AKA: Stanford University, Newman Center, Palo Alto, CA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - houses; built works - religious structures

Designers: Clark, Birge M., Architect (firm); Goodenough, Wells, Building Contractor (firm); Birge Malcolm Clark (architect); Wells Goodenough (building contractor)

Dates: constructed 1927-1928

2 stories

1247 Cowper Street
Professorville, Palo Alto, CA 94301

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Both Charles and Kathleen Norris were writers focusing on contemporary ethical choices, the latter being more high-profile and financially successful. Their financial success in New York allowed them to return to live in relative splendor in CA, first in Saratoga and then Palo Alto. They coomissioned Palo Alto architect Birge M. Clark to design this large "Early California" residence in the heart of the Stanford faculty enclave of Professorville in 1927.

Building History

The premature deaths of her parents forced Kathleen Thompson Norris (1880-1966) to go to work at an early age to support her siblings. She worked in various jobs in San Francisco, CA, including as society reporter for the San Francisco Call before encountering and later marrying Charles Gilman Norris (1881-1945) in 04/1909.

Charles Norris, the younger brother of the well-known and short-lived novelist Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Norris, Jr., (1870-1902), relocated to New York, NY, to become the art editor for the American Magazine, a serial that lasted 50 years and was known in its early days for its support of muckraking journalists seeking to expose social corruption. In New York, Kathleen Norris became well-known for her articles and short stories aimed at young women who were increasingly entering the workforce and confronting ethical dilemmas brought by rapid urbanization and industrialization. Norris became well-known for her moralistic stories that underscored traditional values, especially against the new concept of birth control. She also asserted many charitable social values, including suffrage, non-violence and support for children and the poor. Norris's ethical conservatism also led her to less savory paths, including aligning herself with the American isolationist movement, the America First Committee, just before World War II. This group attracted a cross-section of adherents, some well-meaning, but others harbored deeply racist, xenophobic and anti-union attitudes, such as the abstemious, anti-semitic industrialist Henry Ford (1863-1947) and noted aviator and eugenicist Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974). The group ideologically emanated from circles at Yale University and spread to take root with many in the Midwest including several prominent corporate leaders.

Charles Norris wrote many acclaimed novels, including Salt (1919), Seed: A Novel of Birth Control (1930) and Hands (1935) and a few plays, but he worked slowly and laboriously, while Kathleen wrote more in a more fluid and productive manner. She became more financially successful than her husband, and he ultimately functioned as her literary agent and became the manager of their household. It was ironic that this couple that espoused generally traditional values led a fairly unconventional way of life themselves.

Katheleen Norris, a devout Catholic, sold the house to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco for use as the Newman Center for Stanford University students in 1949. It functioned in this capacity until about 2000 when it was re-sold to a private owner.

Building Notes

Stanford's Catholic Newman Center had the Saint Ann Chapel appended to it in 1951.

The Norris House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places: 1980-07-24.


An Indoor-outdoor "Spanish kitchen" was added to the Norris House in 1934. (See Birge M. Clark, PAST Heritage.org, "Palo Alto Historic Buildings Inventory Notes of the Norris House by Birge Clark," accessed 02/14/2024.)

National Register of Historic Places (Listed 1980-07-24 ): 80000859 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 10600