am sure 
you will agree, that Nancy's is clearly the best of the 

Riess: When you were in the house did you occasionally stumble over 

things that would give you a sense of Anson or Anita Blake, or a 
sympathy for what their life there was? 

Hitch: I can't recall anything of that sort. 

Riess: Did people stop by who had known the Blakes, or ? 

Hitch: None that I saw. 

Riess: I think it was Ella Hagar who said, "Be sure to ask about the lunch 
that Nancy gave in which the price of admission was a story about 
the Blakes." 

Hitch: I can't remember it. 

Riess: Their history didn't impinge on your life, I take it. 

Hitch: No, I can't recall any way in which it did. Of course there were 

all the things that were in the house, the furnishings, and some of 
those were from the Blakes, but not many. I'd say well over half of 
the furniture and the furnishings had been taken away to furnish the 
new chancellors' houses that were going up on the new campuses. 
That didn't leave much. It's a big house, though it doesn't have 
many rooms. 

Riess: Yes, you said to a newspaper it was the largest three-bedroom 
residence in the worldl 

Hitch: [laughs] Yes. 

Riess: There was a certain amount of retrieval of furniture from the other 
campuses, wasn't there? 

Hitch: Not much, no. It was in use elsewhere. 

Riess : 


One of the things that I heard was that the Blake furniture went 
very well with your furniture. 

Hitch: Yes, the furniture went very well together. 

Nancy's parents, in the 1920s, spent a great deal of time in 
France. Her father was a professor of music, and every opportunity 
that he had he would go to Paris where he studied with some of the 
leading musicians of the time. But he had little money, and 
financing these trips was quite difficult for him. So he conceived 
the idea of buying and selling French antique furniture, and he left 
a lot of very fine things, of which we ended up owning quite a 
number by gift frcm Nancy's parents or by inheritance. 

He also bought paintings, and this was almost laughable because 
he had no eye for paintings, as he did for furniture, and what he 
bought were all forgeries. Let me show you some, [shows Riess 
paintings by "Boudin" and "Whistler"] 

Riess: Where was he a professor of music? 

Hitch: All sorts of places. He was a very difficult person. I gather he 
was an excellent teacher, and a very fine musician, but he just 
couldn't get along with other members of his department, especially 
the chairman and the dean, so he moved around quite frequently. 
Finally he decided that he would give up university teaching. He 
taught at the University of Washington, Seattle, where Nancy was 
born, and he taught at Smith College for quite a while, but he 
finally decided that to escape academic administrators he would set 
himself up as a private teacher of piano and organ in New York. So 
he divided his time pretty much between New York and Paris. 

Riess: Nancy must have watched her mother adapt and adjust to many new houses. 
Hitch: Yes, that's right. A lot of different houses on two continents. 
Riess: Where did Nancy do her art study? 

Hitch: Never in any university. She had private lessons in Washington at 

the Corcoran Gallery. And here she studied with Yip, in watercolors, 
and various other people, some of them connected with the University 
Extension. She and Patsy Taylor took a number of trips with other 
painters to go to places like northern California and San Miguel de 
Allende in northern Mexico. 

She also took lessons in pottery. First at Oxford in a class 
conducted by the city when we lived there, 1946-1948, and continuing 
through the Blake House period. That led to another story "No Room 
at the Inn": 


Hitch: "In the early 1950's Shoj i Hamada, the great Japanese 

potter and honored national Treasure of Japan; Dr. Yanagi. 
the Director of the Folk Art Museum of Tokyo; and Bernard 
Leach, the famous English potter who was the major conduit 
through whom Japanese and Korean pottery had such great 
influence on western pottery, were traveling throughout 
the United States giving lectures and demonstrations of 
potting in the Japanese folk art style. The site for the 
Los Angeles demonstrations was the Chouinard Art 
Institute, but there was a problem: it is hard now to 
remember or believe the intensity of anti-Japanese 
feelings in the immediate post-war years. No hotel near 
Chouinard would take the Japanese in. One of the 
organizers at Chouinard asked Nancy if by any chance the 
Hitches could offer them the hospitality of our home and 
she accepted with alacrity, although at the time we were 
living in a modest faculty house in Pacific Palisades. 

The week of the pottery classes, immediately 
preceding Christmas, was an incredibly busy one for 
Nancy participating in the classes, providing 
transportation, marketing and preparing meals for our 
guests, and generally running the household. As our 
relations with our guests became warmer and closer there 
was much good-natured bantering about Nancy being the 
perfect Japanese wife. 

It was the beginning of lifelong friendships. The 
group had no engagements the following week (Christmas 
through New Year), so we invited them to stay on with us 
and they did. Hamada had thrown pots especially for us at 
Chouinard, which we treasure. The three of them 
discovered a market in L.A. where one could buy Japanese 
ingredients for cooking, and one evening they prepared an 
elegant multi-course Japanese dinner for us on our hearth. 
We took them on drives and walks where Bernard Leach made 
lovely sketches for us of the beaches and the Santa Monica 
Mountains. Subsequently, when we went to England we would 
visit the Leaches at the St. Ives pottery or meet them in 
London. And on the several occasions we went to Japan in 
the sixties and seventies, we always visited Hamada at his 
pottery in Mashiko. And always Hamada would insist over 
our protests that we choose and take one (any one) of the 
special pots he had made during the proceeding year. 

Hamada, you know, in the true Japanese folk art 
tradition, never signed his pots. Leach was also in the 
folk art tradition, but he didn't go that far: he 
imprinted on each of his pots the logo of his St. Ives 
pottery. Once he protested to Hamada that with all 
Hamada's imitators it would be hard for future generations 


Hitch: to know which pots were really his. "Oh." Hamada 

responded, "that doesn't worry me at all. A generation 
from now the best of theirs will be attributed to me, and 
the worst of mine will be attributed to them." Nancy 
loved to tell that story, but she, like Bernard Leach, did 
sign her pots. [Hitch, Ibid.] 

Riess : What was Nancy's father's name? 

Hitch: Walter Squire. And everyone, including his children, called him 

Walter, [laughs] Nancy always referred to him as Walter. He never 
found time to teach his children music. 

Riess: But he obviously inspired a love of the arts in his daughter. 

Did Nancy have a couple of days of the week when she simply put 
herself in that studio and was not available? Did she close the 
door to the world that way? 


Riess : 

Hit ch ; 

Riess : 


Yes. At least, those were her intentions, and sometimes they got 
carried out. 

I noticed that one of the things that she and Tony Hail did was make 
a date with Peter Selz and they ended up working with Larry 
Dinnean to get different paintings into Blake House.* 

We had a succession of paintings from art departments on the various 
campuses. I can't remember just who organized it, but the idea was 
that the Davis art department would provide pictures by faculty to 
hang along the gallery, and then after I forget how long, several 
months, they would be changed, and we'd go to another campus to get 

Your apartment here has wonderful art on the walls, 
all of it hanging there? 

Did you have 

Yes, all of our things were there, and some are still there, some of 
the pieces we left. When we moved to Bethesda, where we lived in a 
townhouse, much much smaller than the Blake House, there wasn't room 
for some large pieces, which we left in the Blake House for the 

*This meeting was held in January 1969 to discuss Blake House 
paintings, possible substitutes, and possible additional paintings 
to borrow for the Blake House. Materials in storage in the 
University Art Museum from the Andrew Lawson collection of English 
portraits as well as some modern works, were loaned to the Blake 


Riess: Furniture or paintings? 
Hitch: Furniture. 

Riess: [tape interruption] Speaking of the renovations of the house in 

1968, what would Nancy say about how it had all gone? Did she feel 
it went as smoothly as everyone else felt it went? 

Hitch: Yes, I think she did. 

Riess: She worked very hard, I can tell. 

Hitch: She worked very hard on it, and she liked all people involved. And 
[laughs] she still liked them at the end of it. 

The Neighboring Carmelites 

Riess: Did you have any communication at all with the Carmelites up the 

Hitch: They don't communicate. We exchanged and still exchange Christmas 
cards. And Caroline would go up and talk through the closed door. 

Riess: She did that on her own initiative? 

Hitch: Yes. She was something of a fixture, but even she couldn't get in to 
see the nuns. 

Riess: What did they talk about? 

Hitch: I don't know. Caroline, unlike her parents, always seemed to have a 
great interest in and need for religion. Actually she first, after 
sampling several religions, became a Jew. She was told it was 
impossible, she couldn't do it. They wouldn't take her at her age. 

Riess: How old was she when she did it? 

Hitch: I suppose sixteen, seventeen. She just went from rabbi to rabbi 

until she found one that would support her cause. She was confirmed 
at the Wall in Jerusalem. 

Riess: That's very interesting, very unusual. 

Hitch: Very unusual. That did not last forever. Later, when she married 
Edgar Luis Reto, a Peruvian Catholic, she decided that she wanted to 
be of the same religion as her husband. So she has recently been 
confirmed as a Roman Catholic. 


Riess : So the conversations with the Carmelites apparently didn't take 
completely on the first round. 

Hitch: No. 

Riess: Did she go out and explore the neighborhood generally? Find 

companions in adjacent houses? Were there children to play with? 

Hitch: No, not much. She did have friends from her Hilldale years, one in 
particular, Lise Gottwald, who was her best friend. They've 
kept up since. But there wasn't much interaction with other people 
in the houses around. 

Riess: Was she in private school? 

Hitch: For a couple years she was in Anna Head, but for the most part she 
went to public schools. 

Riess: Earlier you were talking about the problem for Nancy of feeling 

invaded by people peering in the windows. Was there anything that 
you could actually do about it, or did it just wax and wane 

Hitch: The latter. She was perhaps overly sensitive. But she loved Blake 
House, and so did Caroline. 

Entertaining at the Blake House 

Riess: How about opening the house itself to the public? Was it ever opened 
in your time there to the public, for a house tour? 

Hitch: My recollection is quite vague, but there were some such occasions. 
There were more when Nancy was using it for Town and Gown and 
Section Club meetings, and that sort of thing. 

Riess: When there was a Section Club meeting, did she have to be there as 
hostess, or did the club just take it over? 

Hitch: I don't remember. It probably varied depending on the program. 
Riess: Did you do Regents' dinners there? 
Hitch: Yes, many. 

Riess: So that happened regularly, several times a year, because the 
meetings rotate? 


Hitch: Their rules for rotation kept changing during the events in the 

sixties, but yes, we had Regents' dinners, and of course chancellors' 
meetings and chancellors' dinners and lunches. 

Let me show you something, [pause] Do you know of Narsai David? 
Riess: Yes. [reads letter:] 

January 20, 1987 
Dear Mr. Hitch: 

We were so sad to hear the news. I was honored to be 
selected by Mrs. Hitch as her caterer for Blake House, and 
have so many fond memories of her dinners. She set the 
most classic table of anyone I ever knew, and her 
expectations of the staff kept every one of them always 
alert. Her style and her choices set the tone for her 
followers at Blake House. We wish you peace. 

Narsai David 

This must have been quite early and important in his career. 

Hitch: Nancy gave him his start as a caterer. My recollection is that he'd 
been involved in a restaurant, and then he decided to go into 
catering, and Nancy was at least one of the people who gave him this 
opportunity. We had him frequently as a caterer at Blake House. 
When the refurbishing was done we had two kitchens: the small one 
for family, the big one for caterers. 

Riess: So he was your caterer, and then other than that you would use the 
Chinese couple? 

Hitch: We'd use the Chinese couple for small parties and the caterers for 
big ones. Tsui Tsang Mo, who was the cook, had spent some time in 
Hong Kong, working for British families, so he knew something 
besides Chinese cooking, and one thing in particular was steak and 
kidney pie the best steak and kidney pie I've ever had, made by 
Tsang Mo in his kitchen at Blake House. 

Riess: It's interesting. You said "Chinese couple," and I would have 
assumed the she cooked and he did something else, but it was the 
other way around? 

Hitch: No, no, he was the chef. She walked three steps behind him, wherever 
they went. She was the housemaid, she took care of the beds 
upstairs, cleaning. 

Riess: How long were they with you? 


Hitch: They were with us, as best I can remember, right from the start. 
When we moved in I think they were there. 

Riess: They weren't part of your household on Hilldale? 

Hitch: No. 

Riess: Was there any language problem with them? 

Hitch: Yes. Wu Chui Kok, his wife, did not speak any English at all, and 
Tsang Mo's English was halting. But the two boys they had two 
boys, who were about twelve and ten knew English almost as well as 
a native. They would interpret. They were very bright boys. 

Riess: Have you kept track of them? 

Hitch: We did for a while. Both of them, as soon as they started school 

here, made straight A's, right from the beginning. Doug, the elder, 
went to Berkeley, and took his degree in electrical engineering, 
has done very well at Hewlett Packard, and has married the daughter 
of a wealthy Taiwanese businessman. We attended his wedding. Jim, 
the other boy, won an all-expenses-paid scholarship through 
Princeton. We've lost track of him. Tsang Mo died. They bought a 
fine, big house on The Arlington in 1973. 

Riess: They made so much money working at Blake House that they could do 

Hitch: No, but I don't know how they did it. 
Riess: Did they invest in the stockmarket? 

Hitch: Almost certainly, and had help from their fellow countrymen. But I 
don't know how they did it. 

Riess: Were Jim and Doug companions for Caroline? 

Hitch: Yes, to some extent they were. 

Riess: Was there any awkwardness about that on anybody's part? 

Hitch: There was some awkwardness, I was trying to remember just what it 
was. Nothing serious. They played together. 

Riess: Seems like it might have been more on that family's end rather than 
on your end, perhaps. 

Hitch: Yes, I think that's so. 

Riess: What were the Yak Yak girls? I know who they were, but where did 
that name come from? 


Hitch: I don't know. Who were some? 

Riess: Well, they were guests at several lunches. One of the Yak Yak 

lunches you'll be able to picture it instantly was Esther Heyns, 
Ida Sproul, Amy Braden, Mrs. Monroe Deutsch, Mrs. Francis Hutchins, 
Mrs. Chester Nimitz, Mrs. Esther Pike, Nancy Hitch, Mrs. Knowles 
Ryerson. Were these friends, or was this an official relationship? 

Hitch: I think they were just friends. 

Riess: It wasn't that Nancy had to cultivate this particular bunch of 

Hitch: No, that sounds like people who were good friends already, who liked 
to get together and yak-yak. I don't know anything more than that. 
I'm very familiar with the term, but I know less about it than you do. 

Riess: Another year it added Marjorie Woolman and Mrs. McCorkle, and then 
another year Mrs. John Sproul, Mrs. Farmer Fuller, Mrs. Theodore 
Meyer, Mrs. Earl Warren and Mrs. Angus Taylor is that Patsy Taylor? 

Hitch: Yes. 

Riess: She was an artist too? 

Hitch: Oh, yes. She was very talented. 

Riess: Who was Angus Taylor? 

Hitch: Angus Taylor was my vice-president for academic affairs. He had the 
same job when dark was president. 

Public Relations, and Publicity 

Riess: Funny, I should know that name. It reminds me that when people ask 
me and I say that one of the oral histories that I'm working on is 
the history of the Blake estate, honestly, people don't know that it 
exists. More people than you would think, in the Berkeley area. 
Was it even the case when you were there, that it was generally 
unknown to the town perhaps very little to the "gown"? 

Hitch: I suppose the only town people who would have occasion to know about 
it would be the people that we would entertain there. 

Riess: So whatever sense I have of it being like a kind of Filoli or a 

generally known stately and historic home, it never took on that aspect' 

Hitch: No. 


Riess: The publicity from the Berkeley Barb, was that hard to take at the 
time? Did you or the University actively try to counteract that? 
Or did you just pretend that it wasn't happening. 

Hitch: There was little we could do. We ignored the Barb. More serious 
because of his location in the state capitol was a very hostile 
columnist in the Sacramento Union who was on my back all the time. 
Not mainly about Blake House, although that came into it sometimes, 
but mainly about my "sweetheart contract" with the Regents. Do you 
remember that? 

Riess: No, I'm trying to think I have something from a Sacramento paper, 

Hitch: I've in a Freudian way forgotten his name. He would resume the 
attack every month or two with the same themes. His principal 
complaint about Blake House was its cost. 

Riess: Norma Wilier said that there was a time when you were alerted that 

some students seemed to be marching up Euclid Avenue, but they never 
got as far as Kensington. Do you remember anything of that? Or 
students actually picketing, or coming out and presenting themselves 
in force? 

Hitch: That happened in my office in University Hall, but never at Blake 

Riess: They confined themselves to People's Park, probably. 
Hitch: Yes, most of those activities were south of the campus. 
Riess: Did you have student receptions, or state-wide student groups? 

Hitch: Not receptions, but occasionally the student body presidents from 

all the campuses. That was in keeping with the role that I envisaged 
for the president. 

Maggie Johnston, and Official Houses and Functions 

Riess: It's too bad that we didn't have a chance to talk to Maggie 
Johnston. Could you tell a little bit about her role? 

Hitch: She was Nancy's social secretary, and she helped her with all the 
parties and things we did at Blake House. She was a full time 
assistant. She had played a very similar role with Kay Kerr. 
Somewhere I have a story of how she happened to be working for Kay. 
Maybe Nancy told me. You haven't talked to Kay Kerr yet? 


Riess : No. I haven't yet. 

Hitch: You ought to talk to Kay, because I'm sure she can tell you 

how Maggie got involved with her, as her social secretary. Nancy 
inherited her from Kay, and they were very fond of each other, got 
along famously. 

Riess: Did Nancy talk to Maggie every day? Did Maggie come up, or did 
Maggie have an office in the house? 

Hitch: Maggie had an office in the house. She also had an office in 
University Hall, and she divided her time between them. 

Riess: Did she make the arrangements for the Regents' dinners and that kind 
of thing so that Nancy wouldn't have to? 

Hitch: I can't tell you just how they divided their responsibilities, but 
Maggie would get out invitations, keep track of who was coming, and 
set out place cards. 

Riess: Was she kind of the protocol officer also, if there is such a thing? 

Hitch: I hadn't thought of her in that role. But yes, she had a lot to do 
with seating arrangements, subject to Nancy's and my review. She 
was doing this right up to the time of her final illness. She was 
always very good to me when I'd attend Regents' dinners after I'd 
ceased to be president. She knew just who I'd like to be seated 
next to and would always put me there. 

Riess: That's a wonderful talent. 

You had Beatrice, the Airedale, in a run. And then you had to 
walk her, too? 

Hitch: I think that was mainly Caroline's function, walking the dog. We 
had complaints about our Airedale, who apparently wandered around 
the neighborhood. We finally had to put her in a kennel. 

Riess: Were there any other complaints from the neighborhood about the 

Hitch: Yes, the trees, those tall trees growing up and blocking their view. 
They didn't come to us directly, but there were complaints that had 
to be dealt with by my office. 

Riess: Did you capitulate periodically? 

Hitch: We'd compromise, we worked it out. The Blakes put in some very fast- 
growing trees, Canary Island Pines, and redwoods, for example, and 
they continued to grow, still do. I don't know what's happened on 
that front recently. 


Riess: Did the amount of coming and going change the tenor of the neighbor 
hood, do you think? 

Hitch: No, I don't think so. Large functions were not that frequent. 

Riess: I guess the inital question was one of security, and the general 
isolation was a minus factor rather than a plus factor? 

Hitch: Yes. 

Riess: But it didn't feel that way once you had renovated the house to your 

Hitch: There was some concern about security, and for a period we had a 
guard who stayed there overnight in an office in the house. 

Riess: Was that a period where there had been incidents or noises? 
Hitch: No, just concern. 

Riess: Was it a period that was politically troubled? Was it because of 

concern about your own selves, or was it about the valuable things in 
the house? 

Hitch: Both, I think. And there was, not too long ago, a massive theft of 
University carpets from the Blake House when no one was living in 
it. There is a couple living there now. 

Riess: Yes. You received a letter from Bob Evans, and he asked you to make 
a decision about whether you wanted the place referred to as the 
Blake Estate, Blake House, President's Residence, President's House, 
University of California President's Residence, or 70 Rincon Road. 
Do you remember thinking much about that? 

Hitch: Sounds like a weighty decision, [laughs] I vaguely remember 

Riess : It's interesting. Why call it the Blake House rather than the 
President's House? 

Hitch: I can't reconstruct it. 

Riess: You had a lot to do with acquiring the Julia Morgan house, the house 
at 2821 Qaremont Ave? That was bought for the senior vice- 
president, but it's not called the Vice- President's House. 

Hitch: No, it's called the Morgan House, just as the other one is called 
Blake House. Morgan didn't live there, she designed it. 

Riess: Yes, but the other one might have been called Bliss House for the 


Hitch: It could have been, I suppose, yes. 

We thought it would be quite helpful to have an appropriate 
residence for the senior vice-president, who also has a considerable 
responsibility for official functions. We looked for a house, and 
inspected quite a number in the area. And then we found that this 
Morgan house was available, at what seemed to be an extraordinarily 
fair price of $100,000, so I scurried among some of our alumni and 
campus foundations and collected the $100,000, and we bought the 
house and moved Vice- President McCorkle in. It did not need major 

Riess: How did things work out between the Department of Landscape 
Architecture and whatever you needed in Blake House? 

Hitch: Oh yes, let's make it clear: we had no responsibility for the 

garden; that was left by the Blakes to the Department of Landscape 

Riess: I realize that, but could you have what you wanted from it, when you 
wanted it, or was that not that easy? If you wanted to plant 
tomatoes, and you wanted to be able to pick roses? 

Hitch: We never went through the department. We dealt with Walter Vodden, 
the head gardener appointed by the department. Our relations with 
him were always most cordial. He assigned one man named Bob Lutz to 
care for the garden immediately adjacent to the house, and he was 
very friendly and very faithful incidentally a Protestant minister 
in his spare time. Both Vodden and Lutz have recently retired, Lutz 
remaining a minister of the gospel. 

There was no question of picking roses. The deer always picked 
them first! So they were no longer grown in Blake Gardens. 

Riess: And someone kept vases of flowers around the house? 

Hitch: Yes, Flo Holmes, that was her job. She would come in from time to 
time and change and arrange the flowers. She is a true artist in 
flower arrangements. 

Transcriber: Johanna Wolgast 
Final Typist: Shannon Page 


Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

Toichi Domoto 

An Interview Conducted by 

Suzanne B. Riess 

in 1987 

Copyright (cT) 1988 by The Regents of the University of California 

Over sixty years experience with flowers 

Photograph by Ouen Pearoe 





Mabel Symmes and Anita Blake at the California Horticultural Society 

Meetings 214 

The Search for Uncommon Plant Material 218 

The Nurseryman's Point of View 221 

Tom Domoto and the Piedmont Customers 221 

Floyd Mick. George Budgen, and Thomas Church 223 

Competitiveness in the Garden 224 

Anita Blake and the Relocated Japanese Families 226 

Pricing and Bargaining 228 



Toichi Domoto's nursery in Hay ward is an oasis in that sprawling 
southern Alameda County city. Located between the railroad tracks and 
Whitman Boulevard, it exists in a tranquility of birds, bonsai, and bamboo. 
Towering trees and stout-trunked stock form jungle-like allees. There is 
sufficient flora that the place may well create a weather system of its own. 

Daily Mr. Domoto tends his acre or so of bonsai of all the standard 
descriptions and then all the variations thereon. His house is tucked 
behind fruit trees in the center of the oasis. His office in a small 
structure off the parking area is dated by its cash register and its files, 
but Mr. Domoto's memory more than makes up for his lack of computer-era 


In 1981 I had interviewed Toichi Domoto for the Lurline Matson Roth 
oral history. At that time he discussed the plant material at Filoli, Mrs. 
Roth's estate in Woodside, California. He also talked about his father Tom 
Domoto's nursery business in East Oakland and the stock, such as persimmon, 
he introduced to California. Toichi Domoto studied at Stanford University, 
transferred and graduated in horticulture from the University of Illinois. 
in 1926, and spent the World War II relocation years in Crystal Lake, 

For the Blake House History Project I wanted to talk to Mr. Domoto 
about the California Horticultural Society, "Cal Hort" as he calls it, of 
which he had been a member since the late thirties, and president in 1957 
in particular about the Blake Garden specimens that Anita Blake brought or 
sent to meetings of the Society. But the bonus in this interview was Mr. 
Domoto's childhood memory of Mrs. Blake and Miss Mabel Symmes coming to his 
father's nursery and buying stock, between 1925 and 1930. The insider view 
of the horticultural trade is fascinating. 

Mr. Domoto's choice made long ago not to visit gardens he serves was a 
disappointment: I expected he would be able to offer informed recollections 
of the Blake Garden at various times in the forties and fifties. But that 
choice came from some wisdom of Mr. Domoto's that I think must have to do 
with the amount of ego that gets tied up in gardens. While it frustrated 
many a proud garden lover, perhaps that pride was what dissuaded him. 
Serenity is what I found at Domoto's Nursery, and an absence of ego, 
desirable qualities in gardens, good reasons to make gardens. 

Suzanne B. Riess 

October 29, 1987 

Regional Oral History Office 

486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 


(Please write clearly. Use black ink.) 

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Father's full name 

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Mother's full name 


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Occupation r~ 

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Your spouse 



Your children 

Where did you grow up? 

Present community 







Areas of expertise 

Other interests or activities 

Organizations in which you are active 


Mabel Symmes and Anita Blake at the California Horticultural 
Society Meetings 

[Date of Interview: June 8. 1987] 

Riess : 

Riess : 

When did you join Cal Hort? 

I don't remember exactly. I didn't join in the beginning because I 
wasn't too much interested in going all the way to San Francisco 
for it. I was more interested in the nursery side of the business, 
rather than the non-commercial side, which the Cal Hort was in the 
beginning, until my arm was finally twisted by different people 
that were members of society. 

It began in 1935, and then I've forgotten where you were during 
the war. 

Domoto: I was allowed to leave the relocation center for Crystal Lake, 

Riess: You were active before the war? 

Domoto: Yes, I was active in Cal Hort before that. I used to go to 

meetings and bring material in. But it wasn't until after the war 
some time that I really got active in it. 

Riess: Do you remember seeing Anita Blake and Mabel Symmes before the war? 

Domoto: Oh. yes. They used to come to my father's nursery in Oakland. 

That I remember as a youngster, that they used to come in probably 
that would be between 1925-1930 they used to come in. 

I never waited on them, because I was a youngster then. 
But my father used to wait on them. I remember them talking, and 
sometimes they'd talk about a certain plant. Then Mrs. Blake would 
say, "Tom," that was my father's name, Thomas, but they all called 
him Tom "I think that this should be named so-and-so," or, "Do you 


Domoto: know that?" My father would say, "No, I know this is the way I 

bought it, so-and-so." I'd heard them talking about it. That was 
mostly with Mrs. Blake. 

Miss Symmes was very quiet, and I knew her later when she used 
to come by. Those times when she was buying something for the 
garden, Mrs. Blake would pick out or look at the plant, and then 
she'd ask her sister, "What do you think about this?" Her sister 
would say, "I think it would be all right." She was buying plants 
for her client, and there seemed to be a sort of a very quiet sort 
of a dividing line there. One would make the comment, and the 
other wouldn't, you see. 

I remember at the Cal Hort meetings it was the same way. I 
don't think Mrs. Blake ever went up to the podium to discuss the 
plant material. The plants were exhibited up on the stage, and 
whoever was chairman then would say, "Now this material was brought 
over from the Blake Gardens," and then the person would go up there 
and talk about the material. They'd go on and describe it, and how 
it grew. That was the way the program was conducted. 

Riess : You mean, Mrs. Blake wouldn't get up and describe it herself? 

Domoto: I don't remember her getting up. Miss Symmes, I think, did a 

couple of times. I remember the Blake Garden material more later, 
after [Walter] Vodden came. He used to bring the materials over, 
and he used to describe them. 

Riess: Why do you think Mrs. Blake didn't get up? 

Domoto: Well, she was very unassuming. As I remember, some of the East 

Coast society type customers who'd come out some of them were very 
demanding, and some were very quiet and unassuming. I think the 
difference was there. She never tried to show off her knowledge. 

Riess: But your father thought that she was very knowledgeable. 

Domoto: Oh, yes, she was, because when they started to discuss certain 

plants they could converse on the botanical names and more on the 
culture of the garden material. 

Riess: Would you think that she was, in fact, head and shoulders above 
other society people about plants? 

Domoto: I think so. Well, she never tried to show it off. 

Riess: For instance, some of the other "society customers" are you 
thinking of someone like Mrs. [Lurline Matson] Roth? 


Domoto: Well. Mrs. Roth really didn't get into her garden itself until 

after she gave up her racing. You see, she used to exhibit those 
horses. I think not so much riding, I think she was 

Riess: Harness racing. 

Domoto: Harness racing. She was active in that. After she gave that up, 
then her efforts became more active into the garden. The early 
part of it, I think, she was more interested just in having 
somebody come over, order the plants for her, and put them in the 
garden. At that point, when she retired to the garden and gave up 
the society side of life, that's when she became interested. 

Riess: It's interesting to me who might have been comparable 

to Mrs. Blake and Miss Symmes. What other fine, old gardening 
ladies do you think of? 

Domoto: Well, going back, of course, the person that was quite active in 
the introduction of plant materials was Professor [H.M.] 
Butterf ield. 

Riess: Butterf ield. I saw his name in early Cal Hort journals. 

Domoto: I called him professor, but I don't think he was full professor. 
But he was of the Extension Division, and very active in the 
Alameda County Horticultural Society. 

Riess: But any amateurs that you think of? 

Domoto: Oh, in the amateur line, in the early part of the Cal Hort Society, 
was Mrs. Scannavino she was very active in the Alameda County 
Horticultural Society way back. I think her husband was a dentist, 
and they had a home down near Saratoga. They had quite a 
collection of irises and lilacs and different plants. She was very 
knowledgeable plantwise. 

Riess: How would you characterize the garden at Blake Garden? 

Domoto: Well, you know, I have often been invited by these people to come: 
"Will you come to look at my garden?" I thought that if you go, 
you get to the point where you felt there was a certain amount of 
rivalry between these people, these customers. If you went to one, 
you had to go to the other if you want to keep them as customers, 
you know. 

So I said, "Well, I know how to grow the plants, and I can 
tell you if you give me a location whether they grow there, or not. 
But as far as design," I said, "I don't know anything about it." I 
maintained that so that I never went. My father also would not 
visit customers' gardens. 


Domoto: The only visit I had to Blake Gardens she had some Clematis 

armandi variety growing in the garden. Evidently she grew some 
from seed, and had one that was an improvement over it. She 
exhibited it at the Hort Society, since the clematis was in vogue. 
I wanted to get some cuttings to propagate it, but the exhibited 
material was not 7 the type that would be suitable for propagating. 
She said, "Well, if you'd come up to the garden you can take what 
you want." That was the only time I went. And even then I didn't 
take the whole tour of the garden. I just ignored it. The vine 
was climbing on a tree trunk. 

As I remember it, the garden was kept up, but this was just 
my impression, I may be wrong but my impression was that it was a 
garden you liked to be in, but not to show off in. That was the 
feeling I had, and that would be her personality, that she was 
knowledgeable and would do her duty in whatever she does. She 
wasn't bragging to the community that she was doing this or doing 
that. She had different things planted in different areas wherever 
they would do well. I think that's the impression I have of the 


The Search for Uncommon Plant Material 

Riess: When she was asking you, and when she was asking your father to 
come and visit, wasn't she asking because she thought you would 
love to see her plants, not the design, but just the plants? 

Domoto: Yes. I don't know if she was importing, or friends would send her 
things from someplace like England or other areas and she'd have it 
in the garden. My father always was importing a lot of different 
things. So she would say, "I just got such-and-such from Japan," 
or wherever, and, "How is yours doing? Did you get this and that?" 
If my father had something that she hadn't gotten and got ready to 
sell, if it was interesting she'd always buy a plant. But how or 
where she planted, I never knew. I wasn't interested that much 

Riess: If your father got something in that was new and exotic, would he 
automatically tell her? 

Domoto: He never used to phone or anything. They'd come out, and they'd 

start talking. See, generally new plants from abroad used to come 
in in late winter or early spring, because that was about the only 
time you could bring them in safely. 

Riess: Bare root, is this? 


Riess : 

Domoto ; 

Bare rooting wasn't done until much later, after plant quarantine 
#37 went into effect. Then they had to bare root. Before that, 
why, you would bring the plants in with soil on the roots. 

So people like Mrs. Blake would know that in winter they should 
check out Domoto' s to see what's new. 

Even now most of the new material that the nurseries import would 
come in in the fall. They try to stock them in the fall and have 
it ready for the spring sale. It was a very seasonal business. 
Now, of course, the merchandising nurseries try to make it as even 
as possible, without a lot of big ups and downs. 


Riess: She had people she corresponded with, and she would get seeds in 
the letters 

Domoto: I don't know that part of it, but I know that she used to get 
different plant material that other people hadn't gotten yet. 
Whether she traveled, or corresponded a lot of the plant amateurs 
in those days were in correspondence with other people and other 
botanical gardens, or someone, not necessarily the gardeners, but 
the person that's in charge. They would exchange notes: "Do you 
have this?" or, "When I get back, I'll send you a seed or a 
cutting." That's about the way, I think, a lot of that was done. 

Of course, some of the English nurseries used to send 
catalogues out to those people, just like Wayside Gardens does to 
the society type, where their prices are way above the normal 
garden prices. 

Riess: The prices are way above what a normal nursery charges? 

Domoto: If you look at the Wayside Garden catalogues, they are beautiful 

catalogues, but their prices are way above. They prided themselves 
in sort of being the best. They have good material, but I don't 
think it warrants the high prices they get for them. 

Riess: Did you see, when you were in Cal Hort, a lot of competitiveness 
among the gardeners? 

Domoto: No, I don't think they there may have been, between some of the 

people trying to outdo the other on some things. But on the whole 
I don't think there was. I would say that most of the members that 
came to the Hort came to see and be educated. 

Riess: And to share. 

Domoto: Yes. And there was always a problem to keep enough of the active 
members bringing in material. Some of the membership, unless they 
were into a certain hobby which they were very familiar with, they 
hesitated bringing something in, unless they were encouraged to 
bring it in. 

And on that score I think Mr. [Ernest] Wertheim was very good 
in trying to encourage people. He was active and he was forceful. 
I think he came from Germany, and being trained that way, he was 
very thorough. He was active in it, never a person that would make 
you feel you were being pushed at all, but he would see that things 
were organized. I call it the German thoroughness in getting 
detail worked. out. He and Victor Reiter, who has passed away, 
they were very active. 

Riess: So the horticultural society also would be more interested in plant 
material than they would be in looking at gardens? 


Domoto: Yes, plant material. And, of course, if they went on a field trip 
they would go to someone's gardens, or something like that. But 
most of the interest was in plant materials. The meetings would 
be if new material was being brought in we would discuss it, and 
have a speaker. Most of the time you'd have a speaker first. You 
would have, say, one hour or forty-five minutes to talk on certain 
things, like on oh, anything exotic, or even commonplace, irises, 
or whatever. They would have a talk on it. 

Mostly, they did more uncommon material, rather than common, 
because you had special societies. Like they had the Rose Society, 
African Violet Society, and Orchid Society. So those things were kind 
of held on the short side, because if they were interested in that, it 
would be possible for them to go to those special societies. So it was 
more the new and unusual plants that were being tried or brought in. 

The speaker would know some botanist, horticulturist, or 
visitor from another area. They would arrange to have him on the 
program of the meetings. The last half would be discussing the 
plant material that was displayed up there on the stage. 

The material that came in was put in the foyer rack, and the 
people would put their name displayed there on a little card. Then 
the committee would go through that, and while they were speaking* 
they would try to go through and pick out the material that would 
be of interest or different. 

That material would be picked out by a committee of maybe I 
think about three or four people and there was a chairman and as 
they were picked out they would be brought up to the stage and 
exhibited so that the whole thing would not be discussed. Then the 
chairman would say, "In the plant material back there there's such 
and such a display of iris, or something, brought in by so and so, 
that you should look at." 

The special material would be brought up to the stage, and 
each one would be discussed as it's brought up by whoever brought 
that in or someone speaking for them. Meeting places changed as 
the membership increased, but the format of the Hort Society and 
meetings remained stable. 

Riess: When Walter Vodden came, it was because Mrs. Blake was so old that 
she didn't want to come, or what? 

Domoto: I don't exactly know just when that thing changed, but Mr. Wertheim 
would know. He was very active, and still is active. 

Riess: When Miss Symmes was there, did she talk? 

Domoto: Sometimes. I know they used to come there, and bring the material 
in, but I don't remember either one of them going up too often. 


The Nurseryman's Point of View 

Riess : 
Domoto : 

Domoto : 

Riess : 
Domoto : 

Riess : 

It's very nice that you knew them, or at least you saw them when 
they were young. You were very young. 

Yes. Most of the people that would come out to buy from my father, 
a good many would drive their own car. I remember in those days 
they would come with chauffeurs. 

Mrs. Blake and Miss Symmes came with a chauffeur? 

I think they had chauffeurs mostly. Not until later did people of 
society decide to drive their own cars. There used to be the 
feeling that in order to get around in the car, you had to have 
someone that knew how to drive it. It wasn't until much later that 
everybody would drive a car. 

Did Mr. Blake come out with them? 

Hardly. A couple of times later to my nursery in Hayward. I 
remember him coming out with her to look at the tree peonies. I 
don't think that his interest was quite that much into the garden. 
He knew of the plants, but I don't think too much of it. 

Did he come to Cal Hort meetings? 

No. I don't remember him coming to the Cal Hort. 

Tom Domoto and the Piedmont Customers 

Riess: Where was your father's business first? 

Domoto: The nursery was first in Oakland. He started the nursery down at Third 
and Grove. That was just in the beginning. Then he moved out to East 
Oakland, that's on Fifty-Fifth Avenue. In those days it was known 
as Central Avenue. That's where he really got the nursery started. 


Riess: Do you remember any of his comments about the Blakes? 

Domoto: No. He hardly ever made any comments that way. The only thing I 
know that I remember is in the discussion of plant material, that 
they were talking on equal level. Some of the other people, they 
were asking about whether this plant grows better than that plant. 

Riess: I wonder if your father supplied them with any of the plants that 
they had before they moved to Blake Estate. First they lived on 
Piedmont Avenue where the Memorial Stadium of the University later 
was buil t. 

Domoto: He must have because, as I remember I don't know when they moved 
up to Blake Gardens. 

Riess: Nineteen twenty- three or twenty- four, I think. 

Domoto: It would be before that when they were buying it. I always used to 
think of them as Piedmont customers. Like the Blakes and 

Riess: Well, the [Duncan] McDuffies maybe? 

Domoto: Yes. The old McDuffie place, and the Crockers, and [Herman] 

Riess: These were the Piedmont customers? 

Domoto: Yes. And some of them even later, to my Hayward location. I 

remember the Nicholses, both the parents and the daughter used to 
come out. I don't remember the granddaughter, but the daughter, 
until several years ago. 

Riess: Did your father, or do you, ever keep records by the customers so 

you could go back and pinpoint everything that they had bought over 
the years? 

Domoto: I did at one time. Not my father's records because those belonged 
to the corporation in Oakland. But in Hayward I did until I needed 
storage space. My auditor said, "Well, you don't have to keep too 
many records." He gave me a list of material which I would have to 
keep. I looked up some of my old invoices for this meeting, and 
they only go back to about '69-'70. 

Riess: It would be interesting. 

Domoto: Certain ones from Piedmont would come in at azalea season to buy 

azaleas or camellias. General plant material went to those gardens 
when they were in the formative period; not so much the owners 
themselves but whoever was doing the landscaping would come out and 
buy the plants for them. 


Floyd Mick. George Budgen, Thomas Church 


Riess : 


Very few of those people, I remember, did their own gardening, so 
somebody, the gardener or someone, came with them. If they liked 
the plant they would buy it and put it in. Most of the gardens 
were all designed. Floyd Mick in Berkeley, he did a lot of those 
gardens here. 

In fact, Miss Symmes was a professional landscape architect, 
she doing other peoples' gardens? 


Oh, yes. She was doing that mostly. I don't think the home garden 
much, because there I think her sister more or less decided what 
she'd like, and then she had it planted. I think that was the way 
it was then, judging from the conversation that they used to get 
into when they were out looking around. Mrs. Blake would like a 
certain variety, and Miss Symmes would say, "Yes, I think we could 
use them." If Mrs. Blake liked it, all right, she'd find a place 
for it. 

Riess: I see. Did you ever, though, see Miss Symmes come in with any of 
her other customers? 

Domoto: I may have, but generally I don't remember so much. 
Riess: Did the sisters look alike? 

Domoto: I would say, as far as stature, they were built pretty much the 

same way. I guess their demeanor about the same too. Miss Symmes 
always kind of deferred to Mrs. Blake as though I'm not sure, I 
think she was the older sister. Anita was the older sister. Miss 
Symmes was like a younger sister, you know. I always had that 

Riess: The Blakes had had Walter Vodden in 1957. He came because of the 
University. But before that was there a gardener you associated 
with the gardens? 

Domoto: I don't know who the gardener was then. They must have had a 
gardener there before. 

Riess: Apparently there was an Indian fellow they had who used to work for 

Domoto: Mr. Mick is available. He lives in, I guess, Oakland. It's Floyd 

Riess: Yes. I think I talked to him once a long time ago. You think he 
would remember? 



Riess : 

Riess : 


He might. You see, he and George Budgen of the Berkeley Hort they are 
about the same period. George started a nursery out there in Berkeley. 
I think Mr. Mick was getting started in the landscape design business. 
Tommy Church along about that period too. I know that as far as 
the gardens over in Piedmont and other areas in the Oakland hills, 
that Mr. Mick was instrumental in doing a lot of the gardens there. 

Was he a designer on the scale of Tommy Church? 

I don't think he was actually I've never gone to all the garde 
that he had done. 


As I have them classified, there are those that do the gardens 
to be doing a good garden, and others would like to do a garden to 
show off. The one garden is a garden that's designed to make it 
feel like it's not the designer's garden, but the person they're 
designing it for. In other words, you have a show garden, the 
personality is not displayed, but the architect's personality is 
displayed. The other is a home garden. I think Mr. Mick was the 
type that more or less designed a garden that would make the person 
feel like it was his own garden, whereas Tommy Church was designing 
the kind to show Tommy Church off. 

That's what his customers wanted, probably. 
"That's a Tommy Church garden." 

They wanted to say. 

Well, it starts out that way, but later on, why, you're still not 
satisfied with it. It's just like you go and buy a Gump's piece of 
furniture, and you don't like it. But just because it's from 
Gump's . [laughter] 

Competitiveness in the Garden 

Domoto: It's the same as when people used to come out and buy certain 

plants from my father. They'd say, "Did Mrs. So-and-So buy that? 
What [did] she buy?" My father would say, "Well, I don't know." 
He never used to say exactly what. Then they'd say, they would go 
on, "What about this plant? Is this good?" "Do you think it would 
look good in my garden?" "^ell, it should grow there." And they 
would buy it. 

Sometimes two or three people would come out together. One 
person would buy the plant. The next one would say, "Oh, I must 
have one too." [laughs] But in most cases before delivery they 
would say, "I've changed my mind about that plant. I don't think I 
want it." We'd laugh because the one that was already there had 
the funds. The other one was climbing and trying to be up there 
but she didn't have the funds to spend. 


Riess: That's a very interesting observation. 

Domoto: Anyone buying, most of the time if they were serious buyers they'd 
never bring anybody else, they'd come on their own. If they were 
coming as a group you'd always make a sale to someone, but it would 
never be on the basis of actually wanting. Sometimes they'd want 
to show off, and they'd buy. If they had the funds they would buy. 
Different personalities. 

Mrs. Roth was never that way. She'd always come out and say, 
"I want something for my garden," and this and that. A lot of 
things were left up to me to pick out for her. Colorwise, why, she 
knew which colors and what shades she liked. Otherwise, 
plantwise . Most of the time she used to come by herself, not 
even with a gardener. 

Riess: Interesting. 

When Mrs. Blake and Miss Symmes came to you. were they looking 
for plants that were associated with the Orient? 

I don't think so. In my place I was more in camellias and azaleas 
than I was in some of the other plant material. Almost always in 
camellia season or azalea season they would come out and see if 
they could find a new variety to introduce to the garden. 
Incidentally, since I liked oddball plants, I'd find something. 
She'd say, "Well, what else do you have that's new?" or something 
like that. I'd say, "Well, this, and this." She'd say, "Oh, yes, 
I have that from a seed that I got from Australia," or something. 
"Mine is only about so high, and it never has flowered." We'd get 
into a discussion that way. 



Riess : 

Riess : 

You had mentioned peonies, 

I don' t think so. 

Did they have an interest in a cutting 

It was mostly perennial, shrubby ? 

As I remember, I think mostly shrubs, maybe perennials too. But 
since I wasn't into the perennials at all, why, I don't know. But 
I have the feeling that certain parts of the garden were perennials 
and flowers. The Piedmont [Avenue] garden, the way it was laid out 
I don' t know. 

So your specialty was flowering shrubs. 
Shrubs, yes. 


Anita Blake and the Relocated Japanese Families 

Riess: I came across correspondence in Mrs. Blake's letters that are in 

The Bancroft Library, with Japanese families who were relocated. I 
wondered if you knew about that. 

Domoto: I heard that she was very good that way. But she was never one to 
say, "Well, I did this or that." 

Riess: How did you hear it then? 

Domoto: I think it was either one of my father's customers or something 

saying that, "I had a pretty tough time, and she helped me then." 
There were several people of that pre- relocation period that got 
talking to my dad. They wouldn't say who they were doing it for, 
but, "I have a family I'd like to get this for," or something like 

Riess: Was it unusual then? 

Domoto: I think so. And as far as I remember, some of the customers who 

came out would be dressed high fashion. As I remember her, she was 
always well-dressed, but never the flamboyant type. You know, some 
like to show off their clothes. She probably had it was good 
material, but it wasn't one that said, "Here I have the " you 
know. That type. I never got that feeling at all. 

Riess: And so it was very natural for her to help the Japanese family? 
Domoto: Or any other one that was in the group that would be in need. 

Riess: By "in the group" you mean that she met these people through Cal 

Domoto: I don't think so. I don't think Cal Hort. 
Riess: How many Japanese gardeners were in Cal Hort? 




Domoto ; 

Riess : 


Riess : 


Very few. I remember only about one or two used to come in once in 
a while to the meeting. Most of them not, either because of the 
language difficulty or else they weren't . I remember Pete 
Sugawara, he used to come in. 

I don't know whether these families that she helped were working at 
the Blake Garden. 

I think most of the Japanese who came in as gardeners came usually 
as a couple. The wife would work in the house, and the husband 
would either work in the garden, or sometimes, if he was good, he'd 
be hired as a chauffeur. And then they would have a room there in 
the house to live in. 

Yes. I haven't heard of that up there, though. 
Blakes had that. 

I don't think the 

I don't think by the time they went up to Berkeley. Maybe when 
they were in Piedmont [Avenue], they may have. As far as helping 
that way, they may have some other . The people that were 
actually helping the Japanese during the evacuation, those that did 
very seldom talk about it because it wasn't the proper thing to do. 
It would be very much on the quiet side, and you were surprised 
where you got help from the people that you least suspected that 
you would get any help from. The ones that you thought were 
friends, they shunned you, and not even a word from some of them. 
That was my experience, and I understand that's the way it was with 
a lot of the others too. I would think Mrs. Blake would have done 
it because of a personal relationship with the family, and she 
wouldn't speak much about it. 

She bought a lot of Chinese scrolls and she had Asian art in her 
house. Maybe she really had an unusual sympathy with the Orient. 

Well, with that type of material, whoever she bought the material 
from, she probably got to know the dealer pretty well personally. 
Because of that connection, why, she may have bought more things 
that way. 


Pricing and Bargaining 

Riess: I've been reading about the beginning of Gump's, because I'm going 
to do an oral history with Richard Gump. A lot of the early 
history of Gump's talks about how A.L. Gump learned how to deal 
with the merchants in China, and how he convinced them to show him 
their best things. Was it the same when Mrs. Blake came out here? 
Would your father only show her something if she really looked like 
she knew her business? And do you feel the same way? 

Domoto: No. See, my father's actual business experience was learned the 
hard way here in the United States. I think his interest in the 
person was more from the standpoint of whether they were interested 
in the plant itself. But the rest of the time, if they came in and 
were interested to buy, his idea was to sell on that basis. 

Riess: He didn't hold back special things for special customers? 
Domoto: No. I don't remember him doing that. 

I'm not sure of the name now, but I think it was a Mr. [James 
K.] Moffitt, he always used to come out with a chauffeur. "When 
you go out to Domotos," he used to say, "if you go out with a 
chauffeur and a Fierce-Arrow, he's going to charge you one price, 
and if you go out with a Ford, it's another price." I think my dad 
used to do it that way. [laughs] 

Funny thing, one day Mr. Moffitt came out in the chauffeur's 
car, driving it himself. My father, when he got through laughing, 
he said, "You don't fool me." [laughter] My father was laughing 
with Mr. Moffitt, and he says, "Okay." But as far as most of the 
prices, there'd be one price he'd quote and it would be the same 
price he'd quote to anybody else. 

My father was a good psychologist, I think, in thinking back. 
The old Hellman Estate, which is now the Dunsmuir House, next to 
that was the place where the zoo is now, that used to be the Chabot 
place, I think . 


Riess: I don't know the family Chabot is an Oakland name. Maybe you'll 
get it and can fill it in. Why don't you tell the story. 

Domoto: There were a number of people that owned the place next to the 

Hellman's. Anyway, he married a chorus girl, and 1 remember them 
coming out to father's place to buy. She was very outspoken. I 
remember one day, everything my father'd quote, she'd always say, 
"That's too high. Make it cheaper." I remember going around 
sometimes behind them to tag some of the things they'd pick out, 
for my father. 

When they got through my father told her, "You want to pay 
your price or my price?" She said, "My price." "You sure?" 
"Yes." "All right," he says, "here's your price; here's my price." 
His price was a lot lower because he had jacked the price up. 
[laughter] She didn't know the material. In other words, she was 
strictly on the basis of bargaining. In most of the old countries 
you go to, it's a bargaining basis. If you buy it at the first 
price, why, you're losing face. 

After that when she used to come up and buy, she'd always tell 
him, "I want that. I want this, and I want that," and never a 
question about the price. She was a good psychologist too; having 
grown up the hard way, she knew that if you trust them you get the 
right plant. 

Riess: Yes. Well, that's something that's difficult to figure out in some 

Domoto: If you don't know the material, and if you don't trust the person, 
don't buy from them. If you trust the person you go by what he 
says. If you don' t 1 ike it, why, youjust leave it. 

Riess: For the Blakes, money was not an issue? 

Domoto: I don't know that part of it. But I know as far as we used to 

have what they called clean buyers and some buyers who always used 
to try to bargain. Of course, those that used to buy from my 
father wanted it to come out the same way. I said, "No, I don't do 
it that way. I quote one price, the wholesaler price, and the 
retailer price. It's the same whether you come today or tomorrow. 
If the plant gets bigger, it'll be more. If the plant gets poorer 
or out of date, you get lower." Whether they come in a Fierce- 
Arrow or anything else, it makes no difference." 

Riess: Actually, because Miss Symmes was a professional, she might have a 
different price. 

Domoto: Well, yes. See, there'd be a retail price. Landscape people would 
get, depending on the volume, mostly a 20 percent discount off of 
the retail. Or in some cases, if they were big volume they would 


Domoto: get the regular wholesale price. But I think in most cases, until 
about the NRA days, along after the Depression when the government 
was trying to regulate prices and everything, until then most 
nurseries had what they called a volume deal, or else they'd each 
have an individual price. There were no definite price structures. 
You could go to one nursery and buy a gallon at one price, and 
you'd go to another nursery and it's another price. 

Riess: What other local nurseries were there? 

Domoto: The Sunset Nursery. It used to be in Piedmont. They supplied a 
lot of the smaller shrub type of material to the Piedmont area. 
Then Berkeley Hort got into shrubbery too. He was at first quite a 
bit of the perennial type of material. The Sunset was their 
nursery was operated quite a bit I think that was really, I'm not 
sure, but I have a feeling that they were operated by people who 
were maybe gardeners at first. Then Sandkeule and Carlson, the two 
partners, they became Sunset Nursery. They had a lot of the 
gardener trade there in Piedmont. I know the bedding plant people 
liked to supply them because they were always good pay. Then 
shrubwise, right in this area, my father's place. Then California 
Nursery, in Niles. 

Riess: Over the years did they come out every year, Mrs. Blake and Miss 
Symmes? Now we're talking postwar and the '50s. 

Domoto: Yes. At least once a year in the season, when things were in 
blossom, I used to see either one or the other. 

Riess: Would they make an appointment ahead of time to say that they were 

Domoto: No. About the only one that ever made any appointments like that 

to come in was Mrs. Roth, and Andrew Welch in San Mateo. They were 
part of the Welch pineapple people. You know, the Hawaiian people. 
The Nichols family in Piedmont, they were part of the Hawaiian 
group too. 

Riess: Well, are you tempted to go out and look at the Blake Garden now, 
after all these years? 

Domoto: No, my interests are limited now. I have gone to some afterward. 

Like all the Japanese gardens, they always want me to look at them. 
Well, I look at them as plant material, not the design. I 
appreciate it. But my interest is not that way. My brother went 
into the design part, and he's doing landscaping back east now. 
But as far as the flower shows, there were days when I used to put 
in the displays and help. 

Riess: So you're really interested in the individual plant. 


Domoto: More on the plant side than the design. But since I like to draw 
and things like that, I guess I had a feeling for certain 
arrangements. I never tried to follow any design pattern or any 
set rule. If it pleased my eye, I was satisfied. 

Transcriber: Catherine Woolf 
Final Typist: Elizabeth Eshleman 


Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

Walter Vodden 
BLAKE GARDEN, 1957-1986 

An Interview Conducted by 

Suzanne B. Riess 

in 1986 

Copyright (c) 1988 by The Regents of the University of California 

Walter Vodden, photographed at Blake House, 1986, 
Photograph by Suzanne Riess 





Walter Vodden' s Education, and Background 237 

Transition Year, 1957-58 241 

The Job and the Title 242 

Anita Blake 244 

In Command 244 

Mabel Symmes, In Deference 24 " 
Encyclopedic Plant Knowledge 
The Blakes, and Other People 
Personal Supervision of the Gardens 

California Horticultural Society Meetings 257 

The University and the Blake Estate 258 

Department of Landscape Architecture Faculty 258 

New Financial and Moral Support and Interest 261 

The Monastery and the Neighbors 265 



Walter Vodden entered Blake House history in 1958. That year he was 
hired by Professor H. L. Vaughan of the Department of Landscape 
Architecture at the University of California. The department had the 
responsiblity of maintaining the gardens of the Blake Estate which had 
been given to the University in 1957. Walter Vodden was put in place as 
the head gardener. No doubt it was a relief to the Blakes to have a 
competent, young, energetic, full-time employee at a time when they, and 
Miss Mabel Symmes, Mrs. Blake's sister who lived in the house with them, 
were in their late eighties. The sisters worked Walter Vodden hard and he 
learned a lot from them. 

It is somewhat ironic that it is to Mr. Vodden that we turn for an 
"inside look" at Anson and Anita and Mabel. Mrs. Blake was always so 
careful to maintain the distance between "inside" and "outside," the 
upstairs/downstairs dichotomy peculiar to the Blake House. And in fact it 
was really Miss Symmes, with her more academically- informed approach to 
horticulture and landscape design, who gave Walter Vodden a supplementary 
education in plant families, and an appreciation for what he had been put 
in charge of. His recollections of her make clear that she was a good 
teacher and that the legacy and future of the garden were uppermost in her 
mind as she gave her pupil as much information as he could absorb. 

While having a tutorial relationship with Miss Symmes, Walter Vodden 
had great admiration and respect for Mrs. Blake, and there was obviously 
some mutuality, as she turned over to him the job of representing the 
Blake Gardens at the meetings of the California Horticultural Society. 
She had faithfully presented plant materials for years; when she could no 
longer do so, Walter went in her stead. 

Walter Vodden's story overlaps Geraldine Knight Scott's which 
follows. Mrs. Scott was the Department of Landscape Architecture's 
representative to the Blake Garden. Mr. Vodden, as Senior Superintendent 
of Cultivations, worked under Mrs. Scott's direction in the years from 
1962 to 1968 when the garden was revitalized by carving out the excessive 
growth of forty years. By 1973 when Linda Haymaker joined the staff at 
the garden, Walter Vodden's stories of the sisters Anita and Mabel were 
the stuff of history, and in Ms. Haymaker's interview some more of those 
stories are recalled. 

Walter Vodden and I met to record in the sunroom at Blake House. 
Once an open loggia, it is now glass-enclosed, but it still has a view of 
the pool and the grotto. The photograph which accompanies this interview 


is of an animated interviewee at the time it was taken Mr. Vodden was 
speaking with Mrs. David Gardner. Coincidental to our interview she was 
at Blake House and she joined us to talk for a few minutes about the 
garden for which Mr. Vodden still has evident love and concern. 

Suzanne B. Riess 
Interv iewer-Editor 

September 23. 1987 
Regional Oral History Office 
486 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 


University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 

(Please print or write clearly) 

Your full name 

Date of birth "//"/ 6> , 

Father's full name 

Mother's full name 


Where did you grow up ? 
Present community 

Place of birth 


"t X" 

/ /JSttT? 


Special interests or activities 


Walter Vodden' s Education, and Background 
[Date of Interview: November 13, 1986] 

Vodden: I graduated from the City College in San Francisco with only an 

associate of arts degree in ornamental horticulture. This was in 
the 1940's, and the community colleges didn't have many programs in 
ornamental horticulture back in those days. I got involved in it 
because my parents insisted that I go somewhere to college when I 
graduated from high school and I was never that great in math or 
chemistry or foreign languages or what have you. My father was a 
contractor and my grandfather before him was a contractor, and I 
was always handy with tools. 

But they insisted I go somewhere, so I went down to San 
Francisco State and got their booklet of courses that they offered, 
but decided to go to what at that time was the San Francisco Junior 
College. At that time they didn't even have their own building, 
they were on Powell Street at University of California Extension, 
now out on Phelan. I looked it all over; I ran into this thing 
that said "Ornamental Horticulture" and I thought, "Aha! That 
looks easy for me." So I ended up taking a two-year associate of 
arts degree in ornamental horticulture, back before World War IL 

I had never done too much of this because I was born and 
raised in San Francisco. I was a city boy, lived out on the 
avenues, the Richmond district, and we didn't have a large garden 
or anything. But once I got into it it apparently appealed to me, 
because I eventually made the Alpha Gamma Sigma National Honor 
Society. I had a fine time, and really enjoyed it. 

After graduating from there it was only about a year or two 
before World War II I worked for a landscape contractor and went 
in the navy for World War II. The navy immediately sent me to 
diesel school I don't know how far away you could get from 
horticulture, to diesel school, but that's where I ended up. I put 
five years in the navy, during World War II, and shortly afterwards 
I got out at the convenience of the government. I knew that I 
never wanted to earn my living working on greasy diesel engines, so 



Riess : 




Riess : 

I got back into horticulture. Then I worked for a couple of 
nurseries and landscape contractors to get the feel of the business 
again after being away from it for five years. 

