Structure Type: built works - dwellings - houses

Designers: MLTW/Moore-Turnbull, Architects (firm); Moore Lyndon Turnbull Whitaker (MLTW) Architects (firm); Donlyn Lyndon (architect); Charles Willard Moore (architect); William Turnbull Jr. (architect); Richard R. Whitaker Jr. (architect)

Dates: constructed 1963-1965, demolished 1991

141 Strathmoor Drive
Claremont Hills, Oakland, CA 94705

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Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, Richard Whitaker, Jr., and William Turnbull, Jr., designed a number of highly-publicized residences in the early-to-mid 1960s, the Talbert House being one of the most novel and distinctive. It had the proportions of a mine shaft, with various "service" rooms, kitchen and bathroom, appended like saddlebags to its vertical sides. It presented an imaginative solution for how to use what many would have considered an unbuildable lot, but the abundance of stairs may have become tiresome over time.

Building History

The architectural firm of MLTW designed this tall, wood-framed residence for J. Wilkie Talbert (born 10/15/1928) a University of California, Berkeley (UCB) astronomy professor for a very steep site in the hills above Oakland. An article in the periodical House and Garden summarized this unusual house which was perched on a very steep sloping lot: "In many of the new vertical houses, a stair tower is likely to be an important architectural element, but in J. Wilkie Talbert's cliff dwelling in Berkeley, Calif., the stair tower is, in effect, the whole house. Designed by architects Moore, Lyndon, TurnbuU, Whitaker, it consists of onl\ four rooms." (See "Overlooking San Francisco Bay a single shaft with projecting bays, House and Garden, 01/1966, p. 96.)

Charles Moore, Gerald Allen and Donlyn Lyndon, in their book, The Place of Houses, said of its design and construction: "In the Talbert house, in Oakland California, the central room is stretched vertically and fitted out with balconies so that the space can be sensed (though not seen all at once) snaking down past them. Front and rear, at the appropriate levels, saddle-bag lean-tos hold kitchen and bath, balconies and a bay for sitting. The client, a professor of astronomy, who was a bachelor then (he was later married in the bay window), came to us in 1962 with a lot sloping down from the street at a rate just short of the alarming 60 percent that would render the site unusable. To minimize foundations--the pouring of which involved a rope around the builders' waists and other Alpine devices--a slim tower was decided on. Access to it had to be from a garage at entry level. We felt strongly that a house over a dramatically steep slope, with a splendid view, should capture inside some of the kinetic excitement of the site, and not just be be a flat-floored ranch house on stilts. To that end, the entrance is at the top of the hosue, where one crosses a bridge and enters a foyer that is still outside the main tower walls. From there movement is organized in a descending spiral as you pass by a bedroom balcony and descend behind the wall to the other end of the main space., where an open-railed stair breaks through the wall and down to the dining platform. A few steps lead down from this to the projecting glassy bay, and a series of broad platforms and steps wind on down to end the spiral in the low-ceilinged, close-fitting den. The pace of movement corresponds to the specifics of use, constricted and swift at the top, loose and improvisatory before coming to rest at the bottom. Surfaces within are white-painted plasterboard and dark-stained wood. Windows are small-panel facotry sash of stock size, except where sliding glass panels open wide to the view or the decks. The exterior is sheathed in in painted plywood, striated more frequently on the appended lean-tos than on the main walls of the tower. These walls are both the literal and figurative structure for the place, for they create a multilevel stage, while the machinery that supports the drama is relegated to the saddlebags. The one exception to this relegation was the furnace, which we developed in the tower as a big black piece of sculpture, whose branching ducts might recall a tree. It recalled no tree to Mr. Talbert, who finally removed it." (See Charles Moore, Gerald Allen, Donlyn Lyndon, The Place of Houses, [New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974], pp. 57-59.)

As noted by Moore, Allen and Lyndon, Talbert, at age 38, wed Evelyn D. Sheffer (born 09/30/1941) on 12/17/1966. (See, Source Information California, U.S., Marriage Index, 1960-1985 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007, accessed 11/09/2021.) They would divorce in 07/1971. (See, Source Information California, U.S., Divorce Index, 1966-1984 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 20, accessed 11/09/2021.)

Talbert had moved out of the Strathmoor Drive house by 1977, when he resided at 422 Alcatraz Avenuet in Oakland.


The Talbert House was remodeled in 1969 by MLTW/Moore-Turnbull, Architects.


The Talbert House burned in the Oakland Hills Fire of 10/20/1991.

PCAD id: 24199