AKA: Havens, Weston, Residence, Berkeley, CA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - houses

Designers: Harris, Harwell H., Architect (firm); Harwell Hamilton Harris (architect)

Dates: constructed 1940-1941

255 Panoramic Way
Berkeley Hills, Berkeley, CA 94704-1831

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Overview

This flying wing of a house has hovered over the Berkeley Hills since 1941, a rare example of Harwell Hamilton Harris's work in Northern CA. It was designed for the scion of a well-off real estate family with panoramic views toward the Golden Gate. Architect Harwell Harris might have taken the cue for the signature cantilevered balcony from Frank Lloyd Wright's George Sturges House in Brentwood, Los Angeles, completed just before the Havens House. The Sturges House was a commission carefully followed by architects in Los Angeles in the late 1930s, and Harris had a deep interest in Wright's Usonian work.

Building History

Los Angeles architect Harwell Hamilton Harris (1903-1990) designed this flamboyant residence for John Weston Havens, Jr., (1903–2001), the son of a prosperous real estate developer. Weston Havens, Jr., developed a deep interest in art and operated his father's real estate business after John Weston Sr.'s death. This dwelling reflected Harris's interest in the Usonian architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, seen clearly in his emphatic use of the triangular shape on the exterior, and was one of Harris's few works in Northern California. Another residence was the nearby Linden Naylor House, (at 40 Arden Way) located on land once owned by the Havens Family.

Building Notes

The California State Office of Historic Preservation noted of the Havens House: "The Havens house sits on a steep slope on Berkeley's Panoramic Hill with views of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges, San Francisco, and the Pacific Ocean. It was designed by southern California modernist Harwell Hamilton Harris and consists of two volumes separated by a sunken court and linked by a bridge. The eastern volume, consisting of the entry, carport, and maid's quarters, is anchored to the slope and connects to the street. The western volume is comprised of three inverted triangular trusses (or gables) stacked vertically which support the house's flat roof, main floor, and lower floor. Upon its completion in 1941, two radical innovations distinguished the Havens house's detachment from the hillside and its inverted gables. The house was listed at the State level of significance under Criterion C in the area of architecture as an excellent example of California modernism and as the work of master architect Harwell Hamilton Harris. The significance of both house and architect is widely acknowledged by scholars." (See California State Office of Historic Preservation.gov, "Weston Havens House,"accessed 02/04/2011.)

Photographs taken below of the Havens House by the artist Man Ray were widely reproduced during the mid-twentieth century. Ray captured the house's idiosynchratic character, its shape like some rocket-propelled biplane, hovering over the Berkeley Hills. The floating nature of the composition was heightened by the way in which each triangle was stacked vertically, creating crisply parallel static lines. The concatenated triangles ebedded in the house's side elevation gave the building an odd dynamism, however, that countered its hovering stability. This odd juxtaposition of visual effects would have captivated the surrealist Ray. The Getty Museum noted of Ray: "Commissioned in 1939 for a hillside site facing the Golden Gate Bridge, the house had been recently completed when Man Ray drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco for the opening of his 1941 exhibition at the M. H. De Young Memorial Museum. Magazines widely reproduced Man Ray's photographs of both the exterior and the interior of this structure." (See the J. Paul Getty Museum, "Exterior of the Weston Havens House, Berkeley," accessed 02/16/2018.)

Alteration

Harwell Harris designed an addition and made renovations to the Havens House in 1968. (See US Modernist.org, "Harwell Hamilton Harris, FAIA, (1903-1990)," accessed 02/16/2018.)

National Register of Historic Places: 05000597 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 10832