Eventually 1 went into business for myself. I was self- 
employed for about ten years when my old professor from the city, 
Harry Nelson, called and said, "Walter, why don't you call 
Professor Vaughan over in the UC landscape architecture department? 
He has something that may interest you." I had reached the stage 
in my business where I had to start hiring more people and buying 
more vehicles and all of this kind of thing. By that time I was 
tired of working on Saturdays and Sundays, taking my vacations in 
the wintertime when my son was still in school, but on vacation 
Christmas and not being paid for my vacation. So I called 
Professor Vaughan and he told me about this place and asked me to 
come over and talk to him. 

I want to ask a couple of questions about some things you brought 
up that interest me historically: When you were taking that 
ornamental horticulture course in San Francisco did they take you 
out to beautiful gardens and introduce you to elegant places like 
this [Blake Estate]? 

No, actually they didn't. As I said, we had no buildings of our 
own, so the professor that was actually teaching the design part of 
landscape architecture was a Professor Herman who came from the 
University of Ohio, and I guess he was a landscape architect, but I 
don't know. We spent most of our time in Golden Gate Park, or in 
Funston Field, or walking around neighborhoods this kind of thing. 
As a native I would say that most of the nicer gardens that came 
into San Francisco came later. I don't think there were that many 
pre-World War IL, Places like the Japanese Tea Gardens in Golden 
Gate Park were there, but they were not the things that they are 

Did you meet John McLaren? 
known him? 

Is it possible that you would have 

I never met McLaren himself, no. I belong to the California 
Horticultural Society, and he by that time had retired I think. I 
know a lot of people who came later in Golden Gate Park: Roy 
Hudson. Jack Spring all of these people who were superintendents. 
I used to play football with the gang where the arboretum in Golden 
Gate Park is right now. 

Was there any work training that was part of your class? 

Only insofar as the professors and I'll call them professors with 
tongue-in-cheek but if those who were teaching could convince 
people to come to their houses on weekends and do a little work for 
them, [laughs] As I recall and it's been a long time, because 


Vodden: we're talking about over forty years there was very little taught 
in the way of construction at alL We had mostly plant material 
and design, and art I was going to get an associate of arts degree 
besides they didn't give a certificate in those days like they do 
now. We also had the math classes and the science classes and the 
English classes that were required for that, too, 

Riess: What were the jobs that one would typically get with a degree like 

Vodden: I did mostly maintenance, but also some construction. I don't know 
if you've ever heard of Charles Harney: he built Candlestick Park. 
He has a reputation in San Francisco of doing a lot of shady kinds 
of things, [laughs] but when they widened Portola Drive, which runs 
alongside St. Francis Woods, they moved six or seven houses up that 
side of Mt. Davidson. They moved them all up on the hill, and I 
did all the landscaping on those. But primarily it was 
reconstruction of whole gardens and maintenance, and that kind of 

You must remember also that in those days there were very, 
very few trained horticulturists, or gardeners whichever word you 
prefer to use. For some reason the connotations of the word 
"gardener" are not as great in this country as if you say you're a 
horticulturist. In England if you're a gardener it's a pat on the 
back, you're really doing something, but in this country people 
tend not to call them gardeners any more. Most of the people that 
were gardening in those days were not trained at all, they were 
mailmen or painters or firemen that on their days off were going 
out and chopping down bushes, and that's why there were little 
round shrubs all over the place. 

Riess: Who were the people then who knew plant materials? 

Vodden: Well, hopefully the nursery people, and there were a few of us. 

You also must remember that when I was going to school there were a 
lot of Japanese in the classes. The Japanese were operating the 
nurseries mostly, and when World War II came along they all ended 
up in the internment camps. The Japanese, as far as I can 
determine, never really gained a foothold back in horticulture 

Riess: What about women in the business? 

Vodden: When I went out of business, and, as I say, that was close to 
thirty years ago, I turned what business I had over to a woman 
gardener. I knew six months ahead of time that I was going to go 
out of business because that was part of the deal, when I was 
interviewed and hired, that I didn't have to come to work until 
July. This was around Christmas time so I had a lot of time, and 
little by little I divested myself of those jobs that I wasn't 


Vodden: happy with anyway, but those few jobs that I had left that were 
good and had good customers, I turned over and gave to a woman 
gardener. So there were some around. 

Riess: You were already making a distinction then between gardeners. 

Vodden: There's no question about it; the gardeners that were operating 

knew who had knowledge, and they would come across the street where 
I was working and say, "Hey, what's wrong with this shrub over 

Riess: But as far as a knowledge of drainage and the kind of structural 
aspects of gardening? 

Vodden: I don't think any of us had the training to really know what we 
were doing in those days. You know, a lot of that kind of thing 
only comes with the best kind of experience. I don't know if you 
understand that the Department of Landscape Architecture here at 
Berkeley which requires four years or longer to graduate, with 
enough experience to go to work with some landscape architect to 
get the experience to take the state examination only offers two 
classes in plant material, and only one class is required. 

Riess: I do realize that. That's part of what I was trying to get at. 

Vodden: It's incredible. That's why the landscape architects are in great 
need of all these young people that are graduating from Merritt, 
Diablo Valley College, and San Francisco with certificates in 
ornamental horticulture. That may or may not have anything to do 
with our survey of the history of the Blake House, but it's a 
background in what's happening with ornamental horticulture anyway. 

When I left here there was John Norcross, who took over my 
job, who had graduated from McGill University and the University of 
Pennsylvania with a degree in architecture he decided somewhere 
along the line he didn't want to sit in somebody's office drafting; 
Linda Haymaker, who had just come back from a leave of absence from 
a landscape design school back in Massachusetts she had taken a 
year's leave of absence to get her master's degree in landscape 
architecture; Jeff Evans, who's working out here in the back at the 
house graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree 
in natural resources; Allison Cardinet, who was growing the cut 
flowers, who has teaching credentials and was teaching in the 
Berkeley school system when she decided that she couldn't control 
the students and got out of it. 

All the people who were here were well educated and in some 
cases with some experience too. Whenever we had a j ob opening 
here, which wasn't very often, I'd get thirty or more applicants, 
and I'd have people with master's degrees in ornamental 
horticulture from Davis or Cal Poly amongst the applicants, and 


Vodden: almost all of them had some degrees. So the field is changing very 
rapidly. Some of the few that did apply for the job that weren't 
well educated, you couldn't even read their applications. I wasn't 
looking for formal education at all. I was looking for a strong 
back or people that really wanted to work. 

Riess: One of the things you're saying is that you never could have gotten 
this job today. 

Vodden: No, that's exactly right. 
Riess: That's a good introduction. 

Transition Year, 1957-58 

Riess: It was Punk [H.L.] Vaughan who hired you? 
Vodden: [laughs] Punk Vaughan, right. 



Riess : 


This was in 1958. 
the University. 

In 1957 the house and the garden were deeded to 

Right. When I was hired, for the first six months I actually was 
paid by the Blakes and they were reimbursed by the University in 
some way I don't know exactly how it came about. But all three of 
the family were still living here. Mai Arbegast was babysitting, 
shall we say, with the Blakes, because this officially had all just 
been turned over and there was a what's-going-to-happen-next kind 
of situation. Mai Arbegast was an assistant professor at that time 
in the landscape department. She was assigned by Punk Vaughan 
because I guess she brought her classes out here. They had always 
brought their classes out here. 

What had they done when they'd brought their classes out in the 
past? Had they had a real hands-on experience? 

I don't know because I wasn't here then. This was prior to when I 
got here. When I got here the place was in shambles. During all 
World War II it had been neglected. 

Riess: Why? 

Vodden: They couldn't get any help. Any able-bodied people were serving in 
the armed forces somewhere. You couldn't find a path, or even the 
entrance road. 

Riess: So they never had used students to work on it? 


Vodden: Not to my knowledge. Afterwards, yes, we did use some students. 
When Garrett Eckbo was chairman of the department, he saw that we 
got some general assistance money, so I was able to hire three or 
four or five landscape students to work during the summer. That's 
when we got a lot of the clearing-up done. In later years almost 
always I had work-study people, which we paid part out of our 
budget. Almost invariably we could not get landscape students 
because they couldn't qualify; most landscape students were older. 
A great many landscape students don't decide until they've already 
taken something else and decided that that's not for them, and so 
they switch to landscape architecture because it sounds glamorous. 
A lot of them had money and couldn't qualify for work-study. 

One time I had as many as nine out here during the summer, but 
we had law students, history students, practically every discipline. 

Riess: Probably made them a more malleable group, actually. 



Actually we got along fine, and they were good workers. They were 
being paid though, and the work-study jobs out here paid 
substantially more than if you were stacking books in the library 
or something else. 


you really just look for strong backs, or did you take women? 

Women are just as strong as many menl The two women who are 
working here now were both hired by me. I've had a great deal of 
women help out here; I've absolutely nothing against them. I do 
look at the fact of whether I think they can do the work or not, 
too, but no, I like to feel that I have no problems with that at 
all. When I interviewed for jobs, at least half of them would be 
women that were applying, and I just looked for the best person. 
The last person I hired was Allison out there. I've had a great 
many females working out here long before her. 

The Job and the Title 

Riess: When Punk Vaughan hired you did you have to be interviewed by the 
Blakes also? 

Vodden: No, and I don't know how many people he interviewed at all. 

After they finally called and said I had the job, I did have 
to go over to the personnel department and interview with them 
because the personnel department had to decide how much they were 
going to pay me, where I was going to fit into the scale of job 
order, and this kind of thing. 


Riess: What was your first title? 

Vodden: I was hired as a senior nursery technician, senior nurseryman at 

that time. But you don't call them nurserymen anymore; it's senior 
nursery technician. It wasn't too long before I became "senior 
superintendent of cultivation," which was an entirely different 
thing and never really matched the job. Many years later personnel 
finally caught up with it and changed my classification from what 
was by that time "principal superintendent of cultivation" to 
"senior superintendent of agriculture." To this day I can't see 
how they ever arrived at that title. Most senior superintendents 
of agriculture are directors of agricultural experiment stations; 
they're really in agriculture and not in ornamental horticulture. 

Riess: They were probably just trying to get more money for you. 

Vodden: Are you kiddingl When they finally hired John Norcross they 
changed the classification, and John is "botanical gardens 
manager," which makes more sense. 

I think there were only two senior or principal 
superintendents of cultivation in the whole University complex. 
Actually I lost money when they switched my title. Since a senior 
superintendent of agriculture pays about five percent less than a 
principal superintendent of cultivation, they were real magnanimous 
and they said, "We're not going to lower your salary; we'll still 
pay you the same amount." But the very next six months, when the 
state legislature passed a pay raise, they only gave me part of it 
because they couldn't pay me above what the pay scale was for the 

Riess: I thought you were going to say you were told you could have all 
the tomatoes you could eat. 

Vodden: [laughs] 1 used to pick blackberries in my lunch kettle and take 
them home. 


Anita Blake 

In Command 

Riess: You didn't take over from anyone. There wasn't an old Italian 
gardener or anything like that? 

Vodden: No. I worked very closely with Mrs. Blake. Mrs. Blake was a 
lovable old tyrant and I mean tyrant 1 

Riess: She had no one who was out there with his wheelbarrow day in, day out? 

Vodden: No, she had a fellow, Jim Anderson, who worked here, and he worked 
full-time with her. He was a handyman: he buried the garbage and 
burned the papers and cleared the weeds and this kind of thing. 

Jim was here already, and there was another fellow by the name 
of Churchill Womble, and he was a horticulturist. Jim was a handy 
man. Churchill was an alcoholic, a young fellow too young to be 
an alcoholic. He eventually died because of this alcoholism. He 
was kind of her compatriot. They worked together and this whole 
area was full of gallon cans full of rare plants and things like 
that that he had bought for her. So he was here on the rare 
occasions when he wasn't home sobering up. 

Riess: It sounds like the relationship that she had with her gardeners was 
working hand-in-hand. 

Vodden: You have to remember that it was her garden, she planted it, she'd 
tended it for thirty years. You don't come into a place, 
particularly after they've given it to you, and tell people what to 
do with their garden. So we didn't do much of anything. 

Riess: She had physically tended it herself? 

Vodden: Well, by this time she was in her eighties, so she wasn't doing 

much physical labor. But she was there sitting on a stool when you 
dug a hole, or when you pruned, and if she wasn't there her sister 


Vodden: Miss Symmes was there. When we pruned roses her sister would come 

out to where we used to have species roses in the middle of winter 
it would be coldl and supervise every cut that I made on her roses, 
even though I probably knew more about pruning roses than she did. 

Riess: It must have driven you crazy. 

Vodden: She [Mrs. Blake] had twenty-six cats that followed her all around. 
She had a hoe, so you could hear her coming, scraping with this 
hoe, and twenty-six cats would be following her. She'd have an 
apron like a house cook's, with big pockets on it filled with stale 
bread for feeding these cats as she came along. 

Riess: Were the cats in the house ever? 

Vodden: No, she fed them by the back door that was part of Jim's job. 

He'd put these big trays of catfood out for them every night. The 
idea originally was that the cats were going to keep the gopher 
population down, but they fed them so well they weren't hunters at 
all. They were all so interbred by this time that each spring when 
they had a litter half of them would be born blind or what have you 
and we'd have to put them in sacks and destroy them. It was really 
kind of sad. 

Riess: Why did she have the hoe? 

Vodden: Just for support. Like I say. she was in her eighties by this time. 
She was eighty-eight or eighty-nine when she died. She died right 
in that room alongside. [ President Gardner's office, west of the 
solarium.] That was her bedroom, because she couldn't get up and 
down the stairs. She had a canopy bed in there with a canopy on 
it, and pans sitting on top because the roof leaked so much that 
the water would drip through the ceiling, and she'd catch it in a 
pan over her bed. Under the bed was this big wooden square box that 
was full of oriental scrolls. Every six months or so she'd have us 
pull this box out and spray it for silverfish. They're all in the 
Asiatic department or somewhere [East Asiatic Library]. 

Riess: She really didn't care about the house so much? 

Vodden: As far as the house was concerned, it was like a big mausoleum, 
dark and dreary. She kept a twenty-two rifle by the front door, 
and whenever she answered the front door she'd have the twenty-two 
rifle right handy. I don't know what she was going to do with it. 
But you have to remember that it was so overgrown here, and there 
was no outdoor lighting at all. 

There were three old people in the house at the beginning. 
He was ninety when he slipped and fell and broke his hip and died. 
Miss Symmes, the sister who lived upstairs, fell one night, and she 
was unable to get up, and she knew there was nobody else in the 


Vodden: house to help her get up into bed. so she lay on the floor all 

night and pulled the throw- rug up over herself. We got here in the 
morning and the cook, who was deaf, came running out. and we all 
came running in and picked her up and put her back in bed. And 
Mrs. Blake was in her mid-eighties. So here are three old people, 
and they were very vulnerable down here. I guess that Kensington 
must have had a police department by that time that they were still 

Riess: But they could have afforded to have help, couldn't they? 

Vodden: Well, they had a cook, and I think they deliberately went out of 
their way to hire cooks who were not the best I don't know how 
they were at cooking, but the one that was here was deaf, and the 
second one, Mary, didn't last very long. 

As I say, Mrs. Blake was very difficult to work with. When we 
finally had funding enough to hire another person here, he used to 
work with her, and she'd tell him. "Now Charles [Modecki], meet me 
up here at three o'clock" she might take a little nap in the 
afternoon or something "and we'll plant this." So Chuck, who also 
had a lot of other responsibilities working down in back, would 
come up at three o'clock and she wouldn't be there she'd have 
fallen asleep or something. So he'd keep checking, and keep 
checking, until finally he had to go back and do what he had to do. 
She'd come out maybe an hour later and Chuck wouldn't be there, and 
she rode him so much that Chuck eventually quit she was this kind 
of person. 

Mabel Symmes, In Deference 

Riess: She was really the dominant member of the family. 

Vodden: There was no question about it. She and her sister used to have 
big drag-out battles about where to trim certain shrubs. I used 
to hear them out there. 

When I first came here, that first winter, we had no buildings 
over there at all, and so I had to sit in my car in the pouring 
rain in the front here under a big tree. Miss Symmes came out and 
would say, "Walter, come in the house and I'll set up a card table 
in the dining room." You also have to remember that Miss Symmes 
was the trained landscape architect, Mrs. Blake was not. She'd set 
up a table and she'd say, 'V alter, sit down here and write me a list 
of all the vines that are on the property." I'd only been here a 
short while, and I maybe knew five vines that were here. She said, 
"Well, all right, write those down." And she said. "Here's the 


Vodden: encyclopedia, you look them up in the encyclopedia and find out all 
you can," She was really great, she was going to teach me about 
what vas here. 

Mrs. Blake heard about it and that finished that just like 
that. There was a great deal of jealousy involved, I guess. No 
longer was I invited to come in and sit down and do my lessons. 
When it rained and I couldn't work outside we ended up painting in 
the kitchen or polishing brass work, or something like that 
something that was more menial, I'll put it that way. I'm telling 
you just because of the difference between the two ladies. 

We bought the greenhouse when they tore them down on campus to 
build some new buildings we paid $1,800 I think and had it in 
storage out here until we could move up on the priority list to get 
it put up. Somewhere along the line we decided that it was almost 
time to do it, and Miss Symmes said, "If you can't find the money 
to build a building over there, I'll pay for it." 

Riess: Do you think that Mrs. Blake could have been dealt with 

Vodden: This is not a good thing, because I'm part of the Department of 
Landscape Architecture, but I don't really think it was handled 
that well. I think that there could possibly have been some 
endowment funds, and also there's the fact that they didn't have a 
great deal of money anyway. When he died, I think the paper said 
that he left an estate in excess of $900,000, or close to a million 
dollars. That's a lot of money, but by today's standards the taxes 
on this place must have been fierce. I've always felt that's one 
reason why they deeded it to the University because they had living 
privileges here and their concerns for the garden would be taken 
care of, the maintenance on the house, the leaks this kind of 
thing would be taken care of. 

Riess: Yet Mai considers it to be quite a coup to have gotten it for the 
the University. 

Vodden: As I say, I wasn't here then, so I don't know, but from what I 

could gather afterwards if anybody takes credit, I think it would 
be Professor Vaughan. Mai was here, and she was babysitting. 

What used to happen was that Mrs. Blake wouldn't come to me, 
she'd call Mai. This used to happen fairly often. Mai would call 
me at night and say, "Mrs. Blake is real unhappy because you 
Vodden: pulled out her rare vine that was up along the pine needle 
path up there." I said, "Mai, I didn't pull anything out up 
there." "Well, she said you pulled it out, so you must have done 
it. She's very upset with you." So I went up the next day when I 
came to work and I looked, and it was still there, the thing she 


Vodden: was concerned about. So when Mrs. Blake came out I said, "Here it 
is. I didn't pull it out." But never once did I get an apology. 
She had just looked in the wrong place; she forgot where it was. 

Another time she didn't want anybody to plant anything in this 
garden if she didn't get to say where it should be planted. My 
mother had a dear friend that went to Germany and brought back a 
package of lamprantha seeds. I grew the little seedlings. They're 
an incidental little herbacious. annual/perennial kind of thing, 
multicolored with lots of flowers on it; it lasts one year, and 
then you pull it out and throw it away. So I grew them in a flat, 
and I had a whole mess of plants. I had just moved to Walnut 
Creek, and I used what I had at home and then I thought, I'll plant 
the rest of them here. I planted them up in the rose garden. Mrs. 
Blake had a habit of going out after we'd left and walking around 
to see what kind of trouble we'd gotten into, so she went over and 
she found these plants growing there, and she immediately got on 
the phone and called Mai: "Walter had no business planting those 
things there." 

The very next day I came and I pulled them up, when they were 
just beginning to bloom, pulled them up by the roots, and I took 
them over and threw them on the dump area, which at that time was 
fairly convenient, up above. I deliberately didn't throw them 
down, I put them at the top. So the next day Mrs. Blake came along 
and it just broke her heart to see that somebody had thrown some 
living plants out. She never came to me and made any excuses or 
anything, but she never said another thing. Just as I said, she's 
lovable at heart. 

Riess: You haven't told me anything lovable yet. 

Vodden: [laughs] No, she was. She was fine. I'll tell you another 

experience: the first time I brought my wife here I tell this all 
the time I hadn't officially come to work yet, but I wanted to 
show my wife where I was working, so we came on a Sunday. I think 
I called and told Mrs. Blake I was coming one didn't just drop in 
on her and she said, "Fine." We were down by the rock wall in 
back and she was down there watering when we arrived; we came down 
the steps and she was busy watering over here. As we got closer I 
called to her, I said, "Mrs. Blake," and she turned around and 
turned the hose right on my wife not on purpose of course. But 
she was fine. 

In her later life she had a great deal of difficulty, and 
having gone through the experience with both my mother and father I 
knew the problems that she was having. You get a little senile at 
my age I forget, and I'm certainly not eighty yet. Little things 
would happen. The cook came running out of the house once saying, 
"Help, help, Mrs. Blake is on the floorl" She always had her lunch 
in the dining room there, she sat at the end of the table. We came 


Vodden: rushing in and she was lying on the floor. I didn't know if she 

was having a heart attack or what was going on, so we picked her up 
and put her on the couch in the living room. I had her doctor's 
telephone number by this time, so I called the doctor and the 
doctor came out. Everything was fine, she'd just fallen asleep at 
the table, just dozed off and landed on the floor. She was so 
confused by waking up on the floor that she didn't know what to do. 

Encyclopedic Plant Knowledge 

Vodden: Another thing about the two sisters that always interested me . 
As I say, I was new on the job here, and I knew a lot of plant 
material, but this garden is rather unique in the fact that there 
was a great deal of very unusual plant material. So I got into the 
habit of asking, "What's this? What's that?" If I asked Mrs. 
Blake something, she'd be able to tell me just like that. But if I 
asked Miss Symmes, she'd say, "Walter, I'll tell you at lunchtime, 11 
or "when I go up to get the mail," because she used to walk up to 
the mailbox. Lo and behold at lunchtime. or whenever she came out, 
she'd have it all written down, the name and a little bit about it; 
she had gone upstairs and checked her files and her notes to jog 
her memory about what it was. But Mrs. Blake was sharp right up to 
the end. You could ask her the name of any plant in this garden, 
almost to the end, and she could tell you just like that the 
correct botanical name for it. And yet she was not the trained 

Riess: There were 2,500 different plant species in the garden? 

Vodden: That was originally; it's changed. 

Riess: She'd be able to give you the proper name? 

Vodden: Yes. 

Riess: Do you think Miss Symmes had that bit of teacher in her, and she 
wanted you really to know it so that you could use it? 

Vodden: I think that was part of it, yes, and I think she wanted to be 
positive about it. I think Mrs. Blake was positive in her own 
mind. I'm sure she made mistakes just like we all make mistakes. 
When I used to run guided tours through here somebody would ask me 
the name of something and I would say, "It's there, but it's gone." 
Ten minutes later when you're walking down somewhere else it comes 
to you. 

Riess: Did labeling plants begin before you were hired? 


Vodden: I did most of that. There were no labels on anything here, and 

there were virtually no records of anything here. The only records 
that we were able to salvage that I had over in the office we got 
after Miss Symmes died. Mrs. Blake had us clean her room, the 
front bedroom up above our heads up there. You hear these stories 
about these recluses that live in this one room, with papers and 
books, well that's what her room looked like. She had trestle 
tables up there with dried specimens and plants folded in 
newspapers the newspapers dated back to the mid-1 900' s. This 
stuff was all dried and shredded. She had, on shelves underneath, 
the stock market brochures from companies, financial reports, balls 
of string and all this kind of thing. So when we had an 
opportunity to clean, I was able to salvage a couple of plant file 
lists of what was done when they had an herbarium collection out 
here and a few odds and ends like that. But those are the only 
records or anything like that that we have. 

Riess: It was just in their heads. 

Vodden: Right. 

Riess: Did the labeling of plants happen while Mrs. Blake was alive? 

Vodden: No, not at all. 

Riess: She would not have approved of that? 

Vodden: No, I think she would have approved of it; I think she would 

approve of what's been done out here since she's gone. She was 
very protective, she used to station me at the gate to keep the 
school kids from cutting through, and if I caught any I was to 
bring them down to her and she'd call the police. Apparently she'd 
had some bad experiences with juveniles running through when there 
was nobody here. I could understand that. I understand what 
you're saying, that she was jealously guarding her knowledge of the 
plants so that nobody else would know. I don't think that was 
happening at all. 

Riess: Or perhaps partly that she never conceived of it as a public place. 

Vodden: Well, it still is not really a public place since we're closed on 

weekends I keep saying "we" but I'm not involved in it anymore. I 
don't think she ever envisioned that it would be a public place per 
se, she envisioned it as a place where the department would bring 
their classes. 

At that time there were no ornamental horticultural courses in 
the community college system at all, so it was Berkeley that she 
was interested in. And of course Anson was the grand old man of 
Stiles Hall, and all this. So they were very much involved with 
the University, and I think that's what she meant it to be. I 


Vodden: think she probably envisioned that the house would be used not 

necessarily by the president of the University, but something in 
between, or that the department would use it. I have a feeling 
that she wouldn't have been disappointed that it had been used 
when it was used as a residential dormitory of the Prytanean 
Society; I think she would be very pleased that it was used by 
presidents of the University. The day that Anson got his honorary 
law degree Dr. Sproul came and picked him up in their limousine to 
take him over, and there was the inauguration of Kerr when Kerr 
became president. 

The Blakes. and Other People 

Riess: She came from a fine family; was she a bit of a snob about all of 

Vodden: She came from Rincon Hill in San Francisco, and her father was in 
the electrical contracting business. She was not a snob. Miss 
Symmes delved into genealogy, and I don't know if the University 
has the information or not, but she showed me once that they went 
back to Geoffrey Chaucer. 

Riess: Was this part of why they couldn't speak directly to you? 

Vodden: I think they were in the social registry; they were in Who's Who; 
I would assume they went to the opera and this kind of thing. I 
think I would have really enjoyed knowing them when she was about 
fifty years old, or maybe fifty-five, because I think they were 
right in the thick of things, of Berkeley and the University. 

Her father was in the electrical fixture business, and it's my 
understanding that as a house-warming or anniversary present he 
gave them the big stone pillars and the big light fixtures that 
used to be in the top of them in the gable. We still have one of 
them stashed away behind the tool house over there. 

Riess: I was asking those questions because 1 was trying to gather what 
her attitude was toward people, that she felt that she couldn't 
speak directly to you, that she had to talk to Mai, because Mai 
was more professional. 

Vodden: No, I always thought I was never anything more than a peon, a 
handyman, the man who was here to do her bidding. 

Well, the job was such at that time that it needed somebody 
that was going to dig in, take a chainsaw, or what have you. 
That's one of the first things that we did, we bought a chainsaw. 


Vodden: We had to be very careful when we were using it. If we needed a 

shovel or something like that I'd go to Anson. Mr. Blake, and say. 
"Hey, we need another shovel." He'd go down to the quarry and 
bring us back a shovel. There weren't even any wheelbarrows here. 
There were two of us here, and ten-and-a-half acres. Mrs. Blake 
wanted somebody here all the time Saturday and Sunday, so Jim 
Anderson worked on Saturdays and Sundays. So there were only three 
days a week when there were two of us here and ten-and-a-half 
acres. We really couldn't do much at all. 

Riess: Sure. And if you're being called inside periodically to take care 
of household things . 

Vodden: Jim took her shopping all the time, particularly after Anson died, 
because she had to go to the grocery store. She and Mrs. Thomas, 
who lived over on the other corner over here, and I don't know 
whether you've run into the name of Gladys Wickson? She was the 
sister of Mrs. Thomas. I think there's a Wickson Wood over on the 
Berkeley campus. Thomas was an architect, and Gladys Wickson was a 
horticulturist botanist kind of person. They lived over there. 
Jim would take Mrs. Blake and Mrs. Thomas to do their grocery 
shopping, so he was gone part of the time. 

You know, ten-and-a-half acres if you can walk around it 
you're doing pretty good. You also have to remember that there was 
no irrigation system here; it was all three-quarter inch pipes that 
they put in as they developed the garden. Half of it was leaking, 
so if we turned two sprinklers on down there we got no water up 
here. It was a real chore, and actually very little was 
accomplished while any of the Blakes were alive as far as improving 
the status of either the house or the garden. 

Riess: It was sort of the last ditch. 

Vodden: Right. 

Riess: Did she enjoy walking people through the gardens? 

Vodden: Oh, nobody came, and she wouldn't take anybody through unless they 
were old friends or something like that. Now, you do have on your 
list Igor Blake and Mrs. Thacher. Particularly Mrs. Thacher used 
to come out once in a while when she was still alive. After Mrs. 
Blake died Mrs. Thacher said, "Walter, you should have something 
from the house." So she gave me two Royal Doulton pieces: a 
chocolate pot that came from Shreves and has Mrs. Blake's initials 
on the sterling silver top; and an ewer that came from the house. 
Mrs. Thacher was left all the European china as I remember. 

Riess: That's nice. So her social life while you were around 


Vodden: Was nil. Nil. I wasn't here in the evenings of course at that 
time I was commuting from South San Francisco but there was no 
entertaining, no dinner parties. I think when you talk to Igor he 
will tell you that dinner parties here at the Blake House were a 
tradition, and I think on Sunday night all the clan gathered here 
for their final well, not final, but their Sunday dinner. 

Riess: [laughs] 

Vodden: The reason I said "final" was because after Mrs. Blake had died 
they had the last supper here, kind of a wake dinner, when they 
finished up all the old wine that had been around. It was right 
after that dinner that the first editions of the books that I knew 
were in the library here disappeared, too. But I don't blame them 
for that at all. They must have had their feelings hurt a little 
bit. I think it was Igor that got the dining furniture, and he 
also ended up with the stained glass window that used to be in the 
entrance hall, and the grandfather clock, and a few things like 

Riess: They felt they had been by-passed in favor of the University? 

Vodden: I have a feeling that there might have been some animosity, that 
here the University's getting all of this, and even in those days 
the property must have been worth a substantial amount. I only saw 
Igor during the funeral period, but to the best of my knowledge 
Igor never really came out again after she was gone. Mrs. Thacher 
used to come out once in a while. Have you talked to her? 

Riess: I'm going to talk to her in a week or so. 

Vodden: She can tell you a lot of stories about the family get-togethers 
and all of that, which I have no knowledge of. 

Riess: We haven't talked much about Anson Blake. 

Vodden: Anson was a great old guy. He was I think ninety when he died, and 
he was in good shape. He was driving his car up until a year or 
two before he died, and never did I ever see Anson standing in the 
front here talking when there was a lady present that he didn't 
have his Panama hat off in his hand a perfect gentleman. He had a 
little goatee, a dark blue or black suit looked like the same suit 
all the time. Always very polite, very nice, very congenial. Not 
a great conversationalist as far as I was concerned. I don't think 
he had the same attitude that she had though. He wanted to be 
helpful. He fell on the front steps and broke his hip, and they 
called an ambulance, and they hauled him away. He came back, and 
he was here for another week or two. He had trouble getting around 
so they had a private nurse with him here all the time. Somewhere 
along the line he fell again, and they hauled him off to the 
hospital again, and then that was the last we saw of him. 


Riess: You described Mrs. Blake as sitting at the table, having lunch. It 
sounds like she was by herself, she wasn't really with her husband 
or with Miss Symmes. 

Vodden: I'm primarily talking about the time after he was gone. He died in 
'59, and she died in '62, so there was a fair time in between that 
she lived here alone. Her sister was with her for a while but then 
her sister died and she was here all alone except for the cook that 
was in the house. 

Riess: I see. That's why. 

Vodden: So who was she going to be sitting with? Are you asking, did she 
have lady friends in for lunch or tea? I never saw it happen, and 
if Mrs. Thacher came out or something like that maybe they had a 
cup of tea together or something. But she was by herself, and so 
really the cook, or we in the garden, were her only company outside 
of the twenty-six cats. She was alone. I have no way of knowing, 
but I suspect that she went to bed very early. I can't really 
remember that far back to remember when she came out to start 
supervising us in the morning. If my recollections are anywhere in 
the ballpark at all, we probably had until ten o'clock or so when 
we could go about and set sprinklers and do what we thought we had 
to before we knew that she was going to be out to start giving 
instructions. She probably had things to do in the house. 

Personal Supervision of the Gardens 

Riess: Did you ever have any actual showdowns with her about anything? 

Vodden: No, I don't think so. I don't remember having an argument, or 

either one of us saying a harsh word to each other. Probably when 
I turned my back and walked away I had a few things to say, but I 
think one of the few good traits I have is that things don't upset 
me. I'm usually very calm and collected and if something all of a 
sudden I know is going to happen in the garden, and people are 
running around like chickens with their heads cut off because they 
want things to look nice or something, I like to feel that I'm 
always very calm and collected and don't have problems that way. I 
don't have that much of a temper. If I do anything, I sulk. I'm 
not vocal, I don't come out and say, "The heck with you." 

Riess: You said something earlier in another context, but it's probably 
valuable, that you didn't get hung up on the details, it was the 
larger picture. 


Vodden: Oh, yes. No, we couldn't, there was no way. She was in love with 
the details. She would have us dig a hole, sitting on her stool 
there, and we'd fill it full of leaves, and then, when it was 
planting time which might be six months later she would know 
where the holes were. The leaves would be all rotted, and we'd go 
back to the hole and plant something in it. I guess by that time 
certain things become important to you and other things do not, but 
by this time the place, as I say, was a shambles. One of the first 
jobs I had was to trim the boxwood hedge out here in the formal 
garden area. The boxwood hedge at that time hadn't been trimmed in 
years, so it was all over the paths, up and around and all over the 
place. She was very deliberate, she knew exactly where she wanted 
it trimmed. She'd come out, and we'd put the string across, and 
that's where I was to trim it. 

Riess : 

One of the biggest arguments that I heard she and her sister 
have was when we were trimming those shrubs around where the pagoda 
pool is, that has that tall oriental pagoda in it over there. The 
pittosporums that were in there had grown for years and years and 
hadn't been touched, so Miss Symmes and I took a piece of string 
and put it around there, and this was where I was to cut them. 
Mrs. Blake came out and saw where we had the string, and said "Oh. 
no, you can't prune it there 1" and she immediately lit into her 
sister not me. So her sister walked away in a huff. 

You have to remember that her sister was living here kind of 
as a guest. It was her sister's and her husband's home, and she 
had living space upstairs. I have no way of knowing, but I doubt 
that she was paying any room or board or anything like that. So 
she was living there as their guest, and there was no way she could 
get so perturbed that she would say, "Well, I'm going to move," 
because I don't think she could have lived by herself. So I think 
they were a great deal of support in their old age to each other, 
particularly after Anson died. 

Did Anson care about the garden? 

Oh, yes. Earlier I used to hear all kinds of stories about this 
being his favorite tree over here the white oak which we 
eventually took out and how he'd planted the hemlocks that were 
down below the redwood canyon. She used to tell me how when they 
had the dry years they'd all get out themselves and water, all 
three of them. He was very much involved with the garden, although 
I don't think he was knowledgeable as far as botanical names of 
plants and that kind of thing. Also you have to remember that he 
was involved with business, the quarry and the street-paving 
business, so he had other things on his mind. 

One of the stories that I started to mention before, that I'd 
heard rumors about, was that when he'd go down to the YMCA and get 
involved with the dancing he was a regular old cutup. He was 


Vodden: having a ball while Aunt Anita was home, probably tending plants. 
I don't know how true that is, but maybe if you hear it again 
you'll begin to put some credence to it. 

Riess: This is in his earlier days, in his salad days. 

Vodden: My knowledge of him wasn't that close; we saw him coming and going 
in the morning, or if we needed something he'd bring us a shovel 
back, or he'd stop and say, "How are things going?" but that's 
about what it amounted to. 

Riess: Did she tell you stories of the earlier days? 

Vodden: No. She never told any stories about any parties or socializing 
they had here, and they must have had some. 

Riess: But when you'd be working together, working on a particular plant 
or corner of the garden, did she talk about how it had evolved, or 
where she had gotten this or that? 

Vodden: No. The thing that surprises people about the Blakes the most I 

think is that they were great collectors, and they collected these 
plants from all over the world, but they never travelled them 
selves. It was always someone else that went somewhere, or some 
nurseryman that had collected it from somewhere, or it was through 
the Berkeley botanical gardens that they were able to get certain 

We had growing down in that far corner some dawn redwoods that 
came from seeds that Dr. [Ralph] Chaney brought back from the 
original seeds. She did tell me once along that same line I'm 
pretty sure it was she and not Miss Symmes that all the Cyclamen 
Neapolitanum that we had growing over there was smuggled in to her 
in the toe of a shoe of a friend returning from Europe. 

I have some photographs, in fact I have some slides of the 
house over there in our file, that show the house with nothing 
planted around it. The pool is all bare out here, there's 
absolutely nothing there. There was a little fallen-down 
greenhouse over there that I guess they used when it wasn't falling 
down, where they started things. 

Riess: She must have been really good. 

Vodden: She was very involved. Horticulture was her life in her later 

days. Earlier I think she used to like riding horses, and I think 
at one time they had a horse here on the property, until the 
neighbors complained and made them take it off. Where they kept 
the horses I don't know; there was a lot of open space in those 


Vodden: But you asked when we were talking and planting or pruning 

together, whether she ever spoke about herself; I don't ever recall 
her mentioning her life. If we were talking at all. other than 
about the thing we were pruning or planting, it was probably 
something that I brought up telling her about my son or my wife, 
or that I got stuck in the commute traffic something like that. 
As you have discovered, I like to talk. It's hard to be with 
somebody without saying something. 

California Horticultural Society Meetings 

Riess: You must have represented the world coming into her life, towards 
the end. 

Vodden: Well, prior to that she used to go to the California Horticultural 
Society meetings in San Francisco. I don't know exactly when she 
stopped going, but as soon as I came here, it became my job to go 
over there. She had a lot of unusual material here, and when it 
was meeting time over in the Academy of Sciences, once a month, 
she'd select one or two things for me to take over. Elizabeth 
McClintock was there and all these people. When you take something 
over, during the second half of the program you have to get up and 
explain to them what it is and where it came from. To this day I 
don't know whether it was that she thought it was a good 
opportunity for me to get involved over there which would be nice 
if I thought she really felt that way or whether it was because 
she wanted them to know that the place was still over here and 
things were still going on. 

Riess: Sounds like you understood her psychology pretty well, though. 
Vodden: Part of my wisdom came in later years, with older age. 


The University and the Blake Estate 

Department of Landscape Architecture Faculty 

Riess : I'd like to review the people from the University who had an 

official association with the gardens. Harry Shepherd how did he 
fit into all this? 

Vodden: I had no contact with Shepherd except that I do have some of his 
papers and lists over in the files in the office. He had a very 
extensive plant material list, of what to grow in saline soil or in 
a windy location, what to grow to attract hummingbirds, and that 
kind of thing. I have a lot of that in my files over there. So I 
never had any contact with him; it was Punk Vaughan by this time. 

Riess: Did you have a schedule of reporting to Punk Vaughan, or to the 

Vodden: There was never any of that. I kept logs over there for years, and 
nobody ever looked at them. Mostly time logs how much time it was 
taking to do this, how much time I'd have to water in case 
somebody said, "Well, what are you doing out there all the time?" 
In fact, there's been very very little contact between the 
department and myself, particularly in the latter years. Mai 
Arbegast, as time went on, failed to publish, so eventually she no 
longer was assistant pro-fessor. she was turned down for tenure. 
Pretty soon she was a lecturer, pretty soon' half-time lecturer, and 
pretty soon third-time lecturer. But finally she just got fed up 
with the whole thing and quit. 

Riess: Then it was Robert Raabe, wasn't it? 

Vodden: Dr. Raabe is still over there, and he's a plant pathologist. What 
happened is that the department had to have some kind of liaison 
between myself and the department, because we were three miles 
away. You also have to remember that not too long after all of 


Vodden: this took place they moved into the new building, and so they were 
very much involved in Wurster Hall and getting things set up there. 
We were just here. 

At that time they had what they called an acting director, and 
they really weren't directors because the job is not of a large 
enough scale to have a director at the University's standards. I 
don't know what the financial arrangement was, but I don't think 
they got paid very much. Their job was to be there if I had a 
problem so I had somebody to call in the department and say, "What 
do we do next?" Bob Raabe is still over there in plant pathology, 
and he's a great friend of ours. He was very much involved. But 
none of these people ever came out here and told us what to do. 

It was always up to me, and I just went ahead and did what I 
thought should be done. I knew that if I went over there and said, 
"Should we take this tree out over here?" that they would have to 
form a committee, get all the landscape architects over there and 
discuss this for weeks on end, and finally maybe we'd take it out. 
So I just went ahead and did things good, bad, or indifferent. I 
feel very strongly about the people I hired in the garden. I went 
out of my way to hire intelligent people that know what they're 
doing. They may know a whole lot better than I about what to do. 
I told them to go ahead and do it, unless it's something major. 

Riess: I think after Bob Raabe it was Gerry Scott. 

Vodden: She retired from being a professional landscape architect, and I 

guess she didn't want to be strictly retired so she was hired as a 
lecturer in the Department of Landscape Architecture. She also 
taught Extension classes out here. Gerry Scott was one of the best 
things that ever happened to this garden. She was known as the 
"ruthless Mrs. Scott." She would come out here with different 
colored tape and say, "Walter, I want you to put blue tape around 
this, and that means, 'prune'; we'll put red tape around this one, 
and that means, 'take it out 1 ." She's the one that's responsible 
for cleaning things up, getting things open, taking trees out. She 
was just wonderful. 

When the University decided that they were going to use it for 
the President's House she was hired to do the design work for the 
entrance way, and changed the circle a little bit. She designed 
the stucco walls in the inner gate. They also had a chain-link 
fence all the way around here to kind of separate this from the 
rest of the garden this was to be the president's little thing. 
There were gates all over. She was responsible for having the 
outdoor lighting put in. The architects that did the remodeling 
were responsible for the gallery and the servants' quarters that 
were added on the back. She consulted with them on the steps down 
in back, the lawn down in back, so she was really very much 
involved, insofar as the department was concerned. 


Vodden: Gerry Scott by this time is having a lot of physical problems, and 
I haven't seen her in ages. But she was the only director that we 
had that really came out here and said, "All right, let's do 
this" and we did it. 

Riess: She put together a long-range plan.* 

Vodden: Yes, and she spent a lot of time on cost estimates to make it an 
environmental design research center. This was one of the times 
when they were looking for something to do with the house. She got 
absolutely no response from anybody. Felt a little mad about that. 
Of all the people, she's the only one that was really interested in 
what happened out here. When we had all the freeze damage, she 
helped get some funds for replacing a lot of the things that we 
lost in the freeze. Finally she retired. At about that time Russ 
Beatty was working with her. Because she couldn't spend that time, 
Russ Beatty was working with her. But he didn't want to get 
involved out there because he was turned down for tenure. He got 
turned down for tenure, and then he had a review a while back and 
he got turned down for that, so the last I heard he was half-time 

For the last several years we had no liaison person. We had 
a chairman, Russ Beatty, of the Blake Garden Committee, which never 
met. If I had a problem I would call the Blake Garden Committee or 
go directly to the chairman of the department, whoever it happened 
to be at that time. 

The only other chairman we had that was really interested in 
this place was Garrett Eckbo, and he and his wife almost moved into 
the house. Just before Hitch was appointed president, during the 
Free Speech Movement, Garrett Eckbo had retired from his practice 
down south and moved up here, and he and his wife were looking for 
a place to stay, and he said, "Maybe we'll move into the house." I 
don't know why anybody would have wanted to live there at that 
time because it was a shambles, but Garrett of course is a very 
artistic person, so they decided yes, they'd like to live in it. 
But the University would give no guarantee that they could stay any 
length of time. 

It was shortly after that when Charles Hitch was appointed. 
Hitch lived in a little house on Hilldale off Marin and it wasn't 
big enough to entertain or anything, so that's when they came in 
and spent the million dollars or whatever it was for "Hitch's 
pad. "* 

*See Appendices, Y, NN. 


Riess: So essentially then the gardens are still Gerry's design, you would 

Vodden: They are Miss Symmes 1 design I would assume with vast alterations 
by Mrs. Blake. Gerry Scott was only responsible for the entrance 
road design, the parking lots, the big turf over in the front. 
There's quite a bit of Gerry Scott when you get right down to it. 

Riess: I shouldn't have said her design, but she did change it radically? 

Vodden: She never changed it really radically, I don't think. The front 
area, there's some trees and shrubs, but the design concept is 
still there. Right now you might know these have to go out because 
they're much too large. They're way out of scale, and we've cut 
them back so many times one of them's dead already. They all have 
to come out and be replanted. [Referring to trees alongside pool.] 

But design-wise it's still pretty much the same. For instance 
in the front here we put in all this brick patio with student help 
and rebuilt the fence, but before there was lawn up here, so the 
design really hasn't changed that much. In the redwood canyon 
we've taken some things out, and we've lost some things in the 
storm, but it's pretty much the same. What we call the cut flower 
garden, over on the far side where the big turf is, that has 
changed. That's where the old tool house, chicken coops and old 
lathe house used to be. Now it's turf. But basically it hasn't 
changed that much. 

Riess: Gerry said that she started pruning and clearing much against many 
peoples' wishes. 

Vodden: That's why I was saying she was called the "ruthless Mrs. Scott." 
But Gerry Scott had a great deal of vision. She had been in the 
business a long time, and had done a lot of rejuvenation work. She 
did a lot of work at the world's fair on Treasure Island, so she 
knew what she was doing. She could look at a tree and she'd say, 
"Walter, let's take these out." I'd think, "She's out of her mind, 
what does she want to take this out for?" But almost invariably, 
when it was out we were much better off. I can't think of anything 
she did that I would say was a mistake. 

New Financial and Moral Support and Interest 

Riess: There must have been some money then because taking out trees is 

Vodden: Taking out trees is expensive, but you also have to remember that 
we always did have an excellent relationship with the Berkeley 


Vodden: campus facilities management. Ari Inouye was the campus landscape 
architect at that time and was in charge of campus work, and at 
that time they had their own tree people. We'd call Ari up and Ari 
would come out and look at the job and give us a very modest 
figure, send his tree man and helper out, and do the work for us. 
He took out several pinus canariensis right in here. We had 
practically no budget at all. 

The biggest thing that ever happened to us was fairly 
recently, when David Gardner became president. Even though they're 
not living in the house he came over to make an appointment and had 
me take him all around the garden and explain to him what we were 
doing. We got over in our office in the far corne and he said, 
"Well, what do you need?" Just like that. I said, 'Well, the 
first thing I need is to get the man- and -a- half back that I lost 
fifteen years ago when the University came on hard times," because 
originally there were five of us here, and then we ended up with 
three-and-a-half. He said, "Well, you've got it." I said, "Our 
tractor's twelve years old and it's falling apart." "We might as 
well do everything at once," he said. So we got together a list of 
things, and I included in it things like $3,000 for tree work. X 
number of dollars for path repair, X number of dollars for new 
equipment, X number of dollars for this and that, and the man-and- 
a-half back again. And we got it all. Almost doubled our budget 
just like that. 

We were on the list in 1958 to get our new irrigation system 
here. We asked for $10,000 because that was the estimate we got 
from the landscape irrigation consultant for an upgraded automatic 
system. It came through ten years later when Hitch was appointed 
president of the University, so it was always in my mind that 
that's why it came through then. And then $10,000 by this time 
would only do half of it, if that. So we worked with virtually no 
money. You have to remember that the Blake garden is part of the 
Department of Landscape Architecture. The Department of Landscape 
Architecture is part of the College of Environmental Design. A 
budget goes in to the College of Environmental Design and it starts 
filtering down into the landscape department, and maybe we're going 
to get some of what we've asked for. Particularly when there was 
really no correlation between the department and us out here. To 
this day Merritt College and Diablo Valley College use this garden 
more than our department. 

Once in a while they have a hypothetical design problem out 
here. One time I asked them about a real design problem: I'd 
always wanted to put in a lake over in the Australian hollow, so I 
asked Michael Laurie, one of the professors over there, to give the 
problem to his design class to find out not what it's going to 
look like when it's all finished but how much water do we have to 
have coming in and going out, what do we have to do to the soil to 
hold the water, how deep should it be, this kind of thing. He gave 


Vodden: it to his class, and what we got is a whole drawer full of 

beautiful sketches of lakeside plantings with tea houses and all 
this kind of thing. There's never been any money until recently. 
and John is still complaining about not having any money. [John 
Norcross, Senior Botanical Garden/Arboretum Manager, Blake Garden] 

Our department back to teaching plant material if you know 
they're only teaching two classes you know they're not coming out 
here very often, they're using the campus or visiting other gardens. 
On rare occasions they're coming out here, but the Merritt College 
classes are out here quite often, and an Albany adult education 
class comes out at least once during the term. When Andy Gotzenburg 
is teaching down there he brings his class up here for a field trip. 

On rare occasions recently I had some independent study 
students from the landscape department. They would go to their 
adviser and make a proposal to come out here and do some kind of a 
project, or give a reason for being here. The adviser would then 
okay it, and they would come out here. I would put them to work 
for eight hours a week on this particular project or something 
general, and then at the end of the semester I would write a letter 
of recommendation for pass or no pass. Then their professor would 
have them write a paper on their experience out here. So we would 
get something, we would get eight hours of work from them. They 
would also get three units of credit and much experience. But it 
happens very rarely. 

Riess: It sounds like it's hard to rationalize this place as a teaching 

Vodden: That's been our problem all along. It is an excellent teaching 

facility, but only because we have the kind of people working here 
that will take the time to teach the individuals that did come out. 

Riess: It seems to me that President Gardner might as easily have said, 
"It looks like it's time to cut back." 

Vodden: Oh, absolutely, but he's never been that way. I have a very strong 
feeling that someday this place will no longer be under the 
Department of Landscape Architecture; it'll be under University- 
wide domain or it will revert to Facilities Management, which will 
do the maintenance on it. That's mostly what it is. 

Either they have to spend a lot of money and make it a 
showplace that people will come from all over to see . We do get 
a lot of visitors from all over. We're listed in the horticultural 
publications as one of the gardens to visit, and every once in a 
while somebody from back east or Texas drops in. In two weeks the 
American Society of Landscape Architecture is having their national 
convention in San Francisco, and there will be about three hundred 
of them out here visiting the garden. 


Riess : 

Riess : 



When you described President Gardner saying, "Well, what do you 
need?" that reminded me of President Sproul's manner. I wanted to 
ask you whether Sproul dropped in here. 

I never had much contact with Sproul because he was just going 
out; Kerr was president then, and they weren't living here. So the 
first president I had contact with was Hitch. 

Would Mr. and Mrs. Hitch come out to talk about the garden? 

When he had been president for a very short time they set up a 
luncheon. He, Hitch, came home from work, and Mrs. Hitch was here, 
and they had Tsang Mo Tsui (the live-in servant at the house at 
that time). They invited me for lunch so that I could come in and 
explain to them what was happening out here. We had excellent 
relations with the Hitches. The Hitches invited my wife and me to 
a reception they had here for one of their long-time horticultural 
friends and to a couple other social things. We got along fine. 

I wasn't saying that your relations were poor, but just that there 
was no one who was really interested. 

You could talk with Mrs. Hitch, I had more contact with her, but 
half the time you knew she was thinking about something else. We 
didn't get any financial help from them. When the Saxons were 
here, Mrs. Saxon, who is a living doll, because she was lonely here, 
she'd come out and work with us or talk with us, or invite us in to 
have ice cream and brownies on anybody's birthday. Every Christmas 
she'd have us in for luncheon. 

The one thing that I asked her husband, David Saxon, to do for 
us because I was having problems with our chairman over there and 
had a big battle with them he refused to do because he felt he 
couldn't interfere with department policies. I always thought, "If 
he couldn't do it, who can?" He is the one that cut out the power 
and the lights because we had no money, and we never got an extra 
nickel from him. That's why I was floored when I stood over there 
with David Gardner and he said, "Well, what do you need?" Just 
like that. He's going to be good for the University, he's a very 
positive person. 

The situation up here is unusual in that we have some contact 
with the presidents of the University, and most departments don't. 
When I had the retirement party over here, Mrs. and Mr. Hitch and 
both the Gardners were there, and if the Saxons had been in town 
they would have been here too. Not many people lower down in the 
University complex can say this. I've had two presidents here, and 
Mr. Gardner gave me a beautiful Tiffany crystal paperweight 
engraved with the University seal on it. I'm very much 
appreciative of that aspect of my job. The best thing that ever 
happened was when the University decided to fix the house up. 


Vodden: Otherwise I don't know what would have happened here. It was a 
shambles. They've done a nice job on it and it's a comfortable 
house now. While you're sitting here you feel like you could put 
your feet up on the coffee table if you really wanted to. 

Riess : It's not too imposing. 
Vodden: They've done a nice job. 

Riess: In 1967, $60,000 went into the garden. Was that just as the 
Hitches were coming in? 

Vodden: Yes, that must have been at that time. It was in 1962 that we 
built the headhouse, so that money was probably the outdoor 
lighting, the stucco walls, the upper parking lot that kind of 

The Monastery and the Neighbors 

Riess: I want to ask you whether there's anyone at the monastery who would 
have been a friend of Mrs. Blake's or Miss Symmes'? 

Vodden: I doubt it very much. Have you been up there at all? 
Riess: No. 

Vodden: It's a Carmelite monastery, so if you go up there there's a little 
reception room about half the size of this as you go in, and 
there's a big wall over here with a turntable, with a solid 
lattice-work thing on it. You push the bell and wait a while, 
maybe you push it again, and pretty soon you hear some feet coming. 
Then you'll hear a voice from behind the screen asking you what you 
want. If you've brought them something we used to take flowers or 
mail up there once in a while you put it on the turntable and the 
turntable turns around to the back. 

When we put the parking lot up there, since it's their 
entrance route too, the University didn't want to go ahead and tear 
it all up. There was just a little narrow road going there. So 
they wrote a letter to the Mother Superior asking if she had any 
ideas, asking what they could do to meet their needs too as they 
were doing it. The Mother Superior wrote back and said that she 
didn't really remember what it looked like out in the front because 
when she came in, they came in by car, and it had been so many 
years that she hadn't been out. She had no idea what the outside 
world was like, or what was happening out there. They had a young 
lady up there, Lorraine, who would get their mail and things like 


Vodden: that. But that was the only contact we had, and that was years 
ago, and I'm sure the Mother Superior has changed by this -time. 
There's only about eight of them there. 

Some years back we lost a tree alongside the fence over there, 
and the Mother Superior sent Lorraine over with two twenty-dollar 
bills in a card for me, with a little note from her saying that she 
was sorry that the tree had died and that they felt somewhat 
responsible because a man on their side had done something or 
other. It wasn't his fault at all. so I sent the forty dollars 
back with a little note saying that I couldn't accept it and that 
they hadn't been at fault, and that I was sure that they could find 
some worthy cause for their donation. 

I will say that when I retired I got a very nice card from 
them signed by the Sisters of the Carmelite. Somebody keeps them a 
little bit informed. I think once in a while they'll have a 
visiting priest or something that's visiting them up there, who 
gets lost or has an accident and wanders around down here. But 
that's the only contact. 

The Mother Superior wrote to ask about the original land 
grant. The Mother Superior was interested in knowing who the 
original land belonged to, so Mrs. Blake wrote a handwritten letter 
about who the land belonged to and how it was acquired. 

Riess: There was no other prior history of relationship? 

Vodden: No, because when Edwin Blake died that property was sold. [The 

house was purchased by Noel Sullivan.] The part that the house is 
on went to the Carmelites from the monastery, and the rest of it, 
which is way up in there, was sold off because that's Jepson Court 
and Anson Way, and part of it was all sold off. There were 
actually three divisions of the family you may know all this: 
part of it was below Highgate Road, and then this section, and then 
Edwin Blake's. My understanding is that the people that were 
supposed to get the part down below Highgate Road were back East 
and weren't really interested in it, so that was sold, and part of 
this was sold. 

Riess: Are there any neighbors I could talk to who knew the Blakes? 

Vodden: Mrs. Barchfield if she'll talk to you. Her name used to be Agnes 
McCormick. They bought the property from the Blakes. That's the 
little corner where their house is, over there. She was married to 
Bill McCormick, who was an architect, and Agnes worked like a dog 
and helped him build the house, and they put the roof on it 
together. She taught school, and then somewhere along the line 
they had difficulties and separated, and eventually divorced. I 
guess her part of the settlement was the house. 


Vodden: She lived down there for a number of years, and she was a good 

friend of Mrs. Blake's, so she probably could all you things about 
it. Somewhere along the line she met Mr. Barchfield, and they got 
married late in life I suspect rather for companionship. She's 
been quite ill, she's had cancer, and cobalt treatment, and all 
kinds of things. Mr. Barchfield is stone deaf, so it's very 
difficult to talk to him. 

Riess : Maybe I'll write a note.* 

Vodden: Yes. They're over in #1 Norwood Place. Our mailing address over 
there is #2. They bought the property from the Blakes, and they 
wanted the property over there to the middle of the stream it's 
not a stream but actually a storm drain. The very night the deal 
was to go through Mrs. Blake said, "No, they couldn't have it," 
because she wanted both sides of the stream to plant on. So as a 
conse-quence their property is up on the back part. At that time I 
guess there was a little animosity going back and forth, but they 
were friends, and she used to come over here to see how things were 

Riess: Paint a picture for me, before we end this, of Mrs. Blake and how 

she got herself up for gardening, what she wore. You said she wore 
a smock? 

Vodden: Oh, yes, a smock and a big hat to keep the sun off, because she did 
have skin cancer. Dr. Engles from Marin County used to come over 
and treat her here, burn the lesions off her face and what have 
you. He used to bring her big proteas that he grew in his place 
over there which used to make her very happy. 

Dr. Engles, after Mrs. Blake was gone, invited my wife and I 
over to luncheon over at their house. He had I don't know how many 
acres up above Paradise Cove in Marin County. He had gone down to 
the cemeteries in Colma and bought up a lot of old blocks of 
granite and marble and had them trucked up to his place, and it 
kind of looked like Stonehenge up there where he was growing these 
proteas. He had a manservant, lived alone. He gave us a gourmet 
luncheon. It was filet mignon, and he served this with silverware 
that he had hand-made himself in Sweden, when he was an apprentice 
silversmith. He had made all the silverware himself. He 
eventually became a doctor and lived over there. He since has 
died, otherwise you could talk to him. 

* Mrs. Barchfield was sent a request to talk, and through her 
husband, Mr. John Barchfield, the answer, for both of them, was 
"no" to taking part in a verbal or written addition to the oral 


Riess: Okay, Mr. Vodden, you're taking things in your hands and getting 
ready to leave, and so I will let you go! Thank you. 

Transcriber: Johanna Wolgast 
Final Typist: Shannon Page 


Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

Mai Arbegast 

An Interview Conducted by 
Suzanne B. Riess 
in 1986 

Copyright (c) 1988 by The Regents of the University of California 


Photograph by G. Paul Bishop 




Working with Anita Blake. 1952 273 

Introduction to Mrs. Blake and the Gardens 273 

Harry Shepherd, Mabel Symmes, Katherine Jones, and Due Credit 274 

Finding the Rare and Unusual Plant 277 

The University's Interest in the Blake Property 280 

The Horticultural Fraternity 281 

Miss Symmes 1 s Layout of the Gardens 284 

Anita Blake's Preference for Garden People 285 

The Public Blake Estate 290 

The Garden as a Teaching Tool 290 

Connection with other Bay Area Gardens and Nurserymen 293 

Transfer of the Property to the University, and Anita's Special 

Letters 294 



Mai Arbegast met Mrs. Anson Blake in 1952. Mrs. Arbegast was brought 
up to the Blake Gardens by Professor Harry Shepherd whom she was 
understudying to succeed in teaching plant materials in the University's 
Department of Landscape Architecture. Mai Arbegast was fifty years Mrs. 
Blake's junior, and Anita Blake was then a commanding octogenarian, but the 
two women had in common a consuming interest in plant materials and gardens. 
Mrs. Arbegast surveyed and inventoried the garden from 1958 to 1961. Her 
contact with Mrs. Blake in carrying out that assignment fostered a mutual 

Like Geraldine Knight Scott, Mai Arbegast can draw on a certain 
reservoir of outrage at how little constructive attention the Department of 
Landscape Architecture has paid to the Blake Garden. Mrs. Arbegast is 
really dedicated to teaching on site. She was known to the Regional Oral 
History Office because of her close association with Filoli, the Woodside, 
California showplace garden and home of Lurline Matson Roth which was 
documented by the oral history office. And she was helpful in making 
possible the two volume oral history, Thomas Church and the History of 
Landscape Architecture, 1978. 

Mai Arbegast has a very active landscape design practice and probably 
knows the gardens of Berkeley better than anyone else in the business. Her 
own garden is, as she describes it, "just full of plants." If it doesn't 
get constant tending it is because Mrs. Arbegast is a champion of other 
gardens, and adds garden tours of Japan and travels to Europe to her busy 

We met at Mai Arbegast's home in Berkeley one weekday morning. It was 
hard for this busy woman to find a time to do the interview, and it was even 
harder for her to get the edited transcript back! (She misplaced it in a 
remodelling move.) In retrospect I particularly appreciate her prompting me 
on the subject of Mabel Symmes 1 and Anita Blake's papers. I asked her 
initially where they were; her response of, "Well, where are they?" 
constituted a challenge. We located a good deal with the help of Blake 
Garden's Linda Haymaker who was similarly curious, and appended are excerpts 
from our "finds." 

Suzanne B. Riess 

December 18, 1987 
Regional Oral History Office 
486 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 


University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 

Your full name 


(Please print or write clearly) 


Date of birth 4flf tl f1l 

Place of birth 

Father's full name 


Mother's full name 



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i f- 

Where did you grow up ? 

// ; 

Present community /$tffc<C<C6?Y . 


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Special interests or activities 


Mai K. Arbegast 

Landscape Architect 

Horticultural Consultant 

1330 spruce street 

berkeley. California 94709 


Education: M.S. in Agriculture (Landscape Architecture), University 

of California, Berkeley, 1953; M.S. Ornamental Horticulture, 
Plant Breeding, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., 1949; 
B.A, Major Botany & Ecology, Oberlin College, Ohio, 1945. 

Registration: Licensed Landscape Architect, California License #126. 
Past Affiliations and Services: 

Member, Design Review Board of San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development 

Commission (BCDC), 1978-1984. 
Member, Board of Trustees, Filoli Center, Woodside, CA, 1976-1983(on Founding 

Member, Board of Directors, American Association of Botanical Gardens and 

Arboreta, U.S and Canada (representing public horticulture 1976-78). 
Member, Board of Directors, Strybing Arboretum Society, Golden Gate Park, 

San Francisco, CA 1968-73; 1975-78. 
Member, Board of Trustees, Saratoga Horticultural Foundation, Saratoga, 

CA 1965-1980. Past president. 
Member, Berkeley Planning Commission, City of Berkeley, CA, 1972-75; member 

Board of Adjustments; Waterfront Advisory Committee; Heritage 

Tree Program and Street Trees 1965-67. 



Mai K. Arbegast has practised full-time for 21 years (since 1966). Previous 
to that, part-time professional practice combined with part-time and full-time 
teaching at the University of California, Department of Landscape Architecture, 
Berkeley, CA for 13 years (from 1953-1966). 

Her work includes residential gardens, commercial projects, schools, wineries, 
parks, housing, street tree master planting plans, management and maintenance 
guidelines for future botanic gardens and arboreta, zoos, and cemeteries. Her 
work has been in the San Francisco Bay Area and all of California and Washington, 
midwestern and northeastern United States; with special emphasis on planting 
design, horticulture, urban forestry, ecological considerations, native and 
naturalized planting for difficult conditions, landscape horticultural 

Much of her work is serving as specialist and consultant in matters ecological, 
horticultural, and selection of plant palettes to architectural, engineering, 
and landscape architectural firms. 


Working with Anita Blake. 1952 
[Date of Interview: December 4. 1986] 

Introduction to Mrs. Blake and the Gardens 

Riess: Let's start at the point where you first met the Blakes. 

Arbegast: My first acquaintance with Mrs. Blake was really quite official. 
I think it was through Professor [Harry] Shepherd, who was 
teaching plant materials in the Department of Landscape 
Architecture and had been for many, many years. He was one of 
the first faculty members. He and Miss Symmes, Mrs. Blake's 
sister, were in class together, it seems to me [Class of 1914].* 
Professor Shepherd had had a stroke, and he took me up to 
introduce me to Mrs. Blake, and to let her know that I was going 
to help him. 

I was still doing graduate work, and I had taken no plant 
courses at all, simply because I had no time to take plant 
courses. I had a very good background in horticulture and botany 
from both Oberlin and Cornell, so when I came to Berkeley I 
concentrated on architecture, engineering, landscape 
architecture. I took no plant courses because everyone said, 
"With your background, you can learn the plants so quickly that 
there's no sense in your taking that kind of curriculum here; you 
need engineering and architecture." So they threw me into those 
courses and I almost sank, but I made it. 

I didn't get to know Mrs. Blake except kind of officially 
through Professor Shepherd. He introduced me to her as his 
assistant, someone who was going to understudy him, somebody who 
was going to take over his courses when he retired. 

*Mabel Symmes, UC '96, returned to study landscape architecture, 
1914. The Division of Landscape Gardening and Floriculture was 
established in 1913. 


Riess : He had been taking his classes up there for years? 

Arbegast: He had been going up there on and off in a very select sort of 
way, by appointment, to see her garden. She was very fond of 
Professor Shepherd. She always welcomed him. She was delighted 
to know that there was going to be someone who was interested in 
plants taking over his role. 

Riess: But what was his role vis-a-vis her garden? 

Arbegast: Nothing, he just used her garden. She was very generous in 

letting people come to the garden to visit who were interested 
in plants. She really was not interested in people who were not 
interested in plants. 

Riess: You mean in general she was not interested in people who were 

not interested in plants? 

Arbegast: I got that impression. She didn't have much to do with anybody. 
I thought she was kind of one-track-minded, but maybe that was 
just myself. I didn't know her personally that well, but I do 
know that when I was there we always had two or three-hour 
sessions. She was just delighted that I came because I knew 
a lot of plants, and her great delight was in kind of trying to 
get me to identify something that she knew that I didn't know, 
[laughs] It was an interesting experience, and I liked Mrs. 
Blake very much. 

Harry Shepherd, Mabel Symmes, Katherine Jones, and Due Credit 

Riess : 


Riess : 

Riess : 

What did Harry Shepherd say about the garden over the years? 
he make any comments about changes? 


No, he didn't say anything. We used to walk through the garden 
together and he would kind of describe it, but she did a much 
better job of description than he did. It was Miss Symmes who 
designed the garden in the first place. 

Are you talking in real landscape architecture terms? She 
"designed" it, but it was planted by Anita? 

It was planted by Miss Symmes and Mrs. Blake. 
I've gotten to think of her as "Anita." 

It's hard for me to think of her that way "Mabel" and "Anita" 
no, I can't do it, sorry. [laughs] Anyway, the two ladies were 
very much involved with it, and so was Miss Katherine Jones. 


Arbegast: Miss Jones was a lady who taught plants in the department before 
Professor Shepherd. She wrote a number of monographs on vines, 
and acacias, and things like that. I remember when Professor 
Shepherd gave me his materials, there were all of these notes and 
notes and notes of Miss Jones's I don't know how many carbon 
copies of everything she made. 

Riess : I've heard she was a wonderful teacher from other interviews; 

isn't she the one who would reward with raisins?* 

Arbegast: Yes, raisins and prunes. And she was very influential in that 

garden. I think you will probably get more from Gerry Scott who 
had a chance to see the garden as a student, and who maybe had a 
chance to see it over the years. Perhaps she did not. I don't 
know what her relationship was to Miss Jones. I know Miss Jones 
was her teacher, and then Harry Shepherd came after Miss Jones. 

I didn't know Katherine Jones; I just have a picture of this 
lady who wore black, broad-brimmed hats, and kind of a cape. I 
can't honestly say that I've ever seen a picture of Katherine 
Jones, but I think I have: somebody who wore kind of a longish 
robe or skirt with button-top shoes and always carried a bag of 
raisins and prunes. [laughs] That's my image a person who was 
extremely precise. 

These people in those days did an enormous amount of 
corresponding. Katherine Jones corresponded a great deal with 
Ben Morrison at the National Arboretum back and forth, back and 
forth letters about acacias, about vines. The monographs that 
she did were extremely thorough, and I'm sure that Miss Symmes 
had much to do with helping Katherine Jones. I have a feeling 
that Miss Symmes was kind of helping Katherine Jones in the 
background, financially, and with support. [Mabel Symmes and 
Katherine Jones, 1860-1943, were both UC '96.] She had all of 
Katherine Jones's stuff, and it was in duplicate, triplicate, 
quadruplicate and quintuplicate. I've seen this before, and I 
knew they didn't have Xerox in those days. It was all on thin 
tissue, typed. 

Riess: What year was it that you appeared on the scene then? 

Arbegast: I got my degree in 1953, so it must have been around 1952. 

Riess: And was it very formal, this relationship which you had 

with her? You went up at appointed times? 

*Thomas Church, Landscape Architect, an oral history interview 
conducted 1978, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft 
Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1978. 


Arbegast: I always called for an appointment. I mean, people don't do that 
these days, but I did. I called her to let her know I was 
coming. She was always waiting for me in the driveway, and we 
always walked through the garden. 

Riess: Did Miss Symmes accompany you? 

Arbegast: No. I guess it's kind of part of that past era and I find some 
clients who are older today treat me in a similar way when their 
designer or their student or whomever comes to them, that's a 
special time for them to be with that person alone. So the 
gardener didn't go around with us, and Miss Symmes didn't go 
around with us. Later on she would go in and tell her sister all 
about what we'd talked about, and she would tell the gardener all 
the things that we had discussed. 

I was just starting out as a student/professional so I would 
casually say, "Why don't you prune that?" or "Why don't you take 
that away and plant something else here?" not realizing that I 
shouldn't have been doing that, but I did. She appreciated that, 
and oftentimes she implemented it, but 

Riess: But in the role you shouldn't have been doing that. 

Arbegast: No, probably not. Because I was not her landscape architect, I 
was just there to learn plants. 

Riess: And Miss Symmes was still her landscape architect? 

Arbegast: Well, she was her landscape architect. I think after Miss Symmes 
designed the architectural features reflecting pond and the two 
formal gardens on the side, and the grotto, and the zigzag thing 
down below I think that was essentially Miss Symmes's role and 
any walls that had to be put in at that particular time like the 
rock walls on the west side of the house after that, I think 
Mrs. Blake and Miss Symmes worked out the planting, with Miss 
Jones in the background probably kibbutz ing. That would be my 
guess, and that those first major decisions about which trees to 
bring over, etc., were made by Miss Jones, Miss Symmes, and Mrs. 
Blake working together. That would be my own kind of general 
feeling about it. 

Riess: It would be nice to see that, observe that scene, see who did 

what in that. 

Arbegast: I'm always concerned when I read these articles and research 

reports about people, with so-and-so getting all the credit for 
doing something. You know very well that long before that person 
ever came, there was one person who did this, and another person 
who did that, and eventually the thing worked out so that it was 


Arbegast: really beautiful and an award could be given. But it's always 
given to the last person, and not necessarily to all the other 
people who were so important in making it come about. 

Recently the national organization of landscape architects, 
the ASLA, awarded their award of merit to two relatively young 
men, fifty years old, who designed a portion of a garden that had 
been started many, many years ago. I remember sitting with the 
owner about thirty years ago and he was telling me how Tommy 
Church had done this, and how so-and-so had done that, and how he 
wanted such-and-such here. When the award was given none of that 
was expressed at all; it was all on this one person. The person 
isn't old enough to have done so many of the things because it 
was a carving out of a forest, a landscape that was quite aged, 
and it was a matter of selecting, making a decision as to what 
was to be selected, what was to be kept, what was to be taken 
away. The end result, which at this particular moment is 
beautiful, might be even more beautiful as it goes down the road 
of time, but it may be worse. You never can tell. But one 
person captures all of the glory for all of the other people who 
have been working so hard at it. That bothers me. 

Finding the Rare and Unusual Plants 

Arbegast: I look at the Blake Garden now and I realize how much more 

beautiful it is today than it was when I was there. It was a 
jungle when I was there, you couldn't see very far because 
everything was kind of crowded in. And Mrs. Blake didn't really 
like to have a lot of tree work done, so it had kind of "messy 
hair" that's the way I'd put it. 

Riess : There's a lot of supposition that Mrs. Blake would have loved 

what has happened to the gardens since 1962. 

Arbegast: Of course. I would say she would have loved what has happened if 
it was full of unusual materials. She was of the school I have 
met many people with this fascination for rare plants, 
particularly in my time in the east, in older gardens very old 
gardens that are two and three hundred years old, that have been 
redone and redone and redone. I found that there was a period of 
time and I think this was about forty, fifty, or sixty years 
ago where there was a great to-do over the unusual and rare 

Mrs. Blake belonged to many international societies. I 
first heard about the South African Society for Plants from Mrs. 
Blake because she was a charter member. She received seeds from 
them because she was a member; she was a member of just about 



Riess : 

Arbegast : 

Riess : 
Riess : 
Arbegast : 

Riess : 
Arbegast : 

Riess : 
Arbegast : 

Riess : 

every horticultural and botanical group in the world so that she 
could get their seeds. As a member you received seeds once a 
year. She propagated all of these seeds, and whatever came up 
and was unusual and nobody knew this was her greatest delight. 

That's how those groups function? As a member you receive seeds? 
As a member do you also send things in? 

Oh, sure. They have a seed-collecting time. For example, the 
California Horticultural Society and the U.G. Botanical Garden, 
and all of these groups, have a time when members bring in seeds, 
and it's oftentimes in the autumn, in October and November. Then 
there's a seed-packaging committee, and they make long, long 
lists, and if you go to the herbarium in the botany department at 
Berkeley you'll find these lists, lists and lists. The 
scientists are there combing through the lists to find out who is 
growing what, and what seeds are available, and then they send 
for those seeds. 

And they have to do it that year, don't they? 
The seeds have to be fresh. 
So it's exciting, it's fun. 

It's very exciting because most people like to know that their 
seeds are being distributed; whether they are pure seeds or 
whatever hybrids makes no difference, it's just the idea that 
they are making a contribution by disseminating certain seeds, 
and they in turn are receiving unusual seeds from other people. 

It sounds like a way to be connected to the rest of the world. 

It is. I don't think Mrs. Blake traveled much. 

She didn't travel in proportion to the exoticness of her garden. 

It's because she belonged to these plant societies. I don't know 
what happened to her books. Did they come to the landscape 
architecture library? 

I don't know. Are there books in the headhouse at the gardens? 

Oh, there are some things that she gave Walter Vodden, reference 
books, but it's not that good a reference library. 

How about lists of seeds, and the kind of material that you're 
referring to? 


Arbegast: That's the sort of thing that Mrs. Blake had under her bed.* 
Riess: Oh. dear. 

Arbegast: Yes, because those things were kind of precious to her, and she 
would always send out for those things. When the seed packets 
came that was a happy time. They always came around January or 
Christmas, I remember, and she'd open up her packages and say, 
"'Oh, look at this!" She had so many seeds that she never 
planted; it was just the idea of having the seeds. She planted 
many of them, but it depended. During the war I know she had a 
lot of seeds from before the war, but I don't know how much help 
she had during the war. And I don't know whether you have any 
records of things like that at all about the Blake Garden. 

Riess: No, not immediately accessible. I was wondering whether that 

kind of thing was in the headhouse. 

Arbegast: Those are the kinds of things that I remember saying to Walter, 
"Oh, it would be wonderful if we could get this information." I 
know when Miss Symmes died, most of her library went to the 
California Horticultural Society. 

Riess: Was she still propagating seeds when you came up to Blake House? 

Arbegast: Oh, yes. 

Riess: What were the facilities there? 

Arbegast: Very mediocre and very meagre. There was a little glass house 

next to the peacock run which is where the lawn is now, directly 
to the left of the driveway as you drive in. That used to be all 
of the propagating structures. There was a run-down greenhouse, 
and a run-down lath house all run-down because they were wood, 
that's all. It was in those little buildings that she propagated 
all of her seeds. 

Riess: And she would have ordered or made her own fine soils? 

Arbegast: Oh. she did her own, of course. She composted all of her 

Riess: She was out there digging at this advanced age? 

Arbegast: Oh, yes, she loved it! She was out in the garden every day, and 
she had something like twelve cats that followed her around. The 
place was just reeking with the smell of cats, but the cats kept 

*See p. 296. 


Arbegast: down the field mice and there were a lot of field mice and they 
kept down the gophers. She would proudly say to me, "Oh, this 
cat" whatever the cat's name was "brought me a beautiful gopher 
today." They all would bring them and lay them at her doorstep. 
That's what cats do, after all; they get praised for all of their 
good works. 

The greenhouse that is there is something that was added by 
me when I was working for the department as kind of the interim 
person who took care of the garden. 

The University's Interest in the Blake Property 

Riess : After 1952 when you were introduced to Mrs. Blake, then there was 

a five-year period before the gardens become University property, 
and you continued to have an apprentice-like relationship with 

Arbegast: Yes. That's a good word, apprentice. The one thing that I do 

remember, and it was one of my first lessons, is that since I was 
new at the University and didn't know too much about how to do 
what, Professor Shepherd, who was a very strong-minded man and 
kind of head of the American Legion on campus and that kind of 
thing, said to me: "Mai, I want you to understand one thing, and 
that is that Mr. and Mrs. Blake do not have any direct heirs. I 
know that they would be very comfortable giving their property to 
the University, and you have to remember that." 

He was the one who kind of drummed it into my head that I 
should be very nice to Mrs. Blake because there could be many 
rewards in it for the department. I was so young and innocent, I 
didn't know anything, but it taught me one thing, and that is 
that if you know that this could be the case, you should pursue 
it. Another thing that Professor Shepherd said to me was that 
Miss Symmes was independently wealthy, and that she probably 
would like to be a part of any gift that her sister was involved 
in. I didn't know what that meant at the time, but I realized 
later on, from the way Miss Symmes was hinting around to me, that 
she would like to leave an endowment to the department for the 
garden. I remember there was a good long period when I felt 
that, gosh, I should say something to somebody, but I don't know 
who to say it to. 

Riess: The gift to the University was of the house and garden, but with 

no endowment from the Blakes, is that correct? 


Arbegast: Yes. You see, Miss Symmes could have endowed it, but she died 

before Mrs. Blake. Mr. Blake died first, in 1959, and then Miss 
Symmes died in 1962 she tripped and fell in her room upstairs in 
the middle of the night, broke her hip and died of pneumonia in 
just a few days. She was younger than Mrs. Blake. Mrs. Blake 
died later in 1962. 

The Horticultural Fraternity 

Riess: Do you think Miss Symmes made money as a landscape architect? 

Arbegast: No. I think she may have designed some gardens for friends. 

There was a garden it doesn't exist any longer that I knew she 
had designed, which was very nice, very small, about the size of 
our backyard. It was quite formal. There's an apartment 
building there now. It's close to the campus. 

Riess: So you don't think she was out and around as an independent 


Arbegast: Not at all. If she was, it was on a very limited basis, and it 

was probably for friends of the family. I have only been able to 
dig up one garden of hers over the years. 

But there were quite a number of other women practicing in 
the area at the time which I didn't realize. Women don't 
practice in a way that they're noticed, you know, they're working 
quietly behind the scenes. There was an Adeline Frederick up 
here on La Loma who practiced until she was in her nineties, and 
there was a Cicely Christie who came from England and who 
practiced as a landscape gardener and did a number of nice 
gardens. I met her when she was something like eighty-five, and 
then she was moving from her little house to one of these 
condominium tower things in Oakland. I'm sure they had 
associations with other women landscape gardeners. 

Riess: Yes, that's a whole line of questioning that I want to pursue. 

Arbegast: I don't know a thing about it. 

Riess: [laughs] Don't say that so quickly. 

Arbegast: Well, I don't. 

Riess: Isabella Worn? 

Arbegast: Oh, yes. Her nephew is still alive, and he is over in San Rafael 
or San Anselmo, at Perry's Sunnyside Nursery [Donald Perry], 


Riess : Actually my question had to do with whether Mrs. Blake had a 

relationship with other horticulturists. 

Arbegast: Yes, absolutely. 

Riess: Do you know of any specific people? 

Arbegast: I don't know of any specific instances because I'm too young for 
that era, unfortunately. 

Mrs. Blake supplied plants on a regular basis to the 
California Horticultural Society meetings. It was her greatest 
pleasure on the third Monday of every month to take over a car 
full of greens of different kinds. They would be displayed under 
her name, and in the historical record of the California 
Horticultural Society she was one of the founding members. She 
was responsible for bringing in many, many new and unusual 
plants. * 

Riess: She would take cuttings, or did she take live plants? 

Arbegast: Oh, big branches, and she'd talk about them. 

Riess: And then if someone were interested, they could talk to her 

afterwards and get seeds? 

Arbegast: It's kind of interesting; she was of the era where you did not 
share your seeds or cuttings with people. 

Riess: Except through this seed 

Arbegast: Exchange business, yes. I'm not sure whether she did ever 
contribute any seeds. 

I met a lot of unusual and outstanding nurserymen just 
because they would come to visit her garden. I think she must 
have been a prolific letter-writer. She must have written to 
people a great deal asking about this plant or that plant or 
whatever. They all knew her garden as something that they would 
want to see because she would mention to them, "I have a Eugenia 
jambos," and everyone would say, "Nobody has a Eugenia jambos in 
the area." And so they would all make a point to come see her 

I was there a number of times when her garden was being 
viewed by a couple of nurserymen, and one was a man who used to 
come and covet certain plants in her garden. She actually made 

*See Appendices, LL. 


Arbegast: some of those nurserymen turn their coat pockets inside-out. You 
know, they might sneak a little seed here, or something that's a 
terrible thing to say, don't put that down! It's that world of 
plantsmanship that occurred about forty years ago when everyone 
would say, "I have a plant that nobody else has. By golly, 
nobody else has this plant, I've got it." 

There had been a display at the annual dinner of the 
California Horticultural Society, and there were these lilly 
pilly [Acmena smithi] seeds, a beautiful kind of purplish-mauve 
seeds that were in bunches as part of the table decor. I 
remember we looked at a plant that was growing in her garden and 
she said with a twinkle in her eye, "My plants came from seeds 
that were on the dinner table." [laughs] So she loved to do that 
kind of thing herself, which is kind of telling tales and I 
shouldn't say that. But she didn't like to share plants with 
other people unless they were special people, and the special 
people were always plant people. 

It was a regular presentation when she gave you a special 
plant. That was something very special because nobody else had 
it. So she was a very good friend of people like Victor Reiter, 
who was an eminent nurseryman at the time. Victor was terribly 
generous with everything; he was not of that school. [He would 
say,] "Take a little piece of this, try it." 

Riess: Isn't it true that in every garden a plant grows a little 

differently anyway? Like grapes, which are responsive to the 

Arbegast: Well, it is somewhat. But it's like people; you know, if you're 
at the Palace Hotel you look different there than on the 
Claremont Hotel tennis courts. Plants respond differently. But 
basically it's having that special plant that nobody else has. 
Today everybody's very generous and everybody exchanges freely, 
but thirty years ago this was not the case. 

Fortunately or unfortunately my background is such that I've 
known a lot about plants, and I happened to go to school at the 
right time and the right place when I went to Cornell, and I met 
a lot of very important people. I had immediate entre to their 
gardens, and people would be very generous and give me things, 
but I had no place to plant them. But the reason they were 
giving them to me was because they wanted me to have something 
special that nobody else had. In those days that was something 
very special. Today it's not like that at all; it's "anything I 
have you can have a piece of," from any garden, just about. 

Riess: Did the California Native Plant Society exist in the Anita Blake 



Arbegast: No. That was afterwards. 

Riess: The kind of garden that she created I know somewhat about the 

DuPont and Longwood gardens. Was she the same kind of person, 
accumulating the exotic? 

Arbegast: I honestly don't know. I didn't know enough gardens at that 

point, I wasn't that interested in garden design at the time and 
I hadn't read enough about it to know the character of the people 
who had those gardens to start with. 

Miss Symmes's Layout of the Gardens 

Riess: You said Blake Garden had "messy hair." It really doesn't sound 

like her interest was in the design of the garden. 

Arbegast: It wasn't. The backbones were all right, but everything there 
was to kind of cover up the backbone. If that garden had not 
been laid out in the certain formal way that it has, and had just 
been planted, you wouldn't see anything today. Because a lot of 
the trees are going to have to be replaced, they've gotten too 
old, and like all gardens, unless there's some sort of a basic 
structure to the garden . When I say "structure" I mean walls 
and paths and certain kinds of effects that don't deteriorate 
with time. Plants grow up and then they go down, whereas hard 
materials just kind of get older looking but they remain in 

You can see the structure of the garden as laid out by Miss 
Symmes. It's been changed, but you can see the various axes that 
Miss Symmes laid out that are all linked: from the front of the 
house looking east toward the grotto, or the reflecting pool; 
looking straight north there's a kind of a circle; and then 
there's a reservoir and a series of circles with dancing figures, 
etc. On a plan it has a very Italianate look. A lot of that 
look wouldn't still be there if Mrs. Blake had done it. If Miss 
Symmes hadn't laid it out it would have just kind of wandered 
around with all kinds of plants and would look like my garden, 
which is just full of plants. 

Riess: Was that ever acknowledged by Mrs. Blake? 

Arbegast: Not at all. Why should she acknowledge it? 

Riess: Oh, you might say to her, "This is such a wonderful garden," and 

she might say, modestly and graciously, "Well, it does have a lot 
of great stuff, but if it hadn't been for my sister Mabel " 


Arbegast: No, never. 

Riess : Did she ever reminisce about earlier stages of the garden with 


Arbegast: Only the very, very early stages, when it was such a struggle to 
establish the garden. It was so windy. It was a wind-swept 
hill with lots of wild animals and lots of field mice, but a lot 
of wind. Whenever she talked about it I got the feeling that the 
house was built in that manner to cut off the wind so they could 
have the garden on the leeward side. All the rest was very 
windy, and the wind swept up the redwood canyon. 

All those redwoods were cuttings taken from the redwood 
trees which were where the University Stadium now is. 

Riess: From their old address. 

Arbegast: Yes. The University, because they wanted that property, trucked, 
I think, three large loads of plants to the Blake garden. 

Riess: Miss Symmes was a frustrated teacher? 

Arbegast: Absolutely. Whenever I had a chance to be with Miss Symmes I 

learned a lot, but it was not easy to be alone with Miss Symmes 
if Mrs. Blake was there, just not possible. She was the top 

Anita Blake's Preference for Garden People 

Riess : 

Riess : 

How close was your relationship with Mrs. Blake? 

Arbegast: She was absolutely intrigued by my horticultural knowledge. 

She didn't ask anything about you as a person? 

Arbegast: Never. It was not personal; it was always academic. She knew I 
had worked for Liberty Hyde Bailey I let that slip one day. I 
didn't mean to, but that's something I'm very proud of. 

Riess: What is the significance of that? 

Arbegast: Liberty Hyde Bailey was the dean of American horticulture. He 
was ninety two when I was a graduate student at Cornell. I had 
worked in the hortorium there and he'd done this whole 
encyclopedia of horticulture from which so many other things have 
come. At that particular time Cornell was the school of 
horticulture in the United States. I'm not sure that it still 



Riess : 
Arbegast ; 

Riess : 

Arbegast : 

Arbegast ; 

Riess : 

is, but it's high up there. At the time that I went it was right 
after the war, and I was just very lucky to have gotten into the 
school. I did have the opportunity as part of my graduate 
studies and I was working my way through college to work in the 
hortorium under Liberty Hyde Bailey. 

I think that really impressed her, but we never talked about 
my personal background at all. We never talked about my roots, 
nothing. No, it was always about my scientific knowledge, which 
she respected highly. It was always very professional, not 
personal at all. I preferred to keep it that way. For example, 
I was never invited to lunch or dinner, or to have a cup of 
coffee with her never. Interesting, isn't it? 

Yes, you said she always met you on the driveway. 

Always, always on the driveway. It was toward the end when I 
met her in the house a couple of times. 

That was just because she was so feeble? 

Yes. We always sat and looked out at the garden from the 
windows, but it was always to talk about plants and things, 

I have a question here about how you think she felt about her 
garden a very "seventies" question was she like a mother with 
her children? 

Oh, yes, it was her substitute for children, absolutely. That I 
can absolutely attest to. That's why she was so precious about 
it. She was very precious about her garden. 

What do you mean by "precious?" 

She really didn't seek advice from people about changing it, she 
wanted to be the one to change it. Anybody who worked for her 
had to do what she wanted them to do, and there was very little 
opportunity to be independently creative in her garden. She knew 
what she wanted, and she knew where she wanted to put it, and the 
only thing you could say was that it might not grow there, it 
might be too shady or something like that. That's why I found 
later on that my saying to her, "Why don't you cut this," or "Put 
it there," probably was really an affront to her. I was applying 
those things that I knew, and I just had a feeling that she was 
not putting everything where it should go, but I'm not sure I 
should have said it, either. 

Riess : 

How about Mr. Blake? 
were there? 

Did he ever appear on the scene when you 


Arbegast: He was there, and he was always very pleasant, but the garden was 

Riess : 


Did he walk through the garden with the two of you? 
Miss Symmes wouldn't. 

You said 


Arbegast ; 

Riess : 
Arbegast : 

Riess : 

Riess : 

Arbegast : 

Riess : 


No, he wouldn't either. He might walk through with her later, 
but never with us, no. Anytime anybody came to the garden it was 
Mrs. Blake's thing to host that person around, and whenever a 
visitor came it was rare that Miss Symmes ever walked with her 
and a visitor. 

Was it kept cleared so that it was possible to walk through, or 
did it become more and more difficult to make your way through 
the undergrowth? 

Oh, no, she had gardeners who really tried to help keep the 
garden open and uncluttered. 

Can you say something about those gardeners? 

There was one gardener by the name of Churchill Womble such an 
unusual name. Churchill was a very good gardener but he had some 
drinking problems. He was very enthusiastic and helpful to Mrs. 
Blake and he tried to do his creative thing with her. He worked 
very hard. 

Did he live on the property? 

No. You know, I shouldn't say this, and you have to take it for 
what it's worth: she always treated a gardener like a gardener. 
He was never anything more than a gardener. You have to 
understand that there was a very definite caste system that 

In a way you've been saying that something of that was applying 
t o y o u al s o. 

It applied to everybody. It applied when she went to Cal Hort 
meetings. She was Mrs. Blake; the others were all over here or 
there might have been a few at her level. 

Once you know more than she knows then aren't you above her? 
is this a social caste system? 


I don't know. I think that's why she was intrigued by me. 
[laughs] But we were good friends, and she respected what I knew. 
I probably shouldn't have told her to do certain things, but I 
think a lot of the things that Mrs. Scott did could never have 
happened when Mrs. Blake had been alive, absolutely never would 
have happened. She would not have allowed it. 


Riess : 

Arbegast ; 

Riess : 


Riess : 

Riess : 

Well, perhaps you were so under her spell that you would have 
been even 

I was not under her spell at all, not at all. I knew what her 
role was and I knew what my role was, and she knew that I knew. 

So your role essentially was to learn all you could and, at the 
same time, keep alive this very nice idea of having it come to 
the University. 

That was my role. I still consider it my role. I get very 
discouraged at least I was very discouraged until Dr. Gardner 
came into the picture that no one really cared about that garden 
except the people who worked in it. But certainly no one in the 
department cared; they couldn't have cared less! Never really 
supported it, never used it, and that bothers me. 

Since that time I was the one who told Professor Vaughan 
about the Beatrix Farrand gift that came. No one in that 
department knew Beatrix Farrand, they didn't have the slightest 
idea who she was. Because I was a member of the Friends of the 
Arnold Arboretum at the time that she was going through this 
controversy with them about the herbarium, I managed to 
effectuate that thing. But you see I learned from the Blake 
garden what you have to do to get a property, and what you have 
to do to try to keep the spirit of it up. I also learned from 
the Farrand thing that unless there is a group that backs that 
gift and doesn't turn it completely over to the University just 
between you and me the gift kind of peters out. 

It just becomes money. 

When I was involved with Filoli I cultivated Mrs. [William 
Matson] Roth for eighteen years to get that gift going. Then I 
knew that the only way to get that thing was to do what Mrs. Roth 
had in mind, and what I had kind of painted a picture of for 
her because I kept telling her it was the "Wisley of the West," 
and she knew that. She knew I had this dream, and she had the 
dream too. And she had the means. It was a matter of finding 
the right people to start that thing so that it would do what 
it's doing today. It took Wally Sterling, John May of the San 
Francisco Foundation, and Bill Roth those three critical 
people and three critical ladies in the Woodside area who were 
good friends of Mrs. Roth, to put that package together. 

Who are the three ladies that you're thinking of? 

Sally [Mrs. Robert] McBride is one of them, she's a really 
essential person. Timmy [Mrs. Peter] Gallagher is another. Then 
myself, and our using our influence on other people but actually 
it's those two ladies and myself. 


Riess: And involving the garden clubs of the area, was that important? 

Arbegast: Not at that time. The idea was to keep them out of it, otherwise 
they would take over. It had to be an independent group that 
would further the goals that we had more or less set, and that 
was to make it a horticultural showcase and a place to educate 
future gardeners, horticulturists, and designers. 

Riess: The Blake Gardens could be that, but they aren't, are they? 

Arbegast: It was never set up that way. It was set up so that the gardens 
went to the Department of Landscape Architecture, and it depends 
on the faculty there what the gardens could be. The gardens 
could be wonderful and they are, but they don't serve as much of 
a public purpose as they could. 

Riess: That's the current nature of landscape architecture and, you're 

saying, of the faculty. 

Arbegast: It depends on what faculty person in the department has an 

interest in that aspect of the field, and you know the people who 
are interested in plants in landscape architecture, at least in 
that department, are very few and far between. 


The Public Blake Estate 

The Garden as a Teaching Tool 

Riess: There must have been a time of excitement and vision of what it 

all might be, and I think it's worth getting on the record still 
what it might be. I've read the long-range plan that Mrs. Scott 
put together. I'm sure that was a source of frustration to her. 
that it was never really completed. 

Arbegast: I'm sure, but long-range plans are always made so that they can 
be put on shelves. We hope that people refer back to them so 
that they'll get a sense of the history of the place, but to me 
the Blake Garden could give a sense of history of the development 
of Berkeley even, and certainly of the development of landscape 
design as it started in the Berkeley area. When you think about 
how far the graduates have gone now, doing projects all over the 
world, it's really wonderful. 

Riess: How could the garden itself give that? 

Arbegast: I think that it's an example of a situation where students can 

get a chance to look forward and back, and where they can do some 
experimental things. They can use the physical setting and all 
of that as part of their studies because whatever they do, no 
matter where they go, they're going to have to study a physical 
setting of whatever the project is. This is only an academic 
exercise, but you need places where you can do academic 
exercises. I'm not sure the campus is necessarily the place. 

There's a sense of history still about that building and the 
garden. It hasn't become so modernized that they are putting in 
parking places everywhere. Jusf the sense of how long it takes 
for a redwood grove to come to be she planted every one of those 
trees. It's hard for someone to say, 1,ook, the oldest tree in 
this garden is sixty years old." (There's one tree that's 


Riess : 
Riess : 

Arbegast ; 

Riess: It seems older. 

Arbegast: Well, I know that it's the same age as I am. 

Riess: That's amazing about the trees, and also about you, Mai! 

Arbegast: I'm sixty-four. But the thing is, I always think of it as, gosh, 
if you could take somebody out to a place and say, "Sixty years 
from now this is what you can do if you think your problem 
through completely from beginning to end and you know kind of 
what you want to do. This is what you could do if you had the 
right situation." Or, "You could do this, or you could do that, 
and here's something that's twenty years old." 

That's a very interesting way to use a garden. 
That's the only way to use a garden, [laughs] 

Well, I thought of using a garden for going and looking at 
beautiful planted areas, but to see the unit as something that 
shows what one might have 

Or, if you're looking at a grove that's sixty years old, what 
will it look like in sixty more years? Then you take them to 
places that have older trees. But to me that's the use of a 
garden. Maybe it's because I look at gardens differently, but I 
keep projecting in time what it's going to be for the next 
generation, which is twenty-five years from now what they will 
be thinking. If you have places where you can say we know how 
old these things are it's really wonderful to be able to say, 
'Look at what could happen. You're how old now, and if you do a 
project in which you plant an oak grove, it might look like 

Riess: So it's not the number and exotic nature of the plants anymore up 

there, it's really 

Arbegast: It's really the kind of setting that it has, and also the fact 
that it gives you a sense of the history of Berkeley and the 
sense of the place which was made from nothing. It could be the 
El Sobrante hills, or it could be all the hills that go from here 
to Sacramento, which look very much like that and have similar 
soil conditions and have slide areas. I think that's what 
landscape architecture is all about; you're projecting to the 
future. I'm not sure it's taught that way much. I think you 
have to have a sense of the background and then what will happen. 

Riess: Are there people teaching that at any of the other colleges? 

Arbegast: No place, no place. I think a lot depends on how you're educated 
to start with. 


Riess : 
Arbegast : 

Riess : 

Riess : 

Arbegast : 

So the current teaching 

I think it's going toward the computer, and it'll swing way over 
that way. It'll feed all this information in and it'll come out 
that way and then people will just get fed up with it and say. 
"Okay, let's stand back a little bit." 

In the meantime, who is doing gardens? 

A lot of people are doing gardens. A lot of people coming from 
literature and history are doing gardens now. They're taking 
extension courses or things like that. Unfortunately they may 
not have all the other kinds of skills; they have the kind of 
visual immediate image, "I want to do a Villa D'Este," or "I want 
to do a this or a that," and they'll look at pictures without 
realizing that it's also projecting that picture five, ten, 
twenty five years down the line. 

Is there any way that something could be generated from the 
garden itself, six-week summer sessions, that kind of thing? 

Oh, it could be wonderful. You could do a tremendous amount 
teaching in that garden. It would take a special kind of 


Riess: So that's what's missing. 

Arbegast: Yes, that's what's missing. 

Riess: Oh, dear. Well, maybe the gardeners will feel inspired enough to 

take it that far. I don't know if they could. 

When I talked to Walter Vodden he remarked that "Mrs. Blake 
did her complaining to Mai." I can't remember what that had to 
do with. 

Arbegast: I think it was mostly about how the garden wasn't being tended, 
or how people were taking things, or how the deer were eating 
things. It was not anything major. 

Riess: Tell me about the Howell Mountain property in St. Helena that was 

given to the University by the Blakes. 

Arbegast: The interesting thing about Howell Mountain is that it's one of 
the unique places in California where three different plant and 
climactic zones come together. It's a place where botanical 
scholars go to study because in a very small area you can study 
these three different kinds of flora. Jepson was fascinated by 
this, and I think that this is one of the reasons why Jepson and 
the Blakes were such good company with each other. 


Connection with other Bay Area Gardens and Nurserymen 

Riess : 

Riess : 


Riess : 
Arbegast ; 

Riess : 

What was the Blake connection with the botanical gardens at UC? 

They helped Professor Jepson a lot. He was a bachelor, very 
picky, difficult to get along with. But he liked the Blakes and 
there are a number of plants in the garden that he collected. 
They used to see Dr. Jepson socially, I would say at least once a 

The native plant garden in Tilden [Tilden Botanic Garden]: 
you think they had anything to do with that? 


Very little. Jim Roof was involved with the native plant garden 
in Tilden. I remember when that was under construction I was 
understudying Professor Shepherd, and Professor Shepherd thought 
that the design was a travesty. He'd go up there and he'd rant 
and rave and say, "This bridge is unsafe for people to walk 
across," or "These paths are unsafe." He was constantly ranting 
and raving, so I don't think the Blakes had much to do with Jim 
Roof, unless they met him at the Cal Hort Society meetings and he 
had unusual plants and he shared them with them. Otherwise there 
was not much. I think it was always through the plant 
communication thing, but I don't think they supported the native 
plant garden at all. I don't think Professor Shepherd would let 
anybody support the native plant garden. 

How about Mildred Mathias: would she have known the Blakes? 

No. Mildred's going to be my houseguest on Saturday night; she's 
a good friend of mine. I can ask Mildred if she knew the Blakes, 
but I doubt that she did. When Mildred was here living in 
Berkeley I think she was so busy being a mother and a researcher 
that she did not have time probably to do anything else but I 
can ask her. 

What local nurserymen did Mrs. Blake deal with? 

She got a lot of plants from [Toichi] Domoto's, and Hallawell's. 

Where is Hallawell's? 

In San Francisco. They don't exist anymore. There was a man by 
the name of Mr. Abraham, or something like that, that she dealt 
with. Victor Reiter; Camelliana I took her several times to 
Camelliana. They don't exist anymore, they were in Concord. She 
did a lot of letter-writing and got a lot of things through the 
mail. She ordered things from all over the country. 


How about Mr. Budget! at Berkeley Horticultural Nursery? 


Arbegast: Oh, yes, of course, I'm sure she went to Berkeley Hort Nursery and 
purchased things. It was a wonderful nursery at that time. 

Riess: Did she cut flowers from her garden? Did she love flowers? 

Arbegast: Oh, she loved to cut these long boughs. There was an exhibit at 
the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939 that she 
supplied with fresh-cut greens through the whole fair. I can't 
tell you which exhibit it was, but somebody who was here at that 
time could, I'm sure. They used to take truck-loads of things 
from her garden, of unusual nature, to display in this exhibit 
for what I think was a year or a year-and-a-half period. That's 
why she was always looking for the unusual. It was very 
important to her to be the only one that had a particular plant. 

She was always interested in educating her peers, or the 
people interested in plants. As I said, she really did not have 
anything to do with anybody who was not interested in plants. 
There were a number of times that people came who were kind of 
socially inclined who wanted to meet her, and who came with 
people who were interested in plants. And I know that whenever 
they went away she would say, "Oh, so-and-so, why did she even 
come?" because it was the other person who was interested in 
plants and she wondered why they even bothered to come. 

Riess: In 1941 she got a letter from Goodspeed requesting that she do a 

paper on vines for some presentation. I wondered whether she did 
much of the scholarly thing. 

Arbegast: I think it was Miss Symmes who did most of that, because Miss 
Symmes was the one who was working with Katherine Jones. Mrs. 
Blake was busy growing plants more than anything else. 

Transfer of the Property to the University, and Anita's Special 

Riess: When the Blakes decided that the house and the garden were going 

to come to the University, sometime in 1957, were you in close 
contact with her at that point? Was she saying to you. "Mai, I'm 
thinking about doing this"? 

Arbegast: It was very systematically done; Professor Vaughan was the one 
who handled it all. 

Riess: So that even though you had been preparing the scene, how did it 

actually happen? 



Riess : 

Riess : 

Arbegast ; 

Riess : 


Riess : 
Arbegast : 

I can't actually tell you. She had a number of conversations 
with Professor Vaughan. He came out to the garden. I told him 
it was time to go and see them and he made an appointment. She 
had mentioned to me that she wanted to do this and she wanted to 
find out how to do it. 

So she did say to you that she wanted to do it. 

Oh, yes. And then people like Mr. [Joseph] Mixer and other 
people got into the act. The president's office got into the 
act, or the chancellor's office, I can't remember which. 
Suddenly there were people from higher up beyond the department 
who were coming to see her. They had a hard time it seems to me, 
and maybe that's just normal. It just seems to me that it took a 
long time for them to resolve it and assure the Blakes that the 
property wouldn't be sold. They wanted life tenancy, and this 
was something that the University wasn't sure about. I can't 
remember how old Mr. Blake was, ninety or less than that, when 
the property came to the University. 

Probably somewhat less than that, but not much. 

He was born in 

I just remember the age of ninety because she died right after 
her ninetieth birthday. She was bound and determined to live 
until ninety, and then it seems to me soon after her birthday she 
went. I can't remember exactly the details I don't know what I 
was doing, I was so involved with so many things. What can I 

Do you know whether any of the nieces and nephews stood in the 
way of it at all? 

No, I don't think so. You see, the property was distinctly Mrs. 
Blake's, it was not Mr. Blake's. It was her property that was 
given, it was not Mr. Blake's. I say that with absolute 
assurance because I know that this was made crystal clear, 
especially with the Carmelites when they wanted to buy that other 
side of the canyon. It was her property and Mr. Blake said, "I 
have nothing to say about it, this is Anita's property." 

It had come through his side of the family. 

But it was hers. It was in her name only even while he was 
alive. I think it would be interesting for you to check that 
out, but he was the one who made it distinctly clear that he 
would have nothing to do with the Carmelites and of course Mrs. 
Blake would have nothing to do with the Carmelites. You heard 
that wonderful story about that wooden fence there? 


Riess : I saw a bit of correspondence, very delicate on the part of the 

Carmelites, but apparently they were meeting with no success. 

Arbegast: I don't know exactly what the words were, but Mrs. Blake said to 
me with a twinkle in her eye that the Carmelites were going to 
have to deal with God and the University, [laughs] She said, "As 
far as I'm concerned the University's going to win on this one," 
because she was at that particular point contemplating giving the 
property to the University. The Carmelites put in the wooden 
fence because they just had a feeling they could buy that corner 
of the canyon. [See Appendix T.] 

I can't remember just how the dialogue went between the 
Mother Superior and Mrs. Blake but I know that the wood fence 
went in instead of the concrete block. It's concrete block up to 
a certain point, and then it turns and it's wood. The Carmelites 
were hoping they could build the concrete block across the canyon 
there. They turned it and made it into wood, but Mrs. Blake 
said, "I can see the day when we're going to have to make that 
concrete block, the wood is just going to deteriorate." She was 
very pleased with herself, [laughter] 

Riess: In The Bancroft Library we have a mass of correspondence from 

Anita to Anson; what do you think happened to any letters from 
him to her? 

Arbegast: I do know that her most precious items were underneath her bed. 
She had beautiful scrolls, Chinese and Japanese, ancient scrolls 
that she had purchased, and she loved oriental works of art. 

Her most special letters from James West were under her bed. 
James West was an extraordinary plantsman. He was at one 
particular point in his life associated with the University of 
California at Berkeley, and he wrote these letters. Most men 
don't write such letters. She used to read the letters to me 
magnificent descriptions of things. He also wrote to people like 
Gerry Scott and Elizabeth McQintock. All the women who got 
these letters from him he wrote especially to women I think 
they must feel that they were love letters almost. They tell you 
about these letters, but you never see the letters.* They read 
descriptions out of them. You know they've kept the letters. 

I think if you could find any letters from James West to 
Anita Blake you would find a wealth of information that would 
give you a clue about what she was interested in in terms of 

*Letter to Mabel Symmes in Appendices. Appendix II. 


Arbegast: people. James West died mysteriously somewhere in South America. 
There was an article about him in the California Horticultural 
Journal. * 

Riess: I wonder who would have those letters from James West to Anita. 

Arbegast: I can tell you what happened to those letters, though you need to 
hear it directly from Walter, not from me: when she died 
apparently there was a kind of a house cleaning and all the stuff 
that was under her bed was burned her most precious items. Now 
you have to talk to Walter Vodden about this because he was 
caretaker or head superintendent or whatever. He was there at 
the time and he mentioned it to me about a week after this had 
happened when I asked what happened to all those wonderful things 
Mrs. Blake had under her bed. Because I had the privilege of 
going into her bedroom and occasionally she'd dig down underneath 
the bed which was rather high up off the floor, with a bedspread 
that kind of hung over she would dig out something and read it 
to me, which was very nice. I just felt that was a very special 

I have such a bad memory that I can't really tell you the 
various things that she read to me, but they were always very 
special and precious things that she'd dug out from under her 

Riess: Who did the burning? 

Arbegast: Oh, you really have to ask Walter this. Walter said, "It's such 
a shame, it's such a shame," and I said, "Why didn't you call me? 
Why didn't you tell me what was happening? I would have done 
something to stop it." 

* See Appendices, HH. 

Transcriber: Johanna Wolgast 
Final Typist: Elizabeth Eshleman 


Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

Geraldine Knight Scott 

An Interview Conducted by 
Suzanne B. Riess 
in 1987 

Copyright fc} 1988 by The Regents of the University of California 

Geraldine Knight Scott 
at Blake Garden, 1963 

TABLE OF CONTENTS Geraldine Knight Scott 



Early Horticultural History/Blake Gardens 303 

Harry Shepherd and Katherine D. Jones 303 

James West 306 

California Horticultural Society 308 

The House and Garden Come to the University 311 

Geraldine Knight Scott in Charge 311 

Walter Vodden, and the Neighbors 311 

Funding for Maintenance 313 

Making Decisions 315 

The Garden as a Teaching Tool 316 

Long Range Development Plan for the Blake Estate 318 

A Committee of the Regents Visits 319 

Wider Use 320 

Blake House Becomes the President's House 323 

Talking about the Garden 330 

The Paths, Labelling the Plants 330 

The Brochure, and Articles about the Gardens 331 

The Garden, Twenty Years Ago 332 

And Twenty Years Later 334 



The Blake Gardens were a part of Geraldine Knight Scott's Department of 
Landscape Architecture duties from 1962 to 1968. When Anita Blake died in 
1962 the control that she had exercised over every detail of planting and 
maintenance was in Mrs. Scott's hands. 

Granted very few people from the University of California at Berkeley 
or members of the community even knew of the existence of the Blake Estate, 
to the neighbors on Rincon Road in Kensington the transition to the 
University's stewardship was all too visible and abrupt. They knew Mrs. 
Scott had arrived because she pruned the trees! 

Without Geraldine Knight Scott, however, what is now a garden with 
distinct formal features would be rampant and obscure. Mrs. Scott, an 
active practitioner of, as well as lecturer in, landscape architecture, was 
free of the awe for the relic that might have possessed less clear eyed 
designers. As well as being fearless, Mrs. Scott was, as Linda Haymaker 
puts it in her interview, "the most sensitive person who has dealt with this 
garden since the Blakes. " 

Geraldine Knight Scott had another challenge. Besides dealing with 
day-to-day garden decisions, she was asked in 1963 to create a Long-Range 
Development Plan for Blake Estate. [Excerpts from that plan are appended.] 
It was presented in 1964 to the Department of Landscape Architecture but 
never given any attention. Mrs. Scott looks back on it as at best a 
teaching and learning experience for those who participated in the studies 
required to formulate the plan. It had little more impact than that, for 
want of interest and commitment on the part of the University. 

The ambivalent attitude to the Blake Estate continued through the 
middle sixties, but in 1967 Blake House emerged as the President's House. 
Mrs. Scott as Supervising Landscape Architect worked with the architects in 
remodelling the house and grounds to make the Blake Estate function as a 
residence for incoming President and Mrs. Charles Hitch. Today Geraldine 
Knight Scott continues to be concerned for the future of the garden. She is 
also interested in the future of the study of landscape architecture. As 
the department reevaluates itself, the Blake Garden will perhaps move from 
the periphery of attention and use to a place closer to the center and 
closer to the wishes of the Blakes in entrusting it to the University. 

Geraldine Knight Scott is well known to the Regional Oral History 
Office. She was interviewed in 1977 for the Thomas Church Oral History 
Project [1978]. A few years later she taped an autobiographical memoir with 
landscape architect Jack Buktenica as her interviewer. It has not been 
released. More recently Mrs. Scott has been editing fifteen tapes done with 
her on her garden design class. And she is vitally involved in compiling 
the history of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University. 


It was a pleasure to spend time with someone so committed to historical 
documentation of the oral history variety. Mrs. Scott's husband, Mel Scott, 
author of The Future of San Francisco Bay, had earlier in the year 
contributed a thoughtful Afterword to the Save San Francisco Bay Association 
oral history. He was in his studio, painting fascinating, highly detailed 
colorful works which he exhibits while Mrs. Scott and I talked, and looked 
over the number of helpful reprints and illustrations which she had 
assembled to illuminate our interview. 

Suzanne B. Riess 

November 11, 1987 
Regional Oral History Office 
486 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 302 University of California 

Room 486 The Bancroft Library Berkeley ,' California 94720 

(Please print or write clearly) 

Your full name jy g/^ / J I W -S- f\WJ (jfl / Q O 7" 7~ 

,- f jf r 

Date of birth July / b ~ G fy Place of birth \yo][qc.^. 1 cJ'Q ft & 


Father's full name nHr\J J"o/jQh /*( h I Cf k / - cJece&S/ /?// 

Birthplace (L-'r* ^ 7 - /7 


Mother's full name O/-g/7^S. /^&/?^S C/a /&. /\/7/c?/^/ -< 

x- //? 1 J. /?// 

Birthplace UoJray Yvfif fi iMzJC ' 


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Where did you grow up ? C)<fS\_J3r?d C*^///o/y^/Q. 7*- -^?/T /"/*<? /<C/J>Ca 

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Present community C/g/VTg/'gy . L*G / 1 i 

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Education ^Wj? /^/. 5 F. ~ t/C. 



Special interests or activities 

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Early Horticultural History/Blake Gardens 
[Date of Interview: February 24. 1987] 

Harry Shepherd and Katherine D. Jones 

Riess : Were you at Blake Gardens as a student? 

Scott: Yes, I probably went with Professor Shepherd and met Mrs. Blake, 
maybe once or twice, when I was a student. 

Riess: Did she come out to greet students? 

Scott: Well, I think I went alone with Shepherd, not with a group. We were 
only a class of eight, so even if we'd gone as a group but I don't 
recall that we did. 

Riess: Well, tell me all about that meeting, [laughs] 

Scott: Oh, she didn't make a great impression. She was obviously English, 

with a nice English accent, and pleasant. The garden was very overgrown. 

Riess: Why did she have an English accent? She was not English. 

Scott: Well, she did have a cultivated voice, maybe you'd call it that. 
She used the broad "a." 

Riess: "Ahh. " 

Scott: Yes. I assumed that was an English accent, I suppose. 

Riess: Was Miss Symmes there at the same meeting? 

Scott: I don't recall ever meeting Miss Symmes. I should have, because she 
was a member of the California Horticultural Society, and she and 
Miss Katherine D. Jones were obviously connected with each other, 
but I never met her. I've looked at pictures of her and I know I 
never met her. 


Riess: In a way your answers are eliminating a whole series of questions I 
had about connections between Miss Jones, and the garden, and you, 
and women. 

Scott: I've learned quite a bit about Miss Jones recently. I have been 
recalling my first teachers for a history that the Department of 
Landscape Architecture is getting out. Miss Jones, I learned from 
some material that Tom Brown brought me, was here when John Gregg 
came to start a landscape design department. In some biographical 
material about Miss Jones she refers to Miss Symmes, and Miss Symmes 
was a student in the department for a short time. She did not get a 
degree and what her years in the department were I don't know. 
[Symmes was a student in 1914.] But she got to know Miss Jones 
better than I did, obviously, as a student. 

Riess: In The Bancroft Library in Anita Blake's papers are some papers in 
Welsh, and I think that they are some of Katherine Jones' material. 

Scott: I hadn't known she was Welsh. I knew her only as a curious 

Riess: In this paper it says her parents were Welsh.* 

Scott: Yes, right, and she apparently had a good singing voice, like so many 
Welsh people, and sang in a choir all the time. I never would 
have guessed because she was such a shy Victorian lady. She knew her 
plant materials and taught them very well. John Gregg relied on 
her; I mean, she was the mainstay of the department. Naturally she 
would have been acquainted with the Blakes, and the Blakes with her, 
because they were collectors of plants, and she was probably the 
most knowledgeable person in this area. 

Riess: And yet she wasn't using the gardens for her own teaching purposes? 

Scott: [pause] She probably did. She took us there maybe once or twice, 
but also to gardens all around the Bay Area. 

Riess: What other gardens would she have taken you to visit in the Bay Area 
that would have been considered comparable then? 

Scott: Other gardens such as the McDuffie weren't comparable, but we went 
to Golden Gate Park to learn plants, or Belvedere to see many 
smaller gardens because each micro-climate was different. 

Riess: So you were looking at plants, you weren't looking at design? 

*"Katherine Davies Jones, 1860-1943," by Mabel Symmes, in Madrono, 
April 1946, Vol. VIII, No. 6, pages 184-187. See Appendices. 


Scott: Not with Miss Jones. She taught only plants, and she had little 
sense of design. She taught plants from a functional viewpoint, 
their tolerances and growth habits. 

Riess : And when Harry Shepherd was using the gardens, what was he teaching? 

Scott: He had a little more sense of design, probably, but he really taught 
construction and plants. He had learned his plant materials from 
her, as the first graduate of the department, and continued teaching 
in her method. Design was principally taught by Professor Gregg. 
Neither one of these people had any real sense of design as we use 
the term today. 

Riess: I remember when I talked to John Gregg about design on 

campus it was clear that John Galen Howard's hand was strong 
in the campus landscaping as well as the architecture.* 

Scott: Right. But Gregg did, of course, arrange for us even though we 

were in the College of Agriculture to take all of the preliminary 
courses in architecture. There was that much liaison, which he 
doesn't even refer to in the oral history, but Gregg did establish a 
curriculum that was half in architecture and half in agriculture. 
But he didn't make the connection, really; we didn't have any of the 
architectural professors giving us design criticisms. 

Riess: When you went to visit Mrs. Blake with Harry Shepherd you weren't 
the only woman in your class, were you? 

Scott: There was one other, Beatrice Williams. 

Riess: I wondered if it was because you were a woman that Harry Shepherd 
had taken you to meet Mrs. Blake. 

Scott: No, I worked for Harry on the outside, I knew Harry very well. I 
worked for both Gregg and Shepherd as a draftsman while I was in 
college and after Cornell. Shepherd was an exceedingly good 
estimator, I learned a great deal from him, we were simpatico 
people, an easier person to know than Gregg. He took me to see lots 
of places. 

Riess: Was he doing some construction for Mrs. Blake? 

Scott: No, I doubt that. We went to see the great variety of plants grown 
from seed. 

*John W. Gregg, A Half-Century of Landscape Architecture, an oral 
history interview conducted 1965, Regional Oral History Office, The 
Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1965. 


Riess : 

So that was your only actual face-to-face contact with Anita Blake? 
The only one I recall. 

James West 

Riess: When I talked with Mai Arbegast, we got into the question of where 
were Anita's letters from Anson; all of the letters that she had 
written to him are in The Bancroft Library, but where were all the 
letters that he was writing in return? Mai speculated that they 
were probably under the bed along with the James West letters, and 
the seed lists, and everything else. Can you shed any more light on 
what has happened? 

Scott: None, no. Later when I was teaching, and the Blake House was empty, 
there were still piles of dishes that they had imported from China 
and Japan still in original crates. Sometimes the crates had been 
opened and the straw was all over the floor. There was a caretaker 
who lived there and took care of the many cats. The odor was 
terrific. When I first was asked by Professor Vaughan to take over 
the direction of the work in the garden, that's the state that the 
house was in. 

Someone lived in the house because there were still pieces of 
furniture in some rooms, the leftovers, and these piles of dishes. 
I know that Duke Wellington as we called him Professor [Winfield 
Scott] Wellington from the household art department, had selected 
the best pieces, but where they had gone, I don't know. There were 
still stacks of marvelous bowls and plates from which one sample had 
been removed. I yearned to take one or two of course never did 
and have no idea what happened to all those beautiful, porcelain 
bowls and plates. 

Riess: Chinese? 

Scott: Yes, mostly. 

Riess: Blue? 

Scott: Many kinds. 

Riess: So I guess you have heard about the James West letters that are 

Scott: I knew James West very well indeed, in Marin County, and I have a 
great many of James West's letters from South America. He talked 
often of Mrs. Blake, but I never went to the Blake Estate with James 
West. [pause] I don't know that correspondence. A lot of James 


Scott: West's correspondence was turned over to the Horticultural Society 
and they published some articles about him.* I've not turned over 
my letters from his trip to South America, but I still have them. 
James West was a very remarkable botanist, in touch with every other 
horticulturist in the bay region. 

Riess: Yes, the corresponding among horticulturists is fascinating to me. 

Scott: Right. Well, James West had traveled very widely, and so had the 

Blakes. He knew the flora of I don't think he'd ever been to China, 
but he knew the flora of all of Europe and the Americas. 

Riess: So the correspondence, would it include a few seeds in the envelope? 
Scott: Doubtless. 

Riess: And just a kind of excited discussion of something that had turned 

Scott: That's what I would expect, but I don't know. 

Riess: Is that the kind of correspondence that you had with him? 

Scott: My correspondence was much later, from his trip to South America 
after [Thomas Harper] Goods peed sent him there on a plant-hunting 
expedition. Marvelous descriptive passages of the whole terrain and 
the life of the people, as well as lists of plants fill the letters 
I have. 

Riess: Interesting. 

Scott: I went with James West on a good many plant-hunting trips in the 

Sierras. He was myopic, wore very thick glasses, and his distance 
vision then was probably as poor as mine is right now. I had 
perfect vision, when I used to go with him. He would tell me what 
he was looking for, in a particular terrain, and the right 
association so I could find it for him. His descriptions were that 

Riess: What an interesting way to learn. 

Scott: He was working with Jepson and others, knew every botanist and 
horticulturist and everyone knew him. 

*"Incredible, Unforgettable James West, Plantsman, (1886-1939)," by 
Jack Napton, California Horticultural Society Journal, Vol. 28, 
No. 3, July 1967, 180-187, 196. Appendix HH. 


California Horticultural Society 

Scott: When the horticultural society was founded in 1935 I was a founding 
member, but it was really Eric Walther, superintendent of Golden 
Gate Park and an authority on succulents, and James West who were 
the founders of that organization. 

Riess: Why 1935? 

Scott: That was the year of a big frost, which brought plant people 

together. Nobody in the San Francisco Bay Region knew what to do 
with plants after they'd been frozen. There were many good 
nurserymen, and good amateur growers, and professional growers at 
that time, and they were all in trouble none knew exactly what to 
do. So those people who had lived in the east, or lived other 
places, felt the need to get together to discuss what to do with 
plants that had been frozen. 

Riess: So it was a kind of camaraderie that did not really exist before? 

Scott: That's right. 

Riess: Would you say in fact that it had been more competitive before? 

Scott: Yes, definitely. There were good nurserymen in the area, you know, 
competing with each other, and amateurs and professionals had their 
own kind of organizations, but trouble often brings people together. 

Riess: I saw in the Anita Blake correspondence that Dr. Goodspeed asked her 
to write an article for him on vines in 1941. 

Scott: I bet she got her knowledge from Katherine D. Jones, who wrote all 
these articles on vines. 

Riess: "A Study of Climbers," in 1938. 

Scott: As someone said, it has everything but social climbers in it. 

[laughs] Katherine Jones never got her due in this university. She 
was never made more than an instructor, and yet she was the mainstay 
of the landscape design department, with the most knowledge about 
plants and climate. She was there for seventeen years. Women. 

Riess: "Women." It's as simple as that? 

Scott: Yes. She had published quite a few things; this is just one. She 
was a real authority on acacias, wrote this section on acacias for 
Bailey's Encyclopedia of Horticulture. She had every reason to have 
been advanced to full professorship, but was not. Professor 


Scott: Shepherd tried without success to increase her pension when she 

retired. An assistant professor's salary did not entitle her to an 
adequate pension. 

Riess: Mabel was the garden designer and Anita the horticulturist and 




They had traveled in Italy together. They were both women of taste 
and culture. Miss Symmes came back to Berkeley and took some 
courses in the Department of Landscape Design. Garden design at 
that time was mainly the study of gardens of the Mediterranean 
region, of Spain and Italy, because the climates were similar, and 
most design at that time in California architecture and landscape 
architecture tended to be based on Mediterranean precedent. Miss 
Symmes was able to lay out a formal Italianate garden. 

Would Mabel would have been like Isabella Worn? 
practice, from anything you know? 

Did Mabel actually 

Not as far as I know. I'm sure they would have met and discussed 
gardens and plants. Isabella Worn set up a nursery in Marin County, 
and I'm sure Mabel would have acquired plants from her, or exchanged 
seeds. It was a common practice. Miss Worn also decorated for 
banquets and weddings. 

Riess: I wish there were evidence I suppose just scratching through all 
the letters would come up with it of correspondence and fellow 
feeling among the Bournes, for instance, down at Filoli [Woodside], 
and the Blakes, and the McDuffies, with their Berkeley garden. I 
would wish to know whether they were interested in each others 

Scott: Early copies of California Horticulture magazine have some 

references to all those places, I believe. Pacific Horticulture is 
a later development from California Horticulture Quarterly which 
started after the founding of the society. The editor now is George 
Waters, who is English and a very good horticulturist, and editor. 
He has familiarized himself with most of the early records of the 
society and has, of course, a complete file. . 

It's unfortunate that Victor Reiter, who was one of the 
founding members and a fine nurseryman in San Francisco, died just 
last year, because I'm sure he knew the Blakes very well.* 

Riess : And how they connected with everyone else. 

*"Victor Reiter, Jr. 1903-1986." Pacific Horticulture. Vol.48, 
No. 1, Spring 1987, p. 47. 


Scott: Right, he would have known more than anyone. 

Riess: Elizabeth McCLintock was trying to arrange a meeting with Peggy 

Brown, who might have remembered Anita Blake at horticulture society 

Scott: Very probably she would have, and Victor Reiter. Who else? These 

early garden enthusiasts are passing. There are one or two other 

original members still alive. There is a former president, editor 
emeritus, F. Owen Pearce, who also has clear recall. 


The House and Garden Come to the University 

Geraldine Knight Scott In Charge 

Walter Vodden, and the Neighbors 

Riess: When we talked on the phone you said you were in charge at the 

gardens from 1958-1969. Walter Vodden came on the scene in 1957, 
hired by Punk [H. Lei and] Vaughan, to help the Blakes in every way 
that he could. 

Scott: Yes, Walter was there, and he became very valuable because he knew 
where the sprinkling system valves were, and things like this. The 
watering lines had all been put in piecemeal, not a designed system. 
Walter was also very helpful in making peace with the neighborhood 
because the neighbors resented having the University take over that 

Riess: I didn't know that. What form did this resentment take? 

Scott: Well, they knew that there would be more traffic, more people coming 
to the garden. They liked the remoteness and privacy of the area 
that they lived in, and were not happy to see it developed in any 
way, or become an institution. The people who lived above had often 
visited the garden, had been free to just walk through any time. 
Also the monastery people next door weren't happy about having it 
become a University property; they preferred it to be as private as 
possible. Having classes, or groups of students coming to the 
garden, didn't appeal to the neighbors. 

Riess: There had been a tradition of that, though. 

Scott: Oh, but very few at a time. Classes were getting bigger by this 

time, you know. Earlier there had been only one earful of students, 
but by the time there were busses coming out with classes of thirty 
students, or a whole chain of cars, or you have a University bus. 


Scott: the neighbors didn't like that. (The property is in Kensington, an 
unincorporated town in Contra Costa County, not Berkeley, although 
it has a Berkeley zip code.) 

There were water problems out there always: two natural 
streams run through and in flood years they overflowed, flooding the 
property below or the property that adjoins at the service entrance. 
Those neighbors fought over the property line all the time. They 
really had built too close to the property line, so they kept trying 
to move the line. A very peculiar woman, whose name I don't even 
remember, would keep appealing to the University to do something to 
try to control the deer problem. The University built a fence along 
that boundary, and then she objected to the line of the fence 
although it was put on the survey line. There were objections all 
the time from the neighbors. 

When we really began to develop the garden for a presidential 
residence and had to put in lighting systems, naturally they didn't 
like that. Some wanted trees cut, the trees that were getting up 
into their views. There were always objections, but Walter was very 
good about keeping peace with the neighbors. 

Riess: How did he do that? 

Scott: Well, just by being friendly, I suppose, telling them they could 
still visit the garden, that nothing was changed. He was good at 
quieting their fears. 

Riess: And did they not complain directly to the University? 

Scott: Yes, some did. Also to the planning office in Contra Costa 

Riess: Had it all been dormant when the Blakes were there? 

Scott: Yes. No problem, that I know of but when they gave the garden to 
the University, and we began to prune or cut trees down, then they 
objected. People didn't want the garden touched; they wanted it 
left exactly the way it was. However, it was a jungle with the 
trees too close together. The garden had to be opened up if it was 
going to serve as a semi-public garden. 

Riess: But the neighbors were offended by that? 
Scott: Oh, yes. 

Riess: At the same time they wanted the trees topped, though, or carved, 
for their views. 


Scott: Yes, different trees topped from the ones we were taking out. We 
were taking out trees for a different reason, taking out pines and 
conifers that were crowding each other, or because they were 
diseased. They wanted eucalyptus topped because they were getting 
up into their view. Competing interests. 

Riess : I wondered if any of them were contemporaries of the Blakes. 
Scott: Not that I know, but Walter would know. 

Riess: I know that Mrs. Blake's friend was someone named Agnes McCormick 
Barchf ield. 

Scott: It was Mrs. Barchf ield now you give me the name that complained 
most about the University. They had been good friends and I guess 
that explains it. She contended that she owned to the center of the 
creek. [laughs] Well, the creek moved its center frequently, and 
when the University tried to put up a fence, you see, they didn't 
put it in the center of the creek, it was put on the survey line. 
Mrs. Barchf ield was connected to somebody; she had a straight 
pipeline to the vice-president's office and complained bitterly so 
that they always referred to her as "that can of worms" every time 
I called. [laughs] 

Riess: Actually the installation of lighting again, I'm surprised that the 
neighbors would complain. That is a dark corner of the world. 
Wouldn't they welcome lighting for security? 

Scott: I would have thought so, but they didn't like the glare from the 
paved surfaces which interfered with their views of the bay. 

Riess: Oh, I see. So Walter was conciliatory, but the University was 
unbending, would you say? 

Scott: Yes, totally, I mean policy. Walter just had to make peace; he 
didn't have any authority. 

Funding for Maintenance 

Riess: Who else was about the place? Churchill Womble was one of the 
gardeners. When you arrived there was Walter and who else? 

Scott: That's all. There was no endowment left and I had to beg for money 
to do everything that was necessary: the watering system was break 
ing down, the trees needed pruning, and all kinds of things were in 
need of repair. These were called "capital improvements," so the 


Scott: Blake Estate would be No. 153 on the capital improvements list, and 
then it would move up to No. 107 maybe, by the next year, and so on. 
To do each was a battle, to get an allocation of funds for any 

Riess : Were they beginning to have second thoughts about what they had 
taken on, then, do you think? 

Scott: Management was funnelled through the department, and the department 
just didn't have that much clout, I guess. The battle for funds in 
the University is always there. It's a state university, and 
there's a budget, and you can't get anything unless you get it on 
the budget and then take your turn. Emergency funds didn't exist 
until we had a real flood one year, and then they found some 
emergency funds to take care of that. 

Riess: It came completely unendowed? 
Scott: So far as I know. 

Riess: Robert Gordon Sproul was president when it came into the system, and 
then dark Kerr did Kerr take any interest in it? 

Scott: Not so far as I know. Mrs. Kerr, but not Mr. Mrs. Kerr had her own 
ideas, of course, of making the house into a home for Prytanean 
graduate women students, yet any of us could have told her it 
wouldn't work. Anyway, she was a very strong person, and they found 
the money to do the work, about $35,000 in all. What they did was 
put in double wash basins, and divide up the big bedrooms with 
partial partitions, so each girl had a little privacy, but not much. 

Riess: I know you said to me that it was bound to fail, and I wanted to ask 
you today what was inevitable about it. 

Scott: It was remote, and the girls wouldn't like that; they didn't want to 
be that far from campus activity it was dark, it was remote. The 
first year a certain number of girls signed up, but they didn't sign 
up to come the next year, and they couldn't recruit. After two-and- 
a-half years, nobody wanted to be there. 

Riess: I could see it as a very desireable place for a little scholarly 
activity. Maybe that was the notion that Mrs. Kerr had, that 
graduate students would wish to be cloistered and secluded. 

Scott: But apparently they didn't wish to be. 

Riess: Was it always something that the presidents had to deal with rather 
than the chancellors? In other words, Mrs. Strong wouldn't have 
been involved because it was University-wide rather than campus? 


Scott: I don't know, that's a good question. I never dealt with anybody 

except Mr. Canning in the President's Office. It had been handed to 
him as a vice-president, in charge of property. 

Riess: This was Lawrence Canning? [Assistant Business Manager, Business 
and Finance Office, Sproul Hall] 

Scott: I always had to deal with him; everything was referred to him. When 
Professor Vaughan handed me the job and I asked, "How can I get 
anything done?" Punk would just say, "Call Mr. Canning." I'd call 
Mr. Canning; Mr. Canning would groan. [laughs] 

Riess: So that even though it's your job, you become a thorn in his flesh. 
Scott: Yes, right. He would laugh too, you know. There was no money. 

Riess: I would really be interested in knowing whether, in fact, it was 
considered to be an extension of the Berkeley campus. 

Scott: There was very little discussion. The department was not really 

interested in the property. Professor Vaughan had received it, and 
I had already had many jobs of remodeling old estates in Marin and 
San Mateo Counties. I was a natural. To hand it over to me I was 
a lecturer, teaching one course, could I take this on it was a 
cheap way of getting work done. All they'd have to do is put me on 
for two-thirds time to handle the Blake Estate, which they did. 

But it was something I'd done a great deal of, I liked 
redeveloping old estates. I was teaching planting design, which 
includes the creation of outdoor spaces. This was a jungle to be 
cleared out to make some spaces that would be for visitors to a 
semi-public garden. I enjoyed working on the garden. But I had not 
enough money, or staff you know. I had always done private estates 
before, never had to deal with a bureaucratic set-up. 

Making Decisions 

Riess: But as far as what you cleared out, you didn't have to check that 

with the University? Once they gave you the job, it was your baby? 

Scott: My decisions. As a landscape architect that was my job. But there 
were objections from the neighbors, hating to hear the sound of the 
saw, and to taking down trees people love trees. Also a few 
department people went out there and asked, "Why are you doing 
this?" They hadn't given the place two minutes' thought. 


Scott: At the same time you should understand that the Department of 

Landscape Architecture philosophy was going through a very great 
change. It had started as gardening with great emphasis on 
horticulture. Then it moved into a strong design and construction 
phase, but a design emphasis, and at the same time as they added 
more design courses they dropped horticulture. (This was before the 
ecology movement.) They took out all the ag sciences all that I 
had had was taken out and reduced the teaching of plants: whereas 
Miss Jones had taught about five hundred plants, plant materials 
were reduced to one hundred plants. 

The staff and their main emphasis had shifted to what was 
called "analysis paralysis", Le. to analyzing problems forever and 
ever, looking at social factors, and economic factors, etc. All 
very important, but cutting out almost all the ag sciences. When I 
was invited in to teach whatever I wanted to teach, I found that the 
weakest link in the profession was planting design. Private pro 
fessionals were designing but didn't follow through with good planting 
designs. They were making excellent ground plans. So I chose to 
set up a course in planting design, the first one that had been 
offered at Cal. I was the only woman in the department, you know, 
so they just kept me there doing that plus working on the Blake Garden. 

The Garden as a Teaching Tool 

Riess : Was your course required? 

Scott: Yes, it was required, but before students took it they had learned 
only one hundred plants. I couldn't teach much planting design, 
because they didn't know enough plants. Blake Garden was my 
laboratory. The department as such took almost no interest in the 
Blake Estate. I took my classes there, and we talked about design 
not just the plants. So it was a very good laboratory for me, for 
what I was teaching, real examples of real problems. 

Riess: Did botanists study out there? 

Scott: No, botany had changed its emphasis to micro-botany already, and was 
not at all interested. There were entomologists out there using the 
garden, and plant pathologists. Old estates are full of diseases, 
so Bob Raabe found it a wonderful laboratory. Trying to get more 
uses of it, I encouraged the entomology department to set up 
studies, which they did; they used it a good deal for studies in 
biological control of pests. And occasionally taxonomists used it. 
But the botany department made no particular use of it. Soil 
technology students took soil samples out of there and came out for 
study sessions. Various College of Agriculture people, made some 
use of Blake Garden. 


Scott: But the people at College of Environmental Design, no. I offered 

many times. Because we had a fairly complete survey it was ideal to 
use for design problems, really. The students could go to inspect 
the actual terrain and study the basic data. Once in a great while 
some professor would set up a problem out there, but very seldom. 

Riess: Did they have to clear what they were doing with you, any of these 

Scott: No, no. 

Riess: So plant pathologists could just go out there, they didn't have to 
schedule themselves, or do something about it? 

Scott: [shakes her head] 

Riess: So that wasn't a problem. 

Scott: No, no problem. 

Riess: When students from Merritt and places like that came, how did they ? 

Scott: None of those came in my time. 

Riess: Oh, okay. 

Scott: We encouraged horticultural society people to visit the garden. We 
set up visiting hours. The whole point was to make it available and 
useful as a community resource. 

Riess: Because the more you did that the higher profile you'd get, and the 
University might begin to support it a little more, too? 

Scott: I don't know. It just didn't happen. It was Professor [Fran] 

Violich who asked me to make the study, he was acting chairman at 
the time. 

[Note from Mrs. Scott] 

In the American Society of Landscape Architect's Committee on 
Education School Evaluation Report on the Department of 
Landscape Architecture, University of California, 1966-1967, 
the following was included, under "Facilities and equipment 
available and used by the School": Blake Garden: 10 1/2 acres 
of gardens and undeveloped land, Blake Residence, greenhouse 
and head house. A gift to the University and the Department. A 
rich potential, but development possible only upon adequate 
staffing and adequate budget realistic only in terms of 
private or foundation funding. 1957 Deed of Gift requires the 
Regents to keep the property for instruction and research for 
twenty years. After 1977 it could be sold. Perhaps that is 
why the Department was not interested in developing the use of 
the garden. [See page 501.] 

Long-Range Development Plan for the Blake Estate 

Riess: Why don't we go to the long-range plan? Vaughan was head of the 
department, but it was Violich who requested it of you, in 1963? 

Scott: I think he was acting chairman at the time that I completed it. 
Riess: Did you welcome that undertaking? 

Scott: Yes and no, because I knew it would be a lot of work, and [laughs] 
that I was being very much underpaid for doing it. Making a long- 
range plan was simply an extension of what I was already doing, just 
getting it down on paper. 

Riess: Had you already been developing these ideas? Certainly for the 
garden plan? 

Scott: Sure, yes. Under this title of asking me to do a long-range plan. 
Professor Vaughan must have wangled enough money to pay me for my 
extra time. But this was certainly the most for the least for the 
University. [laughs] 

Riess: So in the long-range plan, then, you set up an administrative 
structure, for one thing? 

Scott: Well, that's in the long-range, yes. I had already increased the 

staff of gardeners, but if it was going to be really developed, then 
it would take more maintenance, and I certainly had to develop a plan 
far enough to get some kind of a cost estimate of what would be required. 

Riess: Was this plan to be presented to the Regents? 

Scott: I don't know; it never was; it was only presented to the department, 
and I don't think the department ever even presented it to the 
college. A committee of the faculty was set up to review it, but 
they didn't review it until I forced them to. 

Riess: Because they were not interested in the first place. 

Scott: That's right. About half-way through they reviewed my proposals, 
and then finally they reviewed the whole thing. I asked Michael 
Laurie to make sketches for the report and involved as many 
department people as I could, my TA and some former graduate 
students to make the survey, and so on. 

Riess: So it was a real exercise in landscape planning. 

Scot-t: Getting it done within the University set-up as much as possible was 
certainly doing it the hard way, but everybody who did work on it 
learned a lot. I've talked to those people like Michael Wheelwright 


Scott: and Carlisle Becker who did the survey, and Harry Tsugawa (they're 

all mentioned in the introduction to it) they all felt they learned 
a great deal from what they did. It was both a teaching and a 
learning experience. 

Riess: When did the ideas for use of the house and the conference center 
concept come up? 

Scott: The conference center came out of my mind, as a projection of what 
the property was suitable for. Nobody else had proposed that. I 
still think this is a legitimate use for it. That's what a long- 
range development plan is all about, the possible uses for an old 
piece of property and an old house. 

Riess: Conference center, or something a little bit like the Center [for 
Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences] at Stanford. 

Scott: I went down to see that, and felt that the Blake property was 

suitable in every way for a similar use. But there was no interest 
at that time. Many people thought the University should just get 
rid of the property, as it's too remote from the campus to be really 
useful. But I felt perfectly sure the University's not going to 
sell property; there'll always be a use for it. It's tax-free. And 
they never could acquire anything comparable, so why would they get 
rid of it? 

Riess: The long-range study basically just disappeared into the archives? 
Scott: As far as I know. 

A Committee of The Regents Visit 

Riess: In December, 1965 Regent William Coblentz and Regent Catherine 

Hearst took a little tour of the house. In July, 1966 Catherine 
Hearst is quoted in the papers as feeling that $33,000 just to pave 
over termites is not a justifiable expenditure by the Regents. 
Thirty-three thousand dollars was an estimated cost for some very 
basic structural work on the house so that it could be used. In 
other words, there was no love lost for the house. 

Scott: This was before the Prytaneans were tenants even. 

Riess: No, but this was before they knew they had to house President Hitch. 

Scott: Oh, yes, I did take them on a garden tour, yes. We met out there 
I'd forgotten all about this also another woman from Los Angeles 
who was a Regent. 


Riess: Chandler. 

Scott: Mrs. Chandler, yes, and a couple of men. That was a funny episode. 
We met out there and discussed various problems, one being the need 
to fence the property completely, and why? Because of the deer. 
They couldn't believe there were deer there. After they went 
through the house and we were walking toward the rose garden, 
somebody turned around and there were four deer following us! A 
wonderful moment, just like a New Yorker cartoon. [laughs] 

But I received no report on that meeting, nothing, no 
response to me, [laughs] 

Riess: Do you remember them responding to the garden positively? 
Scott: Oh, yes, people all thought it was a lovely, lush place. 
And it was looking pretty wonderful by 1965-66? 


Riess ; 

Oh, yes, I'd gotten a great deal of the overgrowth removed and a new 
lawn where the big lawn now is. It was in pretty good shape by that 
time. The old greenhouse had been removed, and a proper work yard, 
corporation yard, and tool house installed. 

And was there a handsome sign at the entrance that identified it? 

No. There was only a small sign. The garden was only open in the 
afternoons. I don't remember the schedule, but whenever Walter was 
willing to have it open, four days a week or something like that. 
There were quite a few visitors to the garden. 

Wider Use 

Riess: You said that you had been putting on some courses in horticulture. 

Scott: Yes, for some neighborhood women, and people from various garden 
clubs. We advertised and held classes in the headhouse of the 

Riess: Extension classes, or how were they administered? 

Scott: Under Extension, I guess. I can't remember how it was set up. I 
taught several short courses and later somebody else taught them. 
Linda Haymaker also taught some later. There were classes of twelve 
to fifteen women one morning a week. They learned plants and a 
little bit about design, or how to put plants together in garden 
compositions in relation to form, color, texture etc. 


Riess: Sounds like it would be good for goodwill, in any event. 

Scott: Yes, it got the place known and used, and I guess justified some of 
the work, as a University resource. 

Riess: In fact, the place is still not known. 
Scott: Oh, no, not widely. 

I tried to interest the College of Environmental Design as a 
whole in using it for entertainment purposes, or anything having 
class reunions out there. And then it came up one time I think I 
told you about a wedding. 

Riess: No. 

Scott: I had two foreign students working in the greenhouses, for very 

minimum pay, two foreign students who met there and loved the place. 
They were from different countries, I don't remember which. Anyway, 
they wanted to get married out there. So, "Would it be all right to 
have it there?" And I said, "I don't know why not," I thought it 
was great. Then I thought, uh oh. University I'd better ask. So I 
called Mr. Canning, and Mr. Canning said sort of "Ho, hum. hmmm. Is 
this a religious ceremony?" And I said, "I don't know; I never 
thought to ask." "Well, find out." And so I found out, and no. it 
wasn' t. 

So then he asked if wine would be served? (This was before 
they had an open campus.) I said, "I doubt it, they're so poor; I 
don't think that these kids have anything." Finally Mr. Canning 
said, "Well, let's just pretend you didn't ask." So okay, they went 
ahead and were married in the garden, and all went well. 

It was at least four years after that before the garden was 
ever used for a wedding again. It has become a very popular place 
to have weddings since then. But [laughs] 

Riess: I guess the University was sensitive. 

Scott: It was very uptight. 

Riess: Did faculty wives use it for garden parties, or whatever? 

Scott: I proposed setting up a Friends of the Blake Estate, a separate 

organization like Friends of the Library, but I got little response. 
I did invite some faculty wives from the whole College of 
Environmental Design to discuss that idea no takers. 

Riess: Why? 


Scott: I don't know, just no takers. Nobody wanted to put any effort into 
it, so nothing happened. 

Riess: Is that because everybody was you know, were we all concerned with 
Vietnam? It sounds almost like it was something that had to do with 
the times as much as the place. 

Scott: I think it was; people just weren't interested in doing any more 
about the University. 

Riess: Or gardens weren't relevant, maybe. I mean, if you read the 

Berkeley Barb publicity when Hitch moved in, there was general 

Scott: Oh, well, they tried to picket the place, sure, during the 

construction. There was great protest because the remodelling was 
costing so much money, and even the governor didn't have a residence 
at that time. The old governor's residence had been condemned. 
Reagan was governor; he didn't have any proper place to live; they 
were going to build another place for him. We had to assure 
everybody that this was private money not state money being paid 
for the work. There were threats of picketing all the time the 
house was under reconstruction. 

Riess: You mean by students? 

Scott: Students, and labor. A lot of union labor didn't want to work there 
because the gardeners weren't union. They were employed by the 
University, but that didn't make any difference to the union. The 
union was really up in arms over this. The University was not 
popular at that time at all, and this expenditure I don't know how 
much money it is. 

Riess: It was $438,000 ultimately, I think. 

Scott: Today we think that is peanuts, but there was a great deal of 
feeling against spending such a sum. 

Riess: Your effort to organize a Friends of the Blake Estate was prior to 
your having any idea that it might be a presidential residence? 

Scott: Yes, and then I was simply informed that that was going to happen. 


Blake House Becomes the President's House 

Riess: When did you hear about it first? 

Scott: I guess the chairman of the department must have it was Professor 
Vaughan again, he was still there told me what had been decided, 
and I was recommended as the landscape architect, to work with 
Ron Brocchini, the architect. 

I met with Ron Brocchini first, and Norm a Wilier. We all met 
out there together to look at what the problems were, and how we'd 
have to "hitch" the garden to the house, [laughs] what provisions 
we'd have to make for the construction, and at the same time keep 
the garden available to students and visitors. We had to recognize 
that these two activites would go on at the same time. 

Riess: So that means access to the gardens. 

Scott: We had to talk about how we were going to handle parking, and 
entrances, and delivery, and placement of materials during 
construction, and all of the typical problems of reconstruction. 

Riess: I've looked at the files a lot, and there are many memos. In one of 
the first memos in the first paragraph it lists the things that the 
Hitches required, or wished to have, and it included a swimming 
pool, and it also included something Nancy Hitch had seen somewhere 
in Europe and liked very much, an outdoor eating area and fireplace; 
And places for Caroline to play, and arrangements for dogs and so on 
and so on. Were you in on the very early discussions of all this 

Scott: I don't remember such a list. I met with Mr. Hitch up in the 

President's Office, with Ron Brocchini and Norma Wilier Mrs. Hitch 
not present at that first meeting. But I guess this list of what 
was wanted was discussed and how each item could be accomo dated. 

Riess: Were budget considerations uppermost, or was it just going to go 


Scott: Not discussed in my presence at all. Never discussed. As far as I 
was concerned I was simply to plan to join garden to house, and 
accomodate each feature. There was no budget set up for the 
landscape work. 

Riess: Was it a time then that you could do a lot of things that you'd 

always wanted to do in the garden, because now here at last is a lot 
of money? 

Scott: Yes it did mean some further development, in line with my wanting to 
do something in the area on the west side, below the house. That 
area was a natural for a lake. It was remote for a swimming pool, 
but we did consider it. I did a preliminary plan, with a swimming 
pool there, and it was considered too costly and too remote from the 
house. That area ended by becoming a golf putting green. We 
considered the swimming pool in other locations closer to the house, 
but they were worried about control responsibilities when it would 
be more accessible to visitors. We considered a steel tank pool 
raised well above the grade, instead of at ground level, as really 
the best way to build a pool on the site. Such a pool would be 
earthquake proof it's so close to the Hay ward fault. That was the 
best way to construct a pool in any case on that property. But that 
was ruled out as being too expensive. I didn't get into estimating 
the cost, as it was simply ruled out. 

Riess: What were the major changes in the garden? 

Scott: Well, the parking areas, of course. There had been very little 
parking area, and the problem of how to get deliveries to the 
kitchen entrance so close to the main entrance at the same time 
and screenings, and garage they wanted the garage in the house, so 
it had to go clear around and under. 

Then Mrs. Hitch couldn't back out easily. Later we had to 
build an extension on a platform, backing over what was called the 
Australian Hollow, on the other side of the ridge. That platform 
allowed three extra parking places for servants or people assisting 
in the house. I had to plan all of that plus fencing, because they 
wanted the formal garden fenced, and the two gates, with electronic 
controls. I also redesigned the house terraces and stairways to the 
lawn area below the house on the west. 

Riess: These are desirable things for the house, and the garden lighting I 
guess maybe that's something that you had perhaps always wanted to 

Scott: Oh, definitely desirable to do, and if they were going to entertain 
it certainly was almost a necessity to add lighting to the garden in 
addition to the entrance road. The parking and entrance way had to 
be well lighted. Indirect lighting of the garden was something I 
proposed and accomplished. It's in complete disrepair now, I believe. 


Riess : I wanted to ask about it. There was an estimate from Scott Beamer 
for garden lighting that was going to cost about $25,000, and yet 
your budget ultimately, for all of your work, which includes 
something called landscape lighting, was only $29,000. 

Scott: Some landscape details went in one budget, and some in another. I 
don't recall exactly. 

Riess: But the grand plan for the garden lighting did go in? 

Scott: Not all, some of it went in. Scott Beamer came out, great person 
that he was, bringing thousands of feet of electrical cord, and 
various kinds of fixtures, and set them up which is the proper way 
to plan garden lighting but very few people will do it, entirely on 
spec. By trying it out we decided we could do without all that he 
proposed. The essential lighting on the upper, formal garden, and 
spotlighting one or two oaks to the north was about all that we did 

Riess: So the $25,000 sounds like it was reduced greatly. Who came to see 
the light show? 

Scott: Mai Arbegast and I scheduled a department party out there. So the 
whole department came. We had a party to see the lighting as an 
educational project with Scott Beamer as the star performer and 

Riess: Was the department beginning to realize that they had a good thing 
in hand, now that it was the president's residence. 

Scott: [shakes head] 

Riess: Still no particular interest? 

Scott: I don't think the landscape architecture department took any 

particular interest in the project at all. It seemed to me, and I 
talked to Michael Laurie about this, that this would be an ideal 
time to educate the president of the University on the importance of 
landscape architecture, and to get more prestige for the department, 
which had been always on the low end of the scale in environmental 
design, and that politically this was a natural opportunity. But no 
one followed through. I was retired very soon after, so I didn't do 
anything about it either. Working through the planning and building 
educated Mr. Hitch somewhat. I think, but not to the point of 
enlisting his support. The department really could have used this 
opportunity in a great way. If Professor Vaughan had been the 
chairman, I think he would have. I don't know who was chairman at 
that particular point. 

Riess: Well, the dean of the College of Environmental Design might well 
have used it. 


Scott: He might have, but he didn't. 
Riess: Was that Martin Meyerson? 

Scott: No, that must have been William L. Wheaton. Wheaton was too busy 
working on bigger things between Washington and the state. He was 
working on national and state political issues in housing and 

Riess: But you did educate President Hitch about it. In what way, and what 
were the results of this education? 

Scott: I don't think I did succeed very much in this. He liked what we had 
planned and built, but I don't think I was able to make him see the 
larger picture in any way. 

Riess: According to Mr. Hitch, it was very hard for his wife to have the 
garden a public place. 

Scott: I got almost nowhere with Mrs. Hitch. I think she was very confused 
about her own role as the president's wife. She was interested in 
art and ceramics; they built in a special studio for her, into the 
house, which she seldom used. She seemed to feel that she had to do 
so many presidential duties that she couldn't take time for herself. 
And yet she was not comfortable in that role as the president's wife 
either, and always very worried about her daughter Caroline, worried 
about kidnapping. She was a worrier. Her concerns were not, I 
think, the larger issues. 

Riess: So she didn't embrace the garden as a project? 

Scott: She embraced the garden as a place to provide her with cut flowers 
every day. The next job for Russ Beatty was to build a big cut 
flower garden, and for Walter to deliver cut flowers to the house 
every day. The Blake House was her residence, to be managed in a 
kind of grand manner. She was interested in the history of the 
house, and garden. Mai had made a fine album of early and late 
pictures of the garden, which she lent to Mrs. Hitch. 

Riess: There ia a nice picture album that is now on the table in the house. 

Scott: Mai took the pictures and made the album. Mai is a recorder. Mai 
has always taken pictures at various times from the same spot. She 
really records plant growth, and how it looks at various periods. 
She has taken wonderful slides and pictures. All those plant and 
garden slides in the department are Mai Arbegast's work. 

Riess: And she did have that intense relationship with the house and garden 
for a couple of years. But then she was no longer part of the 


Scott: Well, she wasn't teaching in the University anymore, she didn't get 
tenure, so she couldn't afford to just be giving more time to it, 
although she often goes to visit. Mai keeps up her interest in 
everyplace and everybody. She's an amazing person. 

Riess : But there wasn't a way that you could hire someone like Mai? You 
didn't have positions at the beginning other than just your 

Scott: I got two gardeners to assist Walter, and some student help, part 
time, and that's as much help as we ever got out there. Tree 
cutting and heavy pruning was done by outside contractors. 

Riess: Just a little detail: in memos where you refer to "filling and 

developing bowl to west of house," is that the swimming pool area 
that became the putting green? Is that what you mean by that? 

Scott: Yes. That was a very difficult problem because that whole area is a 
sink formed after an earthquake. There are two sloping ridges with 
two sinks between the ridges. Water collects in those sinks natur 
ally, and to get water out of there we had to dig through a ridge 
and put in a very special kind of drainage in order to grow a lawn. 
Otherwise it would have become a marsh. It was a really very 
complex problem, and I'm sure in wet years it's still a problem. 
That sort of drainage is very imperfect and often requires pumping. 
A swimming pool in that area presented the same kind of problem. 
The soil becomes puddled. Only marsh plants and grasses grow well 
in such a hollow. 

Riess: That's interesting. Such a big project, it makes me think again of 
what a good experience it would have been for students to have 
worked there. 

Scott: Well, those students who were there during the time that this was 
going on all learned, through me, quite a good deal. But the 
department never set up projects in which various professors took 
part. They each taught their own separate course, they did not 
collaborate on problems as they did at Cornell, which I think was a 
very much better system. But at the time I was in the department, 
either as a student or as a lecturer later, they never did that. So 
that whereas a person teaching construction might set up a 
construction problem using Blake Garden, it would be a little minor 
kind of thing. A professor teaching detailed design might make his 
students design a pergola for a particular place or something like 
that, but never utilizing the site as an overall problem, which it 
could have been a very good problem. 

Riess: And a little satisfaction if it's a real problem, too. 


Scott: Professors were beginning to get more interested in public work. 

park systems, and housing developments, at the time. They could have 
used it, but they didn't. 

Now, I think I ought to mention this, that when Robert Tetlow 
became chairman, some years after I had retired, he got a notion 
that he could get a little money to do something about the Blake 
Estate. (Although he had ignored it totally before that and always 
voted against doing anything about the Blake Estate.) He got the 
notion that there ought to be a Friends of the Blake Estate. So he 
appealed to me to head such an organization and he would support it. 

I said, "Thanks, but no thanks." I'm not about to take on that 
problem at this stage in my life. I'd had no support before and I 
was not about to try again. Even though the times had changed and 
it might have worked. It didn't work; he didn't find anybody, and 
nothing happened. You might talk to Tetlow, because he's still 
there, about how much of an effort he made I have no idea. 

Riess: If you retired, then you can't tell me, for instance, how the Saxons 
interacted with the gardeners. 

Scott: No. I stopped going out there because I felt Walter was not a good 
enough maintenance person. I'd done a great deal to get his status 
raised to a higher and higher level, and he, I feel, didn't set a 
high enough standard for his own workmen. He never got ahead of 
just common things like the weeds each year. It was so frustrating. 
This place should have been a model of maintenance and I never was 
able to raise it to that degree. 

Riess: Even though you were his boss in this case. 

Scott: [laughs] Walter's words are telling: I'd say, "I'd like to see you 

do this, get this done by such and such a date." "No problem." But 
he seldom accomplished what I had asked for. 

Riess: He called you "ruthless, and w onde rf ul . " 
Scott: [laughs] 
Riess: So there. 

Scott: Ruthless because I cut trees that he didn't think should be cut 

because they were healthy trees. I've been called ruthless by many 
people, as are most artists and designers, [laughs] 

Riess: But "wonderful." He obviously knew that you must love the place as 
much as he did. 


Scott: Well, I gave it more attention than anybody else had and he got some 
satisfaction out of that. Most gardeners feel very lonesome. Not 
many people went out there; the garden wasn't used; they didn't get 
praise. A head gardener's job in a place like this is difficult. 
Mrs. Hitch was demanding in a way. Apparently the Saxons really 
liked the gardening and took a considerable interest, and both, I 
think, enjoyed the time that they were there very much because they 
really were interested in the garden, Mrs. Saxon particularly, 
according to Linda Haymaker. 


Talking About the Garden 

The Paths, Labelling the Plants 

Scott: The stone on the Blake Estate, the walls, the grotto, and all that, 
came from the estate. The Blakes were interested in that property 
because stone was part of his business. Other people might have 
been daunted by that rock there's rocky subsoil and rock outcrop 
but it interested the Blakes. When they came to build the paths, 
for instance, having a rock quarry, crusher in Richmond they 
prepared paths with bases sometimes eighteen inches thick. Moving a 
path was an enormous job. Where the lawn area is now, that lawn to 
the south of the driveway was criss-crossed with paths around a little 
old greenhouse, and service area. To remove those paths and get that 
area into a uniform planting area of soil was a major job. Nobody 
could understand why it took so long or cost so much in labor time. 

Riess: Eighteen inches! The bases were really 

Scott: crushed rock. You know, built up properly with coarse stone, and 
finer and finer; built up better than the bases of our streets. 

Riess: You couldn't have turned them into drainage systems? 

Scott: They didn't go in the right direction; they were paths. [laughs] 

Riess: That's a wonderful bit of archaeology. 

Did you find signs of the Blakes' idiosyncracies? [pause] 
We talked about the cats . 

Scott: They loved cats, and species roses. [laughs] With having so many 
pine needles available, we used them to surface paths, producing a 
marvelous springy walking surface. 

Many of the areas that seem poorly planted are impossible 
because of the rocky subsoil, and/or poor drainage; drainage 
channels through all that area are curious because of earthquake 


Scott: faulting action. Natural drainage has been changed by earthquake 

action, resulting in something like a moraine, mixtures of different 
kinds of soils deposited and drainage blocking, interesting 
geologically. I had a geologist come out and talk to me about it. 
There is a section about the geology in the long-range plan. 

Riess: Was it under you tenure that plants were labelled there, to the 
extent that they are? 

Scott: Mai had made the plant inventory, and labelling was one of the 

things that Bob Raabe and I did, and I'm sure that this continued 
with Russ Beatty. Walter tried to encourage people like 
horticultural society people and garden club people to come there, 
and he knew that labelling was needed. I remember we studied 
various kinds of labels, but the best waterproof kind are quite 
expensive. We had to settle for something less than good. How many 
got labelled I don't know. I think Linda Haymaker probably would 
have added a good many. She's been there ten, eleven years. She 
should have been made the director, after Walter. 

Riess: You think it's another case of a woman being passed over? 
Scott: Definitely. 

Riess: Garrett Eckbo almost lived in the house? Do you remember anything 

about that? I think Walter told me that when the house was empty, I 
guess after Prytanean, Garrett Eckbo and his wife came up here and 
more or less said that they wouldn't mind living in the house. 

Scott: I never heard that, but I know he had a hard time finding a place to 
live. When the landscape architecture department brought Garrett up 
to be chairman, he left a very nice home in southern California, and 
in Berkeley finding a house was difficult. So it's perfectly 

The Brochure, and Articles about the Gardens 

Riess: I have a couple of final questions: the files are thick on getting 
that Blake Estate brochure together. It was just an impossible task 
to even write it? Everyone was in on it. 

Scott: Except me, which is the curious part, because Mrs. Hitch asked me 
for quantities of material, which I gave her, and the next thing I 
knew there was the brochure I'd been by-passed again.* 

*Letter from Scott to Appleyard. See Appendices, 00, PP. 


Scott: The article that Linda Haymaker wrote in Pacific Horticulture 

is the best thing that has come out in print.* Infinitely better 
than the one that Garden Magazine did [1986], 

Riess: The Garden Magazine one was full of inaccuracies? 
Scott: Oh, yes, it's very poor. 

Riess: Wonderfully photographed. It is by Lawrence Lee. Who is Lawrence 

Scott: Lawrence Lee is now the director of horticulture at Staten Island 
Botanical Gardens [looking at magazine]. 

Riess: He was a graduate of U.C. Berkeley? 

Scott: Yes, I guess that's why he came out here. He's a nice young man and 
knowledgeable about horticulture. Linda's article is very good, and 
well written. 

The Garden, Twenty Years Ago 

Riess: How different is the garden now from 1964, would you say? It was a 
fully-grown garden then. 

Scott: Oh, yes, much of it was overgrown already, because there were plants 
from many lands, and many had been planted from seed, with no 
knowledge of how fast they would grow in this climate. They'd been 
planted too close together, which forces upright growth. Also the 
Slakes liked vines, had planted quantities of vines climbing on many 
trees species roses, particularly, which have wild thorns. All 
species roses are very thorny, really wicked kinds of thorns. Many 
of those trees in what is now the lawn area and the entrance area 
had climbing roses clear to the top, festooning over them. It was 
handsome in a way, but truly a jungle. 

I had made a study of species roses for Dr. Emmet Rizford, a 
great rosarian, who had asked me to make the study. I found many of 
then at the Blake Estate later. That study was published in 
California Horticulture. I knew about these roses. They were 
wonderful in a way, but you can't just cut them back, you have to 
take them out, because if you cut them back they grow even more 
vigorously, having such tremendous root systems. We had to actually 

*"Blake Garden," Pacific Horticulture, Spring 1987, No. 1, 
pp. 8-13. See Appendices. 


Scott: do away with what had been a good collection of species roses. But 
what was the place for? It wasn't a real botanical garden; it 
didn't have any great collections. It did have plants from many 
lands, adapting to this climate, and we tried to keep all of those 
that were really significant, or to keep one specimen of each in a 
place that didn't need to be cleared in order to make some space for 
people. To enjoy plants you have to have some kind of viewing space. 

Many trees, for instance the magnolias planted around this 
main pool, were already too large. They were a poor selection. But 
at the time there were probably no horticultural varieties. 
They didn't grow those from seed; they bought those from the 
nursery as little magnolia trees. (Since then cultivars that are 
dwarfed, better proportioned, better shaped, have been developed.) 
Those magnolias had just been allowed to grow naturally, and when 
trees aren't pruned regularly, and later you start pruning them, you 
deform them. 

Riess : So these were replanted? 

Scott: No, they're still the original trees, but they're very deformed, and 
one or two have died, and their roots are cracking the pool. It's 
one of the major things that must be tended to, by next summer I 
understand. A lawn can't grow in that much shade. It's a design 
decision: either the trees should be taken out completely, and new 
ones planted, or given over to the lawn, letting the trees from the 
side do the enclosing. These are all design decisions which Walter 
was not capable of making, or wouldn't make, and even pruning 
heavily hurt him. 

Riess: But you were there to make that decision. 

Scott: I made the design decisions all the time I was in charge, but in 

order to control those trees then, they had to be thinned at least 
every other year. 

Riess: And since you've left there hasn't been a design person there? 
Scott: Russ Beatty has been in charge. 

Russ Beatty, who is a landscape architect and a designer, but 
without the kind of experience that I have in back of me, simply 
couldn't get the money and didn't force the pruning. He doesn't 
have as strong a conviction about design as I have, let's say, so 
that less pruning got done. Now, the new man John Norcross is 
trained as an architect, not as a landscape architect. He worked up 
at the Botanical Garden and learned his plants by working there. 

Riess: But that doesn't give you garden design. 
Scott: No, it doesn't. 


And Twenty Years Later 

Scott: Linda Haymaker has much more of a design sense. She came out of the 
landscape architecture department, and has since gone back to the 
University and gotten herself a master's degree. She loves the 
place, and would have been an ideal person, but she's not exceedingly 
forceful. She couldn't be forceful under Walter Vodden; she's never 
been given the opportunity to make major decisions. I think she 
would have been the ideal person. However, she was not advanced to 
that position. Russ Beatty insists that Norcross has a strong 
design sense and will keep the hedges properly pruned and all that. 
I don't know. 

Riess: What do you think the future is up there? You've hinted before at 
another big change. 

Scott: Well, it's still an appropriate place that the University could use 
for some kind of a "think tank." There's plenty of space, both 
above and below the house, with easy access from the roads below and 
above to add extra housing, if needed, or extra laboratory space. 

Riess: So you think it's not adequately used by having it the president's 
official residence/office. 

Scott: Well, it's an expensive thing to maintain for that purpose, but it 
has been on the University's budget all this time. Only about four 
acres of the ten-acre site are developed and maintained. 

Riess: Do you see a new push for the garden? 

Scott: I don't see it; however, they have a new chairman of the department 
who's an entirely different kind of person. His name is Randy 
Hester, and Randy believes in what he calls "responsible design." 
He's done a lot of public work in which he involves all the people 
concerned in the decision- making process. This the department also 
believes in. I'm sure that he will concern himself with the Blake 
Estate because he's that kind of person. 

I've put ten years of my life into working on the Blake Estate, 
and I'm still very hopeful that some good use will be made of that 

Transcriber: Johanna Wolgast 
Final Typist: Shannon Page 


Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

Florence Holmes 

An Interview Conducted by 

Suzanne B. Riess 

in 1987 


1988 by The Regents of the University of California 

Flo Holmes in the Blake Garden's greenhouse, 1987, 
Photograph by Suzanne Riess 

TABLE OF CONTENTS Florence Holmes 



The Flowers of the Garden 339 



Since the late 1950s Florence Louise Chilton Holmes has been arranging 
flowers for the official houses of the University of California. Whenever 
the University sets a fine table for an official function someone has to 
decorate that table. In 1958, after the Robert Gordon Sproul years, as both 
the campuses and the roles of the presidents' wives and the chancellors' 
wives expanded, some of the traditionally wifely duties were delegated. 
Mrs. Jack "Flo" Holmes was a graduate of Chouinard School of Fine Arts, 
trained as an interior decorator, and already involved with flower arranging 
through a Faculty Wives Section Club group. She had done some flower 
arranging for Chancellor and Mrs. (Hark Kerr, and in 1958 when Kerr became 
President she accepted a staff position where she was on call to do floral 
arrangements for Berkeley's University House. In 1968 President and Mrs. 
Charles Hitch requested Flo Holmes's services at Blake House, and she is 
still, thirty years later, taking delight in finding the right arrangements 
for the tables at Blake House. 

To any query about how flower arranging might be a valid way of viewing 
history, I would refer the social historian to the Regional Oral History 
Office's memoir completed with Ida Amelia Sproul in 1981. The President's 
Wife, in which Mrs. Sproul, in recalling the floral aspect of her duties 
as president's wife also described working with Isabella Worn on flower 
arrangements at University House for daughter Marion Sproul 1 s wedding. This 
is the same Miss Worn who worked in the gardens of Lurline Matson Roth at 
Filoli in Woodside, and was a colleague of Mabel Symmes. Thus a bit of 
connective tissue between those three institutions is woven and saved. 

This brief interview with Mrs. Holmes was held in the sunroom at Blake 
House. We were provided with tea and cookies by Marina Harrison. Marina 
and her husband Dan are the resident staff at Blake House ar j Vi we many 
opportunities to recognize and appreciate from behind the see. s what Mrs. 
Holmes takes on so willingly, often above the call of duty. 

An open and cheerful person, Mrs. Holmes was very frank in the 
interview. But while allowing herself to be amused by the vagaries of her 
job and the idiosyncracies of the official families she has served, she 
nevertheless clearly loves what she does and knows the Blake Gardens as well 
as anyone on the gardening staff. She added her own conclusion to the 
interview, saying, "Each day is a new and different challenge, never a 
repeat, always something different. I guess they like my work. I'm still 
around in my old age still have plenty to do!" 

Suzanne B. Riess 
Interviewer- Editor 

November 11, 1987 

Regional Oral History Office 

486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 3 University of California 

Room 486 The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 94720 

(Please print or write clearly) 


Your full name ^ 

Date of birth i^^. 2- ^ -</' Place of birth ~^/^/>< 

Father's full name 4' UU&IH. ^/-u i 


Occupation ^WUt^ j^t^S ^ 2oten V 

.-^e-'l. - 


Mother's full name 

Birthplace l^.,' n c'V 
Occupation - 

Where did you grow up ? "^ .^^ rf..- -t:-t<- c^- - ot-^c 

Present community 

Education Cft.'Ylc* ** /' 



fst,*^. ,- 
a . 

Special interests or activities ^lUfite - S*.LLti&<i O.A-&-- ^ . tH-t-' * '- 


The Flowers of the Garden 

[Date of Interview: March 20, 1987] 

Riess: How did your involvement with flowers at Blake House begin? 

Holmes: Things just grew. I did things for the Kerrs when he was 
chancellor, then as president. 

Riess: You were a faculty wife. 

Holmes: Yes, my husband Jack was a professor of educational psychology. 

There was a need and interest in doing something with flowers, and 
so we started a flower arrangement group in University Wives 
Section Club. 

Riess: When was that? 

Holmes: In the late fifties sometime. I suppose the Section (Hub president 
has a record of when it actually started. 

Friends of mine, Nellie Rollifson, Margaret Horning, Rebecca 
Cason, and I were made early chairman and co-chairman, and we 
decided we'd better get a little training during the summer. I 
asked Mrs. Obata if she could start a class, so we started a class 
at the YWCA down in Oakland where she'd been doing classes all 
along. She was glad to do it. We started at the top, really. 

The Section dub group went on until a few years ago. and 
then . Well, the problem was that Strawberry Canyon [Haas 
Clubhouse], which was built actually for faculty and student use, 
outpriced us, and we couldn't afford to pay the rent to meet there. 
It takes a lot of space and makes a mess. One has to have a place 
to work, and so we just discontinued it. A home can handle no more 
than a demonstration. (We do this through home and garden section 
at times.) 

Riess: When you were at the Y, it was just a small class? 


Holmes: That was just six of us there. To learn flower arranging you have 
to participate, and we took turns. With the Section Club group 
sometimes we had guest speakers. And maybe someone would come and 
do corsages. This training we have used at different University 
events. There are a number of flower arranging shows and demonstra 
tions in the Bay Area through garden clubs and the Japanese Ikebana 

Then when Dr. Kerr was president, they had many social events 
at the house [University House] and Mrs. Kerr needed somebody to 
help with flowers, so she asked me if I'd do it. Then after a 
while I think they got embarrassed about it because I did it for 
nothing. First they tried to get Mr. [Ari] Inouye to do it, and he 
didn't know anything about it, even though he is Japanese, 
[laughter] Not his job really the campus grounds kept him very 

They really ran me raggedl After the Kerrs then we had the 
Strongs, then the Wellmans and others filled in, and they all had 
their different ideas, and they were all using the place, 
presidents and vice-presidents, chancellors. They were disturbing 
days in the '60s. 

Riess: Did you have any say in what they grew in the gardens of University 

Holmes: Yes, suggestions were welcomed. I had a lot of cooperation from 

Ari Inouye. He's a wonderful person, very helpful and dependable; 
he directed things. 

Riess: Who planted the perennial and annual flower beds? 

Holmes: Fred Chervatine, and he was really quite a guy. He kept us well 
supplied with flowers. They've got quite a yard over there 
actually. They don't have deer problems like they have here at 
Blake. Now they have Bob West. 

Riess: Did you know Ida Sproul? 

Holmes: Yes, indeed. Grandma Sproul. too. Mrs. Obata used to do special 
arrangements for Ida Sproul. I'd go in with her sometimes and 
help. Just special events. She didn 1 t drive. 

Riess: Does that cutting garden on campus really date from Ida Sproul 1 s 
time in University House? 

Holmes: Oh, yes, but Mrs. Sproul moved in armloads of greens. They've got 
a big rose garden. There's a lot of sunny, south space. They've 
got a lot more flowers there than they have here. We have to hike 
around here for ours. Ten acres is quite a bit to cover to try 
and find what's bloom ingl The flowers there were really very ample. 


Riess : 


Riess : 
Holmes : 


Riess : 

Riess : 


Did you keep the house in flowers all the time, or were you only 
called in for state occasions? 

When the Heynses were there we kept the house pretty well filled up 
with flowers because they lived there. They had come out from 
Michigan, with three young sons. So things were lively, lived in. 

Did you have a collection of beautiful vases at your disposal there? 

Well, usually I went out and scouted, like I have here, for vases. 
A few things came with the house. They have three Chinese bowls 
that we used on the long dining room table. They had some real 
heavy metal containers you needed a derrick to pick them up. 
After a while you can't carry all that stuff, especially upstairs, 
so we kept these heavy ones down below and got things that were 
more of the same shape, and of lighter material. 

Did the gardeners cut the flowers? 

Yes, usually, but I did too. We went over things I wanted. If I 
ran short, I'd go out and get more. They didn't object to that. 
We cut together more often than not. 

If the chancellors and presidents hadn't had you, where else might 
they have turned? Who were the professionals? 

They used the florists. The professionals, state judges, you might 
say, like competition and display things. They'll spend all day 
doing one thing, which wouldn't fit in with what we needed, where 
you had to put twenty or thirty arrangements in the house and get 
it done before the caterers arrived or the party started. The 
professionals spend a lot of time just on one thing, an amazing 
amount of time. 

You sound like you were essential to the social operation. 

I guess so. Then I've included some of the girls who had had 
training in flower arrangements. We did the Charter Day luncheons 
too. for three or four hundred people, and special things at Kerr's 
house, too. That was always something. But with Maggie Johnston 
leading us around she was wonderful, she really was a wonderful 
person. She'd tell us what the president wanted. Maybe the number 
would change, but she'd always allow for more than was needed, so 
we didn't run short, things worked out well. 

Were these things what the president wanted? 
president's wife? 

Wasn't it really the 

Things fit together through Maggie. Every time it was something 
different. Just like the food, the menu. But I got the orders 
from Maggie. And I could suggest things too, whatever was in 


Holmes : 

Riess : 


Holmes : 


Holmes : 


season. Sometimes you can't get things; it's not the season. Of 
course the Kerrs liked to make it nice and showy. Each president 
had his own idea, what kind of flowers, or vases. 

Then how did you work with the Hitches at Blake House when they 
moved up here? 

Oh, the Hitches liked flowers all over. When she was away . I 
remember one time she phoned me on a Sunday and she said, "We're 
home, Flo, and there isn't anything in the house." [laughter] The 
house was big, though, and it does look kind of unlived in when you 
don't have something alive in it. I hadn't gotten the message when 
they were due home no orders ! 

She wouldn't have done it for the house herself on that Sunday? 

No, she didn't do it at all. She was an artist and potter, but 
certainly liked the place happy. (Not time for things as 
president's wife, believe me.) 

She thought of you as a professional and she didn't want to 

I just don't think she did anything with plants, really. But she 
liked flowers everywhere. 

Didn't she ask the staff to grow particular things here? 

Well, I think all the wives make a stab at that because of the 
things that they are used to around their own place wherever 
they've lived before. 

Is there a cutting garden here? Or do you have to wander the 

Holmes: It's up where you park your car, behind that big hedge of 

blackberries. Just last time I was here the deer had broken into 
the cutting area, chopped off all the new rose growth. But they 
left the tulips, so I picked those. We figure if I don't get them 
the deer willl The cutting area is rather poor, but then I don't 
think we've ever had to go out and buy anything unless it was 
something special, except in winter. December, January, and 
February nothing much but greens then. 

Riess: The Japanese style of arrangement often is just a few blooms. 

Holmes: Yes, the Hitches were contented with line arrangements. Of course 
she was an artist too, so she understood. Mrs. Gardner likes a 
bunch of flowers, a great bunch of them. Not just a line. You 
have to fill it in! [laughs] Which is all right, but it takes a 
lot more flowers to do that. Not Japanese style, more old English. 


Holmes: Mrs. Gardner likes lilies and tulips and roses and freesias and 

iris though they are very expensive out of season. It hurts when 
you have to go out and pay $1.25 for one lilyl Greenhouse plants 
don't keep that well. Perhaps in California we use seasonal 
flowers to better advantage. 

Riess: The garden isn't able to support the "bunch of flowers" concept? 

Holmes: Not in the wintertime. I've had to go out and buy supplies. We 
usually try to buy it according to what the calendar is. too. If 
they need it to last longer, then chrysanthemum or something that 
will last. 

But really we have an amazing amount of plant material around 
here. I just really am spoiled. There are so many greens, and I 
think greens are wonderful for contrasts. A great variety of 
flowers, too. We've got some bamboo out here that's nice, a sort of 
a variegated variety, it's kind of simple and good if I need extra 

They're trying to plant more variety out here for use. Linda 
Haymaker has put in a lot of azaleas and rhododendron. If I live 
long enough I'll be able to use them. 

We've got a lot of varieties of pale grey leaves which is nice 
to use. I like greens in different shades grey, yellow-greens, 
reds, wonderful combinations with flowers. Sizes, large, small 
make a difference. 

Riess: Who put together this organizational chart on how to handle flowers 
for Blake House?* 

Holmes: [laughs] I think maybe Maggie and Mrs. Hitch and I did that. 

Walter Vodden was kind of dragging his feet. You know, the garden 
is run by the Department of Landscape Architecture, and I don't 
know . That list gets funnier every time I read it. 

Riess: You had to have it spelled out that there was one man who would 
regularly cut flowers for you. and so on? 

Holmes: That wore out in a hurry. If something came up that they wanted 
Bill Jones to do, he'd take the truck and leave. They didn't do 
much picking a dream. I finally hired students to help me. If I 
needed extra help in arranging I'd get a friend, usually students, 
in to help. I did have several students over the years. Barbara 
Balamuth [Andrews] graduated from Santa Cruz. She wasn't located, 

*f oil owing page 

343a 10/6/69 


The long run plan for handling flowers for Blake house should be as;J 

/ follows: 

1. Flo Holmes is told about a social event as far ahead as possible - right after 

it goes on the calendar. 

2. Flo Holmes should call the man who regularly picks flowers for her and tell 

him 1) how many arrangements (approx) there gill be 

2) what kinds of flowers she has in mind 

3) when she wants them ready for arranging 

3. There should be 1 man v;ho regularly cuts flowers for Flo. When she calls 

him, he can decide how many of the kinds she has specified and from whence he 
should but them, etc. If what she asks for are not available, he should 
discuss this with her on the phone and work out substitutes fi.t that time. 

He delivers the flowers to the back door in buckets at the time specified, 
to be expected 

4. Flo Holmes is NOT/to cut the flowers herself, ri nrathnt unless there is 

something special that she wants to find herself. 

5. The gardener aho is in charge of the cut garden is to plant the flowers as 

specified in the listing made up by Mrs Hitch so that they will be ready 
for use in the house at the specified times. 

Any other bedding plants that the Department wishes to plant may be planted 
in ADDITION to those specified on the list. 

6. It is Flo Holmes' responsibility to visit the cut garden with the gardener 

handling it (as convenient to them) so that she will know what is available 
and what is going to be available in the future. 

7. It is extremely important that there be one regular employee who is responsible 

for the cutting of the flowers for the house. He should be trained by Mrs. 
Hoduaes as to the lengths she needs, type of foliage, etc. and any other 
information that will make both the cutting and arranging more efficient and 
less time consuming. The training will take both of their time, however, 
in the long run a thoroughly trained full time, regular employee will save 
both time and money for all of us. 

8. If flowers on the list are already planted in hhe garden, it should be 

ascertained that there are sufficient of each item to handle the needs of the 
house. If these are scattered throughout Blake Garden and not concdntrated 
in the cut garden, it is the responsibility of the man who cuts the flowers 
to gather these from wherever they are growing and to bring them to the back 
porch as requested. 


Holmes : 

Riess : 



Riess : 

Riess : 
Holmes : 

Riess : 

Riess : 
Holmes : 

Riess : 


so I said. "Come on over and you can help me." Then they hired her 
to help Maggie, and so she worked here quite a while. A wonderful 
earnest worker, and always pleasant. Maggie really enjoyed having 
her real friends. 

When did you start as a paid person? 

When Mrs. Kerr was chancellor's wife. There were only a few months 
that I worked free. Checks then came through campus maintenance. 

Paid on an hourly basis? 

Yes, I'm sort of like a free-lancer. But up here the house pays 
me still free lancing. I don't do it at the chancellor's house 
any more. I worked there about thirty years. Too much of a hassle. 

Have you trained the person who does it there? 

No, they just picked somebody out of the hat that's learning awful 
stuff so they report. 

From where? There isn 1 t any Section Club group. 

No, but they are hoping to start up again in the fall [1987], If 
they can find a place to do it. It's a messy job, leaves dropping 
around all over the place. The Heymans' [Chancellor Ira Michael 
and Therese Heyman] basement there at the University House is a 
good place, but I don't think she'd approve. I used to have my art 
class there for quite a few years. She was nice about that. 

Was that also University Wives Section dub? 

No. Mostly we were Section dub women, not Section dub-sponsored 

Back to the old Blake House list of Dos and Don'ts. "Flo Holmes is 
not to cut the flowers herself, unless there is something special 
that she wants to find herself." 

[laughs] Is that right? Once in a while they object if I cut off 
a branch that they're trying to straighten a bush out with. We cut 
four to five bucket loads each event and greens, a lot of stuff. 
Now I have Vera Gough. English gal. She is great. 

Does this list reflect difficulties in communication between the 
house and . 

And Walter. He is really a nice guy, wonderful knowledge of 
plants. He was sort of from a generation of not wanting women 
bossing him around! No way! But helpful in telling about flowers 


Holmes: in bloom. We could use the hothouse to plant things. Really I 
1 ike d him. 

Riess: Of course Mrs. Blake must have bossed him around. 

Holmes: But not for too many years. She needed help, was lonely and living 
alone. He came in to do things for her in the garden caretaker 

Riess: You met her? 

Holmes: Yes, she used to let us come in the gardens. We met her at the 
door out here. She was pretty old, and nearly blind, too. She 
must have been quite a gal, her sister, too. But the gardens 
weren't really open when she was here. It wasn't until afterwards 
that the University acquired the property and straightened up the 
house and improved the place adding things. Got a garden crew and 
Mai Arbegast. 

Riess: "It is extremely important that there be one regular employee who 
is responsible for the cutting of the flowers for the house. He 
should be trained by Mrs. Holmes as to the lengths she needs, type 
of foliage, etc., and any other information that will make both the 
cutting and arranging more efficient and less time consuming. The 
training will take both of their time; however, in the long run a 
thoroughly- trained full-time employee wil save both time and money 
for all." 

Holmes: Yes. We had a guy called Bill Jones. You can't tell gardener 
people things like that, but that just sort of pointed out that 
we'd like a few things, I think. You know, you don't go around 
complaining to people because you haven't got the flowers you want 
this week, when last week they all bloomed. It's very hard to 
arrange growth of flowering plants around the calendar. The 
calendars and weather are unpredictable. 

Riess: Other places maybe use hothouses. 

Holmes: We have a hothouse here, a big one, but it's rare that we have 
anything in there we can use. They had a lot of freesias, 
geraniums, and they bloomed beautifully, but nobody was here to use 
them. You can't put geraniums outside because the deer just chomp 
them al 1 of f . 

Riess: The deer have always been a problem? 

Holmes: Yes. Now we have them fenced in. They should be thinned out, they 
should do this. They were just walking in the front gate! It's 
been about two weeks now since they have changed it so that people 
can't just drive in. You now can use a walk-in gate. 


Riess: Hew much notice do you get of when you will be needed? 

Holmes: Usually for the big things, about a week. It's President Gardner 
and Mrs. Gardner who really decide things, or his office, though 
sometimes the vice-presidents have dinners here too. At times 
things come up on short notice. 

Riess: When you need more flowers for this house, can you use the garden 
on the campus, the University House garden? 

Holmes: They have plenty there, just gobs, and they have a better area, 
it's on a slope, and it gets the southern sun, the western 
afternoon sun. There have been three fellows over there, and they 
were good growers of flowers. 

Here they are really more interested in landscaping. For 
instance, in the south circle it is all planted with primulas, and 
they are pretty with the magnolias, but they all bloom at once, and 
they are just for looks for the landscaping. Alison Cardinet 
here I feel like she's the first one who's really been interested 
in growing flowering things for us. She was hired just to grow 
flowers in fact. They're still struggling with the cutting area, 
that has a fence like a chicken coop a terrible fence around it. 
They keep saying they're going to move it out in the sun a bit more 
too, which would help. (Times are developing.) When you have a 
lot of blackberries, you're going to have a lot of bugs. Roses are 
a struggle here. We will have more light now because they have 
removed a tree. 

Riess: But anyway, could you use the flowers at University House? 

Holmes: No, Mrs. Heyman doesn't want us to. Why, I don't know. It used to 
be all right. Now the gate is locked. I don't do the work there 
anymore. She has a different attitude about it, about faculty 
things. Section Club things. 

The Gardners, my hat's really off to them. They gave up some 
party to come to a Section dub event (60th year), believe it or 
not. And Mrs. Gardner showed up the other day when the northern 
campuses Section Clubs met in Davis for the annual meeting. The 
Heymans openly admit that the Section Club is a nuisance. Yet 
there are a few things that we have to do there. Section dub is 
really in a pickle, having no place really to meet and do our 

Riess: Where do you purchase flowers to supplement things here? 

Holmes: Ashby Flower Shop or any place. Sometimes I get plants out my way 
in Orinda where I know the quality is good. 

Riess: Do you go to the flower market? 


Holmes: I used to. But the traffic has gotten so terrible. I feel like I 
have to bring my son or somebody because if you get an armload of 
flowers and all those people, and everything's wet and heavy, I 
need help! But we used to do it. Still go for pin frogs and vases 
and supplies. 

We used to get the flowers for Charter Day from campus and the 
flower market, and I'd arrange them up there at University House. 
I'd get paid by Maggie. Now that's all changed. There is no more 
University-wide Charter Day. This year they dedicated the dark 
Kerr Campus. 

Charter Day was always interesting, because Maggie or the 
president would move it around. If they were honoring a professor 
from the Law School we would have it out on their patio. Usually 
lunch in Pauley Ballroom. Charter celebration, Greek Theatre. But 
we've had lunch outside, when they dedicated the new bells for the 
Campanile. Had to anchor things 1 Makes a difference when the wind 
is blowing. [laughs] Some days we'd just about die from the heat, 
other days the wind took over. When they had the protestors they 
had to move to Zellerbach, and that kind of cut the joy out of it. 
The flags make it such a celebration, but the low, balcony ceiling 
in there it just wasn't right. 

Riess : Did you have to deal with the flower and pollen allergies of 
visiting dignitaries? 

Holmes: Yes. One of the chancellor's wives over in the city couldn't stand 
anythingl But there are plants and greens that don't have pollen 
to bother most people. 

Riess: Do you have any stories of strange things, funny things, that 
happened about the arranging? 

Holmes: There was one time we had a fawn in here. The kitchen door was 
open on a hot day. Of course the floor is kind of slick for a 
deer. It hopped around. We had a Negro maid at that time, and she 
was really frightened. Maggie tripped and almost fell down the 
stairs trying to see what was happening. She just picked this 
little fawn up and went out the doorl 

Back to Maggie. Maggie was wonderful, really. Very 
complimentary. If everything went right she'd phone me up and say, 
"Everything was just perfectl" It made you feel good. She was 
very understanding, good directions as to what was wanted. Great 
leader in the many interesting parts of her life. 

Holmes: From this work I have met many wonderful people. One thing leads 
to another in friendships. I have done a number of weddings, 
special events, and memorials for dear friends. I feel 


Holmes: complimented that people do like my relaxed way of flower 

arranging, not stiff like florist things. Each day is a new and 
different challenge, never a repeat, always something different. I 
guess they like my work. I'm still around in my old age still 
have plenty to do I 

Transcriber: Suzanne Riess 
Final Typist: Elizabeth Eshleman 


Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Blake Estate Oral History Project 

Linda Haymaker 

An Interview Conducted by 
Suzanne B. Riess 
in 1987 

Copyright (cj 1988 by The Regents of the University of California 

at Blake Garden 




The Garden's Designers 353 

Sensitivity to Site 353 

Historical Records 356 

The Two Sisters, Anita Blake and Mabel Symmes 358 

The Department of Landscape Architecture and the Garden 360 

Restoration of the Garden 363 

Understanding the Designers' Motivation 363 

Unusual Features of the Garden 364 

Mabel Synmes 1 Vision 365 

History and Precedent 366 

Mediterranean- Style Planting 368 

The Edwin Blake Garden 369 

The Garden Today 371 



Linda Haymaker has worked at Blake Gardens since 1973 when as a student 
she was hired by Walter Vodden. Ms. Haymaker is in the tradition of strong 
and gifted women landscape architects that includes Miss Mabel Symmes, the 
garden's original designer, and Geraldine Knight Scott. And the admiration 
and sympathy for her predecessors are obvious in Ms. Haymaker's careful 
explication of the reasons for the garden's excellences. 

I had met Linda Haymaker several times in the course of my first visits 
to the Blake Gardens, but an interview with her was not part of the original 
design of the Blake House Oral History Project. Oral history tends to 
overlook people under forty. By definition she could not have known Mr. and 
Mrs. Blake, and unless carried as an infant in arms could not have seen 
them. Linda Haymaker arrived at Blake Gardens in an historical vacuum. How 
could she add to the story? 

But in the thirteen years of working by the side of Walter Vodden, 
until 1986 when he retired, Linda had been an audience for Mr. Vodden 1 s 
recollections of Miss Mabel Symmes and Mrs. Anita Blake. That lore whetted 
her appetite for more. She delved into the available historical records and 
wrote an article on the gardens published in Pacific Horticulture in Spring 
1987. I felt the author had an exceptional understanding of the original 
garden and its designers. I wondered what she might say in the conversational 
setting of oral history that she had not said in the published article. 

Linda Haymaker agreed to an interview. Her very thoughtful, informed 
responses to my questions showed how well acquainted she is with the garden 
and its history and how ably she verbalizes her feelings and feelings are 
for her much of what makes the garden interesting. In a way, this oral history 
project's ideal audience is Linda Haymaker's generation. That she was 
already asking many of the same questions in her own research was not 

We met in the glasshouse at Blake Gardens for an hour of taping and 
then took a walk to see Linda's favorite garden spots. In the months after 
the interview we continued to pursue the whereabouts of Mabel Symmes' s 
papers, and through a certain doggedness located caches in the University's 
Department of Landscape Architecture, in the Strybing Arboretum Library, San 
Francisco, and in the University Herbarium in the Life Sciences Building, 
Berkeley. Several of those "discoveries" are appended. 

Suzanne B. Riess 

October 29, 1987 

Regional Oral History Office 

486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 


University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 

Your full name 

Date of birth 

(Please print or write clearly) 


Place of birth 

Father's full name 


Mother's full name QOtW A 


Occupation W 1 g 

Where did you grow up ? 

Present community 




LA i^ . 


Special interests or activities 


The Garden's Designers 

[Date of Interview: May 27. 1987] 

Sensitivity to Site 

Riess : We're here to ferret out anything we can about the Blakes and 

Mabel Symmes. You've worked here and you've written about the 
garden.* I'm interested in how you've pieced it all together. 

Haymaker: It's an amazing collection of facts that comes together in so 

many different ways depending on who you talk to. I think that 
was part of the mystery for me when I first started working here, 
I guess it was in '70 or '71, as a student. I heard a lot of 
lore about the garden. Some of the stories didn't mesh too well; 
there were lots of very interesting stories. 

It became a real desire for me. enjoying and actually loving 
this property as much as I did, to try to uncover through the 
garden itself rather than from people and hearsay and stories 
what I really felt the evolution of the garden was. That is 
something in a restoration process that a lot of times you have 
to do from indicators, relics that you find within the garden. 
Uncovering little bridges someplace, or finding areas for 
seating, or paths that haven't been seen for thirty years that 
you discover have gone to an interesting little spot. How does 
it all add up together? 

A lot of what I really felt a strong need to find out was 
what these women were doing both in terms of design and in terms 
of the horticulture right here in the garden. What that 
collection probably was, what the planting evolution was quite 

*"Blake Garden," Pacific Horticulture. Vol. 48, No. 1, Spring 
1987, pp. 8-13, by Linda Haymaker. 


Haymaker: likely to have been, and how they probably progressed along with 
the site in a certain type of design direction. Because you 
don't know that kind of stuff. You know stories about how Mrs. 
Blake would always go to the Cal Hort meetings and show certain 
very esoteric special plants that only she owned and that she 
wouldn't give to anybody else because she wanted to have her 
collection. And you hear stories about small I assume they're 
small sisterly rivalries about territory in the garden and how 
they handled that. 

But what I wanted to work with was the fact that there was 
an amazing sensitivity to the site on this piece of property, and 
to ask how they put the design into the land, and how they 
evolved this particular garden and garden system here at that 
time. Because the standard fare that you got in the twenties was 
a kind of a what would you call it? the California exotic 
garden, that you saw so much of particularly in the Santa Barbara 
area and the southern California area. The grand estate, the 
exclamation of exotic materials like palm trees and tropical 
things, the showmanship of the garden. 

I think a lot that was special and I mean incredibly 
special about this garden was that they were able to somehow 
make a unique California garden. They were trying new things, 
not new plants but I guess "new" is the wrong word. Maybe more 
developing a technique that was going to be more of a California 
style of planting, in a sense a rougher style I certainly 
wouldn't call it less sophisticated at all. I would call it more 
sophisticated than eastern gardens in the sense that it 
identifies a special aesthetic from the existing landscape and 
its vegetation; we have here such a diverse and naturally wide- 
ranging kind of native flora that the people like the Spaniards 
and the earlier settlers in California had not really explored. 
They'd come into the grassland or chaparral, they'd say, "Well, 
we need our lilac trees, we'll put in some palm trees, we'll put 
in a few orchard trees for our food, and this is what our garden 
will be." Those were more of the mission-style gardens, frontier 

In the twenties I believe there was a strong new phase in 
garden development I think it was probably allied with this arts 
and crafts style that was happening in California then, during 
the twenties a returning to the native material and locally 
crafted arts, exploring the natural beauty that hopefully would 
be existing in the area. Some artists were exploring that and 
exploiting that, rather than trying to bring in this fully exotic 
collection. I think the Blakes did both kept up some of the 
more traditional standards of horticultural collection, and 
developed new ideas and directions of their own, based on their 
unique site constraints and assets. 


Riess: There are no models around here for what they did? Would you 

have assumed that on the basis of your research? 

Haymaker: I think the models that I know about probably were developing 
concurrently, probably in the twenties, thirties and forties, 
with, say, the Tilden Botanical Garden, which was a real pioneer 
garden in terms of promoting and growing native material 
exclusively. But you see the California Horticultural Society 
formed in the very early thirties, and that was a real 
effervescent kind of bubbling of people's ideas together that was 
I think extremely fortunate to be happening at that time even 
though it came from a negative impetus. [The California 
Horticultural Society was formed in 1935 to pool knowledge, after 
a devastating freeze.] 

Riess: But you'd say that these sisters already had a lot of those 

ideas, independently? 

Haymaker: They had a lot of ideas; they had a lot of contact, largely 
through their particular background in design and in 
horticulture, but also because they had money to be spending in 
avocational ways, towards the plants. But it's my feeling, 
especially with Mrs. Blake, that it was kind of an isolated sort 
of event, that the Blake garden was a separate and distinct 
interest, based on Symmes 1 and Blake's predilections. They would 
go through their particular contacts social or scholastic or 
whatever and would get through seed exchanges or gifts, very 
unusual seed. They would grow them up, they would put them out 
in the garden, they would test their beauty and growability. 

You sort of need to ask the question, "Are they doing this 
for the love of the plants? Are they doing this for the love of 
trying to create a garden on this relatively dry hillside with 
not a whole lot of water? What are they trying to do?" Of 
course they had a very rare and valuable collection, and a great 
number of species. So you have to say there's a certain kind of 
quantity involved in what they were doing that was designed to be 

Riess: That's a way the garden's talked about, "twenty-five hundred 

plant species"; at least at a certain time that was how it was 
referred to, the quantitative aspect. 

Haymaker: There was also a lot of real sensitivity for the effect of what 
they were creating. It's impossible to tell exactly what it 
looked like from early photos and large scale drawings, but I 
imagine in certain respects there was this desire to avoid a 
hodge-podge feeling that you get in botanical presentation, where 
you're trying to grow a lot of different things, often one or two 
of each one, just to see how they look, how they respond, what 
their presentation is for the garden. 


Historical Records 

Riess : 


Riess : 

Riess : 

Are there planting plans then from year to year that you can 
refer to? Are they in the archives here? 

That would be incredible if they were. We do have some good 
photos from the '20s and '30s, that help to portray the garden's 
progression. I have asked a lot of people where Miss Symmes 1 
drawings were, and I heard that they were over in Strybing. I 
called Strybing, I tried to find where they were over there 
nobody knew. I suppose they could be in some library over there. 
I wouldn't be surprised if they were found sometime. But again, 
it's this detective thing, they would have to be uncovered 

There was a real unfortunate lack of understanding about 
what to do with all this stuff when Miss Symmes died and their 
papers were disposed of. I don't know if you talked to Walter 
Vodden about this, but he said that essentially all of a sudden 
there were people over there I don't know who died last, it was 
one of the women, I think it was Mrs. Blake 

Yes. it was. 

People were throwing stuff out right and left, just by huge room- 
fuls of material. Walter said that he went over there and tried 
to salvage whatever he could that he thought was important, but 
there was just piles and piles and boxes and boxes full of stuff. 

Mabel died earlier, 

Do you know whether her room was emptied out 

I don't. Presumably they had the whole trust thing worked out 
with the University, and wherever books were given, a lot of the 
books went to Strybing. There was apparently a lot of duplica 
tion in their library, and several other libraries probably 
Beatrix Farrand's and a few others that went to Cal so that was 
why they wanted to send some over to Strybing or elsewhere, so 
that they would disperse a lot of the material. But somewhere 
along the way and it could be just the fact that there isn't a 
complete cataloguing of all these things there may have been 
overflow places where this material went, to some other building 
or some other library, and they're just still boxed up someplace. 
I know it's not unusual. 

*Some letters to Mabel Symmes have been located in the Strybing 
Arboretum Archives, including notes from James West. [7/14/87] 
See Appendices, II. 


Riess : But you know that there is material there? 

Haymaker: I know that there was material there. 
Riess: And we know that from Walter? 


Riess : 


Riess : 


Well, for instance in here* Gerry Scott has a drawing that Mabel 
Symmes made of the two gardens. The original of this is on 
yellow flimsy trace paper and is located in the Landscape 
Architecture Department drawings room. This is a site plan of 
Quinta de las Lilas [Villa of the Lilacs], which was Edwin's 
property, and La Casa Adelante, which was Blake Garden. This 
was, as it says here, drawn by Mabel Symmes, landscape architect, 
although it doesn't have a date. I imagine it was right about 
1930, maybe a little bit earlier. This gives you the obvious 
deduction that there was professional drawing and thinking going 
on here. This was the entire site plan, and I believe there 
would have been some section plans and particular small-scale 
drawings of the various borders and beds and what- have- you. The 
other thing that we got, which I thought I would bring up today 
I don't know if you've seen these this is Miss Symmes' three-by- 
five card files of all the plants. 

That's wonderful, 

Does it say where the plant is located in the 

Sometimes it does. It sometimes has the source. It was 
basically I believe her trying to do some form of cataloguing 
with the correct names, the flower colors. This was done I 
believe in conjunction with the Royal Horticultural Society. 
They did an encyclopedic survey with all the color ranges of the 
botanic material that was drawn here. So a lot of what this was 
doing was saying what the plant was, the species, hopefully the 
origin, and the color of the flower. I don't know why this 
flower color code was so important, but apparently it was, and 
they had that catalogued through some sort of a standardized 
international color source where you would match this up and say 
what it was. That was part of how these herbarium specimens for 
collection were indexed and compared to other species colors. 

When was this project done? 

This was done in the later thirties and early forties. Probably 
it was discontinued by the Second World War, but that's what the 
reason for this was. It's a very interesting file. This is the 

*Long-range Development Plan for Blake Estate, Appendix NN. 


Haymaker: only real evidence that I've ever found of what plants were grown 
here. Walter remembers certain planting combinations; he 
remembered a lot more even when I first started working here than 
he did in '86 when he retired. Many of the plants, you can come 
back here and look up and see yes, indeed, there was this plant. 
What this won't tell you is the planting combination, and that is 
really the most interesting thing, is how they were combined. I 
understand that although they had a very broad range of what they 
would collect and grow, from trees down to bulbs, that their 
specialty area of interest was herbaceous and South African bulbs 
and smaller things. They're much easier to play with, they 
flower a lot, and they're faster. It's a more [pauses] feminine 
way of looking at the garden, generally at a smaller scale, more 
detailed, rather than as the large structure plants. 

Riess : Then these things adapt themselves to the rocky outcroppings in 

the back of the house? 

Haymaker: Yes. There's really a limit to how many trees or even shrubs you 
can have. 

The Two Sisters, Anita Blake and Mabel Symmes 

Haymaker: Basically it was very fortunate that Mabel Symmes was trained as 
a landscape architect, because she was able to certainly form a 
very thorough and efficient structure system for the whole 
garden. Primarily this extensive windbreak system that she had 
all down the north section and across the west end, that really 
sheltered the top part of the garden from the winds. But also 
just aesthetically to get these axes in the garden working 
properly, and to have shrubs and trees that really began to 
define areas. 

Riess: It is interesting that this garden really began when the 

house began. It appears to have all been of a piece. The 
thinking apparently was going on even before they moved over, 
because they brought plants from Piedmont Ave., where they lived. 
Can you see any signs do you know which ones might have come 
from Piedmont Avenue? 

Haymaker: Walter knows a few stories about plants, basically Mrs. Blake 

being extremely concerned about how plants were moved and having 
these old-fashioned wagon loads I guess they were drawn by 
horses at that time of plants that were dug up and very 
carefully burlapped over the roots and carried four or five miles 
all the way out here and put into the garden. I don't know the 
exact plants that they were, but I know that it happened. 


Haymaker : 

Riess : 
Haymaker : 

Riess : 

I know that Mrs. Blake was the detail particular person who 
would oversee all the minutiae of the garden detailing. She 
would drive Walter crazy a lot of the time, and she would go out 
into the rose garden at pruning time and point to the gardeners 
and tell them where to make each and every cut on the roses. 
That didn't go over too welL I think Walter really respected 
her a great deal, but of course by that time she was very old, 
she was in her eighties, and I'm sure that she was cantankerous 
some of the time about how she wanted things to be done. 

But Miss Symmes was a different character. 

Miss Symmes was a lot more laid back. They were both, as I 
understand it, fairly formal people, but Miss Symmes was 
certainly the gentler of the two, she was much more approachable. 
If, for instance, Walter would want to know the name of the 
plant, if Mrs. Blake was around, Mrs. Blake would probably recall 
it pretty quick and give him the name of the plant. Miss Symmes 
would maybe remember it, maybe not, but if she didn't remember it 
right off she'd say, "I'll think of it in a little while. Come 
by the house and I'll let you know." She would write it down on 
a little piece of paper and give it to Walter. 

Miss Symmes was the one that was really concerned in trying 
to get an education process about the plants from the Blakes into 
the University mostly via Walter. She really took great pains to 
try to teach him as many plants as possible. I think that was 
maybe why she was sometimes not so quick about the plant, because 
if Walter would come over there then they could look it up in the 
sources and they could talk about it, and she could explain 
things about it, and it was more of a conversational process 
rather than straight facts. Straight facts are great, but they 
have their limits as to how much functional information can be 

That's interesting. Walter is very important in all of this, 
sounds like he's it, there were no other sort of apprenticed 



The Department of Landscape Architecture and the Garden 

Haymaker: The only other person that was really around then was Mai 

Arbegast; she was doing the tree and shrub survey of the garden, 
and she acted as a kind of a diplomatic liaison between the 
department and the house and tried to keep some kind of 
connection open. But I don't think . 

Riess : She was doing the survey based on her own plant knowledge then? 

Haymaker: Some, and there was help from a number of students. I think a 
lot of the plants were known or in the trade. There were many, 
many plants that were real esoteric that she would have to 
probably look up in an encyclopedic way in the records and then 
verify them with the Blakes. I think it was Mai that did a lot 
of that cross-cataloguing stuff. 

Riess: But an independent operator, in any event, rather than the kind 

of relationship that Walter had. 

Haymaker: Yes, she was teaching on campus and Walter was here at the 

garden. Remember that at that time the whole garden structure of 
design was much more formal. When they moved out here the Blakes 
were either in their late forties or fifties, very well 
established in a certain regime of garden protocol and operation, 
which was quite Victorian and certainly more old world than 
anything we would even begin to consider now. Mr. Blake always 
walked around the garden in full dress attire, with a suit, a 
hat, a white shirt and a tie. I think even both of the women 
really dressed for the garden, that they didn't really get out 
there and grub, as many women of means will do today. It's more 
accepted, even in English circles I think, to be kind of dotty 
about one's garden and to want to go out there and do things, 
than it was in a lot of American society. 

Riess: So what are the implications of this, that you don't talk to the 



Haymaker : 


Haymaker : 

I think it would have been that. Certainly in this political 
intervening between the Blakes and the University, where there 
was the period of time when the Blakes were considering giving 
the property to the University, they were having various 
negotiations with the Department of Landscape Architecture, 
probably a lot with Prof essor Vaughan, who was the department 
chairman, and who was as far as I can tell the great chairman of 
the Department of Landscape Architecture. He was really a very 
unusual and highly-thought-of individual who had a great breadth 
of knowledge and was able to do a wide range of diplomatic 
efforts. I think that he embraced this effort and made it as 
successful as it was. But I think that Mai Arbegast was also one 
of the principal people. She was either a graduate student or a 
lecturer at that time. 

I think her real strength was her ability to do this 
encyclopedic survey, and also in her attention to detail I think 
she really made a lot of strong effort to try to keep some active 
connection between the department and the Blakes. She knew the 
Blakes, and she has told me that she would call them up 
frequently and just keep a dialogue going. That's something that 
would seem obvious but that just doesn't happen very often. Keep 
them remembering the University, and make it that much easier for 
them to actually give the property over. 

That was the big thing for the department, was getting the 
property over. I think particularly at that time of garden 
design they probably thought, "Oh, we've got to really clean this 
place up." The fifties was kind of the ultimate in garden 
geometry and technology, force and chemicals over nature, this 
whole thing. I imagine that there was a lot about this that was 
frightening to the Blakes, and frightening to the department, 
about how those two forces were going to interconnect. It would 
be the standard difference that you always get of the older 
people wanting to preserve their tradition and the younger energy 
coming through. I think especially at that time there must have 
been a real conflict especially on an emotional level, not even 
so much on a political or physical level, but those realms would 
have to have been a reactive part of the process, too. 

You are just assuming that and I think correctly so but there's 
no correspondence back and forth, or promises ? 

It's true that it is an assumption, but it's based on a lot of 
conversations that I've had with people in the garden. The 
people that have come out to the garden, people that have known 
the Blakes, and explained to me about what their process was, 
stories I've heard about the Blakes, a lot of what Walter has 
told me, and the kind of conflicts that he had in that 
intervening time. 


Haymaker: Walter was in something of an unenviable position, right in the 
middle of all that muddle, and he really was the one guy that 
kind of had to carry everything through and got the shooting on 
all sides. I think you really have to give him a lot of credit 
for, one, being able to take on all that stuff, and two (Gerrie 
says something about this in the preface to her Long-range Plan) 
the fact that he really did have a lot of loyalty for the 
Blakes. He really made a strong attempt to try to understand 
what it was they had done here, try to understand whatever it was 
that was their love of the garden, and to be a kind of a guardian 
for that interest even after they left. Walter did learn a great 
deal of plant material, and he tried to learn as much as he could 
about how the plant material was taken care of traditionally by 
the Blakes. But he also was very dogged in his determination 
about not letting people just come along and tear something down 
for the hell of it. 

There was a heck of a lot of that going on in large "older" 
estates. It would have been real easy for the University to come 
in and say, "We are going to renew this garden; we're going to 
modernize it and update, and make it a nice, current place." 
Walter was real important in helping the Blake interest whatever 
you want to say the Blake interest was say, "No, wait a minute, 
you've got to look at the individual plants and plantings and 
have some real respect, historical and otherwise, for the fact 
that this is here and has in its presence become a sense of 
history. " 

Riess : So the first person who came in from the department really was 

Gerry Scott, was it not? 

Haymaker: To do a comprehensive design plan for the garden, yes. Mai and 
Bob Raabe preceded her as directors. 


Restoration of the Garden 

Understanding the Designers' Motivation 

Haymaker: A modern trend of '50s landscape design was to "clear and 

conquer," to do this simplification if you want to call it 
that opening it up, broadening out the lines, making everything 
more open, incredibly, shudderingly homogenous in the plantings 
and in the esthetic of what you would look at. You look back at 
that now and it was this agricultural point of view, where you 
have monoculture, and the beauty of it is looking over the vast 
fields of crops or whatever it is. But it's impossible to 
maintain that, it's impossible to maintain a half an acre of 
Hypericum and have it look all perfect at the same time. 

It's way too artificial and whenever it does get prone to 
all the things it's going to get prone to it sticks out badly. 
For one thing, you will look at that planting and a blight will 
show up immediately because it will be different from the other 
things. For another thing, if an insect or an imbalance gets in 
there, it runs in there in a big way, and that was this very 
delicate balance that people were always trying to do with a lot 
of manpower and a lot of chemicals, to keep that balance and this 
control over the landscape. We've given up on that, because it 
just hasn't worked, it's too costly. 

Riess : When we opened this interview, you said you were trying to I 

don't know what your word was renovate or recreate the garden 
that was here at some point in time. 

Haymaker: There are certain parts of the garden that we've tried to 

Riess: What point are you going back to in garden time for this place? 

Haymaker: I think I'm going back to a state of mind more than I'm going 
back to a particular point of time, because you can't ever go 
exactly back to what it was. It was a time and a period in 


Haymaker: history that because of their means, and because of this 

eclecticism that was so prevalent at the time and all this, that 
you wouldn't want to and you couldn't recreate that. There's a 
different resource and a different mind set. 

What I want to do is understand what their motivation was to 
make a certain effect, and how they were able to in my opinion 
really understand what made the lay of this land so unique and so 
beautiful. And how they worked with it in what I consider to be 
a feminine style of design, and unusual at that time, because 
most of the gardens were done by men. They nurtured the on-going 
processes in this garden and promoted natural features and 
resources in a unifying and graceful manner. The residential 
structure was long and a bulky mass to try to coordinate with the 
site, but the two were reconciled by garden structures and 
plantings allied to the building, as well as away from it. 
Compare this garden to one like Filoli, which is a fairly well- 
known and popular garden from the same period, and that was 
designed by a male architect [Bruce Porter]. It's a completely 
different statement of process and desired effect. 

Unusual Features of the Garden 

Haymaker: The reason that this garden is so unusual and so lovable is that 
it does things like take the two natural stream systems that are 
going through the garden and allow them to do that in a 
harmonious and gracious kind of manner. It allows them to be the 
north and the south boundaries of the garden, the natural 
boundaries, but enables you to understand why they are good 
natural boundaries, in making them that. In another instance, 
the formal garden, which is the most contrived part of the 
garden also in many respects one of the most interesting or 
memorable has certain cliches that work really well, and the 
whole reason this was designed here was that drained the spring 
system of all the water coming down the hill. It put them in a 
collecting basin [pointing to map], made them go in this 
picturesque overflow, go across underneath the roadway out into 
the grotto, drip down the back of the grotto into the formal 
pool this being the main garden feature, the formal pool then 
going into an overflow off the formal pool into a side garden, 
and then back down into the stream system here. Very, very 
simple way of dealing with excess water, making it into the 
garden feature. 


Mabel Symmes' Vision 

Riess : I wonder whether Mabel brought Harry Shepherd, or any of the 

other department people out here. Who did she have holding her 
hand did she need anyone holding her hand? 

Haymaker: That is a really good question. I think she was a real bright 
woman. I think that she probably worked a lot by herself. 
People will say things like, "Well, what did Mabel Symmes do, 
anyway?" or, "Was she really a landscape architect, what were 
her exact qualifications?" This is coming from people in the 
department. I don't think she promoted herself at all, I think 
she had enough means through the family and through colleagues to 
get work to do certain things as a designer within the region, 
and to stay busy and do this field of work. I think a lot of 
it (her low profile) was probably because she was a woman, but 
I think part of it also was that she didn't really have to 
promote herself; she chose to kind of go about a quiet way of 
designing. Blake Garden would have been a major interest. 

Riess: But this shows a lot of sureness and bigness, what she did here. 

Haymaker: It does, not only in the fact that she could create this here, 

the formal garden which has aged very, very well, and which was 
built with amazing precision. Mr. Blake made his money in the 
rock quarry business, so of course he had the resource of the 
rock, etc., but she was able to get the Italian stone masons to 
lay the schemes into the land in a way that was technically very 
expert. I can't know if that was she being an overseer and 
paying attention to those details or if that was the kind of 
quality old world workmanship that was still available then in 
the masonry line. The fact was that the structures were well 
designed and executed, and that the Blakes obviously had enough 
money and vision to realize an extremely good job on that work. 
It was the earliest part of the garden. If you look at the old, 
old pictures, you see the grotto coming up out of nothing into 
the hillside. They were smart enough to realize that that was 
where you needed to start, and that they should start with the 
hardest part and put the rest of the garden around it. 

She also did things this is the sort of the flip-flop of 
her design ability: she was able to create this f ormalistic 
effect exceedingly well, but then you watch what she did down 
into the canyon area, and you see how she has this whole 
naturalistic system down in through here. Right now there's a 
reflecting pond up here, and then little tiny waterfalls, and 
then two collecting ponds. Then it comes down and back into the 
stream system. 


Haymaker: But she does the same thing with the water down here in the 
woodland situation as she does with the water here in the 
Italianate garden. Both work really well in very different ways, 
and both look great still. If you could say there's two sections 
of the garden that you really must preserve in their intended 
way, it would be the formal garden and the redwood canyons. 
These sections over here [pointing to map: Bog Garden. West 
Section. Australia Hollow, Cut Flower Garden] are more 
expendable. I think a lot because they weren't as thoroughly 
executed to begin with, whereas these two were, and I'm sure 
these were the favorite parts of the garden. Both were real 
sheltered parts of the garden, This was sheltered sunny [Formal 
Garden] and this was sheltered shady [Redwood Canyon]. 

History and Precedent 

Riess: As you've studied the little paths, and perhaps unearthed 

statuary and benches back there, you can tell then how they 
walked through it and what they were heading for? Do you feel 
that it was a garden for the three of them? Who was it for? 

Haymaker: I think it was for the three of them, but I think it was for 

something that was beyond them, too. You can't say that it was 
to impress their friends really, but I think it was for something 
higher that they really did believe in, and who knows what that 
was. I have no idea what their philosophy of life was or 
anything, I don't know what their world view consisted of, but a 
person can understand something through the richness of the lore 
that we have in the garden, even through the kind of things that 
exist, the little fertility goddess that's here behind the house 
kind of protecting things and being rich and simple, something 
that you find yourself as a garden inhabitant coming upon one 

You come upon these things, and they're not ordinary things, 
they're like buried treasure. You come upon them and you say, 
I've got to know what that is, and you keep asking somebody about 
them until they tell you the story of the fertility goddess, or 
they'll tell you the story of Kuan Yin. or they'll tell you how . 
the little pool system got developed down in the garden. And 
then you as an on-going part of history begin to uncover how it 
was and how it could or will be unveiled now and in the future. 
That's part of being a good designer, originally or in 
restoration, to understand what is integral, and what makes it 
special or magical or whatever you want to call it. Enjoying 
that, but enjoying that in a style that is appropriate to its 
original intent. 


Riess : Have you had people other than Walter walking through the gardens 

who were Blake contemporaries or reasonably so, and who have been 
informants for you? 

Haymaker: Longtime neighbors in this area have supplied some data. Very 
occasionally we have had visitors to the garden who have known 
the Blakes and will relate a story or two. Most of what I've 
learned has come from Walter of from various landscape architects 
and horticulturists, who either had met the Blakes, were 
affiliated with the department, or know the garden. For 
instance, recollections of a person like Marshall Olbrich, who is 
the owner of the Western Hills Nursery up in Occidental, and who 
knew about the Blakes from the Cal Hort Society, and who knows 
and has a vast appreciation of gardens in general. He can make 
comments as a man in his sixties and master in his field about 
observations that he has had here, or ask me questions about 
what's still happening here. Michael Laurie of UCB has been a 
very important long-term link between Blake Garden and the 
department, and he was involved w ithGerrie 1 s master plan. Then 
of course Gerrie and Mai. 

Riess: You mentioned Western Hills Nursery; how about other nurserymen, 

suppliers, contracters and so on? In gathering history, have you 
had any contact with people she was ordering materials from? 

Haymaker: No. You have to understand that she wasn't ordering from Western 
Hills. She was involved in Cal Hort, and all these people that 
had nurseries or were growing interesting things were involved in 
Cal Hort and that's what their connections are. They knew her, 
or of her, and they admired or respected her, and they loved the 
garden and its unusual plants. They remember either coming to 
the garden in their very early years like in their twenties or 
thirties or hearing lore in the early days of Cal Hort. The 
active growers now are much younger, in their twenties or 
thirties. They could certainly supply the kind of material 
needed to restore it, if that is to happen. 

Even though the focus of the formal garden is Italianate, 
the detailing is Asian, and that comes from the fact that both 
Mrs. Blake and Miss Symmes were great collectors of Chinese art 
at the time, and they got all these artifacts they had scrolls 
and screens and everything else for the inside of their house. 
There was a Chinese theme in the detailing that you see in the 
tile and in the statuary in the garden. Then what evolved either 
by chance or by particular intent was that the plant material in 
the inner formal garden is largely Chinese. There's the deutzias 
and the rhododendrons and the azaleas and this exotic semi- 
tropical feeling that also blends extremely well with the 
detailing of the statuary. 


Riess : They could have gotten a lot of that material from people like 

Toichi Domoto, in Hayward? 

Haymaker: I would think so, nurserymen who were doing the cutting edge work 
in horticulture with those cultivar forms. 

Mediterranean- Style Planting 

Riess: There are references to the garden looking like the Villa 


Haymaker: That comes from Gerry Scott's reference, and Gerry Scott lived in 
Italy for a number of years and visited countless villas there, 
and knows the Italianate garden style probably better than 
anybody in the region. So she was able to see that connection 
and refer to it as such I don't know if Mabel Symmes had been to 
that particular garden or not, though I understand she traveled, 
but she was able to make the grotto and stairway in an Italian 
design. This is an Italian garden, but it is a specific style. 
Grottos were very popular in the twenties, and it could be she 
just saw a picture in a book that she liked, or combined features 
from memory. 

Riess: Sure, so there was published material, at least about Italian 


Haymaker: Yes. Italian gardens because they were also Mediterranean 
gardens of a similar aspect to the California garden. 

Riess: Was there any thinking about the whole idea of native plants, and 

growing natives in drought areas at that time? 

Haymaker: There was a tremendous amount of thinking about growing plants in 
general in the drought areas, but it wasn't so specifically or 
carefully on natives as it is now. As our native population of 
plants is dwindling and becoming more precious decade by decade, 
we're trying to do much more with that. The native thrust I 
know that there were some insurgencies that way in California as 
early as the twenties, led by Californian nurseries and authors 
like Lester Rowntree. But I think their (Anita and Mabel's) 
particular interest was in what we're now calling appropriate 
horticulture, in Mediterranean-style plantings. Even that's sort 
of a poor term; you'd want to get more specific and call it 
California style or something like that in this day and age. 
What you're wanting to do is not get exactly a xerophytic kind of 
plant, like a desert plant, but you would want to get a plant 
that adapts extremely well and thrives under this particular 


Haymaker: climate condition. Mediterranean or California, or San Francisco 
East Bay, and looks really good, will naturalize or evolve on 
this kind of a site. 

Riess : If the house and the gardens weren't here, is this a lush 

wildflower area, do you think, come spring naturally? 

Haymaker: I think that there would be fertile areas certainly in spring we 
have two or three naturally occurring spring areas you would get 
these meadow effects, and the vernal pools of water-loving and 
then drought-tolerant kinds of plants. But a great deal of the 
garden faces towards the south and towards the west, and those 
kinds of areas dry off pretty easy and fast as far as wildflowers 
go and spring progresses. They would get burned over 
occasionally, whereas your draws, the very bottom of the southern 
canyon and certainly the greater part of the northern canyon, 
would be your woodland kind of plants. So that you'd get a lot 
of wildflowers, but they'd be shrub or tree wildflowers rather 
than meadow or bank or grassland types that you would get maybe 
up on the hill. They really did try to work with the smaller, 
lower-growing plants in a naturalistic way, but I think more 
naturalistic rather than native. 

Riess: When you refer to a kind of feminine garden, it sounds like 

you've meant sort of lower, hugging the terrain, 

Haymaker: Well, yes, that was one of the styles within which they worked, 
but I also mean nurturing in the sense that they really chose to 
work within this body that was this piece of land here, and 
within this very unique topography. They promoted it rather than 
changed it. 

The Edwin Blake Garden 

Riess: What are the connections between the Edwin Blake garden and the 

Anson Blake garden? The rose garden is the only real connection 
from a design point of view between the two. 

Haymaker: Yes. This part of the garden is cut off now by the monastery 

wall. There's a little bridge here, and they used to have dinner 
at each other's homes on Saturday nights, one week here and the 
next week there. They would be full formal-dress dinners and 
they would go in their carriage through the garden here I'm sure 
it was a grand procession and dine here one week, and then come 
back here the next week. 


Haymaker: I don't think that Edwin really had this strong garden interest. 
I think that he was perfectly happy to do the little entrance 
garden here. But even if you're looking at this old, old plan 
you can see that these here are very wide, broad areas, and would 
have been much more of the native kind of plantings that you were 
alluding to earlier, where you had what they were calling the 
ceanothus woods and probably oaks, and ninebark and all the rest 
of that kind of woodland stuff that would just be in here 
naturally. I assume that they pretty much preserved that. 

Riess : So what she did was create paths. 

Haymaker: That kind of just went through it via the topography. Whereas 

you can see even to begin that there's much more intricacy to all 
the little things going on here, in the Anson Blake garden. 

Riess: How did you know that they went back and forth by carriage? 

Haymaker: Walter told me that, and I'm sure the Blakes told him that. 

There's this little bridge here, and that's how I came to ask 
him, because I uncovered the bridge one time. "What's this 
bridge for? It's the bridge to nowhere." He said. ''Oh, no, this 
is what we did here." 

There's another really interesting thing that's on record 
which is this article by Mabel Symmes.* It doesn't talk about 
their dinners there, but she talks about the spring walk, which 
was this walk right here along the way. 

*"Adelante," by Mabel Symmes, California Horticultural Society 
Journal. See Appendices, CC. 


The Garden Today 

Riess: Do you think thatGerrie Scott's work in 1962 obscured the 

original garden? 

Haymaker: No, not at all. I think Gerrie was and is the most sensitive per 
son who has dealt with this garden since the Blake s. I consider 
that this garden has had only two designers really: one was Miss 
Symmes. a landscape architect, and the other was Mrs. Scott, a 
landscape architect. The big question is who is going to take on 
this third realm of what's happening now. It's high time that 
something did happen, and you need a wide-ranging ability to deal 
with the land, the garden design, the horticulture. You need 
somebody who can deal with the historical perspective, you need 
somebody that can deal with the landscape-architectural, 
constructive points of view, and you need somebody that knows 
horticulture up and down, that can really take all the older 
plantings that are here ?-d say. This part is great; this part 
isn't great." 

It's a critical kin of question to ask. because it's past 
time for this stuff to be done, and you know there's new 
management out here. The garden at its best traditionally has 
been guided by someone who can see the clear vision of the 
garden, someone who is trained in landscape architecture and who 
understands what is important and why, and can keep that not 
only just preserved, but as you have to have in a garden, healthy 
and on-going. And keep the structural things: which structural 
things are important? And how do you support the structural 
things by the lines of the design that you put in and the 
horticulture that accompanies those? Also we have quite a few 
aging garden structures, like the formal pool and the old 
magnolia trees that border it, that are in very bad decline. We have 
the shelter belt plantings down here that are senescent and need 
replacing. This requires a great deal of sensitivity and phased 
design work, phased renovation. 

Riess: What is the situation now? It's just on hold? 


Haymaker: I guess you would say that we have someone to take over Walter's 
place but we don't have anybody to take the place of the Symmes- 
Scott kind of insight, and that's a really strong need now. It's 
the need that's going to make or break the garden's success in 
the future. 

Something has to happen with the influx of concern that 
we're getting in the garden, particularly from the President's 
Office, and if you're going to have an increased budget, and an 
increased awareness of the garden, and a lot of money pumped into 
it, you have to have a sophisticated outlook and a professional 
outlook of how that is going to be spent. Otherwise you're going 
to get the money spent, but you're not going to get it spent 
effectively or artistically artistically isn't the right word. 
You're going to get the money spent and that's all you're going 
to get. 

Riess : It can be spent and the whole thing can be gradually running 

downhill all the time it's being spent. 

Haymaker: If it's spent without the right perspective being placed on the 
focus of how it's going to be spent, then you can do irreparable 
damage very quickly. If they decided in five years to hire a 
landscape architect, the landscape architect could come in and be 
dealing with literally the ruins of a garden rather than with the 
potential of a garden. 

Riess: I asked you earlier to what period you were trying to restore the 

garden, and I know what you said to that, but just for fun, do 
you think that there was a peak in this garden? 

Haymaker: I think there were two peaks. There was a peak which was almost 
at the very beginning, which was this wonderful enthusiasm that 
they had. and imagination and resource, of putting the structure 
down into the garden. You might call it the Italianate crafted 
style. There was also the horticultural peak which was when they 
really had this massive collection here, which was probably in 
the thirties before the full effects of the Depression and the 
beginning effects of World War II began to really take their 
toll. So what you would see as an effective restoration point 
would be the crafted style of the twenties and following in the 
style of this California kind of garden, but restoring the formal 
garden and the redwood canyon to their potential. Then carrying 
on probably a more contemporary horticultural and design style in 
these western and southern slopes that still need an incredible 
lot of not even renewal just basic working out and planting 
out. and maturation. 

Riess: All of this could work with the teaching function for people in 

the landscape department? 


Haymaker: Certainly. The key thing here, of course, is that you have to 
have a landscape architect who knows what they're doing, is 
sensitive to this site, and horticulturally expert, to oversee 
that. Then you can take the physical resources and promote all 
the incredible professional resources of both the students and 
the staff here, and the ability to spend money for tree work or 
whatever you need. You can plan to coordinate them so that they 
all fit together into one grand flowing picture instead of 

Transcriber: Johanna Wolgast 
Final Typist: Elizabeth Eshleman 



A. "Notes on the Blakes in England and in America," by Igor 377 
Roberts Blake, June 1971. 

B. "A San Francisco Boyhood, 1874-1884," by Anson Stiles Blake, 404 
California Historical Society Quarterly. 

C. "Berkeley in Retrospect" [partial], by Anson Stiles Blake. 418 

D. Letter from Frank J. Symmes to Anson Blake regarding marriage 427 
to Anita Symmes, December 1, 1890. 

E. Blake Papers in The Bancroft Library, Key to Arrangement. 430 

F. Anson Stiles Blake Papers in the California Historical 438 
Society Library. 

G. Anson Blake, LL . D . Citation. 445 
H. Anson Stiles Blake, biographical data from various sources. 446 
I. "Grand Old Man of Stiles Hall." 447 

J. What is This Place. An Informal History of 100 Years of 448 
Stiles Hall, by Frances Linsley, 1984. [excerpts] 

K. Notes on the Fortnightly Clubs; Constitution, San Francisco 451 
Fortnightly Club. 

L. Two letters from Frances Helmke to Suzanne Riess regarding 456 
the Blakes and the Fortnightly Club, 1987. 

M. Letter from Anita Blake to Anson Blake from New York, April 459 
18, 1909. 

N. Letter from Anita Blake to Anson Blake from Las Posadas, 463 
Howell Mountain, St. Helena, California, July 15, 1913. 

0. [discussion of] Las Posadas, from Woodbridge Metcalf, 471 
Extension Forester. 1926-1956, Regional Oral History Office, 

P. Diary of Anita Blake, December 7, 1941 to December 29, 1941. 473 
Q. Letter from Ichiro Shibata to Anita Blake, December 15, 1942. 485 


R. Letter from Setsu Tsuchiya to Anita Blake, May 29, 1944. 490 

S. A history of the Blake and Carmelite Monastery property, by 492 
Anita Blake. 

T. Letters from Agnes of Jesus, Prioress of the Carmelite 
Monastery, to Mrs. Blake, July 10 and November 3, 1950. 

U. A chronology of the gift of Blak.e Estate, from the memoranda 498 
of President Robert Gordon Sproul, 1957. 

V. Deed of Gift of the Blake Estate, December 4, 1957. 501 

W. Letter from Igor Blake to Charles Hitch regarding the estate, 504 
October 21, 1973. 

X. "In Memoriam, " Anson Stiles Blake, Anita D. Symmes Blake, and 507 
Mabel Symmes, by Gladys Wickson, California Historical 
Society Quarterly, June 1963. 

Y. "$1,000,000 Pad, Where Charley Crashes," Berkeley Barb. June 511 
13, 1969. 

Z. "A Peek Inside Hitch's Hideaway," San Francisco Chronicle, 513 
October 30, 1969. 

AA. "A Look at Hitch Home," Oakland Tribune. November 10, 1969. 514 

BB. Comments prepared by Norma Wilier for memorial service for 515 
Nancy Hitch, February 8, 1987. 

CC. "Adalante," by Mabel Symmes, Journal of the California 518 
Horticultural Society. Uol. VI, 1945. 

DD. "{Catherine Davies Jones, 1860-1943," by Mabel Symmes, 522 
Madrono. April 1946. 

EE. "Editor's Page," Journal of the California Horticultural 524 
Society, October 1949. 

FF. Letter from Cora Brandt, editor of the Journal of the 525 
California Horticultural Society to Mrs. Blake. 

GG. "Memories of Henri Correvon," by A. D. S. Blake, Journal of 526 
the California Horticultural Society, July 1952. 

HH. "Incredible, Unforgettable James West, Plantsman (1886-1939), 529 
Journal of the California Horticultural Society, July 1967. 

II. Letter from James West to Mabel Symmes, June 1923 (?). 535 

-J. "Bulletin" of the California Horticultural Society, August 539 


KK . "Bulletin" of the California Horticultural Society, August 540 

LL . List of the plant material shown and discussed at the regular 541 

meetings of the California Horticultural Society by Mrs. 

Anson S. Blake, Journal of the California Horticultural 
Society. April 1956. 

MM. "Adalante," news from the Blake Garden. 545 

NN. "Preliminary Long-Range Development Plan for the Blake 547 
Estate," by Geraldine Knight Scott, November 1964. [excerpts] 

00. The President's House and Blake Garden [brochure]. 568 

PP. Letter from Geraldine Knight Scott to the Department of 569 
Landscape Architecture, University of California, regarding 
the profession of landscape architecture, March 9, 1972. 

QQ . "Blake Garden," by Linda Haymaker, Pacific Hort iculture , 572 
Spring 1987. 


Notes on the Blakes in England 
and in America * 

Igor Robert Blake 
June, 1971 



Table of Contents 

i. Illustrations^ 

Blake House. Bridgewater, England 

Blake House. Dorchester, Massachusetts 

Pierpont House. New Haven, Connecticut 

Eli Whitney Blake House. New Haven, Connecticut 

Waters House. Millbury, Massachusetts 

Anson Gale Stiles House. San Francisco, California 

ii. Notes on the Blakes in England and in Anerica 
iii. Appendix 
Eli Whitney Blake, Scientist and Inventor by Henry T. Blake. 

Account of the Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the 
wedding of John Pierpont and Sarah Beers, December 29, 1867. 

The People who have lived in the Faculty Club (Pierpont House, 
New Haven) , by Josephine Foster. 

Tarrying in Nicaragua - Pleasures and Perils of the California 
Trip in 1849. 

Letter of Charles T. Blake, 1850, published in Quarterly of The 
Society of California Pioneers. Vol. VII, No. 1, March 1930. 

Letter of Charles T. Blake, 1860-1863, published in the 
California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. XVI, No. 1, March, 

Letter of Charles T. Blake, 1860-1863, published in the California 
Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. XVI, No. 2, June, 1937.. 

Gun Making in Sutton & Millbury by Asa H. Waters. Reprint from 
The History of Sutton (Massachusetts) 1878. 


Thacher School Semicentennial Publications . 

A Minute on the Life of Robert Pierpont Blake published in 
the Dumbarton Oaks Papers, No. 8, 1954. 

A Minute on the Life of Robert Pierpont Blake published in 
the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1 and 
2, June, 1951. 

* A San Francisco Boyhood 1874-1884 by Anson S. Blake - 
Reprint fron California Historical Society Quarterly. 

Biographical Notice of William Phipps Blake' in Transactions 
of the American Institute of Mining Engineers. 

* In Memoriam. An article on Anson Stiles Blake, Anita D. Symmes 
Blake, and Mabel Symmes, by Gladys C. Wickson. California 
Historical Society' Quarterly , Vol. 42, No. 2, June 1963. 

Geneological Charts - The Blake Family in America. 


Both follow in Appendices 


Blake House, Bridgewater, England 

Blake House, Dorchester, Massachusetts 


Pierpont House, New Haven, Connecticut 

Eli Whitney Blake House, New Haven, Connecticut 


Waters House, Milbury, Massachusetts 

Anson Gale Stiles' House, San Francisco, California 


William Blake, born in 1594 in Pitminster, Somerset, 
England, came to Ar.erica some time between 1630 and 1636 and 
settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts. His move to America 
from England seems to have paralleled the republican leanings 
of his cousin, Admiral Robert Blake, noted below, who allied 
himself with the Commonwealth. William was the son of 
William Blake, grandson of John Blake and the great-grandson 


of Humphrey Blake. In 1555 Humphrey Blake took over the 
estate of Tuxwell in Spaxton Parish near Bishop Lydeard, 
Somerset and died in 1558. 

John Blake's grandnephew was Admiral Robert Blake who 
was born in 1598 and entered Wadham College, Oxford in 1615. 
He was elected member of Parliament from Bridgev/ater in 1640, 
the Short Parliament, and again in 1646, and was appointed 
General at Sea in 1649. He was again elected member of 
Parliament from Bridgewater in 1654 in the time of Cromwell. 
His major contribution to the English Navy was to reorganize 
the admiralty, laying the foundations of modern naval science. 
His development of the techniques of attacking land fortifi 
cations by fast maneuvering of his ships before the inflexible 
land cannon could hit his ships, was a naval innovation. 
Admiral Robert Blake died in 1657. 

Admiral Robert Blake (one of 15 children) was the son of 
Humphrey Blake, Lord of the Manor of Planefield in the Parish 
Over Stowey, and merchant in Bridgewater, and the grandson of 
Robert. Robert Blake had been elected mayor of Bridgewater in 

The Blakes 


1574, 1579 and 1537, and in addition, he had represented the 
Borough in Parliament in 1584, 1586 and 1588. 

A picture of the town residence in Bridgewater where 
Robert Blake was born, is included in the Illustrations. It 
is a Tudor building of two stories, strongly built of blue 
lias stone. The interior has some fine oak beams, roughly 
hewn, and the Tudor Rose is represented in the plaster work 
of the ceilings. The house is now preserved by the Bridgewater 
Corporation as a museum. 

William Blake (who came to America) was baptized in 
Pitminster, England, July 10, 1594, and was married there on 
September 23, 1617 to the v/idow Agnes Band (Bond) who was 
apparently born Agnes Thorne. 

There was a reference to William Blake's house in 1652 
in the town records of Dorchester, Mass, as a survey reference 
and the Blake house is now a museum. William Blake served 
as Selectman from 1645 to 1647 and again in 1671. In 1656 
he was elected as town clerk and also Clerk of the Writts to 
Suffolk County. In his will, he gave a public bequest for the 
preparation of a burial ground. 

His youngest son, Edward Blake, born 1625 in Pitminster, 
England, was a Cooper in Dorchester and served as Selectman 
in 1672, and settled in Millton where he, with his brother 
William Blake, was one of the founders -cf the church in 1678 
with Reverend Peter Thacher. His son, Jonathan, born in 
1672, married Elizabeth Candige in 1698/9 and moved to 
Wrentham, Mass. 

The Slakes 


The Blake fanily continued living in Wrentham, Mass.. 
Jonathan's grandson, Ebenezer Blake, served in the French 
and Indian Wars. Elihu Blake, son of Ebenezer, married 
Elizabeth Whitney, sister of Eli Whitney the inventor, and 
their son, Eli Whitney Blake, was born in Westboro, Mass. 
in 1795. Eli graduated from Yale in 1816 and entered a law 
school in Lichfield, Conn, conducted by Judge Gould. He 
left law school in his second year to assist his uncle, 
Eli Whitney, in the work of enlarging his anas manufactory 
at Whitneyville, and in the general conduct of his business. 
He was also a member of the National Guard and was a lieutenant 
in command of 20 men to protect the medical college during the 
medical college riot of January, 1824. On July 5, 1822, 
Eli Whitney Blake married Eliza Maria O'Brien. Eli Whitney 
died in 1825 and the Whitney Works were continued to 1835 by 
Eli Whitney Blake and his brother Philos. 

In that year, John Blake joined his brothers and the 
firm of Blake Brothers Company was started in Westville, near 
New Haven, Conn., for the making of door locks, latches and 
other articles. Eli Whitney Blake invented the mortise lock. 

In 1832 Eli Whitney Blake bought the house next to his 
mother-in-law's house (The Pierpont House) on the New Haven 
Green, which was then numbered 77 Elm Street, for $4500. This 
house, in wnich he lived until 1886, L~ now the Graduate Club 
of Yale University and one of his portraits hangs in the 
entrance way. 77 Elm faces the New Haven Green, the town 
common, on which was formerly located the State Capitol buildint 

The Slakes 


when New Haven served for a short period of time as the Capitol 
of Connecticut. The house was opposite the Capitol building 
and on each Fourth of July the Sargent at Arms requested that 
the windows of Eli Whitney Blake's house be opened least the 
glass be broken by the concussion of the cannons fired in 

Eli Whitney Blake's writings in the Journal of Science 
and publications on aerodynamics were recognized when Yale 
awarded him the LL.D. degree in 1876 for his contributions to 
science. His major invention was the Blake rock crusher, the 
first machine of this kind. It has had a profound influence 
on the mining and rock crushing business. An account of 
Eli Whitney Blake's life is included in the Appendices. 

In 1851 Eli Whitney Blake was appointed by the town of 
New Haven as one of a committee to construct two miles of 
macadam road on Whalley Avenue, one of the principal avenues 
of the city. No other work of this type had been done in 
the neighborhood and at that time there were probably less 
than a dozen miles of macadam road in the New England states. 
According to Eli Whitney Blake's patent statement, it was 
calculated that it took two days labor of one man to produce 
one cubic yard of road metal (road base) . For seven years 
he thought and worked on the subject, and concluded that he 
should construct an apparatus that should act at the same time 
on a considerable number of stones of different sizes and shapes 
from which the fragments would be reduced to the desired size 
rapidly and automatically. He conceived the idea of a pair of 


upright jaws converging downwards with the opening at the top 
to be large enough to receive the stone, and the space at the 
bottom sufficiently snail to permit passage only of those 
fragments broken to the required size. The entire machine 
was worked out on paper before it was constructed. This was 
a parallel to Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin where 
he devised a new mode for the separation of cotton fibre and 
seed and contrived the machine to do it. In both cases, the 
resulting machine was so simple and perfect for the purpose 
and both were the only devices that have been used over a 
long period of time without being materially changed. 

As mentioned earlier, Eli Whitney Blake married Eliza 
Maria O'Brien in 1822. Their six sons attended Yale, graduating 
with honors. Eliza Maria O'Brien Blake was once asked by 
Harriet Beecher Stowe to contribute to a symposium on the best 
way to bring up children and she wrote that her experience of 
ten children taught her that there was no general rule; each 
child was a case by itself", and answering a request for a 
guiding "maxim", she replied, "It might be summed up into what 
not to see". 

Eliza Maria O'Brien was born in 1799 in New Haven, Conn, 
and died in 1876. She was the daughter of Mary Pierpont O'Brien 
born in 1776. Mary Pierpont O'Brien was descended from the 
Reverend James Pierpont who was given grant of land in 1685 
when he came to be pastor of the church in New Haven. This 
lot was not built upon until his grandson built a house in 1767. 
Reverend Pierpont 's third wife was Mary Hooker, daughter of 

The Blakes- ( 


The Reverend Sanuel Hooker, one of the founders of Yale 
University. John Pierpont married Sarah Beers, December 29, 
1767 and moved into the house (which had just been completed 
but never occupied) , on their wedding night. This house 
stayed in the family until 1900 and the reminiscences on 
life there by Miss Foster (one of her descendents) , and the 
account of the Centennial Celebration in 1867, is included 
in the Appendices. 

Edward J. O'Brien, father of Eliza, married Mary Pierpont 
in 1796. His grandfather had been a follower of James II of 
England and had followed him into exile in France. He first 
went to Maine when it was still in French hands and later 
moved to New Haven where he became a publisher and assisted 
Noah Webster with his dictionary. O'Brien also published a 
pocket dictionary of his own. After Edward O'Brien's death in 
1799, his widow married Eleazer Foster and continued to live 
in the Pierpont House until her death in 1852. This is 
another family house which is serving the Yale University as 
its Faculty Club, having been preserved as an outstanding 
piece of colonial architecture. The desk of the Reverend 
James Pierpont which was for many years at Anson Blake's house, 
was given by Anita Day Symraes Blake to her nephew, Igor Robert 

Charles Thompson Blake, eldest son of Eli Whitney Blake 
and Eliza O'Brien Blake, was born October 19, 1826 in New Haven, 
Conn.. He was named for the uncle of his great-grandmother, 
Charles Thompson, Secretary to the Continental Congress. 

The Slakes 


Charles graduated from Yale in 1847. He had completed one 
year of law school when news of the gold discoveries in 
California reached the Atlantic Seaboard and he and his Yale 
classmates, Edwin Tyler and Roger Baldwin, Jr., sailed from 
New York early in January, 1849 for Nicaragua. Here they 
were delayed for several months by revolution and by the 
impossibility of securing a vessel on the Pacific side to 
continue their journey to California. They, at last succeeded 
in chartering the brig "Laura Ann" and arrived fifty-seven 
days later in San Francisco on October 5, 1849. The account 
of this trip, based on the letters of Charles T. Blake's 
classmate at Yale (Roger Sherman Baldwin, Jr.) was published 
in the "Century Magazine", October, 1891, and is included in 
the Appendices. The father of Roger Sherman Baldwin, Jr. was 
Governor of Connecticut and later United States Senator from 
Connecticut. The other Yale classmates of Charles T. Blake 
who remained closely associated in California, were 
Charles T. H. Palmer and George Gideon Webster. 

Charles T. Blake and his Yale classmates went (after their 
arrival) to Sacramento and then to Georgetown where they spent 
the summer of 1850 in the mines, having only indifferent 
success. In the winter they moved to Nevada City where they 
had a difficult time because of the very heavy winter. By 
midsummer 1852, the party had moved to* the vicinity of Michigan 
Bluff where Charles T. Blake was the first Wells Fargo agent. 
The next decade was spent in this area. As a means of working 
their claims, a ditch was built bringing water onto the top 
of the bluff. The next vear all classmates were members of 

The B lakes 8. 


the El Dorado Ditch Company which continued to operate after 
the placers of the district had been worked out. In 1856 
Edwin Tyler took over as Wells Fargo agent fron Charles T. 
Blake at Michigan Bluff, and Blake went to Yankee Jins as 
Wells Fargo agent where he ran an assay office also. 

In 1863 he went to Virginia City, Nevada to relieve his 
friend, Roger Sherman Day who was Wells Fargo agent there. 
While at Virginia City he made the assay of the first bonanza 
ore taken from the Yellow Jacket mine. On leaving Virginia City 
he was sent by Wells Fargo and Company to Idaho to open service 
to the new mining camps near Idaho City. At the conclusion of 
this undertaking by Wells Fargo, in the sane year he moved to 
Boise and started his own stage line connecting with the overland 
stage route from Sacramento to the Coast and running a pony 
express through indian territory. 

The letters of Charles Thompson Blake were published in 
the Quarterly of The Society of California Pioneers, Vol. VII, 
No. 1, March, 1930 and The California Historical Society 
Quarterly, Vol. XVI, No. 1, March, 1937 and No. 2, June, 1937; 
these are included in the Appendices. In October, 1868, Charles 
T. Blake married Harriet Waters Stiles. The following year was 
spent visiting families and friends in the East and the 
C. T. Blakes returned to San Francisco over the newly constructed 
Central Pacific Railroad, and then returned by train and stage 
to Boise City. 

Harriet Waters Stiles Blake, wife of Charles Thompson Blake, 
was born November 24, 1840 in Millbury, Mass., and came with 
her father, Anson Gale Stiles and her mother, Ann Jane Waters Stile 

The Blakes 


to California in the 1850 's. She was married to Charles 
Thompson Blake in 1868. 

Anson Gales Stiles was born in Amsterdam, New York in 1809 
and moved, when he was a young man, to Millbury, Mass.. Then 
in 1836 he married Ann Jane Waters of Millbury and remained 
there 16 years, having two children, only one of whom survived. 
In March, 1852, he came to California and' went to the mines 
and then to Sacramento. Later, he built his house on Rincon 
Hill in San Francisco and lived there until his death in 1876. 
He returned to Millbury on his fortieth anniversary to have a 
reception at the home of his brother-in-law, Samuel Davenport 
Torrey, grandfather of William Howard Taft. 

Ann Jane Waters was the daughter of Asa Waters, Jr. of 
Millbury, Mass., who had inherited his family's munitions work 
described in the appendix. The Waters' house still stands in 


Millbury and is owned by the Roman Catholic Church. Asa Waters, 
Jr. was the grandson of Colonel Jonathan Hollman who was born 
in 1732 and died in 1814. Jonathan Hollman was sworn in at- 
Worcester, Mass., December 29, 1758, with a detachment of 
Captain Solomon Hollman's company from Sutton, Mass.. Some of 
the ironstone china that still remains in Blake House at the 
University of California, was owned by the Waters family; 
Colonel Hollman's grandfather clock which stood in the hallway 
to the dining room of Blake House, also belonged to the Waters 
family and is now in the possession of Igor Robert Blake. 

In the summer of 1870, Harriet W. S. Blake returned from 
Boise to San Francisco to have her first child, Anson Stiles 
Blake, at her parent's home on Rincon Hill, August 6, 1870. 

The Blakes 10 

She returned to Boise City and the Blakes remained there until 
1872 when the Charles T. Blakes returned to San Francisco and 
lived with the Anscn G. Stileses on Rincon Hill. C. T. Blake 
went into the paving business with C. T. H. Palmer, his Yale 
classmate, and they formed the Oakland Paving Company which 
operated the quarry at 50th and Broadway in Oakland. 
Charles T. Blake and his classmates were agents for his father, 
Eli Whitney Blake in the sale of his rockcrusher for roadwork 
and mining work. These efforts took him to Washington Territory 
and to Victoria. 

The Blake's three other children who lived to maturity, 
were born in the Stiles house on Rincon Hill. Eliza Seely Blake, 
U.C. '95, married Sherman Day Thacher June 24, 1896, who founded 
the Thacher School in Ojai, California. An account of the 
early events at the Thacher School is included in the appendices. 
Sherman Thacher and His School, by Henry McKim Makepeace, an 
account of Sherman Thacher 's life was published in 1941 by the 
Yale Press. Edwin Tyler Blake, U.C. '96, mining engineer, was 
associated with Anson in the family quarry business. 
Robert Pierpont Blake, U.C. '08 and LL.D. '34, was Professor of 
History at Harvard and Director of Widener Library; summaries 
of his life are included in the appendices: Dumbarton Oaks 
Papers *8, 1954; Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. Vol. 14, 
No. 1 & 2, June, 1951. *? 

In 1887, the Charles Thompson Blakes and Mrs. A. G. Stiles 
moved to Berkeley, renting a large house on Bancroft Way. 
Anson S. Blake's recollections of his boyhood were published 
in the California Historical Quarterly and are included in the 

The Slakes 393 11 

appendices. When Anson Stiles Blake entered the University 
of California in the fall of 1887, the enrollment was 250 
students. He najored in history and graduated -in 1891. 
Three years later he married another U.C. graduate, Anita Day 
Syrrunes , a <j)BK in the class of '94. Shortly after their 
narriage they built their first home and planted their first 
garden in a portion of the Piedmont Avenue property which 
had been given to them by Anson S. Blake's mother. Mrs. Charles 
T. Blake built a house for herself next to the Anson S. Blakes 
around the turn of the century after the death of her husband 
and her mother, Mrs. A. G. Stiles. A third family house was 
built on the Piedmont Avenue property when Edwin Tyler Blake 
was married. The Piedmont Avenue property had been purchased 
by Anson Gale Stiles from the Trustees of the University of 
California as they felt that the University would not expand 
east of Piedmont Avenue. Anson Gale Stiles later gave the 
Piedmont Arenue property to his daughter, Harriet W. S. Blake 
for a home in the country, later to become Memorial Stadium site. 

In 1891 Ann Jane Waters Stiles (Mrs. Anson Gale Stiles), 
organized the "Trustees of Stiles Hall" and gave the principal 
donation for the construction of Stiles Hall to house the 
University Y and the building was dedicated to religous and 
social uses of the University students. Anson Stiles Blake 
was elected to the Stiles Hall board in 1900 and elected 
chairman in 1902. He retired as Chairman of the Stiles Hall 
Board after 50 years of service and was honored by a concurrent 
resolution from the State of California legislature citing him 

The Slakes 12 


as the "Grand Old Man of Stiles Hall". In 1958 Anson Stiles 
Blake was honored by the University of California with an 
LL.D. degree in recognition of his service to Stiles Hall, 
The University, and for his work as a preserver of California 
history. Anson Blake's award of the LL.D. degree followed 
almost a quarter of a century after his youngest brother, 
Robert Pierpont Blake, was av/arded an LL.D. degree in 
recognition of his scholarship. The third member of the Blake 
family to receive an LL.D. degree from the University of 
California, was William Phipps Blake in 1910 (a cousin of 
Charles T. Blake) . He v/as Professor of Minerology and Geology 
in the College of California, 1864 and then was Professor of 
Geology and Mining and Director of the School of Mines at 
the University of Arizona, Tuscon. The Biographical Notice 
of William Phipps Blake by Rossiter W. Raymond, published in 
the Transaction of the American Institute of. Mining Engineers, 
is included in the appendices . 

The Anson Slakes had a long time interest in conservation 
and a desire to have a large garden. Anson S. Blake. purchased 
forty acres in Orinda and also had a ranch in St. Helena. When 
in 1922, the University of California purchased the three houses 
on Piedmont Avenue from the Blakes for the purpose of building 
the Memorial Stadium, Anon and Edwin Blake decided to build on 
the 60 acres in Kensington, which, as a gift from their mother, 
had been divided equally among the four children. 

Edwin Blake's house was planned with a separate wing for 
his mother to occupy for her remaining years. This house was 

The Blakes- 13 


later sold to the Carmelite Order and . now serves as a monastery. 
Anson, being the eldest son, was given the first choice of 
locating his house on the property and its placement was care 
fully considered to provide a windbreak for an extensive garden 
area. Construction began in 1922. The architectural plan by 
Walter Bliss is in the Mediterranean style for which he was 
noted. The basic garden plan laid out by Mabel Symmes , U.C. 
'96, sister of Anita D. S. Blake, who had returned to the 
University to study landscape architecture shortly after the 
department was established in 1914. Mable Symmes made her 
home with the Anson Blakes after the house was completed and 
devoted her life to working in the garden. Gladys C. Wickson's 
account published in the California Historical Society Quarterly, 
Vol. 42, #2, June, 1963, is included in the appendices. 

Following the interest in conservation and their earlier 
gift to the State of California of the St. Helena property 
on Howell Mountain, Anson and Anita Blake deeded their house 
and gardens to the University of California in 1957, retaining 
a lifetime right to reside in the house. The deed stipulated 
that the gardens be developed for teaching and research in 
landscape architecture, and the house be used for appropriate 
University purposes. The extensive restoration, remodeling 
and additions to Blake House would have been a joy for Anson 
and Anita Blake to behold, and to know 'that their house is now 
the official residence of the President of the University of 
California. The thoughtful care of Nancy and Charles Hitch in 

The Slakes 14 


the restoration and reconstruction of Blake House has insured 
that it will join the long line of Blake family residences in 
England and the United States of Anerica which have been 
preserved as historical monuments. 

One third of the furniture remaining in Blake House was 
collected by Anson and Anita Blake, one third was purchased 
by the University, and one third is the Hitch family furniture. 
The Hitch collection of early French oak furniture blends well 
with the Blakes oak furniture of the same era. 

Anson S. Blake took his business training in banking. 
He became cashier at the Central Bank and engaged in various 
enterprises on the side. After the death of his father, 
Charles Thompson Blake in 1897, Anson became active in the 
quarry business while still maintaining his position at the 
Central Bank. 

During the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, 
the Oakland Paving Company had on hand, a railroad car of 
dynamite, and was asked to make this powder available to the 
firefighters in San Francisco. It was used to blow up the 
houses along Van Ness Avenue and thus contain the fire. 
Anson Blake, with two teamsters and two wagonloads of dynamite, 
crossed the San Francisco Bay by a special ferry put into action 
for that purpose by Southern Pacific. He conducted his two 
teamsters and their wagonloads of dynazrite to the Assistant 
Fire Marshal. He then returned, bringing his parents-in-law, 
the Frank Jamieson Symeses, back to the safety of Berkeley. 
Later, after the fire, when the vaults of the San Francisco 

The Slakes 15. 

banks could be opened, Anson S. Blake supervised the group of 
bank representatives who were members of the Oakland Clearing 
House, to take the contents of the San Francisco vaults to 
Oakland. The Oakland Clearing House served San Francisco 
until the San Francisco banks were rebuilt and reopened. 

Sometime after the fire, Anson S. Balke resigned as cashier 
of Central Bank to devote himself to family interests. He 
foresaw that the gradual growth of San Francisco and Oakland 
would eventually close out the quarries that existed in those 
areas because of zoning pressures due to the dusty, noisy 
nature of the quarrying business. 

Blake and Bilger Company was organized in 1914 as an 
affiliate to the Oakland Paving Company. In 1906 the 
San Pablo Quarry Company was incorporated and the 300 acres 
of land were acquired in Richmond, north of the Standard Oil 
Company refinery on the Portrero of San Pablo at Castro Point. 
It was planned to ship the output of this quarry in a self- 
unloading barge to San Francisco where at the end of Third 
Street, the Company had rock bunkers. It was at this time 

that Edwin Tyler Blake, Anson 's younger brother, returned 
from the gold mines at Hornitos, Mariposa County, California, 
bringing with him the skilled crews of Welsh miners who built 

the quarry plant at Richmond. This plant, designed by Edwin 

t. ' 
Blake, was a remarkable engineering feat and it was operated 

from 1906 to the time the family sold it in 1963 under a 
corporate reorganization, to Standard Oil Company of California. 

The Slakes 16 


There was intrabay and river commerce at that tine, and rock 
was shipped by barge to San Francisco and other bay and river 
points. The San Pablo barge was a 700 ton barge with hoppers 
which fed a conveyor belt. The belt in turn, fed a bucket 
elevator and thus the rock could be unloaded into the bunkers 
in San Francisco, as well as used for balast rock for ships 
coming to San Francisco. 

In 1914 there was a corporate reorganization whereby 
Mrs. Charles T. Blake, Anson S. Blake, Edwin Tyler Blake, 
Robert Pierpont Blake and Eliza Seely Blake Thacher 
(Mrs. Shernan Day Thacher), bought out the interest of 
F. W. Bilger in the Blake and Bilger Company, and the name 
of the firm was changed to Blake Brothers Company, reminiscent 
of Eli Whitney Blake's firm in the nineteenth century in 
New Haven. The Blake family traded most of their holdings 
with Bilger in the Oakland Paving Company for the ownership 
of the San Pablo quarry in Richmond. 

The quarry business did very well from 1906 until 1916 
when there was quite a recession in California during World 
War I. The State output was primarily agricultural to support 
the war effort. Anson Blake once remarked that it would have 
been better to have closed down the plant and paid the real 
estate taxes rather than endeavoring to run it during the 
World War I years. There was a construction boom in the 
twenties and Edwin Blake, returning from the U. S. Army Corps 
of Engineers, made extensive additions to the plant, and the 
first asphalt concrete plant was built. 

The Blakes 399 17 

In 1911 the Castro Point Railway and Terminal Company 
had been established as a subsidiary of Blake and Bilger 
Company. The Castro Point Railway and Terminal Company joined 
its tracks with the San Francisco-Oakland Terminal Railway 
which operated a trolley service connecting with the San Rafael 
Ferry. From 1915 until 1923 a portion of the Castro Point 
Railway and Terminal Company wharf was leased to the Richmond- 
San Rafael Ferry and Transportation Company. The Castro 
Point Railway and Terminal Company wharf was a busy place in 
this tine, with the cars and passengers for the ferry and 
rock shipments of the quarry. In 1925 the ferry built its 

xX s 

own wharf at Castro Point. Rock shipments were made through 
the East Bay over the trolley tracks and continued to be made 
until 1925 when the tracks of the Castro Point Railway and 
Terminal Company pushed north and joined those of the Richmond 
Belt Railway which had direct connection v/ith the Santa Fe and 
Southern Pacific lines. In the depression years of the 1930 's 
business was slow for the quarry until the Golden Gate Bridge, 
the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge and Treasure Island 
were built. 

Anson Blake's interest in history and conservation have 
been mentioned before. The initial design of the Golden Gate 
Bridge called for the destruction of Fort Point which was 
built after the plan of Fort Sumpter. Anson S. Blake led the 
citizens group who pointed out to the bridge designer, the 
importance of Fort Point and the possibility of moving the 

The Slakes 18. 


footings of the bridge to a better location which would 
preserve Fort Point. 

When Blake Brothers Company was in the construction as 
well as the quarry business, they had put in streets and 
sewers for a Rockridge Land Company development. The 
Rockridge Land Company went bankrupt and in order to protect 
their liens for the sewers and roads and improvements, Blake 
Brothers Company completed the job and brought it to a 
successful financial conclusion. 

Anson Blake did engage in a few ventures of his own, one 
of which was to develop the area in El Cerrito near Blake 
Street which is named for him. (The Blake Street in Berkeley 
was named for a farmer by the name of Blake, who was one of 
the original settlers of Berkeley, but no relation to the 
Eli Whitney Blake families.) Anson S. Blake was also involved 
in a real estate venture for the redevelopment of Berkeley 
after the Berkeley fire in 1927. Another one of his personal 
ventures was to serve as receiver for Scofield Construction 
Company which, around 1908, under his direction, completed the 
Mare Island Drydocks. With the proceeds of this he bought and 
presented to his wife, Anita, their ranch property in St. Helena, 
For many years they spent vacations and weekends at St. Helena. 
Mrs. Blake frequently rode her horse, taking the ferry across 
the bay and riding on to St. Helena where Anson Blake would 
join her for the weekend. 

After they had the garden in Kensington, the Blakes gave 
the St. Helena property to the State and, foreseeing the need 

The Blakes. 19. 


for conservation, they hoped that the natural planting would 
be preserved. The State of California at that time applied 
the terns conservation and recreation synonymously and the 
original intent, unfortunately, was partially lost by allowing 
camping on the property. This, in Mrs. Blake's opinion, 
altered its pristine nature. 

Anson Blake served as NRA (National Recovery Act) chairman 
for the industry, and chaired the committee for prices which 
was established under the laws at that time. He also 

negotiated, as a member of the Rock", Sand and Gravel Producers 

Association of Northern California, the fundamental construction 

contract which continues on into the present time. Under this 
contract, the quarry industry pays construction rates when they 
engage in new construction, but maintenance rates while they 
operate their fixed plants. This concept is of vital importance 
and the University now finds itself working toward this plan, 
which was pioneered in the thirties . 

Anson Blake chaired the Berkeley Committee to Welcome 
William Howard Taft, his cousin, upon his trip to Berkeley in 
1909. It is interesting to note that transportation to 
Oakland was arranged by streetcar. President Taft and his 
party stopped to have coffee at the Anson Blakes (who were 
then still on Piedmont Avenue), as Mrs. Charles Thompson Blake 
whose house was next to theirs, was irv Europe and not able to 
receive her cousin. 

Anson Blake's interest as an historian is evidenced by 
the fact that he served as both President of the California 

The Blakes 402 20 

Historical Society and President of The Society of California 
Pioneers. In the thirties and into the war period, he worked 
in both Societies which, for sake of economy, shared a 
common building. Later he observed with great pleasure, the 
magnificent new quarters which were acquired and furbished 
by both The Society of California Pioneers and the California 
Historical Society, attending the dedication of both buildings. 
It is interesting to note that in the dark days of the 
depression, he managed both the Societies with one full tine 
employee who was half time on the payroll of each group. They 
still managed to publish a journal as well as collect and save 
Californiana for the future when there would be more funds to 
work with it. 

Anson Blake had an appealing combination of conservatism 
and forward thinking. He supported the open platform of Stiles 
Hall where he served as Chairman of the Board for 50 years. 
On the other hand, he opposed and lead the Berkeley opposition 
to the Women's Sufferage Act in 1919, collecting money from 
Charles Lee Tilden and others to run advertisements in an 
effort to defeat the 19th Amendment. Mrs. Blake thoroughly 
agreed with Anson Blake's position on women's sufferage but 
never fully agreed with his support of Stiles Hall. Mrs. Blake 
had strong feelings as a naturalist and conservationist. 

The Bi 



The family is fortunate in having extensive historical 
records published, some of which are noted here. 

1. The life of Admiral Robert Blake is described in two books: 

a. Blake , General at Sea, by C. D. Curtis, published in 
Taunton, England in 1934 by Barnicot and Pearce, The 
Wessex Press; 

b. Robert Blake, Admiral and General at Sea, by Hepworth 
Dixon, London, 1852, by Chapnan and Hall, Piccadilly. 

2. The Hollmans in America, by David Emerby Holdan, published 
by Graf tin Press, New York in 1909. 

3. Increase Blake, His Ancestors and Descendants, compiled 
by Francis E. Blake, published in Boston in 1898 . 

4. Blake Family, a geological history of William Blake of 
Dorchester, and his descendants, by Samuel Blake, published 
by Ebenezer Clapp, Jr., Boston, Mass., 1857. 

5. The Slakes of 77 Elm Street, a sketch by Alida Blake Hazard 
privately published by the Quincy Press, New Haven, Conn., 
in the early 1920 's. 

6. The Stiles Family in America, by -Mrs. Mary Stiles (Paul) 
Guild, published" by Joel Munsell's Sons, Albany, New York, 

June, 1971 Igor Robert Blake 


A San Francisco Boyhood 


I WAS BORX in San Francisco and propose to offer you some of my 
youthful recollections of scenes and events in that nascent metropolis. 
My home during those years was my Grandfather's home on the crest 
of Rincon Hill at its westerly end. The house faced north on a little 
street then called Vernon Place but now known as Dow Place. The 
outlook was over the large grounds of General Halleck's house which 
fronted on Folsom Street opposite the Talbot, Pope and Latham 
Houses. At the rear of our house was the large place of Mayor Selby 
and next to it the former home of Pedar Sather, which was then a board 
ing house, perched on the cliff above Second Street cut, which had only 
recently been put through Rincon Hill. This was "the banker's ruined 
castle" noted by Robert Louis Stevenson as the place where he visited 
Charles Warren Stoddard, who boarded there. 

Rincon Hill in those days was an island of Victorian respectability 
surrounded by an area of flat land then universally known as Tar Flat. 
I have looked for the name in Professor Gudde's California Place Names 
to ascertain its origin, but his only reference to Tar is "see asphalt." 
There were no asphalt streets in those days. Such streets as were paved 
were surfaced with plank or cobbles except for a few heavily travelled 
stretches which were surfaced with basalt or granite paving blocks. Tar 
Flat had a number of industrial establishments scattered over it but it 
was essentially a residence district of wooden houses. I have a picture 
dated 1872 taken from the roof of my Grandfather's house showing 
only two structures projecting above the general level, the shot tower 
in Tar Flat and the Masonic Temple at Post and Montgomery streets 
where the Crocker Bank now stands. My first recollection of interest 
in this scene was when I observed the vast walls of the old Palace 
Hotel rising story after story above the expanse of wooden houses. This 
I saw, but I did not realize that beyond my line of vision, the business 
district on California, Pine and Montgomery streets was being meta 
morphosed as a result of the flood of money coming, in one form or 
another, from the Comstock lode. 



2 1 6 California Historical Society Quarterly 

My next contact with the outside world which has left a vivid mental 
picture was September 9, 1874, when I was four years old. The occasion 
was the twenty-fourth anniversary of the admission of the State to the 
Union. It was celebrated by the Society of California Pioneers by an 
excursion on the Bay. The Pacific Mail Steamship Company had 
donated the use of their big paddle wheel steamer "Great Republic" 
for the occasion. My Father, who was a member of the Society, took 
me along. The steamer was of the pattern of the Pacific Mail Fleet. 
The whole stern end was occupied by a deck house consisting of a 
double row of staterooms on each side. The outer ones opened on a 
rather narrow passage with a netting extending from the outer edge of 
the boat to a heavy guard rail about five feet above deck level; the inner 
row opened into a long and rather narrow room, the full length of the 
deck house. This was the passengers' dining room. When we went 
aboard we made a quick inspection of the ship and as we came to the 
stern we had a view of the dining saloon already set for lunch. I was 
astonished to observe that there were a great many more bottles than 
dishes on the long table. If I had ever learned to sketch, I could repro 
duce that scene for you with great accuracy. We were summoned to 
lunch shortly after we got under way. Following the habit which had 
already been set for the day by the Society of California Pioneers, food 
was abundant; wine and liquor flowed even more freely and the meal 
was capped by a torrent of oratory. All of this kept us within for quite 
a time. As the company spilled out onto the deck in the most convivial 
good humor, it was discovered that the Captain was heading the ship 
out through the Golden Gate. It took only a short time for the rough 
water outside to reduce the exhilaration of most of the passengers to the 
depths of misery, my Father among the others. I can remember his 
standing me against the deck house and saying "Don't you move," 
while he dashed for the railing. We were just abaft the paddle wheel 
house. From where I stood I could look down on the great oaken knee 
that held the support of the outboard bearing of the paddle wheel and 
ahead of it the green sea water as we rolled toward it and away from it 
and the red paddles of the wheel churned it into white foam. And that 
was the last recollection I have of the day's events. 

For the year 1875, 1 have few recollections of the City and its life 
largely because of two long sessions with infantile diseases with a longer 
interval between illness when I was laid up by a broken hip. I was one of 
the early cases in San Francisco where a cast was used. That cast, I 


A San Francisco Boyhood 2 1 7 

remember very vividly. It was a ponderous affair. I was stretched out 
and the leg wrapped from the ball of the foot to my hip in two layers 
of old woolen blanket. The wet plaster was then applied to the blanket 
in successive layers for the whole distance and was then held in place 
by old sheeting sewed firmly over it. When it was done, it was too 
heavy for me to stir and I had to be lifted by someone whenever I 
moved position in bed. I had to wear it for six weeks and for every 
minute of that rime, my flesh, that was in contact with the old blanket, 
itched to an unbelievable degree. When I finally recovered from my 
second illness of the year, the family was glad to get rid of me and sent 
me to school. It was a private school, kept by Miss Cheever, the sister of 
H. C. Cheever. She kept house for him and also kept boarders. One of 
these was Alfred Robinson who wrote "Life in California" which was 
published in London in 1 846. The second story of the Cheever stable 
was refitted for a school room. Here I met Albert and May Hooper, 
Daisy and Don Merrill, Sadie and Louis McLane, Porter Garnett, 
Evelyn Norwood, and Bessie, Leslie and Charley Tilden. 

These contacts immediately stirred a sense of community life and 
intense curiosity as to how the other fellow lived. The first thing my 
plunge into education brought me was a wild delight over uninhibited 
license to frequent the public streets, for I had to walk to school along 
Harrison Street over the Second Street Bridge to Essex Street where the 
school was located. 

This brings me to the year 1876 when I really began to participate 
in the life of the City and my memories are many. The first vivid one is 
attendine, on Washington's Birthday, the unveiling of the huge plaster 
bust of Washington which stood in Woodward's Gardens near the 
entrance gate and to the right of it as you entered. That day was the first 
that I remember of a long series of visits to the Children's Paradise of 
our generation. Even the journey out Mission Street in the little balloon 
horse car was a thrilling adventure. The car needed no turn table. At 
the end of the line the driver lifted a pin, drove his horses around the 
car, put the pin in an appropriate place and was prepared to drive home. 
Of Woodward's Gardens, I can note that it was a well-considered 
pleasure park for there were attractions for all ages. Years later I first 
heard Pinafore and the Pirates of Penzance there. That spring I remem 
ber a number of drives with my Grandfather in his two-horse buggy 
through the Panhandle of the Park. At that time, it was the only part of 
Golden Gate Park that was in use. The rest was only drifting sandhills 


2 1 8 California Historical Society Quarterly 

and there were no streets laid out or houses in existence beyond the 
western limit of the Panhandle. A couple of years later John McLaren 
had reclaimed the sand wastes with the Sudan Grass and bush lupine 
planting which stabilized the surface sufficiently to allow planting of 
trees and pushing roads toward the ocean. I also remember driving with 
my Grandfather out the old Geary Street road to the Cliff House to 
see the sea lions and then a rapid trot down the beach to Mussel Rock. 

It was Centennial Year. In common with the rest of the United States, 
San Francisco had a series of celebrations centering around July 4th. 
One of these I remember very well. On July }rd, there was a parade 
of naval vessels. My Father took me up to the open hillside that is now 
the Western Addition. After the ships had steamed past us toward the 
sea and returned, several dropped anchor below us and began shooting 
at a target anchored below the Marin Hills opposite. The ships were 
armed with the big Parrott cast iron guns and we could see the big 
round solid shot go richocheting across the water. It is my recollection 
that no hits on the target were scored. I have a picture of the crowd on 
the hillside of which we were a part and an enlargement of it was 
shown in the exhibit of Presidio pictures last year at the Crocker- Anglo 
National Bank. 

Shortly after this, my Grandfather, who had gone east with his wife, 
died there. My Mother decided to go east to bring her Mother home. 
She took me on the trip so I was away rill about mid-September for we 
made several visits to relatives and spent a week at the Philadelphia 
Exposition. After my return, I joined my contemporaries, aligned to 
the party of their choice in the Presidential campaign then under way. 
I made my debut in politics by joining the crowd that shouted for 
Hayes and Wheeler. We were vociferous to the end. But I can remem 
ber no further interest in politics until the campaign for the adoption 
of the new state constitution. Following my elders, I was violently op 
posed to adoption. As far as I can remember, all my schoolmates were 
too. I remember our delighted celebration when San Francisco's vote 
against adoption was announced notwithstanding support of the Work- 
ingman's Party for the new constitution. In a few days, the country's 
returns reduced us to despair. My regret over the outcome has con 
tinued to this day. 

But this is getting ahead of my calendar. As I have said, 1876 brought 
me freedom to roam the streets. It was toward the end of the era of 
wildest speculation on the Comstock. There was hardly an individual 


A San Francisco Boyhood z 19 

who was not gambling. The market was stimulated by legitimate and 
illegitimate pressures. The Consolidated California and Virginia Mine 
was paying a million dollars a month in dividends. There were a dozen 
more mines that had, or had had bonanza ores. The lode was only 
partially explored. Why should there not be more? During Stock Board 
hours, hardly anyone on the street walked; the rest ran. If they checked 
themselves to greet a friend, hands were plunged deep in trousers 
pockets and the universal salutation was "How's Stocks?" Perhaps an 
answer was awaited, but a faster gait to make up for the lost interval 
was usual. My boyhood friends and I delighted to visit this area of 
supercharged atmosphere to participate in its thrills and we adopted the 
salutation as soon as we acquired trouser pockets. 

Almost as thrilling as Pine Street were San Francisco wharves. In 
the '705 only the Pacific Mail dock had a shed and gates. All the others 
were open planked structures with berths for ships on each side. You 
could wander at will among the piles of cargo that had been unloaded 
and sometimes sneak aboard a vessel, if no ship's officer was around, for 
the sailors were almost always friendly. We learned early that the repair 
crews of the port treated their jobs informally. Missing deck planks 
were not always replaced. If you held your chin too high a step might 
land you in the bay. Two types of ships produced the most interesting 
cargoes, the sugar boats from Hawaii and the traders to the South Seas 
and the East Indies. All of these were windjammers. 

Sugar refining had not developed to the present stage of perfection. 
The molasses came in little wooden barrels. In those days molasses was 
not the doctored residuum that you now buy in bottles. It was a syrupy 
fluid that embraced a concentration of all the delights that you obtained 
in chewing the pith of the sugar cane. When a sling load of these barrels 
was dropped too hard on the wharf, the barrels sometimes sprung at 
the seams. With the aid of a straw from a nearby bale of hay, you could 
fill yourself with the sweet-sour nectar to the limit of your capacity. 
No child of today who buys a coca-cola, ice cream soda or banana split 
has a treat comparable with our free ride at the public's expense. 

The South Seas and East Indies trading schooners have disappeared 
from San Francisco Bay as completely as has the San Francisco scow 
schooner which was the pioneer means of transportation to all the 
shallow water landings about the Bay. In my youth, hundreds of these 
craft dotted the bay but their cargoes did not hold any interest for us. 
The traders, however, offered eye-opening glimpses of how the inhabi- 


22o Calif ornia Historical Society Quarterly 

rants of these remote regions lived and what they had to work with. 
The crews were largely Hawaiians, South Sea Islanders and Lascars. 
They in turn were equally interested in how the uncivilized inhabitants 
of California, represented by ourselves, lived and behaved. This mutual 
interest enabled us to examine the curiosities in the cargoes and taste 
the edible portions and view the menageries of live pets that many 
sailors had. Sinbad the Sailor had nothing on us in this field of explora 
tion and adventure. 

In order to give you something of a background of our life in San 
Francisco during 1877, 1 will quote from John S. Hittell's summary of 
that year's events in his History of San Francisco: 
"A great depression of business, resulting from a severe drought, and a 
fear that the rich deposit of ore in the Consolidated Virginia and Cali 
fornia mines would soon be exhausted, the organization of the work- 
ingman's political party, were among the most notable events of 1877. 
The scantiness of the rainfall of 1876-77, the amount being less than 
ten inches at San Francisco, and less than that of any other season 
within a quarter of a century, caused a general failure of the grain crop, 
a large mortality in the herds of cattle, and a serious decline in the yield 
of the placer mines. The direct pecuniary loss to the state by the 
drought was estimated at twenty million dollars. The southern part of 
the state was especially depressed, notwithstanding the completion of 
the railroad connection between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 
September, 1876, and the extension of the road to the Colorado River 
in the April following " 

When we remember that the eastern United States had been in a 
depression since 1873, the suddenness of its advent in San Francisco is 
more understandable. In any event, Pine Street and vicinity, even with 
its new Mining Exchange, lost its interest for us, when its excitement 
dropped. Although there were sporadic short revivals for several years 
we had become sophisticated and did not respond as of yore. 

As a substitute for walks to Pine Street, we began to explore the 
outlying edges of San Francisco. A favorite excursion was an all-day 
trip. We took the Mission Street horsecar to what was then known as 
Bernal Heights. This was the first abrupt rise of ground below Twin 
Peaks. There were only one or two streets along this slope above 
Mission Street. Beyond that, there was the unfenced grassy slope that 
stretched to the peaks. In the spring, the grass was dotted with innumer 
able wild flowers. There are left only a few spots in Marin County 


A San Francisco Boyhood 2 2 1 

where you can see a comparable display to those we thoughtlessly 
crampled underfoot. The climb to the summit was quite a walk but 
the unrestricted view was rewarding as it is today. But its composition 
was very different. To the west you now look down on almost solid 
city. In our day, the Valley was almost unoccupied. The Alms House 
lay almost exactly below us and the rest of the Valley held perhaps a 
half dozen houses. We usually went down to the Alms House tearing 
pell mell over the flower-strewn grass. When we went as far as this it 
was an all day excursion and we ate our lunch near the Alms House 
where we could get water. The return trip was often made by an 
alternate route. 

This year was the beginning of the Dennis Kearney, Dr. O'Donnell, 
"The Chinese Must Go" era which persisted for several years. It may 
be said that the impact came in July 1877. The economic conditions 
indicated in the above quotations produced a large body of unemployed 
who were restless and worried and became ready listeners to any 
speaker who claimed to champion their cause. 

In July, news came of the great labor, socialistic and railroad riots 
in the eastern states. There was an immediate reaction in San Francisco 
and the first object of attack was the Chinese. A Chinese laundry was 
burned and several others sacked on July 2 3rd. The rioters following 
this became defiant and threatened to drive out all Asiatics, by fire if 
necessary. The San Francisco police force was only about one hundred 
and fifty men, entirely inadequate to meet the situation. So on the 
following day a public meeting of citizens was called and a protective 
association was formed known as the Committee of Safety under the 
presidency of William T. Coleman who had headed the Vigilance 
Committee of 1856. By nightfall, he had a volunteer organization of 
over five thousand members armed for the most part with hickory pick 
handles; hence their subsequent tide of "pick handle brigade." 

On the night of July 25, after a day of excitement and disturbance, 
and several encounters, the rioters determined to make an attack on the 
Pacific Mail Steamship Company's docks and steamers at the foot of 
Brannan Street where the Chinese immigrants were landed. Threats to 
destroy this property had been made before. Great crowds congregated 
in the neighborhood and fire was set to several nearby lumber yards. 
The disorderly elements were out in large force and attempted to inter 
fere with the firemen who soon arrived with their engines; but, at the 
same time with the firemen, came many policemen reinforced by large 


222 California Historical Society Quarterly 

numbers of the pick handle brigade, who at once began to disperse the 
crowds. There was a general fight for a couple of hours; in the melee 
a number of shots were fired and many stones thrown; a few men were 
killed, and a number wounded. The object of the police and committee 
was not to kill or maim the rioters but to disperse them. In this they 
finally succeeded. 

The show of force and organization ended most rioting but it did not 
alleviate the situation of the unemployed. The laboring classes were 
discontented and hardly knew which way to turn. They only needed 
a bold leader to turn them in almost any direction. There was therefore 
a magnificent opening for a demagogue. And a demagogue of consider 
able boldness and force, and for a while of extraordinary success, soon 
appeared. This was Dennis Kearney, an Irish drayman, born in County 
Cork and about thirty years of age. He threw himself into the so-called 
workingmen's movement, which had already been started and soon took 
a prominent part in it. In August he advocated the organization of a new 
party soon to be known as the Workingmen's Party of California, but 
because it held its principal meetings every Sunday afternoon on the 
then vacant lots south of the new city hall, it was usually known as 
the Sand Lots party. Here Kearney continued to make incendiary 
speeches for many months, denouncing the capitalists, threatening the 
Chinese and advocating drastic means if the parry could not attain its 
ends by peaceable procedure. 

These conditions in public affairs could not be overlooked by an alert 
gang of boys from seven to nine years old, accustomed to a life on the 
streets and with an inordinate curiosity as to the doings of their elders. 
We soon shed all interest in finance and exploration and converged on 
the City. It became immediately evident that a considerable group of 
us aroused much more attention and suspicion from our elders than a 
single small boy loitering about them. Consequently, we all became 
amateur sleuths with deadpan faces and wide open ears. Dennis Kearney 
was a neighbor of ours on Rincon Hill. He was tailed by one of the 
gang when he was on the street near home, as were some of the other 
leaders. Meetings where information could be shared became essential 
to us as we should have burst if we could not spill our findings. We 
were soon meeting with the regularity of a club. The meetings engen 
dered so much excitement that they became objects of suspicion from 
our elders. We promptly sensed this and soon became a well-organized 
underground. A favorite meeting place was the Tildens' unused stable. 


A San Francisco Boyhood 223 

Their house was on Hawthorne Street, the barn at the back of the lot 
below the house level, and out of sight from Hawthorne Street. It was 
not new to us for it had been useful to us in avoiding police supervision. 
Its rear wall was supported by a brick foundation six or eight feet high 
which also marked the end of an alley which came up from Third 
Street. By lifting a loose plank in the floor of the stable, we could drop 
down alongside of this wall. The bricks of that day were often inade 
quately fired and when wet were soft enough to crumble if attacked 
with a sharp instrument. We opened a hole large enough for a boy to 
wriggle through the wall into a vacant lot that fronted on the alley. 
Thus it was inconspicuous from the alley, and a little persuading opened 
a hole in the board fence of the lot. It was easy to disperse into the 
traffic of Third Street which had small relation to the top of the hill. 
We did our best to learn where breaches of the peace would occur and 
attended many minor outbreaks. But parental authority enveloped us 
after nightfall so we missed the major riots. W'e did attend a number of 
the Sunday afternoon Sand Lot Meetings and skirted the outer edges 
of the crowds listening to the comments of the listeners and becoming 
acquainted with the appearance of the speakers. 

This turbulent era held our interest well into 1878 when the new con 
stitution election added new subjects to lists of the Sand Lot speakers. 
By this rime we had become bold enough to shout some vigorous "noes" 
to questions put to voice vote. This had to be done from the outer edges 
as we had to duck and scatter to avoid reprisals. However, the old topics 
had begun to turn stale for us. The new constitution was, as I have 
already said, a live issue with us. The election on this issue was held on 
May 7, 1879 and as already indicated the vote favored adoption by 
about seven per cent majority. It was a live issue for California voters. 
Ninety per cent of the registered voters turned out and voted. 

My personal grief over this outcome was soon diverted. The family 
spent most of the summer and early autumn in the Sierra, first at beauti 
ful Summit Soda Springs adjoining the estate of Mrs. Mark Hopkins 
and later, after an interesting ride down to Truckee in the caboose of 
a freight train, at Tahoe City. On my return to San Francisco, I found 
my pals had been on the edge of further political excitement. The 
Workingmen's Party had nominated a Baptist preacher, Reverend 
Isaac S. Kalloch, for Mayor. The San Francisco Chronicle attacked 
Kalloch and published some damaging statements against him. Kalloch. 
from his pulpit, answered by attacking the mother of Charles DeYoung 


224 California Historical Society Quarterly 

and Michael DeYounp. Charles DeYoung responded by going down 
to Kalloch's study in the Metropolitan Temple on Fifth Street and 
shooting him, wounding him seriously. The Campaign Committee of 
the Workingmen's Party was skillful in using this assault and at the 
election Kalloch was elected by a large majority and inducted into the 
office of Mayor. The newspaper continued to assail him and finally 
having found and published a particularly damaging statement, the 
Mayor's son, also a Baptist minister, surprised Charles DeYoung at the 
Chronicle office and killed him. However, this was only a passing 
incident. With the defeat of our efforts to prevent the adoption of the 
New Constitution and the capture of the City by the enemy, we lost 
interest in matters political and turned to such boyish games as were 
available to us. New areas for exploration were opened to us by the 
extension to the limits of population by the California Street Cable 
Railroad in 1878 and the Geary Street Cable Road in 1880 at Fillmore 
Street. We could plod over the brush and oak covered sand hills to Lone 
Mountain and climb to the great cross on its summit or explore the area 
farther north until we met the untamed drifting sand hills, or still 
farther north until we came to the lake from which the Spring Valley 
Water Company supplied the northern section of the City. 

Early in the summer of 1880 my Mother took her three children to 
the East to visit our many relatives and become acquainted with New 
England. We stayed long enough to have a sample of winter sports 
under the guidance of our cousins. Shortly after our return I was 
entered in the fourth grade of Lincoln Grammar School on Fifth Street 
near Market Street. It was the largest school in the City, housing about 
twelve hundred scholars. We were herded into two large planked yards 
behind the building where the classes were drawn up in single file and 
marched into our class rooms to the beat of a drum. The boy who acted 
as drummer and the principal stood on the roof of the shed dividing 
the two yards and the principal gave the orders. We were returned to 
the yards for noon recess where most of the scholars ate their lunches. 
There were a few trash cans about, but most of the surplus food was 
tossed out to go down between the planks. The scavenger work down 
there was done by a horde of rats. The area was small for such a large 
crowd and we were kept under strict supervision to prevent running 
or mass movements of any kind. So, we had no sports to make recess 

The new school, however, greatly enlarged my circle of acquaint- 


A San Francisco Boyhood 225 

ances and added many new friends and they brought me new ideas and 
new fields for exploration. One of these became a frequent excursion. 
We took the newly finished Union Street Cable Car out to the Presidio 
Gate and walked through the Presidio to Fort Point where we paused 
to ramble through the untenanted Fort and then we proceeded from 
that point on top of the wooden flume of the Spring Valley Water 
Company which brought its water from the lake previously mentioned 
to the north side of San Francisco. The flume was a box flume about 
three feet high and wide. It was decked over, stood on a trestle for 
most of its length and on mud sills where it crossed the rocky points 
it met. There were also cross fences at intervals with picket tops to 
prevent intruders from using it, but any live boy could swing himself 
around them. The flume followed the shore line for about two miles 
before turning in toward the lake. Near this point was our destination, 
Baker's Beach, a beautiful stretch of beach between jutting rocky 
points. Above it was a springy meadow with a carpet of the rare Iris 
longipetala which civilization has made almost extinct. Beyond the 
meadow on the landward side there was a belt of drifting sand a mile 
or mile and a half in width. No minion of the law or foreign enemy 
could toil through that to descend on us. The ocean was in front of us 
and all in sight. It was before the day of motorboats and no sail craft 
ventured near the rocky shore. We could see the whole length of the 
flume so we could see any approaching party by that route and the 
cliffs between us and the Cliff House were sheer to the water's edge. 
Strange to say during our many visits only two or three times did any 
party approach by way of the flume. We soon acquired a sense of 
proprietorship and revelled in our isolation. It enabled us to shed any 
unnecessary impedimenta such as bathing suits for there was plenty of 
time to dress if we spotted flume walkers. 

My previous school experience had been in a small private school 
whose scholars were all drawn from a limited area. I was now a small 
cog in a large machine which turned at the pace of the mass. My fellow 
scholars were drawn from a large area of the City and were of several 
races. Having entered in the second half of a school year, I was fortu 
nate in getting into a class whose teacher fitted the collar of discipline 
to my neck, gently. Not so my contemporaries. I was fair game for a 
searching investigation of my past life, my present views, and my 
luncheon resources, during recess; they also ganged up in devising 
practical jokes or semi-secret assaults to test my mettle. These latter, of 


226 California Historical Society Quarterly 

course, had to be staged when the attention of the supervising official 
was turned to other quarters. It was not long before I found interesting 
friends and became a member of one of the groups into which such 
aggregations of boys split. Among them were several life long friends. 

My three years and a half at the Lincoln Grammar School gave me 
far more of an education than my previous experience. I had learned 
to read and write and had begun to read on my own initiative. I knew 
enough arithmetic to get into step with my grade, but it took some 
hustling to take the pace of the class and I had to scratch gravel to 
follow the intricacies of grammar. But more than the subjects them 
selves was the discipline of being prepared in advance in all your sub 
jects to the extent that they had been assigned for the day. Our classes 
numbered about sixty; an hour was assigned to each subject and we 
were called up under no prearranged system. There was little shelter 
for anyone who attempted to bluff. You were not called on every day 
but if you were you had to be brief, definite and fluent or take a verbal 
castigation while the class snickered. And I must say that our teachers 
succeeded in arousing a considerable competition among their pupils. 

But it was not only in school that I was getting an education. From 
my associates I acquired a large fund of small boy lore that was useful 
when venturing into unfamiliar portions of the City, or avoiding obser 
vation during infractions of rules, or diverting attention from desired 
objectives. Also among my friends were constant followers of the 
theater. I was not unacquainted with the theater but had only attended 
under family guidance. I remember being taken to the opening produc 
tion at the Grand Opera House on Mission Street near Third. It was a 
spectacle called "Snowflake." I also saw there Joe Jefferson in Rip Van 
Winkle and The Rivals, before I ventured out with companions of my 
own age. San Francisco, from its earliest days, was known among the 
celebrated theatrical people of the world as a city where audiences were 
both discriminating and cordial. Most of the world's most distinguished 
actors and actresses after 1853 made the month-long journey in both 
directions just to play in San Francisco. This reputation still held true 
in the '8os and on to the end of the century. 

The old California Theater on Bush Street had a spacious top gallery 
where for two bits at the Saturday Matinee we could see drama in all 
its phases. From that station I saw all of the celebrated Shakespearean 
actors of the day and many of the blood curdling melodramas then 
current. I saw there at least seventy-five years ago the original company 


A San Francisco Boyhood 227 

that put on "Around the World in 80 Days" which has recently been 
revived so successfully. Across the street was the smaller Bush Street 


Theater where the ruling attraction was Haverly's Minstrel Company 
interspersed with many of the tuneful light operas that were so popular 
in the last century. Here I heard "The Mikado" at its first appearance 
in San Francisco. 

We only frequented the theaters on Saturday afternoons for there 
was homework to be done at night. On Sunday there was Sunday 
School and Church. The other days we walked to school and back 
home after a session from nine till three. Life had become much more 
of a routine than when I attended the private school and there was 
much less free rime to give to the life of the City. I wonder now how 
we were able to get so much rime to snoop into City affairs during the 
four years at the private school. 

Now let us take a backward look at San Francisco during 1876 when 
our Rincon Hill crowd first began to study it. It was thirty years since 
the American flag was raised and twenty-eight since the treaty ceded 
California to the United States. At the rime the flag was raised there 
were about thirty houses in the village of Yerba Buena. 

In 1876 it was a city of 200,000 inhabitants. It had passed through its 
riotous youth although the echoes were still in the air and many of the 
early inhabitants were still active figures. It was then in the throes of 
its prodigal adolescence lured on by visions of the yet to be uncovered, 
ready made treasures of nature at the end of the rainbow. Our gang 
when exposed to the atmosphere of this era felt its exhilaration, but it 
was not auto-intoxication as it was with our elders, so when the vision 
faded and the r^nbow dissolved we did not have the headache that they 
did. It was potent and protracted. In retrospect it is easy to recognize 
the fact that recovery from the mad speculation was not all that was 
involved; it was also a period of fundamental readjustment to changed 
conditions not fully realized nor dealt with, while the madness was on. 
During the whole decade from 1870 to 1880, San Francisco had more 
than a quarter of the sparse population of California. The City could 
not be maintained on the scale of living to which it was accustomed by 
supplying the wants and handling the products of that limited popula 
tion without the equivalent of the Comstock income. Prior to the open 
ing of the railroad it had commanded the import trade of the area west 
of the Rocky Mountains but now railroads were advancing both to the 
north and the south; its field was narrowing. San Francisco met this 


228 California Historical Society Quarterly 

condition by using its brains and its capital in developing the latent 
resources of the State. Naturally, the first effort was in the expansion of 
agriculture. From the middle fifties the State had a surplus of agricul 
tural products for export. Grain was the principal export crop and by 
the decade of the '8os was a major element of the economy. The early 
farmers naturally turned to it because large acreages could be handled 
by the limited population available. The extension of the railroad 
through the San Joaquin Valley in the seventies had made available a 
vast additional area. During that decade more than two-thirds of the 
cultivated land was in grain. The next largest acreage was in wine 
grapes. Both of these crops were grown without irrigation. A few bold 
spirits had demonstrated that many other products could be grown if 
they could be assured of water at the right season. The City joined the 
struggling valley towns in financing and building irrigation systems. 
The railroad, with its large land grant holdings, cooperated by giving 
inducements to immigrants to populate and cultivate intensively the 
areas brought under irrigation. The City also plunged into the canning 
industry which absorbed the excess products of field and orchard. In 
half a century, California became the state with the largest and most 
diversified range of agricultural products in the Union. 

Meantime, in the late eighties and early nineties a series of disasso 
ciated efforts was leading to a momentous event in the history of Cali 
fornia's industrial development. In 1895, Livermore's electric generat 
ing plant on the American River began transmitting hydro-electric 
power of high voltage to Sacramento, generated by the waters carried 
by the old Natomas mining canal. Forthwith, the San Francisco owners 
of the old mining ditches, which had been finally put out of business 
by the Anti-Debris decision, saw a source of revenue in their properties 
beside water for irrigation. During this same era, San Franciscans had 
finally located and proved up an oil field in the southern San Joaquin 
Valley and began refining in a small way in Alameda. 

When the late Robert Glass Cleland chose his title "From Wilderness 
to Empire" for his short history of California from its discovery by 
Europeans to the year 1900, the title was prophetic rather than descrip 
tive. In the fifty-seven succeeding years these two industries have 
furnished the means for California to become an industrial as well as 
an agricultural empire. ANSQN 

Berkeley in Retrospect t by Anson Blake* 

My first picture of Berkeley is a very vivid memory, although 
lacking in many details. On Christmas Day 1875 my grandfather 
drove my sister, our nurse and me over to the site of my first 
house, which was at the north end of the Stadium, He had bought 
from the College of California, some years before, a piece of land 
on the east side of Piedmont Avenue adjoining the Palmer holdings, 
which was subsequently enlarged to include the canyon behind and 
an extension to the north. He planned on retiring to build here 
a home in the country. The object of our journey was that my 
sister and I should each plant a tree on the family domain. We 
took the ferry to the foot of Broadway in Oakland, and drove out 
Telegraph road. I have no recollection of the scenes on the 
journey except the little wooden bridge across Temescal Creek with 
the willows overhanging it. But I do remember my impressions at 
the journeys end. The Montery pines, cypresses and eucalyptus 
trees that my grandfather had planted were young, but thrifty, 
and to one of my size were impressive. The Islay hedge, part of 
which still stands, enclosed us x and the two great oaks which still 
stand at the north of the stadium. The ground had been plowed 
and a long handled shovel was in the carriage as well as the trees. 
As I was the older, I first undertook the handling of the shovel, 
but the job was completed by epuy. 

After this ceremony my sister and I surveyed our surroundings, 
which had been the subject of conversation at the breakfast table 
between our parents and grandparents. We were on a hill, jat as . 
w.e were at home on Rincon Hill. But below us under the low rays 
of a brilliant winter sun, stretched away a vast emerald green 
carpet of grass dotted by few buildings and by more frequent black 
green oaks, with the dense growth of bays, oaks and willows on our 

*partial text 

- 2 - 419 

right that marked Strawberry Creel. Far away was the bay we had 
crossed, and distant San Francisco. It was very different from 
the sea of wooden buildings on which we were accustomed to look 
from my grandfather's front windows, and far more lovely. Fearing 
that my memory of that scene mirht have been built up by subsequent 
impressions, I checked the rainfall of the autumn of 1875 and 
found that in November there had been over seven inches of rain, 
qnd in December over four. The picture of the campus in 1874 which 
hangs in the University Library is confirmation of the outlines. 
From then on Berkeley was a reality, and not a word used by grown 
folks, and the scope of my known world had been enlarged. 

My next visit was a longer one. In 1878 the two Palmer houses 
were built. Shortly after the families moved in, my grandmother 
and I made a weeks visit. By this time I was much more a free 
agent than before, and a vast field of interest opened up. Besides, 
I had the companionship and guidance of the Henry Palmer children 
in the exploration of my terra incognita. Buildings had begun to 
spring up at intervals adjacent to the University. There were a 
few other children to visit, there were wonderful secret paths to 
follow through''. the tall wild oats and Strawberry Canyon with its 
stream and Vegetation was a never ending source of joy. In San 
Francisco, livery stables had made me acquainted with houses and 
their care, so the stable was just a point of interest. But the 
tank house and wind mill furnished a completely new set of phenomena. 
True, we had a shot tower in San Francisco which had the same outline, 
but the pump, tank and windmill were new mechanical devices that 
deserved and got careful study, /it home all that seened necessary 
to getting a drink was to turn on a faucet. If you forgot to turn 
it off, what of it? Here if you forgot, everybody shouted at you 

_ 3 - 420 

at once. One windless nornin when we had a drought the consequences 
were borne in on me. 

It was on this visit that I first began to be conscious that 
the University of California was a feature of Berkeley, The late 
Miss "ilicent Shinn was then in attendance at the University and 
visited the Palmers while we were there. She talked at great 
length over its f fairs and problems, and had such an Interested 
and responsive audience that I became sure the place was of 

Prom this time on I was frequently in Berkeley. In 1883 I 
had my first direct contact with the University. I again visited 
the Palmers and attended Class Day and Commencement exercises. 
The only speaker who left an individual impression was the late 
Abraham Ruef. I remember his ease and assurance as he spoke. I 
also remember that in the distribution of gifts, the Dispensator 
handed him a revolver as the Class conception of the tool that 
would be most useful for his start in life. It was all intensely 

In September 1887 I came to Berkeley to enter the University, 
and a month later the family moved over, having in mind a trial 
year. The Henry Palmer house was chosen as our abode, and continued 
to be the family residence until after my fathers death in 1897. 
We found Berkeley a scattered and quite primitive community. There 
was a little center of population at Korth Berkeley, the end of the 
railroad, a sparse fringe of buildings on the west and south sides 
of the University grounds, and a somewhat larger center of population 
in West Berkeley. North of the University was a dairy ranch. 
Between the University and West Berkeley lay a few scattered farm 
houses and the lonely Town Hall half way down University Avenue at 

- 4 - 421 

Sacramento Street. 

TThen v/e arrived, Dvright V7ay was being paved from Shattuck Ave. 
to Piedmont Ave., the first such improvement in the town. There 
were rather more houses on Dwight Way than on any other street. 
The back fences of those on the south side marked the extreme 
limit of civilization. The puqapkin and barley fields came right 
up to them. Between this line and Temescal were farm houses , an 
occasional road house, and a few country homes like the Garber, 
Deane, Ballard and Ainsworth places and Pagoda Hill lying east of 
College Avenue. 

The other streets of the town and all of the roads to Oakland 
were muddy ruts in winter and deep with dust by autumn. All of 
the roads to Oakland had somewhere in their course almost bottomless 
sink holes. San Pablo Avenue, being the main line of approach to 
Oakland for heavy traffic, was the safest to use for numerous layers 
of cobblestones and creek gravel had been dumped in the softest 
places, making the ride over it much like one over the old corduroy 
road. In the part of Berkeley between the University grounds and 
Dwight Way, sdwwrs had recently been installed, which added to the 
perils of winter traffic as no effort had been made to consolidate 
the fill over the pipes. However, few of the inhabitants sported 
horses and carriages. Those who did not, bore the misfortunes of 
their neighbors bravely. 

As a large part of the population journeyed afoot, provision 
was made for them on most of the streets by putting down wooden 
sidewalks. There seemed to have been two schools of thought as 
to the way to build them. On some streets they consisted of three 
twelve inch planks laid side by side and nailed dovm to an occasional 

5 " 422 

cross piece sunk in the ground. In other places sills were laid in 
the ground with cross pieces of one by six boards nailed to them 
chicken ladder fashion. Both had their disadvantages. The long 
planks, subjected to the alternate wet and dry seasons, warped and 
pulled up the spikes. It was very easy to stub your toe as you 
walked, either on the protruding spikes or the ends of the planks. 
In the other instance the boards were fragile enough so that wanflering 
cows frequently broke them and individual boards were easy to pry 
loose for any tempCBary use. Both forms saved an enormous amount 
of toil for students who needed bonfires. 

Of course, nocturnal journeys were much more hazardous than 
daylight trips, as there was no street lighting, and every house 
was provided with a number of little kerosene lanterns which could 
be carried in the hand or on the handle of a cane to spot the 
dangers of navigation when the family went out at night. It was 
during our firwt Spring in Berkeley that the first public street 
lighting was put into operation. It consisted of four steel masts 
about one hundred feet high scattered about the town on each of 
which were four arc lights. It was enough illumination to show 
where the streets were, but not for finding nails or displaced 
planks. There was * gas in if&rrff'uoas or publio building*, and 

kerosene lamps were universal. 

As there were no crosswalks across streets between the side 
walks, it was necessary to wade the mud or the dust at the most 
favorable place. In sunnier at every front door there hung a featheB 
duster. This was both a courtesy to the guest and a reminder not 
to track into the house what could be removed by reasonable use of 
the instrument. 

- 6 - 423 

In each center of population there were a couple of grocery 
stores, a market or two, and a bakery, but almost no artisans to 
do repairs and meet emergencies. If you wanted anything after 
the morning call of your grocer or butcher, you sent for it, as 
the telephone was unknown in Berkeley houses then and most Berkeley 

In many cases this meant a trip to Oakland, a time consuming 
process even if you owned your own horse and buggy. If not, there 
was a steam dummy on Telegraph Avenue which towed a car to Temescal 
every half hour up to six P. LI. There you made connection with a 
house car which jogged into Oakland, total time consumption an 
hour or more. At night a horse car came out all of the way at 
eleven oclock. This accomodated those who had gone to church or 
a lecture, or had made a decorous call. But for those of us who 
had gone to a dance it meant leaving in the early hours of the 
party, or walking home. This we did a number of times during my 
student days. There was also a half hourly service on the Southern 
Pacific to 7/est Oakland and San Francisco. Then we first came over, 
our train only ran to Seventh Street, Oakland, where a transfer was 
made to the Oakland train for San Francisco, or to East Oakland, 
Fruitvale, Fitchburg and Melrose, all little separate communities 
now absorbed in Oakland. All the East Oakland students at the 
University came out by this means and some that lived in 7/est Oakland. 
One class ".ate who came from Kelrose made this journey for four years 
spending over three hours each day. During my studenfl days the run 
of the Berkeley train was extended to the ferry. The train trip was 
made from Shell Hound Park to Dwight Way through hay fields and 
pastures v/ith very few signs of habitation. One one side of Adeline 

- 7 - 424 

Street there was a straggling roadway. At Shattuck Avenue there 
were indications of one on each side of the track to Charming 77ay, 
where the easterly side was interrupted by a pumpkin field. At 
Allston Way the track crossed Strawberry Creek on a wooden trestle 
which was shaded by a giant oak. At Berkeley there were a few store 
buildings, the station, and the recently finished Ofld Fellows Hall. 
On the west side of Shattuck were the Barker house at Dwight Way 
and the Morse house at Bancroft and next the Shattuck house and 
grounds extending to Strawberry Creek, A few houses west of 
Shattuck on Charming and Bancroft Ways and Durant Avenue marked 
the westerly extension of East Berkeley, 

In 1884 the Alameda Water Company was incorporated to supply 
Berkeley with water and a reservoir in North Berkeley at the site 
of the Euclid Avenue reservoir was built. This company took orer 
the old Water Company in West Berkeley and began extending its 
mains. They had not reached the Palmer houses when we arrived for 
during the first winter there was very cold weather and our pipes 
up Strawberry Canyon froze and burst in more than twenty places, 

Notwithstanding such handicaps to the housekeeper as I have 
enumerated, our years trial of Berkeley life resulted in no rote 
to return to San Francisco, We found here such a cordial, interesting 
and companiahable community that we found ourselves part of it 
almost at once. We, of course, had many old friends here, but had 
we been entire strangers, it would have delayed our amalgamation 
very little. Tennis courts at various homes made centers of social 
life for the younger element. There were long walks to be taken to 
interesting objectives like the Fish Ranch House, Grizzly Peak, or 
Boswell's Ranch, ?/e also had occasional picnics to more distant 
points like Point Ysabel, when the yellow violets were in bloom, 

. 8 - 

Redwood Canyon, or Orinda. There were occasional dances at the 
Deaf and Dumb Institution, and various public functions at the 

Our elders had the Berkeley Choral Society and the Longfellow 
Memorial Association to attend as well as the activities of the 
various churches. Besides these community interests, there was 
a very genuine social intercourse that was quite inclusive. 

This community into v/hich we had come had, at that time, an 
estimated population of twenty-five hundred. It is difficult to 
guage the early population of Berkeley, The United States Census 
of 1870 and the Census of 1880 took no cognizance of the Town of 
Berkeley. It was non-existent in the first, but was incorporated 
before the second. The population was lumped in each case with that 
of Oakland Township. '.Ye know that in 1876 there were 158 votes cast 
at the Presidential election in November in the whole of Berkeley. 
The Centennial Year Book of Alameda County says that West Berkeley 
had grown into quite a settlement in the p. st three years. East 
Berkeley really began to grow the following year and North Berkeley 
at about 1882, 

I, personally, had plunged into the University life before the 
family arrived and was deep in class room work, class politics, 
rushes and investigations of the new phases of existence that 
surrounded me. So far as numbers went the institution was not much 
larger than the San Francisco High School that I had left. There 
were more teachers, but not many more students. I dug out the Blue 
and Gold of '89 which enumerated all of the Academic Senate and 
classes of my freshman year and found that there were forty seven 
members of the faculty and administrative officers, six graduate 

. 9 . 426 

students and two hundred and ninety three undergraduates in Berkeley 
that memorable year. There were more professors attached to the 
professional colleges in San Francisco, than there were here. It 
v/ill be seen that small as the town was, the University represented 
a smaller proportion of the population than it now does. Naturally 
we soon knew all of our classmates, and in quick sequence all of the 
faculty and upper classmen who did not make an effort to stay aloof. 

North and. South Halls, the Bacon Library, the old engineering 

^A**. t+*J fc&Ze. 

building, and the Harmon Gymnasium in its original form/ were the 
college buildings then in existence. They stood at the upper edge 
of a dreary slope. There had been some terraces to the west of 
North and South Halls which had just been reduced to a continuous 
slope and no planting had taken place as water was not available 
till later. At the lower edge of this slope was the cinder track 
(real cinders) and just above it the composite football field and 
baseball 'diamond. During the time I was in college the wooden 
Agriculture Building on the bank of the creek,where Eshelman Hall 
now stands, was built. This subsequently burned down. 

Here we worked, played and lived together, quite apart from 
the great world, with only occasional excursions into it. As I 
look back, I can realize that our class came onto the campus Just 
at the end of a pfconeer epoch. By the time we graduated the 
influences that created the new order were at work, although then, 
we were quite unconscious of the part they were playing. Physical 
isolation was only one aspect of a more profound, if less obvious 
isolation of our institution. This does not imply that the 
University stood alone in this community as a collegiate institution. 
There was the University of the Pacific, then at San Jose, which 






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Key to Arrangement 


Blake Papers in The Bancroft Library 

Boxes 1-2 

Boxes 2-U 

Carton 1 

Letters written by Anita Blake, Ib8l-1962 and n.d. 

Originals, arranged chronologically, written mainly to her . 
husband, relating to family activities. Letters, 1911-1920 
and n.d., were written facm their ranch on Howell Mountain 
near 3t. Helena (Napa County). 

Letters written to Anita Slake 

Arranged alphabetically by name of person or organization 
preceded by a. miscellany of unlisted letters. A few are 
written to Anson Blake and others. A partial list of 
correspondents fellows the key to arrangement. 

Congratulatory letters re marriage of Anita Symines and Anson 
Blake, May IT, 169U. Unarranged 

Miscellaneous family correspondence, primarily from unidenti 
fied relatives. Unarranged 

Manuscript of article about Henry Correvon by Anita Blake 
Diary kept by Anita Blake, Dec. 7-29, 19 1 *! 
Personalia - Anita Blake 

Membership cards; award from Berkeley Floral Society, 1898; 

Poems written about her 
Miscellany - Anita Blake 

Certificate of cattle brand registration, results of a 

phrenologist examination, records of summer session courses 

taken, 1917, etc. 
Personalia - Anson Blake 

Membership card, resolution by Society of California Pioneers 

upon his death, etc. 
Notebook kept by Edwin T. Blake, [brother] 1903-1905. Notes 

re engineering projects in Mariposa and Calaveras counties 

(Calif.); notes re paving contracts in Oakland, Berkeley and 

Diary kept by Edwin T. Blake, 1917-1919. Written while serving 

in the engineer corps in France. A few entries are dated 

Diary kept by Charles H. Richardson, Feb. - Apr., 1853. Written 

while in Boston, Kingston and Cape Cod. Includes also: 

poetry and letter (copy) to C. H. Richardson, Oct. 2, 1855. 

Many pages torn out . 

Sycmes, Stiles and Blake families 
Invoices, receipts, etc. 

Many are for purchase of plants for the 31ake garden 

Relatives and unidentified 
Invitations, announcements, etc. 
Address books 

See also address book in portfolio 



Typescript of a play written by a relative, miscellaneous dat; 

about gardens, plants, etc., several items written in Welsh. 

Relating to the Blake nd Synmes families (2 folders) and 

California history (5 folders) 

Portfolio Manuscripts (typescripts) of articles Cby Anson Blake?] 

Arranged alphabetically 

Davii Douglas, A Pioneer Botanist in Action 

Edward Fitzgerald Beale, A Pioneer in the th of Empire 

The Great Frontier 

The Land on Which You Live 

Salt Water Barriers For San Francisco Bay 

The Water Problem in California 

Address book kept by Anita Blake, 1898- 
See also Carton 1 


Partial List of Correspondents (Letters are written to Mrs. Blake unless indicated 

Altrocchi, Julia (Cooley), 1893-1972 
1* letters, 1939-1959 & n.d. 

American Friends of Vietnam 

Letter, Oct. 2, 1959. Written by John W. 0' Daniel, Chairman 

American Humane Association 

Letter (copy), Nov. 10, 196l. Written to the City Council of Palo Alto, Calif. 

Arboretum Foundation 

5 letters, 19^0-1962 

Bartlett, Louis, l3?2-1960 
Letter, Aug. 19, 1959 

Biggs, Donald C 

See California Historical Society 

Blake, Charles Thompson, 1026-1897 

6 letters, 1875-1897 & n.d. Written mainly to Anson Blake and others. Letter, 
Aug. 8, 1875, contains account of journey from San Francisco to Lake County. 

Blake, Edwin Tyler, 1875-19^8 

3 letters, l8ti6 & n.d. Written to Anson Blake 

Blake, Harriet Waters (Stiles), 18UO- 

7 letters, Ib87 & n.d. Written mainly to Anson Blake. 

Blake, Robert Pierpont, 1886-1950 
Letter, Apr. 16, 1909 

Bracelin, Nina Floy 
2 letters, 1959-1962 

Bray, Absalom Francis, 1889- 
Letter, Aug. 21, 1959 

California. Legislature. Senate 
See Miller, George 

California. University. Agricultural Extension Service 

2 letters, 1916 

California. University. College of Agriculture. Division of Agricultural Education 

3 letters, 191^-1913 

California. University, Berkeley. Robert H. Lowie Museum of Anthropology 
Letter, May 3, 196l 


California Academy of Sciences. San Francisco 

5 letters, 193^-1959 & n.d. Letter, Feb. 28, 193^. Written by Alice Eastwood. 
Letters, July 11, 19^ & Sept. 2U , 1959- Written by R. C. Miller, Director 

California Historical Society 

U letters, 1959-1962. Written mainly by Donald C. Biggs, Director 

California Horticultural Society 
7 letters, 19^-1959 i n.d. 

California Palace of the Legion of Honor 
Letter, Oct. 12, 1959 

Carmelite Monastery, Berkeley, Calif. 
7 letters, 1950-1962 

Chaney, Ralph Works, lc9C- 

2 letters, 1959-1962. Included also: 3 letters, 1959-1961, from Mrs. Chaney 

Colman, Jesse C 

Letter, Nov. 20, 1961. Written while member of a sponsoring committee 
to help finance lobbying activities of Harry and Ruth Kingman 

Commonwealth Club of California, San Francisco 
See Meyer, Theodore Robert 

Cornelius Fidelis, Brother, 1577-1962 
2 letters, 

Correvon, Henry, 185^-1939 
12. letters, 1926-1938 

Day, Clive 

23 letters, 1897-1901 & n.d. 

Deane, Ruthven, 1851-1931* 
Letter, May 3, 1910 

Drury, Newton Bishop, 1389- 
See Save-The-Redwoods League 

Eartwod, Alice, 1S59-1953 

See California Academy of Sciences. San Francisco 

Engineers' Club. San Francisco 
Letter, Aug. 19, 1959 

Fischer, Martin Henry, 1879- 
Letter, June 28, 1922 


Giffin, Helen (Smith), 1393- 
Letter, Aug. 21, 1959 

Goodspeed, Thomas Harper, Id87-19o6 
2 letters, 19 1 *! 

Grant, Charles H 

34 letters, 1917-1962 & n.d. Written mainly from France during World War I 

Grosvenor, Gilbert Hovey, 1375- 

Letter, Oct. 23, 191 1 *. Written to Anson Blake 

Harvard University. Arnold Arboretum 

5 letters, 1927-1955 & n.d. Written mainly by Elmer D. Merrill and Richard 
A. Howard 

Howard, Richard Alder., 1917- 

See Harvard University. Arnold Arboretum 

Huggins, Dorothy Harriet 
Letter, CNov. 2k, 19593 

Hutchinson, James Sather, l868?-1959 

Letter, Nov. 20, 19^6. Written to Anson Blake 

Hyde, Charles Gilman, 187U- 

See Young Men's Christian Associations. California. University. Berkeley 

Jepson, Willis Linn, 1867-19^6 
5 letters, 1926-19^1 

Kerr, Catherine (Spaulding) CMrs. Clark Kerr3 
Letter, Aug. 23, 1959 

Kingman, Harry Lees, 1892- 

3 letters, 1959-1960. See also Colman, Jesse C 

Kingman, Ruth (Winning), 1900- 

See Pacific Coast Committee on American Principles and Fair Play 

League of v omen Voters of Richmond (California) 
Letter ? 22, 1961 

Lessing, Ferdinand Diedrich, 1882-1961 

Letter, Dec. 29, 19^5 - Included also: 2 letters, 1959-1962, written by Mrs 

Livermore, Caroline (Sealy), 1883- 
Letter, Aug. 28, 1959 

Lyman, William Whittingham, 1885- 
Letter, Oct. 12, 1959 


McDuffie, Jean (Howard), 1330-1955 
Letter, May 12, 1951 

McMillan, Elsie Walford (Blumer) 
Letter, Aug. 25, 1959 

Merriam, John Campbell, l6o9-19 1 O 
See Save-The-Redwoods League 

Merrill, Elmer Drew, 1876-1956 

See Harvard University. Arnold Arboretum 

Meyer, Theodore Robert, 19C2-1973 

Letter, Aug. 20, 1959- Written while Secretary, Commonwealth Club of California 

Miller, George, 

Letter, ,Sept. 20, 19bl. Written while serving in the California Senate 

Miller, Robert Cunningham, 1099- 

See California Academy of Sciences. San Francisco 

Mills College, Oakland 
See White, Lynn Townsend 

Moffitt, James Kennedy, l866?-1955 
Letter, May lU , 19^0 

Moses, Mary Edith (Briggs) [Mrs. Bernard MosesD 

Letter, Aug. 30, 1902. Transmits sketch of experiences in Manila. (19 p.) 

Napa County (Calif. ) Farm Bureau 
Letter, May lo, 1916 

Napa County (Calif. ) Farm Bureau Fair 
5 letters, 1916 

'Daniel, John Wilson, 189 1 *- 

See American Friends of Vietnam 

Olnev, Mary McLean, lbT3-1965 

2 Letters, 1959-1962 

Pacific Coast Committee on American Principles and Fair Play 

Letter, n.d. Written to Anson Blake by Ruth W. Kingman, Executive Secretary 

Parratt , Edna (Martin) 

3 letters, 1959-1962 & n.d. 

Parsons, Edward Lambe, 1668- 
Letter, CAug. 2U, 1959] 


Phelps, Ralph L , l3ttO-195T 
Letter, Jan. 28, 1933 

Richardson, Maud (Wilkinson) 

Letter, C19313. Written to Mabel Symmes 

Save-The-Redwocds League 

3 letters, 19^2-1961. Letter, Feb. 20, 19^2, written by John C. Merriam, 
president. Letter, Feb. 27, 19fcl, written by Newton B. Drury, Secretary. 

Seaborg, Glenn Theodore, 1912- 
Letter, Sept. 1, 1959 

Skinner, Cornelia Otis 
Letter, [Feb. 8, 19501 

Society of California Fior.eers 
Letter, Aug. 19, 1959 

Sproul, Ida (Wittchen), 1891- 

2 letters, 1959-1960 

Stiles, Ann Jane (Waters), l8l3-l89T 

7 letters, I8ti2-l886 & n.d. Written mainly to Anson Blake. 

Stratton, George Malcolm, 1365-1957 

Note, n.d. Included also: 2 letters, n.d., by Mrs. Stratton 

Strybing Arboretum Society of Golden Gate Park 

3 letters, 1957-1962 

Symraes, Frank Jameson, 18^7-1916 

1* letters, 1890-1910. Letter, Dec. 1, 1890, written to Anson Blake. Included 
also: 2 letters, n.d., written by Mrs. Symmes 

Sycmes, Harold Shakspear, 1877-1910 

16 letters, 189U-1909 & n.d. Postcard, Aug. 6, 1909, written to Anson Blake 

Symmes, Mabel, 1875-1962 

2 Letters, 1895 & n.d. Written to Anson Blake 

Taft, Charles Phelps, 1897- 

3 letters, 1959-1962 

Taft, William Howard, Ib57-1930 

Letter, June 21, 1905. Written to Hattie W. Blake. Included also: letter, 
June 17, 1909, from Mrs. Taft, written by her secretary. 

Thacher, Anson Stiles, 1905- 

2 letters, 1959-1962. Included also: letter, Apr. Ic, I960, written by Mrs. 


Thacher, Eliza Seeley (Blake), 1872- 

11 letters, It)86-l897 & n.d. Written mainly to Anson Blake. 

Thacher, Sherman Day, 1861-1931 
Letter, Sept. 27, 1895 

Thoraas , Harold Earl, 1900- 
3 letters, 1938-19M 

Towle, Katherine Amelia, 1698- 
2 letters, 1959-1962 

U. S. Bureau of Plant Industry 
Letter, Apr. 9, 1938 

Wheelan, Albertine (Randall) 
Letter, Nov. 13, 1905 

WheiBler, Amey (Webb) CMrs. Benjamin Ide Wheeler] 
Postcard, n.d. 

White, Lynn Townsend, 1907- 

Letter, June 12, 1951. Written while President, Mills College 

Young Men's Christian Associations. Berkeley, Calif. 
Letter, Aug. 2k, 1959 

Young Men's Christian Associations. California. University. Berkeley 

7 letters, 1959-1961. Letter, Aug. 19, 1959, written by Charles G. Hyde. 

438 Mds 203. 204 

Blake Papers in the California Historical Society 
Blake, Anson Stiles, 1370-1959 

Business records, 1897-1938. 1-g- ft. 4 boxes. 

Samples of quarry company records including minutes of 
the Board of Directors, copybooks, ledgers, cash books, stock 
certificates, and invoices. 

Nets hew 

Gift of Mr. Igor R. Blake, -Son of Anson S. Blake, March 1972, 

Ace. no. 23. 

Added entries: Blake, Edwin T. 

Bilger, P. W. 
Symme s , Whi tman 

Blake & Bilger Co. 
The Blake Bros. Go. 
Interior Land Co. 
La Jota Rancho, Napa 
H. Peterson & Co., Inc. 
San Francisco Quarries Co. 
San Pablo Quarry Co. 
Venice Island Co. 


San Pablo Water Co. 

Quarries and quarrying 

Yount, George C., -1865 see Vol. 9 


Anson S. Blake Business Papers 

Box 1 

Volume 1 Stock Journal and Ledger of the San Pablo Quarry Co 


Castro Point, Contra Costa County 

By-Law of the corn-cany included 

Volume 2 Copybook of Blake and Bilger Co. 
Sept. 1906 - Jan. 1907 
Central Bank Bldg, Oakland 

Volume 3 Copybook of Edwin T. Blake 
June 19. * - March 1908 
Central Bank Bldg., Oakland 

Volume 4 Minutes of the Board of Directors, Venice Island Co. 
May 1906 - Oct. 1913 
Balboa Bldg., San Francisco 

Some minutes of the stockholders' meetings and some 
correspondence included 

Box 2 

Volume 5 Account Ledger of Blake and Bilger Co. 
Nov. 1908 - Oct. 1909 

Volume 6 Account Ledger of Blake Co. 
Oct. 1897 - 1914 

Volume 7 Cash Book of H. Peterson & Co., Inc. 
19 12 -May 1914 

Box 3 

Volume 8 Cash BooJf of San Francisco Quarries Co, 
Nov. 1908 - March 1909 

Volume 9 Title Abstract of La Jota Rancho, Napa 

Folder 1 Continuation of Abstract of La Jota Rancho from 1886 

Volume 10 Stock Certificates for Interior Land Co. 
Nov. 1910 - March 1936 

Anson 3. Blake Business Pacers 

Polder 2 Appraisal Invoice of The Blake Bros. Co., 1921 
Folder 2 Pictures of the quarries 

Box 4 and 5 

Invoices, San Pablo Quarry Co., 1907-09 

Box 5 continued 

Polder 4 San Pablo Water Comoany and others 

5 Blake and Bilger Co. Miscellaneous records, 1910-12 

6 Blake Bros. Co. Financial records, 1916-17 

7 TLS, George Fletcher to Anson Blake, Feb. 20, 1913 

Blake, Anson Stiles (1870-1059) 441 MS 204 

Papers, 1882-1959 1 ft. 


Anson Stiles Blake was born in San Francisco on August 6, 1870. 
He was the son of Harriet Stiles Blake and Charles Thompson Blake. 
His father, C.T. Blake was an early pioneer to San Francisco, arriving 
in 1849 from New Kaven, Connecticut after a difficult voyage through 
Central America. Anson Blake attended Lincoln Grammar School and Boy's 
High School in San Francisco before moving with his family to Berkeley 
where he attended the University. Upon graduation in 1891 Blake went 
to work for the Bay Rock Company in Oakland, moving two years later to 
the Oakland Paving Company a macadamizing outfit run by his father and 
his father's associate C.T.H. Palmer. In 1899 he became president of 
that company. In 1894 he married Anita Day Symmes , a recent U.C. gradu 

Blake's interest in such businesses arose from his father's and 
grandfather's own mining and mine-equipment backgrounds. (His grandfathe 
patented the Blake Rock Crusher in 1858.) In 1904 he helped to form the 
San Pablo Quarry Company which supplied materials to the city of San 
Francisco for its rebuilding after the earthquake. In 1914 the company, 
which later became Blake Brother's in Richmond, was created and this 
business was in Blake's control until 1954. Rock from this company 
helped to keep islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin from flooding 'in 
addition to supplying the bayside rock edges of Treasure Island for the 
1939 Fair there. 

Throughout his life, however, Blake's interests diversified far 
beyond those of the quarrying concern. He took an interest while still 
at Berkeley in the University YMCA - Stiles Hall - (donated by his grand 
mother,) and helped to support it throughout his life. He was a member of 
many clubs including the Berkeley City Club, the Claremont Country Club 
the Athenian Club and others. He wrote prolifically on a wide variety of 
subjects and was a frequent speech-giver. Speech topics covered su-ch su 
jects as, "Racial Contrasts on the Southwestern Frontier," to the effect 
Prohibition on California grape growers. Usually, though, they dealt 
with history. He was president of both the Society of Calif. Pioneers 
and the Calif. Historical Society, the latter from 1945-48. He was on 
the Board of Trustees of CHS from 1924-1959 and was made a fellow in 1958 
He did extensive research on his father, concentrating on the years Charl 
Blake spent mining in the Sierras during the Gold Rush. Among Anson Blak 
papers are letters written by his father's traveling and business 
partners describing their trip to California and the Gold Rush. 

In 1953 the California State Legislature bestowed upon him the title 
of "Grand Old Man of Stiles Hall" in honor of his 50 years of service. 
In 1958 he was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by the Universit 
He died on August 17, 1959, eleven days after his 89th birthday. 

Scope and Content 

The papers of Anson Blake cover a wide variety of subjects. Most 
are the text of speeches he gave to various organizations around. 

Blake, Anson Stiles (1870-1959) 442 MS204 

the Bay Area and cany cover both contemporary California issues and facets 
of California history. There are also a few folders containing per 
sonal papers relating to his participation in the Society of California 
Pioneers and the California Historical Society . Some of the more interes 
ting papers include Blake's early reminiscences of Berkeley and an 
insightful history of the early years of the University. 

Blake's papers also include seme materials on three associates 
of C.T. Blake, Anson Brake's father; Roger SherraanBaldwin , Charles T.H. 
Palmer and Caspar I "Hopkins ; 

In cases where papers had no titles the folders have been labeled 
according to what the articles seem to be about. 

Box 1 contains correspondence, primarily and Box 2 contains 
texts of speeches or papers by Blake. 

See also: Blake papers, MS203 


Box 1 


1 Correspondence, receipts, notes and memorabilia of ASB 

2 Correspondence, California Historical Society 

3 Society of California Pioneers - misc. 

U Centennial Celebrations Committee Report (and papers on same) 

5 Autobiography of C.T. Hopkins (pt.l) 

6 Autibiography of C.T. Hopkins (pt.2) 

7 Notes from Newspapers about C.T. Blake 

8 Berkeley - In Retrospect 

9 (Berkeley) - The Land on Which We Live 

10 Calif. Historical Society , (History of) The Early Years 

11 California in the Civil War 

12 (Calif.) Water and Reclamation 

13 Codes and Code Making 

14 Collective Bargaining in Practice 

15 The Companion "Histories of California" 

16 David Douglas - Pioneer Botanist in Action 

Blake, Ar.son Stiles (1S7C-1959) 


Box "I (continued) 
Folders : 

17 EBMUD: background and formation of 

18 The First Emigrant Train to California 

The rirst Steamship Pioneers to California 

The Hudson's Bay Company in San Francisco 

The Initiative Incubates Ham and Eggs 

Kensington (The Carmelite Monastery and Blake property there 

The Labor Situation in the Industrial Community 

Life at Sutter's Fort 

Life in the Mines (1850-52) 

The Problems of a Rural Population 

Prohibition and the Grape Growers 

Racial Contrasts on the Southwestern Frontier 

Rights of (labor) Minorities in the Present Labor Situation 

Sacramento-San Joaquin Valleys - early views of California. 

Also - conservation of natural resources. 
San Francisco, 1846-48 

Two Early Paintings of San Francisco Bay 
The U.S. Reclamation Service 
Wartime and governmental expenditures 
Working for Wells Fargo 


Added Entries 

(Box and folder locations follow) 

Agriculture California (2:26) 

.American Federation of Labor (1:14) 

Art San Francisco Bay (2:31) 

Berkeley, California, 1875-1900(1:3) 

Berkeley, California Transporation Railroads (1:9) 

Berkeley, California University (1:8) 

Bidwell, John (1:17) 

Blake, Charles T. (1:7, 2:25, 2:35) 

Botany (1: 16) 

California Description, Geography 

California Exploring, Expeditions (1:17, 1:18) 

California Emigration (1:17 1:18) 

California Historical Society (1:~2) 

Calif ornia--History, 1861-65 '1:11) 

California Politics and Government, 1849-1879 (2:21) 

California, University, Berkeley, 1897-1900 (1:8) 

Calif ornia--Water and Reclamation 

Blake, Ar.son Stiles (1S70-1959) 


Added Entries (continued) 

Chapman, Charles E. (1:15) 
Cleland, Robert G. (1:15) 
Collective Bargaining (1:14, 2:21) 
Congress of Industrial Organizations (1:14) 
Conservation (2:30) 

East Bay Municipal Utility District History (1:17) 
Hopkins, Casper T. Q.:5 ) 

Hudson's Bay Company San Francisco, 1841 (2:20) 
Kensington, California (2:22) 
Labor California (2:29) 
Labor Disputes (2:21, 2:34) 
Mines and Mining (2:25)- 

Palmer, Charles T. , 1850-1852 (2 :24 ,-_2 : 35) 
Prohibition California - : (2:27) 
Race Relations (2:28) 
San Francisco Bay (2:31, 2:32) 

San Francisco Social Life and Customs, 1846-1848 (2:31) 
San Francisco Politics and Government, 1846-1848 (2:31) 
Society of California Pioneers (1:3) 
Street-cars Berkeley, California (1:9) 
Sutter, John A. (2:24) ' 
Sutter's Fort (2:24) 
Trade-Unions (2:23, 2:29) 
Wine and Winemaking (2:27) 


Anson S. Blake, on the occasion of receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree from the Univer 
sity of California at Berkeley, September 26, 1958. Dr. Blake is standing between Mrs. Clara 
Hellman Heller and President Emeritus Sproul. Courtesy University of California. 

The citation reads: A senior alumnus of the University of California, a graduate in the class of 
1891, a beloved member of Stiles Hall for seventy -one years. Chairman of its governing board for 
half a century, and now Honorary Life Chairman, faithful and generous fnend of the University, 
knowing collector of texts on California's past and a beneficent influence on her present, revered 
by generations of student leaders for your inspiring faith and confidence in them. 


Biographical Data (from various sources) 

President, Blake Bros. Company, construction materials, Richmond 

Past-president, California Historical Society (also served as director 
and secretary-treasurer); past-president, Society of California Pioneers ; 
director, California Academy of Sciences; director, California Botany 
Society; member of California Centennials Commission 

Chairman, Class Secretaries' Association of California Alumni Association; 
member of California Senior Alumni Association 

Member of University YMCA for 6h years, serving 50 as chairman of Stiles 
Hall Advisory Board; inotrju-ental in fund-raising arive for new TMCA 
building (Stiles Hall named after his grandfather, Anson Stiles) 

A.B., University of California, 1891; manager of U.C. baseball team in 
1891, associate editor of The Occident in the fall of 1890, director of 
U.C. Tennis Club, member of Classical Club, quarterback of Class of '91 
football team, historian of Class of '91, member of Delta Kappa Epsilon 

83 years old, born in San Francisco on August 6, 1870 

Excerpt from Recommendation of Committee on Honorary Degrees 
Northern Section - January 28, 1953 

u ... He is a -successful businessman; a student of California and 
Pacific Coast history, a member of western scientific societies, 
especially in horticulture; a public-spirited citizen; a philan 
thropist; a friend of students; and a staunch believer in the 
importance of character ... (while) his achievements are largely 
local and ... he may not be widely known outside of the circle 
in which he has been active . . . his life and achievements are an 
adequate basis (for an honorary degree)." 


Legislature Honors Blake As 
'Grand Old Man of Stiles' 

The stature of any organization 
can be seen through the people as 
sociated with it over the years. 

The late Anson Stiles Blake was 
one of those persons. In 1953 when 
be retired after serving as chair 
man of YMCA Advisory Board for 
50 years, the California Legisla- 
'ure bestowed on him the title 
"Grand Old Man of Stiles Hall" in 
a resolution praising him for his 
half-century of leadership. 

In the fall of 1958 at President 
Kerr't inauguration he was award 
ed an honorary doctor of laws de 
gree by the Regents of the Uni 

Throughout his life he main 
tained an active interest in .Call- . 
fornia history and has served as 
president of the California Histor 
ical Society and a. member of the. 
Society of California Pioneers. 

In 1887 Blake began his long as 
sociation with the . University 
YMCA as a student member. He 
became a member of the advisory 
board in 1900 and.. was, its .chair 
man in 1902. 

Robert ' Gordon Sproul, 'presi 
dent emeritus of the University, 
has said in tribute to him: "From 
the day when you entered the Uni 
versity of California, you have 
played a full part In tRe life of the 
campus YMCA, standing in the. 
shadows while others received 
plaudits of the successes that were 
largely yours, and meeting difficul 
ties and dangers, almost anonym 
ously with courage and with casi.. 

"All of us who have been priv 
ileged to serve with you, young 
and old alike, gratefully acknowl 
edge your leadership and honor 
you for what you have done to 
build Christian character intc 
Stiles Hall and to give meaning to 
.he lives of the students to which 
ihe Hall was dedicated. 

Another of those of stature is 
the late Galen M. Fisher, whose 
life was also spent in close associ 
ation with Stiles Hall. 

In 1894-95 he was student presi-: 
dent of the University YMCA, and 
just before his death in 1955 his . 
final draft of "Citadel of Democ 
racy" was completed. 

Citadel of Democracy" is an 

account of the Stiles Hall program '. 
in the field of public affairs. It was j 
published in 1955 with a forward., 
by University President Clark ( 

Fisher's special competence for 
this study was aided by his service 
as Secretary of the Rockefeller 
Institute of Social and Religious 
Research, a post which he held 
from 1921-1934. 

. -In the words of President Kerr:* 
". ... his own life was one of the; 
finest testimonials which can be 
adduced in support of his devo 
tion to the life of both the mind. 
and the spirit The fact that he, 
.should wish to give his waning 
strength to this study is, in itself, 
a tribute both to Stiles Hall and. 
the ideals which it has espoused." 


The following references to Anson Stiles Blake are exerpted from What Is This Place? 
An Informal History of 100 Years of Stiles Hall, by Frances Linsley, 1984. 


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The Fortnightly Club of San Francisco was organized in 1899 by Mrs. Anson 
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Miss Julia George, Miss May Hooper, and Miss Alice M. Rambo.* 

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April 6, 1987 

Suzanne Riess, Senior Editor 
Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 - Library 
University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 

Dear Suzanne Riess: 

Your letter has sent me on a memory search which has been most enjoyable. I 
talked with my sister to verify what I had and to get some of her ideas, too. 

I think the Fortnightly Club was formed in the 1890 's by a small group of like- 
minded ladies - "intellectuals" eager to explore new fields. Their fort 
nightly meetings were held in the members' homes, probably at tea time , to 
hear book reviews, discussions on various topics, and lectures by the members, 
rather than outside speakers. I believe the club started in the 1890's with 
members from both sides of the Bay. Mother was an active member until the 
family moved to San Jose in 1910. When she returned to Berkeley in 1941 I 
think she rejoined what was left of the group, though of that I am not sure. 

Perhaps the Town and Gown Club, founded in 1898, filled the social and intel- 
leXttual needs of this group of ladies and caused the eventual demise of the 
Fortnightly Club. Mother, her Mother Mrs. E. V. Hathaway, my other Grand 
mother Mrs. Charles R. Greenleaf, and Mrs. Anson Blake were among the founding 
members . 

Mother knew Anson Blake's family in the late 1870 's and early 80 's when she 
lived in old South Park in San Francisco, at the foot of Rincon Hill where 
the Blakes lived. (Dr. Alfred Shumate of San Francisco has made quite a study 
of that area and era.") She knew Anita and Mabel Symmes at the Boys High 
School, which they attended in order to study Latin and Greek, not offered by 
Miss Cheever's School. We knew their younger sister Mrs. Charles (?) Derby 
in our San Jose days. 

I have happy memories of Anson and Anita Blake and Miss Mabel Symmes during 
the time I lived in Berkeley (from 1938 to 1960). My husband and I were 
dinner guests at their beautiful home on a number of occasions. My husband 
(who was with the Berkeley schools) and Anson Blake shared a love of trees, 
and Mr. Blake delighted in showing his Dawn Redwood. Mis"s Symmes was a land 
scape gardener and I believe she planned the lovely garden. Anson 's brother 
Ned(?) lived in the home next door. 

I'm sorry my memory is so faulty about the Fortnightly Club. I'm not sure 
which of Mother's many friends belonged to it. 

Mother kept up her membership in the College Women's Club, the Town and Gown 
Club, and the Daughters of California Pioneers into her 90's. I'm sending 
you a copy of Hal Johnson's column in the Berkeley Gazette in 1955, and also 
Millie Robbins' column in December 1966 in the S.F. Chronicle which might be 
of interest to you. I think Mother was typical of the membership of the 
Fortnightly Club. 



Since this is the anniversary month of the Great Earthquake, I am enclosing 
for your interest a copy of a letter ^fly Father wrote to his brother about 
the event. His description of his trip from Berkeley to the Presidio in San 
Francisco is rather dramatic. As I am the "earthquake baby", the event has 
been of particular interest to me. 

I'm grateful to you for prodding my memory about the Blakes and the Fort 
nightly Club - they are happy memories. 

Best wishes to you in your search. 



Mrs. Guy M. Helmke 
140 Sandburg Drive 
Sacramento, California 95819 
(916) 456-8256 


140 Sandburg Drive 
Sacramento, CA 95819 

April 20, 1987 

Dear Suzanne Riess: 

I've been racking my brains since receiving your letter of the 15th. 

My recollection is that Mabel Symmes was a permanent member of the Blake 
household; at least, she was there on the few occasions when I visited, 
and my sister agrees with me. There was no other company when I was there. 

It was a very gracious home, with beautiful furniture, rugs, and Oriental 

rugs, as I recall. Likewise, fine crystal, china, and silverware. I'm not 

sure how many servants they had at least a cook, one maid, and a full- 
time gardener. 

So far as conversation, it must have been of general interest. There was 
never a feeling of having to "make" small talk. They and we had a back 
ground of general information. My mother was never at a loss for words, 
but I don't recall that she hogged the conversation. 

Anson Blake was a charming gentleman gentle in the true sense of the word. 
He loved his garden and a walk in the garden with him was delightful and 
instructive. They had a fine vegetable garden, too. I particularly 
remember the artichoke plants. 

You ask about Anita's interest in Oriental art. I think many San Francisco 
and East Bay families collected it. Commerce with the Orient was easier 
than with the east coast of our own country, at least before the inter 
continental railroad; and army families who were in the Orient at the time 
of the Boxer Rebellion and the trouble in the Philippines brought back many 

Please do pass along to the Bancroft Library the letter my father wrote about 
the earthquake. I'm glad you found it of interest. I sent a copy to the 
California Historical Society in San Francisco. 

I wish I could be of more help. It would be interesting to see all that you 
come up with. Betty Evans said Elliot enjoyed so much his meeting with you. 

Sincerely , 









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from Woodbridge Metcalf, Extension Forester, 1926-1956, an oral history 
conducted in 1968 by Evelyn B. Fairburn for the Regional Oral History Office 
of The Bancroft Library, UCBerkeley, 1969. 

Fair: I know from your annual reports that you did have some recreational 
areas built by WPA and CCC. I was wondering if you supervised 
this work, or helped lay out plans for new fire lines? 

WM: We drew up the plans for the camp at Whitaker's Forest in Tulare 
County when State Forester, Mr. Pratt, had the state CCC camps 
comply with my request thnt they devote some time to the improve 
ment of recreational facilities there, and also at Las Posadas in 
Napa County. He ;jssiqned the men, and J. R. Brown, who was exten 
sion specialist in agricultural engineer! ng, des igned the swimming 
pools for both of these places. 

The CCC crew built the pools and also some of the cabins and 
a cook house, added to the facilities and did fire protection 
clean-up along the roads and trails at these forest properties. 

The Las Posadas camp is in a state forest, which was given 
to the state by Mr. and Mrs. Anson Blake of Berkeley. After 
consultation with the Blakes, Merritt Pratt and I went up and 
looked at the property with them. It is on Howe I I Mountain, right 
adjacent to the Pacific Union College property. 

Fair: Yes, I know where that is. 

WM: At the Las Posadas camp on Moore Creek, we developed the water 

supply and the swimming pool, and the buildings, trails and fire 
clean-up. Mendocino had their own camp. Napa, Sonoma, Marin, 
A I ameda and Contra Costa Counties all cooperated in the develop 
ment of that Las Posadas camp. I know that Contra Costa and Napa 
Counties still go to the camp, but I don't know about the others. 
Now the State Division of Forestry has a fire protection head 
quarters at Las Posadas in the state forest. 

Fair: The Blakes gave the Las Posadas land to the state parks system, 

but I have heard that there was some type of rub on this and that 
the land was not supposed to be developed. Was there some type 
of stipulation attached to this gift of property, and did you 
have difficulties establishing that camp because of this? 

WM: Not as a park. They gave it as a state forest. This was an 

interim arrangement. Merritt Pratt and I went to the property 
with the Blakes, sat in their old summer cabin there, and talked 
about their giving the 880 acres to the state. Mrs. Blake first 
of a I I had suggested giving this property to the University. Well, 
the University didn't want it particularly, but Mr. Blake was very 
anxious that she get rid of it for she was not particularly well 
at the time and he felt that it was too much of a problem for her. 
(She owned the property.) 

She finally drew up the deed and gave it to the state with 
a ten-year clause in it that the caretaker could remain there for 



WM: ten years. During that time, there was a provision that the "-H 
Club camp could be developed. So It took about ten years to get 
all of these details worked out. And It worked out eventually 
all right. Mrs. Blake didn't want to have more than 150 people 
at any time on the area. 

Fair: How did you work around that? 

WM: Well, most of the camps were not more than 150. They ran about 

that. But there wasn't any particular problem in connection with 
it except during that ten years in which the provision about the 
caretaker was in effect. The caretaker was not cooperative and 
I never knew what kind of information she got from him; her con 
tacts were not with me but with the State Forester. 

There was some question about the building of the swimming 
pool. The caretaker didn't want the swimming pool in the place 
where It was put; however, the CCC camp was there and they did 
the work on it for the 4-H Club camp, and it worked well. The 
4-H Club camp Is still there and still being used. 

Fair: During the Depression, the only contact that you had with the 
CCC and the WPA was the men that Pratt assigned to your camp? 

WM: We had very good cooperation there. 

One of the other interesting things that was done under 
WPA was the development of the Mendocino Woodlands on Big River 
in Mendocino County. This was one of the recreation projects 
in the United States. They had a camp under WPA of somewhere 
between three and four hundred men from San Francisco up there. 
They built most of the roads and they built a lot of very beau 
tiful buildings, but the man who drew up the plans for it was a 
national parks recreation man, and I couldn't see the theory of 
the whole thing from the beginning. 

They built these beautiful little cabins with fireplaces, 
just a place to sleep, the fireplace and bedrooms, no cooking 
facilities, no toilet facilities. There was a unit cookhouse 
with a group of cabins here, and then a unit washroom that sort 
of thing. 

This was one of twenty-one such areas that were built 
throughout the United States. This was the only one in Calif- 
fornia. There was one in Oregon. I saw the one that they built 
in southeastern Ohio. The people who built them I am sure had 
very limited opportunity to know what people want. This one up 
here was supposed to be for families. Well, families don't want 
to go to a place like that. They never did. 

Fair: What did they use it for? 


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Hotel Shattuck 
Room 431 
Berkeley 4, 

May 29,1944 

My dear Mrs . Blake : 

I cannot tell you how extremely good it 
was to see you a.~aln. It was very kind of 
you to invite us for tea and we did enjoy 
every minute of our visit with you, Mr. Blake, 
and your sister Miss Simms. My husband and 
I, we sincerely appreciate your kindness and 
thought of us. 

TTe still talk about your lovely garden 
and marvel at the collection of so many un 
usual and beautiful varieties of planta in 
your garden. It truly is a blessing to have 
a garden, such as yours, to wander around in 
and forget even for a moment the hectic hustle 
and bustle life today. 

The pagoda looks like a sacred shrine in 
its setting and we can think of no other 
appropriate place in your garden than where 
you have placed it. To know that you are 
pleased with it makes us very happy. 

I placed the flowers you gave me in a 
vase immediately upon arrival at the hotel 
and they are still in good condition. The 
Bird of Paradise had one unopened bud which 
opened three days ago, and it is certainly a 
beautiful sight. The Rhododendron flower 
from South Africa fills our room with fragrance 
and each time we enter our room we remark how 
sweet the odor is. I noticed this morning that 
the flower has began to droop and wilt and I am 
afraid that I will not have it for long. 

As yet, we have not decided when or how 
we are going to dispose of our merchandise now 
stored in the warehouse. Therefore, we have 
been quite busy contacting different business 
pe ople . 


We have visited Chinatown several times and 
we can only say that it is truly a sad sight. One 
; of our Chinese friend complained about the fact 

that he is now forced to handle Mexican art objects 
and does not like it at all. Wholesalers of Chinese 
merchandise have stopped selling wholesale and keep- 
Ing what Chinese merchandise they have. The price 
is sky-high on objects not classed as novelty and 
;"| the merchants do not seem at all eager to sell 

-~<j them. Times have certainly changed. I believe 

Nathan Bent 2 is the only store on Grant Avenue 
with fine merchandise. 

It is certainly wonderful to he back 'home 1 . 
We have not felt out of place or strange but feel 
as if we have returned from a vacation. I don't 
believe we ever had the feeling of being settled 
in Salt Lake City. We were always homesick for 
San Francisco and knowing that we could not re 
turn for the duration made us more so. This 
opportunity to return to San Francisco for a 
short period of time is the most wonderful thing 
that has happened to us since evacuation. 

Thank you again, Mrs. Blake. My husband 
sends his warmest regards and appreciation to 
you and to Mr. Blake and to Miss Simms. Will 
you kindly tell Miss Simms that I have pressed 
the Yerba Buena leaves. I can hardly wait to 
present one of the branch to Mrs. Shibata. 

Mr. King has asked to be remembered to all 
of you and sends his good wishes. 

,. : , Oh yes, please give Tiran a loving pat from 

me. I will let you know from tine to time how we 
are getting along. In the meantime, please take 
very good care of yourself. 


(Mrs.) Setsu Tsuchlya 


The land on which stands the Carmelite Monastery of Th King in Exile at 68 
Rincon Road in the area now called Kensington in Contra Costa County California, 
first came into the hands of people of European ancestry in 1823. Francisco Castro 
a soldier of Spain whose allegiance was transferred to Mexico on its becoming 
independent in 1820, was among the first to apply to the new government for a 
grant of land. His petition was granted and he became the owner of the San Pablo 
Ranco. When he retired from the army in 1826, he, his wife and children moved 
onto the property and continued to occupy it long after the acquisition of Calif 
ornia by the United States. Francisco Castro himself died in 1831, leaving his 
widow and eleven children. They continued to occupy the land and to operate 
it as a unit. In 1851 before her death, the widow deeded her interest to her 
daughter, Martina, wife of Juan B. Alvarado, former governor of California. 

The petition of the executor of Francisco Castro's estate to the Land Commission 
of California was filed in 1852 for confirmation of title. The Commission con 
firmed this title in 1855. Confirmation of the District Court followed in 1855. 

The first survey was approved in 1864. During this time a number of the heirs 
sold portions of their interests. Others borrowed. Purchasers sought specific 
holdings and great confusion followed as conflicting interests arose. An attempt to 
settle the matter by an amicable agreement failed. Then in 1867 Joseph Emeric 
brought a suit in partition and the celebrated case of Emeric vrs Alvarado began 
its thirty year life in the courts of California. It was a terrible financial 
drain on the owners. A large amount of land went to lawyers for their services. 
In this category is the land on which the monastery stands. George Leviston of 
San Francisco was the owner of Lot 1 of the San Pablo Rancho, a piece of land 
over six hundred acres in extent and representing about two thirds of Kensington. 
Leviston could get hardly more than the taxes in the way of rent from the cattle 
man who used it as pasture and he sold the property to a group of speculators who 
divided their holdings. The holder of the largest individual piece sold it to 
the late Frank J. Woodward and associates who planned its future subdivision. 
Woodward borrowed money from George P. Baxter on the southerly seventy- two acres, 
and on the northerly forty- five acres from Harriet W. Blake. When the United 
States entered the First World War, hopes for immediate subdivision were ended 
and Woodward surrendered possession of the land to George Baxter and Mrs. Blake. 

Mrs. Blake held possession of her forty- five acres taken on her loan to Mr. Woodward 
until 1922 when the University of California suddenly asked Mrs. Charles Blake 
and her two sons Anson S. Blake and Edwin T. Blake who together occupied a piece 
of land on Piedmont Avenue adjoining University property, to surrender their land 
to them for the building of the present college stadium and all three of the Blake 
families found themselves forced to look for new homes. Wishing to find a site 
where they could remain together and also have space for the large gardens for 
which they all cared, they finally agreed upon locating upon Mrs. Charles Blake's 
unoccupied land in Kensington. It seemed remote then for it was open meadow 
land covered with wild flowers and with cattle still using it as pasturage. 
There were two small streams running through it, with meadow larks singing on 
every side and the wonderful wiew to the west, of the bay, the distant city and 
Tainalpais and the hills of Marin County. 


Mrs. Blake combined her home with that of the Edwin Blakos and the Anson Blakes 
built on the land adjoining. The acreage to the west was divided by Mr. Blake 
between two other children, Mrs Lherraan T. Thacher and Robert P. Blake, neither 
of whom was ever able to occupy their share of the property. The Edwin Blakes 
held possession of their portion until the death of Edwin T. Blake when the 
estate was sold and the home and three acres of the garden were purchased by 
the present owners. The Carmelite Monastery of Christ in Exile. 

The Anson Blakes, still making their home on the adjoining land have been happy 
in their new neighbors, and in the thought of the preservation of the garden 
within the cloisters and the peace which has become their nearest neighbor. 

Anita D.L. Blake 


April 7th, 1956 


Carmelite .{finna stern 
Clara, Calif. 

Pax Christ i! July 10, 1950. 

Dear Mrs. Blake, 

For many weeks I have looked forward to writing to 
you personally concerning our adjoining property, but recently 
the desire has, through circumstances, become a need. 

We have been most interested, since acquiring the 
place, in discussing and planning the many and various details 
of the little monastery- to-be , and I wholly neglected any minute 
investigation of the garden lines and its exact contours. I am 
afraid my notion of it has been vague too vague, in a sense 
saying which I admit to you, dear Mrs. Blake, what a poor busi 
ness-woman I am. I should certainly have gone over all the boundary 
line with you before we actually made the purchase of the land, 
and in that way would have been wholly aware of its irregularities, 
which I am sure you will understand, make the erection of a wall 
very difficult and expensive. Tflien I awoke to these facts some 
time ago, I asked Mr. Jones, our very honest and efficient Con 
tractor, to speaJc to you and Mr. Blake, and to demonstrate for 
you on the ground just what we wished and hoped to accomplish. 
He was to propose to you to cede a strip of land that would allow 
the wall to be built solidly, and at the same time as gracefully 
as possible, for we wish for your sakes, as well as ours, to make 
the wall a thing of beauty. 

As you no doubt know, we are obliged, being Cloistered 
Nuns, to have such a monastic wall enclosing our property. We 
have indeed been charmed by the loveliness of the outlay of the 
gardens and the glorious trees, and would not for the world wish 
that any one of them would be in the least injured, as might happen 
in digging for a wall where it is important to anchor foundations 
deep enough to withstand storms and time. For this reason, a con 
siderable strip of land should be allowed; it would also be requir 
ed to give the growth room for air and expansion. All this I hoped 
Mr. Jones would convey to you, dear Mrs. Blake, plus the technical 
part of the work, which might be of interest to you, and for which 
I depend on him. Howevar, he has coma down to tell me that you do 
not wish to part but with the very minimum of land, and in very 
irregular measure. 

This message places us in a most difficult position, 
as I think you will understand, and is most distressing to me, for 
it is essentially due to my lack of foresight months ago. Had I 
understood at the time of the purchase that there would not be a 
suitable strip of land to accommodate our wall at the end of the 


property line, I would not have been willing to let the deal go 
through, much as I was pleased with the site, for a wall is essen 
tial to us. 

I can therefore only appeal personally to your kind 
ness and understanding, and ask you to reconsider the matter. It 
has meant very much to us, dear LIrs. Blake, to know that you and 
Mr. Blake were to be our nearest neighbors, and to be aware, as 
we have been, through my brother's conversation with your husband, 
and through Professor Olivier! (our mutual friend) that you are 
not unsympathetic with our way of life and monastic customs. We 
look forward to meeting you when the building is completed and 
repairs finished at the little Carmel-bo-be. It may interest you 
to know that we are dedicating it to "Christ, the Exiled King", 
as Our Lord Gtod is little wanted in Kis own world today. It is 
to be a place of prayer aid reparation a little spot of spiritual 
rest and peace. 

Personally, I am not going to Berkeley; there will be 
a group of younger Sisters there. I am only trying to arrange 
and complete things for them, as, being long years in Religion, 
I cannot expect too many more days! Do not think that I do not 
understand your viewpoint of wishing to keep your present property 
intact, just as it is, dear Mrs. Blake. I not only understand, 
but sympathise with you, as I know from experience how dear and 
sacred old surroundings can become, and as we advance in life we 
become the more attached to them] That is natural; they seem 
like part of ourselves. But, notwithstanding this knowledge and 
conviction, I come to ask you to do what your heart already refuses! 
I would not venture such a thing, be assured, were it personal, 
or even for my Religious Sisters, for I am deeply conscious that 
such vjould be an imposition, but in this instance I think I can 
say that my request is in the Ifeme of Our Exiled King He Who is 
seeking a home at present, and will come before too long to dwell 
near you on an Altar Throne. If you find that you can cooperate 
with us, He Elms elf will reward you here and hereafter, with 
abundant blessings of peace, and with the secret joy that must 
come to one who has actually shared their own home with Him, Christ 
Our Lord. I will pray to Him to let you feel even now, a little 
of what such a blessing means. 

With every good wish and greeting, -believe me., dear 
Mrs. Blake, 

Very sincerely yours, 


I have asked one of our Sisters to type this letter to you, 
as my hurried long hand is not very decipherable. G-od bless you! 



3. JR. 3. . 

jSnuta Clara, California 

November 3, 1950. 
Pax Christ! ! 

Dear Mrs. Blake, 

It is several months since your letter, in reply to 
mine, reached me. It seemed conclusive, so I did not write again. 

I know that you must realize that I was very disap 
pointed that the most beautiful part of the Berkeley acreage 
was not to be offered to our "Exiled King", as a portion of 
the gift of love and reparation we hope to make His in this 
new little Carmel. I refer to the winding creek-bed and sur 
rounding trees and foliage. I know that proprietorship to it 
is yours under every title and human right, dear Mrs. Blake, 
and that you delight to hold it, and dream of how you may 
further beautify it. It is all very comprehensive to me in 
a human way, and I sympathetically understand from that view 

But there is also another way to regard these ter 
restrial things. They cannot always be ours, just as there was 
a time when we did not possess them. Our Holy Mother, Saint 
Teresa, warns us (Carmelites) "All things pass away God alone 
suf f icieth. " Happily, we know that before they pass while 
they are still ours we niay have the advantage of exchanging 
then for value that does not pass: that which is eternal, by 
offering them in sacrifice to God, V/ho alone "sufficieth" to 
each of us, His creatures, for He made us, and for Himself. 
Has this occurred to you, dear Mrs. Blake? Needless to say, 
the clarity with which such divine wisdom has stood forth to 
most of us "YJQO have left all to follow Him", has been light 
to our steps through the shadows of this earthly life, where 
we are now exiles. I know that you are not a Catholic, or, I 
should say, a Carmelite, and therefore it may be presumption 
on my part to speak to you in our own language, which contains 
so much hidden beauty. But I feel that you have an intuitive 
knowledge of our Faith, and will understand the only way I 
an able to express myself.' Truth is one.' 

Very slow progress has been made on our little Monas 
tery in recent months and weeks. The wall of enclosure has 
called off from the work on the house, so we have to wait 
patiently the completion of the many details. 


As you will have noted, no doubt, we are erecting 
only part of the wall the most important part as the expense 
is very great, and are filling in the balance with wood for 
the present. Of course this necessary expediency throws open 
a wide door in my confident hope that perhaps in time the por 
tion of the acreage including the trees and creek might be 
permanently enclosed - God willing.' I firmly believe that the 
only way to preserve them for posterity would be absorption 
into an enclosure such as ours, for, judging by the building 
which has taken place on all sides in the last year, the day 
will come when those who do not feel as think as you and we do, 
will take down the trees and fill in the gulch by -the huge 
tractors which are laying low and filling up land on all sides, 
to accommodate the mushroom growth, of small homes. It is too 
sad a picture to ponderj 

One other thought came to me regarding the charmed 
wooded portion we have been discussing, and I submit it to you. 
Would you consider allowing our Nuns to take over the formal 
ownership of the creek-bed and tree line by deed in the near 
future, were we to allow it to remain as it now lies, apparent 
ly in your possession? - that is, allowing the purchased land 
to be simply staked and wired to prevent any trouble in future? 
Will you think of, and pray about, this, dear Mrs. Blake? - 
reflecting that He not the Nuns Whom you would accommodate, 
is only an "Exile" in this poor world, but that everlastingly 
He is the Eternal Zing of Glory. How much His smile: His 
"'.'.'ell done", will mean to us each, forever.' Life takes a new 
aspect when we look forward to it , I assure you.' 

With every good wish to you and Mr. Blake, I remain, 
Sincerely yours in Christ Our Lord, 


A Chronology of the Gift of Blake Estate to the University; 

President Robert Gordon Sproul kept memos of conversations held 
in person and on the telephone. In the 1957 record there are 
five entries related to the Blake Estate, as follows: 

(1) Chancellor Kerr, Berkeley, June 14, 1957 
Anson Blake property 

Referring to Professor Vaughan's letter of May 17, 1957, 
concerning Mrs. Blake's desire to give her property at 71 Rincon 
Road to the University for use by the Department of Landscape 
Architecture, I asked him as to his wishes. He said that he 
would like very much to have the property and especially the 
garden which is of fine quality. He asked me whether I wished to 
handle further negotiations or wished him to do it. I said that 
I thought it would be well to leave them to Professsor Vaughan 
with an assist from either of us if he feels he needs it and 
calls upon us. Chancellor Kerr told me also that the Campus 
Planning Committee has studied this possible acquisition and a 
report will be coming to me soon. 

(2) Chancellor Kerr, Berkeley, October 7, 1957 
Blake property 

He told me that he joined heartily in the recommendation of 
Vice President Wellman and Professor Vaughan that this property 
be secured. I told him that I was strongly in favor of acquiring 
the land, but that I did not see why we wished to agree to 
maintain the house in perpetuity. He said he thought it could be 
used to advantage for little conferences and perhaps for a little 
research institute, but I pointed out that no doubt there would 
have to be a good deal of remodelling in order that this might 
happen, and that this would be very expensive. I suggested, 
therefore, and he did not demur, that we recommend to The Regents 
that the gift be accepted, that the house be maintained during 
the life of Mr. and Mrs. Blake, but that no commitment be made as 
to its use hereafter. 

(3) Robert Underbill, Berkeley, October 15, 1957 [telephone] 

I asked him if he could get a rough estimate of the value of 
the Blake property, which has been offered to the University as a 
garden for the Department of Landscape Architecture, in time for 
the October Regents meeting. He said that this would be 
difficult if not impossible, especially as Mr. Hartsook is in 
southern California at the present time. He told me that he 
would try, however, and report to me as soon as possible. 


(4) Vice President Harry Wellman, Berkeley, November 7, 1957 
Blake property gift 

He is working on this with Vernon Smith and expects to 
present a form of gift to the Blakes in the near future. I told 
him that I hoped that this would be worked out on a basis which 
would enable us, after the Blakes are through with the property, 
or in any event after 20 years to remove or destroy the house on 
the land if this seems to us wise. He thought that this would 
not be impossible and agreed to work with the Blakes toward this 
end . 

(5) Vice President Harry Wellman, Berkeley, December 2, 1957 
[telephone ] 

Talked to me about the Blake property concerning which he 
has been conferring with the Blakes, with Mr. Vernon Smith, and 
finally with General Counsel Cunningham. He said that the time 
had now come, it seemed to him, when the General Counsel and the 
Blakes should get together on the drawing of a legal document 
which could be presented to the Regents at their December 
meeting. He read me certain paragraphs from a proposed document, 
in which The Regents are given the privilege of renting, selling 
or using the house during the first twenty years as may seem to 
them best. He pointed out that "selling" the house would seem to 
give The Regents by inference authority to destroy it if they 
cannot otherwise dispose of it. He reported that Mr. Vernon 
Smith is of a similar opinion. I said that, in these 
circumstances, I would suggest that the meeting of the Blakes and 
the General Counsel be arranged and that all necessary steps be 
taken to get Regents' action at the December meeting. He will 
proceed accordingly. 

The outcome of all this: 

On December 4, 1957, the Blakes signed the Deed of Gift of 
the Blake Estate. 

On December 9, 1957, Professor H. L. Vaughan of the 
Department of Landscape Architecture wrote a letter of thanks to 
the Blakes. Among other things he said, "It is my understanding 
that you do not want any publicity about the gift." 

The gift was a matter of record in the Committee of Finances 
recommendations to The Board of Regents meeting in Los Angeles on 
December 13, 1957. 

On December 12, 1957, President Sproul wrote the following 
letter to Mr. and Mrs. Blake: 


Mr. and Mrs. Anson Blake 
70 Rincon Road 
Berkeley, California 

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Blake: 

Now that the legal documents relating to your thoughtful and 
generous gift of your home property, subject to lifetime use, 
have been gotten out of the way, I would like to depart from the 
official and express to both of you my deep personal appreciation 
of your action. 

The consistent and sympathetic interest which you have shown 
in all things pertaining to the University of California, and 
particularly to it.; students, not to mention your broader 
interest in every matter of real importance to this east shore 
metropolitan community, scarcely needs elaborating by me, but I 
can't help feeling thankful for alumni of the University such as 
the Blakes. 

We are not concerned with the monetary value of the gift, 
though that is considerable, but we are keenly aware of the fact 
that there is no other property in this area which could even 
distantly approach yours as an outdoor teaching laboratory in 
landscape architecture and related subject.;. What you are 
giving, as I see it, is not just a piece of land, but a part of 
the life and the home building wisdom of Mr. and Mrs. Anson 
Blake. For that I find words of thanks distressingly inadequate, 
but for what they are worth I would like to offer them to you 
from my heart. 

Sincerely yours, 
Robert G. Sproul 




For many years we have made the gardens at our home proper 
ty in Kensington available to the Department of Landscape 
Architecture on the Berkeley Campus of the University of 
California for instructional and research purposes. We have 
been informed that this permissive use has contributed 
substantially to the enrichment of the courses offered by 
the Department and to the opportunities for fruitful re 
search. To make this arrangement permanent and to assure 
the continued maintenance of the property for those and 
allied purposes we now desire to transfer it to the Regents, 
subject to our right to its use and occupancy during our life 
times. We have therefore contemporaneously herewith by deeds 
granted to you that certain real property located in Kensing 
ton, County of Contra Costa, State of California, described 
generally as 70 Rincon Road, the same being more particularly 
described in those deeds and herein referred to as the "trust 

The said trust property Is conveyed to the Regents of 
the University of California (herein referred to simply as 
"The Regents") In trust, and we expressly declare this 
trust to be irrevocable, for the following uses and purposes 
and subject to the following conditions: 

To hold, manage, control, sell, rent, exchange, hypothe 
cate, invest, reinvest said trust property or the proceeds 
thereof, and to mingle the same and the proceeds thereof 
with its own or other funds, but only for the purpose of 
investment or reinvestment, and otherwise to deal with said 
trust property and the proceeds thereof, in whole or in part, 
all as The Regents may deem fit and proper and consistent with 


the provisions of this trust, provided however, that The 
Regents shall not sell or convey the said trust property 
for a period of twenty years from the date hereof but shall 
hold the same for the purposes hereinafter stated. In fix 
ing a period during which the trust property shall be held 
by the Regents, it is not our intention to suggest that at 
the end of such time the property should be sold; it is in 
fact our belief and expectation that the trust property will 
continue for many years beyond that time to serve the pur 
poses for which it is given. We recognize, however, that 
conditions change in the course of time and that we cannot 
now forsee all of the contingencies which may arise; in 
order to make our basic purposes more effective and respon 
sive to such possible changes, we place only a twenty year 
limitation and have confidence that our intentions will be 
followed with fidelity and that the property will continue 
to be a significant part of the facilities of the University 
of Cal i fornia. 

To use the said trust property for instruction and re 
search in the Department of Landscape Architecture (and any 
department successor thereto) on the Berkeley Campus of the 
University of California and for similar purposes by other 
departments, preference being given to instructional and 
research needs in the Department of Landscape Architecture; 
provided however, that we, and the survivor of us, shall 
have the right during out lifetimes to reside at the trust 
property and to the use and occupancy of our house thereon 
free of rent and other charges therefor. 

Certain of the trust property is not, and possibly may 
not be, developed in ways appropriate for the instructional 
and research purposes which are the primary reasons for the 
establishment of this trust. This land is a strip approximately 
110 feet in width parallel to Highgate Road. During such time 
as this land, in the discretion of The Regents, is not needed 



for those primary purposes it may be used for other University 
purposes such as, but not limited to, buildings, experimental 
plots and similar purposes, but not for a general recreational 

Should The Regents determine that our house, after we 
have ceased to occupy the same, is not needed as part of or 
as an adjunct to the primary purposes of this trust, The 
Regents may use the same or any other structure which at their 
discretion they may erect in its place, for or in support of 
other University purposes, including but not limited to use 
as a residence or for conferences. Any income derived from 
said house by way of sale, rental, or lease, so far as may be 
practicable, shall be applied to capital improvements and 
maintenance of the trust property. 

If, after the expiration of the twenty years hereinabove 
limited, The Regents shall determine that the trust property 
or a portion thereof is no longer necessary to the basic pur 
poses for which we have provided, then in that event the in 
come from the proceeds of a sale, or from the trust property, 
shall be used for the benefit of the Department of Landscape 
Architecture (and any department successor thereto) for the 
support of scholarships, fellowships, instruction, and other 
University purposes within or on behalf of such department. 

The Regents, so far as practicable and consistent with 
budgetary limitations and changes in instructional and re 
search needs, shall endeavor to maintain the trust property 
in a manner substantially equivalent to the care and main 
tenance it has received heretofore to the end that it shall 
be an effective part of the instructional and research ac 
tivities of the University. 

It is our purpose to serve the University and its stu 
dents, and we desire this trust to be liberally construed to 
the end that our purposes may be fully accomplished. 

(Signed) Anson S.Blake 
Date: December k. 1957 (Signed) Anita D.S. Blake 





October 21, 1973 

Mrs. Charles J. Hitch 

70 Rincon Road 

Kensington, California 9470/7 

Dear Mrs. Hitch, 

Pursuant to our conversation regarding the 

the Blake family ironstone tableware, I note the following. 
In Anita D.S. Blake's last years after the death of Anson 
S. Blake I was asked by her to assume increasingly more 
responsibilities, such as supervising the preparation of 
her income tax returns, access to her safe deposite box, 
liason with the executor of Anson S. Blake's estate, and 
for advise and help on a variety of matters. Dr. Helen 
Christensen attended Aunt Anita during her last illness, 
which lasted two months, starting in February 1962. A 
nurse was called in and Aunt Anita informed her that I 
was to handle matters if she were unable to do so herself. 
Dr. Christensen told me that Mrs. Blake kept mentioning 
that she wanted to change her will. I arranged to have 
the family lawyers see Mrs. Blake and she signed her will 
in the month in which she died. Mrs. Blake had intended 
to leave the income producing assets of her estate to her 
Symmes niece and newphews and grand-niece and grand-nephew 
and had previously informed me of this. Anson Blake had 
left part of his estate in Trust for Mrs. Blake with my 
Thacher cousins and I as remaindermen. The disposition 
of the contents of the house she had not thought through 
at that time and had hoped to give more thought to. A 
few items had been given to my Thacher cousins and to 
me prior to her firial illness and many things had been 
to the Universities East Asiatic Library . As indicative ' 
of this process I enclose a copy of an undated List 
in Aunt Anita's hand. This verv likely was a "think list" 
in preparation for the conference with the attorneys. 
Mahogany probably referred to the dining room furniture 
which she had purchased with her own funds and had once 
promised to her niece and later thought of giving to the 
Taft Memorial, snd finally left, to her niece, with the 
exception of the lowboy which went to the Colonial Dames. 
This is another indication that she was still pondering 
her final decisions. China is undesignated on this "list.. 
In her last evening of consciousness in April 1962 she 




dictated to Dr. Christensen the enclosed list of items. 
Basically everyone except the C-_armelites got some of the 
items on this list in addition to some items not wanted 
by the University. Of the items listed I received six 
Sevres cups and saucers and the chocolate pitcher and 
half a dozen serving pieces of the Waters blue, white and 
gold Blossom ironstone china. Asa Waters was my third 
great grandfather who lived in Milbury, Massachusetts. 
If thereds any possibility of my acquiring the remainder 
of the Waters china I would be most interested to do so. 

Had it not been for yours and Mr. Hitch's 
accomplishments towards saving Blake House, it might 
long since been taken down, as my aunt had feared. It 
is most fortunate that the University found such an 
appropriate use for the house and we appreciate all the 
personal effort which you and Mr. Hitch have put into 
preserving, restoring and improving it. 

I am impressed with Dr. Sessler and I am 
interested in joining his staff. 

I deeply appreciate your thoughtful attention 
on the matter of the china. Liz, Laura, Robert and I very 
much our visit with you, Mr. Hitch and Caroline. 

With best wishes, I am, 

Yours sincerely, 


Igor Blako 

seta of china. The first ia no doubt ^ovrog, and 
second ia probsbly meant for Irani fl?*j\tfj stor.o), 
which is the Dlckc net of cnin.\vre. 


3mall miniature pointing irtho chest, of St. .'.ntrony 

Madonna in hell 

Picture in rrch (Carrclitc ieir, :: 

George and liolcuo Thacher 
ciuroponn china 

Anson Thscher - nephew 

Cooloy china in bureo vj-atairs 

Jim Anderson - to huve television 

Taft's Memorial 

Bolton china set 

Mahortony cheat in room above 

4 old chairat 

2 Colonial in dining r^on 

S, Popple"' 1 -! !*-.(? 
Rugs his choice 

Anne Carol's daughter 

Family set of old Puff china 

Ori/ontal pearls v,il:h round diainond clasp 

"-hitman Sy-miea 


California Historical Society Quarterly 
Vol. 42, no. 2. June 1963 

In Mtmoriam 


According to the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, the wedding on May 17, 
1894, of Anita Day Symmes and Anson Stiles Blake at the First Unitarian Church 
of San Francisco, the Reverend Horatio Stebbins officiating, was of more than 
ordinary interest, the relatives of the contracting parties being "prominently 
known in society, mercantile and literary circles and they are both*epresentative 
pioneer families." 

White marguerites and snowballs were knotted to the portals of the pewstalls 
along the central aisle of the church, down which the bridal procession passed, 
Miss Mabel Symmes being her sister's maid of honor. 

At the wedding reception in the Symmes' residence on Rincon Hill, precious 
stones, typical of that affluent period, were much in evidence. "The groom's 
present," said the Bulletin, "was of diamonds and sapphires. Each of the brides 
maids received a pink enameled wreath set with pearls. The ushers as souvenirs 
had four-leaf clover pins, in the center of which a diamond dewdrop was set." 

The affluence of the Frank J. Symmes family was attributable to his father-in- 
law's thriving electric-fixtures business, viz., Thomas Day & Company (incor- 
ported 1886), of which Mr. Symmes was president. 

In the East Bay region, the groom's family had also been financially successful, 
in this case through real estate operations and street paving -to such an extent 
that in 1891 Mrs. Ann J. Stiles, Anson Blake's maternal grandmother, organized a 
corporation, Trustees of Stiles Hall, under whose supervision the hall, dedicated 
to the religious and social uses of university students without distinction of 
creed, was built as to her husband, Anson Gale Stiles (former member 
of the board of trustees of the College of California). 

In 1895, another Stiles-Blake real estate transaction involved 3.34 acres lying 
in the valley of Strawberry Creek (part of the present California Memorial 
Stadium). By a deed dated December 6 of that year, the University of California 
acquired the land from-Mrs. Ann J. Stiles for $3,800 as a future reservoir site. 
Meanwhile, on the western border of Strawberry Creek facing on Piedmont 
Avenue north of Bancroft Way, Anson, his mother Mrs. Charles T Blake, and 
his brother Edwin built handsome residences with connecting gardens and a small 
stable for Anita's riding-horse Dewey. On March 20, 1922, this property was 
deeded to the university, the former owners moving to the Kensington area of 
Berkeley in Contra Costa County. Finally, by a deed dated December 4, 1957, 
Anson and Anita gave their part of the Kensington property, amounting to ten 
and one-half acres, to the university, the Edwin Blake portion having been 
already purchased by Noel Sullivan for a Carmelite Monastery. 

The importance of Anson's and Anita's gift to the university has been 
described by Professor H. L. Vaughan, chairman of the department of landscape 
architecture: "Of the physical features essential to teaching and research in 



1 7 8 California Historical Society Quarterly 

Landscape Architecture -laboratories, libraries, classrooms, plant collections, 
and well-designed garden space -the last two are the most difficult to obtain and 
keep. The Blake Garden provides them in incomparable fashion." 

As to Anson's personal career: after graduation, he went into the contracting 
industry in which his father, Charles T. Blake, was engaged, specifically in 
furnishing materials connected with street work. By 1913 his brothers had joined 
him in forming Blake Brothers, with a quarry and office in Oakland, California. 
The company is now known as Blake Brothers Company, Crushed Rock and Rip 
Rap, Asphaltic Mixes, in Richmond, California, of which his nephew Igor, son of 
Robert Blake, is officer and director. 

The first official connection Anson (University of California, 1891; died 
August 17, 1959, at the age of eighty-nine) had with the University Y.M.C.A. 
was on March 27, 1889, when he became a student member. By 1900 he was a 
member of the advisory board, and, in 1902, the board's chairman. At the ground 
breaking ceremony (February 20, 1950) for the new building at Bancroft Way 
and Dana Street, Mr. Robert Gordon Sproul, then president of the university, 
complimented him for having, during all that time, met "difficulties and dangers, 
almost anonymously with courage and with cash." 

Praise came from another direction in 1953, namely, in a concurrent resolution 
of the legislature designating him "The Grand Old Man of Sales Hall." 

On September 29, 1958, a culminating event occurred when, at the inaugura 
tion of President Clark Kerr, his Alma Mater granted him an LL.D. degree, 
paying tribute to his having been "revered by generations of student leaders for 
your inspiring faith and confidence in them." In addition to such expressions of 
admiration were those from booklovers and from fellow-members of the Cali 
fornia Historical Society and the Society of California Pioneers, in both of which 
he had held high office. 

Anita (University of California, A.B., 1894; died April 25, 1962, at the age of 
ninety), as well as her sister Mabel, were members of the Kappa Alpha Theta 
Fraternity. Scholastically, Anita received what she called a most happy surprise 
when, subsequent to its establishment at the University of California in 1898, the 
Phi Beta Kappa honor society chose her as one of the few earlier graduates 
admitted to its membership. 

A year after her marriage, Anita was one of the seven "organizers" of the 
Fortnightly Club of San Francisco. Twenty years was the minimum age limit 
and the membership was limited to sixty in addition to honorary members. The 
"objects" of the Fortnightly Club were "mutual sympathy and counsel in all 
further development," and were to be carried out "under the direction of sec 
tions." Included were such studies as French, English, history of religions, music, 
and art. One program, two years after the founding of the club, was to be devoted 
to a debate: "Resolved that study and society are compatible." Apparently 
the affirmative won, because the club continued its existence for some decades, 
Anita and her co-organizers bearing witness to a thoroughly flourishing 


News of the Society 1 79 

During the early years of the Fortnightly Club's existence, a sincere interest 
in Oriental art arose, induced by the creation, in 1895, of a department of 
Oriental languages and literature at the University of California. Money to 
finance such a department had been supplied in the will of the Hon. Edward 
Tompkins (d. 1872) who was one of the university's first regents; but the com 
plexity of the will's provisions had delayed settlement, and it was not until 1895 
that the first professorship in Oriental languages and literature was established. 
Along with several wives of faculty members, Anita was attracted by the beauty 
of Chinese porcelains, paintings, and furniture -an attraction which was stimu 
lated by the possibility of obtaining them in the shops of San Francisco. Thus it 
was that her collection attracted the attention of connoisseurs, and her wisdom 
in leaving it in her will to the East Asiatic Library at the university (Dr. Elizabeth 
Huff, librarian) was hailed with the greatest enthusiasm. 

Miss Mabel Symmes (University of California, 1896; died, Berkeley, February 
i, 1962, at the age of eighty-seven) joined her sister in her love of plants, but she 
directed her energies toward what might be called their becomingness to a given 
piece of land under given climatic and exposure conditions. In this demanding 
profession of landscape architecture she built a name for herself in the San Fran 
cisco Bay area. Her work in Kensington was made easier by the beauty of the 
Blake residence, designed by John B. Faville of the San Francisco architectural 
firm of Bliss & Faville. 

In recent years, Mabel had been working over the papers left by Miss Kath- 
erine Davies Jones ( 1860-1943), university botanist and ecologist, whose printed 
reports on ninety different varieties of climbing plants were published in the 
National Horticultural Magazine, 1936, 1937, and 1938. Miss Symmes' own 
account of Miss Jones' work had appeared in Madrono, VIII (April, 1946); but 
much remained to be done on the subject, and the notes she took during the 
process she donated in her will to the Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park, 
San Francisco. 

After the Blake-Symmes move to Kensington, Anita and Mabel began their 
almost forty years of plant-propagation and landscaping. The list of Anita's 
contributions to horticulture contains such far-flung species as Ilex paraguariensis, 
Pistacia Chinensis, Acacia pubescent or "Hairy Wattle" from Australia, Orman- 
thus illicifotius, and many others. For these she received "awards" from the Cali 
fornia Horticultural Society which published her descriptive text in each case in 
their Journal. To quote a professional authority, Mrs. Mai K. Arbegast, assistant 
professor of landscape architecture at the university: 

From her early years, Mrs. Blake's interest in plants led her not only to support horti 
cultural societies and botanic gardens financially but also to present to them the unusual 
specimens she herself had grown. The result has been that rare plants from her collection 
are now to be found in botanic gardens and herbaria all over the world. I learned much 
from her and am deeply grateful for having known her as a person. 

Though a close second to Anita in her pursuit of plant lore, Mabel made room 
in her busy days for financial matters, and, as a stockholder in a bay area bank, 


1 80 California Historical Society Quarterly 

attended annual meetings regularly. She also attended reunions of her college 
class and joined with them in processions at various university celebrations. 

It is pleasant to record a tribute that was paid to Anita and Mabel by their 
neighbor, the Reverend Mother of the Carmelite Monastery in Kensington. To 
show her appreciation of the broad Christian principles manifested in their daily 
lives, she sought for them a Papal Blessing. According to custom this is only 
bestowed in Rome, but exception was made in their cases because of their age 
and delicate health. The Blessing was doubly welcome, Anita said in her letter to 
the Reverend Mother, because it arrived on her first wedding-anniversary subse- 
quent to her husband's death. 


From Berkeley Barb, June 13, 1969 


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Thure.,Oct. 30, 1969 * R jati Jranriscn <D)roniclr 

ninuiui\yHO'S WHO roiHiroiniimmrauniuiiimiiiintiniira: 

A Peek Inside 
Hitch's Hideaway 

"THERE'S BEEN so much mystery about the 
house, it's healthy to clear it up." 

Travis Cross, a member of UC President 
Charles J. Hitch's staff, is delighted that the home 
of the head of the nine university campuses is 
going to be on an East Bay house tour November 
7, sponsored by the campus YWCA. 

The house made headlines last June when the 
University admitted it spent $458,500 refurbishing 
it for the Hitches, who moved In last March. 

Yesterday, on a tour arranged by Mr. Cross. 
who is a former aide of Senator Mark Hatfield of 
Oregon, Mrs. Hitch showed me through the house. 
which is set in ten acres on Rincon road in Ken 
sington, nearly four miles north of the campus. 

In gaining a handsome Italian-style home de 
signed in 1925 by architect Walter Bliss, the 
Hitches lost a great deal of privacy. 

The house is located in Blake Experimental 
Gardens, named for the late Mr. and Mrs. Anson 
Blake, who willed the house and property to the 
University in 1957. 

The extensive gardens, which include a red 
wood grove the Stakes started from burls, are used 
as an outdoor laboratory by UC's Department of 
Landscape Architecture. 

Students were swarming over the property 
yesterday, inspecting plants and trees. They are 
everyday visitors, said Mrs. Hitch, adding that gav- 
den clubs and other groups are free at any time 10 
make arrangements to see the grounds. 

Sometimes, for privacy, chains are put across 
pathways leading to the windows of the house. A 
wire fence a dirty word In Berkeley wns 
started around the garden Immediately surround 
ing the house, but the project was abandoned. 

"The work was stopped because it wasn't at 
tractive or desirable." said Mr. Cross. 

The fence remains, with some stakes minus 
wire, because, Mrs. Hitch explained, "it costs too 
much to tear down." 

On the delicate subject of fin?nces. Mrs. Hiich 
said the house and grounds were n'urtilhM for 
them entirely with private 3\tls. 

The Hitches (he was formerly UC senior vice 
president) remained in a small home in Berkeley 
during the year and a half it took to get the man 
sion ready. 

On the exterior, double gates, electrically op 
erated, were added and near them, a new parking 

There's a telephone at the gates and another 
at the front door. The gates are locked at night 
once Mrs. Hitch and her daughter Caroline, who > 
not quite 10, had to climb over them. For addvd 
security the house and grounds are lighted at 

"I feel safe here," said the president's wife. 
"We're so far from the campus. But I did worry a 
lot last summer about Esther," she added, refer 
ring to Mrs. Roger Heynes, the chancellor's wife, 
who lives in University House on the campus. 

Expensive structural repairs were necessary, 
as the house, which was built in the mid-20s, has 
sunk four inches. 

'The foundations had to be jacked up," said 
Mi's. Hitch, "there was a lot of rewiring and a fire 
alarm system was installed." 

It was necessary to add a gallery to connect the 
huge living room with the dining room and kitchen 
wing to provide circulation of guests and sen-ants 

All of the drapes had to be replaced and a ne\v 
watl-to-wall beige rug purchased for the living 

"The furniture is about one-third ours, one- 
third Blake and one-third new." 

San Francisco decorator Tony Hail was com 
missioned to do the interior. 

"We got along quite well. Sometimes, my 
suggestions were vetoed," Mrs. Hitch said with a 
smile, "but some were accepted. It's difficult to 
find a decorator who knows antiques and also un 
derstands how to make a house work for large and 
small groups." 

So far, the entertaining has consisted of work 
ing sessions "stag parties" in her words 
small dinners and receptions. 

Tomoirow, there'll be a dinner for 50 cele 
brating the inauguration of Dr. Philip Lee as 
chancellor of UC Medical School. 

Budding landscape 
architects may be all 
over the gardens, but. 
"unfortunately, we 
d o n 't entertain stu 
dents in the house as 
much as we'd like." 

The tour is the first 
time the house 
(ground floor only) 
will be open to the 

Being the wife of a 
man who heads the 
State's university sys 
tem is/ Mrs. Hitch 
said, "fascinating, but 
it keeps me very 

She has a secretary, 
a couple for the kitch 
en and a housekeeper. 
Window washing and 
such are done by Uni 
versity maintenance 

The Hitches find 
their only real priva 
cy in a large second floor titling room-bedroom. II 
it Impossible not to be constantly reminded thai 
the house belongs to the University. 

And, as far as Walter Vodden, who has charge 
of the botanical gardens is concerned, the impor 
tant thing about the whole set-up is the chance it 
gives students to study plants and the opportunity 
it affords the landscape architecture department. 

"If you don't mind my saying so," said he as 
Mrs. Hitch smiled, "the Hitches are incidental." 

Gardens come fint 


A Look at Hitch Home 

Tribum Stiff Writer 
It has to be one of the most 
beautiful goldfish bowls in the 

The home University of 
California President and Mrs. 
Charles Hitch, set on a Berke 
ley hillside and surrounded by 
10 acres of garden, Invites 

"It's a beautiful place to 
visit, but I wouldn't want to 
live here," said one lady to 
her companion. They were 
part at the crowd who 
thronged the home Friday, 
when it was a featured part of 

the U.C. YWCA Fall Festival 
of Houses. 

The lady who actually does 
live there, Mrs. Hitch, took 
the afternoon off to meet a 
friend for lunch. She phoned 
home around three to see If 
<**> coast were dear. 

wasn't, she was Informed 
by Nancy Funston, who calls 
herself "Mrs. Hitch's secre 
tary's assistant," the charm- 
"ig young woman who showed 
us through the Italian styled 

The house was the center of 
a considerable controversy 
earlier this year when the 
J-C. regents spent HH,500 to 
remodel It for the Hitches. 

Some felt that this was an ex 
travagant expenditure, espe 
cially In these days when the 
University Is so strapped for 

Defenders of the project 
counter that -no tax monies 
were used, but only private 

Anthony Hail decorated 
th Httch horn* 

donations given to the univer 
sity to be used as the regents 
saw fit. 

The house Is strongly tied to 
the University since it is sur 
rounded by the 10-acre Blake 
Experimental Gardens. The 
gardens were grown from a 
bare hillside when in 192J Mr. 
and Mrs. Anson Blake pur 
chased the site and had archi 
tect Walter Bliss design a 
house in 1925 "as a windbreak 
for Mrs. Blake's famous gar 

It was a beautiful wind 
break, but over the years 
some of the earth had slipped 
beneath its foundation and ex 
tensive renovation was neces 
sary to get the house back on 
an even keel. This accounted 
for much of the expenditure. 

The other major change 
was a gallery added to the 
rear of the house to provide 
an easy flow of large crowds 
between downstairs rooms. 
The handsome addition also 
serves as a place to display 


,. ,-. 


paintings from Uie art depart 
ments of the numerous U.C. 

Furnishings in the house are 
a combination of pieces owned 
by the Blakes, the Hitches and 
new pieces which Mrs. Hitch 
selected with the help of An 
thony Hail, the San Francisco 
decorator who helped her tie 
all of the furnishings together. 
The first floor of the house 
Is entered past parking lots 
secluded in the gardens and a 
lovely oblong reflecting pond 
One enters a large foyer with 
a small cluttered office behind 
a dosed door. The rest of the 
boose Is elegant and formal, 
aave the hug* modern kitch 
en, reminiscent of t small res 

. Tn living room with Ka 
, carved celling looks to one 
side over a bay panorama, to 
the other onto the pond and 
garden. Cemfortable u p h o 1- 
ttered pieces blend with very 
old c*md pieces. t 

Unstlin, where tie guests 
on the YWCA tour were not 

Mn. CturJM Hitch add 
ed own P<*CM . . 

permitted, an thri huge 
b e d r 9,0 m i. The Hitches Is 
bright tnd ttry, Urgi win 
dows looking over the bay. 
Most of to* furniture Is their 

Daughter Caroline, almost 
10, has a typical little girl's 
room, her dolls and books on 
shelves along one wall. 

Lucky Is the guest who Is 
entertained by the Hitches. 
Their guest room houses the 
commodious 'bed used tn the 
White House by William How 
ard Taft. Its canopy and 
spread are of a colorful early 
American fabric. 

The entire second floor and 
the graceful curved stairway 
leading up to It are carpeted 
In an unusual off-while carpet 
of thick cording. The neutral 
color makes i perfect back 
ground for the long, narrow 
oriental rug at the lop of the 


Norma Wilier* 
February 8, 1987 

As an architect for the Berkeley campus, I was assigned to manage the 
remodeling of Blake House. My first impression of the house was that it was a 
disaster. The west side of the building had settled about six inches below the east 
side in some areas, the walls and ceilings were cracked, floors were warped, and 
there was abundant other evidence of long neglect. 

Nancy and Charlie saw something different. They saw beautiful panoramas 
of the bay from virtually every room, rooms spacious enough to entertain large 
gatherings of people, an approach to the house through lovely gardens and a 
gorgous lily pond at the house entrance. 

At one of our first meetings to develop a program for the remodeling, Nancy 
invited me and Ron and Myra Brocc-hini, who were the executive architects for 
the project, to lunch at the Hitches house on Hilldale. Nancy was a person who 
liked to make things with her hands. She was a painter and a potter. And, as an 
artist, she was able to show rather than tell what she had in mind for the house. 
That day, she had prepared a poached salmon for lunch and presented it on a 
buffet table on a pewter platter surrounded by salad and rolls and other mouth 
watering goodies. The display of food was a beautiful and appetizing composition 
in color and texture. The table was elegantly set with pewter service plates. 
Every combination was just right. Not overdone, not boring, certainly, but just 
right. We talked at length about the program for the house, but she spoke 
eloquently by example of how she expected to entertain. 

Nancy took advantage of the expertise of others who had been in her 
position and who had experience with large-scale entertaining. She talked to Mrs. 
Clark Kerr, to whom she gave credit for suggesting the addition of the gallery 
along the west side of the house to improve the traffic flow. Mrs. Chandler, who 

Comments prepared for Memorial Service for Nancy Hitch. 

- 2- 

was then a regent, toured the house and offered advice. Maggie Johnston, who 
had arranged dinners and parties for special university events, was brought in to 

Nancy knew of Tony Hail from some of her advisors and she and I went to 
his house in San Francisco to interview him. We were both impressed with its 
ambience and Tony joined the team as a decorator. 

Nancy had a very deep apprciation for the University of Califonia and its 
importance on all levels of society. She wanted the house to be a symbol of quiet 
elegance that would underscore the impression of excellence of the University to 
its visitors. She also wanted to impart a comfortable and welcoming feeling. She 
wanted the house to be a home for her family and took special delight in planning 
her daughter Caroline's room. 

The rooms in the house are huge and seemed to swallow without a trace all 
the furniture left by the Blakes The Hitches have lovely antiques which they 
brought into the house with them and which combined beautifully with the 
furniture that was the Blakes. Jean McNeill, who became Nancy's secretary after 
the Hitches moved into the house, told me that when she went for her interview 
she was surprised to learn that the house was newly occupied. It impressed her as 
having a warm, lived-in quality. 

Working with Nancy was a special treat for me. As an architect for the 
University, my job often included handling disputes rather than the more graceful 
aspects of personal contact. After the house was finished Nancy would call me to 
come and discuss things that needed correcting or changing. She always 
welcomed me into the lanai with coffee or tea and cookies and a little chat before 
we got down to business. 

She took special delight in maintaining a constantly changing exhibit of 
paintings of artists on the faculty from the campuses. 

- 3- 

In additon to restoring the house to its original character, the program, as 
outlined by Nancy, included finishing of the basement, the gallery and a wing for 
live-in staff, and remodeling the kitchen to provide a separate area for caterers. 

Nancy and I became very good friends as the years went by. The memories 
of those years have been supplanted by more recent ones but I will never think of 
Blake House without thinking of Nancy, though I think of Nancy often without 
thinking of Blake House. 


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JOURNAL of the 


Volume X OCTOBER, 19-49 No. 4 


Rather more than usual, this issue has been dependent on those who have 
previously contributed articles. The one new writer is Mrs. Anson Blake, 
whose paper on Tulip species, based on her personal experience, we are 
proud to have appear in our passes. That her large garden on t : . outskirts 
of Berkeley has only been open to very close personal friends or by in 
vitation is wholly understandable, as she has had to conserve her limited 
time and strength, but her contributions to our monthly exhibits have been 
evidence of her character as an adventurous gardener. She has been re 
sponsible for the first introduction many of our members have had to many 
plants, especially shrubs and bulbs. Her paper is particularly welcome. 

W. Quinn Buck is an assistant in the Division of Ornamental Horti 
culture at U. C. L. A. His development of a tetraploid hemerocallis may 
well mark an era in the breeding of daylilies, hardy herbaceous perennials 
of great value where summers are hot or winters are cold. 

Ten years ago, when President of the California Horticultural Society, 
the Editor recommended the experimental beginning of a quarterly Journal 
and found himself made responsible for the job. He knew this would be 
a difficult task, but it has on the whole been a pleasant one and certainly 
rewarding. He wants to take this opportunity to thank that fine group of 
gardeners, amateurs and professionals, who have made the Journal what it 
is. Now he feels that the burden of editorship should pass to someone else, 
younger, with different contacts and new ideas. His personal preference 
has always been for writing rather than editing and he hopes to become 
a fairly regular contributor to the Journal's pages. He wishes to devote 
his now limited energy to gardening and iris breeding, and to have time 
for some further writing he has in mind. Though he has no sundial in his 
garden, he realizes that its familiar message, "It is later than you think", 
applies to us all. 

To all contributors, to the Associate Editor, and to his wife, who has un 
officially carried much of the load of work inseparable from his task, he 
takes this last opportunity to express his thanks and appreciation. For the 
temporary Editor, Miss Cora R. Brandt, he asks your every help. Having 
been closely associated with her professionally and in the Society for half 
his long lifetime, he has every confidence in her ability to take full respon 
sibility for the Journal, but on the active participation of our members and 
other contributors she too must be as -dependent as the retiring Editor has 

Sydney B. Mitchell. 

Copyright, 1949, California Horticultural Society 




June 10, 1952 

Mrs. Anson S. Blake, 
70 Rincon Hoad, 
Berkeley, California. 

Lear Mrs. Blake: 

I have been wanting to write you for a couple of weeks, 
and have only been prevented by lack of time. But I felt that I 
really wanted to tell you again how very much I have appreciated, 
your reminiscences of Mr. Correvon, and to add that Mr. Howell,- 
who, as you know, is our Botanical editor and who usually pays 
attention only to botanical terms found himself quite completely 
carried away. He not only agrees with me, but says that he should 
think every horticultural paper in the country would want to re 
print it for it is the valuable kind of personal comment that is so 
seldom available. 

V<e botn hope that you will be willing to continue this 
good work, and perhaps give us a picture in your own words of our 
old friend, James West. Mrs. Mitchell tells me tnat she is more 
than willing to again act in the capacity of amanuensis. I haven't 
forgotten eitner, tnat you had in mind a paper on poisonous plants, 
but we'll' leave the decision as to wnich should come first to you. 

I do hope that you are not having too difficult a summer. 
Perhaps I'll see you next Monday, as I am sure you will not wish to 
miss Mr. Williams' s talk on plants for the rock garden if you are 
able to come. 

Very sincerely yours, 




By A. D. S. BLAKE 

It was in 1925 that I first made the acquaintance of Henri Correvon. I 
had known him until then only as an authority on Alpine plants, of world 
wide reputation, and as the owner of the famous nursery of Floraire in 

At that time we were embarking upon the planting of a new garden 
when a friend who had lately returned from a prolonged stay in Switzer 
land told me of a very beautiful shrub she had seen growing in the Alps. 
She could not tell me its name but said she could draw me a map of exactly 
where it grew. The map she drew was quite detailed, mentioning the turns 
the path took as it ascended the mountain, passing at one point through an 
old cow-barn and entering the shadow of a ravine where the plants grew 
taller than in the open and were in places higher than one's head. Her 
enthusiasm fired my own, and I decided to write to Dr. Correvon for fur 
ther information. The promptness of his reply was characteristic of him. 
He wrote, "It is our mezereon. I am sending you seeds. Soak them in hydro 
chloric acid for a night before planting." The seeds germinated and passed 
their infancy successfully, though they never reached maturity, but a cor 
respondence had begun for me with Dr. Correvon, full of pleasure and 

I gradually learned more of Floraire and of the man who founded it. 
From his boyhood Henri Correvon had been a passionate lover of flowers, 
especially those of the Swiss mountains around him. In 1876 he took over 
the nursery garden of his grandfather in Canton Vaud and embarked upon 
horticulture as a career. He had studied horticulture in Geneva, Zurich, 
Frankfort, Erfurt and Paris, and was well prepared. Later he moved to 
Geneva and established Floraire on an old vineyard of five acres, for the 
propagation and acclimatization of Alpine plants from seed. He had seen 
the havoc being wrought by heedless people among the rarer plants in the 
Alps and had already founded a society for their protection and preserva 
tion. It continued to be a mission with him as long as he lived. He became 
a prolific writer as well as a gardener. Twenty-seven books on horticul 
tural subjects stand as his accomplishment. His memory was infallible. 
Over 25,000 species were grown at Floraire. He became the world's greatest 
authority on Alpine plants, but there was no plant that was not of intense 
interest to him. He was in touch with universities and botanical gardens of 
all countries, and students and visitors came to him constantly for infor 
mation and consultation. He lived, breathed and had his being in growing 
things, and there was only one passport to his regard, that a person to 
some extent should share his interest. A story was published in the London 
Times of the visit to him of Sir Austen Chamberlain while he was in Ge 
neva as Great Britain's delegate to the League of Nations. Sir Austen 
wrote, "It was too early for flowers but a gardener loves to see plants grow 
ing only one ft^r"-^ less than to see them blossoming. Whilst walking 


The Journal of the California Horticultural Society, 
July 1952, Vol. XIII, No. 3. 


F E 















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California Horticultural Society Journal 
vol. 28 (3). July 1967. 



On a crisp, sunny Fall day in 1932, 
a man who called himself "James 
West" steered his dilapidated Chev 
rolet roadster up the winding gravel 
road between the University of Cali 
fornia Memorial Stadium in Berke 
ley and the Botanical Garden at the 
head of Strawberry Canyon. The 
small, deeply tanned man at the 
wheel squinted through gold-rimmed 
glasses that were always slightly as 
kew on his face. "West" had been 
employed by Dr. T. Harper Good- 
speed, Director of the Botanical Gar 
den, to help plant the cactus and 
succulent garden. 

In 1938, Dr. T. Harper Goods peed 
attended an International Horticul 
tural Congress in Berlin. Near the 
front of the auditorium in which 
general sessions were being held, in 
a section reserved for "VIP's", he 
recognized a familiar face. He went 
forward to greet Egon Victor Moritz 
Karl Maria, Prinz von Ratibor und 
Corvey, Prinz zu Hohenlohe-Schill- 
ingsfiirst. The German Prince offer 
ed Dr. Goodspeed the use of his 
Mercedes-Benz limousine during his 
stay in Berlin. The German Prince 
was also the man known as "James 



Few facts can be found concerning 
the mysterious James West, but these 
few are indeed fascinating. The 
dearth of information about him 
would seem surprising, for there are 
many persons in the Ray Area who 
remember him, some who worked 
with him and a fesv who considered 
him a friend. West was, it seems, a 
man who simply did not talk about 
himself, and. reciprocally, never 
asked personal questions. 

Imogen Cunningham, the distin 
guished photographer, horticulturist 

(1886- 1939) 

by Jack Napton 
and connoisseur of the San Francisco 
scene, who was his close friend, says: 
"West wasn't a liberal in the crusad 
ing or political sense, but he never, 
never questioned another person's 
looks, speech, ideas anything about 
them. He didn't necessarily like 
everyone he knew, but he never said 
anything unpleasant about anyone." 

He was one of the founding mem 
bers of the California Horticultural 
Society. Some of our members re 
member that he attended the meet 
ing held at the home of Mrs. Cabot 
Brown following the "Great Freeze" 
of 1932. It was at this meeting that 
the original concept of the Society 
came into being. 

West was one of the creators of 
the University of California Botani 
cal Garden. He was landscape-de 
signer, as well as procurer and in 
staller of material. He located plants 
to be used, supervised the grading, 
found and moved in large rocks, 
staked out paths, and finally, upon 
completion, placed names on the 

Because of his marked propensity 
for self-effacement, he has remained 
to this day a man of considerable 
mystery and a paradox. A brilliant 
eccentric, his horticultural and bo 
tanical knowledge were both volu 
minous and precise. He was a man of 
small stature and slight build, but he 
possessed phenomenal physical stam 
ina. Of noble German birth, West 
spoke English beautifully, without a 
trace of accent. A man of Thorcau- 
like taste and style in his personal 
life, he had constant and easy access 
to his family's considerable means in 
Europe, through a San Francisco 
attorney who handled his affairs. 
West was indeed a notable personal 
ity in the rather special world of 
succulent plant enthusiasts a group 



not without considerable color of it-. 

Imogen says, "One of the most 
remarkable things about him is that 
he had no German accent. This is 
probably the reason his aristocratic 
background remained unknown for 
so long. I'm sure he had a British 
tutor as a child. His English was not 
only impeccable, but at times almost 

"Rut West," she continues. "I will 
never forget. I knew him so well. We 
kept a special bed made up for him 
in our home. You never knew when 
he might show up. He would wander 
in at ten o'clock at night, talk plants 
until 3:00 a.m., then get in bed and 
chain-smoke. My husband wasn't 
jealous of West, but he wasn't fond 
of him. He would say: 'West smoke, 
smoke, smoke; talk, talk, talk.' 

"I first met him when my husband 
was teaching at Mills College, in the 
late 1920's or early 30's. It was West 
w-ho introduced me to the California 
Horticultural Society. Oh, I had 
taken some plant pictures before 
then, but I didn't really know any 
thing about the material. I called all 
succulents 'cactus,' and that sort of 

Imogen remembers that West 
made many lectures before plant 
groups in the East Bay Area in the 
early 1930's. She and a friend, now 
dead, became close friends with him 
and the trio made field trips and 
excursions together to see and photo 
graph unusual plants and gardens. 
Many of the photographs made by 
West can be found in issues of the 
Cactus and Succulent Society Journal 
of this period, accompanied by his 
crisp, precise botanical descriptions 
of the material pictured. 

Although records show West as 
having a San Rafael boarding-house 
as an address in these days. Imogen 
says he lived in a tent in the yard 
behind the house. 

This unpublished portrait of the late 
James West, by an unknown photographer, 
was probably made in the I 930's in the 
San Francisco Bav Area. Original from the 
collection of Robert Foster of Whittier, 

"He convinced the landlady he 
would be more comfortable in. his 
own small tent. I was never inside it 
nor anyone else that I know of - 
and don't know if it even had a 
board floor. He would barely open 
the flap when he went in and out, 
and no one was invited inside. He 
did have a bare electric light, 

None of those who knew West 
seem to have had any precise knowl 
edge of when or how he came to the 
United States or California. He told 
Imogen he had come here from Can 
ada, but she is uncertain how long 
he was there: 

"James West must have been in 
his 40's when I knew him." she says. 
"His hair was greying around the 
temples. But, honestly. I don't be 
lieve anyone ever knew how old he 

(Continued on Page 184) 





was or when he had left the Conti 
nent. As I said, he just didn't talk 
about himself. 

"Dr. Goodspeed asked him to go 
on the University of California Peru 
vian Expedition because of his fan 
tastic physical stamina, for much 
of the work was planned for eleva 
tions of 8.000 to 10,000 ft. Good- 
speed had seen West work for ten to 
twelve hours in the boiling hot sun 
at the Botanical Garden and became 
convinced that he would be an asset." 

In his Plant Hunters of the Andes, 
1941 , Goodspeed said of West : 

"Prince Egon, or James West, as 
he was known to a large circle of 
acquaintances in California, was a 
most valuable member of the party. 
The breadth of his botanical interests 
and knowledge, and. in particular, 
his wide contacts with ornamental 
horticulture in California and else 
where, provided him with the proper 
background for the type of collection 
that was assigned to him. His linguis 
tic accomplishments were of service 
on many occasions when one lan 
guage avenue after another had to 
be explored before a common one 
could be found. He continued to 
travel and collect for me in Peru, 
Bolivia, and Argentina, long after 
Florence and I had to return to Cali 
fornia earlv in 1936, and he remain 
ed in South America for some time 
after he ended his connection with 
the first expedition. Unfortunately 
he was unable to be with us during 
the second expedition to the Andes 
in 1938-1939." 

As to the "linguistic accomplish 
ments" referred to above by Good- 
speed, Victor Reiter and "Jock" Bry- 
don. (now Director of the Strvbing 
Arboretum . both of whom knew 
West, believe he was very much at 
home in at Ir.T-t five languages, and 
perhaps more. The author recently 
had occasion to cite an early philo 
logical discussion of West's in an 
article on AV/it'ivn'a in the Cactus 
and Succulent Journal. Reference 

was made to a piece of West's ( on- 
rerning the pronunciation of Eche- 
ueria, which he wrote in 1935. Schol 
arly and informative, it traced the 
name into the exotic Basque lan 

Jock Brydon remembers West from 
his days at the University of Califor 
nia Botanical Garden. He worked 
there with West and remembers him, 
". . . working with a fury in his 
BVD's and open sandals, in the boil 
ing hot sun of rock-strewn Straw 
berry Canyon, oblivious to the world 
around him." 

Jock continues, "One thing about 
James West I will always remember: 
he was truly a gentleman a genteel 
person in the best sense of the word. 
No matter how eccentric his dress or 
mode of living, West had that inde 
finable quality that comes from good 
breeding and extreme sophistication. 
I never heard him raise his voice. He 
never indulged in arguments with 

Victor Reiter agrees on the "lib 
eral" or permissive nature of West. 
"Of course," Victor says, "Eric Wal- 
ther told people quite frankly he had 
left Germany because he was too 
'liberal' to be comfortable there. I 
suspect something similar in the case 
of West, but the guy just never talked 
about himself, and vou didn't know." 

''By the way," Victor adds, "West 
was an accomplished botanical 
draftsman. Few people knew it. He 
once brought me a set of drawings 
he had done of Pachy phylum ovi- 
fcrum that were so beautiful they 
should have been framed. 

"On West's assumed name I can 
give you an insight. I once asked him 
whv he chose the name 'James West,' 
and he replied: 'Well, I took 'James' 
just because I liked it. and 'West' be 
cause I had settled in the American 
West.' " 

Both Victor Reiter and West's 
fellow-countryman. Eric Walther. 
knew his true identity, but respected 
his feelings and did not divulge the 




knowledge they had of him. "I don't 
think the anonymity bit was anything 
sinister or complicated," says Victor. 
"He saw the U. S. as an egalitarian 

country and just felt 'When in Rome 

What happened to James West 
after he left the Bay Area? 

He accompanied Dr. Goodspeed 
and the University of California First 
Expedition to the Andes in 1936, 
but, except for the almost accidental 
meeting with Goodspeed in Berlin 
in 1938, he was never again seen 
alive by anyone who had known him 
in the Bay Area. 

Two sources provide the only in 
formation to fill the gap from James 
West's departure from the Bay Area 
to his death by drowning in Germany 
in the late summer of 1939. 

The first is contained in an inter 
view with Jerome Landfield of San 
Francisco, by Susan Smith of the 
San Francisco Examiner in April. 
1952. Mr. Landfield was socially 
prominent in the Bay Area, having 
retired from the U. S. diplomatic 
service. His wife, Luba, a Russian 
countess, had known Prinz Egon von 
Ratibor as a young man in pre- 
World War I European court circles. 

This picture of James West ap 
peared on the front cover of the 
Cactus and Succulent Journal of 
America in June, 1937, with the 
caption: "James West somewhere 
in South America." At this time, 
he was a member of the University 
of California's first expedition to 
the Andes. This rare, autographed 
print is from the collection of 
Robert Foster of Whittier, California. 




Landfield came into the picture in 
1935, when James West needed some 
one to assist him in establishing his 
identity for passport purposes to se 
cure clearance for departure with 
the University Expedition to the 

In Landfield's words: 

"He (James West) then told me 
the reason for coining to see me and 
revealing his identity. 

"Professor Goodspeed of the Uni 
versity of California, was about to 
leave on an expedition to South 
America to seek new plants in the 
Andes region, and he had asked West 
to accompany him. West was eager to 
go, but, at the same time, wished to 
make sure of his return to the United 

"To obtain a return visa he needed 
an affidavit from someone who had 
known him before and could testify 
to the legality ot his presence in this 
country. Naturally I was happy to 
oblige him, and a few days later 
made the necessary affidavit at the 
immigration office in Oakland." 

For several months he sent post 
cards from South America to the 
Landfields; but then, suddenly, si 

A year or two later Landfield met 
Dr. Goodspeed at the summer en 
campment of the Bohemian Club at 
Russian River, and immediately 
brought up the subject of the strange 
disappearance of James West. Good- 
speed volunteered that although 
West did some valuable work on the 
expedition, he was entirely irrespon 
sible. He would disappear for several 
days and then turn up without ex 
planation. Finally he disappeared al 

Goodspeed then related the epi 
sode at the International Horticul 
tural Congress in Berlin, where he 
had recognized West sitting in one 
of the front rows. \V< he said, wel 
comed him warmly if nothing 
untoward had happ< d in South 

America, and Goodspeed simply 
went along with it. 

In this interview Landfield men 
tioned having been at lunch with 
Prinz Egon von Ratibor in 1915 at 
the Bohemian Club in San Francisco. 
Also in attendance were Mr. and 
Mrs. W. H. Crocker. It was shortly 
after this early meeting that Prinz 
Egon assumed the name of "James 
West" but the years from 1916 to 
1 929 are obscure. From bits and pieces 
of conversation remembered by those 
who knew him several facts emerge. 
Victor Reiter says West ". . . went to 
sea for a time because he told me he 
wanted to know how it felt to work 
on a ship." Also for a time he work 
ed in the lumber country around 
Fort Bragg and Eureka. 

Landfield says that the Allied na 
val blockade of World War I strand 
ed the young German prince in 
America, and cut off his funds. He 
continues, "Driven by necessity he 
found work in a lumber camp and 
naturally dropped his title and 
changed his name." 

From lumbering, West seems to 
have gone to Arizona. Here he read 
botany, studied and worked as a 
gardener and landscape-horticultur 
ist. It seems natural that cacti and 
succulents would become his pri 
mary interests while working in this 
area. West probably came back to 
California from Arizona in 1928 or 

At late as 1947, the death of James 
West was still a mystery to his old 
friends in this area. In February, 
1947, Cora R. Brandt, Secretary of 
the California Horticultural Society, 
sent the following letter to Scott 
Haselton, Editor of the Cactus and 
Succulent Journal of America, in 
"Dear Mr. Haselton. 

Mr. Eric Walther has asked me to 
write you in answer to an inquiry 
you had sent him in regard to the 
death of our old friend James West. 




Unfortunately, there is little that I 
can tell you beyond what is con 
tained in the brief note that appeared 
in the July number of our Journal, 
which was to the effect that word 
had been received of his death very 
early in the war (WW-II). The in 
formation was obtained by Mrs. 
Imogen Partridge (Cunningham), 
who was a close friend of his during 
his stay in America, and who had 
asked Dr. Glenn Hoover, of Mills 
College, to make inquiries concerning 
his welfare while he was in Germany 
for the American Government. Dr. 
Hoover reported that he had learned 
from the Almanac de Gotha of his 
death but was not able to find any 
details. Mrs. Partridge has no fur 
ther sources of information. 

Very truly yours, 
Cora R. Brandt." 

In 1953, one year after the publi 
cation of the material contained in 
the Landfield interview, the follow 
ing letter was received at the San 
Francisco Examiner, by Susan Smith, 
from a lady who signed herself: 
"Alexandra von Dewitz, nee Grafin 
(Countess) Hoyos von Essen-Ruhr." 
The stationery was that of the "Brit 
ish Center, Essen." 

"The newspaper cutting containing 
your column of second of April 1952 
gave us a big thrill . . . and furnished 
us with a further chapter in the life 
of our mysterious 'Uncle from Am 
erica' who illuminate